8 ways to experience heritage on a budget

Jun 17, 2016

There are hundreds of smaller heritage sites in Britain that are free to visit, plus plenty of passes, vouchers and schemes to ensure you can enjoy the very best of Britain's heritage, and still stretch to tea and cake at the end of a visit - an essential part of a heritage day out!

1. Lesser-visited London

In London, as well as most of the major museums being free to enter, there are a number of smaller, quirkier properties that give a fascinating insight into the history of the city. Visit Hogarth's House in Chiswick, former country home of the renowned artist William Hogarth and filled with his prints and engravings (nearest underground: Turnham Green). For something really quirky, discover Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, deep in Epping Forest.  Originally built in 1543 for Henry VIII, visitors can explore the Tudor kitchen, kids can try brass rubbing and dressing up in Tudor clothes, and see the staircase which - so legend has it - Queen Elizabeth rode her horse up.  The Lodge is around 15 minutes' walk from Chingford Station, 25 minutes from Liverpool Street Station.

http://williamhogarthtrust.org.uk, www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/place/69004-queen-elizabeths-hunting-lodge

2. Pick a pass

If you're planning to see some of Britain's most iconic heritage sites, it's worth buying a ‘heritage pass', offered by the National Trust, English Heritage and Historic Scotland.  But it's important to remember which sites are owned by which organisation; a nine-day English Heritage Overseas Visitor Pass (£30) gives free entry to more than 100 sites, including Stonehenge, Dover Castle in Kent and Hadrian's Wall in north England.  Buy a seven-day National Trust Touring Pass (£26) and you can visit any of the Trust's 300 historic houses and gardens, including Chartwell, former home of Winston Churchill.


3. Take the train

Travelling by rail? Many train companies offer 2-for-1 deals on entry to heritage sites, when you present your rail ticket and a downloadable voucher. Scotrail, for example, offers 2-for-1 entry to a variety of sites, including Gladstone's Land, the 17th-century home of merchant Thomas Gledstanes, on Edinburgh's Royal Mile.  Or head to the Highlands to visit the Glenfinnan Monument, marking the spot where the final Jacobite rising took place in 1745 and Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard on Loch Shiel's shores.


4. Discover Heritage Open Days

There's no better time for history lovers to visit Britain than in September, when the annual Heritage Open Days festival takes place. Separate festivals take place in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London, but all are dedicated to opening up historic buildings that aren't normally accessible to the public - private homes, offices, cellars, hidden rooms and tunnels.  Historic buildings that are normally open put on special events. Cinemas and theatres offer backstage tours, museums open up their archives and towns and villages around the country hold programmes of walks, talks, and history-themed events.  Every event is completely free, including access to more than 150 National Trust properties and iconic buildings such as the Oxford and Cambridge colleges.


5. Secret Wales

Wales has more than 100 smaller sites that are free to visit. One of the most charming is Usk castle, (around an hour's drive from Cardiff) where the only gatekeepers are two large geese, and each visitors is asked to put a pebble into the large stone pot, so numbers can be counted at the end of each day. Or visit the ruined hilltop castle and village at Dryslwyn, which has stunning views over the Towy Valley (around one hour's drive from Cardiff) In addition, on St David's Day (1 March), some of the most iconic castles waive their entrance fee, including Tintern Abbey in the beautiful Wye Valley (around one hour's drive from Cardiff) and the fairy-tale Castel Coch (20 minutes' drive from Cardiff).


6. Walk into history

There are plenty of heritage sites to be found in the British countryside; and open access means there's never an admission charge. Take a walk along the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, around 90 minutes' drive from London, and pick up a leaflet at the Visitor Centre to learn about the significance of the coastline through the centuries.  Or discover the colossal Iron Age fort of Maiden Castle, surrounded by the rolling Dorset countryside (around two hours' drive from London). In Northern Ireland, the iconic 'Giant's Causeway' - huge, basalt columns running alongside the sea - may be the country's biggest tourist draw, but it's still completely free.

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/the-white-cliffs-of-dover, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway

7. Gardens and grounds 

Many historic properties that charge an entrance fee are surrounded by gorgeous grounds and gardens that are often free to enter. Petworth House in Sussex (around one hour's drive south of London) costs £15 to enter, but admission to the park is free, and offers the chance to see the beautiful house from the outside and stroll through the Capability Brown-designed gardens.


8. Churches and Cathedrals

Many of Britain's most beautiful cathedrals don't charge an entrance fee, offering the chance to explore the destination's religious heritage, while enjoying truly spectacular architecture.  US author Bill Bryson called Durham "the best cathedral on planet earth"; dating back to the 11th century, visitors are free to explore the cloisters, undercroft and the beautifully vaulted main church. Durham is around three hours by train from London.  Harry Potter fans should take advantage of the free access to Gloucester Cathedral, which featured in the movies as parts of Hogwarts School (there is a charge for Harry Potter tours).

www.durhamcathedral.co.uk, http://gloucestercathedral.org.uk