Smart tricks for cheap days out at stately homes and gardens

Kara Gammell / 01 September 2017 ( 19 March 2018 )

Make the most of the changing season with some trips out. We show you how to save money on memberships for National Trust, English Heritage and Kew Gardens.

If you’re a fan of stately homes and gardens, but baulk at the expensive entry costs, it makes financial sense to consider an annual membership. But over the last eight years, membership fees have been steadily rising. For instance, the cost of English Heritage joint senior membership has risen in the past seven years from £52.50 to £74; while an individual senior membership has risen from £32 a year in 2010 to £49 today.

It’s similar case with National Trust memberships, with annual fees rising by more than a third since 2010, when an individual annual membership (for adults over 26 years of age) was just £48.50 but now costs £69, while a joint membership – for two adults living at the same address – has risen from £79.50 to £114.

But you can still enjoy days out to stately homes and gardens on shoestring budget – here are five ways to save on membership fees.

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1 Buy a Scottish membership

Did you know that you can cut costs for joining the National Trust and Kew Royal Botanic Gardens by opting for memberships at their Scottish partners? Thanks to a reciprocal agreement, you can pay to join a sister organisation north of the border and cut your membership costs by as much as half – and it’s completely legitimate.

"Choosing an annual National Trust family membership north of the border saves you £18."

For instance, buying an annual National Trust Scotland family membership, rather than England, will save you £18 a year and covers up to six children under 15 to visit any NT venue in all of the UK, so it includes Wales and Northern Ireland as well. You can save on a senior membership (60+) too – choosing an annual NT membership north of the border gives you a discount of more than £6.

What’s more, you can do a similar money-saving trick with Kew Gardens. Become a member of Kew Gardens and there’s an annual cost of £69 (paid by Direct Debit) for an adult for free entry to Kew and Wakehurst. But buy a £26 adult membership at Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens and you'll qualify for free entry to Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and Wakehurst, Westonbirt Arboretum, Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest, National Botanic Garden of Wales, Ness Botanic Garden, University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, plus many more gardens overseas. 

As well as entry to all the additional arboretums and gardens, Scottish membership will also save you £43 a year, and provides additional benefits you don't get with an English membership. Please note that free entry applies to the membership holder only and additional entry fees will apply for other guests – please check with individual gardens prior to your visit. 

Do the National Trust and National Trust Scotland offer reciprocal deals that allow members to visit historic houses and gardens in Europe and beyond?

Yes, both organisations are members of INTO, the International National Trust Organisation, which is a gateway for those who wish to make more of their membership.

In fact, joining National Trust Scotland makes most economic sense. Not only is membership cheaper with its over-60s option, but it also gives you access to National Trust properties in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, plus attractions in 19 other countries including Canada, USA, Australia, Italy.

If you want to go one step further, you might also be interested in restoration-based working holidays abroad via INTO; visit and search ‘working holidays’.

Extract taken from Saga Magazine, April 2018. For more travel tips, subscribe to the magazine today!

 How to cut your household expenses.

2 Save money on days out with the grandchildren

For a cheap day out with the grandchildren, members of English Heritage can take up to six children free per adult as long as they’re under the age of 19 and members of the family. But at the National Trust, which has properties in Wales and Northern Ireland, only under fives get free admission with an annual membership. 

There is an English Heritage membership option for a young adult/student (aged 18 to 25/valid NUS card) which costs £46 per year. For children under 18, a family membership can include between six and 12 children or grandchildren under the age of 17. It costs £56 for a one-adult family membership and £99 for a family with two adults living at the same address.

Activities to do with your grandchildren.

3 Search for online deals

If you're signing up for an annual membership for any stately home or garden association, it's always worth searching online to see if there are offers available, with codes for money off or extra months when paying by direct debit. 

But bear in mind that the discounted annual price is an introductory rate for the first year of membership, so once the money's taken from your account you should cancel the direct debit if you want to avoid automatically being charged for a full-price membership next year.

12 ways to get a discount when you're shopping online.

4 Look at cashback websites

You can also cut costs on annual memberships by buying through a cashback website such as Quidco or TopCashback. The concept behind these websites is simple: each will pay a cash reward when you visit one of their retail partners via the site. All you do is sign up and provide your bank details.

The sites list product providers and retailers that pay commission when shoppers click on their links. In turn, the cashback website passes on the commission to the consumer. Some retailers pay a fixed sum, while others pay a percentage of your spend.

"Cut costs on annual memberships by buying through a cashback website."

Using the sites is relatively simple – register with the site and then, every time you buy online, visit the retailer via your chosen cashback operator rather than directly. The retailer typically pays a commission into your account at your cashback site, which in turn sends your cut direct to your nominated bank or PayPal account.

At Quidco, for instance, we found a National Trust deal of £5 cashback for all membership sales, and English Heritage were offering 4% cashback on all membership sales. At TopCashback there was an offer of £5.25 cashback on new NT memberships, and 5.25% on English Heritage memberships.

Find out more about cashback websites. 

5 Ask for a discount

It may seem old fashioned, but if you don’t ask, you won’t get. Simply asking for a discount can often pay dividends – for money-saving blogger Faith Archer, a simple phone call was all it took to cut the cost of her English Heritage family membership by a fifth.

Pick up the phone

"When our membership expired, I rang the helpline... that call saved us nearly £20."

“When our membership expired this summer, I rang the helpline rather than renewing online,” she explains. “I asked if there were any offers for existing members rather than new ones ­– and was offered 20% off. That phone call saved us nearly £20 on family membership, so it was well worth asking.”

Plus – Heritage Open Days and Open House

Fancy looking inside the Gherkin, The Royal Courts of Justice, Birmingham Hippodrome or The Royal Liver Building? September sees the Heritage Open Days festival across the England, and the Open House event in London.

These annual events give the public free entry to thousands of buildings that are often closed to the public, or access to areas of public buildings that are usually off limits. You can visit offices, private houses, schools, gardens, churches, temples and much more. The dates change every year but the Heritage Open Days weekend is usually the weekend before the London event.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.