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Smart tricks for cheap days out at stately homes and gardens

Andy Stevens / 01 September 2017 ( 20 February 2020 )

Make the most of your leisure time with day trips to places of historical, geographical and horticultural interest. Here we show you how to save money on memberships for the National Trust, Kew Gardens and English Heritage, plus other tips on how save on days out with leisure passes.

Medieval Bodiam Castle surrounded by a water-filled moat

If you’re a fan of stately homes and gardens, but balk at expensive entry costs at the door or on the gate, it makes financial sense to consider taking out an annual membership.

So fear not: you can still enjoy days out to stately homes and gardens on smaller budget. Here are some tips for saving on membership fees.

Buy Scottish membership of the National Trust and Kew Gardens

Annual senior membership of the National Trust for Scotland costs £48, and you can make the most of your membership to enjoy unlimited access and explore places in the care of the National Trust in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in addition to organisations under the trust’s umbrella all over the world. This comprises 19 other countries, including Canada, the USA, Australia and Italy.

This price compares favourably with the £54 it costs for individual adult senior membership should you join the National Trust’s England branch, with no fewer benefits – although it’s wise to check for any potential specific restrictions in advance when planning to visit certain venues.

Similarly for joint senior membership, it’s financially prudent to take the highway of the Scottish route. Joint senior membership for the National Trust in England is £90 a year, and in Scotland £78. Joint membership is based on one of the pair being an adult over 60.

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

Become a member of Kew Gardens and there’s an annual cost of £71 (paid by Direct Debit) for an adult for free entry to Kew and Wakehurst at Ardingly in Sussex.

But buy a £29 adult membership at Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens and you'll also 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 money and provide 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.

 How to cut your household expenses.

Enjoy discounts with English Heritage

Annual membership of English Heritage  will help you save money if you are a regular visitor of historic sites. English Heritage membership entitles you and up to six children per adult member free entry at more than 400 places of historical interest, and members also receive a handbook, membership card, car sticker, members' magazine, entry to hundreds of historical events, and money off other attractions.

Adult annual membership is £60. An individual annual senior membership for people aged 65 or over is £51, while a Joint Senior membership for two adults aged 65 years or above is £78.

Find out more at English Heritage or call 0370 333 1182.

Activities to do with your grandchildren.

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. Look out in particular for money-off codes and extra months added on as part of the deal 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 the following year.

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

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.

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.

Find out more about cashback websites. 

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. Money-saving blogger Faith Archer, for example, has some excellent tips for grabbing discounts when and where you’d least expect them.

Heritage Open Days and Open House

September sees the Heritage Open Days festival across the England.

Heritage Open Days comprise some 46,000 volunteers across England organising 5,500 events to celebrate the nation’s incomparable history and culture. By joining in, you can get to see hidden places and try out new experiences – all of which are free to explore.

Similarly every September Open House events provide free entry to thousands of buildings often closed to the public, plus access to areas of public buildings that are usually off limits. Open House days offer rare opportunities to explore magnificent private houses, offices, schools, gardens, churches, temples and much more.

Enjoy discounts with The London Pass

The London Pass is probably not as well-known as it should be, as it offers a winning combination of convenience and value for money. This pass gives you access to a choice of more than 80 of the city's most popular attractions and tours.

It offers you not only savings but speedy, fast-track entry to some of London's tourist hotspots, including St Paul's Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace, Tower Bridge, Windsor Castle, the Tower of London, The Shard, Churchill War Rooms, London Zoo, Shakespeare’s Globe, HMS Belfast, the Cutty Sark and many, many more.

Eating out too? Read our tips to save money in restaurants.

Passes can be bought for one, two, three, six or 10 days; worth bearing in mind if you go to London several times throughout the year.

Visit The London Pass to find out more about the big savings you can make when you next savour the sights of the Smoke.

Enjoy discounts with the Merlin Annual Pass

Your grandchildren will be thrilled if you buy a Merlin Pass. This pass will be your ticket to more than 30 of the UK's top attractions including Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures, Alton Towers, Legoland Windsor, various sealife centres, Blackpool Tower, Warwick Castle and more, with the focus firmly on fun days out for the family.

You can purchase your Merlin Pass online, where you can also check out what’s on as you plan ahead, look for ticket discounts and any additional perks (such as food and drink) and upgrades which are often available.

Want to save money on travel? Read our tips


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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.