FREE in-person or virtual visits to 3,000+ hidden UK property gems
Heritage sites open on selected September dates in England & Northern Ireland and throughout the month in Scotland & Wales
You can get FREE access either in person or online to many historical sites and tourist attractions including Bletchley Park, Tibbermore Church (known as Cranesmuir in the Outlander TV show), and Powis Castle as part of heritage open days across the UK in September.
The sites included usually charge an admission fee, wouldn't normally be available to tour online, or are closed to the public at other times of the year. To check places near you, see these websites:
- In England, Heritage Open Days is on from Fri 10 - Sun 19 Sep and includes 3,000+ locations and events. There are only a small number in London, but a separate festival called Open House London is running from Sat 4 - Sun 12 Sep.
- In Northern Ireland, European Heritage Open Days is on for a week from Mon 6 - Sun 12 Sep and includes 220+ sites and properties.
- In Scotland, Doors Open Days runs throughout the whole month of September with hundreds of sites opening, as does Wales' Open Doors.
How to book
For some attractions you'll need to book in advance, but for others you'll be able to just turn up on the day. You can check whether you need to book or not by visiting the page for each attraction. If you do need to book, there'll be a link or instructions provided. If you don't need to, it may be worth double checking with the venue before your visit anyway. Opening dates and times vary for each attraction.
Below, we've picked out some of the popular or interesting places you can visit for free.
- Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire (Fri 10 - Sun 19 Sep). Up to 200 free tickets available each day. Norm £21. Pre-booking required.
- The Brickworks Museum, Southampton, Hampshire (Thu 16 Sep). Norm £6. Pre-booking required.
- Greys Court gardens National Trust, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire (Mon 13-Tue 14 Sep). Norm £13.
- Ickworth National Trust, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk (Fri 10 - Fri 17 Sep). Norm £10.
- Margate Caves, Kent (Fri 10, Sun 12, Wed 15 - Fri 17, Sun 19 Sep). Norm £4.
- Powderham Castle, Exeter, Devon (Fri 10 - Sun 19 Sep). Norm £12.95. Pre-booking preferred.
- Segedunum Roman Fort, Wallsend, Tyne & Wear (Sat 11 - Sun 12, Sat 18 - Sun 19 Sep). Norm £4.95.
- Union Chapel, London (Sun 12 Sep only). Go on a guided tour to see rooms rarely open to the public, plus there'll be an organ recital in this Grade I Victorian building. Rarely open to the public. Pre-booking required.
- Weelsby Hall, Grimsby, Lincolnshire (Sat 18 Sep only). An opportunity to explore the grounds of Weelsby Hall and the interior entrance hall. Rarely open to the public. Pre-booking required.
If you check the Heritage Open Days website and select 'online events' you'll be able to see all which are online only, or have an online component, such as:
- Making Marmalade: Culinary Knowledge in the Eighteenth-Century Kitchen (Wed 15 Sep, 3.15pm). A talk comparing the kitchen to the scientific laboratory, finishing with a reconstruction of an 18th century recipe for marmalade.
- Rowallane garden (Sat 11 Sep, 10am-6pm only). Visit the garden originally created by Reverend John Moore and his nephew Hugh Armytage Moore.
- Maritime Mile Photography Tour (Sat 11 Sep, 11am only). Improve your photography on a 90min tour of Maritime Mile shoot locations including the Titanic slipways, Titanic Hotel Belfast, and more.
- Belfast Royal Academy (Sat 11 Sep, 10am only). See the three-storyed Cromby building made of Scrabo sandstone.
- Armagh Observatory and Planetarium Live online Zoom event (Wed 8 Sep, 7-8pm). Live talk on how the observatory's historical telescopes were used for pioneering science.
- Laurel Cottage online video event (Mon 6 Sep - Sun 12 Sep). Online Facebook slide show of this unique 1670s building.
- Creggan Country Park online event (Mon 6 Sep - Sun 12 Sep). Pre-recorded online event focussed on aquatic wildlife, water pollution, and more.
- Tibbermore Church, Perth (Sat 18 and Sun 19 Sep, 11am-5pm). Familiar to Outlander fans as Cranesmuir Church, scene of the infamous witch trial.
- Lower City Mills, Perth (Sat 18 Sep and Sun 19 Sep). A rare survivor of similar mills that once operated in all Scottish burghs from the medieval period until the late 1890s. Pre-booking required.
- Beannachar Camphill Community, Aberdeenshire (Sat 18 Sep and Sun 19 Sep). Including interesting buildings, plus grounds with woodland, farmland, lawns, sports field and a walled garden with flowers, vegetables, fruit and herbs.
Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be an easy-to-access map of online events for 2021 as there was last year, and they're difficult to search. Some events have both online and in person options so it's worth clicking through to any you'd like to see to check.
Note: When checking locations at the Cadw website, remember to tick the box at the top marked 'Open doors' or the list will show locations which also charge full price.
- The Thermal Spring, Taff’s Well Park (Sun 5 Sep, 2-6pm). The only thermal spring in Wales, and the smallest in the world.
- Newport Cathedral (Sat 11 Sep, 10am-4pm). A primarily Norman cathedral, with Saxon foundations.
- Powis Castle and Garden (Fri 17 Sep, 10am-4pm). Gardens open at 10am, Castle from midday. Norm £14 for adult entry, £7 for child. The Cadw website states booking is required and redirects to National Trust, however the booking system has been removed, so we'll update here when we know more.
Why do they do this?
The spirit of these open days is to celebrate hidden history and culture. However, a small number of privately-owned properties taking part get funding or have tax-exempt collections, which means they must allow public access for a certain number of days a year – but most of them just open up for the joy of it.