Making the Most of your Great British Heritage Pass
Like a little more pounce in your pound?
Gracious abbeys, ancient Roman baths, palaces of gone, but not forgotten kings and the living Queen, lavish gems, Neolithic towers, the best art, and the worst languished atrocities are part of the greatest travel bargain in Europe.
The Great British Heritage Pass permits a historic journey into castles, manors, abbeys, romantic gardens and British heritage sites. An independent traveler’s dream come true, the pass offers the maximum amount of adventurous touring and autonomy for less than US$100 per person for two-week road trip of admissions into Great Britain’s best cultural sites.
After arriving at either Heathrow or Gatwick airport, get in your rental
car, and head west. Make your first touring stop at England’s most famous Druid stone circle, Stonehenge, just north of Salisbury. Arrive late in the day after the tour buses have gone to their next travel quest, leaving you free to ponder the cryptic clues of Stonehenge in the quiet of a few visitors. After Stonehenge, it is a short (10 miles) ride to the ruins of an early Iron Age fort and one of the earliest settlements in Britain at Old Sarum.
Open daily, 9:30am to 4pm, 7:00pm in the summer.
Begin Day 2, with a visit to Avebury Circle and the Avebury Museum. Here, get upclose and personal to the largest open-air stone temple ruins. In a geometric rhythm, the blue tinted granite stones circle the village of Avebury, creating an impressive “frozen in time” landscape museum.
Open daily from 10:00am to 4pm, 6pm in the summer.
The city of Bath, about an hour’s drive west of Avebury, is the site of
England’s the architectural masterpieces of the Roman Baths, and the Royal Crescent, an elegant Georgian 17th Century hotel. Once favorite haunt of Charles Dickens and Henry Fielding, Bath had a racy reputation as a place for the famous, fashionable and feeble to drink or bathe in the rejuvenating waters.
The Museum of Costumes, adjoining the baths, has a remarkable collection of elegant and unique fashion from 16th Century England to the present day.
Open daily from 9:00am to 6:00pm.
On Day 3, drive about 50 miles northwest of Bath in the wooded Wye
Valley of Wales, are the skeletal remains of the 13th Century abbey at Tinturn. You might feel the need to speak in whispers as the expectation of reverence still permeates these grand abbey walls.
Arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon, to avoid the throngs of tour buses and to enjoy mystical solitude.
Open daily 9:30am to 6:30pm, 4:00pm in winter, and Sundays, 11:00am to 4:00pm.
While in the area, the nearby Chepstow Castle deserves a short
visit. The well-preserved castle, about 8 miles south of Tinturn, was once considered the gateway to Wales. High above the River Wye, Chepstow gained notoriety by being the first stone castle built in Wales in 1067.
Open daily, 10:30am to 5:30pm (closed for lunch), Sundays from 2:00pm to 5:30pm.
The Caerphilly Castle, 20 miles south of Chepstow, has a moat, turrets, and ghostly legends. The immense fortifications and water defenses
protected this castle for centuries from never being overtaken by an
adversary. Figures from the supernatural appear to protect the castle as
well. There have been “sightings” of a green lady flying from turret to
turret, ghostly soldiers patrolling the battlements, and the smell of sweet perfume at the flag tower.
Open Monday through Saturday from 9:30am to 6:30pm, 4:00pm in winter, and Sundays, 11:00am to 4:00pm.
From a home base near Stratford-upon-Avon on Days 4 and 5, walk along the quaintly cobbled streets of Stratfordâ€“upon-Avon, a sentimental British favorite. “Merry olde England” is manifested in the historic market place downtown, the sculptures of historic citizens, in the well kept flower gardens in the park along the River Avon, or an inexpensive canal boat ride.
Probably the most frequently visited landmark in all of Britain is William Shakespeare’s Birthplace. The restored home, with its traditional oak half timbered design, is decorated with antiques, contemporary Elizabethan furniture, and charming gardens. Other popular Shakespeare sites are the magnificent Tudor home of Mary Arden, William Shakespeare’s mother, and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (Mrs. William Shakespeare), a picturesque 16th Century Elizabethan thatched roof
Open daily, from 9:00am to 5:00pm with shorter hours in the winter and on Sundays.
Warwick Castle has it all. Just a few miles from Stratford, William the
Conqueror fortified this magnificent and dramatic fortress along the River Avon in 1068. Once home to the mighty Earls of Warwick, its towers, dungeons, and state rooms are dramatically restored and preserved. Madame Tussand’s wax figures give life to the “Royal Weekend Party” exhibit. Themed rooms, antique weapons, King Arthur clones and armored figures, ghostly anecdotes, a room of torture, strolling peacocks, guided tours and splendid views are enough to please and entertain any visitor, young or old.
Special events with costumed characters, medieval re-enactments, duels, rousing medieval participation games, craftsman and entertainment fill many summer days.
Open daily from 10am to last admission at 4:30pm, 5:30pm in summer.
Nearby Kenilworth Castle, the site of huge pageants throughout its active history, had significant importance from the 11th through the 16th centuries. It continues to be a center of weekend pageants of Shakespeare, drama, and realistic medieval re-enactment’s.
Open daily 9:00am to 5pm, shorter hours in the winter and on Sundays.
Newcastle upon Tyne makes a good home base for Days 6 and 7. Hadrian’s Wall, Hexham, a monumental Roman engineering feat, was built from
122AD to 128AD by Emperor Hadrian to prevent migration and enemy attack.
After the Romans left, disputing families were the British equivalent of the dueling Hatfields and McCoys. Chesters Roman Fort and Museum, and Housteads Roman Fort and Museum, in Hexham are well-preserved remains of a Roman Calvary fort with barracks, latrines, granaries and a hospital. Many excellent walking tours along the wall originate here.
Open daily from 10:00am to 4:00pm, 6:00pm in summer.
For Days 8 and 9, find a practical home base near York or Ripon. Fountains Abbey, Studley Royal Estate and Water Gardens guided tour deserves a half-day of your time for exploration. Founded in 1132 by 13 exiled Benedictine monks, the Fountains Abbey is Britain’s largest monastic ruin. It eventually became one of the richest monasteries in England, and the essence of its former grandeur remains today.
The Water Gardens’ luscious grotto, ponds, sculptures, canals and cascades attract garden aficionados from all parts of the world. Open most days from 10:00am to 5:00pm.
Castle Howard, in the North York moors, is one of the grandest houses in England. Built in the early 17th Century, this superbly terraced palatial home is currently famous for its recent appearance in the program “Brideshead Revisited”.
Open Mid March to October from 10am or 11am (house) to 4:30pm.
If you still have time left in your day, it is a short drive to Rievaulx
Abbey, Temple and Terraces. Believed to have once been the most beautiful abbey in England, the abbey remains lie secluded near the quaint village of Rievaulx.
Open daily from 10:00am to 4pm (longer in summer).
Wonderfully preserved, rich with history, the city of York is a
living, working museum, and a highlight to any trip. Along its cobbled
streets of the “Shambles”, six hundred years ago, butchers hung their
slaughter below the eaves of these shops. These medieval buildings are now a tourist attraction with contemporary shops, old churches and tea
At the south end of the Shambles stands the Merchant Adventurers
Hall, built in 1357-61, is one of the largest of its kind and date in
Britain, and served as a business/social hall and guild, hospital and
Open daily 8:30am to 3:00pm, summer 5:00pm, closed Sundays in winter.
The Treasurer’s House, behind the York Minster, houses an excellent
collection of 18th Century furniture. Hours: Open daily 10:30am to 5pm closed in winter. Clifford’s Tower, next to the Castle Museum, has a good view of the city.
Open to 4pm, summer daily from 10:00am to 6-7pm.
Day 10 brings you to Blenheim Palace, Europe’s largest palace. The
guided tour takes you through the lavishly adorned residence of the Duke of Marlborough. Sir Winston Churchill was born unexpectedly while his mother was attending an event at Blenheim. Set on 2000 acres of land and
constructed in 1705-24, the lavishness of detail is impressive. Blenheim Palace is open daily from March 15th to October 31 from 10:00am to last admission at 4:45.
For the last 3 days, turn in your rental car, and make your home base in the city of London, convenient to public transportation.
At Hampton Court Palace, costumed performers highlight your visit
to Henry VIII’s State Apartments, and other palace rooms. This palace was home to many Royals throughout British history, including the notorious King Henry VIII. The gardens are among the best in Britain, and the 300 year old hedge maze quite tricky.
Hampton Court Palace is open daily throughout the year from 10:15 to the last admission from 3:45pm to 5:15pm.
Kensington Palace State Apartments and Gardens, Kensington the
occasional home of Princess Margaret and Princess Diana, has an hour-long tour through the palace.
Open from May to October, Monday through Saturday 9:00am to 5:00pm, and on Sunday from 11:00am.
Tucked behind Buckingham Palace is the Royal Mews, home of the ceremonial vehicles used by the Royal family. The Royal horse stables are also in this location. Open Easter until August, Tuesday until Thursday, from noon to 4:30pm. From August to October, Monday, though Thursday from 10:30 to 4:30pm. The rest of the year, the Royal Mews is only open on Wednesday.
Royal watchers know that Windsor Castle is the residence of the
current queen. A guided tour through the Precincts, Queen Mary Doll’s House, The Gallery, the State Apartments, and St. George’s Chapel (when open) and the Albert Memorial Chapel is included with admission.
Open daily throughout the year from 10:00am to 3:00pm, summer – 4:00pm. It’s hard to avoid the crowds here.
Spend your last day in Great Britain enjoying most everyone’s favorite
attraction, the Tower of London. With your Great British Heritage Pass, admission is half off the regular price of about US$18.00 per person.
Uniformed guards of the Queens’ army protect the Tower of London, where
security is tight for the Europe’s best Crown Jewels on display. A “Beefeater” or Yeoman Warder takes the visitor through the old fortress with an entertaining and historically informative tour.
Opened daily from 9:00 or 10:00am to 4:00 or 5:00pm.
From the Tower Bridge, built in 1894, there are great views of
the City and Docklands. The basement engine room and engineer’s gallery
have interesting historical exhibits.
The Heritage Pass
Total estimated cost with out pass is US$212.50. The cost of a two
week pass is about $70.00 per person. Estimated savings is $142.50 per person. A one week pass is available for $48.00.
The Great British Heritage Pass is available through your travel
agent, by contacting Great British Heritage Pass at 1 (800) 327-6097, or
emailing your order (non refundable) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our Europe Insiders page.