There’s something so magical about stepping into a space that’s alive with history. Whether you’re storming the gates of a medieval castle, climbing aboard a vintage steam train or going backstage at a world-famous theatre, visiting somewhere new during the Heritage Open Days festival is a great opportunity for families to take a time-travelling adventure.
What is the Heritage Open Days festival?
Heritage Open Days is England’s biggest festival of history and culture with over 5,000 events happening across the country between 13 and 22 September 2019. This year is a celebration of the festival’s 25th anniversary and there are more chances than ever before to step inside hidden spaces, try out new experiences and visit wonderful places. And best of all, it’s absolutely free so it’s a great way of keeping the kids entertained if you’re on a tight budget after the summer holidays!
The list of things you do and places you can visit is mind-boggling. You can find out what’s going on near you by zooming in on the Heritage Open Days map or search by location, date or event type. The stuff going on isn’t restricted to straight-up history either. Yes, you can visit castles and stately homes for free – which is amazing considering how much these attractions usually cost – but you can also go on mini-beast hunts, enjoy interactive storytelling, walk to hidden waterfalls or climb a lighthouse.
Heritage Open Days covers all of England, but if you live elsewhere in the UK, there are equivalent events going on at different points during September. Check out Cadw Open Doors in Wales, European Heritage Open Days in Northern Ireland and Doors Open Days in Scotland.
Best Heritage Open Day events for families
What makes a great day out is probably a little bit different for all kids – and grown-ups who are still children at heart! That’s why it’s so great that there’s such a variety of places to visit for Heritage Open Days. Here are a few highlights from the thousands of events going on that might just tick the boxes for your family.
Bradwell Abbey Medieval Fayre, Milton Keynes – Sun 15 September
Travel back in time to the Middle Ages with a whole day of medieval-themed fun. Channel your inner Robin Hood or Katniss Everdeen with have-a-go archery. Dress up as a knight in shining armour. Admire beautiful birds of prey. Even put your parents in the stocks.
Dinosaur Day, Crystal Palace Park, London – Sun 15 September
A must for Jurassic Park fans, this fascinating park dates back to the 1850s when it was the first place in the world where extinct creatures were recreated as three-dimensional statues. On the open day, there’ll be dino-tastic storytelling, mask and badge making workshops plus tours and talks with experts. You’ll also get the chance to help with the ongoing project to fill the dinosaurs’ habitats with paleo plants – species like those dinosaurs actually would have walked amongst.
Stratford on Avon Music Festival Community Weekend, Stratford Playhouse – Sat 14 and Sun 15 September
Where better to dive into the world of your imagination than the home of our greatest playwright, William Shakespeare? Get up close to music with the Orchestra of the Swan’s Living Orchestra playathon, join in with interactive storytelling or book your seat for the family concert of the Carnival of the Animals.
Bristol Old Vic, Bristol – Sat 14 and Sun 15 September
If your family’s into theatre and performing in a big way, take the chance to go behind the scenes at the oldest continuously working theatre in the English-speaking world. Fresh from its grand reopening last year, the Bristol Old Vic is letting visitors into its secret spaces so you can peer back into its fascinating past. Try out the family heritage trail, arts and crafts activities too.
Bowes Railway Co, Gateshead – Thurs 19 – Sat 21 September
Roll your sleeves up and get stuck in at this preserved colliery railway – one of the world’s first modern railways, with sections designed by ‘Father of the Railways’, George Stephenson. Blacksmithing, making and creating workshops and all sorts of family fun are on the timetable.
Discover Dobcroft, Intact Centre, Preston – Sat 14 September
If you’ve got a budding David Attenborough in your family, here’s the chance to get up close and personal with the wildlife that’s on our doorstep here in the UK. At this brand-new community hub and 5-acre nature reserve, you can make bird feeders for your garden, explore the reserve and find out more about newts, bats, bees and hedgehogs.
Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, Gwynedd – Sat 7 September
Talk about getting a whole lot of day out for your money. And even more so when it’s free! At this 19th-century fantasy castle you can explore lavish bedrooms, go below stairs in Victorian kitchens, picnic in the child and dog-friendly gardens and swing through the trees in the adventure playground.
Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen – Sat 7 September
A great example of how Doors Open Days give you the chance to see places you’d never normally get to visit. Keen young scientists will love the chance to explore the labs, meet the researchers and ask all those clever questions Mum and Dad don’t always have the energy to answer! There’ll also be hands-on activities from the team behind the city’s annual STEM festival, TechFest.
Taking great family pictures on days out
Getting out and about to do new things and visit new places is a prime opportunity for snapping great family photos.
And when you’re ready to share your pictures, you can do it effortlessly and securely – making sure they’re only ever visible to people you want to see them – with Lifecake’s unique private photo storage app.