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Best National Trust properties 2020: Castles, houses and gardens to explore

The most beautiful and interesting National Trust places and properties from across the UK

Founded over 120 years ago, the National Trust was the brainchild of three like-minded people who wanted to preserve the best of British heritage. Since then, the Trust has welcomed millions of visitors to stunning buildings, homes and nature locations across England, Wales and Northern Island. With more than 500 properties in its portfolio, including coastline, forests, historic houses, nature reserves and more, there are some truly fantastic National Trust destinations in the UK for you to discover.

The sheer variety of National Trust destinations on offer is astounding – there’s something for absolutely everyone. To help narrow it down, here we’ll share a few of our favourite National Trust properties to visit in 2019 and answer some of the key questions you might have.

National Trust properties: What you need to know

Do I have to be a member to visit?

You don’t have to be a member to visit National Trust locations, but joining up means you get free entry as well as a bunch of other perks. Without a membership, prices vary tremendously (fees per adult are listed for each property below), and there are options to pay for individual, child, group or family passes. Alternatively, memberships cost around £6 a month for adults over 25, so if you’re a regular visitor you can make a significant saving – if you live nearby a National Trust property, a membership lets you pop in and enjoy the gardens or grounds free of charge whenever you fancy. Find out more on the National Trust website.

What does that money go towards?

Any money the organisation accrues through membership fees or the price of individual tickets goes to maintaining, restoring or renovating its locations, with a huge collection of volunteers working year-round.

Can I take the entire family?

Many National Trust properties are perfect for family days out and provide things for the kids to do during the visit. Those properties with woods or expansive parkland offer plenty of room for free play, long walks and more, and then there are programmes such as ‘50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾’ over the summer that include activities such as scavenger hunts, den building, small rock climbing and other wholesome ventures. Many are also dog-friendly.

What else is there to do?

The National Trust hosts regular events at various properties around the country, too, including movie showings, and musical and theatrical performances. You can take a look at the What’s On section of the National Trust website by clicking here if you’re interested.

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The best National Trust properties to visit in 2020

1. Stourhead, Wiltshire

Price: £17.50 per adult | Book your visit

With 2,650 acres of landscaped gardens, parkland and of course Stourhead’s Palladian-style house, this Wiltshire estate provides a brilliantly varied day out for the family. Established in the 1740s, the famous gardens are elevated even further by the gorgeous lake at their centre, and the house itself was designed by Scottish architect Colen Campbell and restored to its current glory in the early 1900s.

Today the property includes ‘Adventure Lanyards’ during summer that have been inspired by Henry “The Magnificent” Hoare’s travels through Europe, and a giant ‘Bank or Bust’ board game will keep the entire family entertained as you explore Stourhead. The magnificent trees surrounding the house also allow for tree climbing for all ages with the help of instructors.

Period: 18th Century

Book now at National Trust

2. Knole, Kent

Price: £15 per adult | Book your visit

An archbishop’s palace in its former life, Knole is situated within the county’s last remaining medieval deer park – it’s home to more than 350 wild sika and fallow deer – and boasts works from artists such as Reynolds, Gainsborough and Van Dyck. There are many attractions inside Knole, also, not least the stunning showrooms which have recently benefited from a huge conservation project, and the unique domestic attic spaces.

The grounds are the perfect place to enjoy a picnic, or you can regroup in the Brewhouse Cafe on site. There’s also a bookshop and a dressing-up area for kids to try on period-specific costumes. Knole Park is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest so just trying to spot the various insects and plantlife can provide hours of fun.

Period: 17th Century

Book now at National Trust

3. Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire

Price: £13.50 per adult | Book your visit

Used as the location for ITV’s recent adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sanditon, Dyrham Park boasts beautiful 17th Century architecture and landscaping with plenty of modern touches. The ponds and wildflower orchard, in particular, have been brought into the 21st Century with some key updates, and the experience is topped off with the historic herd of fallow deer occupying the parkland.

The Old Lodge picnic and play area will keep little ones entertained in between activities, and you can take part in the self-led Great Outdoors Family Trail with 50 challenges to complete as you go around the property. Inside the house, there is artwork and furniture belonging to founder William Blathwayy.

Period: 17th Century

Book now at National Trust

4. Mount Stewart, County Down

Price: £10 per adult | Book your visit

Now open again after a long restoration process, the Mount Stewart estate in County Down contains a charming showcase of early-20th Century interior design, created from the imagination of Edith Helen Vane-Tempest-Stewart – or Lady Londonderry for short. The surrounding gardens – voted as one of the world’s top ten – are also an example of stunning artistry, with vibrant colours and landscaping complementing the property with Italian-style splendour.

Tours of the house are available year-round, and you can also take a stroll around the seven-acre lake in the grounds. For younger visitors specifically, there’s the new natural play area inspired by Lady Edith’s children’s book The Magic Ink-Pot and a collection of stone animals that kids can keep track of.

Period: 20th Century

Book now at National Trust

5. Cliveden, Buckinghamshire

Price: £16 per adult | Book your visit

Perhaps best known as the location where John Profumo rocked British politics by meeting Christine Keeler in 1963, Cliveden was also home to a First World War Memorial Garden – created to honour the estate’s hospital where the Canadian Red Cross treated wounded soldiers. While the property was at various times host to much social hustle and bustle, it is now a gorgeous estate complete with many beautiful gardens and woodland.

Outside of its history, Cliveden also offers lots of things to explore. You can take a tour of the house, which was originally built in 1666 as a gift from the 2nd Duke of Buckingham to his mistress, and try your luck in the Cliveden Maze. There’s also the Chapel, which offers stunning views over Berkshire and all the way to the River Thames.

Period: 17th Century

Book now at National Trust

6. Attingham Park, Shropshire

Price: £13 per adult | Book your visit

Owned by the family of Lord Berwick for over 160 years, Attingham Hall and it’s surrounding parkland is steeped in history. The property was given to the National Trust by the 8th Lord Berwick in 1947 and has since become a wonderfully characterful destination for visitors. In addition to the house, you can visit the woodland and deer park, as well as the Walled Garden which provides produce all year.

One of the key attractions for Attingham Park is surely the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ sides of the mansion, which can be explored alongside the restored picture gallery. There’s also the independent Brompton Cookery School situated on the edge of the estate, which offers cookery courses. You can even borrow sports equipment to use on the playfield.

Period: 18th Century

Book now at National Trust

7. Cragside, Northumberland

Price: £19 per adult | Book your visit

A jewel of British landscaping, Cragside house is the handiwork of Victorian inventor Lord Armstrong. Far ahead of its time when it came to technological advances such as hydroelectricity, the property is a treat for history buffs with an interest in some of the earliest examples of gadgetry and engineering that helped build the modern world. Besides the treasures that lay inside, there are also Cragside’s magnificent gardens.

The formal garden is a beautiful display of seasonal flowers, while the property’s rock garden is one of the largest in Europe. If you have young kids then there’s a ton to do, including a labyrinth filled with whimsical woodland sculptures and picturesque walks through the woodland and by the lake.

Period: 19th Century

Book now at National Trust

8. Dunster Castle, Somerset

Price: £12 per adult | Book your visit

If you prefer something a little more grand, then Dunster Castle is just the ticket. Sitting atop a hill overlooking the Bristol Channel and Exmoor moors, the Norman-era castle became home to the Luttrell family from the 14th century until 1976 and so bears the hallmarks of many time periods.

The oldest thing to see at the property is the iron-bound oak doors, which are the only remaining vestige of its beginnings as a fortress. Another must-see is the painted leather hangings, which are embossed to create a unique, multi-dimensional effect – it is thought they were first hung in the 1700s, and the National Trust has worked hard to restore them to their full glory. There’s also a working watermill.

Period: 11th Century

Book now at National Trust

9. Clouds Hill, Dorset

Price: £7 per adult | Book your visit

A unique showcase of the variety the National Trust offers, Clouds Hill is a tiny cottage in Dorset that was once occupied by T.E. Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia. Since the writer died the residence has been left largely untouched and visitors are able to catch a glimpse of his life as it was. Inside lies the book room with its leather reading bed and the music room with a home-made gramophone, while outside you can enjoy the beautiful view from the hill.

There are better choices for a family day out, but Clouds Hill offers many treats for history buffs. There is a Lawrence of Arabia learning pack on offer to provide background, and the remote location is perfect for taking in the Dorset countryside.

Period: 19th Century

Book now at National Trust

10. Stoneywell, Leicestershire

Price: £9.50 per adult | Book your visit

A carefully-crafted haven, Stoneywell is a quirky tribute to the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century, which had popped up in response to the increased industrialisation of the period. Architect Ernest Gimson created Stoneywell for his brother in 1898, crafting many pieces of original furniture that can be viewed by visitors today. The property is still recognisable as a family home, with many nooks and crannies to explore.

If you start to feel peckish during your visit, the Stoneywell tearoom is on hand, or you can take to the beautiful gardens for a picnic. Kids will love the fort and adults can enjoy the views it provides of Leicestershire. Frozen in time, the property has a magical feel that has been brilliantly preserved. Bear in mind, though, that you must pre-book at least 24 hours in advance before visiting – you can’t just turn up unannounced.

Period: 19th Century

Book now at National Trust

11. Polesden Lacey, Surrey

Price: £14 per adult | Book your visit

The residence of many a star, socialite or royal, Polesden Lacey has adopted much of its occupants’ glamour. Perhaps its most well-known use was for the honeymoon of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1923, where they enjoyed the house and its stunning gardens. But most of the time the property was home to Dame Margaret Greville, who filled it with people attending her lavish parties.

The house’s past is still reflected in its present, with many rooms available to view and features such as the Steinway Model B piano, which is about to be restored, adding to the stunning opulence of the house.

Period: 19th Century

Book now at National Trust

12. Lake District, Cumbria

Price: Various | Book your visit

Not a single property, obviously, but an exquisite collection of locales, valleys and places to visit under the umbrella of the National Trust. The lakes themselves are meticulously cared for by the Trust, right down to the wildflowers and rocks surrounding them, and key spots like the Tarn Hows and Coniston walking trail are perfect destinations for lovers of the outdoors. A source of natural beauty, the lakes are one of the Trust’s greatest triumphs.

If you need a sit-down and a drink during your visit, the Sticklebarn and Langdales is a real treat as the only National Trust run pub in the country, sitting amidst walking routes, mountain tarns and the Langdale Pikes – or you can simply wander off and enjoy the landscapes.

Book now at National Trust

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