What is Heritage Open Days?

Heritage Open Days is England’s annual contribution to European Heritage Days, an initiative to raise appreciation for Europe’s rich and diverse cultural assets. It was launched in England in 1994. Every year in September, historic sites across England throw open their doors for free volunteer-run events, including access to places not normally open to the public. There’s a specific theme each year – previous themes have included ‘Astounding Inventions’ (2022), ‘Edible England’ (2021) and ‘Hidden Nature’ (2020). Last year more than 45,000 organisers and volunteers ran nearly 5,000 events across the country, attracting one million visits. Heritage Open Days is organised by the National Trust and funded with help from the People’s Postcode Lottery.


When is Heritage Open Days 2023, and what is the theme?

Heritage Open Days 2023 will take place from 8 to 17 September and the theme is ‘Creativity Unwrapped’. You can find out more about Heritage Open Days and look for events near you on the Heritage Open Days website.

This year, organisers participating for the first time, or offering new events, include Lamport Hall in Northampton, whose skilled conservators will be on-hand for a chat. Join a walking tour of Garforth in West Yorkshire to learn about the town’s coal mining history or enjoy a ride across London on a vintage omnibus, thanks to the London Bus Museum.

A wide range of organisers that usually charge for events, free sites that put on extra special events for the festival and places that aren't usually open to the public will take part again this year. Early highlights include the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Nottinghamshire’s family-friendly (8 years+) and interactive exhibition ‘The Journey’, walking tours of the Royal Northern College of Music Collection in Manchester, and the award-winning Archaeology on Prescription project at Willow House in York.

Hundreds of organisers will embrace the festival’s theme of Creativity Unwrapped, such as London’s Museum of Brands, which will screen nostalgic television adverts from Heritage Brands. Renowned 18th-century poet, William Cowper, will be celebrated by way of a 24-hour ‘poemathon’ at his former home in Buckinghamshire. Plus the costumed characters of the Ancient House Museum in Norfolk will uncover the historic items made by river power.

More like this

The National Trust will also be holding events at a series of properties in partnership with family history website Findmypast, using 1921 census records to open up the stories of the residents of the properties. The participating sites are Quarry Bank in Cheshire, A la Ronde in Devon, Avebury in Wiltshire, Back to Backs in Birmingham, Blickling in Norfolk, Cotehele in Cornwall, Knightshayes in Devon, Sizergh in Cumbria, The Workhouse in Nottinghamshire and Wordsworth House in Cumbria.

Do other countries in the UK offer Heritage Open Days?

Heritage Open Days is England’s contribution to European Heritage Days. Other events in the UK are Doors Open Days in Scotland; Open Doors Days in Wales; and European Heritage Open Days in Northern Ireland.


Rosemary Collins is the features editor for Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine