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Top 5 National Trust Sites for Hands-On History

Fourth in our National Trust for Families series, we’ve put together a selection of excellent sites for sparking a true love of learning, with fascinating historic homes, hidden treasures and even burial mounds! On the list we’ve got Sutton Hoo, Waddesdon Manor, The Argory, Speke Hall and Lyme Park – read on to find out why!

Remember, if you’re looking for even more fabulous National Trust sites to make the most of your family membership, check out our  Top 5 for Creative Kids and Top 5 for Woodland Playgrounds and Top 5 for Animal Lovers.  Got some favourite National Trust sites that aren’t on the list? Feel free to add your recommendations in the Comments section below.

1. Sutton Hoo

John MillarThis house is all about the archaeology and has some fantastic Anglo-Saxon tales behind it. It’s a great place for kids who love to be outdoors and who love a good story.

Sutton Hoo, located in Woodbridge, Suffolk, is an expansive 255-acre estate that plays host to an array of stunning archaeological discoveries. It’s the ideal place for exploring the great outdoors and seeing real-life history right before your eyes. The Edwardian house has some beautiful interiors which are definitely worth a look – but it’s the grounds of Sutton Hoo that hold the most secrets.

Make sure you take a walk around the ancient burial mounds to hear the fantastic story of an Anglo-Saxon king, pop inside to the exhibition to see the replica burial chamber and treasures and take a look at the prince’s sword found on the estate. Children will love how visual Sutton Hoo is – all the history is out on display for them to look at, touch and run around. Ideal for even the youngest of kids.

If you’re looking for something more personal, then the hands-on learning that Sutton Hoo offers will make your day just that bit more exciting. Family events, behind the scenes tours and living history days run through the holidays – your children can even head to the dressing up box, meet a 1930s archaeologist and take part in a guided tour of the royal burial mounds. There are also nature walks, a children’s quiz and a play area.

The house and grounds are open daily from 10 – 5.30pm throughout the summer.

Call Sutton Hoo on 01394 389700 for more information.

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2. Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor National Trust SiteThis house is a wonderful location for children that love wildlife as well as history. Visit the aviary, take a guided children’s tour or relax in the gardens for hours on end.

Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, is a Renaissance style chateau built especially to show off historic art treasures. The house itself has 45 rooms on show – so this estate is perfect to visit on days when the weather is looking a bit ‘British’. It’s not just the house that is worth a visit though. Outdoors there is a stunning Victorian garden with many sculptures, fountains and displays on offer.

On Wednesdays during the school holidays, Waddesdon Manor runs children’s tours of the house. This is an excellent opportunity for little historians to really get stuck in with the tales of the manor.

In the gardens of Waddesdon Manor – and not to be missed – there is also a brilliant aviary. Children will have a fantastic time trying to spot all 38 species of bird. Why not pass them your camera and see how many wildlife snaps they can take? Behind the scenes tours of the aviaries run once a month and are an excellent way for children to experience the wildlife at first hand.

Other events include free activity days during the holidays, a children’s quiz, an Explorer Trail and the woodland play area. The children’s shop allows your kids to spend their pocket money on history related items such as retro toys and sweets.

The house and gardens are open between 10 – 5pm, Weds-Sun. 

Call Waddesdon Manor on 01296 653226 for more information

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3. The Argory

The Argory National Trust SiteWhen you step inside this Irish gentry house you’re transported right into the 1800s. The interior is simply beautiful, and that’s before you’ve even caught a glimpse of the sweeping landscapes outside.

The Argory is Dungannon, County Armagh is a typical Irish house located in 320 acres of riverside estate. As with the majority of Irish countryside, the scenery here is absolutely magnificent on both smaller and larger scales. The house has some lovely courtyards as well as fantastic views over the River Blackwater. Scenic walks are aplenty, so visit the Argory on a beautiful summer’s day for maximum effect.

In regards to history, the Argory certainly has everything you’d expect from a 19th century house. The interiors remain decorated as if the original occupants were still there – children will have a great time playing pretend and trying to imagine what life was like back then. Make sure you look out for the large bronze dogs and the impressive brass staircase!

For children there is an adventure playground and a ‘lively’ program of events. Lady Ada’s tea-room is definitely worth a visit too. Children and adults are both catered for in this award-winning café.

The house and grounds are open daily from 10 – 6pm. 

Call the Argory on 020 8778 4753 for more information

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4. Lyme Park

Lyme Park National Trust siteThis house is the epitome of elegance. You’ll easily feel like you’ve stepped straight into an Austen novel.

Lyme Park in Stockport, Cheshire, is a magnificent estate right on edge of the spectacular Peak District. The house and grounds are so incredibly pretty they’ve even been used in the filming of Pride and Prejudice. Inside the house there is so much for you and your family to look at – all the rooms are lavishly furnished and there’s even a piano you can turn your hand to. A welcome CD is available for when you drive up to the house to make the journey even more exciting!

In the school holidays there are family activities available, as well as quizzes around the house and garden. Take your children on a stroll over the sweeping lawns – and why not bring a picnic to enjoy the day further? If you fancy an exploration through history then head eastwards towards the Cage tower. The structure was once used to lock up prisoners!

Lyme Park is an excellent opportunity to give your children the chance to practice their map-reading skills. Get them to lead you to the Orangery, Lantern Wood and the Paddock Cottage. Children will enjoy the chance to orienteer and learn about the estate as they go.

The house and gardens are open from 11 – 5pm, Fri-Tues, and the park is open daily from 8-6pm. 

Call Lyme Park on 01663 762023 for more information

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5. Speke Hall

Speke Hall National Trust SiteThis beautiful Tudor house has education at its heart – let your children’s imaginations run wild as they learn about times long gone.

Speke Hall in Liverpool is a staggeringly impressive Tudor house with gorgeous gardens and woodland. The house was originally built to impress visitors – and more than 400 years later it still has the same effect. Described by the National Trust as ‘a perfect oasis from modern life’, Speke Hall is a day out that you won’t forget in a hurry.

Children will have great fun learning about the Tudors at Speke Hall. Make the history hands- on by taking part in one of the organized events, or join a Victorian costumed tour. Make sure you visit the spectacular Great Hall too. There is also a fully equipped Victorian kitchen and servant’s hall so your children can see ‘behind the scenes’ of Speke Hall. Some of the smaller rooms have some beautiful William Morris wallpapers too – one to keep the grown ups happy!

Outdoors there is an all-weather play area and endless walks around the lovely gardens.

The house and gardens are open from 11 – 5pm, Weds-Sun. 

Call Speke Hall on 0844 800 4799 for more information

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National Trust memberships

The National Trust are offering 15% off membership fees, which means (at the time of writing) you’d pay less than £7.50 a month for a family of four. That’s amazing, especially considering the huge number of child friendly and buggy accessible National Trust sites and the superb activities available during half term and school holidays… and it’s even more incredible value given that without a membership a family day out at one of these properties can cost over £30.

Your membership includes:

  • Free admission to over 300 National Trust sites, including the best family friendly sites handpicked by ReallyKidFriendly
  • Free parking at the sites and at most of the National Trust coastal, woodland and countryside car parks
  • Free pair of binoculars (while stocks last)
  • Map guide, magazine and National Trust member’s handbook with lots of information about the sites you’ll be visiting.
  • National Trust members also enjoy reduced rates (and occasionally free entry) at historic sites in other countries including Canada, Australia, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Barbados, New Zealand, Malta, Cayman Islands, Italy, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey and Scotland.

Buying or renewing your National Trust membership through Really Kid Friendly helps make it possible for us to run this free resource for parents and carers living in and visiting the UK. Just sayin’ 🙂 [button link=”″ type=”big” newwindow=”yes”] More about National Trust memberships[/button] [/box]

Image credits:
Lyme Park photo: Katy Routh on Flickr
Speke Hall photo: Tom Patterson on Flickr
Waddesdon Manor, Argory and Sutton Hoo courtesy of the National Trust.

Written by Louise

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