England : Sightseeing Passes

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England : Sightseeing Passes

Several passes can cut down considerably on entrance costs to the country's stately homes and gardens. If you plan to do extensive touring, you'll save a lot of pounds by using one of these passes instead of paying the relatively steep entrance fees on an attraction-by-attraction basis.

Listed below are three organizations that offer passes waiving admission charges to hundreds of historical properties located throughout the United Kingdom. Each is a good deal, as the money you'll save on visitation to just a few of the available sites will pay for the price of the pass.

British National Trust -- The National Trust offers members free entry to some 240 National Trust sites in Britain. Focusing on gardens, castles, historic parks, abbeys, and ruins, sites include Chartwell, St. Michael's Mount, and Beatrix Potter's House. The membership fee includes a listing of properties, maps, essential information for independent tours, and listings and reservations for holiday cottages located on the protected properties.

Individual memberships cost ţ36 ($68) annually, and family memberships, for up to seven people, run ţ65 ($124). Savings on admission charges, combined with discounts on holiday cottage reservations and British Air or BritRail travel, make this especially appealing. Visa and MasterCard are accepted.

Contact The British National Trust, 36 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AS (tel. 0870/609-5380; www.nationaltrust.org.uk), or The Royal Oak Foundation, 26 Broadway, Suite 950, New York, NY 10004 (tel. 800/913-6565 or 212/480-2889; www.royal-oak.org).

English Heritage -- This organization sells 7- and 14-day passes and annual memberships, offering free admission to more than 300 historical sites in England, and half-price admission to more than 100 additional sites in Scotland, Wales, and the Isle of Man. (Admission to these additional sites is free for anyone who renews his or her annual membership after the first year.) Sites include Hadrian's Wall, Stonehenge, and Kenilworth Castle.

Also included are: free or reduced admission to 450 historic reenactments and open-air summer concerts, a handbook detailing all properties, a map, and, with the purchase of an annual membership, events and concerts diaries, and Heritage Today, a quarterly magazine.

A 7-day Overseas Visitor Pass runs ţ17 ($32) for an adult or ţ35 ($67) or a family of six or less. A child accompanied by an adult goes free. A 14-day pass is ţ20 ($38) for an adult (free for a child) or ţ43 ($82) for a family. Annual memberships are also available with rates of ţ34 ($65) for an adult, ţ15 ($29) for those under 19. MasterCard and Visa are accepted.

For visitor passes and membership, contact Customer Services, English Heritage, 23 Savile Row, London W1S 2ET (tel. 020/7973-3799; www.english-heritage.org.uk), or join directly at the site.

The Great British Heritage Pass -- Available from BritRail, this pass allows entry to more than 500 public and privately owned historic properties, including Shakespeare's birthplace, Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Edinburgh Castle. Included in the price is The Great British Heritage Gazetteer, a brochure that lists the properties with maps and essential information.

A pass gains you entrance into private properties not otherwise approachable. A 4-day pass is $50, a 7-day pass costs $75, a 15-day pass is available for $95, and a 1-month pass is $130. Passes are nonrefundable, and there is no discounted children's rate. A $10 handling fee is charged additionally for each ticket issued.

To order passes, contact Visit Britain at 551 Fifth Ave. (at 45th St.), New York, NY 10176 (tel. 800/462-2748 or 212/986-2266; www.visitbritain.com). You can also order passes on the Web at www.raileurope.com.