Which of the two passes did you find most useful on your trips to England? We would like to purchase one, but am getting a bit overwhelmed with information. We will be traveling in May for 14 days. We plan on covering the Lake District, Yorkshire, Cotswolds and maybe Somerset. Thanks!
It depends on the sites you wish to visit. The two different organizations focus on different types of sites and properties.
Usually, English Heritage properties and sites are much older such as Stonehenge and various ancient castles and historically fragile locations. Properties are supported by government funding and entrance fees paid by the public.
National Trust properties tend to be "newer" properties; places like the houses of poets and writers, country houses, and architecturally important buildings. For example, in the Lake District, the home of Beatrix Potter and the home of Wordsworth, the poet, are both managed by the National Trust. Money is raised through donations, entrance fees, and rental of some of their properties.
Look at the places you want to go in the locations you will be visiting, see which ones are managed by which organization, and see which pass, if any, will give you a better bang for your buck!
Much as Anita said, it depends on what you would like to see. In a few cases they overlap, and in a few cases they are opposite to what you might expect, but generally English Heritage have very old properties, often with no roof and if it has a roof the property is unlikely to be furnished. An example might be Kenilworth Castle which has all sorts of history involving royalty and a certain well known story and very atmospheric - but it is a ruin.
National Trust have fabulous gardens at many of the properties, and world class ones like Hidcote, and many complete and completely furnished houses from large to small. An example might be Waddesdon Manor, owned by the Rothschilds, with a world class collection of Sevres Porcelain in a French chateau.
Both National Trust and English Heritage properties usually have a shop and tea room or cafe. EH ones tend to be somewhat utilitarian shops with postcards and childrens' books and items with an historical bent; National Trust properties almost always have a well equipped shop with local produce and National Trust branded adult and child merchandise including books and nice smelly things. National Trust places usually have nice small, or sometimes larger, tea rooms focussing on local produce, and quite a few NT places have very pleasant restaurants.
It all depends on what floats your boat.
There are a few odd crossovers where the property is owned by one and managed by the other, and sometimes both passes are valid and sometime only one.
Really the course of action is to look at where you want to go, and see whether any pass makes sense from there.
A different kind of crossover pass is the Art Fund card (www.artfund.org). If any property has taken money from the Art Fund charity to purchase / restore art then in exchange Art Pass owners get free or discounted admission. This covers all sorts of museums and properties. More for the resident, it is maybe another group admission worth considering against your own interests.
We became members of the National Trust as we arrived in England. It cost us £79.50 for two at the time. It does not cover the big castles or the major churches but it does cover the major gardens (including parking) and lots of other major attractions. We do like the major gardens and did visit Stourhead and Hidcote. We did visit the Beatrix Potter site. We did see lots of Peter Rabbits running around. I don't know if they plant them there or what but we saw several. The village of Lacock is a National Trust site. All in all, we broke even on the cost of the National Trust. It was a worthy investment. We did pay the entry fees for Castles Blenheim and Howard. Also for the major churches at York, London and Canterbury. In fact, the only four things that were truly free from entry fees for us as we traveled completely around England was 1) The British Library, 2) The British Museum, 3) Temple Church and 4) parts of the Tate Modern museum.
There used to be a combined pass that covered both. Personally I would not buy either pass. Remember that places like Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard do not belong to either National Trust or English Heritage. Then you don't feel that you have to justify that upfront cost, and you can simply visit sites belonging to either organisation (or neither). Churches also do not belong to these organisations since they are still belong to the Church of England or another denomination. Some such as Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral charge admission, but there are plenty that don't.
Membership of the US Royal Oak Foundation will, under their reciprocal arrangements, give you free entry to National Trust properties.
There is a Hudson's Heritage Explorer Pass which covers the English Treasure Houses (The Great Estates) and some of the others under National Trust and English Heritage. Look up "English Treasure Houses" and it has Click Site for Hudson's which has prices and properties for view.