The Southeast Feature
- Places to Explore
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
The Southeast's Best Historic Houses
Touring the Southeast's historic houses isn’t just a procession of beautiful photo ops; it’s a living history lesson. From modest manor houses to the sprawling stately homes of the aristocracy, each building has something to tell about private life or the history of the nation, and often the story is presented in an entertaining way.
Historic houses reveal the evolution of the country, from medieval fortresses planned for defense to architectural wonders that displayed the owner's power. In time, gardens and grounds became another way to display status. Times, however, changed. And the aristocratic rewards of owning tracts of countryside, art, and family treasures encountered reality in the 20th century, as cash flow and death taxes presented huge challenges. Private owners opened homes to the public for a fee, some with marketing flair. Hundreds of other homes and castles are now owned by the National Trust or English Heritage, organizations that raise part of the money needed to maintain them through entrance fees.
Tips for Visiting
Keep in mind that houses and castles are unique. You may be free to wander at will, or you may be organized into groups like prisoners behind enemy lines. Sometimes the exterior of a building may be spectacular, but the interior dull. And the gardens and grounds may be just as interesting as (or more so than) the house. Our individual reviews alert you to these instances, but you should study websites. You can often pay separately for the house and grounds.
Consider the kids. Some houses have activities or special events aimed at kids, especially in summer; some even have playgrounds.
Look into money-saving passes. If you plan to see lots of historic houses and castles, it might be cheaper to buy a pass, such as the ones from the National Trust or English Heritage, or to join an organization such as the National Trust and thus get free entry. Check entrance fees against your itinerary to be sure what you’ll save.
Check seasonal opening hours. Hours can change abruptly, so call the day before or check online. Many houses are open only from April to October, and they may have unpredictable hours. In other cases the houses have celebrated parks and gardens that are open much of the year. Consider a trip in shoulder seasons if you can't take the crowds that pack the most popular houses. Some places are open during December.
Plan your transportation. Some places are very hard to reach without a car. Plan your transportation in advance—and remember that rural bus and train services can finish early!
Consider a stay at a property. You can rent a cottage from the National Trust (www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk) or English Heritage (www.english-heritage.org.uk/holidaycottages). Options include the servants' quarters, a lodge, or even a lighthouse. Some privately owned houses have cottages for rent on their estates; their websites generally have this information. The Landmark Trust (www.landmarktrust.org.uk) and Vivat Trust (www.vivat-trust.org) also have properties for rent.
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