Family memberships to museums and historic and natural attractions let you explore at your own pace, time and again, and often with extra benefits that make them a brilliant year-round investment or gift. We shortlist some favourites

Words: Rachel Hogg

Family memberships are always a great gift for friends or to yourself – and mean your family will never be short of a weekend activity. These annual passes promise unlimited days spent learning and exploring together, whether that be roaming through open fields, visiting centuries-old castles, or getting to know the collections of some of our most interesting museums.

Family memberships can be a smart buy if you live close by, encouraging repeat visits, but are also a good way to inspire family days out much further afield. Many memberships also come with benefits – from priority entry and special members’ events to privileged access to spaces where you can escape the crowds. And, good to know, when you buy a family membership, you help to support work to preserve our heritage for generations to come. We’ve shortlisted some favourites, from museums large and small to memberships that open the door to exploration right across the country.

Family memberships for fun all year round
The Natural History Museum’s temple-like spaces offer lots to see, plus special benefits for members such as dining and lounging areas

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum in South Kensington has billions of years of history tucked away in every corner of its vast temple-like spaces, and an annual pass promises endless opportunities to explore its collection of over 80 million objects. Not only will you get guaranteed entry without the need to queue or book in advance, but there’s free unlimited entry to all ticketed exhibitions, as well as access to exclusive members-only events and spaces (including its Anning members’ dining and lounging areas). Membership for a one-adult family costs £68, and £87 for a two-adult family. Each membership includes up to four children under the age of 17 and unnamed guests can be added for an additional price.

Extra benefits There’s a members’ magazine, plus one for children with family membership. You’ll also find discounts at museum shops, cafés and cloakrooms. Access to the museum’s digital hub, The Hive, could be useful for school projects.

Nat Art Pass Story Museum, Oxford
National Art Pass offers entry to all sorts of gems across the country, as well as discounts and an inspiring guidebook and magazine

National Art Pass

You can get your fill of culture with the National Art Pass, an annual membership offering free and reduced-priced entry to museums, galleries and historical places around the country. This includes big names in London – HMS Belfast, Imperial War Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Jewish Museum London, Chiswick House & Gardens, Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark and the National Gallery. While these discounts are welcome, it’s also valid for fascinating museums and attractions across the capital and the UK. A National Art Pass also means 50% off major exhibitions, plus discounts in shops and cafés. An adult membership costs £73 a year for individuals over 30, and £110 for two adults. For an extra £10 ‘Plus Kids’ allows you to bring along under 16s in your family.

Extra benefits The guidebook offers away-day inspiration, with 800+ places where you can use the pass. There’s a glossy quarterly members’ magazine and you’ll get regular updates about happenings and special offers at museums across the UK

Family memberships for fun all year round
English Heritage has a selection of spectacular historic sites you can visit for a single annual fee

English Heritage

Your children will be able to take pretend play to the next level with an English Heritage Membership. They could be a princess trapped in a turret, a dragon on the rampage or a knight jousting in a tournament. For a single annual fee, you can enjoy as many visits to the charity’s 400+ historic sites as you’d like, plus free or reduced entry to the many events that take place at its properties across the year. You are spoiled for choice when it comes to landmarks to visit, from Eltham Palace and Gardens and Kenwood in London to Dover Castle, Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge and Chester Roman Fort & Museum. Membership costs £66 for one adult, or £115 for two adults and each member can take up to six children under the age of 18 into a site for free.

Extra benefits The handbook and magazine are packed with ideas for trip and event planning. The Members’ Rewards scheme has deals and offers – everything from travel to wine – from over 60 partner organisations.

Family memberships for fun all year round
London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot Open Days are one of the brilliant member benefits loved by families and transport buffs alike

London Transport Museum

One of the capital’s treasures and located in Covent Garden, London Transport Museum’s annual membership is sure to please all members of your family – even the ones that aren’t obsessed with trains and buses. There are historic vehicles for parents to admire and, while older kids can try their hands at driving a bus or tube (simulator), younger children will love the All Aboard play zone. All this comes at an affordable price, with an adult annual membership costing £21, or £18 if you choose off-peak membership. Membership is valid for 12 months and you can visit unlimited times. Kids go free so don’t need an annual pass, but you do need to book your free timed-entry tickets.

Extra benefits Trade up to the Annual Pass Plus (£60) and you get unlimited visits plus free entry for you and two children to the legendary Depot Open Days in Acton. These sell-out festival-style meets held three times a year open a store of over 320,000 objects, including posters and ephemera alongside trains, buses and trams.

Family memberships for fun all year round
Science Museum Wonderlab offers interactive wonders and fantastic live science shows and demos

Science Museum Wonderlab

If your child isn’t already interested in science, annual membership to the Science Museum’s popular Wonderlab should change that. The immersive interactive gallery has been a family favourite since it opened in 2016 and is home to more than 50 unique exhibits across seven zones. Young people can explore fascinating topics as diverse as sound, forces, light, electricity, maths, matter and space. Annual passes cost £16 for adults (17+) or £14 for children (4–16 years). Family annual pass for 3–5 visitors with no more than two adults are also available for a small discount.

Extra benefits The live science shows and demos are the crowd puller, offering brilliant and informative entertainment, so keep an eye on the museum calendar so you can book your Wonderlab admission tickets, along with museum entry, well in advance.

H R P Original
Historic Royal Palaces offers family-friendly themed days at its incredible palaces and family memberships mean privileged access and lots of other perks

Historic Royal Palaces

This collection of incredible Royal properties offers truly regal days out – and with extras such as magnificent grounds to explore and family-friendly themed days. Highlights are centred around London, with unlimited entry to the iconic Tower of London, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace. Mighty Hillsborough Castle and Gardens in Northern Ireland is well worth a visit, as is Banqueting House in Whitehall, with its jaw-dropping painted ceiling by Rubens and chequered history. A family membership costs £82 for one adult, and £122 for two adults with up to six named children (aged 5-15).

Extra benefits Expect early booking for special exhibitions, access to members-only events and discounts in shops, cafés and restaurants. There’s also a members’ magazine, plus partner discounts. You get reduced-price entry to Kew Gardens, where HRP’s Kew Palace is located.

Nat Trust
National Trust family memberships are understandably popular, giving access to an incredible array of properties wild spaces and other unique sites saved for the nation

National Trust

Perfect for discovering the great outdoors, National Trust membership gives you unlimited entry to over 500 diverse estates, parks, forests, woodlands, coastlines and beaches. These really do span the length and breadth of the country – from Lundy Island in Devon and Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland to Pin Mill in Suffolk, Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey and Carlyle’s House in Chelsea. When the weather turns, there are plenty of historic houses and buildings – many offering spectacular architecture and artworks. A family pass costs £83.40 a year for one adult, and £133.80 for two adults living at the same address, and their children or grandchildren (17 or under). Under 5s go free.

Extra benefits There’s a useful handbook, a members’ magazine and an online area with behind-the-scenes and ‘first look’ information across properties. Sign up by direct debit to receive a gift card valid in National Trust shops and cafés.

Family memberships for fun all year round
Children love visiting The Postal Museum and family memberships give unlimited entry, plus some free rides on the Mail Rail

The Postal Museum

Tucked away in Phoenix Place, W1, this fascinating museum delves into Britain’s postal heritage. There are hands-on exhibitions, interactive and learning activities. You can design your own postage stamp, try your hand at sorting mail or take a ride through the tunnels underneath London on the Mail Rail – an unmissable piece of hidden history. Family memberships are excellent value for £70 a year and give unlimited entry for up to two adults and three children. Join online or via the booking office before your visit.

Extra benefits You get priority booking for events and exhibitions, and one free ride for each member on Mail Rail. You also receive ten tickets to Sorted! the play space for younger visitors, plus discounts at the shops and café and on birthday parties booked at the museum.

Further reading: Showtime at the RSC’s marvellous Matilda The Musical