The annual Heritage Open Days event is a chance to go behind-the-scenes at some of the Cotswolds’ most interesting historic buildings. This celebration of local heritage lets you explore some venues which aren’t normally open to the public and saves you money with free entry to others.
This year’s Heritage Open Days takes place between 8 and 17 September 2023, with over 5000 events taking place across the country. A range of churches, priories, country houses, schools, factories, mills and gardens are taking part. There’s a mix of guided tours, walks, talks, workshops and special events – as well as free entry to several National Trust and English Heritage sites.
The event has been running for over 30 years now and is still going strong – this year’s theme is ‘Creativity Unwrapped’, with a focus on the history of creativity in England.
So if you are planning on visiting Heritage Open Days in the Cotswolds this year, here’s our pick of 18 of the best events taking place – you can find the full list on the Heritage Open Days website. Many you can just turn up to, but some of the tours do need to be booked in advance.
Heritage Open Days in the Cotswolds 2023
Cheltenham Ladies’ College
Cheltenham Ladies’ College is one of the UK’s most prestigious girls’ schools, founded in 1853 and run by suffragist educator Dorothea Beale for over 50 years. Its main buildings are located on the site of the original Cheltenham Spa, and were influenced by Arts and Crafts design.
Open for tours on Saturday 9 September 1pm–4pm (pre-booking required) | Find out more
The Cheltenham Civic Society and local history groups around the town are holding a series of free walks for Hertitage Open Days. Some are based around different areas like Naunton Park or Prestbury, and others have themes like women sculptors, street art or Regency Cheltenham.
Various dates and times | Find out more
Medieval Blackfriars Priory in Gloucester is one of the most complete Dominican priories left in the country, built in the 13th century on the site of a Norman castle. Now run by English Heritage, it’s normally used for weddings and events, but you can take a guided tour during Heritage Open Days to see the scissor-braced roof and Scriptorium, Britain’s best-preserved medieval library.
Hidcote Manor Garden
The Arts and Crafts style gardens at Hidcote near Chipping Campden were created by horticulturalist Major Lawrence Johnston in the 1910s and are now run by the National Trust. They use plants collected on his travels around the world, organised into outdoor rooms with different themes. Heritage Open Days tours give visitors an insight into how the garden developed.
Free entry on Friday 8 September 10am–5pm (normally £18). Garden tours at 9am and 4pm (pre-booking required for tours only) | Find out more
Westonbirt House Gardens
Take a tour of the Victorian gardens at Westonbirt House, which were created from 1830–1885 by Robert Holford (who also founded Westonbirt Arboretum). The gardens were inspired by William Gilpin’s ‘picturesque’ movement and laid out with formal terraces, lawns, lakes and a rockery.
Open for a tour on Wednesday 13 September at 11.30am (pre-booking required) | Find out more
Tetbury Market House
Heritage Open Days is a chance to see inside Tetbury’s Market House, which was built by the Tetbury Feoffees in 1655 – a group of local residents who took over running the town – and was used to sell wool and yarn, before later being used as a lock up and to store the town’s fire engine. As part of the event you can visit the Feoffee meeting room, which isn’t normally open to the public.
Open Saturday 9 September 10am–4pm | Find out more
With a history dating back to 1185, Horton Court is one of the National Trust’s oldest inhabited properties. It’s been a location for TV series Poldark and Wolf Hall – and is available to rent as a five-bedroom holiday cottage. During Heritage Open Days you can take a look around and find out more about its 1000 years of history, with stories and artefacts from its past owners.
Open Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 September 10am–4pm | Find out more
Originally built as a Tudor hunting lodge, National Trust site Newark Park was rescued and restored by a Texan architect in the 1970s and 80s after falling into disrepair. It’s built on the edge of the Cotswold Escarpment near Wotton-under-Edge, with lovely views from the gardens, which are set over three levels. And inside there’s a collection of period furniture and modern art.
Free entry on Saturday 9 September 10am–5pm (normally £12) | Find out more
Upton House and Gardens
The National Trust’s Upton House near Banbury houses an impressive collection of paintings and porcelain, and is surrounded by gardens which were created by Kitty Lloyd Jones – one of the first female garden designers – in the 1930s. As part of Heritage Open Days you can attend a free short talk to learn about the house and gardens, which take place every 45 minutes.
Free entry on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 September 11am–3pm (normally £14) | Find out more
Woodchester Mansion near Stroud was built in Gothic Revival style in the 1860s, surrounded by parkland. But although it looks finished from the outside, it’s only a shell inside after it was abandoned partway through construction, with builders downing tools and leaving it unfinished in 1870. You can look around the spooky ruins – and watch out for the resident horseshoe bats.
Free entry on Friday 8 September 11am–5pm (normally £9) with guided tours at 11.45am and 2.30pm | Find out more
Cirencester Amphitheatre was built in the early 2nd century by the Romans and could hold 8000 spectators. Today only the earthworks remain, but as part of Heritage Open Days you can take a daytime history walk to find out about Roman Corinium or an evening bat-spotting walk.
Walks on Saturday 9 September at 10.30am and 4.30pm (history walks) and 7.15pm (bat walk). Pre-booking required for the bat walk only | Find out more
North Leigh Roman Villa
North Leigh Roman Villa in the Evenlode Valley near Witney was once one of the country’s largest Roman villas. It had three bath suites, 11 rooms with underfloor heating and 16 mosaics, and you can see an impressive example of a mosaic from the early 4th century on display.
Open Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 September 11am–5pm | Find out more
Abbey House, Malmesbury
Abbey House in Malmesbury is open to the public for the first time in 20 years for Heritage Open Days in the Cotswolds this year. This Tudor manor house was built in the 16th century for wealthy clothier William Stumpe, who bought Malmesbury Abbey after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. It’s been altered and extended since and is surrounded by pretty gardens.
Open for tours on Saturday 9, Sunday 10, Friday 15 and Saturday 16 September, with tours running every half hour from 10.30am–3.30pm | Find out more
St Andrew’s Church, Castle Combe
St Andrew’s Church in Castle Combe was built in the 13th century and has a medieval faceless clock that’s thought to be one of the oldest in the country. You can try out their interactive heritage trail, with stories about the church and local community, and enjoy free refreshments.
Open Friday 15 and Saturday 16 September 11am–4pm | Find out more
Bath American Museum
Set just outside the centre of Bath with views across the Cotswolds, you can visit the Bath American Museum’s 125 acres of Grade-II listed landscaped gardens for free as part of Heritage Open Days. There’s also an arboretum, children’s garden and deli. Or for an extra fee you can add on a visit to the museum itself, with recreated rooms from different periods of American history.
Free entry to the gardens on Saturday 16 September 10am–5pm | Find out more
Grand National Trust site Dyrham Park near Bath was built for diplomat William Blathwayt in the 17th century. Inside are his collections of art and Dutch Delftware, and the lavish interiors which have made it a popular film location. There are also formal gardens, orchards and terraces, as well as 270 acres of ancient parkland with self-guided walking routes and views as far as Wales.
Free entry on Saturday 16 September 10am–4pm (normally £17) | Find out more
Saltford Brass Mill
Saltford is a Grade II-listed brass mill in the Avon Valley west of Bath which is a remnant of the 18th- and 19th-century brass industry. You can find out how the mill worked, see the furnace and 18-foot cast iron water wheel, and hear stories about the people who worked there.
Open Saturday 9 and Saturday 16 September 10am–4pm, and Sunday 10 and Sunday 17 September 1pm–4pm | Find out more
Prior Park Landscape Garden
The hillside National Trust gardens at Prior Park give great views over the Bath skyline. They were created in the 18th century and are best known for their picturesque Palladian Bridge, which is one of only four of its kind in the world. Stroll around the lake to the cascade and summerhouse or follow the family-friendly brass-rubbing trail. There’s also a tea shed for refreshments.
Free entry on Saturday 9 September 10am–4pm (normally £9) | Find out more
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