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We investigate some of the popular annual passes for 2024 including Merlin, National Trust, English Heritage, RHS and Chester Zoo

There are so many amazing places to take children across the UK but the cost can really add up, especially over the holidays.

So is it worth splurging on an annual pass so you can visit your favourite places as often as you want? We investigate the most popular options for 2024.

Merlin Pass

The Octonauts ride at Alton Towers

Alton Towers

What is it?

The UK’s biggest annual pass offering entry to 32 Merlin attractions including Alton Towers, Legoland and more.

What do you get?

Entry to 33 attractions including:

The different types of Merlin passes offer other savings depending on which you choose including free parking, discounted fastrack and cheaper food and drink.

Different Merlin Passes

There are four standards of Merlin passes – Merlin Discovery Pass, Merlin Silver Pass, Merlin Gold Pass and Merlin Platinum Pass.

The cheapest option is the Merlin Discovery Pass. It gives off-peak entry only (so excludes entry during school holidays, some weekends and special events) and access to Merlin attractions for over 200 days.  Excludes entry during school holidays, some weekend dates and special events.

Next cheapest is Merlin Silver Pass which also includes some weekends and school holidays, giving over 300 days of entry and 10 per cent off shops, food and drinks. It also includes discounted friends and family tickets.

The Merlin Gold Pass has even less exclusion dates, giving access over 340 days. It also includes free parking, fastrack vouchers and benefits like 20 per cent off shops, food and drinks.

The most expensive option is the Merlin Platinum Pass which gives 364 days entry, with no excluded dates other than paid events. It also includes free parking, £5 off fastrack and Share the Fun vouchers and £19 tickets for friends and family.

How much are the Merlin passes?

Merlin Discovery Pass is from £99 per person.

Merlin Silver Pass is from £169 per person (renewals from £119 per person).

Merlin Gold Pass is from £239 per person (renewals from £169)

Merlin Platinum Pass from £299 per person (renewals from £229).

Can I pay monthly?

Yes you can spread the cost with a monthly membership, on all but the cheapest Merlin Discovery Pass option.

You need to pay a joining fee and then a set monthly rate.

Silver Pass – joining fee £39.99, £10.99 a month, total cost £171.87.

Gold Pass – joining fee, £49.99, £15.99 a month, total cost £241.87.

Platinum Pass, joining fee, £59.99, £20.99 a month, total cost £311.8.

What about the small print?

The passes are delivered digitally to your email inbox ready to use.

You need to pre-book tickets online.

How much could you save?

This depends on which pass you go for and how often you visit Merlin attractions.

Merlin have an online calculator tool to show you how much you can save.

For a family of two adults and two children with Merlin Discovery Passes, visiting just Alton Towers once a month, could save £2,868, so a huge saving.

In fact just going to Alton Towers twice would save you £148. But you would have to go to a Legoland Discovery Centre five times to make your money back.

Nobody should be paying the full price for tickets though with offers available on cereal packets and in newspapers – although always check as often booking online in advance can work out cheaper.

Verdict

If you are a fan of Merlin attractions, know you will be going anyway and can afford it, these passes would seem like a fantastic investment which will encourage you to get out and make the most of them for a fun-filled year.

Carer passes

Carers of Merlin Annual Passholders with additional needs who require assistance, can receive a free Merlin Annual Pass.

The passes are transferable between carers. They just include the name, date of birth and a photo of the guest with additional needs.

You need to submit your request here.

Top Tip

Look out for Merlin pass discounts – this usually happens in January and June.

Related stories

Our Merlin content on the site includes reviews and guides to Warwick Castle and LEGOLAND Windsor Resort.

Another popular article tells you How to beat the queues at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort with the Reserve & Ride (formerly Q-Bot) Ride Reservation System.

National Trust membership

deer outside Dunham Massey

Dunham Massey

What is it?

An annual pass giving free entry to more than 500 National Trust parks, gardens and houses.

What do you get?

Free entry to National Trust sites, free parking at most car parks, a handbook and a National Trust magazine three times per year.

New members also receive a £15 National Trust giftcard.

How much is it?

A family pass for two adults living at the same address and their children or grandchildren (aged under 18) costs £146.40 per year, £12.20 a month.

A family pass for one adult and their children or grandchildren is £91.20 a year, £7.60 a month

Children under five go free anyway, so take that into account. You can pay by monthly direct debit if you prefer.

Joint membership for two adults living at the same address is £139.20 a year, £11.60 a month.

Individual memberships are £10 a year for juniors under 18, £42 a year for a young person aged 18 to 25 and £84 a year for adults aged 26 and over.

You can also buy lifetime memberships from £2,020 and from £1,510 for seniors.

All the up-to-date membership prices can be found here.

What about the small print?

It is relatively simple but there are some car parks not included for free. Sites like Stonehenge and Tatton Park, which aren’t exclusively run by the National Trust, can incur some charges.

You have to sign up for a year at a time and can only cancel when your renewal is due. Be sure to mark your renewal date in your diary so you don’t miss it.

How much could you save?

Average entry price to a large National Trust place is around £30 for a family of four so you can save a lot.

Car parking can be costly too, from £3 to £7 at a lot of places. We have just been to the Lake District where we used three car parks in one day, it all adds up.

Verdict

Good value for the sheer number of sites and car parks you can use, especially if you have a good selection near to you, as we do.

Top Tips

*You can buy National Trust Membership as a gift which the recipient can use again and again.

*We always keep our cards in the car as you never know when you will need them, for anything from an unplanned visit to a castle to a National Trust car park.

*National Trust venues are fantastic in the holidays – we particularly enjoy the Easter trails.

*If you apply to the National Trust for an Essential Companion card then members with additional needs can take one or two carers with them for free. Full details here. So a child with additional needs who is a National Trust member for £10 a year, can be accompanied for free by two parents, for example.

*You can take dogs to certain National Trust sites.

*The cakes are usually delicious!

Related content

We have lots of National Trust articles on this site, including reviews of Dunham MasseyQuarry Bank MillTatton Park, and our Famous Five trail in Dorset.

English Heritage membership

A visitor does a handstand in front of the stones at Stonehenge

Stonehenge

What is it?

A pass allowing access to over 400 historic places including Stonehenge, Dover Castle, Tintagel Castle and more.

What do you get?

Unlimited access to more than 400 sites, free car parking, free entry for up to 6 children, a handbook, children’s activity pack and members’ magazine four times per year. Plus free or reduced entry to English Heritage events.

How much is it?

A family membership for one adult and up to six children is £69 a year or £5.75 a month.

Family membership for two adults and up to 12 children costs £120 per year, £10 a month.

Individual memberships are £69 a year for an adult aged 26 and over, £63 for a senior aged 65 and over and £57 a year for a young adult (aged 18 to 25) or student.

Joint memberships start from £96 and lifetime memberships start from £1,350.

All up-to-date membership prices are here.

What about the small print?

Not all events at English Heritage sites are free for members. They do get a reduced rate though.

You will get a reminder  letter one month before membership renewal. You must cancel at that time or pay for another year in full.

How much could you save?

Entry to each site varies in price. There are some for less than £20 for a family of four, but others come to £50.

You need to visit four or five English Heritage sites per year to start saving money.

Top Tips

English Heritage have sites in:

The North West including Hadrian’s Wall, Beeston Castle and Carlisle Castle.

The South West including Stonehenge, Tintagel Castle and Old Sarum.

The South East including Dover Castle, 1066 Battle Abbey and Osborne – Queen Victoria’s family home.

The West Midlands including Kenilworth Castle, Witley Court and Stokesay Castle.

The North East including Belsay Hall and Gardens, Lindisfarne Priory and Warkworth Castle.

Yorkshire including Brodsworth Hall, Whitby Abbey and Clifford’s Tower in York.

The East of England including Audley End House and Gardens, Wrest Park and Framlingham Castle.

London including Eltham Palace and Gardens, Ranger’s House and Jewel Tower.

For more ideas visit this page on their website.

Verdict

There are lots of English Heritage properties but if you have National Trust membership as well, do you really need both?

It will depend on how many English Heritage sites there are near to you and around any holiday destinations you are visiting in the next year.

You could perhaps try National Trust for a year and English Heritage another year.

Related content

Our articles include reviews of Stonehenge and Tintagel Castle.

RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) membership

What is it?

An annual pass perfect for people who love gardens and gardening.

What do you get?

Unlimited entry to the five RHS Gardens for the member and a guest or two children (four children for joint memberships), free entry to over 200 partner gardens at selected times, access to events, reduced rate tickets to RHS flower shows and a monthly magazine The Garden (worth £59). You also get unlimited, personalised RHS advice over the phone or online.

How much does RHS membership cost?

Individual membership starts from £74 (49.33 if pay by direct debit), joint membership from £110 (£73.33 by direct debit).

Student membership is £10 and life membership starts from £935.

Full details here.

Where are the RHS Gardens?

The five main gardens, all included in the membership, are Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire, Hyde Hall in Essex, Rosemoor in Devon, Wisley in Surrey and Bridgewater in Manchester.

Where are the RHS Partner Gardens?

There are over 200 Partner Gardens across the UK and beyond in Barbados, France, Japan, Singapore and South Africa.

They include privately-owned gems and some of the world’s most popular gardens.

All the Partner Gardens can be found here.

The small print

The free entry to 200 Partner Gardens is only for the main member in a joint membership and only at selected times.

Top tips

*At the time of writing RHS, keen to share the joy of gardening with as many people as possible, is allowing those who receive any of the following benefits, to visit RHS Garden Harlow Carr for just £1: Universal Credit, Pension Credit, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance.

You can book £1 tickets for yourself and up to five people accompanying you which can be a mixture of children and adults. Only one member of the party needs to be receiving benefits. You will need to present proof of your benefits on arrival at the garden.

*Able to visit the gardens for free at the time of writing are:

Up to two carers with a disabled visitor

Under-fives

Schoolchildren on school visits

Affiliated horticultural societies

Community groups supported by the RHS Community Outreach programme 

Carers

There is free entry for essential carers accompanying visitors with a disability at the main RHS Gardens – Wisley in Surrey, Hyde Hall in Essex, Rosemoor in Devon, Harlow Carr in Yorkshire and Bridgewater in Greater Manchester. If your membership has a guest entitlement you can still use this in addition to your carer.

Carer arrangements vary at the 200 RHS Partner Gardens.

How much could you save?

A visit to Harlow Carr, one of the five RHS Gardens, costs £47.50 for two adults and two children (aged 5-16 – children under five are free).

A joint membership, allowing four children to visit with you, would cost £82.50 a year, so you would only need to attend twice in a year to gain. If you visited once a month you would save over £488.

Verdict

If you love beautiful gardens and live near one of the main five listed, then membership would be worthwhile.

Chester Zoo membership

An orangutan and a baby orangutan in a hammock at Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo

What is it?

Annual membership to the most popular tourist attraction outside London.

What do you get?

Unlimited access to Chester Zoo, 10 per cent discount in the zoo’s shops and cafes, experience discounts, , access to junior members’ events, free entry once a year at several other UK zoos (Bristol Zoo, Colchester Zoo, Edinburgh Zoo, Newquay Zoo, Marwell Zoo, Paignton Zoo and Twycross Zoo). It also includes Member Days where you can bring friends and family at a discounted rate and access to Our Zoo where members are emailed exclusive content.

How much is it?

There are two available prices for all memberships – a standard price and a 10 per cent cheaper price if you pay by direct debit.

For example, the price for a family of two adults and two children is £320 or £288 if you sign up by direct debit.

One adult and two children is £215 or £193.50.

Children aged 0 to two are free.

Additional children aged three to 17 are £81 or £72.90 each.

For all the up-to-date prices visit the website.

What about the small print?

Fairly straightforward, the zoo is open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. You can go anytime. If you are using your free visit to another zoo you must take your membership card and membership letter.

You still have to pay the same price for the Christmas light show The Lanterns and other special events outside of opening hours.

How much could you save?

A day visit to Chester Zoo is up to £116 for a family of four booked in advance. There are rarely offers and discounts available.

You must all visit the zoo three times per year to start saving money.

Verdict

If you live close enough to visit regularly and have children who enjoy it, a Chester Zoo pass is a great family treat. Plus if you are members, you don’t feel you have to see every single animal and area each time and spend a whole day there for every visit, which is far more relaxed.

Top tips

If you have visited the zoo in the last month, Chester Zoo will take your ticket prices off the membership cost.

If you are planning to visit, don’t miss our popular article Chester Zoo – our top tips to save you time and money.

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