From recycling centres to historic landmarks, explore unusual places and hidden spaces

The coronavirus pandemic may have scuppered most events this year…but it’s not stopping Heritage Open Days (HODs), England’s largest festival of history and culture. The nationwide shebang returns 11th - 20th September with a mixture of COVID-safe physical events and, for the first time ever, virtual tours and digital experiences.  

Last year involving over 40,000 volunteers and more than 5000 events, the festival has something for everyone: exhibitions, performances, talks, walks, tours…expect all these and more besides, including the chance to explore ‘hidden spaces’ as buildings open their doors to areas normally off limits. What’s more, continued support from players of People's Postcode Lottery means every HODs event is free - including entry to museums, country houses and other attractions which usually charge for admission.

2020 08 24 Heritage Open Days Chris Lacey
Many events will explore this year’s theme of ‘Hidden Nature’ Chris Lacey

While online events mean visitors can enjoy countrywide happenings more easily, the North West has lots to offer locally; from a virtual ‘behind the scenes’ at a Greater Manchester recycling centre to an exclusive tour of Liverpool’s historic Blue Coat School and an online dive into Bolton Aquarium.

Many events will be also be exploring this year’s theme of ‘Hidden Nature,’ offering opportunities to discover the secrets behind our environment - not only landscapes but also gardens, urban green spaces, farms, waterways and green organisations.

“Heritage Open Days is all about sharing amazing stories of the places, spaces, nature, heritage and history around us - and feeling part of a community has never been more important,” says head of producing Annie Reilly. “We’ve been planning new ways to keep people connected with each other and their local area, whether it’s from home with our new digital programme or exploring Hidden Nature in the great outdoors.”

2019 09 09 Heritage Open Days
HODs is England’s contribution to European Heritage Days, taking place across 50 countries

North West digital highlights include…

ST. JAMES THE GREAT CHURCH |  Westhoughton | 11th - 20th September

Puzzle away with a digital jigsaw of this Grade II* church. Designed to highlight the building’s architecture, the games can be adapted for all ages to help everyone enjoy its beautiful details, such as the landmark bell turret and Morris & Co. windows.

LIVERPOOL BLUE COAT SCHOOL | Liverpool | 11th - 20th September

See inside this historic school building, with a festival-exclusive video tour, including music played on the newly restored Victorian organ. Visitors will also get to dive into the archives with competitions based on the school’s fascinating history, from WWII evacuation documents to the registration of John Lennon’s father.

RUBBISH TO RESOURCE | Recycle for Greater Manchester | 16th - 18th September

Discover what happens to your recycling once the bins have gone. This interactive online event will show participants how state-of-the-art technology sorts and separates recyclables, with a chance to find out more in a myth busting Q&A.

2020 08 24 Recycle For Greater Manchester
Ever wondered what happens to your recycling? Find out at this GM waste facility

While physical highlights include… 

POLISH HERITAGE TOUR | Liverpool | 19th - 20th September

Hear stories of Polish heritage and community in the city. What links 150 million-year-old amber from Poland and Pope John Paul II with Liverpool? Visitors will find out the answers to these questions and more on this special two-hour walking tour. 

RESTORATION OF THE SAND WAGON | Kirkby Steven | 19th - 20th September

Unravel a mystery with this special ‘impostor unmasked’ talk and tour. See how restoration work to a vehicle once thought to be a north eastern railway sand wagon has been uncovering new evidence and discovering the true origins of this historic carriage.


Join a special illustrated talk about the gardens which once featured ornamental planting, a boating lake and a glass pavilion filled with tropical plants. Participants can learn how ‘hidden nature’ of the past attracted tourists, as well as how the Eden Project North is using the area’s natural landscape and ecology to reimagine the seaside resort for the future.

2020 08 24 Winter Gardens Theatre Morecombe Damien Rose
The lecture will take place in the Winter Gardens theatre, undergoing restoration Damien Rose

There are loads more where these came from; check the website for full event listings (some require advance booking).

To ensure that visitors are safe and that events can keep to the latest government guidelines, all details are subject to change or cancellation. Visitors should re-check details on the website and read the festival COVID considerations before confirming plans nearer the time.

About Heritage Open Days

Heritage Open Days is coordinated and promoted nationally by the National Trust with support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, and run locally by a large range of organisations (including civic societies, heritage organisations, local councils, community champions and thousands of enthusiastic volunteers).

The event is England’s contribution to European Heritage Days, taking place across 50 countries. Other events in the UK are Doors Open Days in Scotland, Open Doors in Wales, European Heritage Open Days in Northern Ireland and Open House London.

Read more: COVID-19 - Manchester events cancelled or postponed