Doors Open Days, with Scottish Archaeology Month, form Scotland's contribution to European Heritage Days, a joint initiative of the Council of Europe and the European Union. Historic Environment Scotland funds and supports the national coordination of these two events.
Over 20 million people now go to European Heritage Days, which operates under the motto 'Europe: a common heritage'. Each year events offer the chance to explore monuments and sites, many of which are not normally accessible to the public. Through widening opportunities and access, it aims to encourage care for architectural and environmental heritage and support understanding and respect among communities.
The first Doors Open Days - La Journée Portes Ouvertes - was held in France by the Ministry of Culture in 1984. The following year, in Granada, at the 2nd European Conference of Ministers responsible for Architectural Heritage, the French Minister of Culture proposed that the project be internationalised under the Council of Europe. The Netherlands held their first Open Monumentendag in 1987. Sweden and the Republic of Ireland joined in 1989, and Belgium in 1990. John Gerrard, then Director of the Scottish Civic Trust, saw the scheme operating in the Netherlands, and decided to introduce it to Scotland. As a result, Doors Open Days were piloted in 1990 in Ayr and Glasgow (then European City of Culture). Scotland was thus the first part of the UK to 'open its doors'.
In 1991 these events were united as European Heritage Days at the initiative of the Council of Europe, supported by the EU. Each year, more and more countries in Eastern and Western Europe took part. The idea has been taken up outside Europe, too, with similar schemes in Canada, the USA, Australia, and other nations, at different times of year.