Top 5 Castles for Families with Young Children in London and Kent

#Towerof London #walmercastle #dovercastle #hamptoncourtpalace #hevercastle

Luckily, the OH enjoys a castle as much as I do and, on our travels around the UK we often consult our English Heritage bible for inspiration; detouring to admire a medieval portcullis or attempting to prevent our son jumping into an (empty) moat at a motte and bailey castle.

The kids enjoy a castle day trip too so we have visited quite a number. From the very unimpressive ruins of a Roman fortress at the side of a main road to the much more impressive, multi-sensory experience at Dover Castle in Kent.

These are our five faves. The criteria for this being that the castle is 1) accessible – for little legs that tire easily or buggy-pushing parents. 2) fun- with stuff to do that interests little ones or with space to explore and run around. 3) family-friendly- good loos and facilities, easy parking, nice cafe with good coffee and ice-cream, and space to have a picnic.

“I love Henry VIII’s house, it’s amazing and so much fun!” Arabella, age 5

Little Londoners at #DoverCastle

1. Dover Castle has to be in our top three for a great day out. It is vast and hilly so wear sensible shoes, but the walk is worth it. With 900 years of history to discover there is something for everyone. Park in the free car park and get the complimentary minibus up to the castle. History is brought to life in the castle with actors recreating pivotal historical events, activities, and holograms ‘haunting’ forgotten corners (I told my kids that the hologram was a ghost- would not advise doing that if you want your kids to sleep in their own beds again!) I enjoy, what I call, ‘old history’ and indulge in stories of kings and queens, of bonds and betrayals, whereas the OH enjoys the more recent WW1 history, ambling through the siege tunnels beneath the castle. Whatever your preference, there is plenty to see and do to keep the whole family entertained.

Little Londoners at #HamptonCourtPalace

2. Hampton court palace is full of Tudor majesty. Look out for King Henry VIII lurking on the staircase and listen out for the beheaded Catherine Howard wailing as she runs along the ‘screaming gallery’. Once the little ones get fed up with the history (and the walking) let them explore the gardens- the fountain and the little bridge is a particular focus for us- then finish the day off in the Magic Garden. Bring a change of clothes or swimwear if it is hot (or not), as there is absolutely no point telling your kids not to run in the fountains or paddle in the dragon’s stream as they will take absolutely no notice and you will have to take them home soaking wet and snivelling all the way- I know this from experience!

Little Londoners at #TowerOfLondon

3. The Tower of London is fascinating but busy. We have been many times and it is always busy. I would suggest that the Tower is better for older children; I haven’t taken my 3-year-old yet but my (more sensible) 5-year-old daughter has been three times and she loves it. Access is tricky with a buggy as there are steps and cobbles; I would worry that my son would get lost very easily in the crowd so I’ll wait a few years until I take him. With the Tower being London’s most popular attraction- prepare to be fleeced! Or be sensible and avoid being fleeced by shoving drinks, snacks and, if you’re staying all day, a picnic in your bag. Entry is pricey but it is worth getting English Heritage membership when you get there as, if you visit twice, you get your money’s worth! When we have had enough, we get a hot chocolate in the Starbucks across the road then hop on the river bus from Tower Pier to Waterloo before heading home. A castle, a picnic and a boat ride all in one day, the kids love it!

Little Londoners at #WalmerCastle

4. Another English Heritage must-see is Walmer Castle in Kent. The last time we were there we took in the house briefly but spent the best part of a gloriously sunny day in the gardens. Finding shade under a cluster of ancient trees, the adults relaxed in the garden chairs provided as the kids attempted to play traditional garden games none of us had ever heard of! Packed with history, Walmer Castle was originally built as a Tudor fortress and later became home to the Duke of Wellington (of Waterloo fame) and the Queen Mother.

Little Londoners at #HeverCastle

5. Now, you might start to spot a Tudor trend creeping into our top 5. Our final fave in this list is Hever Castle in Kent- just 30 miles from London. Hever Castle is the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and is crammed with fascinating history brought to life by players in period dress and ‘edutainment’ -jousting tournaments and instruction in courtly manners and etiquette. Hever Castle is a really full day out; there is so much to see, do and enjoy that you may need a follow up visit! There are wonderful gardens, a programme of activities and a new playground specially designed for under 7s, as well as the castle, of course. Hever Castle is fantastic value for money as adult entry to the castle and gardens is £17.25, child entry is £9.75. There are concessions for students and over 60s and under 5s are free. Parking is also free and you can get a discount on the ticket price if you book in advance online. I don’t know about you, but I have paid more than that to take my kids to a very second-rate ‘zoo’ (note: glorified farm) for a five-minute look round and the risk of E.coli!

Enjoy! Amy x

(All images used are my own)

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