A family afternoon at Warwick Castle, in Shakespeare’s England

A family afternoon at Warwick Castle, in Shakespeare’s England

Warwick Castle has changed a good deal in the twenty or so years since my last visit. Merlin Entertainments, the group behind Legoland, Thorpe Park and Madame Tussauds, turned it into a ‘castle-plus’ after spending £26m on refurbishments. As well as the castle itself, built by William the Conqueror in 1068, visitors can now explore a host of seasonal and permanent attractions, like the Time Tower, Horrible Histories Maze, and Dungeon. A new Knight’s Village gives overnight accommodation in wooden lodges, to complement the existing Medieval Glamping and Tower Suite accommodation. You can read about the Knight’s Village in this post by my friend Nat.

Warwick Castle

We visited over Autumn half-term, as part of a trip with Shakespeare’s England. Warwick Castle’s the sort of place that could easily keep families occupied for days. We arrived from our nearby hotel, Chesford Grange, in the late morning, so we only had a few hours to explore the place before dusk. Even so, we managed to pack in plenty of fun.

What we saw

Haunted Hollows

Warwick Castle

For Hallowe’en, Warwick transformed itself into a Haunted Castle. A few temporary attractions were on offer, including the Haunted Hollows, a walled passageway through a tree-lined space with different sections. In the Hollows, the medieval tunes that were played around the castle grounds were replaced by quiet, eerie music, and mist streamed into the tunnel of fronds at the entrance. Our daughter (aged five) is easily spooked, but she wasn’t too fazed by the graveyard with a man dressed as a gargoyle, who muttered at the passers-by, the pumpkin field (complete with pumpkin-headed actor), or the creepy looking skeletons.

In fact, D took a shine to one of those.

Warwick Castle

Flight of the Eagles

The Flight of the Eagles was a falconry display like no other I’ve seen. Colossal birds soared up to the castle ramparts, and then back down again, skimming low over the spectator’s heads. (Tip: if you want the birds to fly over you – and it really is incredible when they do – stand with your back to the castle. If you want to avoid the gusts of wind from their huge wings, stand on the other side).

Warwick Castle

As we watched Chilean eagles, American eagles and colossal vultures swoop down from the turrets, the falconer gave an interesting patter about the birds’ habits, and the history of falconry at Warwick. This included the time when an eagle savaged a duck in front of 2k spectators (the bird in question was sacked).

Pageant Playground

We always find it impossible to leave an attraction without at least dipping our toes into any playgrounds there. Warwick Castle’s playground is shaped like a mini-fortress, with curly slides, towers and ramparts to climb. It’s not huge, but there are plenty of other opportunities for a runaround in the castle’s 64 acres of well-kept grounds.

Mighty Trebuchet

Warwick Castle

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six…… The castle’s trebuchet is 18 metres high and modelled on the enormous Medieval catapults used to breach fortifications. The trebuchet (on the left in the picture above) is put to use as part of a regular show, which sees it hurling a 14kg missile across a field. I did rather hope to see it smashing into the roof of a small barn on the field’s other side. But, as my son pointed out, that would have meant completely rebuilding the roof every time the show was staged. Fair enough.

Horrible Histories Maze

The maze, a permanent feature at the Castle, is a collaboration with the popular BBC Horrible Histories series. Instead of finding your way to the centre, you had to look for different time zones in the maze: Vikings, Tudors and Middle Ages, to name a few. Boards around the place gave grusome facts about each era, and children could stamp a card when they found each time zone. The maze was well done, with plenty of opportunity for learning. Each zone gave a sensory example from the era, like a mini Viking ship the children could climb on, or a mocked-up trench from WWI.

Warwick Castle

Turkey legs

The combination of the Halloween attractions and it being a brilliantly sunny day in the half term holidays, meant that the place was teeming with visitors. We poked our noses into the Undercroft and Coach House restaurants. Although their menus looked varied and affordable, the queues were so long we decided to buy lunch at one of the stalls dotted around the castle instead. From a choice of turkey legs, burgers and pulled pork, we decided to buy two enormous turkey legs (they really were gigantic. I turned veggie for  a few days afterwards). The queue for the legs was long, but it was pleasant waiting in the sunny castle courtyard, watching Hallowe’en performances on the Dead Centre Stage, with the castle’s Mound in the background.

Warwick Castle

What we missed

Decent parking

My top tip for visiting Warwick Castle in school holidays would be, arrive early. By 11.30am there were no more spaces in the main parking areas, and we ended up in the overflow parking, a good twenty minutes’ walk from the castle entrance.

Witches’ Tower

We also missed the opportunity to go inside the Witches’ Tower, which looked tantalising from the outside. Normally the Princess Tower, for Hallowe’en the Tower became a venue for potion-making, face-painting and other witchery. By the time we arrived at the Tower the earliest time slot available was 17.45, which was too late for our schedule. We contented ourselves with watching the display of talking pumpkins and the smoking cauldron outside.

Warwick Castle

Towers, ramparts and interior

As we spent the entire day outside, we missed out on a major feature of the castle: its interiors, which from the guidebook look lavish and  beautifully reconstructed. Next time, we’ll be sure to explore the 13th century Great Hall, the Green Drawing Room, with artefacts from the English Civil War, and the Time Tower’s immersive multi-media show, describing the castle’s past.

Warwick Castle

the Bear Tower, where they used to chain bears for sport.

Fire Joust

The Haunted Castle hosted a fire joust, which at 8pm saw two knights on horseback, battling each other with flaming lances. Sadly, we had to leave before then, but I was tempted to sneak back after the children’s bedtime.

Dungeon

For an extra charge, visitors could brave the Dungeon. If Merlin’s other Dungeon attraction, the London Dungeon, was anything to go by, this would have been a seriously spooky spectacle. Warwick’s Dungeon experience comes with a warning that it’s not suitable for under-tens, so we’ll be saving it for a few years’ time.

Getting there

The castle is in the town of Warwick, less than two miles from junction 15 of the M40. Warwick train station is a mile from the Castle, and an express coach runs direct from London.

We were guests at Warwick castle as part of a press trip with Shakespeare’s England. Online tickets cost from £13 person. For more information, see the Warwick Castle website.

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Warwick Castle

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39 Comments

  1. November 16, 2017 / 8:25 am

    That’s so fun they turned it into a haunted castle! I’m pretty sure I visited this castle as a young teen! It looks really familiar! #FarawayFiles

    • Nell
      Author
      November 17, 2017 / 12:20 pm

      It’s one of the great English castles, so you might well have come here at some point. x

  2. November 16, 2017 / 12:44 pm

    Wow, there’s so much to do here, isn’t there? My kids would love the Horrible Histories maze – the books and TV shows are so fantastic. Can you book time slots for the various attractions that get booked up quickly in advance? If we go, it would be good to know that we’ve got good time slots for some of the most popular attractions. #FarawayFiles

    • Nell
      Author
      November 17, 2017 / 12:28 pm

      I think that you have to book them when you arrive. If you try to get there early, and go straight to the attraction you want to see, I think you would be ok. Our mistake was going off to see the Flight of the Eagles before putting down our names for the Witches’ Tower. We’ll know better next time!

  3. November 16, 2017 / 1:41 pm

    This certainly looks like the perfect spot for a family to explore together! I’m not a big fan of haunted attractions myself, but I’m glad your kids enjoyed it.

    • Nell
      Author
      November 17, 2017 / 12:29 pm

      Thanks. We’re hoping to go back when it’s not haunted, too. x

  4. November 16, 2017 / 4:53 pm

    Looks like a great day out. I haven’t been here for years and years! The Horrible Histories Maze would be a big hit with my boys, as would the mighty Trebuchet #FarawayFiles

    • Nell
      Author
      November 17, 2017 / 12:30 pm

      There was plenty here for childrne of all ages. We loved it!

  5. November 16, 2017 / 9:17 pm

    Oh wow, it looks like Warwick Castle is brilliant at Halloween! We didn’t make it this year for Halloween and we’ve never been into the dungeon as our two are too little as well. I look forward to going for a scary experience in the future though. I’d love to see the fire joust too!
    Nat.x

    • Nell
      Author
      November 17, 2017 / 12:30 pm

      Yes, that was one I was sad to have missed.

  6. November 16, 2017 / 9:38 pm

    Gah, I just love Warwick Castle. As a child I thought it was the most majestic place on earth. So glad to see it still entertains families like when I was a wee one (aaaaaages ago, hehe).
    #FarawayFiles

  7. November 16, 2017 / 9:58 pm

    You had me at trebuchet, my boys would love to see one of those in action!

  8. November 17, 2017 / 3:35 am

    I think I have heard about the attraction around this castle. It is like they developed this complex as a them park. Do you think this is a way to keep up with the cost of maintaining the property? Anyway, I guess you cannot beat staying on a place with a castle view. #FarawayFiles

  9. November 17, 2017 / 5:09 am

    I’m always so jealous of all the castles you all have to explore! What a fun day out, looks perfect for kids! #farawayfiles

  10. November 17, 2017 / 4:51 pm

    Ooh! I love visiting castles and this one looks extra special! My kids would love the maze! Definitely saving this idea for our next English road trip! #farawayfiles

    • Nell
      Author
      November 19, 2017 / 8:02 pm

      It’s definitely worth a trip, Hilary. x

  11. November 18, 2017 / 8:13 am

    I have always wondered what makes Warwick Castle so popular and now I know. That trebuchet is enormous and I would pay good money purely to see the birds of prey flying. What an excellent day out. #FarawayFiles

    • Nell
      Author
      November 19, 2017 / 8:03 pm

      It was actually very good value considering how much there was to see and do. Plenty to keep you occupied from dawn till dusk!

  12. November 26, 2017 / 5:27 pm

    I love Warwick castle too – so much to do there, we stayed in the lodges as well and even with almost two days we couldn’t quite see everything. Must be great when it’s themed too.

  13. November 29, 2017 / 10:37 pm

    I love a themed Halloween and one in a castle from the Middle Ages sounds fantastisk. That’s Danish for fantastic! (*Wink, wink!) Thank you for sharing the fun with #FarawayFiles, cheers from Copenhagen!

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:44 pm

      Tak!! xx

  14. February 2, 2018 / 7:58 am

    Warwick Castle always sounds more entertaining than your average British castle, almost American. I can imagine it is hugely popular so your tips i.e. parking are appreciated.
    #culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      February 4, 2018 / 6:37 pm

      Yes, it did have an American feel to it. A show-stopper of an attraction, that’s for sure.

  15. February 2, 2018 / 10:31 am

    That does look like fun although I imagine my kids would have a quip or two to make about me in the Witch’s tower, bless them *rolls eyes* #CulturedKids

    • Nell
      Author
      February 4, 2018 / 6:38 pm

      🙂

  16. February 2, 2018 / 3:00 pm

    It sounds amazingly fun and I guess it’s the way of the future to keep these magnificent castles going, but a tiny grump in me just finds it a bit irksome that ancient castles are being turned into Disneyesque theme parks. I guess I’m an old-fashioned grump! (I don’t think I realised I was one until I read about this, haha!!! Oh dear perhaps it’s time to lighten up). But I do concede that it sounds like a fun day out, especially for children. (Maybe I’ve lived in France too long where most historic places are somewhat lacking in any facilities and could be classed by some as a tiny bit dull dare I say it! Can’t win obviously.) #culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      February 4, 2018 / 6:41 pm

      I do know where you’re coming from. Some friends of ours went to Warwick, and had pretty much exactly the same reaction. I think there’s room for all different sorts of places, though. This definitely was a lot more like a theme park, which made it appealing to the kids – and fun for me, I have to admit. But I also love a wild, barren ruin of a castle. I prefer to say I have eclectic tastes rather than that I sit on the fence! 🙂

  17. February 3, 2018 / 8:30 pm

    Looks like a fantastic day out. Sounds like so much to see though, maybe you actually need a couple of days? My lot would love the halloween makeover!

    • Nell
      Author
      February 4, 2018 / 6:42 pm

      I’d say you’d need at least a couple of days to do it all properly, yes.

  18. February 3, 2018 / 10:39 pm

    I’ve always loved that you all have castles to explore. I know my girls would find Warwick castle fascinating…looks like they’ve made it super kid-friendly with all the bells and whistles, which, I guess, could be a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. #culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      February 4, 2018 / 6:43 pm

      Yes, there are definitely two sides to the debate!

    • Nell
      Author
      February 7, 2018 / 12:19 pm

      Indeed!

  19. February 7, 2018 / 10:01 pm

    Who knows there was so much there! It’s on they way to mum’s, we really should pay a visit! #culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      February 11, 2018 / 9:14 pm

      Don’t blame me if you turn up late to your mum’s. You could lose days there!

  20. February 21, 2018 / 1:25 pm

    That looks great, my son’s just getting into castles (and my daughter would be on the lookout for princesses!)

  21. Oooh, this looks like so much fun!! Shame about it posdibly being a bit overcrowded at times… we’d probably best choose a normal weekday to visit, as our Penguin doesn’t do queues very well, and isn’t super keen on crowds either. #CulturedKids (a tad late, sorry! )

    • Nell
      Author
      March 5, 2018 / 2:13 pm

      I think it’s a lot quieter just after opening, and in termtime. Definitely plenty of scope for learning there!

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