Visiting a castle can be a fascinating stop on a European vacation. Playing “if these walls could talk” and walking where kings and queens walked is a history lover’s dream. Visiting castles with kids can also be a challenge to keep them engaged. Special Needs Traveling Mom loves visiting castles in her husband’s native Ireland and throughout the UK. She shares her best tips for visiting castles with kids for a day that’s sure to be fun for the whole family.
Best Tips for Visiting Castles with Kids
Europe is full of beautiful and historic castles that are wonderful additions to any vacation itinerary. Even though most kids love to play knights or princesses and act out fairytales, visiting castles with kids can be a challenge. Tours can be long and history can be over their heads. On our trips to visit my husband’s family in Northern Ireland and over to Scotland we have visited several castles. Here’s our history loving family’s tips for making the most of visiting castles with kids.
1. Look for Programs for Kids
Many castles already have children’s programs offerings. These programs teach about the castle and life in the time of kings and queens on a fun, kid friendly level. The programs make visiting castles with kids enjoyable for everyone.
Of all the castles we’ve visited with our children, Stirling Castle was the kids’ favorite. It’s easy for me to see why. This historic castle in Scotland has a charming program called Play at the Palace. The children’s program features a whole wing of rooms just for the kids.
Each room offered a new fun and educational adventure. Children enter one room and dress up like royalty. Then it’s on to the next where they can play instruments of the court. My son’s favorite was where he could be a puppet master or the jester and entertain the court.
2. There’s An App for That
Historic castles have even gone high tech, much to my kids’ delight. Carrickfergus Castle and Castle Antrim offer a fun app available on The App Store called Kids ‘n’ Castles. Download the app either to the child or parent’s device for castle tour fun. The app follows two kid adventurers as they share fun facts and castle history while kids earn badges.
3. Come Up with a Game Plan
We have learned through experience that visiting castles with kids is more successful when you have a plan. Castles can be big and tours can be long with a lot of standing around reading. Kids can get tired and all the information can overload the most history loving kids.
Either before we go to the castle or as soon as we get to the castle, we come up with a plan of attack. We either review the website or use the visitor’s information provided at the castle to pick what things are must-see for us. With young children, one of whom is a special needs child with limited patience and attention, I know it is very unlikely we can see a castle in its entirety.
At Edinburgh castle, I knew I wanted to see the Scottish Crown Jewels again. (Sorry. No photos are allowed.) At Stirling, we made the royal living quarters which were not opened on my last visit our first stop. We pick our must-sees and do them first. Anything else we are able to see after that is a bonus.
4. Let Them Use Their Imagination
Even if a lot of the history of the castles may be over their heads, castles are a great place to let children’s imagination run wild. Kids love the idea of kings, queens, princesses, and knights. At Carrickfergus Castle, my son decided he was Sir Ethan and my daughter became Princess Caitlin.
As we made our way through the stone walls, we helped the kids make up their own story. We used the history of the castle that we learned along the tour for plot twists and turns. The castle also had a room where kids could sit on the throne, which became part of our story. They also could play an ancient game that was not unlike Chutes and Ladders.
We let each kid get a sword and shield as props for our made-up story. (Purchased with the caveat no sword fights on the tour.) When going to a castle, give the kids a bit of background and let them make up their own story to go with it and really encourage them to get in character. What better place to pretend to be a queen or a knight than in a real castle?
5. Work In Something for the Kids
Some castles are easier to visit with kids than others. Edinburgh Castle is one of the most fascinating castles I’ve ever visited but also the least kid friendly. It sits high atop a hill in Edinburgh so the walk alone can be taxing on kids.
The castle also offers no kids programs that we could see. We let them use their imaginations, but we also resorted to good old fashioned bribery. My husband noticed that there was a park located just below the castle.
We explained that if they were on their best behavior while mom, dad, and grandma toured the castle we would visit the park afterwards. After we toured our castle, the kids toured theirs, an adorable castle play structure in Prince’s Gardens.
Castles that do not offer kids programs may offer courtyards, gardens or greenspace for kids to play. Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland did not offer kids programs. The castle did however, offer a great place for the kids to run and play. We let them take a break for a bit when they were getting restless and then went back and finished the tour.
Making the Most of Visiting Castles with Kids
The castles in this post were mainly in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, the strategies can work whatever country the castle is located in. Check and see what’s available for kids, make a plan, and let them use their imaginations for a fun and educational castle visit for the whole family.