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.

Visiting castles with kids can be enjoyable for everyone with a little planning.

Carrickfergus Castle, Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs TravelingMom

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.

Stirling Castle offers a fun program called Play at the Palace for visiting castles with kids.

Play at the Palace is a wonderful program for kids at Stirling Castle, Scotland. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs TravelingMom.

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.

When visiting castles with kids check for activities just for kids.

Kids love playing dress up at the castle with Play at the Palace, Stirling Castle. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs TravelingMom

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.

When visiting castles with kids, it's fun for them to get hands on like with these instruments.

Play a harp or other instruments of the royal court at Play at the Palace. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs TravelingMom

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.

Some castles are even offering apps to make visiting castles with kids more family friendly.

With Kids’n’Castles old meets new. Kids love exploring the castle with the fun and interactive app. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs, TravelingMom

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.

When visiting castles with kids, make a plan prioritizing your must see places.

The Honours of Scotland are the crown, sceptre, and sword used at the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs TravelingMom

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.

When visiting castles with kids, check online or on visitor's guides for things you want to see.

The royal residences at Stirling were restored and opened within the last 10 years after detailed descriptions were found. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs TravelingMom

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.

When visiting castles with kids use the castles history to make a story with the kids.

Carrickfergus Castle is located in the charming town of Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, along the Causeway Coastal Route. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs TravelingMom

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.

When visiting castles with kids look for spaces like this one at Carrickfergus Castle just for children.

Carrickfergus Castle offers a scavenger hunt, thrones to sit on and a game for children. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs TravelingMom

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?

When visiting castles with kids let them use their imaginations and take on the role of knight or princess.

The Carrickfergus Castle gift shop offers fun items for kids like these swords and shields. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs TravelingMom

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.

When visiting castles with kids be aware not all offer kids programs.

Edinburgh Castle sits high on a hill that was once volcanic rock and defines the skyline of this historic city. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs TravelingMom

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.

When visiting castles with kids look for nearby parks for a fun stop after the castle tour.

After visiting Edinburgh Castle, bring the family to the beautiful park below to play and have lunch. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs TravelingMom

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.

When visiting castles with kids check for courtyards or gardens for the kids to play.

Many castles offer gardens or courtyards that are great places for kids to play. Photo: Kathy Penney, Special Needs TravelingMom

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.

 

Have you visited castles with your kids? What is your secret to making sure everyone has fun?

Visiting castles with kids can be enjoyable for the whole family with these simple tips. Let kids take a trip back in time with a fun castle visit.