Looking for a great value day out? The UK has some of the world’s most spectacular castles and with family tickets from just £12, they're cheap too. Get your kids' imaginations going with a trip to 10 of the best and cheapest options.
Looking for an interesting day out that doesn’t cost the earth? The UK has some of the world’s most spectacular castles and, with family tickets starting from just £12, they’re great value too. Learn a little history and get your kids’ imaginations going with a trip to 10 of the best – and cheapest – options.
By Meera Dattani
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What’s there: Best known as the castle used for Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter films, Alnwick Castle is impressive even without its star status. It has been a family home for over 700 years and is owned by the Duke of Northumberland. New for 2012 are The Lost Cellars, (scary, so for over 13s only!) which are hidden deep under the Castle’s walls with folklore tales, character holograms and scary mood lighting. The castle ticket also includes entry to the medieval world of Knight’s Quest where kids can dress up, learn ancient arts and fight Northumberland’s fiercest dragon in Dragon Quest.
Cost: Castle only – adult £14, children 5-16 years £7, family ticket £36
Open: Daily 10am-6pm until 30 September 2012
How to get there: Alnwick Castle is just off the A1 at Alnwick in Northumberland and is well signposted. The closest train station is Alnmouth, 4 miles away. Parking costs £3.50 per car.
Where to buy tickets: Alnwick Castle website
What’s there: Set in Highland Perthshire and once the ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl, Blair Castle is full of historical gems with 30 rooms open to the public plus wonderful grounds which include a walled garden, Gardens Sculpture Trail, red deer park and woodland adventure playground – kids will also love the peacocks roaming about and Highland cattle in nearby fields. The Castle Detectives Challenge is great fun where kids follow picture clues to hunt down castle treasures. Castle tours are also available.
Cost: Summer season: adults £9.50, seniors £8.10, children 5-16 years £5.70, family ticket £25.75 (£20 in winter season) Under 5s free.
Open: Daily 9.30am-5.30pm until 26th October 2012 From 3rd November-24th March 2013 open weekends only 10am-4pm
How to get there: The castle is located off the main A9 road at Blair Atholl in Highland Perthshire between Perth and Inverness, 35 miles north of Perth. The castle is well signposted from the village of Blair Atholl. The closest station is Blair Atholl Station and is about half a mile away.
Where to buy tickets: Blair Castle website
What’s there: Set in the lovely Cotswolds countryside, Sudeley Castle and its award-winning gardens remain a family home but with much to explore. The gorgeous Queens’ Garden has hundreds of varieties of old-fashioned roses, while the medieval ruins and Pheasantry (home to 15 rare and endangered birds) are perfect for kids. The castle’s Adventure Playground has been recently refurbished and includes a brilliant new play fort with hidey-holes, towers and even a zipwire.
Cost: For Gardens, Playground & Nature Trail – adults £5, children £2, family ticket £15. Under 5s free.
Open: Daily 10.30am – 5pm until 28th October 2012.
How to get there: The castle is located near Winchcombe, 8 miles northeast of Cheltenham on the B4632 (A46) or 10 miles from junction 9 of the M5. The closest train station is Cheltenham Spa.
Where to buy tickets: From the visitor centre on arrival at Sudeley Castle
What’s there: With stunning views over Dartmoor, the medieval fortress of Castle Drogo is an impressive sight. Inside is everything from a Georgian drawing room with Venetian chandeliers and an electric table cloth in the Jacobean-styled dining room to a dolls’ house so detailed that it even has running water. The grounds include a colourful rhododendron valley and Bunty House (Wendy House) with its own miniature garden. You can take the kids wildlife-spotting on a winding walk into the Teign Valley or book a castle roof tour.
Cost: With Gift Aid – adult £9.30, child £4.70, family ticket (2 adults) £23.10 (1 adult £14). Without Gift Aid – adult £8.40, child £4.20, family £21, (family 1 adult £12.70)
Open: Castle is open 11am-5pm. Garden, café, shop and visitor centre open 9am. Check the National Trust website for more information.
How to get there: Located near Exeter, Castle Drogo is 5 miles south of the A30 and off the Moretonhampstead road. The closest train station is Yeoford, 8 miles away.
Where to buy tickets: On arrival at Castle Drogo
What’s there: Originally a 12th century manor house, this Leicestershire property became a castle in the 15th century. A funny audio tour outlines the castle’s history including the history of the keep-like Hastings Tower which you can climb up for fantastic views. Children will love trying to find the underground passage leading from the kitchen to the tower. Check the website for special events such as Clash of the Knights in July where medieval knights perform combat displays.
Cost: Adult £4.50, child 5-15 years £2.70, family ticket (2 adults, 3 children) £11.70. English Heritage members free.
Open: From 1st July – 31st August 2012 open daily 10am-5pm. Check the website for winter opening.
How to get there: Located in the town of Ashby de la Zouch, the castle is located 12 miles south of Derby on the A511 and 9 miles from Burton on Trent station. Car parking is restricted onsite so it’s best to park in town.
Where to buy tickets: From the ticket office at Ashby de la Zouch Castle
What’s there: This fantasy castle, built in the 19th century, is beautifully located between Snowdonia and the Menai Strait in Wales. Inside this National Trust property, don’t miss the one-ton slate bed made for Queen Victoria, the model railway museum and a dolls’ museum. The 60 acres of grounds include an exotic garden and Victorian walled garden. The castle offers hidden tours, a kids’ playground and special events such as fun days and Wild Child days.
Cost: Adult £11, child £5.50, family ticket £28 (with Gift Aid). Adult £10, child £5, family ticket £25 (without Gift Aid).
Open: Opening hours vary, but in general the castles open at 12pm and the gardens at 11am, with both closing at 5pm. Check times on the National Trust website.
How to get there: The castle is located at Llandygai on the A5122 and is well signposted from junction 11 of the A55 and A5. Bangor train station is 3 miles away. Free parking is available.
Where to buy tickets: On arrival at Penrhyn Castle
What’s there: The biggest attraction at Hedingham Castle is the 110-foot-high Norman keep, which was built in the 12th century by Aubrey de Vere, who was one of William the Conqueror’s most favoured knights. It’s a magical medieval castle with 4 floors to explore, including a banqueting hall with a 28-foot arch and Minstrels’ Gallery. The grounds and gardens are spectacular with woodlands and parks, while special events include Jousting Tournaments, Pirates Day, Teddy Bears Picnics and Nature Trails on Activity Tuesday.
Cost: Adult £6, child 5-16 years £4, family ticket (2 adults, 3 children) £20.
Open: The castle is open Sunday to Thursday; closed Friday and Saturdays. Opening times vary so check the Hedingham Castle website before you go.
How to get there: The castle is located in the small village of Castle Hedingham, half a mile from the A1017 between Cambridge and Colchester with easy access from the M11 motorway via Braintree. The closest train station is Braintree, about 20 minutes away.
Where to buy tickets: From the ticket office at Hedingham Castle
What’s there: A fairytale castle in the Cotswolds countryside, Berkeley Castle has been home to the Berkeley family since the 12th century. On the 6,000-acre estate is a medieval deer park and a stretch of the River Severn. There are free guided tours and lots of family options like the Butterfly House with 42 exotic species (and the world’s largest moth) flying freely in the tropical warmth of the specially-designed building. The castle’s new Tea Room is set in a yurt in the lovely walled garden.
Cost: For Castle, Gardens and Butterfly House – adult £9.50, seniors £7.50, children 5-16 years £5, family (2 adults, 2 children) £24. Under 5s free.
Open: 11am-5.30pm Thursdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays from April-October. During school holidays, the castle is open Sunday-Thursday. The Butterfly House is open until 30th September 2012, on the same days that the Castle is open.
How to get there: The castle is located between Bristol and Gloucester in the Cotswolds in the village of Berkeley from where it is well signposted. The M4 and M5 motorways are both close by and there is free parking on-site.
Where to buy tickets: From the ticket office at Berkeley Castle
What’s there: Once the Royal Seat of the Kings of Northumbria, Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland coast is a grand old place with 14 public areas, a new audio tour and live archaeological excavations. It’s one of the UK’s largest inhabited castles and sits on a rocky outcrop 45 metres above sea level. Kids will love the medieval kitchen, secret tunnels and coastal location. Food and drink is available in the Clock Tower Tea Rooms which specialises in local Northumberland produce.
Cost: Adult £9, senior £8, child 5-15 years £4, family ticket (2 adults and up to 3 children) £22. Under 5s free.
Open: Daily 10am-5pm until 31st October. From 1st Nov 2012 – 15th Feb 2013 weekends only 11am-4.30pm.
How to get there: The castle is 42 miles from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, 70 miles from Edinburgh and close to the A1. You can park all day at the castle for £2. There are regular local buses and the nearest train station is Chathill, 6 miles away.
Where to buy tickets: Call Bamburgh Castle on 01668 214515
What’s there: A National Trust property, Bodiam Castle is a fairytale medieval moated castle dating back to 1385 – its wooden portcullis is probably the oldest in England. Kids will love exploring the spiral staircases, ramparts and battlements, while the views of the Rother Valley from the top of the towers are fantastic. From April to October, there are daily ‘Bodiam Household’ interpreters in the courtyard, children’s discovery challenges, adventure trails and dress-up events with replica Medieval armour and costumes.
Cost: With Gift Aid – adult £7, child £3.50, family (2 adults, 3 children) £18.60, family (1 adult, 3 children) £11.60. Without gift aid, adult £6.30, child £3.15, family (2 adults) £16.70, family (1 adult) £10.40
Open: The castle, shop and tea room are open 10.30am-5pm daily. Check the National Trust website.
How to get there: The castle is 3 miles south of Hawkhurst and 3 miles east of A21 Hurst Green between Tunbridge Wells and Hastings. In season, there’s a steam railway route from Tenterden, and Robertsbridge train station is 5 miles away. The castle is also on the Sussex Border Path.
Where to buy tickets: Bodiam Castle website