Once upon a time, the words ‘stately home’ wouldn’t necessarily have conjured up images of a child-friendly day out. All together now, ‘IT’S BORING!’. But things have changed, and there must be barely a grand house in the country that doesn’t also have an adventure playground and a children’s offering in the cafe. We’re spoiled for choice around York – Beningbrough Hall, Nunnington Hall and Harewood House are all excellent family-friendly options – and Castle Howard is also one of our favourites. Once best known as the iconic setting for the 1980s Brideshead Revisited TV series, nowadays you can find it shining brightly in Netflix shows like Bridgerton, and it also has a starring role in many Yorkshire family days out. Here are five reasons why we like it and would recommend it as a lovely place to visit with children.
1. It has one of the best adventure playgrounds in Yorkshire
From the huge rope bridge connecting the original playground to the island, to the slides, tunnels and walkways, Castle Howard’s new adventure playground, Skelf Island, is outdoor fun on a big scale. It’s a cracking place to let children run free for an hour or two to play among the trees and to the sound of the birds. It’s a brilliant spot for hide-and-seek obsessives too. There’s a zip wire (always a bonus) and plenty of traditional playground equipment in the original adventure play area too, from swings and more slides to things to balance on and jump off. There’s a cafe serving hot and cold drinks and food, and plenty of picnic tables dotted around if you’d rather take your own. On certain days, they even fire up the pizza oven!
2. There are acres of grounds to explore
Lakes, ponds, woods, walled gardens, flat bits, hilly bits, hidden bits, wide-open bits: the gardens and grounds of Castle Howard are so vast that you could easily spend a day exploring them. Go off track and see where you end up or follow one of the ready-made trails – it’s up to you. There’s so much to spot along the way that even the most reluctant walker should hopefully not notice that they’re putting one foot in front of another.
3. And the house is worth a visit too
Visions of your child running headfirst into a precious statue might be enough to put you off taking them into the house itself, but don’t let it. Our kids really enjoy the feeling of entering a totally different world, with fairytale four-poster beds, eye-popping wallpaper and incredible ornaments, and they haven’t knocked anything over yet! At Christmas, a visit to the house is a must: a team of designers is brought in each year to transform it on a different theme, and it’s always a memorable festive experience.
4. There are plenty of food and drink options
Packing a picnic is always a good way to keep costs down, and there’s no shortage of scenic spots to sit and enjoy a sandwich while the kids run about. If you’d rather leave the house without the stress of trying to locate the right Tupperware lids, there are plenty of options for food and drink. There’s a cafe at the entrance courtyard (takeaway available), another at the house and one at the Boatyard near Skelf Island which will see you right for cheese scones, soup, caramel slices and more. Feeling fancy? Afternoon tea is delicious – check ahead to see if it’s available to book. If you need something to eat when you get home, the farm shop is groaning with delicious local food, from fresh fruit and veg to meat, bread, wine, cake and gin.
5. They host amazing events throughout the year
Whatever the season, there’ll be something special going on. Christmas is the most spectacular and popular, from An Audience with Father Christmas – a magical encounter with Father Christmas – to their Christmas at Castle Howard event: the decorations are always incredible. Look out for events at Easter and October half term, as well as special events, from Parkrun to the Castle Howard Proms.
Address – Castle Howard, York YO60 7DA
Travel time from York – Around 20 minutes
Opening hours – Generally open 10 am to 5 pm