Review: A Christmas Masquerade at Castle Howard

The long driveway is lined with twinkling pine trees, the smoking chimneys suggest an inviting fire (or ten) and we’re sure we can hear a ‘ho ho ho’ in the distance. Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Castle Howard. 

We took the children along to the opening weekend of A Christmas Masquerade, this year’s all-singing, all-dancing theme. Inspired by its theatrical roots, the house has been completely transformed by a team of world-class designers to embrace all things Venetian Carnival (with a festive twist of course). 

We were halfway up the main stairs from the ticket office before our eldest reminded us that we needed to go back and collect the children’s trail, as he remembered doing it last year and really enjoying it. The trail sheet has pictures of objects to spot in almost every room, and it really kept them engaged around the house. In fact they enjoyed the trail slightly too much –  the temptation to turn it into a sibling competition to tick everything off, race through and finish first was very strong! 

The masquerade theme runs through each of the rooms and it’s a riot of colour with a huge amount to take in (I’ve visited twice now and spotted new things on my return visit). Predictably, it was the most colourful rooms that the children loved most, from the one with the upside-down Christmas tree to the incredible Grand Canal in the Long Gallery that you can criss-cross by walking over the little bridges. We adults loved all the little details along the way, like the costumes hanging in the ‘backstage’ area and the original masks and wigs. 

An immersive experience

What already felt like an immersive experience was made even more so with the arrival of a real-life troupe of travelling players dressed for the pantomime, playing live music and singing by the enormous Christmas tree. While our two eldest thought it was fun, I managed to enjoy half a song before being dragged away by our youngest: it turns out that mischievous masked characters aren’t everyone’s cup of tea/glass of mulled wine! They were easy to avoid, though, and were careful not to approach anyone looking uncertain. That wobble aside, once again we were bowled over by Castle Howard’s Christmas transformation. It’s a joyful feast for the eyes that put the whole family in good festive spirits. 

A trip to Skelf Island

After a quick refuel in the cafe – the Christmas scones are highly recommended, as are the mince pies and gingerbread men – we headed down to the Skelf Island adventure playground. Since it opened earlier this summer, it’s been our children’s favourite playground and the novelty hasn’t yet worn off. They spent a good hour running, climbing, sliding and playing a massive game of hide-and-seek before reluctantly boarding the kelly car back to the car park with the promise that we’ll be back soon. Father Christmas might just find Castle Howard membership on their Christmas lists!

Good to know

The main Father Christmas events might be sold out, but you can still visit Father Christmas in the Courtyard Grotto on selected dates in November and December. Book a timed slot when you arrive at the ticket office, enjoy some elf entertainment and choose a small gift from the workshop when you leave. It’s £8 per child. Book your admission tickets online to save 10%. Parking is free.

Christmas at Castle Howard continues until January 5th 2020. Visit the Castle Howard website for more details and to book online to save 10%

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