Castle Howard is a stately home just outside of York. It has landscaped gardens, a garden centre, farm shop, various cafes and an adventure playground. But what makes it stand apart is it’s sheer size and beauty.
Castle Howard is actually one of the “great palaces of Europe” and it truly deserves that title. Set in 1000 acres of land, everything about Castle Howard is enormous and impressive – even Skelf Island, the adventure playground, was gigantic. But more on that later…
Due to Covid-19 Castle Howard is operating at reduced capacity. The house will be reopening on Fridays and Saturdays from 31st July, and timed tickets need to be booked online in advance. Everything else is currently opened with government guidance in place (and very well implemented, in our experience – read more details below).
The grounds and Skelf Island are opened from 10am to 5pm daily and this is the cost:
Family (2 adults, up to 3 children)
Family (1 adult, up to 3 children)
What were our highlights at Castle Howard?
The circular walk around the grounds
We started with exploring the walled garden, which all five of us really enjoyed. Interspersed with the plants were fountains, statues, ponds and hedgerows to explore. We’ve seen many walled gardens and this has to be one of the prettiest.
From there we discovered the colossal Atlas fountain, several lakes, a wood and Skelf Island. We took our time and enjoyed the sights, so the circular walk took us all day, but the distance wasn’t too far for our children aged 6 and 3. Our 18 month old gave walking her best shot too. Many paths are pushchair friendly, but you may prefer a sling if you’d like to take one of the less trodden paths.
We stopped for a picnic on the lawn in front of the house which was really idyllic. Depending on arrival time, I would advise talking a picnic with you. There are takeaway cafes and seating areas at the entrance and by Skelf Island, but Skelf Island is quite far from the entrance and you may get hungry before you reach it. You could always get coffee, cake or an ice cream when you get there too!
We went for a coffee at 3pm at the Skelf Island café and the sandwiches had sold out. There were still crisps, cakes and ice creams available, but with all the exercising that you will be doing on the walk and playing in Skelf Island, you and the kids will definitely work up a big appetite. So, take some supplies in case hunger strikes.
Skelf Island was quite literally the best adventure playground we have ever been to. There are actually two adventure playgrounds with a long rope bridge crossing the lake to connect the two of them. There is a normal bridge made from decking too if the thought of a rope bridge is a little much, but we’d urge you to give it a go if you can.
There is no age restriction so all of us, from the 18-month-old to 34-year-old-daddy had an absolute whale of a time. It was fun to see other parents having so much fun with their children too – on the zip line, whizzing down the slides and clambering over the nets and rope bridges. Bring good footwear, once you see it, you won’t be able to resist exploring. For parents with older children or who want a bit more caffeine and a bit less adrenaline there are picnic tables located next to both play areas.
We spent a good hour and a half there before our coffee and ice cream break, and then we went back in for a second go. Our children were really disappointed when it was time to leave Skelf Island, we had to reassure them that it would still be there for future visits and that we’d have to come back again.
How did Covid-19 impact our experience at Castle Howard?
As I mentioned before, the grounds are very large so social distancing is very easy to do. There are one way systems and hand sanitising stations in place for the shops and cafes. The play area had huge 5 litre pump bottles of hand gel by every different climbing frame, and they restricted the number of people allowed in at one time (but there was no queuing for us, or waiting to get in, even at its busiest point). The long rope bridge across the lake is currently one way, and this is the only thing we had to queue for.
We weren’t able to go into the stately home as it was closed but, honestly, we wouldn’t have had time to. With older children who walk faster, it would be possible to explore the grounds, Skelf Island and the house, but with having young kids, we would have struggled to fit it all in. If you’re into stately homes, however, you may be interested to hear that The Telegraph described it as “one of the top 10 buildings you must visit in your lifetime” in 2018. So it must be pretty special.
If you live locally then getting an annual membership would be a great option, as there’s more to see and enjoy than you can do in one day and it’s such a stunning place you’d want to return again and again to experience it during the different seasons. Family membership starts from £85 for the year and it includes entry into the house – good value for money!