In July last year, I made a decision which has literally made our lives so much easier since! I went onto the English Heritage website, as recommended by my best friend and signed up for an annual membership for £92.50 a year. Although it sounds quite expensive when you read it like that…this includes all admissions into any English Heritage sites for a year for 2 adults and up to 12 children, which means we can take our nieces out with us, or our friends’ children. It is also a pay monthly subscription which means you barely notice it going out of your account at £7.70 a month and to make up the money of the annual price, you only have to visit one of their big castles, twice! (Which we did in the space of 48 hours!). English Heritage also have an amazing deal on at the moment, if you sign up for an annual membership you save 20% off of the annual price so you would get it even cheaper than we did! Literally every time the weather was alright last Summer, or we had a couple of hours spare we headed to a castle and had a great day out. It’s now 8 months later and the kids still love going to all of the castles and we have saved amazing amounts of money. Here are some of our favourite visits using our English Heritage card:
The current (non gift-aided) prices for a day at Dover castle are £18.30 for an adult, £11 for a child and under 5’s go free. You can buy a family pass for 2 adults and 2 children for £47.60 (or £52.50 with gift aid) but if you think you are likely to go more than once in a year, you might as well buy the annual pass as any further trip after your second, will be completely free.
Dover Castle is definitely best left for dry days, as a lot of it is outside and being on top of a hill, can also be extremely windy. We first took the boys when they were 2 and 4 and I was pregnant with Perrie and although it was an incredibly sunny day, we had to phone my brothers to bring us some bigger coats because we were all so chilly in the main grounds of the castle so bare that in mind, even if it does look sunny outside! We have taken the kids back to the castle countless times since then, and they never get bored as there is always so much to do. From putting their legs in the stocks, going up on the roof, playing in the kitchen, sitting on the cannons and even Pokémon hunting (which is great there by the way!).
Dover Castle also has the secret war memorial tunnels, which we have only been to recently and wouldn’t recommend with kids who get nervous easily. We have yet to make it to the underground hospital as none of the kids like the idea of them, but maybe this Summer!
Throughout the year, Dover Castle hosts loads of events so keep an eye on the English Heritage website for special days in the school holidays and over Halloween/Christmas. We went for Halloween last year, and there was definitely an (age appropriate) eerie feeling about the place with heads being found down the well, staff dressed up as ghosts and also a Halloween arts and crafts tent just outside the castle to make spiders and masks. During the Summer, the staff run special talks and activities for kids in the castle grounds, where they can act out different scenes and learn all about the history of the castle as well as re-enactments of the war from the staff members in full dress.
If the weather is nice, and you’re feeling hungry, take a picnic with you and eat it in the grounds. There is a café but the one thing about English Heritage sites is that the food and souvenir shops are always overly priced so things such as drinks can work out quite expensive if you don’t take them with you. Also, everyone tends to eat at similar times so it can also get quite busy around lunch and dinner times. Apart from a couple of times when we’ve popped into the café, our kids have loved the experience of having a picnic so it just adds to the fun of the day! There are plenty of picnic benches dotted around the castle and in the Summer, there’s loads of space on the grass so there’s no need to worry there wont be anywhere to sit.
Walmer Castle and Gardens:
This is my favourite castle, and the kids love it too! I’ll get all the boring stuff out of the way first and then go on to show you how beautiful it is, especially in the Summer! At the moment, the castle is only open Wednesday – Sunday but this changes from the 1st April until October when it is open every day. Prices are £10.10 for adults and £6.00 for children with toddlers under the age of 5, once again going free. You can buy a family ticket for just over £26 which includes 2 adults and up to 3 children too which definitely makes the castle much more wallet friendly.
The castle itself contains everything you need to know about the Duke of Wellington, including his boots, his uniform and even the bed he died in. The inside of the castle also comes with a headset/mini tablet so you can listen to a guided tour, which has a child friendly version with games and activities on for each room you go in. Our boys loved the activities the most, but our daughter (who was two at the time) loved listening to it, and looking for the things she needed to find in each room.
The reason this is my favourite castle is because of the beautiful gardens and the lovely moat which is perfect for picnics. We went on a really hot day in August and there is loads of shade under the trees to sit and garden games to play.
Mobility wise, for the older guests, the castle have a couple of wheelchairs and electric scooters to hire whilst looking around the grounds. Due to the style of the castle, there is no room to use these indoors but they are perfect for whizzing around the gardens. My granddad had the time of his life speeding around on his and it meant he was able to see all the gardens without having to keep stopping and resting like he would usually have to.
Down the road from Walmer Castle, is Deal Castle which is much smaller and doesn’t take long to look around so if you have time to pop in there while you’re in the area, you can make the most of your membership card. Otherwise, prices are £5.80 for an adult, £3.40 for a child and under 5’s go free (family tickets are £15.00). The castle is situated right on the beach so you could also have a nice stroll along the beach if you had time too. There isn’t much to do at Deal Castle compared to some of the others, and to be honest I think we would have been slightly disappointed if we had to pay the entrance prices. The Pokémon catching there is really good which is always a bonus and the kids liked it because it was somewhere new, but we wouldn’t go out of our way to go there again. We went the week of Remembrance day so there were some lovely poppy displays and we had a good look around the rooms. We didn’t make use of the café or shop, but there are small ones there should you wish to go in them.