We’ve been really lucky this Autumn as we’ve generally had a pretty good September weather-wise, and Sunday was no exception. I’d spotted that Warwick Castle had another Mike the Knight weekend running, and seeing as N’s still free (until he’s three) I thought it would be a good opportunity to take him to see the castle and the knights.
I can’t say it was the most successful day out, so maybe the learning is that leave historical places until he’s older. Although there were lots of other toddlers of his age and younger who seemed to be enjoying it and getting involved so maybe it’s just N!
I booked my ticket in advance which I’d definitely recommend as there are some good discounts depending on how far out you book. I was able to book the night before we were going, so there’s a lot of flexibility. Bear in mind you can’t do advance booking if you’re using any of the 2 for 1 discount vouchers that there always are floating around and that will mean a big queue once you arrive to get tickets.
I also purchased parking tickets because yes, they charge (disgustingly in my opinion) for parking. I suppose £6 for parking for the day is cheaper than taking a family on the train, bus, taxi or whatever means there is for a day out on top of the inconvenience, but it still drives me mad that places out charge for parking when they’re already charging quite a lot for a visit in the first place. There are 2 car parks – one which is really close and is where the disabled spots are (£10), and the Stratford Road one which is slightly further away, a 5 to 10 minute walk, and costs the £6. So I duly paid in advance for that as well.
Of course, with a toddler to get out of the door, and various things to do before travelling we arrived 20 minutes or so later than I’d planned (and 40 minutes after the Castle had opened), so I was told by the car park attendants that the car park was full and to head round to the overflow carpark. I told them I’d booked and was informed that the overflow was still the same car park.
After driving some way away from the car park, we were parked in a field (we’d missed the original car park by 1!). Turned out that we were now a 20 minute walk away. Having initially left the house without the pushchair in the car, I’d decided to return for it (thankfully), otherwise I’d have turned round there and then as there’s no way N would have walked 40 minutes to get there and back as well as round the actual castle site. There’d been no mention of having to arrive by a certain time if you had booked, and no mention of an overflow carpark on the website or our booking confirmation, and to be charged the same amount again for parking in a field further away is quite disgusting.
The walk isn’t the best for buggies either, so definitely something to think about, plus I wasn’t happy to see several spaces in the car park we’d booked for, as we walked to and from the castle. The car park attendant when we returned to the car said that they had to leave spaces in case the official disabled spaces filled up, but as far as I’m concerned, they’ve a) omitted informing people they could be parked further away and b) they shouldn’t be selling advanced tickets on that basis if they can’t guarantee you a space – it wasn’t like we were arriving hours after opening.
If you pay for parking in advance you have to then queue at the main ticket office at some point in the day, to get a car park token. Given that there were huge queues when we arrived and when we left, it seems like a really bad system, when others can just pay at a machine. In future I don’t think I’d bother booking in advance for car parking as there’s no benefit. Luckily a staff member approached the queue to ask if people had already paid etc, so I said all I wanted was a car park token and she took me off to get one at the turnstile. Really, they should just have that option available in the first place.
Our day didn’t end well when we arrived back at the car to find someone had decided to park behind me, blocking my boot, on what wasn’t even a space and against the request of the parking attendants. I couldn’t believe someone with a ‘baby on board’ sign would park so inconsiderately!
Most people must take picnics with them as there weren’t that many places to eat. There are two restaurants/cafes (neither of which were busy when we were there), and then various kiosks. We grabbed a sandwich in the Courtyard café, and I can’t say it was the best experience, although it wasn’t as expensive as I’d expected. Probably in line with most coffee shops/cafe pricing.
There’s plenty of seating inside and out, but limited food choices. 2 panini/2 sandwich fillings, cakes, drinks, and a handful of hot meal options. They were also having issues with the card machines, so I had to pay cash. My Panini was revolting though – it was meant to be cheese, tomato and red onion, but there was limited (not sure what type of) cheese, the tomato was largely some kind of grim relish (I think), and I couldn’t taste the onion. I just couldn’t eat it. I’d definitely take a picnic next time, although if it had been raining, we would have struggled with that as there’s plenty of picnic areas, but not much cover for bad weather.
The good bits
1. What there is to do
Warwick Castle’s got plenty to see and do and most things are included in the price of the basic ticket. There’re lots of different towers and exhibits in the castle itself, and then on top they have different events throughout the day included. There’s a Princess Tower (which is aimed at 3-7 year olds) for which they recommend timed tickets, various new Warwick Unlocked areas that have recently been opened, ramparts and towers to climb and see the views (we couldn’t go up as it was 560 steps and was one way only, where we only wanted to go up to the first level). They also have displays at set times of the day including falconry, bowman shows, firing of the trebuchet and more. Seasonally, they also show jousting and other events so it’s always worth checking online before you go to work out your itinerary.
We watched the trebuchet being fired from the hill overlooking the river, which was a lovely view. The commentary alongside is really informative (although I have to admit N was more interested in eating his snack than watching the event take place.
There are additional areas that you pay for on top of the basic castle ticket – The Merlin Experience, based on the tv show (no point taking N to that), and The Dungeons (which aren’t recommended for under 10s). These looked really popular and aren’t too expensive to add on to the tickets. There was also archery to have a go at which was between £3-5 depending on how many arrows.
2. Mike the Knight
This year there’ve been several Mike the Knight days at Warwick Castle, and there really was a lot going on for the younger children. They could try out lots of challenges, getting stickers for completing them, as well as meeting Mike the Knight and having a photo taken with him. N isn’t a fan of large characters (remember the Gruffalo incident?), so I was pleased we didn’t have to queue to meet Mike, although he did seem quite intrigued to see a giant knight!
There were lots of children trying out all the activities, including lots who’d come dressed up as knights – N kept looking at the girl who sat behind us in the café as I don’t think he could understand what she was wearing.
3. Two day visits
If you’re in the area for a weekend and really want to see everything, taking your time, I’d definitely advise buying ‘come back the next day’ ticket for a bargain £1! I think there’s an awful lot to do at Warwick, and trying to get through everything in one day would be hard, so it would be worth it.
So it wasn’t a successful day out on the whole. N wasn’t massively fussed with it when we arrive, despite having been excited and telling his Grandma he was going ‘see the castle’. He liked looking at the peacocks, who were being very lazy in the sun, and watching the knight on the horse, the bowman and then seeing the armour, but largely when we saw all the other children having fun, he didn’t want to join in. In fact he didn’t want to get out of the pushchair at all, apart from when we went into the Great Hall for a look round.
I’m not sure whether he was just feeling a bit under the weather, or if he’s just still too young to enjoy it despite there being lots of outdoor space and fun.
I think it’s a place we’ll have to wait a few years for before we return, to ensure we get most value out of the day.
We’re always looking for fun days out, especially in and around the midlands and home counties (the bonus of living in the middle of the country), so if you’ve got any tips or favourite locations for a nearly 3 year old, do share them below.
Edit: Turns out N was ill as he came down with a fever the next day. That explains his disinterest. Must return this year to get him on a good day!