Fancy a sleepover in a castle? For wannabe knights and princesses what could be more thrilling than staying in a real castle with turrets, towers and suits of armour in the corridors? The trouble is, so many castle hotels are rather stuffy and grand, with spa treatments and seven-course feasts. All very well if you’re a couple looking for a romantic weekend away but not the sort of place that will look kindly on children charging around looking for someone to joust.
So this is a list of castle hotels that will positively welcome your little ones whether by offering cooking classes and falconry lessons or lending bikes so that you can all go off exploring.
Bovey Castle, Devon, UK
There’s so much for children to do here from feeding the chickens and meeting the ferrets to watching the daily falconry display and doing the letter boxing trail.
The castle is on a 275-acre estate on Dartmoor so the options for family entertainment are endless. Children can join the Bovey Rangers during holidays and learn survival skills like campfire building, fishing and archery. There’s also a supervised play room with marble runs, art activities and cooking.
While you’re there: If the weather’s good, ask if they’ll make you up a picnic to take out into the grounds while you’re exploring.
Don’t miss: On a cold, wintry afternoon there’s nothing nicer than curling up in front of one of the log fires for the scrumptious Afternoon Tea.
A night in a family room at Bovey Castle costs from £400 for bed and breakfast.
Dornröschenschloss Sababurg, Germany
You’ll fall under the spell of the castle that inspired ‘Sleeping Beauty’. The Brothers Grimm were frequent guests at this castle, set deep in a forest in the heart of Germany. They used it as the setting for the story, partly, no doubt, because in the 16th century a high thorn hedge grew up around its ruins.
The castle is over 675 years old. Children will be delighted to discover that there is indeed a spiral staircase leading up to the tower and a medieval castle garden where the ‘Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming’ play is performed every Sunday afternoon from April to October.
The 17 rooms are in one of the towers and there is a good restaurant.
While you’re there: The castle is on the Fairy Tale Route, the 370-mile route through forests which takes you past the locations for many of the Grimm Brother’s tales. Trendelburg, Rapunzel’s tower, is only a short distance from Sababurg.
Don’t miss: A visit to the oldest animal park in the world, the Tierpark Sababurg, adjacent to the castle.
A double room at Dornröschenschloss Sababurg costs from about €105 per night for room only.
Ashford Castle, Ireland
This 13th-century castle is set in stunning grounds on the shores of Loch Carrib in County Mayo. Now a luxury hotel, there are lots of activities for families from treasure hunts and movie nights to a children’s cookery school and family mountain bike lessons.
Children are positively pampered here. They’re given special robes and slippers and personalised cookies on arrival and the cooks will make their favourite food in the restaurant. There’s a special children’s afternoon tea too.
While you’re there: Make use of the gorgeous grounds and take part in lots of outdoor activities like kayaking, pony and carriage rides and boat trips on the loch.
Don’t miss: The chance to fly your own Harris’s hawk. The private guided Hawk Walks are great for families of all ages.
A deluxe queen room at Ashford Castle which can sleep up to four people costs from €325 per night including full Irish breakfast.
Pousada Obidos, Portugal
This 12th-century castle is considered to be one of the seven wonders of Portugal. It’s in one of Europe’s most romantic medieval villages, a walled fortress with whitewashed houses and cobbled streets.
There are nine rooms in the actual castle, some with large living rooms and four posters. The suites are in the watchtowers and there’s a good restaurant.
While you’re there: Walk along the medieval ramparts for great views of the surrounding countryside.
Don’t miss: The medieval market. For two weeks every July you can see knights jousting, jugglers, jesters and listen to medieval music in the streets of Obidos.
A superior room at Pousada Obidos costs from €216 per night for bed and breakfast.
Castello delle Quattro Torra, Italy
This 13th-century castle with four towers and battlements is in a stunning location just outside Siena in Tuscany. There are only two rooms and a gorgeous apartment on the first floor overlooking the medieval courtyard – its kitchen is in one of the towers and there’s a fireplace in the living room.
Breakfast is served in the dining room and guests can also use the reading room and pretty gardens.
While you’re there: The castle makes a great base for exploring Tuscany.
Don’t miss: Going truffle hunting with a truffle hunter and his dogs or learn how to make pasta at a traditional cooking class in a nearby village.
A night at the Castello delle Quattro Torra costs from €140 for bed and breakfast.
Augill Castle, Cumbria, UK
Queen Victoria is said to have stayed at this Victorian folly between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales on her way to Balmoral. It has all the elements of the best kind of castle hotel: turrets for wardrobes, claw-footed baths, stained glass leaded windows and quirky, colourful bedrooms.
The family-run hotel prides itself on being unstuffy and has been awarded the family hotel of the year by the Good Hotel Guide. It’s no surprise – children have a ball here with every possible kind of entertainment from teddy bears left on the bed and games rooms full of dressing-up clothes to ride-on toys and forts in the trees.
While you’re there: Explore the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, both on the hotel’s doorstep. For indoor activities, try one of the cookery classes for families which involves planning a three-course meal as well as collecting eggs from the hens and feeding the goats.
Don’t miss: The chance to hire the 12-seat art deco cinema for a family film supper with popcorn.
A family room for four at Augill Castle costs from £210 including breakfast.
Château de Courcelles, France
Christian Dior organised lavish parties and Napoleon met his wife for the first time at this 17th-century château near the Champagne region. Despite its glamour and glitz (there are nearly 100 varieties of Champagne in the wine cellars), children are warmly welcomed. There are free bicycles to borrow to ride around the park and horses and ponies to visit in the Donkeys’ Pasture.
The 18 rooms are all stunning. There are also tennis courts and an outdoor swimming pool.
While you’re there: Play hide and seek in the maze, walk beside the canal and go cycling in the forest.
Don’t miss: The opportunity to go hot-air ballooning.
A superior room at Château de Courcelles costs from €380 per night.
Dalhousie Castle, Scotland
Children will love the ghoulish stories of this castle, not far from Edinburgh. It is said to be haunted by at least two ghosts and the restaurant is in the dungeons.
Set in wooded parkland on the banks of the River Esk, the castle dates from the 13th century. The castle atmosphere is perfect: log fires, historic themed rooms with four posters and waiters who appear from behind a hidden door in the library bar.
While you’re there: Visit Edinburgh. The castle and the Royal Yacht Britannia both make great trips for children.
Don’t miss: Apprentice knights and princesses can enjoy traditional castle pursuits like archery and falconry. You can take hawk walks here and learn how to fly owls.
A superior double room at Dalhousie Castle costs from £215 per night for bed and breakfast.
Kasteel Wittem, Netherlands
Kings and emperors have stayed at this medieval castle in the South Limburg region of the Netherlands. The 11th-century castle has two moats and is set in lovely gardens. Families can live like kings in the Tower Suite which has a separate living room. It’s in the only remaining round tower of the original seven.
While you’re there: Visit the historic cities of Maastricht and Liège.
Don’t miss: The area makes a great base for hiking and cycling activities.
The Tower Suite at Kasteel Wittem costs from €150 per night, room only.