20 August 2012
This is the second time I've visited Warwick Castle, but the first time since becoming a parent. I used to live in Warwick and I would have probably visited more often but for the ticket price being so expensive compared with most other castles.
Unlike many other castles that are managed by English Heritage, Warwick Castle is owned by a private commercial company Merlin, which is the same company that owns Madame Tussauds and theme parks such as Alton Towers and Thorpe Park.
Tickets cost about £23 for adults and £16 for children, but that is just the cost of the basic ticket, which doesn't include some attractions. If you buy the inclusive ticket they cost about £31 each for adults and £26 each for children, which is less than buying the tickets for each of the features separately. We used Tesco Clubcard vouchers, which are for the basic ticket only, you have to pay full price for the Merlin Tower and Dungeons if you wish to visit those. You also have to pay extra for car parking.
Warwick Castle is one of the best castles in the UK. The whole experience of visiting Warwick Castle is very different to visiting most other castles. With the number of things to see it feels as though the Castle is just a minor part of the experience of visiting. In some ways you can see the commercialisation and almost Theme Park like approach. Purists may see this as a barrier to seeing the real castle (some of which is inaccessible, has become a separate attraction or is sidelined by a particular display), but the educational aspect is still there and if this helps introduce young people to English history in a more fun way then that's certainly a positive thing.
Normal castle exhibits
The standard parts of the castle that are open include access to some of the castle walls, standard towers and the main part of the castle accommodation building including the great hall. This includes some wax-works including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, King Henry VIII and his wives and the King Maker exhibit.
These are all very good.
The Princess Tower is an area for young children only. A ticket is required to visit, but these are free. You need to collect from the base of the Princess Tower and will be allocated a timeslot to return. After signing the guest book children are taken into the tower (with parents) first for a photo with a princess and then for a story. Photography is not permitted other than the official photo that can be purchased after the visit. My children didn't want their photo taking and I didn't see the cost.
Merlin Dragon Tower / Dungeons
We didn't visit either the Warwick Castle Merlin Dragon Tower, or the Warwick Castle Dungeon partly because of the additional cost, but also because they are not really suitable for young children.
The Merlin Dragon Tower is a feature using one of the castle towers. It's based on the Merlin TV programme. The Warwick Castle Dungeon is a gruesome exhibit of some of the history of the castle.
A free show is the Falconry show which takes place in a designated area. This gets very busy if you want to get up close, but you can obviously see the birds flying from a little further away. We ate our lunch at one of the picnic benches a short distance from where the falconry display was so we did see some of the birds, but we did not hear the commentary.
Childrens playground and castle gardens
There's also a good children's playground and some good gardens, including the Peacock gardens.
Warwick Castle is a very impressive castle and well worth a visit, although very expensive.
It's more commercialised than most castles I've visited, which can be good or bad depending upon how you look at it.
If you want to visit all the features then you will need to get the more expensive tickets. Good news for those with young children is that you shouldn't need those, but it's still expensive without the Merlin Dragon Tower and the Castle Dungeons.
Also be aware that the signs showing the ticket prices at the Castle show the price without VAT and then a second price with VAT. This is not normally the case in the UK except for trade only shops (due to some companies being able to reclaim the VAT). This appears to be a marketing ploy to make it seam cheaper than it really is. When comparing with others sites and more importantly when looking at what you will actually pay it's the with VAT price you need to look at.