During a weekend in the beautiful, historic city of York, I visited the stunning Castle Howard – a truly magical and Christmassy day out for all the family.
Castle Howard is an incredible stately home situated about 15 miles North East of York and after looking at their impressive website I couldn’t wait to visit and see the house for myself.
I arrived on a Sunday morning at around 11.00am – the car park was already pretty busy but it well organised and I was directed to a grass parking space. As I approached the entrance to Castle Howard I stumbled across quite a queue to get in. Whilst I had to wait in a queue over half an hour (it was pretty chilly!) to get to the ticket desk, I was excited about what I was about to see and enthused by the number of people eager to visit. Standing in line I listened to lots of people talking about return visits and their annual Christmas traditions of coming to Castle Howard so this really got my expectation going – it must be good if people come back every year!
After getting my ticket I hopped on the waiting Kelly Car – tractor pulled carriages that drive people to the entrance to the house. It’s only a short walk but given how cold it was and that I was a little short for time I was eager to get to the house. Plus, I’m a big kid really so who can resist a tractor carriage ride?!
The path to the house was lined with Christmas trees which I believe are lit up with lights once it gets dark – I bet this would have looked super festive! The views of the gardens down to the lake were stunning and looked gorgeous on the sunny winter day.
As I got off the Kelly car and turned my attention to the house I couldn’t believe how beautiful it looked. It’s so grand and very imposing! I can only imagine what it would be like to own and live in a house like this!
I had to queue again for a brief time to get into the entrance to the house but this wasn’t so bad as it was a little warmer! After making way for the choir to enter I was finally in and ready to experience the magic!
Stepping into Christmas
The house has a fascinating history and apparently, its construction took over 100 years to complete! It was finally completed in 1801-11 so it has been standing a very long time and has been home to eight generations of the Howard family. I bet the walls have so many stories they could tell, including the devastation that hit the house in November 1940 when a fire broke out and destroyed the basement rooms, upper levels and the dome. If you’re interested in the history of this grand stately home then there is lots more information on the Castle Howard website here.
Every Christmas Castle Howard go to town in decorating the rooms to the highest festive standards. This year’s theme was ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ which meant each room was decorated resembling one of the 12 days of Christmas. The decorations were just incredible and each room just got better and better! I could have spent ages wandering around each room and looking at all the intricate details and beautifully put together displays.
I really loved the stunningly unique dress that was on display in one of the bedrooms which was representing the 6th Earl of Carlisle and his wife Lady Georgiana. The room was decorated in line with the second day of Christmas – two turtle doves – with the idea that the dress was laid out ready for Lady Georgiana to wear to some Twelfth-night celebrations. The dress looked like nothing I had ever seen before and I got lost for a moment thinking about how it would feel to wear it and danced the night away at Castle Howard centuries ago!
Each of the rooms I passed though featured a Christmas tree, all decorated with different themed baubles and lights. There were displays full of presents, old-fashioned toys and of course all the antique furniture that is normally on display at the house – just given a festive twist!
I had to remind myself to not get too distracted by the amazing Christmas displays but also take in the charm of the houses original features and the incredible paintings and portraits that filled its walls.
I really loved all the floral displays too and can only wish that one day I can be as creative with decorations in my home for Christmas!
The Biggest Christmas Tree Ever
When I entered the Great Hall I was amazed to see the biggest Christmas tree I think I have ever seen. At 25 foot tall I cannot even imagine how they got this into the house and in place in the intricately designed Great Hall. I wonder how long it will have taken the decorators to fill the tree with over 3000 baubles! They must have some very tall ladders! There’s actually a video on the Castle Howard Twitter page all about the tree which is well worth the watch!
The ceiling of the Great Hall is just incredible, I stared at it for ages, soaking up all the details and artistry. It was so nice to be able to admire the architecture and tree whilst listening to a small sing orchestra playing on the balcony above – how atmospheric!
Some of the rooms featured some rather impressive table designs. I really liked the huge circular wreath adorned with festive satsumas on the red themed roundtable – I think a centrepiece like that would certainly impress your guests wouldn’t it! The long table filled with swans and pink meringues was a definite hit with me too – so pretty and it reminded me of something out of Swan Lake! Table goals for sure!
Something a bit different was the Wassailing Tree – a simple tree display full of tiny little fairy lights that were really rather effective. The accompanying information board informed me that wassailing was a form of carolling that is sung both inside and outside the house and also in the fruit orchards to bless the trees for the coming spring. I had never heard of this tradition before and I thought it sounded rather lovely!
Also on display is an amazing miniature model of Castle Howard which features a scene depicting a winters day at Castle Howard during the Napoleonic Era. It helps show you the sheer size and magnitude of the house and how many rooms it must hold.
I loved the really flamboyant display in one of the final rooms – the tree was full of different coloured decorations of all sorts of materials and was certainly a different style to the ones in the rest of the house! The colours in this room were so deep and colourful which made it feel really atmospheric.
There are guides situated in each of the rooms who can provide more information on the displays and the history of the house. This is really useful if you’re interested in finding out more about what you are seeing and the different generations that have lived here.
As I came to the end of the rooms on display I was lucky enough to catch the last few songs being sung by the choir in the Long Gallery. This just added to the wonderful festive atmosphere and made me feel all warm inside!
Before leaving the house I visited the Chapel, again decorated for the festive period. I loved the stained glass windows – I always think they are just so pretty.
I couldn’t leave without visiting the well-stocked gift shop which was full of some luxurious decorations and lovely gifts. It seemed like there was something for everyone and I only wish I could have had an unlimited amount of money to buy all the gorgeous baubles and Christmassy bits they had to purchase!
Other Festive Offerings at Castle Howard
During the festive period, there are Christmas stalls offering lots of lovely looking gifts and festive food and drink. There’s plenty of places to treat yourself to something tasty and if I had been able to stay longer I would definitely have visited the Courtyard Café as it looked so warm and toasty and the food smelt great! There is a farm shop and garden centre to visit too and of course the wonderful grounds to explore. Children can take a trip to see Father Christmas at his winter grotto and there are various other festive delights happening such as winter shows, twilight evenings and festive afternoon teas.
I didn’t have enough time to go for a walk of any great length but what I did see of the gardens was very well maintained and beautifully landscaped. There are over 1,000 acres of grounds to explore at Castle Howard with a mix of lakes, woodland and more formal gardens to wander around. I would love to visit again one day and explore as much of the grounds as I could – maybe when it’s a little warmer! There’s even a mausoleum and temple to discover and a very impressive looking children’s adventure playground for the younger visitors.
Entry Prices and Information
Christmas entry to the house and gardens costs £19.50 for adults, £11 for children and £52 for a family of five. Tickets to the grounds only are cheaper and start at £7 for children. Whilst I think the entry prices initially seem quite expensive, after seeing the wonderful displays in the house and experiencing the beautiful gardens I think for a special seasonal visit it is well worth the money. You can buy tickets online saving 10% and then enter via a different ticket office on arrival at Castle Howard. This queue was much shorter on the day of my visit so I really advise booking online if you know you’re planning on visiting in advance. The 12 Days of Christmas Event is running from 17th November to 31st December so be sure to check it out before the festive period is over! More information can be found on the Castle Howard website and there are some gorgeous photos on the Castle Howard Instagram page.
I really, really, really enjoyed my visit to Castle Howard! It was magical, festive and a stunning place to explore. I loved all the decorations and displays and listening to the Christmas choir really topped the atmospheric experience off! For some reason this year I hadn’t been feeling very festive but a trip to Castle Howard completely changed this as I got lost in all things Christmas and left feeling very ready to face the festivities! I would have loved to spend more time exploring the grounds outside and really hope to visit again one day!
***My ticket to Castle Howard was gifted to me on a complimentary basis in return for this review post. All thoughts, pictures and opinions are entirely my own***