The magnificent Warwick Castle sits on 25.9ha (64 acres) of grounds and is a short distance from Warwick’s town centre. Visitors to the castle can see the imposing Great Hall, lavishly appointed rooms; the dungeon and torture chamber and can take in sweeping views from the towers and ramparts.
Warwick Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068 as part of a programme to build fortifications to strengthen his rule after the Norman conquest. Like most other Norman castles, it was originally built as a wooden motte and bailey castle and it was later rebuilt in stone.
During the 12th century, the castle was rebuilt in stone and additional fortifications, including Caesar’s Tower, were added in the 14th century during the Hundred Years War and the Bear and Clarence towers were added by King Richard III in the 1480s. Most of what the visitor sees today dates from this period spanning from the 12th to the 15th century.
Warwick Castle is in surprisingly good condition for a Norman castle and it has been a popular tourist attraction since the late 17th century.
The castle is now operated by Merlin Entertainment, who also run other tourist attractions such as theme parks (including Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures and Legoland), the London Eye, Madame Tussauds wax museums and SEA LIFE aquariums. Although the commercial focus of this operation means that Merlin are able to maintain the castle, it also means that the visitor experience is quite different from other castles elsewhere in England.
The visitor experience can certainly feel dumbed down when compared to properties run by English Heritage or the Historic Houses Association but this does mean that it is a more family-friendly attraction with a definite effort put in to appeal to children. Despite the rather tacky presentation of some of the attractions within the castle, the historical aspects of the castle are more tastefully presented and there is no denying that this is certainly one of England’s great castles and that it is very well maintained for a 1000-year-old building.
What to see at Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle was rebuilt in stone during the reign of Henry II and the castle’s layout was modified during this reconstruction. Most of the castle buildings are at the southern end of the castle where it faces the River Avon while the area at the northern end of the castle is comprised of a large courtyard.
There is a dry moat outside the castle’s northern walls that would have previously been filled with sewage.
What to see inside the castle
The most traditional part of the visitor experience involves visiting the castle interior, which allows you to see the Great Hall, the State Dining Room, the Red, Cedar and Green Drawing Rooms, the Queen Anne Bedroom, the Blue Boudoir and the chapel.
Measuring 19m- (63 ft)-long by 14m- (46 ft)-wide with 12m- (39 ft)-tall ceilings, the Great Hall is the castle’s largest room. This room dates from the 14th century and it was rebuilt in the 17th century to provide a grand entrance to visitors to the castle.
The Great Hall features the Kenilworth Buffet, an opulent oak table that was handcrafted from a single oak tree that was cut down at Kenilworth Castle in 1842.
It also includes a display of armour from the collection that the Earl of Warwick amassed during the 19th century.The State Dining Room was built in the 18th century to host dinner parties for Francis Greville, who owned the castle during this period. Dinner guests have included Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Edward, Prince of Wales (before he became King Edward VII) and more recently Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh who had lunch here in 1996.
The Red Drawing Room is used primarily as an anteroom. It features red lacquer panelling and 16th-century portraits.
The Cedar Drawing Room is so named because of the cedar panelling installed in the 1670s. The room is influenced by the Italian style and also features a 19th-century plaster ceiling and artefacts collected by Henry Greville, 3rd Earl of Warwick.
The Green Drawing Room features green walls and a green coffered ceiling that was inspired by the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria.
In 1773, King George III gave Queen Anne’s furniture to Francis Greville, 1st Earl of Warwick. The room has since been renamed the Queen Anne Bedroom (it was formerly called the State Bedroom) and it is now home to Queen Anne’s State Bedchamber from Kensington Palace as well as intricately decorated tapestries.
The Blue Boudoir is a small room that was decorated in the French style by Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick in the 1890s.
In the early 17th century, Sir Fulke Greville commissioned the Chapel and the Earls of Warwick attended services here regularly until the middle of the 20th century.
The Kingmaker Exhibition
The undercroft contains an interesting exhibition about Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick who was also known as Warwick the Kingmaker.
The exhibition shows what life was like during the 15th century and, as you would expect for an attraction operated by the same company that runs Madame Tussauds, wax figures are used to illustrate the displays.
You will also find wax figures set up to illustrate historical events in other parts of the castle, particularly in the State Rooms.
Time Tower is an audio-visual experience at the castle that chronicles the history of Warwick Castle from 914AD to the present day.
The Castle Dungeon
The Castle Dungeon is a haunted house-style attraction similar to the London Dungeon and York Dungeon attractions that are also operated by the Merlin group. This is a 50-minute show with actors telling tales of the more gruesome events in the castle’s history (although it is fair to say that some of these stories may have been embellished for entertainment purposes).
Like the other ‘Dungeon’ attractions, this is a fairly tacky show that most people don’t feel is worth the extra money. It also has a fairly narrow target market as it is probably too scary for any children younger than 10 and anyone older than 16 or 17 will find the whole show a bit tacky.
Although the castle was originally built for William the Conqueror, there was an earlier fortification on the site, which was originally built in 914 by Æthelflæd, who was Alfred the Great’s eldest daughter, ruling Mercia from 911 till 918.
What is now known as Ethefleda’s Mound (often simply called the Castle Mound) is actually of Norman, rather than Anglo-Saxon origin. However, it is definitely worth a look as it provides an excellent vantage point to survey the castle and its large courtyard.
Exploring the castle’s ramparts
The castle’s defensive fortifications are in the form a traditional crenellated curtain wall, which makes the castle such an impressive sight. It is possible to walk around a large part of the castle’s ramparts, which is a great experience that offers a unique vantage point to view the castle.
Walking along the castle’s ramparts also gives you a rather nice break from the over-commercialisation that you find in other parts of the castle.
Warwick Castle is also home to one of the world’s largest trebuchets. This is a relatively new addition to the castle, having been built in 2005 with assistance from the Middelaldercentret museum in Denmark.
A trebuchet is essentially a large catapult and this one, which was made to a 13th-century design using 200 pieces of oak, weighs a hefty 22 tonnes (21.7 tons) and is 18m (59 ft) tall. It can send projectiles as heavy as 150kg (330 lbs) up to 300m (980 ft).
Regular demonstrations of the trebuchet take place with it taking eight people half an hour to load and release the projectile. This involves four people running inside two 4m- (13 ft)-tall treadwheels to lift the six-tonne (5.9 ton) counterweight.It is located on an island in the middle of the River Avon to ensure that it doesn’t cause any damage to the castle; however, this didn’t prevent it from causing a fire in April 2015 when a burning cannonball landed on a thatched boathouse by the river.
Note: the trebuchet does not operate every day.
Horrible Histories Maze
The Horrible Histories Maze is a hedge maze designed for children that incorporates educational facts from the Horrible Histories television series.
The Falconer’s Quest and the Bowman Zone
The Falconer’s Quest and the Bowman Zone are two demonstrations of medieval skills that take place at the castle.
The Falconer’s Quest is an excellent demonstration of birds of prey, which takes place twice a day on selected dates. It is a highly regarded show when compared to other falconry displays.
The Bowman Zone is an archery demonstration that takes place throughout the day outside the castle’s East Front.
Exploring the castle grounds
The castle sits on 25.9ha (64 acres) of grounds and it is worth allowing an hour or two to explore this area in more detail. Not only does this allow you to get away from the crowds of tourists at the castle but it also offers a variety of vantage points to see the castle in a more natural setting.
The grounds were laid out by Capability Brown, the leading landscape architect of the day, and this has resulted in a natural-looking landscape that has been carefully designed to allow for stunning vistas of the castle.
A walk through the castle grounds also lets you visit the Victorian rose garden, the formal Peacock Garden (home to 20 peacocks) and the old castle mill where grain was ground for the castle from the 15th to the 19th century. In the late 19th century, the mill was converted into one of the world’s very first hydroelectric power stations and in 1894 Warwick Castle was one of the first private homes in the United Kingdom to have electric lighting.
The castle grounds are also home to the conservatory, which contains a replica of the Warwick Vase. The Warwick Vase is an important Roman artefact that was discovered at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli and the original can be seen at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow. Full-size replicas of the vase can be found at Windsor Castle and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the Warwick Vase was also used as the model for the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup that is awarded at the Australian Open.
Visiting Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle is located on a bluff in a bend in the River Avon and it is around a five-minute walk southeast of Warwick’s town centre. From the main entrance, it is a 12-minute walk to Warwick railway station and a six-minute walk from the bus station.
The castle entrance is on Castle Lane in the castle’s former stables and from here it is around a two-minute walk into the castle’s main courtyard.
Although the admission fee is rather high, it is considerably cheaper if you pre-book your entry tickets online. Even without the online discount, it is actually quite good value when you consider that there are enough things to do at the castle to keep you busy for a full day.
Your admission charge includes most attractions at Warwick Castle, however, there is an additional charge if you want to take part in the Castle Dungeon experience.
History tours of the castle depart regularly from the Great Hall. These tours are mostly geared towards children so adults visiting on their own should probably give the tour a miss.
There are also guides dressed in period costume located throughout the castle who are able to provide a more in-depth insight into the historical nature of certain parts of the castle complex.
The Falconer’s Quest show operates at 11.30am and 2.30pm on selected days.
Rather than operate at set times, the Bowman Zone operates throughout the day with the castle’s resident bowman demonstrating their skills outside the East Front of the castle.
The trebuchet demonstration only operates on selected days but it is certainly worth a look if it is running the day you visit the castle. Visitors can watch the show from a viewing area on the castle-side of the river.
The Castle Dungeon is not really suitable for children younger than 10 years of age and it doesn’t really appeal to anyone older than around 16 or 17. Also, anyone younger than 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian, aged 18 or older.
The Castle Dungeon involves spiral staircases so it is not suitable for anyone with a physical disability and the attraction uses strobe lighting.
Parts of the castle are wheelchair accessible; however, due to the historic nature of the building, certain areas cannot be visited by wheelchair users. The Horrible Histories Maze, the trebuchet, Falconer’s Quest and Bowman Zone shows are wheelchair accessible, but other areas including the towers and ramparts, the Great Hall, the State Rooms and Castle Dungeons are not wheelchair accessible.
Although the full Castle Dungeon experience is not wheelchair accessible, the last four rooms of the Castle Dungeon are fully accessible and admission to this is free of charge for wheelchair users and one carer.
There are plenty of places to eat and drink within the castle grounds, which is a good thing as there is enough here to keep you busy all day. Places to eat include the Undercroft Restaurant and the Coach House restaurant, which both do full meals, the Burger Kitchen for a more casual dining experience and the Conservatory Tea House, which is a delightful spot for afternoon tea. There are also several places to get snacks and lighter meals including cornish pasties and waffles.
There are also three gift shops located throughout the castle complex.
Although most people visiting Warwick Castle stay nearby at one of the hotels in Warwick, Leamington Spa or Kenilworth, it is actually possible to spend the night on the castle grounds. Warwick Castle offers two main accommodation options, including Knights Village, which includes glamping and accommodation inside purpose-built lodges, and two luxury suites inside the castle’s Caesar’s Tower.
There is also a programme of events that takes place at the castle throughout the year. This includes the Open Arms, the Luna Drive In cinema and special events to coincide with Halloween and Christmas.
The Open Arms is an open-air beer garden and food truck park that operates inside the castle grounds on selected dates in July and August. The Open Arms is operated jointly by Warwick Castle and Birmingham’s Digbeth Dining Club.
There really is a lot to see at Warwick Castle. At the very least, this is a half-day excursion although it is not too difficult to make this a full-day outing, particularly if you take the time to walk around the castle grounds and explore its impressive ramparts. Considering the relatively pricey admission charge, it is worth taking the time to get your money’s worth.