We live just a few miles away from Hever Castle & Gardens in Kent in the South of England and I’ve been taking my kids there since they were toddlers. Hever Castle dates from the thirteenth century and is one of those places which both adults and kids love going to. We always used to buy an annual family ticket for Hever because we went there so often. The castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII. The gardens were laid out after William Waldorf Astor, the richest man in America at the time, bought the castle and grounds in 1903.
Now that the kids are older we don’t have time to go to Hever as often as we used to but I was there with my 16 year-old daughter on a warm summer afternoon last week. As we strolled around the beautiful grounds I remembered why it used to be our default location for a family day out.
Hever has a large, wooden adventure playground which is shaded by trees. Besides the usual swings and slides there’s a a zip wire and a fortress-like maze where children can spend hours climbing, chasing and hiding. There’s an area with smaller equipment for toddlers and there are also benches where you can sit and keep an eye on your kids while they play.
A few minutes’ walk from the playground is a water maze. This is a great place to cool down on a hot day as it consists of walkways over water which will shoot up and drench you if you tread on certain, concealed spots. The challenge is to make your way to the centre of the water maze and climb the rocky tower which sits there. Around the water maze there are picnic benches and grass with views of the nearby lake. Take dry clothes and towels if you’re planning on going here.
There are 125 acres of grounds at Hever containing various beautiful gardens which were laid out in the early 1900s. My favourites are the Italian Garden and the Rose Garden. The Italian Garden was created to display William Waldorf Astor’s collection of classical Italian sculptures. The Italian Garden has various archways and walkways which are perfect for playing hide-and-seek. The Rose Garden contains more than 4,000 rose bushes.
At one end of the Italian Garden is a lake where you can hire rowing boats or go out on a small steamboat. You can also walk around the lake. Overlooking the lake there’s a wide terrace with a classical fountain where children like to throw a coin and make a wish. There are ducks around the lake and the rivers and streams in the grounds.
Next to the castle itself is a yew maze with high hedges. Older children enjoy the adventure of exploring here but it’s best to accompany younger children in the maze as it can be quite difficult to find your way to the centre and out again.
There are always activities for children at Hever during the school holidays and often at the weekends during the summer. These include (depending on the time of year) story workshops, craft activities, archery and shield painting.
Hever is a great place for a picnic. You can always find a quiet spot with a beautiful view to spread out your picnic blanket somewhere in the grounds.
There are two restaurants at Hever. Moat Restaurant is near to the adventure playground and the very swish (and in great demand for wedding receptions) Guthrie Pavilion is down by the lake. They offer decent dishes such as Kentish Beer Battered Cod & Chips for £9.75, Quinoa Burger for £8.50 and Kids’ Sausage and Mash for £5.00.
Dotted at strategic locations around the grounds are kiosks selling many different flavours of ice-cream. One such kiosk is near to the adventure playground, another is next to the terrace by the lake and another is by the water maze. Sometimes when we had an annual pass we used to go to Hever just for a stroll and an ice-cream.
During the summer months there are often jousting tournaments at Hever. There’s no extra charge for watching the jousting and it’s an exciting spectacle.
You can go on a tour inside the castle itself, although my children have never been very interested in doing that again after the first time that I took them there. The rooms inside the castle contain fine antique furniture and there are some Tudor paintings and a couple of prayer books signed by Anne Boleyn. There’s also a four-poster bed which is believed to be the marriage bed of Kind Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.
We love going to Hever Castle & Gardens and definitely recommend the gardens as a great place for a family day out.
Entry to Hever Castle and gardens costs £15.00 (£12.70 for gardens only) for adults, £8.45 (£8.00 for gardens only) for children of 5-15 years old and £39.95 (£34.80 for gardens only) for a family of two adults and two children or one adult and three children. There’s also some five star bed and breakfast accommodation at Hever Castle. We’ve not stayed there so I can’t recommend it but I’m just letting you know that it’s there.
If you’ve ever been to Hever Castle, what did you think of it? If you haven’t been there, is it the kind of place which you’d like to visit?