What To Keep In Mind: Thirteen Pro Tips For Your Castle Adventure

The number of castles I have visited in my life go well into the hundreds. While hopefully not all of you are similarly obsessed as yours truly is, I'm sure most of you also enjoy to visit historical sights every once in a while. Here are a few things I learned along the way that may also help you plan and enjoy your castle adventure.

1. If possible purchase your tickets in advance, it will usually help you save time and money. Truth be told, I'm not much of an advance planner and usually like to be free to chose what to do on a given vacation day. However, buying a ticket in advance will often give you the chance not to loose time buying a ticket (first queue) and actually jump the second queue to get in. In addition, online tickets are oftentimes also a bit cheaper than buying them at the actual sight.

2. See if there are any combination tickets available. If a town has several castles, palaces or museum related to royal history, there often are combination tickets available. Unsurprisingly, they will often be less expensive than buying several tickets individually. Plus, most of the times they will also help you jump the queue. In some countries or areas, there are also memberships (English Heritage, e.g.) available that will give you unlimited entry to castles and gardens, historic houses and abbeys.

3. If you go to an area that isn't famous for having plentiful royal sights, still make sure to check in advance if there are any lesser known castles or royal related sights nearby. On my weekend trips, I oftentimes only see one castle that is actually open to public but am also able to squeeze in two or three unknown castles in surrounding villages that you can only see from the exterior before I go home.

4. See if audio guides are available as smart phone apps before visiting. I have experienced this in both Vienna and for several Spanish palaces - with surely many more sights to follow in the years to come. Audio guides as apps will also help you save money and thus stay in your budget.

5. Check the calendar of a specific sight to see which special exhibitions are on or coming up. If it fits your schedule it's sometimes worth waiting another week or month to visit. Also double check the opening times for any surprise closures.

6. Chose the off-season: Yes, it's slightly odd being constantly watched by the guards as you are one of the only three people visiting a castle, but it's still way better than being shoved through the rooms shoulder to shoulder with hundreds over other visitors. Also: guided castle tours are so much nicer when it's only a small group of people and it's more of a conversation than a lecture.

7. If you go by car, check out in advance if there are parking spots available close to the sight of your choice. If you do not have a car and the castle is located somewhere in the middle of nowhere (as they tend to do), check timetables, how to get there and - most importantly - how to leave again. Personal experience: Do not chose the last bus or train of the day cause they occasionally get cancelled.

8. Pack accordingly: Oftentimes backpacks or big handbags must be locked away. Some people are good with that, others prefer to have their valuables with them at all times. If you are one the latter kind, chose a smaller bag and leave things you don't really need at home.

9. Take pictures, even if it means that you will need to spend an extra bit of money to purchase a special permit. Having visited hundreds of castles, I can tell you that it will help you refresh your memory several months or even years later. Let's be honest, in our memories castles tend to blend together - and there are few things more delightful than skipping back through your photos of a glorious palace or haunted castle on a cold, grey winter day and admire its splendour.

10. Take your time and put the camera away. As much as I enjoy taking pictures (and sharing them with you), it is also important to take the time to take it all in - and not through the camera lens. To appreciate all the beauty, I oftentimes stand in the corner of a room or sit in the bench of a church with my camera stashed away. I also recommend visiting fewer castles but taking your time instead of rushing through multiple ones just for the sake of getting them off the list of places to see.

11. Find out in advance if there is a café or restaurant at the castle. Nothing worse than having no food or drinks with you on a long day out and about. Plus, it's often also a nice experience to spend some time having tea or coffee in the garden where court ladies and gentlemen used to sit.

12. Also check if there is a castle shop in advance and decide how much money you would like to spend there. Confession: My budget is oftentimes nil or rather I decide not to buy anything because otherwise I would spend too much. I visit so many castles that I would go bankrupt purchasing something from each of them.

13. When your family or friends do not enjoy visiting castles, go on your own. There's nothing worse than someone constantly nagging that they would rather do this or that instead of touring a historical sight. Trust me, solo travel is very underrated. Yes, it feels a bit strange at first going solo on a castle tour but by the third castle you will be used to it. If you aren't too keen on visiting on your own, try to find fellow castle enthusiasts online -  I have made great friends this way (and one of my fellow Castleholics, Virginia of The Lady & the Rose, actually helped with this post so a big thank you to her)!

A few last words... These tips make it sound like my castle trips are awfully planned when, in fact, they really aren't. I'm so bad at planning in advance that I have actually gone to castles open to the public on that one day of the week when they are closed. I have also taken a few detours on castle adventures because I didn't properly plan out in which order to visit castles. However, I think I'm getting better - and keeping these few things in mind will certainly not hurt your castle travels. The most important thing about all of it is just one though: Enjoy your time!

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