When my sister and her husband came to visit us in Paris, we talked about visiting some castles with the kids. Versailles, Chambord, and Blois were all on our list. I knew that with three small children, touring the castle might be a little difficult. Therefore, I knew I had to come up with some ideas on how to keep them occupied.
At the Chambord castle, my toddler started screaming, so I ended up taking him outside to wander around the garden. We got caught in a huge rainstorm and cold weather in Versailles, and my husband and I had to keep the two eldest occupied while my sister and husband took the chance to look around.
But visiting castles with kids doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. With these tips, you can make it work.
1. Dress your children up
My daughter went to Versailles dressed as Anna from “Frozen” and my toddler was Mickey Mouse. We were approached by many people calling my daughter by her stage name Anna, and I think she liked the attention.
2. Count the stairs on the way down and up
Go up the stairs by counting in your native language and going down in the majority language if you are visiting a castle in another country or practice spelling their name. Let your children pretend to be princes and princesses walking up and down the stairs. Ask them how they think the stairs were created, who used them, and what materials they were made of.
You can also download a step-counting application on your phone and come up with a hypothesis on how many steps and miles or kilometers you will walk and then talk about the conclusion on the way home.
3. Make up songs and dances
It was really cold the day we went to Versailles, so my husband got the kids to go skipping through the gardens and they were singing random songs in Turkish to forget about how cold they were.
On the way to Chambord in the car, my sister made up a song. The tune will be coming soon on my blog but here are the words for now.
We are going to the Chateau and what will we see there ?
( name), please tell me, what will we see there
(Name), said we’d see (answer) and then (make up things that rhyme)
Repeat for each person.
We are going to the chateau and what will we see there ?
Adrienne, please tell me, what will we see there
we will see a dragon
Adrienne said we’d see a dragon and then we’d get on a wagon.
4. Let them be in charge of the map
This not only will help them find the restroom or restaurant when the need arises, but it will also teach them map-reading skills. This, in turn, enables the child to learn about the spaces around them and gain a larger world view than what they see in their daily lives. They can also learn new words, understand symbols and directions in different languages.
Map-reading challenges them to focus on details and draw conclusions. Also, it allows them to measure distances which can relate back to tip about walking up and down the stairs and counting steps taking. Children will also learn how to navigate without a GPS or another map application.
5. Invent stories
Using the history of the castle, create stories about the structure, the people who build the castle and lived there. Ask your children what they think might be going on in the paintings that they see on the wall.
If there are other objects of interest, like swords or stuffed animals ask them questions about that. When walking around the gardens, do the same with the persons or animals found in the fountains or statues. Most importantly, ask them lots of questions to keep the conversation going.
6. Let them play with rocks
We found these rocks outside in the courtyard at Chambord and I think they had them at Versailles as well. Children can explore the world through sensory play because rocks stimulate the children’s senses like smell, taste, sight, and hearing.
Here are some play ideas: talk about the size and shape of the rocks, try stacking them and building a tower or a rock wall, make shapes or spell the first letter of their name. Parents should keep a close eye on them in case they put them in their mouth or start throwing them, though. Not that I know from experience or anything.
7. Do a scavenger hunt
Let them explore the gardens with our scavenger hunt print-out (see below). My kids love anything related to nature and we are often scouring the ground for snails, ants, and slugs. Follow us on Instagram for more on our daily nature walks. I made up a list of some items they could be on the lookout for while we were walking around.
You can print these images out below and pack them next time you visit a castle or anywhere, really, to keep your children occupied.
8. Ask about an activity or quiz book
Check out the castle’s website and look for kids programs or activity books. We were given two activity books for my children at the ticket counter at Versailles, for example, although they were only available in French.
An activity book is full of games, coloring activities, puzzles, and quizzes that make history fun and more relatable for kids. They had history quiz books at Chambord but they were not free, therefore we didn’t purchase them; they are for children 8 to 12 years old.
9. Bring snacks and water and find a quiet courtyard to sit in
Our go-to snacks are applesauce pouches, pretzels, and water. We bring them almost everywhere we go because we were unsure of how long we could be spending at the castles. When we want to eat something, we usually sit in a quiet courtyard as not to bother other people who were visiting the area.
10. Buy them a souvenir for the car or transport ride home
At Chambord castle, we ended up getting an Usborne sticker book on making your own palace with directions on where to put the furniture and decorations in the castles. We also bought temporary tattoos as a little surprise for the upcoming Ramadan season.
I find that books are the best gift to get children. They could be board books for little hands or chapter books for older children. Or even just a coffee table book with photographs. Books help to engage our children’s imagination even further and supplement the history they have already learned.
Get grandparents or aunts and uncles (or friends) to visit and help you out while you explore inside the castle, then switch places with them. When I had to step out of Chambord with my screaming toddler, my other two children, my sister, and her husband were able to finish visiting the castle without waiting for me.
It worked out because I have already seen the castle and I didn’t need to visit the towers or rooms. I think it is important to visit places when family comes to visit in order to create memories that can be talked about years to come.
Do you have any more tips while visiting castles with kids?
Which castle is your favorite?