Have you ever dreamed of staying in a real-life castle?
When planning our road trip through England, I made it my mission to include spending the night in a castle. What little girl wouldn’t want to be a Princess for a day? Okay, and maybe her mom too! It’s like a fairytale come true! During an extensive search on where to stay in a castle in England, I stumbled upon the Thornbury Castle England Hotel and knew it was the perfect place for my family. We chose to spend two nights here. I wanted us to experience everything the castle had to offer without being rushed for time.
Driving up, the entire family was alive with nervous anticipation. Even my moody preteen had a hard time containing his excitement. Coming through the gates and around the bend, the imposing castle loomed into view. You can almost imagine what it was like for the noblemen and commoners of the 1500’s. It’s astonishing to think that a Duke built this as his home.
In addition to checking the big castle box, Thornbury Castle is an ideal luxury hotel for families. It boasts 15 acres of grounds and gardens, perfect for kids to run around. Youngsters can even try their hand at archery or croquet. Mine had a blast with the bow and arrow in the company of two other kids also staying at the castle. K had done a bit of archery in cub scouts, so he hit the mark every time, once he got warmed up. Simply ask at reception to have the games set up. The staff was more than happy to accommodate the kids needs.
K & Lucy loved running around and playing hide & seek in the walled garden. The Yew trees made ideal hiding places. Had it not been so chilly at the time of our visit, the gardens would have been the perfect place to have a picnic. While in the gardens, take a moment to look for the holes in the stone wall. Bees used to be kept here as honey was the main source of sugar.
Our guest room, the Portleathen, was a quintessential castle retreat. The bedchamber included a massive four-poster bed – fit for a queen. I could have spent an entire day just lounging around in it. I almost did, until Derrick forced me to get up, so we could explore. The brute! The bed enveloped you like a cocoon with a downy soft mattress and fluffy pillows. The master also included a flat-screen TV, plenty of closet space, and a dressing table. Our window looked right out to the incredible ORIGINAL Tudor chimneys. They are over 12 ft high, still in working order AND said to be the finest in the world.
The bathroom was large and included a great tub that Lucy took full advantage of both nights. The provided shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion were lovely. I would have liked a bit more water pressure in the shower, but getting to look at the lovely old faucet made up for it. The bathroom had an old-world feel with modern conveniences.
The kids slept in the sitting room in separate beds – it’s always a huge plus when the kids don’ts have to share sleeping accommodations. No fighting over space and blankets! Even with two beds, there was plenty of room to walk around. The large room also included a couch, coffee table, small dining table and built in bookcases. The gas fireplace was perfect for taking the chill off on those cool fall days. It was lit when we first arrived in our room, creating the perfect ambiance to start our visit.
Another huge plus of this suite was the kitchen. There was a full-size one complete with fridge, sink, oven and stove. If we weren’t dining in the castle, we could cook our own meals. This is especially great if your traveling with picky eaters.
The bedchambers have all the modern amenities you need for a luxurious retreat, but with the feel of how it would have been during Henry VIII’s reign. The rooms feature exposed stone walls, pull cords from the ceiling to turn on the lights and decorative moldings from the Tudor era.
Take a look around the castle and try to find the emblem that looks like a pretzel. It’s not. It’s actually a noose meant for 3 people – more effective to get it all done at once, huh?
While you’re near the reception area, open the door in the hallway across from the lounge. The inside of the door looks black until you take a picture with your phone. Looking at the image you’ll see a church with people sitting in the pews. My kids called this the “ghost door.”
Breakfast was included and we took full advantage of this amenity. A cold buffet was set up in one of the dining rooms with cereals, yogurt, fruit, cheeses, cold meats, jams & juice. The servers brought fresh coffee or tea to the table as well as toast. Coffee for me & Derrick and tea for Lucy. You could also order off the menu and get a hot breakfast. We took advantage of both options heading up to the cold buffet while we waited for our hot breakfast to be served.
I picked eggs Benedict both mornings. It’s my FAVORITE! The kids LOVED the waffles and exclaimed they were as good as those we had in Belgium – high praise from these little foodies. The first morning Derrick enjoyed the English breakfast with eggs, sausage, ham, tomato, potato and black pudding. The second morning was a difficult choice, but he ended up with the eggs Benedict as well.
After filling our bellies, we spent almost a full day enjoying the castle. I worked by the fire in the lounge while Derrick took the kids to play on the grounds. They discovered a path along the outer castle wall during their adventures. It was the perfect spot for kids to explore and be a prince and princess for a day. They even saw what may have been the beginning of a moat surrounding the castle.
We popped into the town of Thornbury for lunch and a bit of sightseeing before returning to the castle. We just couldn’t stay away! I may have even snuck up to the room to lounge around in that four-poster bed again.
After dressing for dinner, we headed down to the restaurant. Upon arrival, you’re first brought into the sitting room for drinks and a small appetizer while you peruse the menu. Derrick & I toasted the experience with a glass of champagne. You have to have champagne if you dine in a castle! After ordering, you’re taken to your table for a regal experience. The candlelit room was the perfect setting for our luxury meal. The kids kept exclaiming how nice it was, even though they were a bit nervous, feeling a little out of their element. It’s not every day that we dine in an actual castle!
We had dinner a bit earlier in the evening than usual, which was perfect for the kids. They were exhausted from all the adventures they’d had during the day. While the kids enjoyed the experience, I was a bit envious of all the couples having a romantic dinner while we were cutting up meat and reminding the kids to chew with their mouths closed. I’m exaggerating. The kids typically have great table manners. But if K had been a year older, I probably would have left them upstairs in bed while Derrick & I enjoyed alone time.
The restaurant at Thornbury Castle caters to kids needs with a special menu. Lucy enjoyed spaghetti and K had sausage with mash. Not surprisingly, they both chose ice cream for dessert.
I started off with Orz-otto, pearl barley and shallots. It was tasty but sooo filling. I was trying to pawn the rest off on the kids and Derrick so I could save room for my main course – the stone bass with crushed artichoke, razor clams and root vegetables. I love a good sea bass!
Derrick, of course, had dry-aged beef. I’m not sure he’s ever been able to pass up a good steak. His starter was the Lamb Bacon, crispy lamb belly. He’d been itching to try pork belly, so he took it one step further with lamb. The kids actually liked it as well, though he didn’t tell them what it was until after they ate it. Both kids just shrugged and said it was good 🙂
Derrick & I did have a little disagreement during dinner though. I wanted the Thornbury wine made from grapes grown in the vineyard right on the property, but it’s only sold by the bottle. It’s white wine and Derrick wanted red with his steak. In the end, I ended up with a glass of delicious Pinot Grigio (my favorite, actually) and Derrick had a glass of red. Since he almost always agrees to share a bottle of white with me if I smile pretty, I let him enjoy his steak with a glass of red. I let him think he’s the King, once in a while.
After dinner the kids said good night to Sir George (the suit of armor guarding the entrance) and we headed back to our room to snuggle by the fire. The next morning it was time to say good-bye to Thornbury Castle. But maybe not forever. It think it would be an amazing place for Lucy to get married. In about 30 years.
Thornbury Castle has a fascinating history.
Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, built Thornbury Castle in 1510. A huge Manor House from 1330 originally stood on the property. Even though the Duke owned 11 castles and 72 Manor houses, he preferred the property at Thornbury. Having an annual income of £5,000 or £2 million today ($6,180 or $2.5 million), means you can pretty much choose where you live.
But the Manor House wasn’t enough for the Duke, he needed a castle. The Duke acquired a license to build “a palace within a castle” from Henry VIII. Thornbury was the last licensed castle in England. As a castle should, it has crenelations, a rampart built around the top of a castle with regular gaps for firing arrows or guns.
It took only three years to build three wings of the castle. Enough was complete that the Duke and his family could move in even though the castle wasn’t finished. Unfortunately for the Duke, he was a bit too prideful and didn’t pay or treat his servants well. He was known to have boasted that if Henry VIII should die without a legitimate heir, then he would become King. While it’s likely he did say those words and true he did have more of a blood right to the throne than the Tudor King, it’s not smart to speak against the crown.
Having been mistreated, servants told the Cardinal of the Dukes statement. In April 1521, the Duke was arrested and beheaded a month later for treason. The castle as well as all his estates and holdings went to the crown. The king fired the masons working on the castle, so they took the original plans in spite. No one is sure what the final castle was supposed to look like when complete. Later, Henry VIII’s Granddaughter Mary 1st, during her teens, spent time at the castle.
After some time, Thornbury Castle was given back to the Dukes family, but no money or other estates was provided. As a consequence, the family couldn’t afford the maintenance and staff required for such a massive residence. As the castle sat abandoned, townspeople started taking the glass, stone and doorways. Open to exposure from the elements, the castle eventually fell into disrepair. Much later, in 1824, it was renovated by the Howard family. Then from 1960’s to the 1980’s the castle operated as UK’s top restaurant. Now, it is run as a 28-room luxury hotel.
Be sure to examine the details and features found throughout the castle and imagine yourself as Henry VIII or his new wife, Anne Boleyn, still with a head! In many locations , thankfully, you can find some of the original pieces. The royal emblems of the Duke’s family can be seen on the fireplace. Another interesting feature is the walkway the Duke built from his castle to the church. He could go from his bedroom to service “without his feet touching the ground”. Why would you want to mix with the commoners when you have Royal blood?
Looking for even more of a royal experience? Stay in the Dukes Bedchamber where Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed during their honeymoon tour in 1535! I’m not sure this is the best room for families, but it would be awesome to stay there as a couple!
Another extra special experience would be dining in the 16th-century dungeon turned wine cellar.
Finally, families should also consider staying in the Gatehouse. If you’re looking for a bit of privacy and more space, the Victoria Gatehouse boasts two bedrooms and two bathrooms. While I think the spiral staircase leading to our tower room was a fantastic feature, I know not everyone wants to deal with stairs. You’ll also have a private garden, lounge and kitchen – perfect for a relaxed family stay.
Please note children eight and older are welcome at the castle. Keeping safety in mind, the castle really isn’t a good place for younger kids. I could just imagine my young nephews attempting to race down the narrow spiral staircases. That is not a good vision! Older children will also be able to appreciate the excitement and privilege of staying in a real life castle!
Thornbury Castle is now part of the Luxury Family Hotels group featuring luxury hotels in England – all perfect for families. They recently renovated Thornbury Castle and have more renovations & expansion in the works. As you plan your road trip, make sure to check out all the luxury family hotels available along your route. You’ll find services such as complimentary baby-listening services, bed guards, game rooms and more at the other properties.
The kids have already decided it would be cool to stay in a Manor House on our next England visit. We highly recommend Thornbury Castle & Luxury Family Hotel properties to other family travelers. It’s a magical experience the entire family will remember for years to come.
Have you stayed at Thornbury Castle England? Share your thoughts.