The 12 Days of Christmas at Castle Howard

Castle Howard
by Anisa // 21 Comments

One of the most magical parts of Christmas is the decorations.  I don’t think I could ever get bored of looking at them. As a kid, I remember driving around at night to see the lights, and I still appreciate Christmas decorations as an adult especially in an iconic setting.  

Castle Howard is a stately home outside of York, England that goes all out for the holiday season. It is the home to the Howard Family. Let me tell you a little bit about its history and why Christmas at Castle Howard is special. I got to visit during the 2018 season when the theme was the 12 Days of Christmas.   

In this post, I will share my experience seeing the 12 Days of Christmas at Castle Howard, so you can get an idea of what to expect when you visit.

2023 Christmas Update: This year’s theme is Christmas in Neverland.  The dates are set for November 12, 2023 through January 2, 2024.  Get more specifics and book your ticket here.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.  Please see disclosure for more information.

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25 foot Christmas Tree at Castle Howard
The 25 foot Christmas tree in the Grand Hall was stunning!

About the Howard Family

The Howard family can be traced back to William Howard in the 13th century.  When you study English history, especially during the Tudor time, you are bound to come across one of his descendants.  Some of the prominent Howards were:

  • Sir William Howard (died 1308), was a judge who also was in the House of Commons in the Model Parliament of 1295.
  • Sir Edward Howard (1476 – 1513) was an English naval officer who was in command during the Battle of Saint-Mathieu.
  • Catherine Howard (1523 – 1542) was Henry VIII’s fifth wife.  She was executed for adultery.
  • Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1443–1524), was a councillor (adviser) and military commander for Henry VII and Henry VIII.
  • Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk (1538–72), was executed for plotting against Queen Elizabeth I on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots.
Howard Family Coat of Arms - Two Traveling Texans
The Howard Family Coat of Arms
  • Charles Howard, 2nd Lord of Effingham (1536–1624),  was Lord High Admiral under Elizabeth I and commanded the fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada.  
  • Rosalind Howard (1845 – 1921), the wife of the 9th Earl, George Howard, was active in the Temperance Movement and fought for women’s suffrage.

About Castle Howard

Castle Howard took over 100 years to complete.  Charles Howard, the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, began to work with his friend,  John Vanbrugh, on the design in 1699 and it was not completed until 1811. It’s one of the largest stately homes in England with 145 rooms.  Over the years, eight generations of the Howard family have lived there. The house is Grade I listed.

Several TV shows and movies have been filmed at Castle Howard. You might recognize it from ‘Lady L’ with Sophia Loren in 1965, ‘Barry Lyndon’ in 1975, ‘Brideshead Revisited’ in 1981 and 2008, BBC’s ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ in 2013, and more recently ITV’s ‘Victoria’.  It is also the exterior for the fictional Clyvedon Castle in Netflix’s Bridgerton.

Model of Castle Howard - Two Traveling Texans
Model of Castle Howard

Howard Castle is not the only castle affiliated with the Howard Family.  The Howard family inherited Framlingham Castle and lived there at times before Castle Howard was built.  When the family fell out of favor with the Royal Family, their lands had to be forfeited.  They got the lands back after Elizabeth I died and then sold the castle at Framlingham to a private buyer in 1635.

Fire at Castle Howard

You would never know it from visiting Castle Howard today, but there was a terrible fire in 1940.   The fire destroyed rooms in the basement and both levels of the House. The dome collapsed into the Great Hall.   It took twenty years before they began working on the repairs. 

It was interesting that the many candles in the house were LED.  I wondered if this was because of the fire or because it is a lot of work to keep so many candles lit? It’s still not easy to make sure all the candles have batteries.  I did not see any that were out.

In some rooms, they had fires in the fireplaces which gave the House a more welcoming homely feel.  Not only did these fires add to the atmosphere but I think they were needed to keep the rooms warm. I took the opportunity to stand by them and feel the heat.

Dome in the Great Hall in Castle Howard - Two Traveling Texans
Looking up at the Dome in the Great Hall.

Castle Howard Gardens

Given it was December when I visited, I knew the gardens would not be at their peak.  Still, it is a five-minute walk through the beautifully landscaped gardens from the entrance to the house.  (There is also the Kelly Tram that runs every 20 minutes if you want to save your feet). There were a few Christmas trees with lights on them.  

I saw the sign pointing to the Rose Garden, so I decided to peek in.  Of course, being winter there weren’t any roses. To the south of the house, you will find the Atlas fountain.  Unfortunately, it was turned off for the winter, so I could only imagine how beautiful it must be.

I definitely need to come back in the summer to see the gardens.  There were also some trails that I would be tempted to explore on a warmer day.

The Atlas Fountain in the Gardens of Castle Howard - Two Traveling Texans
The Atlas Fountain in the Gardens of Castle Howard

Inside Castle Howard

The theme for the Christmas decorations at Castle Howard for this year (2018) was the Twelve Days of Christmas.  The creative producer was Charlotte Lloyd Webber, and she did an amazing job.

Throughout the House, they had rooms dedicated to each of the days.  Each room was beautifully decorated in a way that was elegant and felt like something out of a childhood story. It was delightful.

decorations on the balcony in the Great Hall at Castle Howard
The decorations on the balcony in the Great Hall were pretty!

The highlight for me in Castle Howard was the Grand Hall. It’s the room under the dome that you see in the center of the house.  The architecture and artwork make it an amazing room on its own but then throw in a perfectly decorated 25-foot tall Christmas Tree (pictured above).  I could barely fit the whole tree in one photo. I was in awe!

Maids of Milking themed room at Castle Howard - Two Traveling Texans
The maids-of-milking room at Castle Howard was my favorite.

My favorite themed-room was the lady’s drawing room which had the maids-a-milking (and yes, there were eight of them – I counted!).  It had a bit of a Carnival influence, not exactly a traditional Christmas look. 

The decorations in the Long Hall had bits from all the days like the last verse of the song.  I thought the five golden rings hanging in the center were clever. It was like a mobile and each of the rings could move separately which created a constantly changing look.  

five golden rings mobile at Castle Howard - Two Traveling Texans
I thought the way they displayed the five golden rings was clever!

They also had musical performances in this room. On the day I visited, the Yorkshire Singers had two sessions where they sang Christmas Carols. There were a few seats, so I relaxed and enjoyed the music for a bit.

Long Room at Castle Howard decorated for Christmas - Two Traveling Texans
The Long Room was like the final verse of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Unlike a lot of stately homes, photography is allowed inside the house, provided you don’t use a flash. I have to congratulate Castle Howard for this policy. Buying a souvenir guidebook is not always everyone’s preferred option and many people prefer to keep digital photos these days.  The rooms were a bit dark to make the decorations look better so make sure you bring a camera that can handle low light without a flash.

You will want to allow at least an hour to tour the House.

Castle Howard Hallway - Two Traveling Texans
The lighting in this hallway leading to the Great Hall was stunning.

Food at Castle Howard

Castle Howard has a few different options when you get hungry!  There is the Boar Garden Marquee, the Fitzroy Restaurant, the Courtyard Cafe, and the Boathouse Cafe.  By the entrance, there is also a coffee shop.

I had the Castle Howard sausage roll in the Boar Garden Marquee.  I have had my fair share of sausage rolls since I have moved to England, and I have to say, this one was the best.  Yorkshire is known for its pastries (and chocolate!) and this did not disappoint.  Plus, it only cost me £3.95 and was filling.

One of the dining rooms inside the House decorated with swans a swimming. - Two Traveling Texans
One of the dining rooms inside the House decorated with swans a swimming.

Later in the afternoon, I had a cream tea in the tent at the Courtyard Cafe.  The tent was beautifully decorated for the holiday. They had cranberry scones which were delicious and perfect for the season.  While I had enjoyed my walk exploring the twelve days of Christmas at Castle Howard, I was relieved to be able to sit down, take the weight of my feet and relax with some Christmas music and a cup of tea.

As you might have guessed, the Boathouse Cafe is located right on the lake.  There is also a play area by it for the kids. I can image enjoying the views and a casual meal here, but during the holiday season, the Boathouse Cafe is only open during the weekends.  The play area is still open daily.

Castle Howard Wreath
So many beautiful decorations at Castle Howard.

If you want to splurge, during the Christmas season, Castle Howard offers a special Christmas Festive Afternoon Tea in the Grecian Hall.  They were also offering a traditional Christmas lunch with all the trimmings in the Fitzroy Restaurant. There is a vegetarian option available.

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If you visit when the weather is warmer, the gardens would also be a nice place to picnic!

Augmented Reality Experience at Castle Howard

Kids will love the Seasons App.  It adds a little augmented reality to your experience.  The reason I say it is for kids is because the augmented reality is a cartoon.  The app is not specific to Castle Howard and will work in other places too.

Once you download the app, you will see the spots where there is a virtual reality experience available.  When you are in one of those locations, take out your phone and open the app. You will see what your phone camera sees on your screen.  Just click on it and the virtual reality cartoons will appear. Try looking in all directions as it’s not just one cartoon you will be able to see.

A screen shot of the augmented reality at Castle Howard - Two Traveling Texans
The kids will have fun with the augmented reality

Santa at Castle Howard

Yes, Santa does visit Castle Howard but only on the weekends.  They offer timed tickets for kids to see Santa. It sells out quickly so be sure to book early!

Review of Castle Howard at Christmas

I enjoyed my visit to Castle Howard to see the Christmas decorations.  They did a great job with the all the trimmings and the theme. The theme is different every year.  

There are many little details that might make you want to go through the house more than once! The staff members in each room were happy to answer any questions.  I also appreciated that you are allowed to take pictures inside the house as long as you don’t use a flash.

decorated staircase
They have added a wheelchair lift to this gorgeous staircase.

One thing I noticed is how welcoming they were to visitors in wheelchairs.  I know every place should be welcoming to those with disabilities, unfortunately, that is not the case.  They have installed a wheelchair lift on the first set of stairs in the house. Unfortunately, there are a few rooms that are another floor up which are not accessible.  Still, it is an old stately home that I would not hesitate to recommend for those with accessibility requirements.

The house is an impressive building without any special decorations.  The Howard Family has an impressive art collection. I would love to come back when the weather is warmer and spend some time in the gardens.

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The decorations in this room were magical! - Two Traveling Texans
The decorations in this room were magical!

Opening Hours for Castle Howard at Christmas

For 2018, the Christmas event at Castle Howard runs from November 17th until December 31st.  During this time, the House and Grounds open at 10 am with last entry at 3 pm on weekdays and 4 pm on weekends.  Occasionally, the House may have to close early for special events, so it is best to confirm the hours here before planning your visit.

closeup of ornaments on the Christmas Tree
The tree was decorated with all kinds of ornaments that all came together well.

Traveling from York to Castle Howard

Castle Howard is located about 15 miles north of York, so the fastest way to get there is to drive.  Parking is free! If you don’t have a car or aren’t comfortable driving on the left, don’t worry there is a bus you can take.  

You can catch the 181 bus close to the York Railway Station at stop RM and after about an hour you will be dropped off by the entrance to Castle Howard.  You will pass the Monks Cross shopping center, Sheriff Hutton Castle ruins, and a few cute towns on the way.

Tickets are £10 for the round trip (as of December 13, 2018)  and you can get a small discount on your admission to Castle Howard if you show your bus ticket.  They do accept contactless payments on the bus (i.e. ApplePay). You can find the bus schedule here, just note the busses do not operate on Sundays.   

Castle Howard photo - Two Traveling Texans
It is definitely worth the journey to visit Castle Howard.

Traveling from London to Castle Howard

Driving to Castle Howard from London takes about 4 ½ hours.  If you want to go to Castle Howard on public transportation, you can take the train from London King’s Cross to York, which takes around 2 hours.  Then it’s a few minutes walk to the York Railway Station bus stop, where you can catch the 181 bus that takes you right to Castle Howard. This bus takes about an hour.

If you book your train tickets early, avoid peak trains, and choose specific train times, you will get the best deal.  Click here to check the schedule and prices. I would recommend leaving at least 45 minutes between the time your train arrives and the time the bus leaves to be safe.  The buses don’t run very frequently so you don’t want to miss the connection. Check the bus schedule here.

The front of the Castle Howard House.
The front of the Castle Howard House.

I guess you could do a day trip to Castle Howard from London, however, given York is one of the prettiest cities in England, I would recommend staying for at least a weekend.  There are plenty of historical places to see in York and it has one of the best Christmas Markets in England.  You should visit the St. Nicholas Christmas Fair!

Is Visiting Castle Howard at Christmas Worth it?

Yes.  These Christmas decoration are quite elaborate and the setting is special too.  You are visiting one of the grandest stately homes in England.  While there are cheaper places to see Christmas decorations, at Castle Howard it is another level.  

I can’t wait to see what theme they come up with for next year! Where have you seen some amazing Christmas decorations?


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castle howard christmas tree with text overlay

Expert Tips for Visiting Castle Howard During Christmas

  • Book your tickets online here to save 10%
  • If you want to see Santa or do a Festive Afternoon Tea, book it in advance.
  • Allow at least an hour to tour the House.
  • When you visit Castle Howard, check the schedule to see if there are any musical performances.

Disclosure: Thanks to Castle Howard for providing me with complimentary admission so that I could share the experience with my readers.

This post also contains affiliate links. This means we will receive a small commission for some purchases made using links in our blog with no additional cost to you.  Please be assured we would not promote any product unless we believe that our readers will also benefit.  The commission does not influence the editorial content of this site.

Last Updated on October 19, 2023

About the Author

Anisa is an experienced international traveler with extra pages in her passport and stamps from 41 different countries across 5 continents (and counting). She was born and raised in Texas. After a 13 year stint in NYC, she moved to England to live with her husband.