I couldn’t have been more excited when Tot announced her topic for this school term was castles. We often visit forts and castles as part of day trips on the south coast of England, and this gave us even more excuse to indulge in some history related adventures. At half term we spent a weekend in Hampshire which put us on the doorstep of a castle dating back to Roman times. Here’s what to do at Portchester Castle with kids.
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About Portchester Castle
The first structure to be built on the site was a Roman fort in the 3rd Century. Its role was to protect against Saxon raids on the harbour and it was built to last. Today it is the best preserved Roman fort north of the Alps.
The Castle keep and courtyard that stand in the north corner of the original Roman walls were built much later by the Normans in the 12th Century.
Over the centuries, the Castle’s location at the top of Portsmouth Harbour made it the prime spot for launching military campaigns across the English Channel. Henry II, Edward III, Henry V all stayed here prior to battles in France, and the Castle continued to be a significant coastal defence into the Tudor period.
In the 19th Century Portchester Castle was used to hold French prisoners captured during the Napoleonic Wars. They must have been a pretty jovial lot as some were given materials to turn a room on the lower levels of the Keep into a theatre. Amazingly, this space could accommodate an audience of up to 300 people. It must have been a squash!
Read more about Hampshire days out with kids
Visiting Portchester Castle with kids
We lived within easy reach of Portchester Castle for years but never ventured there. Maybe I thought the kids were too young, or we just didn’t have time. Anyway, I’m so glad we made the effort during our recent visit to Hampshire. Here’s everything there is to do at Portchester Castle:
Climb the keep
The panoramic views of Portsmouth Harbour are well worth the climb. To the north there’s Portsdown Hill and to the South you can see as far as the Isle of Wight. Around the Keep and on the way to the top there are exhibitions about the prisoners of war who spent time here during the Napoleonic Wars, as well as the artefacts that have been dug up in the grounds.
When we visited, the spiral staircase from bottom to top of the Keep was closed but it was still possible to reach the battlements via an internal wooden staircase. The last section rejoins the spiral stairwell.
From the top we could see Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower, the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and the Isle of Wight. The parish church of St Mary’s also stands with the Roman walls.
If you are staying in the area and looking for more places to visit with kids see my post on more things to do in Portsmouth.
Have a picnic
Portchester Castle is an epic place for a picnic on a sunny day. Pack your sandwiches and picnic blanket, and take advantage of a sheltered spot within the old Roman fort walls.
Portchester Castle events
During the school holidays you’ll find special family events happening at Portchester Castle. We visited during May half term when kids could build their own castle with craft materials, listen to story telling, take part in a kids castle siege, and complete an activity trail. All of this was included in the entrance fee and made for a super day out.
Find out more about Portchester Castle events.
Put on a show
Follow in the theatrical footsteps of French prisoners of war at Portchester Castle and put on a show in the lower levels of the Keep. There’s a stage and costumes, so all you need to do is work on your lines.
Hear the past brought to life
An audio guide is included in your visit. Six-year-old Tot loved listening to stories about different parts of the castle as told by historic characters. There are also audio guide stations in parts of the keep which tell the story of Black Caribbean POWs who arrived here during the Napoleonic Wars when they were fighting for the French forces.
Handy things to know about Portchester Castle
- Some of the steps within the Keep are very steep and the final climb up to the battlements is via a narrow spiral staircase.
- There is free parking in two car parks next to the castle. If there’s an event on or you visit in the school holidays you may have to circle a few times for a space or find parking back up the entrance road in the old village.
- The toilets are located in the large car park outside the old fort walls so encourage kids to go before you enter.
- There’s no charge to enter the walls of the Roman fort, which offer a huge space for picnics.
- Dogs are allowed in the fort and castle on a lead
- You can get ice creams, and hot and cold drinks from the English Heritage shop. There’s a tea room at St Mary’s parish church inside the Roman fort walls and the Cormorant Pub is not far back up the main road.
Find out more about visiting Portchester Castle on the English Heritage website.
Find more days out in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in my big round up of 101 UK attractions for families.
Planning a trip to Portchester Castle with kids? Pin this post for reference.