Our First Castle in Europe: Kasteel de Haar

by farrah on June 24, 2013 · 24 comments

I woke up on Saturday itching to go on a day trip. The clouds came and went- as did my more adventurous resolve, so we ended up going to our first castle about an hour away in Utrecht.

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Planning

I received many wonderful suggestions from friends as to where we should go- but went in a completely different direction because we have yet to see our first castle. I did a quick Google search for ‘Castles in the Netherlands’ and was stunned at the sheer number in our vicinity. As I scrolled down the list I discovered Kasteel de Haar was an hour away, and the largest castle in the Netherlands- but most importantly they also had children-specific tours. Sold.

Packed and ready to go, we hit the road and arrived in Utrecht about an hour later. The boys DID nap (hallelujah) probably because I allowed their pacis and blankets for the ride- and as we drove through the twisting and winding roads in the rain, we eventually found our destination.

At the courtyard entry

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The Castle- Kasteel de Haar

Kasteel de Haar has a very long and interesting history. The gist of it is this: It started as a medieval house in the 14th century. The 15th, 18th and 19th centuries all saw change and rebuilding of the structure. At one point in the late 19th century- the young baron owner Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt van de Haar came into the home by inheritance.  He was the one that had grand ideas of rebuilding the rubble. Baron Etienne gave the assignment to the famous Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers and what they accomplished is an amazing recreation that took over 20 years to build. –Read more here.

In the rose garden

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What we did

Thanks to my friend Emiel at The Act of Traveling, I took his suggestion and brought our museumkaarts with us.  I had no idea that it would work for admission at a castle, but they did! Once we arrived we signed up for the guided children’s tour. The only way you could see the interior of the castle was to go on a tour- and thankfully they had a kid friendly one. Sure our entire tour was in Dutch, but that didn’t matter. It was too much trouble to get the English headphones (wrangling kids and doing that is just a stupid idea) so what we did was buy a book in the gift shop about the castle and I followed along that way. Worked for us!

We toured many of the important rooms, starting in the huge kitchen and climbing up the narrow stairs to the different halls. I was so disappointed that you couldn’t photograph inside! I don’t think my words can bring justice to all of the ornate decoration, vaulted ceilings and stained glass. Basically it’s everything you think it might be, x’s 10. No kidding.

My one rogue photo as you enter

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My favorite room was probably the dining room. The romantic in me imagines being at a fancy dinner without children to break my wine glass. Elaborate tapestries hang from walls and huge chandeliers dangle from the ceiling. The room wasn’t overwhelming in size- but just comfortable enough to seat about 30 or so or your closest friends and have one heck of a meal. My favorite part of every room were the small wooden nooks that had benches to look out of the windows. Something about them just called to the kid in me. I always loved little places like that- to see but not neessarily be seen.

We started to lose the boys about 40 minutes into the hour-long tour. You can’t exactly ‘race’ out of a castle so you really have to wait until the group is ready to leave with you. Luckily for all of us I remembered a stash of Rolos in my purse and that bought us enough time to get out of their without making too much of a scene.

The gardens

This castle has an outside which rivals the beauty of the inside. We strolled around the gardens and eventually made our way to the courtyard where they had a cafe. We had a great time watching the boys run around in a loop (?) while choking down the 11% ‘triple’ beers we ordered. Holy cow- that was probably the strongest beer I have ever had in my life and all I wanted was one huge nap afterward! The boys each had a chocolate muffin, so all was right with the world and we survived yet another family adventure.

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Going Forward

My hope is that we can see more castles in our home country- and hopefully they too will be ‘kid friendly’. There are so many out there that I think it will be an easy way to eliminate those that aren’t from our ‘to see’ list. Combine that number with those in nearby Germany and France and I think we have enough castles to last us every weekend that we live here. The boys are still talking about it- oh I love giving them this opportunity.

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Have you ever been to a real castle? I’d love to hear about it and if you think it’s one we should try!

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Veronika June 24, 2013 at 8:11 am

Europe is full of castles. It is interesting to see how they differ in each country or even region. I love how you can see the centuries of peoples lives in the castles and how they changed. Castles that used to be the center of life can now be lonely in a wilderness. I have been visiting castles since I was very small with my family and I have always loved the history of it. These were the best trips.

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2 farrah June 24, 2013 at 10:53 am

You’re so lucky- we read about them in the US but just can’t imagine how impressive they are up close!

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3 Chamisa June 24, 2013 at 8:13 am

We almost visited this place on our way back from The Netherlands in April. It looked so beautiful in the pictures, but we were exhausted from a whirlwind BeNeLux tour with our three boys and anxious to get back to Germany. Good to know you had a successful visit with your kids; we’ll be sure to add this to our itinerary the next time we are in The Netherlands!

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4 farrah June 24, 2013 at 10:54 am

I can imagine! But yes- next time you’re in the vicinity, I highly recommend it 🙂 We had a really nice time and it was easily something you can do with kids of any age!

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5 Chamisa June 24, 2013 at 8:17 am
6 farrah June 24, 2013 at 10:55 am

Thank you for sharing!!! I was just thinking about which one in Luxembourg that we needed to hit first!

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7 Chamisa June 24, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Vianden is great, but getting in and out of it by car can be a real pain as you are forced to take slow, windy country roads. Great for naps, not so much for nerves 🙂

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8 farrah June 25, 2013 at 7:17 am

Great to know. Honestly- I start with low expectations and everything is up from there 🙂

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9 Elizabeth June 24, 2013 at 8:46 am

I knew we were going to be okay once we moved to Bamberg and I realized there was a castle in my neighborhood. From our temporary apartment, I thought it might be a ruin. But, a 15 minute walk up on the 4th day we were in Germany led me to realize that I was much closer to being a princess than I ever thought I’d be. It is a smallish, adorable, completely restored castle built around 900. I never, ever thought I’d live in a place that had a neighborhood castle.

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10 farrah June 24, 2013 at 10:55 am

You were our inspiration for finally hitting our first! I’m so glad that you have this chance to visit them 🙂

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11 Ann June 24, 2013 at 9:13 am

When my son was 3 months we went to herrenchiemsee in southern Germany. It’s one of king ludwigs castles, but this one was built to replicate Versailles. In some areas it’s actually more ornate than Versailles. I think the hall of mirrors has a 3-d element not at Versailles, for example. I recommend it. It’s on an island, there’s other things to do, and that area of Germany is beautiful.

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12 farrah June 24, 2013 at 10:56 am

Sounds perfect- and yet another to add to our list of must sees in Germany!

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13 Amy June 24, 2013 at 2:08 pm

So cool! My daughter is all about castles right now and would love this. How fun that you have them so close. I have been itching for a family travel experience – you might be my new source of inspiration.

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14 farrah June 25, 2013 at 7:19 am

For me the key is low (realistic expectations)- ha! But for real- that’s the only way we are able to get out of the house.

If I was your daughter and you took me to see a castle I would love you forever!

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15 KerryB June 24, 2013 at 7:23 pm

I’ve never been to a castle…I think I would get creeped out…not sure why.
Seriously how did people live in those? They are insane. Beautiful but wow so big and elaborate.
Seriously you are so brave Farrah! I don’t think I could do all the things your do. I will just continue to live vicariously…

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16 farrah June 25, 2013 at 7:19 am

And I with you my friend!

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17 Tami @Colorado Mountain Mom June 25, 2013 at 7:21 pm

CASTLES! Ugh, I’m so dying to go to Europe… and castles are at the tippy top of my list!! Kudos to you for tackling with your 3 little ones 😉

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18 farrah July 16, 2013 at 10:17 am

I couldn’t do it without my hubs:)

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19 Gayla June 27, 2013 at 10:07 am

Great post about a castle I’ve yet to visit. I LOVE castles. My first trip to Europe was an extended stay in Germany decades ago. For travel fun, we’d pull out the map (the paper version in those days), search out the little castle markers, plot our course and hit the road. So many amazing castles (Ludwig’s in particular are frivolous and spectacular). We’re still searching for castles from our new base in the Netherlands and recently visited a few in country and in border countries. I loved Castle Gravensteen in Ghent. We don’t have kids, but it seemed that they had kid friendly activities; the sentry (in costume) at the gate and the crime/punishment exhibit were big hits with the kids we did see 🙂
We have a few posts about the Castle and Ghent on our site:
http://mikestravelguide.com/the-counts-castle-gravensteen-ghent-part-2/

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20 farrah July 16, 2013 at 10:18 am

Gah! We’re going to Ghent next week- thanks for that! Perfect, thank you for sharing your link 🙂

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21 Jen July 16, 2013 at 8:41 am

We went to our first castle last week…Schloss Moyland Castle in Germany. While the castle and the grounds were beautiful from the outside, the entire inside was a museum of modern art. Fortunately there was one tower that was still open that you could climb and the view was breathtaking.

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22 farrah July 16, 2013 at 10:19 am

ooh- how cool is that? Did you get the museum kaart here in the NL? It’s good for a year and is admission to EVERY museum in the NL (including the castle we went to). If not, let me know and I can send you a link to look into it. Even if you’re only here for a few weeks it pays itself back!

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