Kasteel Heeswijk, The Netherlands
Kasteel Heeswijk, or some version of it at least, has sat on this spot in North Brabant in the Netherlands for nearly one thousand years. Although we’ve had the chance to visit many castles around Europe, Kasteel Heeswijk offers its own unique experience. It features a beautiful garden, charming cafe and a fully furnished digestable castle to visit as a family.
We headed to Kasteel Heeswijk on a Wednesday afternoon for the 3pm children’s tour. Wednesday’s are half days for most schools in The Netherlands and you’ll find plenty of children’s activities taking place around the country. The children’s programing is nearly always in Dutch, but the Big and Middle Little now speak enough Dutch that these tours are perfect for them. Our Big Little chatted along happily to the tour guide for the entirety of the hour tour.
We arrived by car and parked in the free car park. As is customary in the Netherlands, it is a bit of a walk from the car park to the castle, so as to not ruin the view from the castle. This is a great opportunity to appreciate the moat and castle walls as you work your way around them.
Kasteel Heeswijk is part of the Museumkaart program. There is a lovely cafe in the coach house, just inside the castle gates before you need to pay admission to the museum. We stopped here for a quick bite of cake and a coffee. There were other families having lunch. The castle also offers a high tea.
We started our visit by exploring the large garden adjacent to the castle. It’s a formal garden so children are encouraged to keep off the grass, but there is still plenty to explore. The current garden was designed in 1932 and was inspired by a typical French garden.
Small steps lead down to the water’s edge and provide a stunning view to the castle’s drawbridge. It really makes you want to take a boat out and paddle around the exterior of the castle.
The garden is full of fanciful statues. We took turns posing like the statues and making up things they might be saying as they stood watch in the garden.
Then we headed across the drawbridge. Lions appear all over the castle grounds. We had a bit of a scavenger hunt looking for them all.
Kasteel Heeswijk’s interior courtyard has more tables and chairs and also stocks, which the Littles find absolutely hysterical. They love to lock themselves up in them, and simply cannot pass by without asking for a photo.
The bridge overlooking the surrounding nature may have been my favorite feature. It is a covered walkway that leads to the Iron Tower. You can explore the Iron Tower by a narrow staircase. There are bronze carvings that related to the various dukes and duchesses of Brabant that inhabited the castle.
The children’s tour starts inside the castle and is fully interactive. Although I understood very little of the tour, the kids seemed to follow and interact well with the tour guide. Jeff was even dressed up as a knight.
The kids got to try their hands at holding a shield and wearing one of the metal gloves. The Big Little reported that it was quite heavy!
The tour moved through each room of the castle pointing out different features that would be of interest to kids (recommended for ages 4-10). Here the children had to find different portraits of the castle occupants. The oma on our tour pulled up a video of a dance held in that particular room as part of one of the castle’s yearly festivals. The Littles loved watching costumed dancers in the room they were standing in.
With the children fully engaged I was able to spend a bit of time examining all the little details in each room. Every piece in each room has been collected to reflect the style of the Baron, the last castle owner. It is truly a museum filled with period pieces. Each detail makes you feel that at any moment you might encounter the Baron himself.
Each magnificent clock in the house still works, many of them you can hear ticking as you enter the room.
Portraits throughout the house are of the Baron’s ancestors. They were specifically placed in the appropriate rooms to give the rooms life. Although some of the collection was sold off at auction, many have been returned on loan to the museum.
I was particularly drawn to the little details and texture in the castle, the thin lines of the wallpaper contrasted with the rich gold picture frames, the stone fireplace with bright tile backsplashes and the puckering of old glass windows.
Perhaps the most fascinating room in Kasteel Heeswijk though is the tower room adjacent to the bedroom where Chinese painted plates have been inlaid into the ceiling. The children were invited to lay on the floor and look up at the collection and see what story it was telling. This was a unique way for the Barron to display his art collection.
The tour works its way through the house. The children are shown each room, although they spend varying lengths of time in each room. The tour was perfectly designed to keep everyone’s attention. Did I mention that there is plenty to touch!?! The kids got to ring servant bells, unlatch cupboards and try out a toilet.
The tour ends in the kitchen where there is plenty to discover. Water could be pumped directly into the kitchen and secret doors opened to deliver food to different parts of the house. Each child received a coloring sheet and worksheet at the completion of the tour.
The towers and chapel are not part of the tour but were open for exploration on our own after the tour. We brought the stroller with us, but had to leave it while we were on tour as there are quite a few steps. We put the Little Little in the carrier to keep him contained during the tour.
Kasteel Heeswijk sits on a nature reserve with plenty of walking and biking routes nearby. There are several suggestions of paths that run by the castle here. There are three nature walks on the property that are perfect for kids. There is an accompanied app to make the most of these walks. You earn badges as you complete tasks on the walk. (Download for Apple or Android.) We ran out of time for the walks. Instead we combined our visit to Kasteel Heeswijk with Smits Camel Dairy.