It's a really good castle, with ramparts to walk, a keep to climb, donkeys to ooh and aahh over and a grisly history to hear.
It's has a fantastic visitor centre and shop and it's through here that you walk to enter the castle and then on under the iconic turreted gatehouse and into the courtyard.
Just on your right as you enter the courtyard is the former shop that is now a video room showing a film about the castle, narrated by a cartoon donkey with Phill Jupitus's voice – he was born on the Island as it happens. The film is humorous and mainly aimed at children but it does give a potted history of the castle in an accessible fashion.
It also introduces the donkeys who walk the enormous wooden wheel in the well house to pull the water from the 50m well. Actually they don't pull it that far any more as nobody uses the water, but they do a short stint so you get the general idea and they are very cute. You can go and meet them in the stables nearby too.
Then you can wander the castle at your leisure and a walk around the top of walls is something you must take if you are able. You'll have the most amazing view of the surrounding countryside, Newport and Carisbrooke village and the Medina River wending its way to Cowes.
The weathered grey stones appear almost white with the lichens growing upon them and it's a long way down when you look over the top, especially if you take the steep steps up to the keep where you can also walk around the rim – not for those afraid of heights!
The castle's main claim to fame was that it became the prison of Charles I when he was on the run from Cromwell and the parliamentarians. He tried to escape a couple of times but the first time he got stuck in the window (apparently he was getting 20 course meals so this is hardly surprising) and the second time he was betrayed. You can see the window on the outer wall from which he tried to flee the last time.
He was eventually taken from the castle to London for his beheading leaving behind his 14 year old daughter Elizabeth who caught pneumonia playing on the parade ground in the rain and died a year later. Her story is told in the museum, where the room in which she died is situated, and you can also see the room that Charles I was imprisoned and from which made his first botched escape.
The museum also has weapons, interactive games and a model of the castle on the ground floor giving an idea of what warfare within a castle was all about. Upstairs there is more history of the Isle of Wight with artefacts to see such as the ornate carved wooden organ that was given to Princess Beatrice who was Queen Victoria's youngest daughter. After her mother's death she came to live at the castle and also became governor of the Isle of Wight.
In 2009 a pretty walled garden designed by celebrity gardener Chris Beardshaw was added to the castle, located behind the little church that was rebuilt by Princess Beatrice. Based on her crest and her favourite colours you get an especially good view of it from the top of the walls. Take a hamper with you and you could sit in the garden on one of the many benches for a picnic lunch.
Or you might like to visit the café/restaurant that hidden away behind the buildings near to the donkey stables. It's well signposted though and you'll definitely find it if you're walking the ramparts as there are steps down from the top into the outdoor courtyard eating area.
Make sure you also pay a quick visit to the gatehouse on your way in or out, especially if you have kids as there are guard's uniforms and helmets to try on for photo opportunities and weapons to see. In fact there are loads of cannons dotted about the castle grounds and kids love climbing on them – if you make your way out to the large parade ground to the south eastern side of the castle there are larger ones at the corners of the field.