One of the noblest of treats on a London holiday lies on the outskirts of London — the town of Windsor and its famous Windsor Castle, which makes every visitor feel regal. The Royal castle, dating from the 11th century, is still used today by Queen Elizabeth and the Royals as a private weekend residence. Perhaps most famously, it was the wedding venue of Prince Henry of Wales (Prince Harry, who was baptized in this same chapel) and his American bride, Meghan Markle. (More on that later.)
There is a lot to see in the postcard town of Windsor, about 25 miles west of Central London. The castle rises up the hill above the town, with charming streets spreading around and down the hill to the wide, lazing Thames River running through the town and separating it from Eton, home to the famed boy’s school.
History Made Fun
Windsor Castle was founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century and has been home to 39 monarchs, 30 of which are buried there. It’s open for touring, both guided and self-guided, and is a worthy destination for families. But – no photos!
Guided tours (included in the entry fee) provide a glimpse into the spaces and ways of the Royal Family, one of England’s most popular tourist fascinations.
Outdoors on the property, tours are led by the Castle Precincts, uniformed employees with deep historical knowledge of the property who are ready to answer your questions. Detailed audio guides provide interesting commentary on the building and its grounds and are the only information resource when exploring the interior. I think schoolage and older kids will love the Royal anecdotes throughout the commentary
Will you get up close and personal with her Majesty? No. The Queen’s private quarters are pointed out at a distance across a guarded and fenced yard.
Windsor Castle Don’t Miss Sights
The grounds are lush and, of course, well tended, as you would expect from the English Garden. But it is the gorgeously ornate State Apartments which take your breath away. These are fully accessible and are the actual public rooms of the castle in which various ceremonial events and dinners have taken place for centuries. The architecture is stunning and the art work remarkable.
A Windsor Castle audio tour is truly a journey through spaces in which the Kings and Queens, Court and guests, and you have walked and dined. You can almost hear the murmur of conversation, the sound of cutlery on plate, and glass toasting glass. It is the closest you can get to a royal experience and is not to be missed.
On the way to the State Apartments, you must visit Queen Mary’s Doll’s House, built for her between 1921 and 1924. It’s about eight feet tall and equally wide on all sides. The details of the rooms replicate life in the 1920s, with thousands of objects made by the leading artists, designers and craftsman of that era. It’s like you’ve stepped into the world of “Downsizing.” The water runs, the lifts lift, and the sinks flush. It’s a jewel of both design and detail and is set up adjacent to the State Apartments.
Exploring Windsor like Meghan and Harry
The town of Windsor is a lively, thriving village, with restaurants and shops lining its charming streets. It’s quite a busy place, and has a bit too many American shops for our taste. T.K. Maxx? Still, it’s fun to walk about with the locals, and taste some English food or Thai treats or fast food — it’s all available. For a real indoctrination into English cuisine, visit the Royal Farms Windsor Farm Shop, which sells the bounty: produce, meats and poultry from the local royal farms.
For coffee and simple breakfast or lunch, try Cinnamon Cafe, in the Old Ticket Hall in the Windsor Royal Station, an open air walkway just down from the street that encircles the castle. For decent Italian food, try to find Sebastian’s Italian, located on a quiet side street down the hill.
Cross the car-free Windsor Bridge over the Thames into Eton, and you’ll step back an era into a very quiet English country village. Impeccably restored older architecture dating to the 18th and 19th centuries lines quiet streets. The town is best known for its private boarding school, Eton College, founded in 1440 by King Henry VI and the alma mater of Princes Harry and William. There are few eating establishments or shops in Eton — much of its charm — so plan time for this stroll as a getaway from Windsor’s bustling streets.
A Harry and Meghan Tour
Of course, the beautiful Gothic St. George’s Chapel that lies within the Castle grounds has been used for many Royal weddings.
The world’s eyes were upon it for the highly anticipated wedding between Prince Henry of Wales and Meghan Markle on May 19, 2018. On that day, more than two thousand members of the pubic, nominated by government officials, charities or just local luminaries, were able to watch in person.
If you missed it and want a taste of what actually went on, do not miss “Royal Wedding: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex” at Windsor Castle. The exhibit displays the actual military frock coat worn by Harry and the Givenchy wedding gown worn by Meghan (including Meghan’s tiara and 16-foot veil), as well as the outfits worn by little Prince George and Princess Charlotte in their roles as pageboy and bridesmaid. It’s all displayed in the Grand Reception room along with group wedding photos taken where you stand.
Evan Evans Tours, one of the UK’s oldest sightseeing companies, is running two tours that include Windsor as daytrips from London. Guests can enjoy a guided tour of Windsor Castle and the exhibit, plus stops at Stonehenge, the Roman-era city of Bath and historic Oxford — site of the university — depending on the itinerary. Book ahead as the exhibit is only on through January 6, 2019.
Planning your Windsor Visit
Getting to Windsor is easy at any time of year. There is frequent train service connecting Windsor to Paddington Station in Central London, and the trip takes about 90 minutes.
You can plan to see the Changing the Guard ceremony taking place on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays at 11am, but the schedule is subject to change; check online. These are the soldiers who guard the Royal Family and kids will love their precision marching.
From November through February, the Castle is open daily 9:45am-5:15pm (last admission at 3pm), and the rest of the year from 9am to 5:15pm (last admission at 4pm). Prices for the castle and chapel admission are £21.20 pounds for adults, £12.5 under 17, and free for kids under 5. There is a family plan for Mum, Dad and one child under 17, £54.70, and free Family Multimedia Tours are given Saturday and some British school holidays. Ask about the designed-for-kids activity trail at the castle.
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