A weekend in Windsor
Why historic Windsor makes a wonderful mini-break
From Harry and Meghan’s wedding, to the Queen and Prince Philip’s funeral, we’ve seen a lot of Windsor Castle on TV over recent years. But how many of us have actually been inside?
We decided to head over to the pretty Berkshire town over half-term and what a delight it was. Windsor Castle is wonderful - by far the best royal residence I’ve visited. It was like walking both through history and in the footsteps of the Queen, ending, movingly, with her final resting place in St George’s Chapel.
Despite the austere grey walls of the 950-year-old castle, it’s super-cosy inside and the medieval interiors make it as close to Camelot as you can get.
The Castle sits atop a hill, overlooking the town of Windsor, west of London. The attractive streets wind down the hill behind it and are full of shops, cafes, hotels and restaurants. From the ramparts, you can see across the town to the towers of Eton and the Thames.
Open to the public all year round, Windsor Castle is still very much a working palace and has been in use continuously since William the Conqueror built it in the 11th century. There are many more State Rooms to see here than Buckingham or Kensington Palace and you can take a good audio and visual tour with headsets for adults and children. They explain much of the history, so you can see the castle’s evolution, from the restoration to the Tudors, Georgians, Victorians and modern-day. You also see where the fire of 1992 began and how they rebuilt the former chapel into the stunning medieval-inspired Lantern Lobby.
There were lots of tourists, although the biggest queue was for the Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a working miniature house designed in 1924 to show British craftsmanship, complete with real books in the library and bottles of wine.
Down the hill, inside the walls, is St George’s Chapel, which is also a working church and much more spectacular than it appears during televised ceremonies. With dramatic stained-glass windows, heraldic banners of the Knights of the Garter and the tombs of kings and queens, including Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Charles I, Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The Queen’s father, King George VI lies in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, with the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. And now, of course, they’ve been joined by the Queen and Prince Philip. You can slowly pass by and pay your respects, which was very moving.
Back outside, there’s much more to do in and around Windsor than just the castle. We’ve previously visited Legoland Windsor Resort, which is a great-fun theme park for kids and you can also take a boat trip down the Thames, walk through the vast Windsor Great Park (all 4,800 acres of it) or even take a carriage ride through it.
Windsor is also surrounded by beautiful countryside - nearby is Runnymede, scene of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, as well as Cliveden House, the magnificent stately home which is now part-National Trust property, part-luxury hotel. Ascot Racecourse is also nearby, as is the village of Bray, with its Michelin-starred restaurants.
As for places to stay - there’s the Macdonald Windsor Hotel and The Castle Hotel, which are both traditional heritage hotels right opposite the castle. We’ve stayed in The Castle Hotel previously and really enjoyed it. This time, we checked into the family-friendly De Vere Beaumont Estate, in Old Windsor, which has nice leisure facilities including a pool and is good value, but if I’m honest, it is not the finest hotel we’ve ever stayed in - that honour goes to Cliveden, which really is something special.
Windsor is west of London, just off the M4. It’s easy to drive to and around, with plenty of parking. Windsor Castle is open to the public all year round, but I’d advise pre-booking, so you don’t have to queue. Once there, you can convert tickets to year-long passes and come again. Visit rct.uk.
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