With the world’s oldest and largest occupied castle only five miles away, a visit to Windsor should be high on your list. Windsor Castle is undeniably the focal point, but this lively town is full of surprises, including Windsor Great Park – almost 5000 acres of beautiful land, right next to the castle – and an idyllic riverfront.
Windsor Castle is a veritable time-capsule, home to nearly 1000 years of royal history but also a working palace, which makes for a fascinating visit.
The State Apartments are used today by the Queen and members of the Royal Family and the castle regularly hosts ceremonial and state occasions, including state visits from overseas monarchs and presidents. Take the ceremonial route and prepare to be impressed by the spectacular Grand Reception Room, designed as the castle’s main ballroom.
Follow the historic route and you’ll discover rooms that were built for Charles II and Queen Catherine of Braganza which, following tradition, become smaller as they get closer to the most private spaces. You’ll also find some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection as you make your way through the State Apartments.
Not To Be Missed: Highlights at Windsor Castle
Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House – the largest and most famous dolls’ house in the world, built in the early 1920s for Queen Mary, wife of George V. Leading British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens oversaw contributions from over 1,500 of the finest artists, craftsmen and manufacturers. Marvel at every tiny detail – including running hot and cold water!
St George’s Chapel – dating from 1475 and situated within the grounds of Windsor Castle. The chapel has hosted many royal weddings and contains the tombs of 10 monarchs, including Henry VIII, his third wife Jane Seymour and Charles I.
Changing of the Guard – the handover of duties between two groups of guards is a much-loved ceremony and can be watched by castle visitors on Thursdays and Saturdays. The guards march through Windsor town before going into the castle so you will still see a colourful parade at street level if you don’t make it to the castle.
Windsor Great Park
Windsor Great Park has been used and appreciated by royalty since William the Conqueror.
The Deer Park was once part of a vast Norman hunting forest and has been enjoyed as a game hunting reserve and riding ground over the centuries, as well as for its stunning scenery which has changed little in 1000 years and includes one of the largest populations of ancient oak trees in northern Europe.
William IV opened the Great Park to the public and Charles II created the famous Long Walk in 1680, extending it to its present length 3 years later.
Not To Be Missed: Highlights at Windsor Great Park
The Long Walk - The iconic tree-lined avenue sets a direct path from the castle gates at the end of Park Street to the Copper Horse at the top, a dramatic statue of George III on horseback. Admire spectacular views down to the castle and right across to west London before heading back. The round trip takes 2-3 hours and must be on foot; no bicycles allowed!
The Savill Garden – a wonderful 35-acre mix of interconnected landscaped gardens, Created by Sir Henry Savill in 1930s. You’ll find exotic plants from around the world alongside an acclaimed Rose Garden, opened by the Queen in 2010, and beautiful woodland.
Virginia Water – The lake at Virginia Water was the brainchild of the Duke of Cumberland - Ranger of Windsor Forest and one-time saviour of Ascot Racecourse. The duke’s ambitious plans were realised under George III when the lake was extended to the size and scale you see today. The area is surrounded by stunningly diverse woodland and grounds which have been lovingly restored and replanted. Look out for the 100-foot totem pole – a gift to the Queen from the people of Canada.
Windsor & Eton Brewery
If you’re after a local story and love an ale, check out the Windsor & Eton Brewery, set up by a group of four friends in 2009 – almost 80 years after the last brewery in Windsor had closed. Their first beer, the Guardsman, launched the following year and they have evolved spectacularly since then, most notably being awarded a Royal Warrant in 2018.
Tours lasting around 90 minutes run twice on a Saturday and include a full run-down of the history, the brewing process and of course, beer tasting.
The famous college was founded in 1440 by Henry V1 to give ordinary boys the opportunity of an education, and provision was made for 70 King’s Scholars to be housed and educated free of charge. Originally, the boys learned only Latin!
By 1891, there were over 1000 boys in the school and a wide variety of subjects. The tradition of a son’s name being put down at birth for a place at Eton ended in 2002, striking a chord with the founder’s original aim of offering places to boys from all backgrounds.