Windsor Castle and foliage

Windsor Castle

Presiding over 13 acres of land above the south bank of the River Thames, Windsor Castle has evolved over nearly 1,000 years to become the longest-occupied castle in the world that remains the home of royalty to this day. Having evolved over the years through several phases of restructuring, the castle is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK.

Tours are open to the public throughout the year, allowing a glimpse into royal life across lavishly decorated apartments and ceremonial rooms inside, while Windsor Great Park, the Long Walk and the chance to witness the Changing the Guard combine to create a quintessential British day out.

When Was Windsor Castle Built?

After victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror set about to make his mark on England after defeating its Saxon army and seizing the throne.

With a plentiful hunting spot and proximity to the River Thames making sense strategically from both a wartime and trading perspective, William commissioned the initial work of Windsor Castle in 1086 as part of a defensive circle of fortresses around London.

Starting life as a motte-and-bailey, as many similar projects were constructed at this time, the royal family quickly took to the pleasant surroundings of the castle.

It was William’s successor, Henry I, who decided to implement residential quarters inside the castle – with William’s grandson, Henry II, subsequently converting the castle into a version of the royal palace that we see today.

Windsor Castle Turret View

From Castle to Palace

By the time King Edward III was appointed to the throne in the 14th century, what was previously a wood-turned-stone cladded imposing structure observed from the outside was undergoing an incredible transformation of its interior.

With significant Gothic influence in its design and the addition of a series of royal apartments, it was considered that the castle was now in keeping with palaces of the modern age. It soon became the centre of all formal court proceedings and England’s Order of the Garter, which was the early adoption of Britain’s senior order of knighthood and honours system for public service.

For grand occasions and celebrations, the Great Kitchen was built to accommodate lavish banquets as the castle was increasingly used for pleasure as well as business.

Windsor Castle Grand Reception Room

Arrival of Elizabeth I and English Civil War

Aside from the erecting of St. George’s Chapel within the castle, there wasn’t too much in the way of evolution structurally until the 17th century and the Tudor period.

With the castle in state of disrepair, Elizabeth I oversaw a major renovation which included a long galley section allowing for lengthy walks through the palace unaffected by the weather outside. The long galley would eventually become part of Windsor’s Royal Library.

Given that the castle was so close to the capital, it was inevitable that it would come under threat of attacked during any large-scale invasion from abroad. However, in the mid-17th Century, it was Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians who seized the castle and used it as a prison for supporters of the royal family, although Charles II would eventually restore order and take back the monarchy.

Windsor Castle and Gardens

Baroque Influence and the Long Walk

Much like many established royal and religious residences found across the continent at the time, Charles II added a sense of illustrious grandeur to the décor and interiors of Windsor Castle through placing intricate tapestries and textiles throughout palace rooms.

As you will observe in many iconic images of the castle, the Long Walk - straddled by chestnut trees and deer either side of a 2.5 mile path up to the dramatic entrance - was commissioned by Charles II as a further showcase of royal living.

When touring the castle today, much of the exquisite attention to detail and decadent aesthetic is owed to the vision of George IV, with chambers dedicated to momentous battles such as that of Napoleon’s defeat against the British at Waterloo also preserving the castle as an intriguing time capsule of historic significance.

Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle

The Royal Vault at Windsor Castle

Poignant images towards the end of Queen Elizabeth II's committal ceremony saw the Queen’s coffin lowered into the Royal Vault, where past monarchs including King George III, IV and V have been laid to rest.l.

However, the Queen’s final resting place is the King George VI Memorial Chapel, with Prince Phillip having since been relocated from his former resting place in the Royal Vault to be alongside the Queen.

With the Chapel open to the public once more, visitors are now able to pay their respects as part of a visit to the castle.

The Royal Vault, Windsor

Visiting Windsor Castle Today

With Macdonald Windsor Hotel as a contemporary townhouse situated only a two-minute walk away from the castle, you can spend time exploring this historic town and its castle grounds from the comfort of your accommodation.

Open to visitors for tours throughout the year, immerse yourself in the ultimate royal experience and the home of the British monarchy as you move through stunning ceremonial rooms – including the Grand Reception Room featuring golden chandeliers – regularly used by King Charles III to entertain guests.

Our hotel setting is also a fantastic spot to witness the Changing of the Guard, which is a colourful ceremony generally taking place every other day, and sees the new guard take their place after pacing through the streets and into the castle itself.