Windsor Castle is exactly what you expect a castle to look like with a round tower, a moat (well dry moat), and castle walls up on a hill. It is the oldest and largest castle still in use in the world, built in the 11th century. The Queen spends most of her weekends here and hosts many important guests.
I had seen the castle before from a distance but didn’t realize that you could actually visit inside. Well as impressive as the outside view of Windsor is, the inside is even more spectacular. Besides the immaculate decor, the artwork you will see is similar to what you would find at a top museum.
Let me tell you about my visit, so that you can plan one too. It is easy to do a Windsor Castle day trip or take a Windsor Castle tour from London!
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COVID-19 Notice: Please follow government advice. Windsor Castle will open to visitors on July 23, 2020. In the meantime, you can tour some of the State Rooms online here. If you like castles, be sure to also check out these virtual tours.
About Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle was built by William the Conqueror and was completed in 1086. It has become the Queen’s favorite London residence and she spends a fair bit of time there. You can tell when she is in Windsor Castle by looking at the flag pole above the famous Round Tower. The Royal Standard flies above it when she is here, while you will see the Union Jack at other times. During the coronavirus pandemic, Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, have been quarantining inside the castle.
The lavish state apartments that you see today at Windsor Castle were created in the late 1600s by King Charles II. They contain many priceless pieces of art by masters such as Canaletto and Rembrandt. These are working state apartments and are used by the Queen for State Banquets. You may remember the Queen hosted US President Trump for a State Dinner at Windsor Castle in 2019.
Day Trip to Windsor
Windsor is a popular day trip from London. It is not too far or overwhelming. The highlight of your trip will be Windsor Castle, of course, but there are a few other things to put on your itinerary:
- Windsor Great Park – 5,000 acres to explore! Don’t miss the Windsor Great Walk, it’s one of the best photo spots to get a shot of Windsor Castle.
- Windsor Royal Shopping – A quirky shopping center housed in former Victorian Railway Station.
- Eton – Across the river, is the town that is home to one of the most famous private schools in the world. Both Prince William and Prince Harry are alumni.
There is also a Legoland, but if you want to visit it and Windsor Castle, you will need more than one day.
Touring Windsor Castle
When you visit Windsor Castle, an audio guide is included with the price of your admission. Be sure to pick it up after going through security. The self-guided audio tour provides a lot of information about Windsor Castle and its history, broken down into short episodes.
One big theme you will hear about throughout the tour is the devastating fire that caused £37 million of damage to the castle. If you didn’t hear about the fire, you would never know it happened because they did such an amazing job on the restoration.
Windsor Castle Grounds
First, you will explore the outdoor areas of Windsor castle. There was a nice display of photos of the royal family as you walk the grounds of Windsor Castle towards the King George IV Gate. It is hard to believe the Queen turned 90 with all of the stuff that she does, but then you see the old photos.
The landscaping around Windsor castle is lovely. We were there in December and the grass was so green. Daffodils had bloomed – confused by the unseasonably warm winter. The Windsor Castle moat around the round tower, which has always been dry, has been turned into a garden.
As you walk towards the entrance to Queen Mary’s Dollhouse and the State Apartments, be sure to admire the view of the countryside. The location on top of the hill was part of the castle’s defenses, any potential attackers would be spotted well before they reached the castle.
Inside Windsor Castle
Next you can visit the inside of the castle, but unfortunately, you are not allowed to take any pictures inside. There was a bit of a line to see Queen Mary’s dollhouse, but it moved fast so don’t let it deter you. This is a dollhouse like no other and it was never intended to be a child’s toy. First of all, it is huge! Second of all, the detail inside is amazing. The dollhouse has running water and electricity and even includes a room with a replica of the crown jewels.
Note: Unfortunately Queen Mary’s Dollhouse is closed to the public until further notice.
After visiting the dollhouse, you should head towards the State Apartments. When you first enter, there is a space for temporary exhibits. When we visited, it was about Waterloo. The next room holds a very impressive collection of china.
Then you enter the main part of the Windsor Castle State Apartments. Each castle room has its own story and its own purpose. It is decorated just like you would expect a castle would be – lots of gold and other ornate details. You will see artwork from Peter Paul Rubens, Sir Thomas Lawrence, and Sir Anthony Van Dyke to name a few. The Windsor Castle paintings collections was quite impressive.
Some of my favorite rooms in Windsor Castle were the Waterloo Chamber, Crimson Drawing Room, Grand Reception Room, and St. George’s Hall. State Banquets are held in St. George’s Hall at a table that can hold up to 160 guests. St. George’s Hall sustained significant damage during the fire, but they did a great job restoring it. They had to totally redo the roof but still kept very true to the spirit of the original design.
St. George’s Chapel
Finally, you will visit St. George’s Chapel, the church inside Windsor Castle completed in 1484, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married in May 2018. It wasn’t the first Royal Wedding in St. George’s Chapel. Prince Charles and Camilla were also married inside.
The roof and stained glass are spectacular, but again photography is not allowed inside this Windsor church. In addition to being a church with daily services, 10 monarchs are buried here, including Henry VIII, King George VI, and the Queen Mother. You will find Henry VII’s grave in the St. George’s Chapel Quire. I was surprised that it wasn’t anything fancy.
The most moving part of the St. George’s Chapel was the memorial to King George IV’s daughter Princess Charlotte who died in childbirth at the age of 21. The memorial is stunning, all white marble, and so moving because one of the angels is carrying Princess Charlotte’s stillborn son.
How to Get to Windsor Castle from London
Windsor is a short trip from London (30 miles west), so it’s an easy day trip from London. It is probably best to take a train from London Waterloo Station, as parking in Windsor is limited and expensive. Buy your train ticket in advance to get the best price. (Click here to check prices and schedule)
Since we were coming from Suffolk, we drove, parked and then walked to the castle. The cheapest parking options are on Datchet Road (Romney Lock and King Edward VII Car Parks) and on Alma Road (Alexandra Gardens Car Park). You can choose any of those three as they are all about a 10-minute walk to the city center and castle.
If you can, try to get there for Windsor Castle changing of the guard ceremony that occurs at 11:00 am each day. You will probably need 3-4 hours to see the castle. Also, I would recommend buying your ticket in advance to avoid waiting in a long line to get in. If you get your ticket stamped and sign it before you leave, you will get a free year-long pass to visit the castle.
Windsor Castle Admission (and train travel to and from Windsor) is also included in the London Pass. If you plan on doing other sightseeing in London, a London Pass could save you up to 55% as it includes admission to 80+ of the top attractions in London. (Click here to get more information about the London Pass.)
Windsor Castle Tours from London
If you prefer, there are many tours to Windsor Castle that include transportation from London and your Windsor castle admission. (Check out this half-day tour through GetYourGuide.) You could also do a tour that combines Windsor Castle with other attractions like Stonehenge, Bath, or Oxford. Keep in mind, that is a lot to see in one day and you would only get to scratch the surface of the places that you visit.
If you get a chance, I highly recommend visiting Windsor Castle. It makes for a fabulous day trip from London in the winter or any other time of the year. The audio tour was very interesting and I learned a lot! I’m not sure if there is another place that can match the architecture, history, and collection of priceless art and artifacts. I can understand why this place is so special to the Queen. I just wish I would have been able to take photos inside Windsor Castle.
Fans of the Queen and the royal family should also try to do a tour of Buckingham Palace during the annual Summer Opening.
Have you visited Windsor Castle? I would love to hear about your experience.
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Expert Tips for a Day Trip to Windsor Castle
- Getting to Windsor Castle is easy, you can take the train from Waterloo station in London. If you prefer there are many tours from London to Windsor Castle to choose from.
- Buy your ticket in advance to avoid the long line. Windsor Castle is included as part of the London Pass, which can save you money if you are planning to do other sightseeing in London. (Click here for more information on the London Pass).
- Sign the back of your ticket and have it stamped to get a 1-year Windsor Castle pass.
- Be sure to pick up audio guide, which is included admission price.
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