Beyond London: A royally good guide to Windsor

Windsor Castle's round tower © Shutterstock

Windsor Castle’s round tower © Shutterstock

With the upcoming nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle fast approaching, Windsor is once again in the spotlight. This riverside market town just an hour by train from London is dominated by the ancient castle in whose chapel they’ll tie the knot, and as the day draws near, the city is gearing up for an influx of tourists and royal-watchers. We take a look at five of this historic destination’s most visited attractions.

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle © Shutterstock

Windsor Castle © Shutterstock

William the Conqueror first commissioned a castle here in the 11th century, and it’s been an eventful spot for the kings and queens of England ever since. Now the largest inhabited castle in the world, it sits on a rocky plateau above the River Thames and is visible for miles around. Visitors can tour the baroque State Apartments which comprise an awe-inspiring collection of rooms in various architectural styles, many of which are adorned with priceless paintings by the likes of Rubens and Van Dyck.

Highlights include the Queen’s Ballroom, where the Queen receives visiting foreign heads of state; the King’s Dining Room, with its tapestries and elaborate painted ceiling, and the gilded Crimson Drawing Room, meticulously restored after the devastating 1992 fire. But arguably the most popular exhibit is the Edwin Lutyens-designed Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a wildly extravagant gift built for the monarch in 1921 which features working electricity and hot and cold water, as well as a fully stocked wine cellar and note-perfect miniature furnishings designed by more than 1,500 artists and craftspeople.

To see the castle in all its glory, time your visit to coincide with the Changing the Guard, which takes place either daily or on alternate days, depending on the time of year. Standard tickets are available from £21.20 for adults, or £11.70 when the State Apartments are closed.

St. George’s Chapel

St. George's Chapel © Shutterstock

St. George’s Chapel © Shutterstock

Founded in 1348, Windor Castle’s chapel – venue of the upcoming royal wedding – has been the site of many royal marriages and burials over the centuries. It houses the tombs of 10 monarchs including Henry VIII and Charles I, and is the last resting place of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, along with hundreds of other royals.

With its extraordinary fan vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows, the chapel is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the UK, known for its 76 rooftop statues of heraldic animals, including the lion of England and the red dragon of Wales. The chapel can be visited between 10am–4pm as part of the Windsor Castle admission price, including any services throughout the day. It’s closed on Sundays, though visitors are welcome to attend services.

Windsor Great Park

The Long Walk at Windsor Great Park © Shutterstock

The Long Walk at Windsor Great Park © Shutterstock

Adjoining the castle is the 4,800-acre Windsor Great Park. A former royal hunting ground, it’s home to walking trails through ancient woodland and a 500-strong herd of handsome Red Deer, as well as polo fields, rare birds and the water lily-covered Cow Pond. It’s also bisected by the ruler-straight Long Walk. From the Copper Horse statue of George III at the far end, this tree-lined avenue provides the most famous views of the castle, and on a sunny day it’s by far the most dramatic way to approach the near-1,000 year old fortress.

Also within the Great Park is the ornamental, separately enclosed Savill Garden and the woodland glades of The Valley Gardens, home to national collections of magnolia, rhododendrons and azaleas. Both charge entrance fees, while the rest of the Great Park can be accessed free of charge.

Royal Windsor Racecourse

An evening at Windsor Royal Racecourse is a great place to finish your day trip to Windsor. Set in 165 acres of countryside on the banks of the River Thames, it’s the only racecourse in the country where you can arrive by river taxi (with an onboard bar), making it the perfect spring or summer night out.  – especially if you bring your own picnic to eat in the Silver Ring Enclosure.

Racing fixtures take place between April and October with other events held on non-race days, including Family Fun Days, Irish Nights, Proms in the Park, Gentlemen’s Days and Ladies’ Evenings. Separate cider, real ale, gin and prosecco festivals add some booze-fuelled fun to proceedings.

The LEGOLAND Windsor Resort

If your kids are obsessed with all things Lego, a trip to LEGOLAND Windsor Resort is a must. Set two milles from the centre of town, this hugely popular theme park has more than 55 interactive rides and attractions, from rollercoasters and waterslides to pirate ship swings and speed cars. Take to four wheels at the LEGO City Driving School and learn to navigate roundabouts and traffic lights like a pro, or visit the brand new Miniland Explore the World for a travel-inspired romp through the world’s greatest landmarks (opening March 2018).

There’s also a standalone DUPLO-themed area for toddlers, and you can even stay overnight at one of the two hotels on site, including a turreted castle-style property with knights and wizards-themed rooms.

About Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.
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