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.
Windsor is a short trip from London (30 miles west), so it’s an easy day trip from London. It is probably better to take a train, as parking in Windsor is limited and expensive. If you can, try to get there for 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.
After going through security, pick up your audio guide, included in the price of your admission. The audio guide provides a lot of information about the 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.
First, you will explore the outdoor areas of Windsor castle. There was a really nice display of photos of the royal family as you walk towards the King George IV Gate. It is hard to believe the Queen will be turning 90 this year with all of the stuff that she does, but then you see the old photos.
The landscaping of the castle grounds is lovely. We were there in December and the grass was so green. Daffodils had bloomed – confused by the warm winter. The 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.
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.
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 State Apartments. Each 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. 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.
Finally, you will visit St. George’s Chapel, completed in 1484. The roof and stained glass are spectacular, but again photography is not allowed inside. In addition to being a church with daily services, 10 monarchs are buried here, including Henry VIII, King George VI, and the Queen Mother. 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 stunning, all white marble, and so moving because one of the angels is carrying Princess Charlotte’s stillborn son.
If you get a chance I highly recommend visiting Windsor Castle. 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. Have you visited Windsor Castle? I would love to hear about your experience.
Expert Tips for Visiting Windsor Castle:
- Buy your ticket in advance to avoid the long line.
- Sign the back of your ticket and have it stamped to get a 1 year pass.
- Get the audio guide, which is included admission price.