I’m not even going to start by explaining how obsessed with castles and palaces I am. Considering the last few posts on here, I kinda feel like this is a given now.
Visiting a palace or castle that once upon a time had royalty living in it is one thing but getting to visit one that is currently home to the present day Royal Family is another thing entirely!
Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the entire world and one that I’ve wanted to visit properly for quite some time now. But a bit of background first…
A few weeks ago, the folk over at the Holiday Inn asked us what a great weekend break would look like for us. It was pretty straightforward for me – Food. Great sights. Minimal travel to get to (it’s a weekend break – would be pointless spending a good amount of time travelling).
Then, the Holiday Inn team asked us to plan our idea weekend away from London and the answer was far too east – Windsor (and Eton)!
Initially, I was worried that Windsor Castle would be seasonal and that we may have missed the openings for the season but it isn’t – which, by the way, is part of why I wanted to write about the stuff you need to know before you visit as there’s some stuff that can take you by surprise if you’re not ready.
Anyway, after a quick check in to the Holiday Inn in Windsor, we hot-footed it straight for Windsor Castle.
Now, before I go any further, I figured I might as well make a quick note of 10 things you kinda need to know before you visit Windsor Castle.
10 Things To Know Before You Visit Windsor Castle
1.) Try to buy your tickets in advance (unless you have some special deal or voucher). It’s not cheaper to buy them at the door and the queue is soooo much longer if you don’t buy them in advance. You can get them from the official Windsor Castle website here.
2.) Sundays are perhaps not the best time to visit. St George’s Chapel (which is one of the highlights of Windsor Castle) is actually not really open on Sundays though there is a service here at 5.15pm which you can attend. This, of course, means you’re either going to have to plan to be here in the afternoon or spend a really long day here.
3.) You can’t take photographs in the State Apartments or St George’s Chapel (though you’ll wish you could – they’re impressive!)
4.) If you want to see the changing of guards, plan to be in Windsor Castle for 11am.
5.) You’ll have to go through airport-style security checks, so leave enough time in your plans to do this – especially if you visiting in peak summer months where the queues are longer (and especially so if you haven’t bought your tickets in advance).
6.) You get to visit again for free for up to 1 year after your initial visit. The tickets is essentially a 2 for 1!
7.) Windsor Castle as a whole is pretty much open all year round. Clearly, it is a private home still and it is possible that aspects of it will be closed for private occasions (e.g. there’s no chance it would have been open on the day of Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding) but if aspects of it are closed, the entry price is reduced accordingly.
8.) Although the castle is open almost all year round, certain parts are only seasonally (of special note is the Round Tower which pretty much open only during the summer months)
9.) If the Queen’s at home (in Windsor Castle) then you’ll see the Royal Standard flag flying above the Round Tower. If not, you’ll see the Union Flag flying instead.
10.) Be aware that closing time isn’t the same as the last entry time. This is probably a more obvious point but essentially, ignore the closing time of Windsor and pay attention instead to the ‘last entry time’ as that’s the real limit to when you can enter to explore the castle.
Now, where was I?
Oh yes, we’d arrived in Windsor Castle – super happy to have skipped the queue since we bought our tickets online and hot-footed it straight for the St George’s Chapel.
I’m pretty sure we were meant to do the Chapel last as it’s near the exit but the rules were pretty much thrown out of the window – this was definitely the first spot we had to visit.
*Little did I know, what was waiting inside the State Apartments…
Leaving the Chapel, we slowly made our way through the grounds, stopping to check out every nook and cranny (we didn’t want to miss a single thing ), before heading over to the State Apartments.
Again with the State Apartments, you’re not allowed to take photos so I had to put my camera away but I assure you, they’re so worth visiting.
Cynically, I said to Lloyd before arriving that the visit to the State Apartments would be quick one for me and typically, I’m not a fan of taking audio guides around – not because they’re not useful – they can be very useful in fact but instead, because I tend to have two cameras with me.
My main camera is a two-hands camera (it’s really heavy and you need one hand to zoom and the other to take the actual picture), the audio guide just ends up becoming a nuisance (even without factoring that second camera) – which is pretty much why I just don’t bother anymore with them.
I did however on this day for some reason (I figured I’d just take it in case and store it in my backpack if I didn’t need to use it – I honestly keep finding ways to keep that backpack of mine full – I recently found a full bag of skittles in there, a humongous cookie and a whole lot of Reece’s pieces I’m sure I picked up at some airport lounge or the other).
Long story short, not being able to take photos here meant the audio guide came in handy and my plans to quickly check out the State Apartments went out of the window fast. The fact that there are so many “Wow!” moments here also helps a fair bit too!
Leaving the Staterooms, we pretty much spend the next 30 minutes or so just wandering around the castle ground, taking as much of it as possible.
Suffice to say, if you’re gonna visit a castle in the UK, this is definitely one of those ones that should be high on your list!
Leaving the castle, we headed into Windsor for a bite to eat, quickly finding ourselves in a tea room.
The choice for the afternoon was pretty easy – cream teas all-round. Actually, sparkling cream teas which is pretty much the same as regular cream teas, except it came with glasses of bubbles!
Thorough refreshed, we left the tea room and went for a little amble through the town, stopping at the church to check out the Last Supper painting (which dates back to the 1600s)…
..before taking a gander at the famous crooked house of Windsor.
The sun was starting to change to its golden hues as made our way down to the River Thames…
…after which, you’re pretty much in Eton (yup, the same town that’s home to the famous Eton College – this might seem obvious to many-a-folk but I remember being so surprised many years ago when I found out Eton College was pretty much down the road from Windsor Castle).
There’s so much around Eton that’s related to (and built for) Eton college – unsurprisingly so, I guess.
The grand old buildings here pretty much take me back to my days in Cambridge Uni – some of the buildings here even look just like our colleges back in Cambridge.
It’s all gorgeous grand buildings here and definitely worth walking over to when you’re here.
Remember, if you’re here in the summer months (essentially May to September, when the students are pretty much not in school), you can visit Eton College properly and I’d definitely recommend doing so.
After a bit of a sneak peek into its courtyards, we went off on a gallivant through the quiet yet quaint streets of Eton…
…before deciding to call it a day and head back over to the Holiday Inn to rest our weary feet!
When we’d checked in, we spied the pub-style menu and decided we might as well go all in and give the restaurant here a try.
The food’s pretty decent, by the way, it’s not gourmet (it doesn’t claim to be and quite frankly doesn’t need to be) but it’s good hearty food (again very much like you would find in your local pub) and hit the spot quite nicely!
The lamb actually was quite the pleasant surprise of the evening – I’d been on a roll with lamb lately was exactly what I needed on this evening.
We finished off with a twist in Eton Mess and chocolate brownies before heading back to the room for some well-earned kip!
The following morning, after a rather lazy and hearty breakfast we wandered back into Eton and Windsor with no real plan but to just pretty kick around the town. (Essentially, we retraced our steps back through pretty much what we’d done the day before), before decided to call it a day and head back home to London!
Windsor and Eton had been exactly what I needed for the weekend – fun, stress-free and filled with some pretty great “Wow” moments and, quite frankly, a brilliant respite from busy, boisterous London town… even if just for a weekend. 😀