You don’t need a personal invitation from the Queen to hang out at her weekend home. You do, however, need to reserve at least half a day on your London itinerary to leave the city, take a couple of trains, and venture out into the countryside, just beyond Heathrow.
Windsor Castle is located in the Royal Borough of Windsor. The town surrounds the Castle, which sits atop a hill.
[tmt_info =””]If you have rented a car, you can take the M4 freeway from London to Exit 6. If you’re dependant on public transportation, you can take a train from Paddington to Slough, then transfer to another train for the very short spur route into Windsor. The ride takes about an hour, maybe less if you catch an express train. If you purchased a London Pass and a TravelCard, both train rides are covered.[/tmt_info]
The entry to Windsor Castle is just a short walk from the train station (as is everything else in town — the station is right in the middle of things). Admission is £16.50 for adults, £9.90 for children 5-17, with a small discount given for seniors and adult students (check current prices and admission times). Holders of a London Pass can enter for free.
Because the castle is used as a royal residence for the Queen, there are plenty of areas which you are not allowed to enter. Just after you’ve passed through the admission gate, you will come to this locked archway…
… where you can peek into the Upper Ward’s quadrangle. The buildings that surround the courtyard are home to various apartments for the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and other royals. Take a look, because this is as close as you’ll get to this area of the castle.
The path circles around, into the Middle Ward…
… where you can get a nice view of the moat (which is now a garden) and the 800-year-old Round Tower, which dominates the view of the castle from almost every location around town. I was disappointed to find out that the tour of Windsor Castle did not include a trip to the top of the Round Tower. In fact, the tower had been off limits to visitors from 1975, until the summer of 2011, just three months after my visit.
[tmt_info =””]During 2011, the Conquer the Tower tour was open during August and September, and cost £7 for adults, £4.20 for children (or could be combined with the admission fee). You will want to check the castle’s website for future opening dates.[/tmt_info]
In addition to Buckingham Palace, you can also watch the Changing of Guards ceremony here at Windsor. This is not a picture of the ceremony — I didn’t get to see it. However, I was impressed by the firepower being carried around, in a place where the biggest threat appeared to be a clueless tourist.
So, I couldn’t walk through the Upper Ward, and I couldn’t climb the tower. I was beginning to wonder exactly what I could do at Windsor Castle. There are three big attractions that are part of the standard admission: a tour of the State Apartments, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, and the Drawings Gallery. A tour of all three begins with spending a few minutes in this line, awaiting admission to the Dolls’ House.
Once inside, everyone is told not to take pictures. I managed to sneak a couple…
… which are, of course, crooked and poorly lit, but I think they will still give you some idea of what these incredible doll houses look like.
The houses are behind glass, in the center of the room, and the tour takes you all the way around the houses, so you can look into every meticulously-decorated miniature room.
Queen Mary’s dolls had an impressive pad, but I was more interested in seeing the real-life, full-sized rooms, decorated with ancient paintings and suits of armor. Unfortunately, for some reason, the State Apartments were closed on the day of my visit. All I could do was take a glimpse over a room divider, that blocked the entrance to this grand portion of the palace.
With a tour of the State Apartments ruled out, I headed to the Drawings Gallery. It houses exhibits which change from time to time. During my visit, the space was being used to celebrate Prince Philip’s 90th birthday.
Back outside, I admired the castle’s view of the surrounding town…
… then headed for the Lower Ward, where one more attraction awaited. This is St. George’s Chapel, built by Edward III in 1337. It’s a beautiful gothic structure on the inside…
… and out. Unfortunately, photography isn’t allowed inside.
St. George’s Chapel is the final resting place for dozens of royals, including Edward IV in 1483, Henry VIII in 1547, Queen Jane Seymour in 1537 (who died after giving birth to Henry VIII’s long-awaited son), and more recently George VI in 1952 (you may know him from The King’s Speech movie), and his wife, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 2002.
Oh, and did I mention that Heathrow is close-by?
After touring Windsor Castle, you’ll want to devote at least a little time to a walk through Windsor, and neighboring Eton — both of which are covered on the next page.