Twenty-three miles west of central London, in Berkshire, are the twin towns of Windsor and Eton. With a combined population of only 60,000, these market towns are quaint, beautiful, and a must on anyone’s sightseeing list of Britain. All it takes is a quick, cheap train ride from the center of London, and you can find yourself admiring the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world, envision yourself studying at Britain’s most prestigious school, and imagine being a royal while strolling through stunning heritage architecture and cobbled lanes. Next month, the highly anticipated Royal Wedding will be taking place at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. And, as my invitation seems to have been lost in the mail, I decided to go and scope out the location before the whole world watches Meghan walk up the aisle. If you are planning a trip to England’s capital city, make sure to have a read of my favorite places in London! Okay, let’s have a look around Windsor!
Mum and I headed out to Windsor around lunchtime (I would recommend going earlier and spending a full day there), and our 40-minute train journey cost £11.30 return and took us through some charming British countryside. If you are staying in Central London, trains run from London Waterloo twice an hour and take about an hour. Once off the train, you will have no problem locating the major sight. Windsor Castle is right in the middle of the town and dominates the landscape.
William the Conqueror initially chose the site due to its position high above the River Thames and conveniently next to a Saxon hunting ground and began work on the castle in the 11th century. Since then many of England’s best-known monarchs, from Henry VIII to Queen Victoria, have graced its rooms, guaranteeing that the 900-year-old castle has many secrets hidden among its corridors. Although, Queen Victoria is said to have complained that the castle was “dull and tiresome” and “prison-like” — Royals, eh? The palace is the longest-occupied royal residence in Europe. So, if you see the union flag flying, that means the Queen is home.
As it was a Tuesday, there wasn’t too long of a line, so Mum and I bought our tickets and grabbed a free audio tour to guide us through the entrance, grounds, and then into the castle itself. Immediately I noticed guards in bearskin hats and purple coats, which made it feel truly like a working castle. Your ticket will give you access to The State Apartments and St. George’s Chapel (if it isn’t a Sunday); but, it is important to note that since this is a working royal palace, opening arrangements can change at short notice. If the State Apartments are closed, there is a reduced admission price. You can view the rules and hours here. You can’t take any photographs or videos inside, but the State Apartments are as grand as you would expect from such a place. We spent a couple of hours walking through the rooms filled with 17th-century furnishings that tell the story of the many monarchs that have called this castle home.
I was particularly a fan of the art collection that is hanging from the walls. The British Royal Family own the largest art collection in the World, some of which is on display here, so you can expect to see paintings by Holbein, Van Dyck and Rubens. Disaster struck in November 1992, when a devastating fire broke out in the Queen’s private chapel due to a curtain catching fire. The blaze caused extensive damage to original paintings, and some £36.5 million worth of damage is believed to have been done. As I had just been born, Mum was slightly preoccupied with me, but she did recall the outrage that the British taxpayers felt as they had to pay for the repairs. Queen Mary’s Doll House is another breath-taking part of the collection. Built for Queen Mary between 1921 and 1924, the idea behind the model was that it would be as true to life as possible, recreating every facet of modern-day life from the 1920s. The details in each room are exquisite and include a garden, library and servants’ quarters.
While there are many castles in England, Windsor Castle is especially important as it is from where the Royal Family procured their name. Backstory: the British Royal Family used to be the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha – a German name if you have ever heard one. In 1917, amid serious tensions between Britain and Germany thanks to WW1, King George IV announced he and his kin would be known henceforth as the Windsors.
St George’s Chapel
We then walked over to St George’s Chapel, where both Prince Harry and Princess Eugenie will be getting married this year. Built in the 15th and 16th centuries, the beauty of St George’s Gothic architecture endures. Indoors, the stunning fan-vaulted ceiling, chapels, and tombs of monarchs will keep you busy exploring and admiring.
But there is more to this town than just the castle. I was surprised by how much the rest of the area also has to offer. The Windsor Royal Shopping Arcade is situated in the historic Victorian Railway Station and is full of shops, restaurants, and vintage details. We stopped for a coffee before window-shopping through the rest of the stores and then heading down a small set of steps to a green space called The Goswells which has the Royal Windsor Maze and Diamond Jubilee Fountain. Beside it is the peaceful Alexandra Park, alongside which runs the River Thames.
After spending some time admiring the gaggle of royal swans (while also remaining quite far away from them!), we crossed the river into Eton, Windsor’s neighbor and home to the prestigious college of the same name. While Windsor town center is full of expensive boutiques, grand cafes and buzzing restaurants. Eton is far quieter, its one-street center brimming with antique shops and art galleries. The street is incredibly charming though and full of architectural gems such as an old chemist that was established in 1826 by appointment to her majesty. Passing through the village, we walked further down the street to Eton College. Founded in 1440 by King Henry VI, Eton College is a distinguished boarding school for boys ages 13–18. Between the grand Tudor-style buildings and the sight of schoolboys dressed in formal tailcoats, the school seems like something dreamed up in a movie.
The Best Lamb Shank in England
By this point, we were starving, and after reviewing almost all of our options, we settled on (my original suggestion) The Duchess of Cambridge. Calling itself, ‘a pub good enough for the Royals’, the Duchess of Cambridge takes its inspiration from Kate Middleton and her Royal Wedding to Prince William. The menu features all the British specialties, such as homemade pies, traditional roast dinners, and rich desserts, and the atmosphere is proudly patriotic. Content with our sloe gin and tonics and delicious food — the lamb shank was one of the best dishes I have ever had in England — Mum and I hopped back on the train and made our way back to London. I slept the whole train ride (clearly not a good travel companion), so it was up to Mum to make sure we got off at the right spot — which we did!
So that is how we spent an afternoon in Windsor and Eton! Have you ever been? What are your recommendations? Let me know in the comments below!
Originally published on April 23rd, 2018