An official residence of the British Royal Family, Windsor Castle will play a starring role in the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle when they marry in St George’s Chapel in the castle grounds this May. But you don’t need a new hat, or an invite, to visit this historic market town in Berkshire.
On the River Thames just west of London, Windsor is seven miles from the town of Maidenhead and just over 20 miles from Reading. Small enough to walk around in, you’ll get a real sense of the town’s history and royal connections in 48 hours and you’ll most likely leave wanting more…perhaps you should come back for the wedding of the year?
Time to check in:
The obvious place to stay is the castle. No, not that castle (unless you are royalty). But you will get a view of Windsor Castle if you book a suite at the nearby Castle Hotel. This Grade II-listed hotel has royal-themed art and maps, ideal for a quick history lesson.
Or check in to Legoland’s version of the castle. You won’t meet Queen Elizabeth II here either, but you will encounter 2.1 million bricks and a royal flush of wizarding characters including a knight made of 160,000 Lego pieces at this hotel.
Alternatively, go for gothic at The Oakley Court set in a grand Victorian Mansion overlooking the River Thames. If you’re a Rocky Horror Show fan, you’ll recognise it as the home of Frank-N-Furter.
10:00 A royal appointment
Head straight up to Windsor Castle, in time to watch the Changing of the Guard.
This usually happens at 11am on selected days — check the website for days and times. You need a ticket to see the handover ceremony, but you can watch the Guards march to and from Windsor Castle for free. You’ll get good views anywhere on the route but one of the best spots is outside the Guildhall building. After, take a tour of Windsor Castle itself, home to the Sovereign for 900 years. Her Majesty The Queen is often in residence at weekends.
13:00 Picnic pit stop
14:00 A stroll in the park
After a picnic lunch, take a long walk – literally. The three-mile Long Walk takes you to the Copper Horse memorial statue depicting King George III at Snow Hill. Remember to look back for impressive views of the castle and keep an eye out for some of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s red deer peering through the trees. Walk on to Virginia Water, once a royal playground, with its lake and 100-metre totem pole.
Make sure you reach The Savill Garden Kitchen in time for tea on the terrace. The café dishes up great British puddings including Eton Mess. For a small fee (free in February), you can also wander the 35 acres of rare plants in The Savill Garden.
18.00 Meze o’clock
Head into town for some early evening meze specialties at Turkish restaurant, Marmara.
19:30 Take in the drama
Stroll to Theatre Royal Windsor, an impressive Edwardian theatre between the castle and the river, with a year-round repertoire ranging from classics to pantomimes. Feeling special after your royal themed day? Then book the royal stalls.
10:00 Family fun, a mooch down the river or make for the races
Families will love Windsor’s Legoland Resort. New additions for 2018 include new themed Miniland locations and a digital Lego reef where kids can select a digital fish and watch it interact. Or catch a riverboat ride down the Thames before heading to Eton, famous for its public school which offers guided tours in summer.
Alternatively, attend the races at the Royal Windsor Racecourse. There are 27 fixtures from April to October including the Best of British Festival and Ladies Day.
19:30 Push the boat out for dinner at Bray
The nearby village of Bray is known for its culinary offerings which includes the three Michelin-starred Waterside Inn, plus Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck and The Crown at Bray. A foodie paradise and a charming little place to finish up your final hours in Windsor.
How to get there:
Trains run from London Paddington to Windsor & Eton Central station in the town, with a journey time of approximately half an hour. There is also a direct train from London Waterloo to Windsor & Eton Riverside, a short walk from the castle, that takes closer to an hour. There are regular buses from London Victoria, with several drop off points in the town, and there’s a service to Heathrow Terminal 5. Buses also run to and from Slough.