Windsor Castle (England)

https://www.rct.uk/visit/windsor-castle

Windsor Castle is the longest-occupied castle in Europe. Its location in the picturesque town of Windsor just a short train ride from London makes it a great addition to any family vacation.


History

Parts of Windsor Castle date to the 11th century during William the Conqueror’s reign. Since Henry I (early 12th century), it has served as the home of the reigning monarch. Its location on the River Thames just 23 miles from London makes it a strategically important site, and it has withstood siege, civil war, and fire to still remain the main home of the British monarchy. 

Queen Elizabeth II is now a permanent resident of Windsor, but it has always been a refuge for her since World War II when her family sought safety here from the Nazi bombing of London. The castle was heavily damaged by fire in 1992 (which the Queen has called her “Annus horribilis” for the fire and scandals plaguing the family), and Prince Philip led the restoration and modernization of the castle, restoring it to a new glory. 

St. George’s Chapel within its grounds serves as the burial place for many monarchs, including Queen Elizabeth’s father, mother, sister, and now husband. The chapel is well-known in recent history for serving as the wedding site of Prince Harry and Meghan. 

The town of Windsor predates the castle and is picturesque (if a bit touristy). Across the River Thames lies the little village of Eton with a quaint high street leading to its famous college (private high school) known for educating the royal family, including Princes William and Harry. 


Visit

Visiting Windsor Castle and the town of Windsor is a fun day trip from London for families. You could even make Windsor a one or two night stop at the beginning or end of your trip since it’s very close to Heathrow Airport. Your kids will love visiting nearby Legoland

To visit Windsor Castle, purchase your tickets ahead of time to ensure your preferred date and time. Be sure to pick up a family activity trail booklet at the entrance. Your ticket includes an audio guide (be sure to ask for the child-friendly one for kids) but I also recommend hiring a private tour guide to escort you through the castle. There’s so much to see that it’s easy to miss or gloss over the important things! We used Vivien and had a wonderful time. She met us at London’s Paddington Station and made sure we got on the right train and spent several hours telling us all about Windsor’s history. It’s definitely worth it to get a guide who can tailor the tour to your family’s interests!

To get to Windsor from London, the fastest train leaves Paddington Station with a short change in Slough (our next train was just across the platform!). The train will put you out right in the middle of Windsor, and the castle is just a short walk up the hill. Be sure to take in the quaint Victorian train station! 

The walk takes you up the main street, which will look very familiar to anyone who watched the spectacle surrounding Harry and Meghan’s wedding. The castle walls loom large on the street.

When you get to the Queen Victoria statue, take a left and head to the castle’s entrance.

You’ll begin your tour at a beautiful green with the round tower built by William the Conqueror looming in the background. This part of the castle (up to the masonry line) was built in the 11th century! Amazing!

You’ll walk on the stroller-friendly path to the courtyard that leads to the current living quarters (on the right and not open to the public). 

You can’t access the courtyard but you can peer through the gates to the outside of the State apartments (you’ll see the inside later).

Be sure to note the crowns on top of the light fixtures!

Ask your kids to look at the mortar between the stones as you walk around the moat. The mortar is made up of flinty rock to make it hard for anyone to climb the wall. 

Kids will also like looking at the arrow slits in the walls!

The path will lead you around what was meant to be a moat surrounding the round tower. It was never filled in with water and is now a gorgeous garden.

Next we made our way to St. George’s Chapel to see the changing of the guard. While we weren’t impressed with the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace the day before, this changing of the guard was much more exciting. You can get closer here and hear the commands much better. Even the youngest kids will love the pageantry and music. Check this site and make sure to take it in if you can!

We watched the changing of the guard for about ten minutes and then snuck into St. George’s Chapel so we could see it without the crowds. It is a beautiful and important place in English history, serving as a site for royal weddings and burials and the home of the Order of the Garter. No pictures are allowed inside but it’s truly stunning! I especially loved seeing the different tombs of the kings and queens I’ve read about in my history books, including Henry VIII and (one of his wives) Jane Seymour, Charles I (with his decapitated head!), George V and Queen Mary, King George VI and the Queen Mother (the current queen’s parents), Princess Margaret, and Prince Philip. 

Royal wedding watchers will love walking through the chapel and peeking at the famous staircase where Harry and Meghan’s wedding party descended. The grounds will look very familiar too!

We then made our way around the exterior ramparts, which have a beautiful view of Eton in the distance. This access road will take you to the entrance to the State apartments and was where the fire trucks had to park during the 1992 fire, not knowing if it was strong enough to hold them with their vast water supplies!

Stand in the quick-moving line to see Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, built in the early 20th century with an amazing level of detail. Kids will love to see all of its exquisite rooms that include every detail, even running water in the miniature plumbing pipes!

The next entrance will take you inside to the State apartments (no strollers allowed inside). No pictures are allowed but the rooms are as sumptuous and grand as you would imagine! This is where having a tour guide comes in most handy as you wander room by room, not knowing what you’re seeing without their expertise! I especially loved St. George’s Hall which is where Harry and Meghan introduced the world to their new baby boy in 2019.

Before you leave, be sure to visit the three gift shops located on the grounds.

As you leave Windsor Castle, you can take a left at the Victoria statue and head down Peascod Street, the main shopping street. It has tons of restaurants, shops, including a great Marks and Spencer, and has a fun atmosphere. 

You can take a right and head down High Street towards the River Thames as well. There are lots of restaurants and shops this way as well as river boats, swans, and a beautiful view.

Cross the bridge and walk up Eton’s High Street to see a more local, non-touristy village. We walked all the way to Eton College and wandered about its grounds. We even stumbled upon a neat Little Free Library housed in an old British telephone stand!

Military historians will want to see the Eaton War Memorial Garden dedicated to those graduates who gave their lives in service. 

Windsor Castle and the towns of Windsor and Eton make a great stop for families. You can learn about history while also spending time in a quaint English town and visiting a much-loved amusement park. Make sure to put it on your itinerary for any trip to England!


Helpful Hints: 

Find more helpful hints for families at the castle’s website.

  • Cost: £26.50-28.50/adults; £14.50-15.50/children 5-17; free/under 5; also note special family rate
  • Recommended: all ages
  • Tour time: 4-5 hours (castle and town)
  • Gift shop located onsite and online
  • Transportation: Windsor is an easy train ride from London’s Paddington station (change at Slough) or direct from London’s Waterloo station (slower and less frequent train). There is no parking at the castle but plenty of parking lots throughout the town.
  • Dining options: The castle itself has a cafe but the little town of Windsor has many restaurant options on High or Peascod Streets. We had a lovely lunch on the water at Cote-Windsor (make reservations in advance). 
  • Nearby hotels: Windsor is an easy day trip from London. If you want to stay in the town, kids will love the hotels at Legoland. One of the nearest hotels to the castle is Castle Hotel Windsor.
  • Nearby attractions include: Boat rides on the River Thames, Frogmore House and Gardens (only open for groups and/or special days), Windsor and Royal Borough Museum, Eton College, and Legoland Windsor

Books to Read:

All images are Amazon affiliate links. 

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Picture Books:

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