Windsor Castle has been a royal fortress since the days of William the Conqueror © Scott E Barbour / Getty Images
Wonders of Windsor Castle
The star of the show, Windsor Castle is one of the UK’s top attractions and full of treasures. It began life as a wooden fortress constructed by William the Conqueror in 1080, and after almost a millennium of additions and refurbs has developed into a staggeringly impressive feat of architecture and splendour. It’s the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world (Queen Elizabeth spends most of her weekends here) and is no stranger to state events, including royal weddings.
The banners of the Knights of the Garter in St George's Chapel © Neil Holmes / Getty Images
Due to its sheer size, you’ll need a few hours to fully appreciate the main points of interest. These include St George’s Chapel, a 14th-century Gothic masterpiece and location for the wedding ceremony; Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a delightful creation displaying mind-boggling attention to detail; the State Apartments, dripping with grandeur; and Waterloo Chamber, a huge, portrait-filled room designed to commemorate the victorious 1815 battle against Napoleon.
The Long Walk connects Windsor Castle and the Copper Horse © Will Jones / Lonely Planet
Walk the walk in Windsor Great Park
Windsor Great Park is connected to the town by the Long Walk. This tree-lined avenue runs for almost 3 miles in a perfectly straight line from the castle to the top of Snow Hill, where you’ll find the Copper Horse statue. It makes for a fantastic stroll, with the return journey providing epic views of the castle.
Beyond the Copper Horse, the park sprawls out into several square miles of gardens, streams, lakes, wooded trails and open grassland, where you’ll probably spot some of the hundreds-strong deer population. The 30m-tall Totem Pole at Virginia Water will be a hit with kids.
Eton is a pretty town with a world-famous school © Neil Holmes / Getty Images
See elite education in Eton
Just across the river from Windsor you’ll find the diminutive, quaint town of Eton, with its plethora of art and antique shops. The highlight here though is Eton College, the most prestigious boys’ school in the country, where no less than 19 British prime ministers have been educated. A third of its pupils end up at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Much of the idyllic surrounding grounds are accessible to the public, but if you want to really get a taste of the elite life, you can book a tour to take a closer look.
Respect the law in Runnymede
This water meadow was the site for one of the most important events in the history of the world: the signing of the Magna Carta. This document – agreed to by King John and his barons in 1215 – effectively subjected the monarch to the rule of law for the first time. As such, Runnymede has become, not entirely justifiably, a symbol for democracy, equality, human rights and the limitation of power. Not bad for a water-meadow. It’s a tranquil place, with some monuments and plaques, and a good spot to reflect on human civilisation (ideally while tucking into a picnic).
Let loose at Legoland
If all this culture and history is causing accompanying kids to flag slightly, you do have the option of making their dreams come true by visiting Legoland. The park is divided into several different themed sections, including Pirate Shores, Land of the Vikings and Adventure Land, and features plenty of rides and activities. And Lego. Lots of Lego.
A view from the bridge between Windsor and Eton © Will Jones / Lonely Planet
Eating and drinking
Windsor has no shortage of pubs, restaurants and cafes. For a quick bite and a hot drink, friendly and family-run Lily’s Café (55 Peascod St) serves superlative salads and sandwiches, and the coffee is well above par.
For a beer or three, the Two Brewers, just by the start of the Long Walk, is a good bet – it’s an atmospheric place, creaking under a couple of centuries of history. The Alma is equally impressive, and a slightly quieter affair, while the Carpenters Arms (4 Market St) serves a decent selection of real ales.
Good restaurants include Gilbey’s, which serves Modern British fare and has a lovely courtyard garden, Windsor Grill, where you can find the best steaks in town, and Meimo, a Moroccan eatery which provides quirky contrast from the all-out Britishness which otherwise dominates the area.
Getting there from London
Windsor is relatively straightforward to get to from London using public transport. The quickest route is by train from London Paddington – about half an hour, with a change at Slough. For a direct but slower route, you can travel by train from London Waterloo, which takes just under an hour.
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