The world’s largest and oldest continuously occupied fortress, Windsor Castle is a majestic vision of battlements and towers. It’s used for state occasions and is one of the Queen’s principal residences; if she’s at home, the Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower. Join a free guided tour (every half-hour) of the wards or take a handheld multimedia tour of the lavish State Apartments and beautiful chapels. Some sections may be off-limits if in use. Book tickets online to avoid queues.
William the Conqueror first established a royal residence in Windsor in 1080. Since then successive monarchs have rebuilt, remodelled and refurbished the castle complex to create the massive, sumptuous palace that stands here today. Henry II replaced the original wooden stockade in 1170 with a stone round tower and built the outer walls to the north, east and south; Elizabeth I carried out major palace-wide renovations; Charles II gave the State Apartments a glorious baroque makeover; George IV swept in with his team of artisans; and Queen Victoria refurbished an ornate chapel in memory of her beloved Albert.
Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House
Your first stop is likely to be the incredible dolls’ house designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Queen Mary between 1921 and 1924, on a scale of 1:12. The attention to detail is spellbinding: there's running water, electricity and lighting, tiny Crown Jewels, vintage wine in the cellar and mini-books by literary greats in the library. You may have to queue.
The Grand Staircase, flanked by armour, weapons and a statue of Queen Victoria, sets the tone for a collection of absolutely spectacular rooms, dripping in gilt and screaming ‘royal’ from every painted surface and sparkling chandelier. Highlights include St George's Hall, used for state banquets of up to 162 people; its soaring ceilings are covered in the painted shields of the Knights of the Garter. For more intimate gatherings (just 60 people), the Queen entertains in the Waterloo Chamber, commemorating the 1815 victory over Napoleon, with portraits of statesmen including the Duke of Wellington and George IV.
The State Apartments house some exquisite pieces of art, among them works by Rubens, Canaletto and Anthony van Dyck.
St George’s Chapel
This elegant chapel, commissioned for the Order of the Garter by Edward IV in 1475, is one of England’s finest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture. The nave and beautiful fan-vaulted roof were completed under Henry VII, but the final nail was driven under Henry VIII in 1528.
Along with Westminster Abbey, it serves as a royal mausoleum, housing the remains of 10 monarchs, including Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Charles I and the present queen's father (King George VI), mother (Queen Elizabeth) and sister (Princess Margaret).
St George's Chapel closes on Sunday, but time your visit well and you can attend a morning service or Evensong at 5.15pm.
Albert Memorial Chapel
Built in 1240 and dedicated to St Edward the Confessor, the small Albert Memorial Chapel was the place of worship for the Order of the Garter until St George's Chapel snatched away that honour. After the death of Prince Albert at Windsor Castle in 1861, Queen Victoria ordered its elaborate redecoration as a tribute to her husband and consort. A major feature of the restoration is the magnificent vaulted roof, whose gold mosaic pieces were crafted in Venice.
There’s a monument to the prince, although he’s actually buried with Queen Victoria in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore House in Windsor Great Park. Their youngest son, Prince Leopold (Duke of Albany), is, however, buried in the Albert Memorial Chapel.
Changing of the Guard
A fabulous spectacle, with triumphant tunes from a military band and plenty of foot stamping from smartly attired lads in red uniforms and bear-skin caps, the changing of the guard draws crowds to Windsor Castle each day. It takes place at 11am Monday to Saturday from April to July, and on alternate days from August to March.