This week my husband and I were celebrating our first wedding anniversary and when we thought of the best place for a quick getaway, Windsor came at the top of our list. Located just an hour away from London, it’s a perfect destination for a weekend break. Windsor is a top tourist attraction thanks to the Windsor Castle and it’s cosy and compact town center that is easy to cover in a short period of time. But our mission was to relax and celebrate our special occasion.
Things to do
After checking into the hotel, we dropped off our bags and decided to venture out and take a walk around central Windsor which is literally a couple of streets. The high street and old train station pavilion offer great choices for getting a quick bite, stopping for a coffee or doing some shopping. From high street brands and department stores, like Zara, M&S and Fenwick to more upscale brands, like Laura Ashley, Aveda and Karen Millen – Windsor has it all.
After some browsing through few shops and checking out early Christmas displays, we stopped at Fenwick where I found this great foldable shopping tote with Her Majesty on it. How appropriate for a royal Windsor!
Sightseeing – Windsor Castle
As I mentioned, Windsor Castle is the main attraction and it’s definitely worth visiting. It doesn’t matter if you are a history buff, a royalist or just a curious tourist – Windsor Castle truly impresses due to its size, sheer grandeur and hundreds years of tradition.
Did you know that it is the oldest inhabited castle in the world that still serves as the official residence of the Queen?
The Royal Standard was flying full-staff over the Round Tower which meant she was home when we were visiting!
Being nearly 1,000 years old, the Castle has been home to many generations of the British monachy. William the Conqueror chose the site for the Castle and began building it around 1070, completing the original building 16 years later.
The Castle then went through many rounds of transformations and improvements as each monarch added new structures and fortifications. It is a reflection of architectural and interior design trends of that time and the needs of its inhabitants.
A £20 adult ticket will get you access to the Castle grounds, State Apartments, Queen Mary’s Doll’s House, St. George’s Chapel (which was closed when we visited) and current exhibit of Queen’s Elizabeth’s gowns that she wore to many official events throughout her reign.
Being home of 39 monarchs, the State Apartments reflect personal styles and tastes of its occupants. When we were passing through numerous hallways and opulent chambers, the interior designs reminded me French Versailles. This is not surprising as in 17th century King Charles II was competing with his cousin, Louis XIV and his creation – Versailles. You will find an impressive art collection here, such as paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto. Today the Royal Family hosts here various events for the charitable causes they support.
There is no photography allowed in the State Apartments and Queen Mary’s Doll’s House but here are few official photos from the Castle’s website to give you an idea of what you will see.
Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House
Another highlight of the visit is Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. There are two parts of the exhibit. One is impressive miniature replica of an aristocratic house that is filled with handcrafted objects every little girl could only dream of. Created by the British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1921-1924, the house features several floors and shows rooms on each side of the house fit for the king, queen, their children and numerous staff. The detailing on the scale of 1:12 is truly impressive. There is even electricity, running hot and cold water, working lifts and flushing lavatories. It’s the largest and most elaborate and beautiful dolls’ house in the world.
The other part of the exhibit is two French dolls that were presented to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, daughters of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The dolls are quite tall and their elaborate clothes look like they could fit a child. I could only envy their wardrobe and accessories that were designed by the leading Parisian fashion houses, including Lanvin, Cartier, Hermès and Vuitton!
Changing the Guards
You can also see Changing the Guard ceremony here Mondays-Saturdays from April until the end of July and on alternate days for the rest of the year. However, there are no ceremonies on Sunday but we still enjoyed watching Queen’s grenadiers in their winter uniforms – grey coats – marching to their posts.
And finally, should you get inspired by what you have seen, you can take some of the monarchy-inspired gifts home with you. There is everything – from small souvenirs like stationary and post cards to posher items such as tiaras, china sets and upscale toiletries! After all, why not treat your Royal Highness?!!!
- Book your tickets for the Castle online to avoid long lines. You will be ushered through a different line saving you lots of time.
- Wear warm clothes if you are visiting in cooler temperatures as there may be long lines for the Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. And since the Castle sits on the hill, it gets cold and windy.
- If you agree to treat your ticket purchase as a donation, it will be converted into a 1-Year Pass. Just don’t forget to get your ticket stamped on the way out to enjoy complimentary admission for another year!
Where to eat
If you walk around Windsor high street opposite of the Windsor Castle, you will quickly notice several tea rooms that offer high tea. Well, it’s logical considering the location – right across from one of Queen’s residences. For good tea break I suggest Madame Posh on Peascode Street, which has a lovely patisserie section and offers refined shopping experience with a nice selection of home and kitchen ware, fashion, accessories and beauty products.
For dinner, we were planning to dine at the hotel’s upscale Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Windsor with a menu that looked deliciously exciting. However, it was fully booked on that Saturday (I suggest booking a table in advance) so we had to find plan B. Luckily, a bit of scouting brought us to the Real Greek restaurant on the River Street. A set menu for £36 that we chose offered 3 entrees and 3 main platters to share.
Even though the plates look small, it was so much of food we could hardly finish it! But it was really tasty and full of flavour, as real Greek food should be!
Where to stay
As I mentioned, this trip was about more about relaxation than anything else. So a hotel choice was very important. After some research I came across Castle Hotel Windsor-MGallery Collection, which was literally 2 minutes away for the Castle and the high street and is within a very short walk from the train station.
Even though run by Sofitel, a big and well known chain, it felt like a small boutique hotel perfect for a romantic and relaxing stay. Renovated in 2015, it was very classy and sophisticated with a great attention to detail.
We opted for a superior king-size room which became our home for the next 2 days! I loved everything about it: from fluffy bathrobes and slippers, and luxury White Company toiletries to personal Nespresso machine and complimentary minibar. And let me tell you – the bed was so big and comfy and Egyptian cotton linens were so soft that we were guaranteed to have a sleep that felt like cloud #9.
Staff were very friendly and super helpful but what I really loved that they noted it was our wedding anniversary and left a sweet note and beautiful dessert platter in our room.
The hotel has an elegant bar offering drinks and afternoon tea, and a cosy lounge with a fireplace makes it a perfect place for snuggling in a cold weather!
I hope my photos do Windsor justice and they look as inviting as it was. The Castle and the history that comes with it casts the shadow of old world romanticism over the modren town that it is today. So, don’t waste your time and hop on the train to Windsor!