Windsor Castle is open all year round and is the perfect place to visit during a day trip from London. You can reach Windsor in an hour with trains from London Waterloo and London Paddington, or book a coach tour. It’s said to be Her Majesty’s favourite residence; find out why with our top 10 highlights.
1. The Precinct tour
As the world’s oldest and largest inhabited castle, there’s a lot of history to delve into. Start your day with a free 30-minute tour of the Castle Precincts and learn about its past as a fortress and palace, from 1070 when William the Conqueror first built a castle on the site to its role as an official residence for the Queen today. Enjoy stunning views of the surrounding countryside at the entrance to the State Apartments on Henry VIII’s North Terrace, where the tour ends.
2. Audio tour with Prince Charles
See the castle through the eyes of a royal with a free audio guide, available in the courtyard. The Prince of Wales introduces the tour and the commentary carries you through the highlights of the State Apartments and St George’s Chapel. Along the way, staff from the Royal Household discuss the work involved in running the castle, such as arranging a State Banquet for 160 guests. There’s a family multimedia tour for little ones, and guides rich in description for blind and partially-sighted visitors.
3. State Apartments
Explore the changing tastes of the 39 monarchs that have called Windsor Castle home and the individual marks they left on the State Apartments. Notably, Charles II wished to rival his cousin Louis XIV's dazzling palace at Versailles and modernised the interiors with painted ceilings from Antonio Verrio and carvings by Grinling Gibbons. Today, members of the Royal Family often use the opulent rooms for events that support the organisations they patron.
4. Waterloo chamber
Built to celebrate the victory at the Battle of Waterloo, the portraits lining the walls depict the allied monarchs, statesmen and commanders involved in the defeat of Napoleon, including a monumental portrait of the Duke of Wellington. Admire the Indian carpet, woven by inmates from Agra prison for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1894. It is thought to be the largest seamless carpet in existence and required the help of 40 men to move it into the castle.
5. St George’s Chapel
Take in the splendour of the intricate Gothic architecture at St George’s Chapel, the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter. Established by Edward III in 1348, it is the most senior order of British Chivalry and today there are 24 knights chosen in recognition of their work for the nation by the Queen. In June, watch the annual traditional ceremony of the Order the Garter as they march from the Throne Room to the Chapel for a service, wearing grand velvet robes and plumed hats. Inside the chapel lie the tombs of 10 monarchs, including Charles I, Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour.
6. Queen Mary’s Dolls' House
Marvel at a magical doll house built for Queen Mary, wife of King George V, by renowned architect Edwin Lutyens and filled with diminutive treasures, created by the leading craftsmen and artists of the time. It is a perfect replica of an aristocratic home, complete with electricity, running hot and cold water and working lifts. A starring feature is the library of 700 miniature books, creating an incredible snapshot of artistic and cultural life of the 1920s with contemporary artists, composers and writers all contributing to the library.
7. The semi-state rooms
The Queen uses these incredibly lavish rooms for official entertaining and as they’re still in use today, they are only open to the public between September and March. George IV commissioned the rooms, which are an example of some of the finest late Georgian interiors in the country. The spectacular rooms blend Classical, Gothic and Rococo styles with specially-designed furniture from Morel and Seddon. The fire of 1992 severely damaged several rooms, including the magnificent Crimson Drawing Room. Firefighters used 4,000 gallons of water a minute to quell the blaze. The rooms have since been painstakingly restored to its original glory using George IV’s original designs.
8. Changing the Guard
It’s worth timing a visit with Changing the Guard, an incredible spectacle of British pageantry. In a big show of colour and sound, the new Guards, led by a Regimental Band, march from the barracks through the town to outside the Guard Room. During the 45-minute ceremony, the handover of duties takes place, including changeover of the sentries. The ceremony usually takes place at 11am on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but check before visiting.
9. Fine art
It’s impossible to miss the incredible artworks that line the castle’s walls. Spot wonderful paintings from renowned artists, such as Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto in the State Apartments and visit the Drawings Gallery to see changing selections from the Royal Collection, including major works by Leonardo, Hobein, Michelangelo and Raphael, to name just a few.
10. The China Museum
Examine beautiful pieces of porcelain that Queen Mary chose to display in the corridor in the 1920s. Among the collection are beautiful Chinese and Japanese pieces from the 17th and early-18th centuries; and two Sèvres sets, including one with Queen Victoria’s turquoise-rimmed pattern with her monogram and one by Worcester, decorated with badges from the Order of the Garter and featured at the Order’s annual lunch.