Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world! It was built in the 1200s, and many of the monarchs who’ve occupied the castle have made amendments to make it more regal, bigger or more ‘authentic’. It’s not just one castle, as may first spring to mind, but a few big buildings surrounded by smaller buildings. There’s the iconic building I think of when someone mentions Windsor Castle, which is actually the Keep. There’s also what I’d consider the ‘main building’, which holds the Queen’s living quarters (when she stays), guest housing, huge banquet halls and just general monarch-related rooms like a King’s bedroom and drawing room.
The grounds are also home to a large church where several monarchs are buried, as well as living quarters for some of the staff and several veterans.
So during our recent staycation, we decided we’d finally get round to visiting Windsor Castle. We were really lucky with the weather, and after a bit of research I found out that there was a changing of the guard every day at 11. So we got to Windsor about 10.30am, and after parking the car took a chilled stroll through a park, as well as a quick run through the sprinklers. As we were mucking about trying not to get soaked by the sprinklers, I could hear what sounded like a marching band.
We made a quick dash for the main road, and the crowds we’d seen as we’d arrived in Windsor now made sense. The changing of the guard at Windsor Castle is more than one man swapping places with another. The whole guard marches from the barracks a few minutes walk from the castle and, along with a marching band, make their way up to the castle. When it said that the changing of the guard was at 11, I forgot that they had to be at the castle by then, not start their march then.
Never mind! We followed them up the road and got some cracking pictures and footage before joining the crowds by the castle. After grabbing a quick drink, we made our way up to the entrance of the castle and paid £18.50 each (yikes!) for our tickets. Once in, you have 3 options: head around by yourself, follow one of the free tours or grab a free audio guide. I decided I’d grab an audio guide, and we headed toward the main castle. There are numbers dotted around prompting you for the audio guide, but I didn’t get any headphones with mine and it was awkward trying to hear what it was saying. We quickly caught up with one of the free tours, and the guy really knew his stuff so we just latched on and followed them round.
Once we’d finished the guided tour, we made our way into the State Apartments. I’m not sure why, but I naively thought this would be the Queen’s section when she stays. As if they’re going to let thousands of people traipse through her private living quaters! It’s actually way more interesting than that anyway, with rooms filled with china sets (it’s starting well…) and then moving on to a room with a life size statue of an armoured soldier on a horse. Then came the real stunning part – a room full of weapons. And not the normal knife, handgun, machete kind of weapons, but old school weapons like bayonets and clubs. They’re arranged in patterns on the wall, and I was just taken aback at the stuff on show.
As we continued through the rooms, we saw the King’s bedroom, drawing rooms, dining rooms that seat 60 people round one table and secret servant doors. St George’s Hall is the room they hold huge state dinners in, and it’s exactly what I imagine a banquet hall would be. The walls and ceilings are covered in coats of arms, and once you head down the far end you go into a refurbished room with a guarded corridor to one side (I think the lovely Queen stays down there).
Once we’d finished with the State Apartments, we made our way to the on site church. Because what castle is complete without a church? Now, this is no small village chapel, it’s a huge church that makes me wonder whether it’s classed as a cathedral. Maps are available on the way in for a small donation, and you can see which monarchs are buried where. Once you’ve made the rounds and find yourself in the choir boy section, look down. That’s where King Henry VIII is buried! He lived his whole life surrounded by fancy things, getting rid of wives when he felt like it, and yet never got the burial he wanted. He left details for his children of how he wished to be buried, but they didn’t listen, and he instead has a beyond modest floor plaque that is graced by thousands of feet.
Above the choir boy pews are the knights tributes. Each knight has a place, and they get to show off their achievements too. There’s so much I could tell you about the history of the church, and the drama that has happened there, but it’s all on information plaques on the wall if you ever visit. I found it fascinating!
As we followed the natural tour path, we came to the area where they do the changing of the guard. There’s a small shop down there, as well as homes for 12 or so highly honoured veterans. You can go right up to their doors, but don’t forget to be respectful, they are still people’s homes.
I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Windsor Castle. I can’t remember if I’ve been there before as a child, but it was so interesting to find out just a snippet of the history. Next time we’re in Windsor we’ll definitely be taking a stroll up the Long Walk, a long (shockingly) pathway that leads up the castle surrounded by greenery.
- Follow the guided tour – it’s free, doesn’t take forever and the guides really know their stuff! You’re free to join or leave as and when you like, but it’s a good way to find further history.
- If you want to get an audio guide, take headphones with you.
- There are only 2 lots of toilets – when you go in, and on the other side of the castle.
- Check the website to see if anything is shut when you go.
- Although a castle tour usually takes a couple of hours, it can be as quick or slow as you like as it’s self-guided.
- Windsor is a lovely place to spend the day, with plenty of things to fill the rest of your day with.
- Have a look on the website to find out what time changing of the guard is – and be there 10 minutes or so beforehand to see them arriving up the street!