When I was a little girl, I used to tell my mom that when I grew up and married the prince, I’d still come home from the castle to spend the night at her house. But since Meghan Markle beat me to the punch, I had to settle for a day trip to Windsor Castle on my recent trip to London. :)
To be completely honest, I wasn’t sold on the idea of trekking to Windsor Castle until Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced it as the site of their upcoming wedding and I realized not much else was open on Christmas Eve. I thought it would be a giant tourist attraction (which it is) but I’m seriously shocked at how much I enjoyed the castle.
In fact, my day trip to Windsor Castle was one of my favorite parts of my two weeks in London (which is surprising considering how much I hated spending the day at the Palace of Versailles in Paris!). As a disclaimer, being at Windsor on Christmas Eve meant there were hardly any tourists, so I practically toured the State Apartments alone — and who doesn’t love a castle to themselves?!
5 Reasons to Take a Day Trip to Windsor Castle
1. Windsor Castle is the longest occupied palace in Europe — and has a history to match.
Windsor Castle was built in the 11th Century to protect a strategic part of the River Thames and has been occupied by English monarchs ever since. Since being built by William the Conqueror in 1066, monarchs have added updates to the fortress — either lavish living quarters or protective stone fortifications, depending on the time period.
Those two personalities of Windsor Castle are still evident today, with narrow arrow slits and guard towers along the stone walls on the outside and golden glitz and glamour on the inside.
The history is equally as impressive. Kings were born, crowned, married, died and buried at Windsor Castle. Sieges were staged again and again (but never successfully). Foreign Kings were imprisoned there (like those of France and Scotland in 1346) along with unfavorable local royalty (like Charles I in 1647). Executions, jousts, weddings, funerals and everything in between all happened within Windsor Castle’s walls.
2. Windsor Castle is the Queen’s Favorite Residence — and largest occupied castle in the world.
Even though the history of Windsor Castle is packed with drama, the castle itself is surprisingly relaxing. Green gardens draped with trickling waterfalls near the castle’s keep and the quaint town surrounding the castle is cute enough to be out of a fairytale. Supposedly Windsor Castle is the Queen’s favorite residence, and it’s easy to see why. (P.S. Here’s how to tell if the Queen is there.)
But just because Windsor has a quiet aura about it doesn’t mean it’s small in any way. There are 1,000 rooms in Windsor, which covers about 484,000 square feet, sitting on 13 fancy acres of land. And the Queen isn’t the only person that calls the castle home; 150 other people live there. The kitchen alone has 23 chefs and 33 staff members!
3. Windsor Castle is only an hour away from London — and easy to get to.
Windsor Castle is 22 miles away from central London, which is about 45 minutes’ drive (depending on traffic) or an hour on the train. Trains leave London’s Paddington and Waterloo stations several times a day to the Windsor & Eton Riverside stop, which is a few minutes’ walk from the castle.
There are plenty of coach services and day trip options to explore Windsor Castle (check out these tours on Viator) and some, like the one that I took, are combined with other attractions. (My Viator tour combined Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath.)
4. The Castle is surrounded by the charming town of Windsor — and the drive there is gorgeous.
The town of Windsor was established well before William the Conqueror built what would become Windsor Castle in 1066, and thanks to the castle, it’s seen its fair share of history. Today it’s a quaint, picturesque English town… albeit with a really famous resident. In fact, the Queen is known to go shopping nearby, trying to blend in with the locals, which would probably be easier if it weren’t for all her body guards!
Besides touring the Castle, Windsor is also home to the Royal Windsor Racehorses, riverside gardens and parks, and a Legoland theme park. But I was most surprised at how beautiful the countryside on the way there is. It’s stunningly green (even in December!), with rolling hills dotted with sheep and pig farms. The drive alone was worth the day trip to Windsor.
5. Windsor Castle is near Stonehenge and Bath — and all three are doable in a day.
Stonehenge is one of the can’t miss touristy trademarks of England. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s both mysterious and ancient, plus it’s conveniently accessible from London. Yet I still wasn’t sure I wanted to visit because I’d heard it was overrated. (I even conducted a twitter poll debating whether to go.)
Luckily the Christmas Eve tour I booked to Windsor included driving by Stonehenge, which was closed for the day, on the way to Bath. It was the perfect compromise: I got to see Stonehenge from a distance while not spending time at the site. But I admit: even from the road it was impressive. (There’s also a tour to Stonehenge when it’s open.)
Bath, a city known for its Roman Baths, is 97 miles and a few hours’ drive from London. Romans built a temple surrounding the natural hot springs in 60-70 AD and modified the building over the next several centuries. The surviving structure was built in the 18th Century and the Roman aqueducts still work today.
Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath could all be entertaining on their own for a full day or more, but if you’re only slightly curious about seeing all of them, booking a day trip to all three is well worth it.
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