Visiting Windsor Castle: 10 Top Attractions, Tips & Tours
Spectacular Windsor Castle has long been the summer residence of British Royals. Ever since William the Conqueror built the first castle here in 1078, royal families have stayed for extended periods, many leaving their own unique stamp on the property. Much of Windsor Castle - the longest-occupied royal residence in Europe - is open to the public, and it is one of England's major tourist attractions. Windsor Castle is built around two courtyards: the Upper Ward and the Lower Ward, with entrance through the monumental Henry VIII's Gate, erected in 1511. Windsor Castle is easy to combine with other nearby attractions, such as Stonehenge, on a day's tour from London.
1 St. George's Chapel
The chapel of The Knights of the Order of the Garter, considered among the finest examples of the English Perpendicular Gothic style, is dedicated to St. George and was begun by Edward IV in 1474. Its facades are decorated with heraldic emblems of the ruling houses of Lancaster and York - in the north are the deer, bulls, falcons, and black dragons of the Yorks, and in the south are the unicorns, lions, swans, and red dragons of the Lancasters. The fan vaulting in the nave and choir is impressive, as is the stained glass west window (1503). Behind and above the stalls are the coats of arms, banners, and decorative plumes of 700 Knights of the Order.
The chapel has several royal tombs, including those of George V and Queen Mary, parents of Queen Elizabeth II. Henry VIII and Charles I are interred in the vault beneath the choir, while Henry VI, Edward IV, and Edward VII are buried in the sacristy. St. George's Chapel is the traditional home of the 26 Knights and Ladies of The Most Noble Order of the Garter - Britain's highest order, established in 1348 by Edward III.
2 Albert Memorial Chapel
Originally known as the Lady Chapel and built in 1500 to contain Henry VII's tomb (he was buried instead at Westminster Abbey), the Albert Memorial Chapel was dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, after his death in 1861. The interior is elaborately decorated with colored marble, mosaics, and sculptures, and contains the sarcophagus of the Duke of Clarence (1864-1892), the eldest son of Edward VII. The marble figure on the west door depicts the Duke of Albany (d. 1884) in Scottish finery. The chapel is accessed through a passage at the east end of St. George's Chapel.
3 The State Apartments
Only open when the Queen isn't in residence (check whether the royal flag is flying above the castle - if so, she's home), Windsor Castle's State Apartments have changed throughout their history to reflect the current monarch's tastes. The major renovations were made in the 17th century by Charles II (who wanted his palace to rival Versailles) and in the 19th century by George IV. The most notable rooms are the Queen's Gallery and the Dining Hall, each with a magnificently painted ceiling and woodcarvings. Art treasures include a large collection featuring works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rubens, Canaletto, and Rembrandt, along with period furniture, armor, weapons, and even the bullet that killed Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar.
4 The Semi-State Rooms
Like the State Apartments, the equally opulent private apartments created for George IV are open to visitors between September and March, when they are not in use for official entertaining. These are among the most richly decorated interiors in the castle and are used by the Queen for official entertaining. The most opulent of this new suite of apartments is the magnificent Crimson Drawing Room, with its damask walls and gold-leafed furnishings. This part of the castle was severely damaged in the fire of 1992, but luckily the valuable art and decorations had been moved elsewhere when the fire struck. The rooms have been fully restored according to the original plans.
5 Queen Mary's Dolls' House
Queen Mary's Dolls' House is a masterpiece of craftsmanship presented to Queen Mary in 1924. Designed by the leading architect of the day, Sir Edwin Lutyens, it is furnished in working miniatures created by some of the era's preeminent artists, designers, and craftspeople. A perfect replica in miniature of an aristocratic home, it's filled with thousands of objects, many of which actually work - drawers open, cars in the garage have engines that run, running water flows from the tiny faucets, the linens are monogrammed, and the library is filled with miniature books, all in 1/12 scale. Queen Mary used it as a display to raise funds for charities.
6 Changing the Guard
No visit to Windsor Castle would be complete without witnessing the Changing the Guard ceremony. This traditional bit of British pageantry takes place in the Castle Precincts Monday through Saturday mornings at 11am, from April through July. The rest of the year, it occurs on alternate days, weather permitting.
7 The Horseshoe Cloisters
On the south side of the Lower Ward are the houses of the Military Knights of Windsor, also members of The Most Noble Order of the Garter. Known as the Horseshoe Cloisters, they were built in 1479 in the half-timbered style. The Dean's Cloisters and Canons' Cloisters, former homes of the dean and the canons, are also highly picturesque.
8 Windsor Castle Gardens
Because of the castle's hilltop setting, its gardens are relatively small and lie in terraces that extend east from the Upper Ward. From late July through late September, when the North Terrace is open to visitors, you can get a good view over the East Terrace Garden.
9 The Towers
Built in 1227, the Curfew Tower incorporates some of the oldest masonry in Windsor Castle. Within the tower is part of a 13th-century dungeon, with the beginning of an escape tunnel that was thwarted by the thickness of the walls.
The Round Tower, surrounded on three sides by a deep moat, was built by Henry II and includes a 200-step climb up to a viewing platform. The effort is rewarded by marvelous panoramic views.
10 Home Park and Great Park
Great Park extends along the south side of the castle for nearly six miles and has an impressive herd of red deer. Home Park is used as a sports area for archery, rugby, cricket, and tennis, and this is also where you'll find some of the best views of Windsor Castle, especially at night. Inside the park are Frogmore House and the Mausoleum in which Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are buried.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Windsor Castle
- Tours of Windsor Castle: A great way to visit Windsor Castle from London and see its highlights is to combine it with two other major attractions of southern England on an 11-hour Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Bath Day Trip from London. Your day will be packed with fun things to do. On this full-day tour, you'll visit the lavish State Apartments and see St. George's Chapel with your guide, and possibly also see the Changing of the Guard. Instead of Bath, you can visit Oxford on a 9.5-hour Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Oxford Custom Day Trip, also leaving from London. Inside the castle, you can get free audio tours.
- For Your Comfort: Wear good walking shoes, as there's a lot of wandering, with steps and a hill. You can leave packs and coats in the cloakroom.
- What's On: Throughout the year, Windsor Castle hosts many events and exhibitions, so be sure to visit the events section of their website before your arrival.
- Getting There: Trains to Windsor run regularly from London's Victoria and Paddington stations, and Green Line buses depart from Victoria Coach Station.
Address: Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire