I’m sure many busy London-folk will agree with me when I say that it is a real joy to take a break from bustle of city and explore our often forgotten backyard.
With the saying ‘a change is as good as a rest’ in mind, we were drawn to the Royal Borough of Windsor for its mix of history, picturesque scenery and regal charm – plenty to keep anyone occupied for a weekend away.
Early Saturday morning, we boarded a train to Windsor & Eton Riverside and were joined by plenty of day-trippers and international visitors alike.
We knew we were in the right place as soon as we stepped out of the station and into the shadow of the domineering, and magnificent, Windsor Castle.
Surprised by the hill (okay, the hill isn’t too big or anything, but I really wasn’t expecting such an incline), we made the short walk upwards into the heart of Windsor, ready for our first stop of the day – the Changing of the Guard.
Changing of the Guard
The colourful pageantry of Changing of the Guard, also known as ‘Guard Mounting’, takes place at 11am daily from April until July and ever second day for the rest of the year except for Sundays and during bad weather (check ahead on the British Army website).
Like a smaller version of the ceremony at Buckingham Palace, it is well worth a viewing and is the perfect way to get yourself into a flag-waving royal mood.
Top Tip: People start lining up from about 10:30, so for the best vantage point make your way into the Castle and head towards the main exit where you can watch the actual changing take place. You can also get a pretty good view from the corner of High Street and Peascod Street.
The oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, Windsor Castle has been home to the British family for nearly 1000 years since William the Conqueror first chose the site high above the river Thames.
The Queen’s favourite residence, Elizabeth II spends most of her weekends in the castle and stays for a whole month over Easter.
Make sure to spend plenty of time in the opulent State Apartments, the historic St George’s Chapel, burial site of many famous royals including Henry VIII and the White Queen Elizabeth Woodville, and, if you can handle the queue, peek inside the extremely popular Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House.
Top Tip: Book your tickets before you go and you wont have to face the long queue of people buying tickets on the day.
Conquer the Tower
Climb through layers of British history as you are guided up 200 steps to the top of Windsor Castle’s Round Tower rising 65.5m above the Thames.
Open daily in August and September, the only way to explore the Tower with a guide. The 45min tours run throughout the day and along with learning all about the Castle and Tower’s history you’ll also get to enjoy views of historic Windsor parkland, the Thames Valley and The Long Walk.
It was easy to see that our guide, along with all the other staff at the Castle, was extremely passionate and proud of his work at Windsor and everyone really works hard to make sure you enjoy your visit to this impressive historic site.
Back to School: Eton College
A short walk from Windsor Castle over the Thames and along the charming Eton High Street, Eton College offers even more history.
Founded in 1440 by King Henry VI, Eton is one of the oldest schools in the country, famous for turning out 20 British prime ministers (including the current PM) and, of course, Princes William and Harry.
Gaining entry into Eton is a pretty tough process as this exclusive school has its pick of the best and brightest youngsters from around the world. For the rest of us, the only sure-fire way into the grounds of this famous institution involves signing up for a guided tour.
Highlights are the beautifully ornate College Chapel and the 570-year-old Lower School. Built in 1443, the Lower School was Eton’s only classroom for over 200 years and carved into the dark wood of its ancient benches, desks and shutters are the names of thousands of boys who passed their final exams dating from the schools earliest days right up until the 19th century.
Tours run at 2pm and 3:15pm throughout the year around the school’s schedule so check ahead for timings. Buy your tickets from the Eton College Visitor Centre which opens a few minutes before each tour.
A Spot of Tea
Lounging back in our chairs overlooking birds and boats gliding along the Thames, a helping of Afternoon Tea at the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel is the perfect treat to sustain a day of sightseeing.
The Drawing Room is a cosy spot to watch the world go by and wait for the light afternoon shower that had moved in to pass.
Sandwiches, scones, cakes and tea – a very British way to top a very British day.
Taking a break from the world of history and books, we went out in search of a bit of fresh air with beautiful Windsor as our backdrop.
The lush banks of the Thames are simply teaming with wildlife so on a fine day head out on the water with French Brothers Boats or if you’re looking to stretch your legs a stroll along the iconic 2.6 miles Long Walk through Windsor Great Park is not to be missed.
A little further afield, is the Royal Savill Garden. Also part of the Great Park, Savill is Britain’s finest ornamental garden made up of 35 acres of interconnected trees, shrubbery, ponds and streams, lawns and meadows.
The Sport of Kings
It’s not every day you get the chance to watch a spot of polo so if you happen to be in Windsor while there’s a match on why not take in a game or two.
Founded in 1955 by Prince Philip, Guards Polo Club is the largest polo club in Europe and located right in the heart of the beautiful Great Park.
Despite never having watched the sport before it really isn’t too difficult to follow – just think of football on horseback with sticks. The live commentary will help you keep track of who’s winning.
Many of the events are free to watch, and you’ll find the Club’s event timetable on their website.
Top Tip: There are a few food stalls around where you can pick up a bite to eat, but I’d recommend you go all out, pack a picnic, a few beverages and enjoy an afternoon’s worth of matches.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of accommodation options around Windsor and Eton to suit all budgets, but if you’re looking to stay somewhere a little special and right in the centre of the action the Harte and Garter Hotel is hard to beat.
Built in the Jacobethan style, the hotel was originally two separate 14th century inns; The Garter Inn and The White Harte until they were joined in the late 19th century.
Directly opposite Windsor Castle, make sure your book one of their Castle View rooms and wave over the road to your very exclusive set of neighbours.
Windsor is well connected with two railway stations, Windsor & Eton Central and Windsor & Eton Riverside. If travelling by car, ask your accommodation provider for the best place to park.