Getting There: Trains leave approx. every half hour from Paddington Station in London to Windsor & Eton Central Station. Round-trip fare is approx. 9GBP. Plan your journey here.
Admission Fee: £17 when the State Apartments are open. £9 when they are closed.
Official Website: http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=34
Windsor Castle is located just 30 minutes from central London and offers visitors an excellent day or even half-day break from the hustle and bustle of the big city. It is the oldest and largest active castle in the world and the Queen still spends many of her private weekends at this imposing compound composed of Gothic architecture and fairy-tale style turrets.
Unfortunately, because the Queen does occasionally spend her time at Windsor, it’s not always fully open to the public. Before you plan your visit it’s best to check the official website to ensure that the castle will be open for visitors on the day you wish to arrive.
Windsor is conveniently located a few steps away from the Windsor and Eton Central train station and there are signs located throughout the town which will lead you towards the entrance to the grounds. The castle opens at 9:45am and it’s best to arrive as early as possible. Even in the winter, Windsor gets crowded during the day.
The famous “Changing of the Guard” takes place within the grounds of Windsor Castle every other day at 11am, except on Sundays and the ceremony lasts 20 minutes -a very lenghthy 20 minutes when it’s cold outside. My suggestion would be to visit on a day when the State Apartments are open and the changing of the guard is being performed. This will ensure that you’re getting the most Windsor for your buck . . . or pound. If you’re lucky, St. George’s Chapel will also be open. Housing the remains of 10 members of the royal family, this gothic-style chapel stands out from the rest of the compound with its creamy-coloured stones and distinctive arched windows.
Aside from the State Rooms and chapel, Windsor also contains Queen Mary’s Dollhouse – an incredibly ornate and fully functional dollhouse complete with electricity and running water. Exploring the passageways of the public part of the castle, military history lovers will delight in the various collections of weapons grouped by regions such as India and Japan. Other highlights include a collections of fine china and as well as a rotating list of special exhibits. Like most royal palaces, the grounds themselves are a spectacle unto themselves. At Windsor, however, the neatly manicured “backyard” is not open to tourists but it can be viewed from the windows of the State Apartments.
At £17, Windsor is by no means the cheapest palace or castle in Europe. However, keeping in mind that it has been an active royal residence for nearly 1000 years and that it is more of a compound rather than a singular castle, the admission fee is justified. Windsor is easily one of the best preserved castles I’ve visited. Because of its lengthy history, it offers visitors a chance to step into the dragon-slaying middle-ages all the way through to the Gothic, Georgian, and Victorian ages within a few hours. Add that to the fact that it’s such a short journey from London and it makes for the perfect day out.