The Independent's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

TRAVEL GUIDE

Windsor travel guide: Best things to do and where to stay in this historic market town with royal connections

Think of Windsor and you might think of the royal family, but there’s plenty more to discover. Ahead of the coronation of King Charles III, Hazel Plush shares her pick of attractions, hotels and more

Wednesday 19 April 2023 16:03 BST
Comments
<p>Windsor Castle can trace its roots back to the 11th century </p>

Windsor Castle can trace its roots back to the 11th century

So intertwined are Windsor and the royals, that they share the same name – indeed, it was George V who first took the House of Windsor surname in 1917, in honour of his Berkshire castle. For almost 1,000 years, the town has served as the monarchs’ home-from-home and a winsome backdrop for royal pomp: weddings, baptisms, funerals… and now, the afterparty of King Charles III’s coronation.

While the ceremony itself will be at Westminster Abbey on Saturday 6 May, Windsor will host the star-studded Coronation Concert the following day – the first public gig at the castle, held on the King’s own East Lawn. As such, the castle will be closed to visitors that weekend, but the wider town will be full of coronation-themed fun: from “Return of the King” beers at Windsor & Eton Brewery’s Taproom, to a posh garden party at Fairmont Windsor Park. Check the Royal Borough’s website for full listings.

But though Windsor always shines in the limelight, it doesn’t need a noble knees-up to win your affections – nor must you be a royalist to have a great time. Peaceful riverside strolls, rollercoasters at Legoland, excellent restaurants, vintage shopping: this lively town has so much to offer, and is just one hour from London by train.

What to do

Tour the King’s castle

Windsor Castle towers over the town centre, the world’s oldest and largest inhabited royal digs. The State Rooms’ opulence is staggering: all glittering chandeliers, gilded plasterwork and vast oil paintings, while St George’s Chapel is instantly recognisable from its television appearances. It holds the tombs of 11 monarchs, including Elizabeth II and Henry VIII (entry with audio tour from £28/£15.50 concessions). Check the castle’s calendar for special events and live entertainment.

The grounds of Windsor Castle cover 13 acres

Read more on UK travel:

Mess about on the river

A glorious stretch of the River Thames hugs Windsor’s limits – replete with weeping willows, inquisitive swans and fine picnic spots. Grab an ice cream and a bag of bird food from Mamma Mia Café, and walk the path upstream to Baths Island or downstream to Home Park meadow. French Brothers runs cruises from the jetty beside the cafe: its 40-minute round-trip features Windsor Castle, Eton College, Mill House and Windsor Racecourse, and runs year-round (from £10.60/£7 concessions). Rental kayaks and paddleboards are also available (one hour, from £30). For more outdoor fun, Legoland Windsor Resort is a 10-minute bus ride away.

Walk through history

For an extensive – and free – tour of Windsor’s cultural highlights, follow The Queen’s Walkway, a 3.9-mile (6.3km) trail opened by Elizabeth II on her 90th birthday. It features 63 points of interest, including the Windsor Guildhall (where Charles married Camilla in 2005), Queen Anne’s Court (Anne Boleyn’s lodgings while she was Henry VIII’s secret lover), and a replica Hawker Hurricane (whose designer, Sir Sydney Camm, grew up in Windsor).

Explore a royal park

Windsor Great Park is also rich in royal history: William The Conqueror used it for deer hunting in the 11th century, George V commissioned The Savill Garden in the 1930s, and Prince Philip was the estate’s longest-serving ranger for nearly 70 years. Queen Victoria loved to picnic in the grounds, and you should too; follow the “Long Walk” avenue (added by Charles II) into Deer Park, and eat beside the Prince of Wales Pond. Windsor Carriages runs horse-drawn rides through the estate.

Get into Eton College

Just over the river lies the small yet distinguished town of Eton – famous, of course, for its historic college. From Windsor Bridge, it’s a 10-minute walk to the late-Gothic grandeur of College Chapel, but longer if you dip into the bookshops and boutiques along the way. The Chapel is open to visitors on selected days (tours £10), and there are three museums inside the school quarters too: the Natural History Museum, Museum of Antiquities and Museum of Eton Life (all free, open days vary).

Eton College Chapel was meant to be double its length – the downfall of King Henry VI put a stop to that

Best time to visit Windsor

While the riverside and Great Park are glorious from June to August, they’re much quieter in spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October) and, as such, even lovelier. Winter is the cheapest time to visit Windsor: a great excuse to check out the town’s Christmas entertainment, including Windsor Great Park’s illuminated trail and ice skating at Alexandra Gardens.

Where to stay

Castle Hotel Windsor sits opposite its namesake royal residence, and is just a few minutes’ walk from the Great Park, Theatre Royal Windsor and main shopping areas. The impressive Changing of the Guard ceremony passes right outside its fantastic Leaf Restaurant and the pricier suites. The hotel dates back to the 1600s, but its facilities are fresh and stylish.

On the riverside, The Sir Christopher Wren occupies a characterful 17th-century townhouse and modern-built wing, with The Brasserie restaurant overlooking the water.

For families, the LEGO-themed rooms, pool and theme park thrills of Legoland Windsor Resort Hotel are a sure-fire hit.

Where to eat

At the gates of the Long Walk, The Two Brewers – established in 1792 – serves classy pub fare in a cosy, curio-packed interior. Think bangers and mash with onion gravy and tiger prawn linguine. No children, but dogs are allowed.

For riverside dining, you’ll enjoy the best views and decent dishes at The Boatman (great Sunday roasts, including veggie and vegan options), The Brasserie (fine dining and afternoon tea) and the ever-reliable Côte (crowd-pleasing French cuiseine).

The Thames means lots of fun either on the water or beside it

For fancy French, look to A La Russe, whose Old World wines and leather banquettes set the scene for date night. Share the Burgundy l’escargot starter, but you’ll want the duck breast with cognac morello cherries all to yourself.

On Peascod Street, Meimo’s Moroccan-Mediterranean menu includes a superb mkali tagine – a fragrant stew of chicken, olives and preserved lemon – plus hot and cold meze, such as aubergine zaalouk and garlic prawns. Just over the river in Eton, Gilbey’s offers a set menu to linger over, featuring St Austell Bay mussels and panko-crumbed fish of the day.

Where to drink

For craft bitters, IPAs, pilsners and ciders, visit the Windsor & Eton Brewery Taproom – which also hosts comedy nights and live music. With its Guildhall-view tables and abundant flowers, the terrace of Leaf Restaurant buzzes all summer: treat yourself to a bottle of Great Park Windsor Sparkling, grown on Crown Estate vineyards.

As well as decent double-shot coffees, Cinnamon Café serves creamy chai lattes and thick hot chocolates in the grand Victorian glass atrium of Windsor Royal Station.

Where to walk

With its deer-dotted fields, rambling woodlands and pretty lakes, Windsor Great Park is a joy to explore on foot. See its website for route maps and accessibility tips.

Windsor Great Park is perfect for long and winding walks

Where to shop

If you’re driving, swing by the Windsor Farm Shop, whose produce is sourced from the Crown Estate and other notable Berkshire producers. As well as gifts (such as jams, gingerbread and fudge), its picnic supplies include pork pies and veg quiches.

In town, Peascod Street and Windsor Royal Station are the main shopping areas – featuring the likes of Barbour, Phase Eight, and historic local department store Daniel. Other highlights include Thames Hospice Vintage & Retro for pre-loved fashions and the Bachelors Acre Farmers’ Market for local artisan cheeses, honey and bread (first Saturday of every month).

Architectural highlights

With its mighty turrets and towers, Windsor Castle is impressive from every angle. Elsewhere, the charmingly wonky ‘Crooked House’ and polished 17th-century Windsor Guildhall make eye-catching neighbours; the latter is home to the Windsor & Royal Borough Museum (entry £2/£1 concessions).

FAQs

What currency do they use?

Pound sterling.

What language do they speak?

English.

How much should I tip?

10-12 per cent for good service.

What’s the time difference?

GMT+/-0.

How should I get around?

The town has two train stations (Windsor & Eton Central and Windsor & Eton Riverside), both of which are within 10-15 minutes’ walk of the main sights. Green Line buses (702 and 703) run between Windsor and Legoland (10 minutes, 3-4 times per hour; return from £6.20/£3.80 concessions). Good service by taxis and Uber.

What’s the best view?

From either end of the Long Walk – which stretches between the castle and the Copper Horse statue (around 2.5 miles/4km; wheelchair accessible). At the castle’s State Entrance gates, cast your eyes along this stately conker-flanked avenue; at the other end, the fields of Deer Park and wider Berkshire come into view.

Insider tip?

Which flag is flying from the castle’s Round Tower? If it’s the large Royal Standard, the King is in residence – so give him a wave.

Read more of our reviews of the best UK hotels

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in