Windsor is a historic town with lots to explore.
If you are visiting Windsor for the first time, you are in for a real treat. There are many things to do and see in the area, including (of course) Windsor Castle but also great shopping and dining out. Windsor Great Park offers plenty of greenery along with various attractions of its own and the river Thames is a delight. Here are my ‘must see’ highlights for people visiting Windsor for the first time.
How to get to Windsor
The town is small but actually has two train stations. If you are coming from Paddington or Reading, just change at Slough and a little train will take you directly to the heart of Windsor town. Alternatively if you are coming from London Waterloo the other trainline takes you to Windsor and Eton riverside station. But either station is fine because they are within a few minutes walk of each other. As I said, Windsor is a small town and much of it is within walking distance.
Is Windsor actually worth visiting?
Absolutely it is. Windsor is definitely worth seeing. It is spectacular at any time of year. It is a tourist friendly town with loads to see and do.
The Changing of the Guard
If you’re interested in watching a ceremony for free, one takes place almost daily at Windsor Castle. The Changing of the Guard is a centuries-old tradition that originated with King Henry VIII. Today it takes place at 10:45 am every day except Sundays from May to July and three times a week the rest of the year (dates do vary).
The ceremony lasts about 45 minutes, but if you want to get there early for prime viewing spots on the high street or just look around town beforehand, make sure to add an hour or two onto your visit time. If you want to know where is the best place to stand, the answer is on the pavement near the statue of Queen Victoria close to the Castle Entrance
You can find out more about this free event at www.royalcollection.org/changing-of-the-guard
Visiting Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1066 and has been an official residence of British monarchs ever since. It’s also used as a weekend home and a place to entertain foreign heads of state. Windsor Castle is now under the care of The Queen who spends much time there when she is not at Buckingham Palace, Sandringham or Balmoral. The castle is right in the middle of town and is utterly impossible to miss. Its also impossible to not be impressed as it really is beautiful. The famous diarist Samuel Peyps said Windsor is “the most romantic castle that is in all the world”.
Visitors can explore large parts of its 1,000 year-old buildings and grounds, including St George’s Chapel (where Prince Harry married Meghan Markle), changing art exhibitions and more than two acres of gardens. There is an entrance fee and it is quite high compared to many tourist attractions but the castle is definitely worth every penny.
Just across the river from Windsor is the village of Eton, home to some lovely antique shops, and if you walk up the high street for five minutes you will come to Eton College.
The college includes the world-famous Eton College Chapel built in 1480-1490 which has been called ‘the most beautiful building of any kind since classical times’. The chapel contains stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898), who also painted two murals above the organ loft depicting angels playing musical instruments as well as scenes from Genesis . There is also an impressive collection of artworks including paintings by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788) , William Hogarth (1697–1764) , Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830) , John Constable (1776–1837) and George Stubbs (1724 – 1806). This is the most famous school in the country and 19 Prime Ministers were schoolboys here. When the boys are away on holiday you can even enjoy guided tours inside the school, but during term time you have to be content with wandering around the outside of these remarkable old buildings.
Enjoy the River Thames
The River Thames is the second longest river in the UK and the longest river entirely in England. It flows through Oxford, Reading and Windsor and has been used as a trade route since people first returned to the Thames Valley after the last Ice Age ended around ten thousand years ago. These days if you are visiting Windsor you can walk along the banks on both sides or hire a small boat or join a larger vessel for a 40 minute or 2 hour sightseeing trip. The trips run by French Brothers are available throughout the year.
Windsor Guided Tours
Advance booking is required. Windsor Guided Tours offer award winning 90-minute guided walking tours of the town in the evening and at weekends.
Guided tours are wheelchair accessible but let them know in advance so they can ensure there are no temporary obstacles on route.
Visiting Windsor Great Park
Windsor Great Park is a vast expanse of 5000 acres of beautiful landscape. There are hills, valleys, lakes, ponds, meadows and woodland to enjoy.
The park has lots of trails for walking, running and cycling. You’ll see the famous Copper Horse statue of King George III, as well as playgrounds, and more. In springtime the daffodils of the valley gardens arespectacular.
Run by the Crown Estate these parlklands are a great place to enjoy nature and the deer park is especially beautiful with oak trees many hundreds of years old. Some of the oaks are said to be the oldest in England. However to walk from the town centre to Windsor Great Park is a three mile trek up the long walk so for this particular treat you may consider getting a bus or taxi instead.
Relax in Alexandra Gardens
Alexandra Gardens, located on the banks of the River Thames, is a beautiful place to visit in summer. Whether you’re in town for business or pleasure, you’ll find time spent here is time well spend. Many people enjoy picnicking here in this park which is close to the river and has a lovely view of the Castle. A few years ago a bandstand was added and now free weekend concerts are a regular fixture .
In winter, there are sometimes acticvities at Alexandra Gardens—you could go ice skating here if you are visiting Windsor over the Christmas period.