Following the Queen: Easy day trip to Windsor

Why not take a short day trip to the charming town of Windsor? Come with me on a tour of the weekend home of the Queen!

Pro Tip #1: Before you go: Purchase your Windsor Castle tickets online on the Royal Collection Trust website Doing this will save you at least 1/2 hour in the queue, as you can skip the line. Ticket prices are £22.50 for adults, and £13.00 for children. Weekdays are less crowded, and the chapel is closed for viewing on Sunday, so unless you wish to attend a Chapel service, please plan accordingly. 

Getting there:
We start our day at Paddington Station, where we board one a train to Windsor-Eton. (I also suggest that you purchase your train tickets in advance, using either Trainline app or go directly through the Great Western Railway site. Since this trip is short, there is no need for a first class ticket, and although you will book a return ticket, you can use your ticket on any return train.)

Pro Tip #2: Try to take the 9:21-ish train from Paddington, so that you arrive in Windsor by 10. The castle is crazy-popular in the summer and on Saturdays, and there are huge lines to get in if you don't have an advance ticket. Another reason to go early--the weekend security process can be worse than any airport. If you need a 3rd reason, you want to make sure you are through security by 10:45 so that you can see the Changing of the Guard!
(if you aren't interested in seeing the changing of the guard, it might be better to see the town first. the mass of people is worse in the morning)

So go on, get yourself out of bed, even if you have jet lag. You can sleep on the train!

There are no non-stop trains to Windsor-Eton (unless you are the Queen!), so we change at the town of Slough, but it is an easy transfer since both trains are usually on the same platform. The entire trip will take less than an hour, so before we know it, we are at the Windsor-Eton train station.

View of the town of Windsor as we approach the station
Queen Victoria Engine on display at the station

First opened in 1849, the Windsor-Eton Station still retains much of its original charm. Even the myriad of shops in the station have a cute, vacation-y look to them.  But while you are in the actual station, there are a few things to notice: the Victorian Train, the Harry and Meghan mural, and the new Heart of Locks.

My friend Amy posing with the Royals!

We proceed right past all the charming shops (don't despair, we can peruse on the way back!) When we reach the top of the hill at Thames Street, take a look back for a beautiful photo opportunity!

view of the Windsor Station area
Here we are at the formidable Windsor Castle, and we cross the street , proceeding to the right. Built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, it has been used by every reigning monarch since that time. Windsor Castle is the largest  and oldest continuously inhabited castle in the world.

The Queen Victoria statue stands watch over us at the center of the intersection. Do look up to the castle flag on your left... if the Queen is in residence, her Royal Standard will be raised, if not, it will be the Union Jack (the United Kingdom flag)

Although you would expect the entrance to be on the left, the entrance is actually on the right side of the street. Do not get in the long line if you have a ticket already--you can go to the front left and zip on in. After the massive security process, the rest of your day will be smooth sailing. You will follow the path and will come to the free audio guide station.

Pro Tip #3: Your ticket stub will allow you to return for an entire year, so make sure you get it stamped, and don't lose it. Generally, it is stamped upon leaving, but you might try to have the admissions people stamp your ticket when you go in, just so you don't forget as you are leaving.

Pro tip #4: DO get an audio guide, even if you think you don't like them. It will make all the difference, since most things are not marked or explained.  After listening to the intro, just follow the numbers. The tour isn't that long, so don't feel that you have to rush.

Pro tip #5: There are no toilets inside the Palace or Chapel, but there are two toilet areas that I have seen-one is right past security, before you get the audio guide, and the other is a set of port-a-loo's just before you go into the state apartments.

After getting the audio guide, we walk along the castle grounds and start to get an impression of the size of the estate--13 acres to be exact. As we walk in, down the hill is the village housing many of those who work at the castle, the left is St George's Chapel, and to the right is the castle itself and the State apartments.

St. George's Chapel, parade grounds are in background

If you planned it right and arrived early, you should be just on time for the Changing of the Guard, which occurs every day at 11am, in the lower Ward area (down the hill). I think it is well worth watching, but you certainly won't be alone.

After the changing of the guard, why not tour St George's Chapel, since you are already here? 

When you enter, please head to the left, listening to the audio guide as you go. Not to be missed are the fan vaulted ceilings, the West Window (the 3rd largest stained glass window in England), and Princess Charlotte's tomb. When Princess Charlotte died at age 21, during childbirth, her death was mourned by all of England (think of the national outpour at Princess Diana's death). The general public paid for this tomb and statue of Charlotte with her infant son at her feet. The curtains are marble!

Princess Charlotte's tomb

Beautiful lattice ceilings

The West Window: 3rd largest stained glass window in England
Next, proceed up the left aisle, and pass many of the 10 monarchs who are buried here, including Queen Elizabeth II's father, George VI.

We take a right and enter the Quire. The altar is quite ornate, just stunning.  Now turn around and be just as amazed at the heraldry of the Knight's of the Garter stalls on the opposite side. On the left of the door is the stall of the Queen, who oversees the order, and to the right of the door is the stall of Prince Charles. 

The Quire of St. George's Chapel
The Knights of the Garter is the oldest and highest order of chivalry, originating in the 15th century, and composed of 24 knights at any given time, Prince William was recently named the 1000th in the order's history. 

The Knights of the Garter procession

Every year in June (this year's date is June 17, 2019) the Queen leads a procession from the Waterloo Chamber in the Castle, down to St.George's chapel. The knights wear velvet robes and hats made of plumes, and the whole deal is open to the public, that is, if you can get a free ticket. Just write an email in January and request up to 4 tickets to the June parade. You may get lucky! 

There is much heraldry and history surrounding the Knights of the Garter, and it is apparent in the decorations of each knights seat. Each has a metal plate with a design of their shield, as well as their helm (helmet), crest on top of the helm, wreath and banner. Not going to lie, there are some crazy headdresses here, like the one of a badger (Lord Butler of Brockwell's) below:

Heading out of the Chapel, don't miss the Gilebertus Door, named for its maker and one of the only remaining parts of the original chapel constructed in the 1200's. It is used when the Queen and members of the Royal Family enter.

Gilebertus Door at St. George's Chapel
We leave the chapel and turn to our right, going through the arch into a small enclave of apartments, and home to the Military Knights of Windsor, (retired military), as well as a prep school.

Here is where we take the iconic wedding photo! Windsor castle was the location of Prince Harry's wedding to Meghan, and we can take the same photo...well, that is, if you bring your dress and and maybe bring a couple thousand roses.

We are officially done with the chapel, and now we head up the hill. In front of us stands the Round Tower. In the audio guide, I don't think enough was said about the Round Tower, which stands high on the hill of the castle. It was built in the 12th century and although it looks quite special, it simply holds the Royal Archives.

The Round Tower
Now, pass through the gate and walk along the outer wall toward the State Apartment tours. If you look down the hill, past the River Thames, you will see a large church with a tall spire. This is Eton College, where Prince William and Prince Harry went to school.

Eton College
Finally, it's time to enter the State Rooms.  We are given a choice to either follow the Historical or the Ceremonial route. I find the audio guide a bit confusing on this point. Actually, no matter which you do, you are able to go on the other when you finish the first. 

As for me, I like to do the Ceremonial Route first. So we go up some stairs, and then some more stairs, and we come to the artillery room. Guns and weapons surround the walls in a show of strength. 

The most beautiful three rooms are the Grand Reception Room, St. George's Hall and the Waterloo Chamber. The Queen uses these rooms to entertain Guests of State.

Grand Reception Hall
I don't know if you are aware, but in WWII, the Royal Family secretly moved from Buckingham Palace to Windsor for safety reasons, and the young princesses used to enact plays here in the Waterloo Chamber. Behind the masterful portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence (of those who were instrumental in the Battle of Waterloo's success) are some smaller drawings and paintings done by the royal staff, to help decorate for the princesses' plays!

Waterloo Chamber with incredible portraits, masterpieces by Sir Thomas Lawrence
St. George's Hall, my favorite room at Windsor Castle
After going through all the myriad of rooms, and whatever exhibition is taking place (currently Princess Eugenie's wedding dress as of March 2019, and in the fall of 2018, an exhibit of Meghan and Harry's wedding apparel), we are done with the tour, and  we come out into the brilliant sun of a courtyard which gives us a glimpse of the Castle's layout. The Castle is built around a central quadrangle, and directly opposite in the far right corner is the Queen's residential apartments.

Queen's apartments in the far right corner
Leaving the Castle, we pass by some of the prettiest gardens in the area that used to be the moat. I wonder if the Queen every walks these gardens with her little corgi's?

Exit, not entrance!
Are you still with me? Because I'm getting exhausted just writing this long blog! Now we are done with the castle, and need a lunch break in the adorable little town of Windsor. So many restaurants to choose from-- mostly pubs, but there are also Chinese, mediterranean and a few pizza spots.

I love this charming pub, the Prince Harry!
Before you leave the village, don't miss the Jersey Pearl shop, which is leaning so far to the right that it might fall over!

And check out the Guildhall, where Elton John married, as did Prince Charles and Camilla. Charles wasn't permitted to marry in a church, due to minor details like their prior divorces and public dismay over a pesky adultery problem. 

There is a museum in the lower level that you can visit. And do notice the columns supporting the Guildhall. The supervisors of the Guildhall construction demanded extra columns to support the upper floor. As a response, architect Sir Christopher Wren added columns which do not touch at the top! cheeky!

Sir Christopher Wren√Ę€™s four column joke in Windsor Guildhall

Leaving this area, we now cross the main Thames Street again, and head down into Peascod Street (who names these streets?) which is the main shopping area. Here is where I will leave you to do some serious retail damage! 
Just don't miss your train home!

Oh, by the way, if you want a little sugary pick-me-up, try the Madame Posh Teahouse. I love the fondant wedding dress in their store window! 

Here is Amy and me, after a charming day in a charming town!

By the way, here I am in my new Royal Guard outfit. You might see me in the Changing of the Guard the next time you come to Windsor!

Well, now I'm off to the train! Hope you enjoyed your walking tour of Windsor!


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