Windsor Castle is a striking 11th century castle that’s the official home of the royal family. The palace is the longest occupied royal residence in the world. It’s been the symbol of the monarchy for 1,000 years.
At the castle, you can see the sprawling grounds, take the “long walk,” admire lavish staterooms, and visit a magnificent Perpendicular Gothic chapel.
Not only is Windsor an authentic medieval castle, it’s home to some of the finest and most famous paintings in the Royal Collection. You’ll find master works from English portraitists, the Northern Renaissance, the Italian Renaissance, and the Baroque eras.
In this guide, I tell you everything to see at Windsor Castle and give you tips for visiting.
History of Windsor Castle
900 year ago, England’s first king William the Conqueror began work on Windsor Castle. The layout of the castle was a central tower or keep with two flanking baileys (fortified enclosures).
Both Henry I and Henry II expanded the castle. In 1225, the wooden keep was replaced with the stone Round Tower.
In the 14th century, the castle made its transition to a royal palace thanks to the castle building king Edward III. Edward reigned for over 50 years. He used his war chest and plunder to build a splendid palace.
Edward added the Gothic lower ward and a suite of royal apartments in the upper ward. He also instituted the chivalric Order of the Garter.
Edward’s palace featured tournaments and displays of knightly prowess in the Quadrangle.
In 1475, Edward IV began building the beautiful St. George’s Chapel. It was completed by Henry VIII in 1528. Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, replaced the palace’s wooden walkway with the North Terrace. It allowed her to “take the air.”
The next major period of development came after the bitter mid 17th century English Civil War between the Crown and Parliament.
After the Crown prevailed, Charles II and his architect wanted to make a statement after the power and authority of the crown. They altered the exterior of the castle and added some opulent Baroque state rooms.
When George III inherited the throne, Windsor became his favorite residence. During George’s reign there was a renewed interest in Gothic architecture.
George eliminated many of the castle’s 17th century Baroque features and began restoring the castle. He also added over 40 Canaletto paintings to the Royal Collection.
The next king, George IV, was a rakish lover of women and wine. But he also became the monarchy’s greatest art collector. George IV continued to transform Windsor in a Gothic revival style.
He chose not to use the traditional state apartments. Instead, he added a private suite of glittering rooms that are now called the “semi-state rooms.” Elizabeth II uses these rooms for formal entertaining.
George IV also expanded the grand banqueting and reception room, St. George’s Hall, and the Waterloo Chamber.
Windsor was at is heyday during the reign of Queen Victoria. This is where she met her husband Albert. They chose to make Windsor their principal home.
Victoria invented the tradition of “dine and sleep.” She would invite prominent society figures to dine and spend the night at Windsor Castle. She held small dances and musical events in the Crimson Drawing Room.
Since the time of George IV, very few changes have been made to the castle. In 1992, a fire broke out in Queen Victoria’s chapel and damaged some of the state rooms. They were restored in a modern Gothic style.
When Edward VII succeeded to the throne, Windsor was looking a bit tired and dreary after Queen Victoria’s long widowhood. He did some redecorating, modernizing, and smartening up.
When Edward VII abdicated to marry American Wallis Simpson, George VI took over. His two daughters Elizabeth and Margaret grew up and were educated at the Windsor Castle.
Nowadays, Windsor is Elizabeth II’s permanent residence.
Order of the Garter
The Order of the Garter is the most prestigious order of chivalry in Britain. It was founded in 1348 by Edward III.
The order’s patron saint is St. George. The order’s motto is “Shame of he who thinks evil of it.”
Originally, the order consisted of the king himself, the Prince of Wales, and 24 senior members of the royal family and aristocracy. Today, knights are also chosen from men and women making significant contributions to the nation.
The Garter Day Procession takes place at Windsor Castle in June. Accompanied by marching band, members proceed from the state apartments to St. George’s Chapel.
They wear the velvet robes of the order and ostrich plumed hats, echoing the medieval costumes that were once worn.
Tickets & Tours For Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is a popular place and one of the best day trips from London.
So you need to plan in advance. Ticket lines can be very long in the summer months.
You can also visit Windsor on a guided day tour with Oxford and Stonehenge. Another lengthy (but awesome) day tour combines Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath along with lunch in the Cotswold village of Lacock.
What To See At Windsor Castle, The Complete Guide
Here’s are the top things to see at Windsor Castle on a day trip from London.
1. Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House
Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House is a 100 year old rendering of the royal household. It was designed by Britain’s leading architect of the time, Sir Edwin Lutyens, and presented to Mary in 1924.
It wasn’t intended to be played with. Rather, it was built to reflect the best in British craftsmanship. Everything in the house is designed perfectly to scale with an astonishing level of detail.
The dollhouse has electricity, running water, and working lifts.
2. St. George’s Hall
This is the grand room where state banquets and functions are held, though there hasn’t been one since 2014.
When they do happen, the queen sits in front of the bust of Queen Victoria. Microphones are hidden in the floral arrangements.
The vaulted ceilings are covered with emblems of the Knights of the Garter. Some of them are blank.
Those are the naughty knights, who were convicted of high crimes or treason. This mostly took place during the Tudor era when they also stripped off their heads.
Above the two doors are portraits of Queens Mary and Anne. At the end of the hall, you enter the Queen’s Guard Chamber. There, you’ll find weapons and busts of British war heroes from Nelson to Churchill.
3. State Rooms and Semi-State Rooms
You enter the state apartments from the North Terrace. You can’t take photos in here, so I only have a couple stock photos to show you.
As was traditional, the king and queen had a separate set of state apartments. Visitors would move through a succession of rooms. Each one was designed to limit access to the monarch, according to his or her rank.
The rooms are dripping with chandeliers, beautifully furnished, and strewn with art collected by a long line of kings and queens.
Major renovations to the state rooms were made in the 17th century by Charles II (trying to rival Versailles) and in the 19th century by George IV.
In 1992, a fire devastated the castle. It destroyed much of the southern part of the State Apartments, which are now restored to their original splendor.
There are so many rooms, one just can’t cover them all in a single blog post. So I’ll give you some of the must highlights.
The Waterloo Chamber is a magnificent wood-ceiling room. This is where some of the most famous paintings in the Royal Collection at Windsor are kept.
You’ll find a who’s who of popes, monarchs, statesmen, and commanders. The portraits celebrate the victory over Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo.
Many were painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, who was the court painter of George IV.
This room is also where you’ll find Claude Whatham’s “Pantomime” pictures. They are murals he painted in the rooms of the young Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret after their paintings were removed for safekeeping during the Blitz.
Garter Throne Room
The Garter Throne Room served as Queen Victoria’s principal Throne Room. It’s also the room where new Knights and Ladies of the Garter are invested by the Queen.
In this room, there’s a famous portrait of Elizabeth II in her coronation robes.
Crimson Drawing Room
One of the most eye catching rooms in the palace is the Crimson Drawing Room. It features beautiful red damask walls and gold-leafed furnishings.
This part of the castle was severely damaged in the fire of 1992. Luckily, the valuable art was salvaged. The rooms have been fully restored according to the original plans.
You’ll find a portrait of George VI and a portrait of the Queen Mother.
Green Drawing Room
Originally designed as a library, the Green Drawing Room follows George IV’s favorite plan — a long room with a bay window in the center. The room has a magnificent carpet, which survived the fire in 1992.
The room is filled with Morel and Sedon designed furniture. The display cabinets contain one of the finest Sevres porcelain dining service ever made.
This was ordered by Louis XVI of France for his own use at Versailles and later bought by the king.
This is one of the castle’s most important rooms. Until the creation of the Grand Reception Room and Waterloo Chamber in the 1830s, this was the principal ballroom of Windsor.
The room was redecorated by Queen Victoria. She hung it exclusively with portraits by Anthony van Dyck.
There are usually 11 paintings hung, including a famous one of Charles I on horseback. You may recognize this painting because a copy of it it overlooks the dining room in Downton Abbey.
Queen’s Drawing Room
This room is home to some of the finest Tudor and Stuart portraits in the Royal Collection.
These include the famous Charles I in Three Positions by Van Dyck, a Holbein-esque portrait of Henry VIII, and William Scrots’ portrait of Elizabeth I as a princess.
The latter portrait is the finest painting of Elizabeth I before her succession. It was probably painted for her father Henry VIII.
This room was Charles II’s dressing room. The ceilings were painted by Anthony Verrio, with mythological frescos glorifying the monarchy.
The room is also filled with paintings from the Netherlands, including works by Breugel and Cranach. You’ll find Cranach’s famous Apollo and Diana.
There’s also a rare and famous portrait of Richard III tugging at his ring. The painting was doctored to make him look like a hunchback and murderer of the Princes in the Tower. There’s also quite a few portraits of other monarchs.
The King’s bedchamber was a formal room where the king met with his advisers and discussed matters of state. Only the most powerful members of the court were allowed to enter the room.
The room features walls covered in red damask and a plaster ceiling decorated with the Stuart coat of arms.
The elaborate bed was part of the ritual of dressing and undressing the king in the presence of nobles. It was created by French woodworker Georges Jacob.
It’s draped with green and purple fabric similar to those used when French Emperor Napoleon III came for a State visit in 1855.
King’s Dressing Room
This room is where the king actually slept. It’s home to the important Northern Renaissance paintings in the Royal Collection.
There are portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Albrecht Durer. The most famous work in the room is Pieter Breughel the Elder’s The Massacre of the Innocents.
There are also famous Italian Renaissance paintings by Bellini, del Sarto, and more. I was riveted by Bronzino’s beautiful Portrait of a Lady in Green.
King’s Drawing Room
This room is also known as the “Rubens Room.” It’s full of paintings by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens. A painting of the Holy Family hangs above the fireplace.
Charles II used the room to receive guests and hold court assemblies.
4. Changing of the Guard
The changing of the guard usually takes place at 11:00 am on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The famously stoic guards are clothed in the same red tunics and bearskin that they sport at Buckingham Palace.
The new guards are led by a marching band. They march from their barracks on Sheet Street up High Street into the castle’s parade ground on the lower ward (by the main exit).
After a half hour of music and photos, the old guards march back the way the new ones came.
If you want a front row seat to watch the ceremony, you should plan to arrive around 10:30 am.
5. St. George’s Chapel
St. George’s Chapel is a stunning medieval chapel. It’s in the Perpendicular Gothic style of architecture, just like the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
It was begun by Edward IV in 1474. More recently, this is where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married in 2018.
The nave has classic fan vaulting. Banners of the Most Noble Order of the Garter line the nave.
The banners honor living knights. The 800 golden panels on the choir seats honor departed knights.
Under the upper stained glass windows is a frieze of 250 angels carved in great detail.
The chapel holds a number of famous royal tombs. Heading up the left side of the nave, you’ll find the chapel dedicated to George VI. He’s buried there with the Queen Mother.
Both Phillip and Elizabeth II will eventually be buried with them. Phillip rests in the Royal Vault right now. But when the queen dies, he will be transferred to the the chapel with the queen.
On the floor, you’ll find a plaque marking the burial spot of Mad King George III (of the American Revolutionary War era).
Henry VIII is buried with his third wife Jane Seymour in the chapel’s Royal Vault, which is behind the choir and underneath the Albert Memorial Chapel. This public cannot enter this area.
Henry VI, Edward IV, and Edward VII are also buried in the sacristy.
On your way out, stop to admire the Albert Memorial Chapel. It was dedicated to Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, after his death in 1861.
The interior is elaborately decorated with colored marble, mosaics, and sculptures. It contains the sarcophagus of the Duke of Clarence, the eldest and rather wayward son of Edward VII.
Be sure to admire the decorative ironwork on the 13th century Gilbertus door in the east end of the chapel. It’s a stunning medieval work signed by the smith who created it.
6. The Long Walk
If you want to stretch your legs after ogling the elegant castle interiors, take a stroll down the Long Walk. You can see it from the state entrance of Windsor Castle.
It’s a 2.6 mile tree-lined street created during Charles II’s reign. It’s part of the Windsor Great Park. Views of the castle from the walk of some of the most iconic shots of Windsor.
The Long Walk is especially beautiful in autumn when the oak and chestnut trees break into autumnal colors.
You access the Long Walk from the George IV Gate close to the south front of the castle.
George III loved the park. He commissioned a famous equestrian statue of George II on horseback. It stand on one end of the Long Walk on Snow Hill.
7. Windsor Village
A small village is built up around the castle. It’s full of lovely shops, restaurants, and pubs. Be sure to wander down High Street, Thames Street, and the pedestrianized Peascod Street.
The Windsor Royal Shopping Center is near the railway station. There are over 40 shops.
Tips For Visiting Windsor Castle
Here are some must know tips for visiting Windsor Castle. I also tell you other attractions you can visit in the area.
1. How To Get To Windsor Castle
Windsor is only 20 miles from London and takes about 45 minutes. The town is off the M-4 highway. It’s well signposted.
There are long stay car parks less than a 10 minute walk to the town center and castle. There are short stay car parks in the center of the town that cost a bit more.
London’s Paddington Station connects with the Windsor & Eton Central Station. It’s a high speed train that takes 30 minutes, but you have to change trains at Slough.
London’s Waterloo Station connects with Windsor’s other train station, Windsor & Eton Riverside. This train is slower and takes about 55 minutes.
From either train station, it’s a 5 minute walk to the castle.
You can also visit on a guided tour, which I explained above.
2. Where To Stay Near Windsor Castle
You might consider staying overnight in Windsor after the daytime crowds have gone. You can better enjoy the village’s charm and perhaps even attend evensong in St. George’s Chapel.
The Castle Hotel Windsor is a luxury boutique hotel just .2 miles from the castle itself. You should also check out the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and the Fairmont Windsor Park, where you can get the royal treatment.
Windsor is a good place to overnight if you’re flying out of London the next day. The town is only 15 minutes from Heathrow Airport. You can book a private transfer to get you there from Windsor.
3. Is Windsor Castle Worth Visiting?
Windsor Castle is 100% worth visiting. It’s an authentic medieval castle with a wow factor that’s the official residence of the royal family.
The art collection alone merits a visit. And St. George’s Chapel is stunning.
The real question is whether to visit on a combination tour or allot more time to visit the castle. I think Windsor really warrants a half day visit, so you’re not rushed. Come in the afternoon as most of the guided tours seem to arrive in the morning when the castle opens
If you want to walk over to Eton, you might spend the whole day in the area.
4. What Other Attractions Are Near Windsor Castle?
There are some other top attractions in England that are fairly close to Windsor Castle. You might pick another site to visit with Windsor, spending half a day at each place.
The lovely town of Eton is right next door to Windsor. It’s really only a 15-20 minute walk.
Eton is home to Eton College, an exclusive boarding school in England. It’s known as the “nursery of Englands gentlemen.”
All boys wear a uniform of black tailcoat (or morning coat) and waistcoat, with pin striped trousers and a white tie. This uniform is not for special occasions, it’s worn at all times
The college is closed to the public. But you’ll get a glimpse of the splendid architecture from the road.
However, from May 20 to September 16, you can book a 90 minute heritage tour on Friday afternoons at 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm. The tour covers School Yard, College Chapel, Upper School, Lower School, and the Museum of Eton Life.
Hampton Court Palace
The splendid Hampton Court Palace is only a half hour from Windsor Castle. It’s the world’s greatest surviving medieval palace. The palace has a deliciously rich and scandalous history and is filled with great art.
Hampton Court Palace was the favored playground and leisure complex of England’s infamous King Henry VIII and other notorious characters in English history.
If you plan to visit Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace in the same day, a a 30 minute shuttle service connects the two palaces.
Highclere Castle is only 50 minutes from Windsor Castle. It’s the country house home of the Earl of Carnarvon.
The castle is most famous, though, as the filming location for Downton Abbey, the hit British period TV series.
The castle is open seasonally, so check opening dates on the website before planning a visit. The best way to get to the castle is by car or by joining a tour.
This guided tour option includes a visit to Highclere Castle and other Downton Abbey filming locations. You can also book a guided tour from London that combines Highclere and Stonehenge.
If you’re driving, Blenheim Palace is also only an hour away from Windsor Castle. It’s a UNESCO heritage site that was built between 1705-22.
The palace is the seat of the dukes of Marlborough. It’s also the birthplace of Winston Churchill.
You can admire the opulent interior, which is stuffed with tapestries, statues, and fine period furniture. You’ll can also enjoy the superbly landscaped gardens.
Click here to book an entry ticket the the palace. If you’re staying in London, there are several guided tours you can consider:
- a private tour of Windsor, Blenheim, and Oxford
- a 10 hour Blenheim + Cotswolds tour
- a 6 hour private tour from London
- a 10 hour tour with the palace and Downton Abbey filming locations
Practical Guide & Tips For Visiting Windsor Castle
Address: Windsor SL4 1NJ
Hours: March to October 10:00 am to 5:15 pm, closing at 3:00 from November to February.
Ticket price: 26.50 pounds, 28.50 on Saturday. The ticket comes with a complimentary audio guide, which is narrated by none other than Charles, the Prince of Wales and the heir to the throne.
Semi-State Rooms: The Semi-State Rooms are closed from 29 March 2022 until autumn 2022. They usually are open from autumn to spring each year.
There is no photography permitted inside the castle or St. George’s Chapel, which is a tad disappointing. Photos of the interior above are stock photos.
The staff in the state rooms are incredibly knowledgeable. You can grill them for more information.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to visiting Windsor Castle. You may enjoy these other London travel guides and resources:
- 3 Day Itinerary for London
- 5 Day Itinerary for London
- Harry Potter Places in London
- Guide to the National Gallery of Art
- Guide to St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Guide to the Tate Britain
- Guide to Wesminster Abbey
- London Tourist Traps To Avoid
- Guide To Free Museums in London
- Guide to the Tower of London
- Guide to the Churchill War Rooms
If you’d need a guide for Windsor Castle, pin it for later.