Best Day Trip From London
First of all, let’s get this straight: London is NOT the kind of city you wanna flee from! In fact, the capital of England has so many things to see and do, you could spend several months (even years) exploring all it has to offer. Still, if you’re visiting the city and are looking for a day trip, then a visit to Windsor Castle is in order. Considered the British royal family’s favourite weekend home, this huge castle is actually the current holder of two records that clearly show its mighty history and unquestionable importance to the country. First, having been built in the 11th century, it’s the longest-occupied castle in Europe. On the other hand, with over 500 residents, it’s still the largest inhabited castle in the world, which shows: a) the level of maintenance its grounds require; b) how funny it must be to analyze the royal family’s payroll.
Located just 40km-away from the nation’s capital and with great public transportation accessibility, Windsor Castle is not only the best but also the easiest day trip from London!
HOW TO GET THERE
Piece of cake! Windsor can be easily reached by train from London. First you need to get to Paddington, a central station that serves both the train and metro systems, which means it’s very easy to find. Then, get inside a train heading to Slough and leave at the station with the same name, where you’ll commute between trains. Finally, all you have to do is enter the train heading to Windsor Eton & Central and once again leave at the terminus. Once you exit the station, you’ll see the castle right in front of you!
The trip takes 30-40 minutes and a return ticket might cost between £10 and £14, depending on the time of your journey. If you manage to avoid rush hours and weekends, your ticket will end up being cheaper.
Just like every other paid-attraction in London, tickets are fairly expensive:
Standard Adult Ticket: £20.50
Students and People Over 60: £18.70
Under 17: £12.00
Under 5: FREE
WHAT TO SEE
The castle will impress you from the minute you lay your eyes upon it, as its size is just massive and the high walls give it a fortress-like look. After buying the tickets you’ll follow a signed path that will lead you to the visitors Entrance where you’ll get a taste of what’s to come. The medieval architecture and the gates are great welcome cards and will instantly put you on the mood for the rest of your adventure.
Once you pass the last gate at the entrance you’ll reach the Middle Ward, from where you can access every other area in the castle. As you can tell by its name, this is the ground’s central platform and also where the Round Tower – one of Windsor’s most iconic sights – is located. Already a pretty big structure originally, the tower was built atop a 15-meters high artificial hill and expanded by 9 meters in the 19th century, giving its height a serious boost. If you’re visiting in the Summer, you can actually climb the tower’s 200 steps and get great views of the surroundings, though that will cost you about 3 extra pounds over your entrance rate. As for the section of the hill which isn’t occupied by the tower, it’s usually decorated with beautiful gardens.
Head down and you’ll find yourself in the Lower Ward. Dominated by St. George’s Chapel (more on that later), this section of the grounds is strongly associated with the priests and knights that once lived there. In one side of the ward there’s the Horseshoe Cloister and the Curfew Tower, where the clergy members lived and the castle’s bells are still located, while on the other side you’ll find the set of buildings that served as rooms for the Military Knights. It’s also in the Lower Ward that the famous Changing of the Guard takes place!
After exploring this area just walk back up until you finally reach the Upper Ward, where the State Apartments are located. Besides the lavishing rooms which we’ll detail further ahead, this Ward is mostly known for its terraces, access gates and the huge square-like yard completely enclosed by castle buildings. We recommend checking the North and East Terraces where you can enjoy views over River Thames, the castle’s gardens, and even part of the city of Windsor.
Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside the State Apartments, but since we’re discussing the assets and inheritance of what is perhaps the most iconic monarchy in the world, you can imagine the treasures hiding behind those walls. We’re talking about the kind of historic and decorative objects you could sell on e-bay, move to sunny Bahamas and spend the rest of your life snorkeling in the sand! Not just that, but the rooms’ architecture is also worth of notice. You’ll be walking through adjoining rooms and feeling like you’re moving between completely different castles since most of these were designed in different styles. The cherry on top is Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a mini-model of an early 20th century mansion offered to the grandmother of the current regent - Queen Elizabeth II.
ST. GEORGE'S CHAPEL
When you think of great European castle complexes, you’ll realize most of them include a major place of worship - just look at the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague or the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow! Although St. George’s Chapel may not be as imposing as the previous two (remember it’s a chapel while the others are cathedrals), its interiors are far more detailed and the atmosphere much quainter than its eastern counterparts. The only con? They won’t let you take pictures! Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually quite respectful towards these rules in tourist attractions, but this time I really had to hold myself back. This was a pity to be honest, because quite frankly I consider St. George’s Chapel one of the most beautiful places of worship I’ve ever seen…now that I think about it, maybe one or two snaps would have been worth having that grumpy old lady berate me.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
If you’re visiting Windsor on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday, make sure to stand at the Lower Ward by 11h00 to see the iconic Changing of the Guard. All the spectacle one would expect from a group of fully-grown men marching in perfectly synchronized moves while dressed in uniforms of dubious taste. Great stuff!
Finally, give Windsor a chance and at least explore the area next to the castle. You can wander through the surrounding streets, check out the train station and pay a visit to the Windsor Parish Church, the Theatre Royal and the Masonic Hall. For the adventurers reading us, we recommend doing the Long Walk, a straight 4km path through the Windsor Great Park that leads to the castle’s entrance. If you have plenty of time in your hands, this is by far the most pleasant and atmospheric way of accessing Windsor Castle.
It’s a no brainer! You may visit Bath or Oxford, but if you’re looking for a simple detour, the Windsor Castle is undoubtedly the best day trip from London. Have you ever visited this wonderful castle? What other day trips do you recommend? Let us know on the comments below!