Set on the banks of the River Thames and dominated by its grand hilltop castle, the Royal Borough of Windsor has over 1000 years of history to explore. It’s a popular day trip from London, but there’s more than enough to do in Windsor to make a weekend of it. And you’ll be in good company if you do – it’s one of the Queen’s favourite weekend getaways. So follow in the footsteps of royalty with this 48-hour itinerary for a weekend in Windsor, featuring castles, cake, deer-filled parks, beers and boat trips as we ‘Rediscover the Royal Borough’.
AD: My visit was hosted by Visit Windsor, but all views are my own.
How to spend a weekend in Windsor
Windsor’s only 30 miles west of London, and is easy to get to by train. Frequent services run between London Paddington and Windsor and Eton Central station (35 minutes) or from London Waterloo to Windsor and Eton Riverside station (50 minutes), both close to the town centre. You can also easily get to Windsor from Heathrow airport by either bus or train.
Once you arrive in Windsor, check in to the M Gallery Castle Hotel on the High Street. It’s just a few minutes away from Windsor Castle and opposite the Guildhall where Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles got married. The hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Windsor and started life as the Mermaid Inn, brewing beer and cider for Windsor residents.
Over its history it’s been awarded eight royal warrants for supplying goods or services to the Royal Household and hosted the Duke of Wellington after his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. Today it’s a relaxed, friendly boutique hotel. The 108 guest rooms have a smart, contemporary feel, but there’s plenty of original character – and some great castle views.
Call into the hotel bar for a pre-dinner drink – their Mermaid cocktail is inspired by the hotel’s days as a brewery and uses hop vodka and barley liquor. Then have dinner at the Marco Pierre White Restaurant, serving posh versions of British classic dishes like shepherd’s pie or haddock and triple-cooked chips, made with local, seasonal produce.
Next morning, start your weekend in Windsor with an insider’s guide to the town from Windsor Tourist Guides. Their private guided walking tours are customisable so you can tailor them to suit your interests. Our one-hour tour with Blue Badge Guide Amanda took us to the castle, the river and the old heart of Windsor.
Along the way we heard interesting stories from the town’s 1000-year history and tips on where best to spot the Queen when she’s in town. We also discovered some of Windsor’s unique sights, from a crooked house which housed the oldest tearoom in England to a rare blue Royal Mail post box which was originally used for air mail letters.
Then take a walk in Windsor Great Park. This giant park stretches over 4,800 acres, and was the private hunting ground of Windsor Castle for centuries. Now open to the public it’s a favourite with runners, walkers and a herd of 500 red deer who’ve made it their home after being introduced by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1979 – and don’t mind posing for photos. It’s particularly atmospheric on misty mornings when they’re silhouetted against the trees.
Stroll along the tree-lined Long Walk with its neatly manicured lawns and ancient oak trees, which were starting to turn gold and red when we visited. The Long Walk runs for 2.7 miles from Windsor Castle’s George IV Gate to the Copper Horse statue on the top of Snow Hill – which legend has it is where Henry VIII waited for news of Anne Boleyn’s execution.
Retrace your steps back along the Long Walk into Windsor (it’s 45 minutes each way to walk to the Copper Horse) – with fantastic views of the path stretching off towards the Castle along the way. Call into the Two Brewers for lunch, a flower-decked 18th-century pub just outside the park gates on what was originally the main road from Windsor to London. They do a range of chunky sandwiches with chips at lunchtime as well as classic pub grub.
Then spend the afternoon at Windsor Castle (entry £23.50 adults/£21.20 over 60s/£13.50 under 17s, and you must pre-book in advance). This awe-inspiring building is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, built in the 11th century for William the Conqueror.
The castle over 1000 rooms – though only a fraction are open to the public as it’s still used by the Queen. If you want to know if she’s at home, then check the Round Tower and if you see the Royal Standard flag flying then it means she’s in residence. Tour the lavish State Apartments, decorated with sparkling chandeliers, gilded mirrors and swags of rich fabrics, and filled with antique furniture, suits of armour and priceless artworks.
A large section of the palace was damaged in a devastating fire in 1992 but has been lovingly restored. Don’t miss Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a mini aristocrat’s house designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, and call in to the café, where you’ll often find delicately crafted cakes originally created for the latest Queen’s Garden Party on the menu.
In the grounds of the Castle, and covered by the same entrance ticket, St George’s Chapel is the home of the Order of The Garter – England’s grandest Order of Chivalry whose 24 members are chosen by the Queen. Ten kings and many other members of the Royal Family are buried in the chapel, and it’s also hosted a string of royal weddings in a beautiful setting with its Gothic vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows.
And once you’ve finished at the chapel, drink a toast to Harry and Meghan, the latest royal couple to get married there, at the Queen Charlotte. The pub created a special gin called the Gin&’er to mark the occasion, flavoured with lemon peel, lime flower and (of course) plenty of ginger. Then head to Sebastian’s for dinner, an cosy Italian restaurant tucked away on Goswell Hill that does delicious wood-fired pizzas, pasta and other Italian dishes.
Start your Sunday with a post-breakfast boat trip along the river with French Brothers. Pick up a bag of swan food while you wait for the tour to start and you’ll be instantly popular with the hoardes of swans who gather on the riverbank. Windsor’s swans are counted in an annual ceremony known as the Swan Upping which has taken place for hundreds of years. Half of the swans belong to the Queen, and the others are shared between two London Guilds.
The 40-minute boat trip takes you along the Thames as far as the Boveney Lock and Weir, and there’s also a longer two-hour tour available. It’s a relaxing way to let the scenery float past you, with a commentary pointing out local landmarks and great views of Windsor Castle, the Brocas Meadows and Windsor’s unusual island racecourse along the way.
Back on dry land, cross the Windsor Bridge to neighbouring Eton and call in to The George Inn, the flagship pub of the Windsor and Eton Brewery. The brewery was founded in 2010 and has already won over 60 awards for its beers, which are made using barley grown on the Windsor Farm. You can try them out along with a traditional Sunday lunch.
Then finish off your weekend in Windsor with a walk through the pretty streets of Eton. The town is home to one of the world’s most famous schools – Eton College. This exclusive (and expensive) boys boarding school was founded in 1440 by Henry VI and it has a long list of famous ex-pupils, including Princes William and Harry and 20 British Prime Ministers.
You can’t go inside the college but you can see some of its buildings at the end of the High Street, including the College chapel. Eton’s High Street is lined with small independent shops selling antiques, jewellery, art, vintage books and College uniforms. And you might spot some of the pupils in their distinctive black tailcoat and white tie as you walk around.
Finally head back to Windsor for a final stop at Windsor Royal Station. This Victorian railway station was used by Queen Victoria, who had her own waiting room on the platform – it’s now a branch of All Bar One, but has kept some of its original features, including Victoria’s private toilet! The building houses Windsor and Eton Central railway station as well as upscale shops which you can browse before catching the train back home.
Have you visited Windsor? Do you have any tips to add on what to see, do and eat?
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