This article was published on May 28th, 2017
Just a 40-minute train ride west of London lies one of the best tourist sites in the United Kingdom. Windsor Castle, the preferred royal weekend getaway home of Queen Elizabeth, is the largest fully inhabited operating castle in the world. A trip to jolly ol’ England wouldn’t be complete without an extraordinary day trip to Windsor Castle.
Built by William the Conqueror after the Norman invasion of England in the 11th century, the castle was originally part of a ring of fortifications surrounding and protecting London. King Henry I became the first monarch to use Windsor Castle as a royal residence in 1110 and it has been used by every monarch of England ever since—making it the longest lived-in castle in all of Europe. It is one of three official residences of Queen Elizabeth II and has over 900 years of royal history.
Windsor Castle is picturesque and fairytale-like. It’s like you could expect to see dragons, knights, and other fantasy characters in a ‘where dreams come true’ setting. In reality, the palace has survived centuries of history and has hosted some of the most famous of English people including Henry VIII, Shakespeare, Cromwell, and Queen Elizabeth I. The castle survived the English civil war in 1600s, was the base of negotiations for King John in signing the Magna Carta nearby, was the center of the Victorian government, survived the German Luftwaffe bombings during World War II, and a devastating fire in 1992.
Outside the castle grounds, you can view the old Windsor town, and inside, you can wander the 13 acres that the castle occupies. Highlights include St. George’s Chapel, the final resting place of 10 queens and kings and a model of gothic architecture in England, the changing of the guard every morning, the state apartments which serve as official meeting places and art galleries, containing works from artists like Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Rubens, and Canaletto, the staterooms, some of the finest examples of Georgian interiors in the UK. The highlight is Queen Mary’s dollhouse, the most famous dollhouse in the world; it is a replica of Windsor Castle containing real flushing toilets and electrical features that took 3 years and 1,500 people to make.
Windsor Castle has been beautifully restored to its original grandeur and splendor and sees about 1 million tourists each year. A new renovation to be finished by 2018 will see a visitor center added as well as equipping the castle with hydro-electric power. An essential part of a royal site-seeing tour of England that includes Buckingham Palace, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood House, and Kensington Palace, to name a few and is easily reached from London. Outside the castle, there are plenty of shops and restaurants, making a full day out of visiting easier.
Get the most out of your visit to Windsor Castle, an essential destination in England, by pre-planning your trip to the London area with Visit Britain.