London Day Trip: Windsor Castle and the Changing of the Guards

We love exploring castles. So, we welcomed a visit to England’s Windsor Castle, which was just outside of London. This was The Queen’s official residence and the world’s largest occupied castle. This visit was part of our day tour with Stonehenge and the Roman Baths. Come along with us on our brief visit to this working royal residence.

Windsor Castle tower

One of the first things we saw was “The Queen” which was a replica of the engine that used to pull Her Majesty’s train. We didn’t expect anything less fancy to signify a royal arrival.

Windsor The Queen Train

Our tour led us through the Windsor Royal Shopping arcade and the town before the gates of Windsor Castle. I really wished we had more time to spend here because they had some adorable shops.

Windsor Royal Shopping

Along the way, we passed by one of England’s iconic phone booths but with a twist. The colorful booth was painted with Duchess Kate, The Queen and Prince Harry.

Windsor Castle phone booth

These were the gates that welcomed us into the castle.

Windsor Castle entrance
St George, England’s patron saint,  is prominently displayed and common throughout the castle. St. George Gate welcomed us into the castle with a familiar carving of the saint slaying a dragon.

Windsor Castle St George gate

Before touring the rooms, we passed through gardens and walked along the castle wall. It was surprising to see how big this castle’s grounds were compared to how it looked from the outside. It wasn’t one building but a complex of separate buildings with various entrances.

Windsor Castle wall

I loved the lamp posts here. It was very fitting for a royal castle.

Windsoe castle lamp post

We did a self-guided tour with an audio guide through many of the rooms open to the public like the precincts and the state apartments. The State Apartments were opened to the public in 1845 during Queen Victoria’s reign. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside which was very disappointing.

Windsor castle entrance
Windsor Castle has been continuously occupied by various monarchs for almost 1,000 years. William the Conqueror chose this location which was meant to guard the western part of London. It was rebuilt in stone in 1170. Over the years, monarchs rebuilt, added and restored the castle to fit their tastes.

Windsor Castle towers
At some point, Windsor Castle was also used as a prison and parliamentary forces’ headquarters. We passed by some cannons and artillery along the wall.

Windsor castle cannons
The Round Tower looms over the the castle complex. We saw the Union Jack flag flying high above and our guide told us this meant The Queen was not here during our visit. The Royal Standard flag flies high above when she is in residence. The tower is open for tours during August and September and visitors can climb the 200 steps to the top for some panoramic views of the area.

Windsor Castle tower

Windsor Castle has been a private home to Queen Elizabeth II since she was a child. She still spends most weekends here. The Queen also uses the castle to host foreign dignitaries, presidents and monarchs.

Windsor Castle

In 1992, a major fire broke out in the Private Chapel that started with a spotlight and a curtain. One-and-a-half million water gallons and 15 hours later, the fire damaged or destroyed about one-fifth of the castle area which included over 100 rooms.

Windsor Castle garden
It took over five years to repair and restore the castle and cost £37 million (US $59.2 million). Surprisingly, it was six months ahead of their schedule and was £3 million below budget. The taxpayers also didn’t have to pay a cent since most of the cost was raised from admission fees to Buckingham Palace’s state rooms during the late summer. Don’t we wish many government projects were this efficient?

Windsor Castle tower

We saw some of the repaired rooms from the fire. If the audio guide didn’t tell us this bit of information, we wouldn’t have known. They did an outstanding job in recreating the rooms to their former glory.

Windsor Castle

My daughter and I loved Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. This doll house was in its own room on a 6 feet square table. The miniatures inside, which were on a one inch to one foot (1:12) scale, were incredible. It was hard to believe the artisty and skill involved in creating all those pieces. Artwork was painted by famous artists and special tiny books were written by popular authors to include in the library.

800px-Queen_Mary's_doll_house_at_Windsor_Castle

Photo credit: Wikipedia.org

We enjoyed wandering through the castle and seeing the ornate rooms and the splendor of the royals. It felt like a museum and there were also many paintings from famed masters like Rembrandt and Rubens. I really wanted to spend more time here and examine things closely but felt so rushed with the time constraint we were given. It was one of the pitfalls of the tour. My son wanted a picture with knights which are his school mascot so we obliged.

Windsor castle knights
We also managed to sneak in this one picture of St. George’s Hall which had many knight decorations and where the Order of the Garter ceremony is held. It is Britain’s Highest Order of Chivalry. This hall is also used for state banquets.

Windsor castle hall

It’s hard to miss the beautiful St. George’s Chapel on the grounds of the castle.

Windsor St George Chapel

This medieval building is where 10 British kings are buried including Henry VIII. It was simply stunning inside and of course, we couldn’t take pictures again.

Windsor Castle St George Chapel

The buildings across the quadrangle were off limits to visitors. I’m assuming this is the family residence.

Windsor Castle
The guards were prominently stationed on their posts. We saw the E R initials in many places around London and were told it stood for Elizabeth Regina. Regina being the Latin word for Queen.

Windsor Castle guard

One of the reasons we were also rushing with the tour was because we really wanted to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Lower Ward at 11 AM.

Windsor castle Changing of guards
The highlight during my kids’ visit was seeing the changing of the guards here. We saw the popular and very crowded changing of the guards ceremony at Buckingham Palace a few days before but we felt this was an overall better experience.

windsor castle guard ceremony

Buckingham was so crowded we never got to see the ceremony and only saw the guards marching. Sure, there were a lot of people here too but most people had a good vantage points. My kids found spots in the front despite coming in late and witnessed the ceremony they really wanted to see.

Windsor castle guard audience
We loved watching the rituals and how formal this whole exchange that has been in place for centuries. The marching band also gave a wonderful performance and accompaniment to the event.

Windsor Castle guard band
We were close enough to see just how furry those bearskin hats were and how sharp their weapons look. You don’t want to stand too close to those guards.

Windsor Castle Guards uniform
My son was happy to get this one picture with all the guards before we had to leave and security told us we had to move. The ceremony lasts about 30 minutes. As we were leaving the castle, people were lined up along the streets to watch the band and the guards march out.

Windsor castle with kids
Despite our limited time at the Windsor Castle, we really enjoyed our visit to The Queen’s residence. It was a beautiful castle and touring the state apartments felt like stepping back in time with a lot of history lesson thrown in. We loved the expansive grounds and to be close enough to the most popular monarch family’s home. It made for a lovely day trip from London.

Windsor Castle with kids

Visiting Windsor Castle Tips and Basics

  • If possible, visit Windsor Castle on your own and not as part of a tour. We really felt rushed and didn’t see everything we wanted to see. The audio guides were a tremendous help so you can do a self-guided tour at your own pace.
  • Get the free family audio tour if you’re visiting with kids. My kids really enjoyed listening to this guide with characters to follow along.
  • Admission Prices: Adult £17.75 ($28.50 US); Kids (17 years old and under) £10.60 ($17 US); Kids 5 and under are free; Family ticket £46.50 ($75 US) (2 adults and 3 kids under 17). Our tickets were included in our tour but these tickets were a bit pricey compared to other European castles.
  • Pre-purchase tickets in advance to skip the lines.
  • Combined castle entrance and train fares are available at some London train stations.
  • The London Pass includes free access to the castle and no lining up at the ticket counter.
  • Purchased tickets can be used for up to one year of admission into the castle. Get your ticket stamped by the Warden to turn it into a complimentary one-year pass and return again. We wish we lived closer to London.
  • As expected, visitors go through an airport type security before entering the castle gates.
  • St. George’s Chapel is closed on Sundays for services.
  • There are no refreshment facilities anywhere within the Castle walls. Bring snacks and water. Though, there were many stores and restaurants outside the gates and at Windsor Royal Shopping.

*Have you visited Windsor Castle? Favorite Changing of the Guards ceremony?

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