The very word “Windsor”, instantly calls to mind the British Royal Family, as the name of the Royal House currently on the throne.
Thirty-nine monarchs have lived at the enormous Windsor Castle since it was raised as a royal palace by Henry I more than 900 years ago.
Step into this storied palace for an audio tour narrated by Prince Charles himself, and visit St George’s Chapel, scene of royal weddings, funerals and the tombs of monarchs known the world over.
Windsor Great Park is an equally vast former hunting ground, obligatory for the Long Walk and its sensational view back to the castle.
The Thames River, traced by romantic water meadows, has its own appeal, while there are museums, sights and cultural venues to keep you occupied in the market town.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Windsor:
1. Windsor Castle
Europe’s longest-occupied palace, Windsor Castle has been a residence for the English and British Royal Family since the reign of Henry I at the start of the 12th century.
At 13 acres Windsor Castle is also the largest inhabited castle in the world, with some 500 people living and working here.
There’s a good chance that the Queen will be home when you visit, and her presence will be indicated by the Royal Standard flag.
A monument on this scale can be daunting, but there are a few sights and experiences to prioritise.
The State Apartments have been home to 39 monarchs and owe their current Baroque decor to Charles II who wanted his quarters to rival Versailles.
Art by Rubens, Rembrandt and Canaletto graces these walls.
The theatrical Semi-State Rooms from the reign of George IV are used for official receptions by the Queen and have been restored after a fire in 1992.
2. St George’s Chapel
Included in the ticket to Windsor Castle is one of the masterworks of English Gothic architecture, infused with centuries of royal history.
St George’s Chapel was ordered by King Edward III in the 14th century and was augmented in the century that followed.
The stupendous fan vaulting in the choir dates from that period, as do the iron gates in the sanctuary, forged by the 15th-century metalsmith John Tresilian.
Dozens of royal funerals have taken place at St George’s Chapel, and the tombs of Henry VIII, Edward IV, George III, Charles I and the Queen Mother are all here , to name a small fraction, at the altar, Royal Vault, choir, Gloucester Vault and memorial chapels.
Beginning in 1863 with the future King Edward VII, a long line of Royal Weddings have taken place at St George’s Chapel, including Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018.
3. Windsor Great Park
Leaving Windsor Castle from the south you can strike out on the Long Walk, a dead straight 2.65 mile path, continuously flanked by rows of trees and leading into rolling, 5,000-acre Great park.
This land was the private hunting ground for Windsor Castle from the middle of the 13th century and there’s still a large herd of semi-wild deer towards the northern end of the park.
At the southern end of the Long Walk is Snow Hill, topped with a copper statue of King George III in Roman attire and with a jaw-dropping view back to the castle in the distance.
It’s impossible to see everything in Windsor Great Park, and many of its royal properties are private, but you could drive round to view the flower displays in the Valley Gardens and Virginia Water lake and its man-made waterfall.
4. Savill Garden
Within Windsor Great Park is an enclosed garden planted in the 1930s by the park manager Sir Eric Savill and opened to the public in 1951. The garden charges a small entrance fee and has plenty to enjoy, like trees planted by royal family members, a New Zealand garden and the Queen Elizabeth Temperate House.
The Queen was present in 2010 to open a contemporary rose garden, which can be enjoyed from an elevated walkway.
Also recent is the sinuous visitor centre, the Savill Building (2006), containing a restaurant, shop, garden centre, seminar and endowed with superb views over the gardens from its raised terrace.
5. Theatre Royal
Britain’s only unsubsidised producing theatre to function all year round, the Theatre Royal (1910) is an elegant Edwardian venue with a very large repertoire.
It sits between the castle and the Thames and has musicals, well-reviewed plays, dance, comedy acts, touring bands, kids’ shows and cover acts.
The director is Bill Kenwright, a high-regarded West End producer In the advent period there’s an annual traditional pantomime, which is held as one of the best in the UK.
Windsor’s ceremonious English Baroque town hall was completed in 1689. After its previous architect died, the project was taken over by Sir Christopher Wren, who grew up in Windsor.
In a niche above the arcade on the east side there’s a memorial statue to Prince George of Denmark, the husband of Queen Anne, added in 1713, five years after his death.
The Guildhall is licensed to hold weddings, and hosted one of the UK’s first same sex civil partnership ceremonies in December 2005, between Elton John and David Furnish, while Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were wed here several months earlier.
7. Windsor and Royal Borough Museum
This small but absorbing museum was installed in the Guildhall in 2011 and has archaeological and natural history exhibits unearthed around east Berkshire.
On display are a mammoth’s tusk dating back 100,000 years, prehistoric tools and objects from the Bronze Age, Roman times and Anglo-Saxon period.
The museum also has figurines, paintings, busts, military regalia and every day utensils relating to Windsor and the Thames, from the early 19th century to the present day.
8. River Thames
Up to the 1800s the Thames was the main thoroughfare for the English monarchs, navigating between Windsor Castle, Westminster, Hampton Court, the Tower of London and Greenwich Palace.
So it would only be right to spend some time on the river, and even more so if it’s a sunny day.
Windsor Borough has 20 miles of Thames riverside and on the banks you can take a cruise with French Brothers Boats, hire a motorboat or rowboat with John Logie or go on a guided kayak trip with London Kayak Tours.
The ever-popular Windsor Duck Tours is a sightseeing trip on an amphibious vehicle dividing its time between road and river.
Or you might decide to stay on dry land and walk a piece of the National Trail, heading southeast to Runnymede, or west past the Brocas Meadows to Dorney Lake, which hosted the 2012 Olympic rowing and canoe spring events.
9. St John the Baptist Church
On the high street, St John the Baptist Church stands where a church has stood since at least long ago as the reign of Henry II in the second half of the 12th century.
That Norman building was sadly torn town in the 1810s because of the cost of repair works, and this new monument was consecrated in 1822. Many of the monuments from the old church were rehoused in the new one, and on the west and south walls of the nave there are 16th and 17th-century stone memorials to a mason, mayor and guardsman.
In the West Gallery is a Baroque painting of the Last Supper, a national treasure, although the artist is unknown.
It may be the work of the German-born Francis Cleyn, and was kept at St George’s Chapel for more than a century before George III donated it to this church.
This water meadow three miles southeast of Windsor is the place where King John sealed the Magna Carta in 1215. This charter created the English parliament and was an early, and very small step towards freedom through law, as it granted a group of Rebel Barons protection from illegal imprisonment, limited payments to the crown and safeguarded church rights.
This location’s value has been recognised with monuments, both in the meadow and on Cooper’s Hill to the west.
There are ceremonial tree plantings, an Air Force memorial, a monument to John F. Kennedy and the Magna Carta Memorial by the American Bar Association and unveiled in 1957. The National Trust maintains two walking trails in this landscape, through pasture, wildflower meadows and ancient woodland.
11. Eton College Natural History Museum
Cross the Thames and you’ll be on the high street of Windsor’s twin town of Eton.
This place is synonymous with Eton College, an independent boarding school founded in 1440 and with a prestigious alumni list that includes David Cameron, one of 19 Old Etonians prime ministers.
On Sunday afternoons Eton College welcomes the public to its Natural History Museum, which opened in 1875 and has a riveting assortment of specimens like bird eggs, fossils and insects, together scientific artefacts in its glass cabinets.
There’s a very rare page from Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, and pieces relating to an Old Etonian, Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist who sailed with Captain James Cook on the First Voyage of Discovery.
12. Fudge Kitchen
On Thames Street in Windsor you may be tempted by the cute Fudge Kitchen shopfront.
This company makes fudge on the premises in all sorts of flavours, from salted caramel to maple walnut.
Behind the small shop floor is a larger fudge-making area, where you’ll be able to go back, see the fudge being made and ask a few questions of the enthusiastic staff.
The Fudge Kitchen also organises more in-depth fudge-making experiences, when you can sample all the different flavours, learn about the fudge’s history and try making some fudge to take home.
13. Legoland Windsor
In the top ten most-visited theme parks in Europe Legoland is of course themed on the world-famous Lego toy system.
It’s a day out for kids between the ages of 3 and 12 and has rides, shows, amusements and shops across 12 themed “lands”. Miniland for instance is a miniature park with monuments like St Paul’s Cathedral at a 1:20 scale, using a total of 40 million bricks.
Duplo Valley is for the youngest children, while at Lego City allows children to control a Lego fire engine and drive their own car at the City Driving School.
14. National Trust Cliveden
Traffic permitting, this princely estate lies about 15 minutes northwest of Windsor and is one of the National Trust’s most visited properties.
After the previous house burnt down in 1795, the current Cliveden House is a three-storey Italianate mansion over a magnificent terrace pavilion, balustraded stairways and fronting a formal parterre.
It was the work of Charles Barry, most famous for the reconstruction of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament). Cliveden House is an extremely plush country house hotel, but can be visited on 30-minute tours to view the stately decor and hear about former guests like Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin.
Around the house are five formal gardens, an enormous yew tree maze and acres of woodland to wander in.
15. Royal Windsor Horse Show
The Home Park is the venue for the largest outdoor horse show in the UK, taking place across five days early or mid-May.
The event stages international competition in three different equestrian disciplines: Show jumping, dressage and carriage driving, while there’s “National Showing” and a two-star endurance event.
The show is a favourite of the Queen’s and coincides with her birthday celebrations.
Coinciding with the main competitive events are military cavalry and horse artillery demonstrations and the Shetland Pony Grand National, a jump race ridden by child jockeys every day in the arena.
An abundance of equestrian-oriented companies and upmarket clothing and accessories brands also set up stalls during the show.