Travels: Gone with the Windsor

The opportunity to travel and realise a brand new world was the inspiration for relocating my life to London. I’ve always lived in countries that have been part of the Commonwealth, so in a way, it feels like a pilgrimage to the motherland. My only time north of the hemisphere has been fleeting and insufficient. So with visa in hand and always a plan, I made my way to the UK earlier this year.

One of the aspects I’ve been most looking forward to (outside of eating) is getting to know more places. Even if it is smaller, more local ones like Windsor. These are places I’ve only heard about in books and movies. Every journey and destination offers something new, and I can’t wait to see, snap and write about them all. The Windsor outing was a last minute scramble for an adventure out of the city with my friend Arielle. Our time together was (maybe) coming to an end, so we wanted to make sure we had one trip done at least!

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Summary

Windsor is a historic market town, located 37km from London city. This is the site of Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the British royal family. We spent about half a day there doing a tour of the castle as well as a stroll towards Eton. In a similar vein, Eton’s known for being the home of Eton College. Much of the royal family has been educated here. Most of our time in Windsor was at the castle on our day.

Planning

Getting to Windsor is a nice excursion for a spontaneous mind. We organised the itinerary the evening before. We purchased a combined rail and castle pass via Southwest trains at Paddington on the day. This pass reduces the cost for the Castle entry to £16.90 (from £20.50) and the tickets cost us about £10. The best part of this pass was avoiding the queues at the attraction itself. It looked to be about 15 minutes to get through. Note that this pass is only purchasable in-person, so do allow some time to get through the queue at the station.  The special pass is ineligible for the 1-year pass conversion. That’s if you buy a full price ticket you can get it upgraded to a year pass by signing away the cost as a donation. Arriving at Windsor is easy as you can take any train in or out. Do try to aim for a train that’s direct, otherwise it’s a chunky extra 20 minutes ride time.

windsor1

Attractions

The main one attraction in this town is of course, Windsor Castle. If you do have children, a wallet and a patient mind, then Legoland Windsor is another viable option. There is a shuttle available to Legoland, as it’s not in walking distance. There’s mixed feedback on Tripadvisor for Legoland. The general consensus is that it would be tough to tick off both attractions (Castle/ Legoland) in a single day. Best kept for the kids.

Windsor Castle

Try and aim for a good day of sunshine for a day out at Windsor, a lot of the tour happens outside in the open. The first half of the tour involves exploring the outside. Make sure to get lots of snaps of all the majestic architectural features. It took us about the three hours prescribed in the website. One of the key buildings, St George’s Chapel, isn’t open on a Sunday (due to services). That makes it somewhat more worthwhile going for other days of the week for a visit.

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We would recommend joining one of the Precinct tours that depart near the entrance. It wasn’t the most entertaining of ones we’ve done, but it good to get some more history on the area. Regardless if you do that or not, check out one of the multimedia guide things. This lets you select audio commentary for features around and inside the castle. We had some technical difficulties with a lot of the consoles, but once working it does the trick. Make sure your one is working so you don’t have to come back. I had to swap about half a dozen times before I found one with working headphones. I enjoyed the info relayed on the console and it does help slow you down so you can take everything in.

Whilst outside, do grab some ice-cream to enjoy. We hearted the boysenberry and clotted cream flavour especially. There isn’t much to eat here, so it pays to have some snacks packed. For lunch we hit up Nandos around the corner, none of the other eating options stood out to us. This is touristy town of course, but traditional pubs were in droves.

The queue for Queen’s Mary doll’s house is where the rest of the interior tour continues. And for the most part it’s a no cameras affair. We saw the changing of the guard during the wait, which was a welcome break from the queueing. The thoughtful layout of the Windsor Castle tour is logical so you can’t miss seeing any of the rooms. A few seats is relief for a moment’s reprieve for your feet. The grandiose features of the State Apartments are impressive. After wrapping up 900 years of history we did one final lap of the outside before heading to…

Eton

We had wanted to also check out Eton with the time we had left, and it fit the bill. Other than Windsor Castle, there didn’t appear to be too many must-do sites in the area. So a stroll along the college sounded perfect. Of course, it’s a school so there’s hardly too much to see, but we enjoyed sitting on the grass.  Watching the world go by for a few leisurely moments with an idle and fleeting snooze.

Upon reflection

Windsor (and Eton) was a great day out. It’s a low cost, last minute excursion that felt rewarding for busy feet and an inquiring mind. Being a working castle, a fair chunk of the areas are inaccessible to the public. The spectacular rooms of Windsor Castle impressed us and  it was also nice to learn more about British royalty history.  A clear sky made the rest of the time as enjoyable, with an easy commute there and back.

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