This week we planned a day out to Windsor castle as a way to celebrate the summer holidays and learn more about the history and heritage of our fine country. Despite living less than an hour away from Windsor, we’d never been to the castle as it’s all too easy to over exhaust the local cinema, indoor play and park. I’ve therefore made it a priority for this year to explore the amazing attractions across Great Britain, filling the children with wonderment, excitement and a passion for learning and discovery.
Windsor castle is situated on a magnificent hill at the top of a sleepy traditional cobbled street; flags, gift shops, restaurants, cafes, tour buses and ice cream stalls all greet you on the lead up of the short walk from the car park on the main road. Windsor Castle doesn’t have a public car park as it was built in 1070 when horses ruled the roads, however there are plenty of outdoor car parks within a stones throw which cost around £5.00 for a full days parking. It seems that no matter where you stand in Windsor the castle is visible, and the closer we got to it the louder the whoops and cheers became from my six year old daughter Millie and two year old son Gabriele. It started off as “Look Mummy! I can see the castle up there!” and the closer we got it became “Wow, that is BIG!” “It’s ginormous!” and my favourite, “Where did they find ten zillion stones to build it Mummy?”
We then saw the changing of the Queen’s Guards at 11am, where the road is closed off and hundreds of people gather round to see the foot soldiers march up to the castle in traditional red tunics and bearskin hats with a full marching band and the children loved it. The entrance to the castle is up a set of steps into a queuing hall which is roped off for ticket and non-ticket holders. It’s a good idea to purchase your tickets online if you’d like to avoid the queues on the day, although when we visited during the week the queues were moving pretty well, but little ones can sometimes get impatient having to wait. After the ticket booth we then moved through to the security check, which is exactly like at an airport with metal detectors and baggage scanning. Windsor Castle is part of the Royal Collection and the official residences and weekend home of The Queen and The Prince Of Wales, so police and guards are also situated throughout and no photography, phones or food and drink are allowed inside any of the buildings. Windsor castle is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world, founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century and home to thirty-nine monarchs.
Wandering around the castle grounds was simply enchanting, and it left us of all ages in awe. The sheer size of the castle is breathtaking, with fairytale like towers, beautiful windows steeped in ivy and rolling green hills and views across the whole of Windsor. There are little gift shops tucked away throughout, selling lovely souvenirs from pocket money keyrings, teddy bears, chocolates, t-shirts, books and even fine bone china tea sets. Millie chose a beautiful boxed coronation crown which cost £12.95 to put on her bedroom shelf as a wonderful memento. We also had a few pots of Royal milk ice cream for £3.50 each before stopping for a picnic of cheese and cucumber sandwiches and fruit on the lawn.
The inside of the castle was even more spectacular than the outside, which the public are not permitted to photograph, but we have an official book for £5.00 which shows all of the rooms that we visited as a lovely keepsake. If you imagine a Disney castle from childhood and then times it by ten for grandeur and beauty then it still wouldn’t come close to Windsor castle. It is every little Prince and Princess’s dream, with rolling gold encrusted staircases, enormous twinkling crystal chandeliers, giant sized gilded mirrors, intricate art works and tapestries, glistening suits of armour, life size horse statues, swords, crowns and maps. The ceilings reach up to the sky and every room is a feast for the eyes, steeped in history and an incredible experience to explore, furnished with fine treasures from The Royal Collection, masterpieces and works of art by Rubens and Holbein hanging alongside fine English and French furniture. From the State Apartments to Saint George’s Chapel and The Great Kitchen, the castle is frequently used for formal events by the Royal Family. The Semi State Rooms created by George IV are the most richly decorated interiors in the castle, used by the Queen for official entertaining. And the Drawings Gallery houses the finest 18th century watercolours and works of art in the very place that they were created. There are free handsets available with headphones that guide you around each of the many rooms of the castle, explaining the history, features and pieces throughout and the experience is incredible. There really is something for all ages.
We then headed to the craft room where the theme of Fair Ladies and Noble Knights was celebrated by children decorating their own armour or henin – a conical Princess hat with a veil flowing from the top. I have to confess that I loved leafing through the sequins, tissue paper, material, ribbons and colours to help the children over to a table and chairs where they designed and decorated each piece. Millie made a beautiful purple henin with ribbons and a Princess hand drawn onto the front, and Gabriele coloured a soldiers helmet whilst nibbling on our snacks of sliced apple and cereals. There are various events held throughout the year, with themed activity trails, workshops, dressing up, storytelling, and talks and demonstration on armour making. Finally we finished with a tour of Queen Mary’s Dolls House where the most amazing house, a masterpiece in miniature, stood in a glass case, lit up like a jewel and filled with tiny tables and roll top baths and a pretty garden. It took three years for 1,500 craftsmen, artists and authors to complete, with a library filled of tiny original literacy works of the day, electric lighting, running hot and cold water, working lifts and flushing toilets. Everywhere you looked there were eyes wide with amazement and little noses pressed up to the glass soaking in the magic. The children absolutely adored our visit to Windsor Castle and as an adult I found it just as fun.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and learnt to much about the castle and heritage. And the staff were absolutely astounding, we’ve never experienced service like it. Every family will know the difficulty of travelling with children, pushchairs, bags, toilet changing, stopping for food and keeping children safe and entertained, this is where the staff really come into their own. There is a uniformed member of staff always within sight, with a cheerful smile, welcoming word and walkie talkie to connect the entire team together. Gabriele tripped over whilst running along the rooftop and a member of staff came straight over, asked if he was okay and radioed for a first aider who arrived within seconds. He cleaned Gabriele’s toe, applied a plaster and then asked us where we were going, before escorting us inside to continue our tour, checking in our pushchair and giving us his name if we needed any further assistance. Everywhere we went the staff greeted the children, asked what they’d seen and what they’d liked most and if there was anything that they could do to help. It was like having an endless supply of attentive butlers everywhere you went. And these two little one felt like very lucky Princes and Princesses from a day out that they will remember fondly and cherish forever.
Ticket Prices: Adults £18.50, Over 60/Student £16.75, Under 17s £11.00, Under 5s free, Family (2x adult 3x child) £48.00.
You can stamp your tickets on the way out for a free one year pass.
By Rail: London Waterloo & Paddington. By Coach: London Victoria. By Road: M4 exit 6, M3 exit 3. Postcode: SL4 1NJ
Ticket Sales & Information: 020777667304