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How To Make And Enjoy A Windsor Day Trip

Last updated on May 5th, 2024 at 08:05 pm

If you’re looking to visit an historic market town with strong links to the British monarchy then look no further than a Windsor day trip. The beautiful town of Windsor in the English county of Berkshire is home to the magnificent Windsor Castle and within walking distance of the famous Eton College.

I’ve made 2 day trips to Windsor from London recently (one in Summer and one in Winter) and although time was, of course, limited, there is still much to see.

I’m going to set out all you need to know, how to get there and what to see so that you too can make and enjoy a Windsor day trip.

Image of Windows Castle, a must see during a Windsor day trip

Is a Windsor Day Trip Worth It?

The answer is yes, a Windsor day trip is definitely worth it! Although a longer stay in Windsor will allow you to see more of the surrounding area, a day trip will generally be enough time to see and experience what this town has to offer.

Getting to Windsor from London

Windsor is located in the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) from London. There are several ways to make a Windsor day trip from the capital:

Train

The quickest way to get to Windsor from London will be by train. Great Western Railways run trains from London Paddington station to Windsor & Eton Central train station with an easy change at Slough. The travel time is around 30 minutes.

South Western Railway operate trains from London Waterloo station direct to Windsor & Eton Riverside station. Travel time is around 1 hour.

You can also get the Elizabeth Line to Slough and change there for the short (6 minute) journey to Windsor & Eton Central station.

I travelled by train for each Windsor day trip I took and would recommend this as the best option. Leaving early/mid morning and returning in the late afternoon/early evening will give you a good amount of time in Windsor.

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Coach

Coach services leave regularly from London Victoria Coach Station. Although cheaper than train tickets, a bus journey will take longer and therefore eat into your time in Windsor.

Check National Express for bus routes, times and prices. Organised coach day trips are also available – check these options offered by Get Your Guide and Viator.

Car

Driving to Windsor will give you greater control over how long you want to be in the town, subject to traffic of course! Windsor does have short and long stay car parking options. It also has 3 Park and Ride schemes. Click here for up to date information for travelling to Windsor by car.

A Bit of History

There isn’t a lot known about the history of Windsor before the Norman Conquest and the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066. The assumption seems to be however that the area that is now the town was settled before then. The main street in Windsor, Peascod Street, is believed to pre-date the Castle and probably of Anglo-Saxon origin.

William the Conqueror built the first castle in around 1070, however the focus of royal life was on a smaller site known as Old Windsor about 3 miles downstream. It wasn’t until the 12th century when Henry I became the first monarch to use Windsor Castle as his primary residence that the town of Windsor (previously referred to as New Windsor to avoid confusion) began to grow.

The continued development of the Castle over the years brought many merchants to New Windsor and made it a very prosperous town during the Middle Ages. The town stagnated during the Tudor and Stuart periods and into the 19th century. By the mid-1800s, Queen Victoria was in residence and the development of the railway brought significant renewal to New Windsor.

In 1917, King George V changed the name of the British royal house to the House of Windsor.

New Windsor was officially named Windsor in 1974.

Windsor at Christmas

I mentioned earlier that I had made 2 days trips to Windsor. One was in Summer, but the other Windsor day trip was in late November. If you love Christmas shopping or just want to see the town and the Castle all decorated, then this is a great time to visit.

Check here in advance of your trip to check details as to when Christmas displays at the Castle will be open to the public.

In the town itself, there will be the usual lights and decorations, markets, shops and cosy pubs to keep you occupied!

Things to do during a Windsor Day Trip

If you’re planning your Windsor day trip, here are the some of the top things to do:

1. Visit Windsor Castle

There’s no doubt that the main reason most people head to Windsor is to visit Windsor Castle. And why not? It’s stunning!

The Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle not just in the United Kingdom, but the world. The first monarch to reside in the Castle was Henry I who was married in the Castle in 1121.

The Castle has gone through many developments since then – original walls were replaced with stone, the original Norman keep was rebuilt as the Round Tower and there have been numerous other external and internal changes.

On 20 November 1992, a fire broke out in Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel. The fire destroyed 115 rooms in the Castle including 9 staterooms. The fire was finally put out on the morning of 21 November. A restoration project was completed in November 1997, 5 years to the day that the fire had started and the 50th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip.

Today, the Castle is home to the current Royal Family and remains an active Royal Palace with Investitures, Audiences with the King, State Visits and Receptions all taking place.

Windsor Castle Tickets

You can either purchase tickets online ahead of your visit or in person at the Castle entrance. The official advice is to purchase in advance – tickets are slightly cheaper if you do.

Adult tickets in advance are £30 (£33 on the day (if available)). Those aged 18-24 will pay £19.50 (£21.50) and children aged 5-17 and those who are disabled will pay £15 (16.50). Under 5s and access companions are free. Tickets include a multimedia tour – an audio guide with pictures!

Check the official site for up to date pricing and visitor information.

Top Tip – if you buy your entry ticket directly from the Royal Collection Trust it can be converted into a 1 year pass giving you free admission to the Castle for the next 12 months. To do this, you will need to write and sign your name in the area indicated on your ticket and have the Warden stamp your ticket as you leave. Your ticket is now a 1 year pass.

I followed this process at the end of my first Windsor day trip in the Summer and gained entry for free when I visited in the November. You will need to take identification with you however and keep in mind that, as with buying tickets on the day, access is dependent on the Castle not being sold out.

This option to convert your ticket to a 1 year pass also applies to tickets bought for entry to other Royal properties in England and Scotland including Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Opening Times

Windsor Castle is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It opens is 10am and it will close at 4pm (March to end of October) and 3pm (November to end of February). There are seasonal opening times for the Semi-State Apartments. Entrance to the State Apartments closes 30 minutes after the last admission time.

As a working castle, there may be times when the entire Castle or the State Apartments are closed. It’s therefore important to check the official site for all opening and closing times before heading off on your Windsor day trip!

On arrival and once you have your ticket, you will need to pass through airport like security before entering the Castle.

What is there to See?

Windsor Castle occupies some 13 acres (excluding Home Park and Windsor Great Park) and therefore there is a lot to see! The Castle is divided into 3 Wards – the Upper Ward, the Middle Ward and the Lower Ward.

The main highlights to see in the Upper Ward are:

Queen Mary’s Dolls House

Built between 1921 and 1924 for Queen Mary, wife of King George V, the Doll’s House is just amazing! The intricacies of all the various, life like miniature parts together with the fact that the house contains electricity, running water and working lifts make it a must see when on a day trip to Windsor Castle. The Dolls House has been at Windsor Castle since 1925.

State Apartments – Ceremonial Rooms

These are the main rooms that are used today by the Royal family for State occasions and Investitures. The Grand Reception Room, is, as its name suggests, grand! It was severely damaged during the Castle fire of 1992 but was painstakingly repaired.

King George IV added the Waterloo Room which celebrates the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. He also created a new set of private rooms, the Semi-State Rooms.

One of the most well known of the State Apartments is St George’s Hall. Destroyed by the 1992 fire, the Hall was rebuilt and when I visited late November, was home to a magnificent Christmas tree.

State Apartments – Historic Rooms

The historic rooms were built for King Charles II and his wife Catherine. They comprise a series of rooms, each getting smaller the closer you get to the most private spaces.

The Semi-State Rooms

These are the private apartments of King George IV. They too were severely damaged in the 1992 fire, although their contents had been removed previously. They were restored using the original designs supplied to King George IV. These rooms were used by the late Queen Elizabeth II for official entertaining.

The Semi-State Rooms are usually open from Autumn – Spring each year.

The main highlights to see in the Middle Ward are:

The Motte

Located in the centre of the Middle Ward is the motte, or artificial hill. The motte is 15 metres (50 feet) high and is made from chalk excavated from the surrounding ditch.

The Round Tower

The keep, known as the Round Tower, is located on top of the motte. The Round Tower is based on the original 12th century building, although it was been extended upwards in the 19th century.

Today, the Round Tower houses the Royal Archives which hold personal and official correspondence of the British monarchs from King George III onwards.

Image showing the Round Tower at Windsor Castle

The main highlights to see in the Lower Ward are:

St George’s Chapel

St George’s Chapel dominates the Lower Ward. Construction on the Chapel began in 1475 and was completed in 1511. It’s a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. The Chapel is the home of the ancient Order of the Knights of the Garter, an order of chivalry founded in 1348.

St George’s Chapel is the final resting place for Kings Edward IV, Edward VII, Henry VI, Henry VIII, Charles I, George III, George IV, George V, George VI, William IV and the late Queen Elizabeth II.

In happier times, St George’s Chapel has also hosted many royal weddings including those of Prince Edward (to Sophie Rhys-Jones), Prince Harry (to Meghan Markle) and Princess Eugenie (to Jack Brooksbank).

Changing the Guard

A wonderful example of British pageantry, Changing the Guard is definitely something to see if your Windsor day trip is on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. Note however that there is no Changing the Guard on Sundays.

The ceremony takes place at 11am within the Castle grounds so a Castle ticket is required. Once the ceremony is complete, the old Guard will return to their barracks in Windsor town. If you don’t have a ticket to visit the Castle, you can, however, still see the old Guard as they leave (or, earlier, the new Guard as they arrive).

Image of a Guard at Windsor Castle

Visiting Tips

To make the most out of your Windsor Castle day trip here are my tips:

  • allow a minimum of 2 hours for your visit – there is a lot to see
  • you will be doing a lot of walking so wear comfortable shoes
  • smoking or vaping are not permitted anywhere in Windsor Castle
  • you can take photos and video’s outside the Castle but not inside the State Apartments or St George’s Chapel
  • drones are not permitted
  • bottled water is permitted in the State Apartments and St George’s Chapel. Eating is not
  • the Castle does offer activities and trails for children – check the official site for details
  • there is a café in the Castle serving food and drinks
  • there is a Castle shop selling souvenirs
  • look out for the Royal Standard. If this is flying over the Round Tower then the King is in residence! If the Union Jack is flying then the King is elsewhere

2. Visit Eton

A short 5 minute walk from Windsor is the small town of Eton. The town is located on the opposite side of the River Thames to Windsor but is easily accessed using Windsor Bridge.

Eton is notable as the home of the famous public school, Eton College. Founded by King Henry VI in 1440, the College is a boys, boarding only school. Annual school fees are around £50,000.

Whilst in Eton you can take a walking tour along the Eton Walkway. This is a 2 mile, 1 hour circular walk that takes you to 18 points of interest in the town. The tour starts at Windsor Bridge. Look out for the bronze markers identifying the route.

It’s also possible to take a guided walking tour offered by Eton College itself. Tours are seasonal so check the College site here for up to date information. The 2024 season starts on 3 May and runs until 20 September. Alternatively, check out this walking tour around Windsor and Eton.

3. Explore Windsor Town

Although the Castle dominates the town, it’s worth having a wander around Windsor itself. There are plenty of shops, pubs, restaurants and interesting buildings to enjoy! The Crooked House of Windsor is definitely worth seeing. It dates from 1687 and was reconstructed in the 18th century.

Image of the Crooked House in Windsor, a house dating from 1687

If You Have More Than One Day In Windsor

If you’re looking for alterative ways to spend your Windsor day trip or you have the option to stay longer, then you may want to consider including the following in your itinerary:

  • Visiting LEGOLAND
  • Visiting Windsor Great Park including the Savill Garden and the Long Walk
  • Taking afternoon tea in the Savill Garden Kitchen
  • Enjoying a boat trip along the Thames River
  • Jumping on a bus tour – check out these options here and here
  • Enjoying afternoon tea at the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel – gluten and vegan menu options are available. Wren, the famous architect, grew up in Windsor as his father was the Dean of Windsor from 1635 to 1638 

Final Thoughts

The historic town of Windsor is within easy reach of London and is a perfect choice for a day trip. The almost 1000 year old Windsor Castle is reason enough to visit but factor in the lovely town itself and nearby Eton with its world famous school for boys and you have the makings of a very enjoyable day out.

If you need further help in planning your own Windsor day trip, or any other trip, do check my Resources page here.

If you’re looking for further day trip ideas, then read my post about the beautiful city of Bath here or my post about the historic city of Canterbury here.

Disclaimer – Information correct at the time of writing but do check before visiting.

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

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