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What to do in Windsor, from regal attractions to riverside walks

This grand riverside town is the place to come for historic pubs, regal attractions and stunning countryside strolls.

Published 23 Mar 2021, 08:00 GMT
The picturesque castle-front stretch of the Thames Path

The picturesque castle-front stretch of the Thames Path in Windsor, with views of the Round Tower on the top of the motte.

Photograph by Getty Images

Why go
Just 30 miles west of London, Windsor can claim royal ties as far back as the 11th century, when William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a castle that remains the Queen’s favoured weekend retreat. Life outside the walls is on show in suitably regal fashion: from the Changing of the Guard to the scurrying tailcoats of nearby Eton College, the area is a spectacle of British pageantry. But step outside the centre and you’ll find a realm of simpler charms. Windsor Great Park, encompassing 4,800 acres of ancient forest and rolling parkland, offers rambling routes galore, and the castle-front stretch of the Thames Path is equally picturesque. Families are well catered for, too, with the Legoland Windsor Resort set to unveil a new mythical land this spring. 

What to do
The oldest and largest occupied fortress in the world, Windsor Castle is the town’s spectacular draw card. There are free, 30-minute guided tours of the Castle Precincts (grounds) on arrival, but it’s the inside that dazzles most. The jewel in the crown is the State Apartments, a gilded vision of larger-than-life chandeliers, soaring ceilings and artistic masterpieces. Tickets include tours of St George’s Chapel, which doubles as a royal mausoleum and welcomes worshippers for daily ceremonies, and Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, an exquisite reproduction of a 1920 mansion complete with running water, electricity and miniature contributions from over 1,500 artists and manufacturers.

Royal connections extend to Windsor Great Park, ­and the aptly named Long Walk represents the park at its most iconic. Starting at the castle, the promenade runs through Deer Park — a remnant of the grounds’ former incarnation as a hunting reserve — for nearly three miles to the Copper Horse statue of George II, where beautiful views of the landscape abound. Another botanical highlight, The Savill Garden is more than worth the 15-minute drive from the Castle. Take your time wandering through all manner of horticultural displays, showcasing an array of flora from around the world. At this time of year, don’t miss Spring Wood, fizzing with banks of blooming rhododendrons, and the streamside Azalea Walk.

Where to stay
Located on the main high street, with Christopher Wren’s Guildhall and Windsor Castle as neighbours, Castle Hotel Windsor is set in one of the town’s oldest buildings. Originally a 16th-century inn, the property became a hotel in 1700s, and glimpses of its Georgian heritage complement the elegant, warm decor. Keep an eye out for the collection of antiques that dot the walls, as well as the original dark-wooden staircase, creaking up from the foyer to contemporary bedrooms. From £149, B&B. 

Where to eat
Tucked beside the castle, The Two Brewers — a favourite with locals since 1792 — serves up classic, locally sourced pub grub, from Sunday roasts to bangers and mash. Sit at one of just nine indoor tables, or choose an outdoors bench beneath the hanging baskets. If you’re venturing out to the surrounding countryside and villages, opt for The George gastro pub in nearby Wraysbury for delicious interpretations of traditional fare.  

Don’t miss
The best way to understand the Queen’s penchant for all things equestrian is to saddle up for a tour of her back garden. Windsor and its surrounding villages are prime horse-riding territory and a number of local centres, including Tally Ho! Stables and Hacking Centre and Wayside Stables, offer hacks around different routes in Windsor Great Park, from gentle rides along paved roads and woodland trails to canters for more experienced riders.

We like
Boat operator French Brothers organises scenic, narrated ferry tours along the Thames, following the river as it meanders lazily between meadows. Join the 40-minute round trip upstream to Boveney Lock, keeping your eyes peeled for glimpses of Eton College Chapel and Royal Windsor Racecourse. 

Published in the March 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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