Windsor is the home of the queen’s Easter residence, Windsor Castle, which was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1070. Every year, Her Majesty spends a month here over the Easter holidays, making this a famously royal town. But when you’ve enjoyed a trip around the castle and had your photo taken next to the stern Beefeater guards, this pretty little town has a lot more to offer a visitor. Under 25 miles west of London and sitting snugly in the county of Berkshire, Windsor is easy to travel to from the capital. Trains take just under an hour to reach Windsor’s Victorian railway station.
1. The Railway Station Shopping Mall
As railway stations go, this one is especially unusual. As shopping malls go, it’s even more unusual. The train station was first opened in 1894, and it does still contain working platforms, but amongst the stunning Victorian architecture there now bloom modern stores and cafes. This isn’t like the layout of shops within railway stations you’d normally see; here, it appears as if the shops have grown around the original station, organically. The old polished wood-paneled ticket office is still a manned booth that now sits in the middle of the tables and chairs of a cafe, and it looks like a quirky amalgamation of the historic and the modern. There’s a replica model of The Queen, the engine that once pulled the queen’s train. If you like train stations, you’ll love this!
2. Make Your Own Tasty Treats
Down the street from the railway station, on Thames Street, you’ll find a cute little shop called Fudge Kitchen. The old Windsor charm of the building itself is the backdrop to the most delicious sights and sounds. The fudge at Fudge Kitchen really is something special. You can taste test it, create your own fudge box from your favorite flavors, watch fudge being made in the large fudge-making area at the back of the shop, and even book yourself a fudge experience, during which you’ll get to have a go at making your own. During your fudge experience, you’ll learn all about the history of fudge, the science behind it, and, of course, you’ll get to slab and loaf to your heart’s content!
Just a few doors down from Fudge Kitchen you’ll find Dr. Choc’s, a chocolate shop where you can do more than buy chocolate. Step inside this chocolate emporium, and you may notice some chocolate-making work going on behind the counter at the rear of the shop. This is the chocolate factory where you can try your hand at making your own chocolate creations. Upstairs is a cute little cafe where you can have tea and cakes -- or a jug of Pimm’s!
3. Duck Tour
If you want to get a true overall view of Windsor, you won’t find a better way than the Duck Tour. This is a tour around the town on a purpose-built vehicle that picks you up on dry land before splashing down into the River Thames. You’ll meet the vehicle, on wheels, at the pickup point, and from there you’ll take a trundle around some of the most famous sightseeing points. Then you’ll enter the water and resume the rest of the trip in the river! This is a completely safe tour, and you won’t get wet when the vehicle enters the Thames. The vehicles are checked by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and tours may be canceled if the weather is deemed to be too rough for sailing. It is worth noting that you do need to be able to manage the five steps to board the vehicle, but over 60s do get a discount on the price of the ticket. The tour takes around an hour, and tickets can be booked ahead of your trip or purchased from the ticket office when you arrive.
4. The Theatre Royal
The Theatre Royal is a beautiful old theater with a rich and royal history. The building is over 200 years old, but the early beginnings of the theater on this spot date back even further. As early as 1706, strolling players would perform in the courtyard of an inn at this very location. Later this became a barn, and eventually, once the theatrical tradition was settled here, the theater was built. The building you see today was completed in 1910 and has been running as the Theatre Royal ever since. In this beautiful traditional theater, you can book a private box or enjoy the show from the stalls or circle. The front of the stalls is wheelchair accessible. The theater produces traditional plays, classics, modern plays, musicals, and pantomimes, so there’s something to suit everyone’s taste.
5. Windsor Great Park
They don’t call this the Great Park for nothing. Windsor Great Park covers a sprawling 4,500 acres and includes The Savill Garden, The Valley Gardens, Virginia Water, The Long Walk, and Deer Park. Walk the majestic woodland trails, sit back and relax amid the natural beauty of the carefully cultivated flower beds and horticulture displays, marvel at the wonderous cascading waterfalls and the stillness of the lake, and amble on the tree-lined avenue where deer graze in ancient parklands. Take a picnic, sit down and relax for a while in the Savill Garden Kitchen, or wander the park with an ice cream from one of the traditional kiosks. There’s also a shop on site where you can buy gifts and souvenirs. Windsor Great Park can provide an entire day out and offers incredible views and nature trails. The parks are open year-round, and there are parking lots on-site.
6. Windsor And Royal Borough Museum
The Windsor Museum is located within the Guildhall, a stunning Grade I-listed building in the center of town. The building itself is as much of a display as anything within it, and the stained glass windows in the Ascot Room are exquisite. But the displays themselves are the real draw. This historic and mostly royal collection has been with the museum for 40 years and includes an interesting selection of paintings and artifacts. Spend some quiet time viewing the royal paintings of major kings and queens through history, including our current queen. The Guildhall itself is 300 years old and is used for various functions and meetings, including banquets and weddings. Note: The museum is open until 4 p.m. and closed all day on Mondays.
Where To Eat
7. The Royal Windsor Pub
The Royal Windsor is a cozy pub and eatery tucked below the castle with views of those royal turrets and towers from the seats in the beer garden. The pub offers a varied menu of lunch and dinner, including a recent push toward greater vegetarian and vegan options. The signature infusions, a shot of a spirit mixed with something fruity, are not to be missed, and if that doesn’t warm you enough, there’s a gentle real fire cracking in the bar in winter. This is a traditional pub with modern food and drinks in warm and welcoming surroundings, and right in the center of town.
Where To Stay
8. The Stirrups Hotel
A 10-minute drive out of the center of town, the Stirrups Hotel is a 46-room, family-run hotel, featuring beautifully kept gardens and 10 acres of countryside spreading out all around the Tudor-style inn. The extensive choice of rooms means you can stay in the main body of the hotel or in one of the converted stables at the rear of the property. All the rooms in this tranquil hotel are spacious and spotless, quiet and calm. The breakfasts are particularly good with an impressive buffet plus a menu to order from. If you’re vegetarian, the veggie sausages at breakfast are the best I’ve had! If you’re not vegetarian, try them anyway, they really are outstanding!
Windsor is a quaint and traditional English town and makes a fascinating place to visit any time of year, but if you want to avoid the crowds, December is a great time to go. There’s a large Christmas tree up in the center of town and decorations are projected onto the castle walls and strewn around the streets. There are fewer tourists at this time of year, and there’s a traditional and cozy atmosphere that will give you a true English town experience. Planning your visit? Read up on how to visit Windsor Castle before you go.