Windsor Castle

Would you like to be the King (or Queen) of the Castle?

Maybe you’ll need to look a little further afield however, as this one is already occupied!

With history spanning nearly 1000 years, Windsor Castle is the world’s oldest and largest occupied castle and is the weekend home to the current Queen of England, Elizabeth II.

Take some time to explore the rich history and wonderful decoration of this sprawling castle and its grounds.


What Is Windsor Castle?

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Originally built as a fortress as one of a number of castles forming a defensive ring around London, the castle developed over the following 900 years changing in decorative style depending on which Monarch was making improvements.

Over time it changed from timber constructions to the stone buildings that are present on the site we see today. It has been a popular royal residence for forty monarchs during this time and the current Queen spends her weekends here, along with a month at Easter and a week in June for Royal Ascot.

The castle as we see it today comprises a number of buildings including the Queen’s private apartments in the east, the Round Tower in the centre and St George’s chapel in the west of the grounds.

Windsor Castle from the front


A Brief History Of Windsor Castle

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The history of Windsor Castle is a long one dating back to around 1070 when William the Conqueror first commenced the construction of a fortress on the site.

He built it in the Norman Motte-and-Bailey style of castle - meaning the castle was built on a raised mound (Motte) surrounded by a courtyard (bailey) and protective ditch. This took 16 years to construct and was part of a defensive plan to surround London. It was also in prime position near the Thames and close to local hunting grounds.

The first residential apartments were put in around 1110 by Henry I and over the next 100 years the majority of the timber structure was gradually replaced with stone. The original keep was rebuilt as the Round Tower which is located in the centre of the castle grounds.

The stonework served its purpose when the castle withstood a prolonged siege in the 13th century during what was known as the First Baron’s war.

The next big changes came with Edward III in the 14th century who transformed the fortress into a gothic palace including commencing the build of St George’s Chapel. The Undercroft is one of the few parts that were transformed at this time that is still present today.

Along with all of these changes and re-focussing his court life at Windsor, Edward III also formed a very exclusive order called the Order of the Garter which was seated at the Chapel. This senior order of British Chivalry is still in evidence today and it is formed of the current Monarch, the Prince of Wales and twenty four other members that can only be appointed by the Monarch themselves.

Nothing major happened to the physicality of the palace over the next few hundred years, however in the 16th century Henry VIII finally completed St George’s Chapel. Since the Chapel was built, there have been ten Monarchs buried there including Henry VIII himself.

Around the time of the reign of Elizabeth I some restoration of the buildings was needed with more of the timber structures remaining replaced by stone.

During the English Civil War in the 17th century, Windsor Castle was used by both Oliver Cromwell as his headquarters and then by Charles II as his main palace outside of London once the restoration of the Monarchy occurred. He set upon the modernisation of the royal apartments here and transformed the palace from a military stronghold to a lavish baroque palace.

A number of the subsequent Monarchs did not hold Windsor Castle with quite the same affection as previous ones and it wasn’t until George III reigned that more work was done to refurbish and upgrade parts of the castle. George IV took this even further and wanted to ensure that the castle looked as grand and imposing as possible which meant additions of enormous amounts of masonry to existing buildings and more turrets and battlements.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert spent a great deal of time at the palace and it became their principal palace and also the focus of the British Empire that grew during her reign.

The current Queen as a young Princess spent much time at the Castle also and sheltered here along with her sister Margaret during WWII. In fact, it was thought that the Castle was not a target during the war (rumours are that Hitler wanted the Castle left undamaged as he wanted to live there ‘once he’d won the war’) and a number of precious paintings and other works of art were relocated to Windsor during the same time. Windsor Castle was never bombed although some were dropped in the surrounding areas.

One of the major historical events that occurred at Windsor Castle was the fire that broke out here in November 1992 and destroyed or damaged approximately 20% of the Castle area.

The fire broke out in Queen Victoria’s private chapel where a faulty spotlight caught fire to a nearby curtain and worked its way through to destroy 115 rooms. These included not only the chapel but also the Crimson Drawing room and the State Dining room and overall it took more than 15 hours and 1.5 million gallons of water to put the fire out.

Luckily a number of precious artefacts had already been removed from that part of the Castle due to the rewiring work being done - staff there also ensured a number of other paintings and pieces of furniture were moved to safety before the fire reached them. It took 5 years to restore the castle back to its former glory and some slight changes were made to the decoration and layout in certain rooms.


Windsor Castle montage

Key Features

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As well as the Queen herself, around 150 people call Windsor Castle their home with approximately 500 people in total that work there.

There are many highlights to take in when visiting the Castle:

  • State Apartments and Semi-State rooms - These are the ceremonial rooms used to meet and entertain the Queen’s (and other members of the Royal Family’s) visitors such as dignitaries from other countries. Highlights here are the Grand Reception Room, the Crimson Drawing Room and St George’s Hall.
  • Castle Precincts - Join a 30 minute guided tour around the outside areas of the castle.
  • St George’s Chapel - As a fantastic example of Gothic architecture, the Chapel is the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter and the burial place of ten previous British Monarchs. A number of marriage ceremonies have been performed here, most recently that between Prince Harry and Megan Markle.
  • Changing of the guard - This ceremony is the official handover of duties between guards. It normally happens at 11am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and sees the guards march through Windsor town and through into the Castle where the handover takes place.
  • Queen Mary’s dolls’ house - Made for Queen Mary (wife of George V) and completed in 1924, contributions were made from over 1500 craftsmen, artists and manufacturers for this extraordinary dolls house. The detail in the house is unbelievable including electricity and hot and cold running water!
  • Royal Collection at the Castle - Throughout the Castle tour there are many important and exquisite works of art, furniture and ornaments that are exclusive to the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.

Fun Facts About Windsor Castle

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  • The Royal Family changed their surname based on the castle’s name! Due to thoughts of negative associations of the German based royal family name of the time (Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) post World War I in 1917, the family decided to change their family name to Windsor based on the castle. This surname has continued to be used ever since - the current Queen’s full name is Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor.
  • The approach road to Windsor Castle is called ‘The Long Walk’ and is 4.26 km long. This runs through the Home Park and is 73 metres wide (a gravel road runs along the centre with grass on either side) with elm trees lining it on both sides.
  • There are more than 300 fireplaces within the castle and these are tended to by fendersmiths whose specific job it is to look after the fires.
  • The Queen bred Corgis at Windsor Castle. Sadly her last corgi died in 2018 but prior to this the Queen has successfully bred corgis at Windsor for many generations. In fact one of the last corgis that the Queen had was the 14th generation from the corgi, Susan, that she received for her 18th birthday.
  • The Order of the Garter was supposedly formed as Edward III was fascinated by tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and therefore based the Order on these.
  • The Great Kitchen at Windsor is the oldest working kitchen in the country. It dates from the reign of Edward III in the 14th Century and has served 32 monarchs their food.
  • The Round Tower is not actually completely round as it has a square southern side!

Windsor Castle Visitor Information

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Windsor Castle is open every day apart from Tuesdays and Wednesdays and pre-booking of tickets is essential.

From March until October the Castle is open to visitors from 10am until 5.15pm (4pm last admission time) and the rest of the year times are 10am until 4.15pm (3pm last admission time). As this is a working royal castle it can be closed at short notice therefore double checking if it is open before visiting is advisable.

It is recommended that you need to give approximately 1 ½ - 2 hours for your visit to the castle and airport style security will need to be passed through upon entry.

Audio guides are at hand (included in your ticket price) to guide you round the castle and are available in ten different languages along with printed information in the same languages (extra charge for this). There is a children’s/family audio guide also available and although you are able to borrow them, it is recommended to bring your own headphones.

All areas can be visited by disabled guests and an accessible lift is provided for access to the State Apartments and Semi-State rooms.

An induction loop is available for visitors with hearing impairment. Facilities for visually impaired visitors are also available.

A gift shop is present on site for memorabilia representing Windsor Castle and the Royal family.

Photography and filming is allowed outside the castle buildings but nowhere within the castle or St George’s Chapel.

There is no smoking permitted within the castle at all.

Once used as a principle wine cellar for the castle, Undercroft cafe serves a variety of refreshments for visitors including meals, sandwiches, salads and cake and other sweet treats. A variety of beverages are available including a selection of tea.

Ticket prices for visiting Windsor Castle:

  • Adults - £23.50
  • Over 60’s/Students - £21.20
  • Children (ages 5-15)/Disabled - £13.50
  • Children (Under 5) - Free
  • Family ticket (2 adults and up to 3 children) - £60.50
  • Group rates (more than 15 people) are available upon request

Tickets can be purchased via www.rct.uk


Location

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Windsor Castle is located in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in the county of Berkshire, England. It is approximately 30km (direct) from the centre of London.

It is located to the north-east side of the town, not far from the River Thames and directly across the river is the college town of Eton.

How To Get There

By Rail - Both the train stations serving the town, Windsor and Eton Central and Windsor and Eton Riverside are approximately a 10 minute walk from the castle. Trains arriving into Central depart from London Waterloo and those coming into Riverside depart from London Paddington.

Depending on which train is caught and from which station, the journey from the centre of London to Windsor can take anything from 30-50 minutes.

By Bus - Local buses depart from London Heathrow airport, Terminal 5. To access London Heathrow from the centre of London, the Piccadilly tube line terminates here or the Heathrow Express travels here from London Paddington.

Green line buses depart from London Victoria. These travel via the M5, past Heathrow (does not stop here) and stop at Legoland before arriving at Windsor. Numbers 2 & 8 stop right outside the castle.

By Car - Driving takes approximately 1hr from the city centre. Parking is cheaper in the long stay car parks rather than the short stay ones in the area. There is some on-street parking available but this can be expensive and more time restrictive. There are also three Park and Ride services serving the town. More information on parking can be found at www.windsor.gov.uk


Where To Stay

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Due to its location, Windsor boasts a variety of different types of accommodation in the area.

From cozy Bed and Breakfasts establishments and budget hotels to high end hotels, fully furnished apartments and campsites in the local countryside. There is accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets.


Other Things To Do Nearby

things to do near Windsor CastleIf you are staying in London, you will have easy access to all the other London tourist attractions, including:

Alternatively, there are plenty of activities to do in the area surrounding Windsor with some lovely countryside. Some of the other attractions/things to do that may be of interest are:

  • Frogmore House
  • LegolandⓇ Resort Windsor
  • Eton including Eton Natural History Museum based at the college
  • Horse drawn carriage rides in Windsor Great Park
  • Boat trips along the Thames
  • Ascot and Royal Windsor Racecourses

Frequently Asked Questions

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Is Windsor Castle the oldest castle in the world?

Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world! The weekend home of the current UK monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, it was founded in the 11th century and has been the home to 39 previous monarchs also.

What is the oldest part of Windsor Castle?

The oldest part of Windsor Castle is the Round Tower. This is situated on the motte (raised hill) that was formed from the soil that was dug out of the ditch that was originally built around the castle. Henry II built the tower as it stands now in 1170.

When was Windsor Castle built and by whom?

Windsor Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror in approximately 1070 and took around 16 years to complete.

Why was Windsor Castle built?

Windsor Castle was originally built to ensure Norman control on the outer edges of London, ensuring control over the stretch of the River Thames nearby.

Who owns Windsor Castle?

Ownership of Windsor Castle is held by the current monarch of the time - in this case it means that it is owned by Queen Elizabeth II.

How did Windsor Castle get its name?

It is thought that Windsor Castle’s name was derived from William the Conqueror’s name for the original fortress as ‘New Windsor’. This name came from a palace located approximately 2miles south-east of the current Windsor Castle in the village of Old Windsor. The name Windsor generally is of Norman origin and meant ‘riverbank with a winch’.

Who lives at Windsor Castle?

Currently Queen Elizabeth II spends her weekends living at Windsor Castle and for more than 1000 years the reigning monarchs of Britain have used the castle as a royal residence. There are also another approximately 150 people who call the castle home currently and they ensure the smooth running of the household and all that it entails.

What is Windsor Castle used for today?

Windsor Castle has a dual purpose nowadays - it is used as a home of the current Queen, Elizabeth II but it is also classed as a working palace where she hosts state and ceremonial occasions of different types. It is the oldest occupied castle in the world along with being a very popular tourist destination.

Where is Windsor Castle?

Windsor Castle is located in the market town of Windsor, in the county of Berkshire, close to the River Thames. Across the river close by is the town of Eton which boasts the famous college where both Prince William and Prince Harry attended school.

Can you visit Windsor Castle?

Yes! Anyone can visit Windsor Castle as it is open to the public for the majority of the year. Although as it is a Royal residence it is always worth checking to ensure it is not closed for any royal occasion. More than a million people visit the castle every year.

Where is Windsor Castle from London?

Windsor Castle is just over 30km away (as the crow flies) from the centre of London. Although there are many places to stay in Windsor, a day trip from the Capital can be done if that is where you are based. There are a number of ways to get from London to Windsor.

What time does Windsor Castle close?

Windsor Castle closes it’s doors depending on the time of year. From March until October the last admission time is 4pm with full closure at 5.15pm and from November until March last admission is 3pm with full closure at 4.15pm.

Has Windsor Castle ever been attacked?

Yes, Windsor Castle has been attacked - as the first use of the site of the Castle was that of a fortress, therefore there have been a number of attacks over it’s history. The castle withstood a two months siege in the 1200s during the Baron War and later in the 1400s the enemies of King Henry IV attacked after he deposed Richard II among others.

How many bedrooms does Windsor Castle have?

The castle itself has approximately 1,000 rooms but the number of bedrooms itself fluctuates as some of the rooms are multi-functional so there is no specific number.

Is there a dress code for Windsor Castle?

No, there is no dress code for visiting Windsor Castle.

What started the fire at Windsor Castle?

The fire at Windsor Castle in November 1992 was started by a faulty spotlight which accidentally set fire to a curtain in Queen Victoria’s chapel. This then spread very quickly through to the Brunswick Tower and burned for nearly 12 hours before it could be brought under control. The final cost of the restoration of the building after the fire cost upwards of around £68million.

Who pays for the upkeep of Windsor Castle?

The Sovereign Grant pays for the upkeep of Windsor Castle along with the other Royal palaces. This grant comes from a portion of the profits that are made from the Crown Estate. In 2019-2020 this amounted to approximately £82.4 million.

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