Okay, I admit it: I LOVE exploring castles. This includes walking around ancient ruins, seeing majestic old buildings from afar, and especially being able to peek inside over-the-top glamorous rooms used long ago by generations of royals, such as the beautiful Schönbrunn and Hofburg Palaces in Vienna, Austria that I wrote about previously.
But during my trip to London earlier this summer I was able to tour something different – a real working palace. In fact, Windsor Castle is still very much in use today as it employs hundreds of workers.
A Little History
The castle was originally built in the 11th century and has been at least a part-time residence for all of England’s monarchs since Henry I. It is also where Queen Elizabeth spends most weekends. NOTE: You can tell if she’s currently on property by looking at the flag that is flying. The Royal Standard flag means she’s there and a Union Jack flying means she’s left the grounds.
During a day-long bus tour to several areas outside of London, we had a stopover at Windsor Castle, including entry into the State Apartments and ceremonial rooms. And I’m happy to report that the Royal Standard flag was flying while we were there on a Monday morning – but the Queen never did come by to say hi.
It’s a “longish” but quite charming walk from the parking lot, up to and through Windsor Old Town, and then on to the castle’s Admission Center. I loved my first far-off view of the timeless spires and rounded towers, and my excitement grew the closer I got. This is the type of castle my King Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot-loving heart has always dreamed about!
Walking around and inside the castle grounds was awe-inspiring. But I was even more excited to get inside, which turned out to be a LOT of rooms open for viewing.
But two, which are still used today, made the biggest impressions. First, the Grand Reception Room is made up of gilded gold furniture, huge tapestries, big and bright windows, and soaring ceilings topped with intricate gold paneling. Go to the Royals website and click on “Related Images” to see this beauty in all its glory. This is when I was REALLY sad that visitors are not allowed to take interior photos!
My other favorite was the long, 185-foot, runway-like St. George’s Hall. While we were there, the red carpet in the middle of this majestic reception room was empty, with chairs set here and there along the walls. However, during incredibly fancy state dinners and banquets, one verrrrrrry long table is set for up to 160 guests in the room’s center. This is shown really well in the video clip below.
After wandering around the various rooms while listening to a hand-held audio guide, I decided to check out the very beautiful St. George’s Chapel, which is located on the grounds. Built in the 15th century, the chapel houses the remains of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, and Charles I.
Stepping outside the chapel, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was just in time for the Changing of the Guard, which happens right next door. This 30-minute ritual is very interesting and well worth seeing.
However, note that it gets extremely crowded with onlookers and once it starts, you cannot leave through the main exit until the royal band has marched by. That was almost a serious problem as time had come to meet our bus but several of us were still stuck inside. (And I don’t think we’d have been allowed to stay the night in 1 of those beautifully appointed castle rooms!)
It ended up that the bus waited for us, but I really wish we’d been allowed more time there. I didn’t get a chance to see Queen Mary’s Doll House (a miniature replica so prestigious it even has a version of the crown jewels!) or any of the Royal Collection art exhibits in the Drawings Gallery. And I would have liked to have had the chance to explore and eat at Windsor town.
Next time? I’ll just take a train from London. It’s only about 30 minutes away and there’s a station right at the village. In other words, I’m looking forward to once again being a guest in the Queen’s weekend home!