Visiting Windsor Castle: HM The Queen’s weekend home

Guards at entrance to Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, England, United Kingdom, Europe
Guards at the entrance to Windsor Castle, Berkshire. Credit: Nigel Francis/Robert Harding

Find out all about visiting Windsor Castle, the location for this year’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

Set high above the River Thames in the sleepy county of Berkshire, Windsor Castle is often referred to as ‘the Queen’s weekend home’. It is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and it is home to over 900 years of royal history.

The history of Windsor Castle

The site for Windsor Castle was chosen by William the Conqueror. The plan was to build a fortress that could protect London from attack from the west, while also providing access to the nearby royal hunting ground.

Construction on the castle began in 1070 and it took 16 years to complete. King Henry I was the first monarch to introduce domestic quarters and it was his grandson, King Henry II who had the castle turned into a palace.

During the reign of King Edward III, Windsor was transformed into a Gothic palace, costing the huge sum of £50,000 – the most amount of money spent on a single building by any medieval king. But while the castle continued in use under the Tudor monarchs, King Henry VII and his son King Henry VIII only made relatively minor adjustments.

Under Queen Elizabeth I, major improvements took place, including the addition of a long gallery, but it fell to King Charles II (who felt compelled to compete with the lavish tastes of King Louis XIV of France) to transform the State Apartments into the most splendid in all of England.

The Baroque style of Charles II remained until King George III decided to give the rooms a neoclassical makeover. George III, and later his son George IV, also remodelled the exterior of the castle in a Gothic style.

In 1992 a devastating fire broke out in Queen Victoria’s chapel (one of the few changes the monarch made to the castle), which gutted several of the main rooms. Five years later restoration of the castle was completed.

St George’s Chapel, Windsor

The venue for the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will take place in St George’s Chapel, in the grounds of Windsor Castle.

The chapel seats 800 guests, making it more intimate than Westminster Abbey, where Harry’s brother, Prince William, married Kate Middleton in April 2011, but it is equally rich in history. 

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announce their engagement at Kensington Palace
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announce their engagement at Kensington Palace. Credit: Jada Images/Alamy

According to Jason Knauf, the Prince’s communications secretary, Windsor Castle is a “very special place” for the couple, adding that they had spent time there during their whirlwind romance.

The 15th-century Gothic church is no stranger to a royal occasion. It hosted Harry’s christening in 1984; a religious blessing for his father, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall after their marriage in 2005; the wedding of Harry’s cousin Peter Phillips in 2008; and the wedding of the Earl of Wessex in 1999.

Harry’s great-grandmother, the Queen Mother, is also buried here. They were
very close. Harry has described her as “amazing… She was very interested in everything we did, whether it was school, or polo or anything.”  Further back, five of Queen Victoria’s children married here, while the chapel also contains the tombs of 10 monarchs, including those of Henry VIII and Charles I. Today, the Royal Family gathers here at Easter.

Ideal for wedding photos, the Grade I listed building has a stunning fan-vaulted ceiling and ornate stained-glass windows. On each side of the choir are 15th-century carved stalls of the Knights and Ladies of the Garter.

The chapel is a Royal Peculiar, which means it falls under the direct jurisdiction
of the Queen. You can only marry here if you are a knight, live at Windsor Castle, live at the College of St George or are a Royal. Even Harry and Meghan had to ask the Queen’s permission.

Getting to Windsor Castle

Direct trains run from London Waterloo to Windsor & Eton Riverside take less than an hour. From the train station it’s a 6-minute walk to the castle.

If you are travelling by car, please note there is no on-site car park so you will have to use one of the public car parks in Windsor.

Tickets to Windsor Castle

Standard tickets to Windsor Castle (£21.20 per adult) includes entry to the State Apartments, St George’s Chapel and the Semi-State Rooms (winter months only).

Where to stay in Windsor

Castle Hotel Windsor
An elegant boutique hotel in a Georgian building, a few minutes’ walk from the castle.

Macdonald Windsor Hotel
A luxury 120-room hotel opposite Windsor Castle.

Rutlands Bed and Breakfast
A cosy four-star B&B, 10 minutes’ walk from the town centre.

Where to eat in Windsor

The Oxford Blue
Founded in 1829, this gastropub serves mouth-watering Sunday roasts.

Gilbey’s Bar and Restaurant
A friendly restaurant with a modern British menu in nearby Eton.

Limes Dine in Bakery
A cute, quirky bakery with delicious homemade cakes close to the castle.

See the Royal Wedding at Windsor

St George’s Chapel is more secluded than Westminster Abbey: it is surrounded by the Horseshoe Cloisters and the Henry VIII gate, affording more privacy. Despite this, royal newlyweds traditionally pose for photographs afterwards on the west steps, where crowds are expected to gather.

Jason Knauf has said that the couple will be “keeping the public in mind” as they plan the wedding. There is a chance they could follow the Earl and Countess of Wessex, who had a ballot system for their wedding, inviting people inside the walls of the castle or to watch a carriage ride through the town.

London 2018 Guide cover | Royal wedding, royal palaces, London landmarksBe warned though, many hotels are already fully booked for the wedding weekend, and seats on trains will be scarce too, so you many be better watching it on television and visiting Windsor once the furore has died down.