Windsor - Part 2 - Orlando / Florida Guide
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If you want to escape most of the seven million tourists that pour into Windsor and Eton annually then head into Windsor Great Park. This was once a vast Norman hunting forest, but now this 20 sq. km green space is a mixture of formal avenues, woods and open grassland grazed by herds of deer.
There is no best time of the year to go as it will depend on what you want to see, however between September and March there is access to Windsor Castle’s Semi-State Rooms. Windsor is 1. 6km from Junction 6 of the M4 if you are driving. There are two railway stations, Windsor & Eton Central and Windsor & Eton Riverside both of which connect to London. If you have a long stopover at Heathrow it is 20km to the east with bus routes 71 and 77 linking Windsor and Terminal 5.
Once there then getting around the compact centre is best done on foot. Buses serve the wider area if you want to venture out; an Explorer ‘FirstDay’ ticket offers unlimited travel for 24 hours for £10. If you plan the stay then The Macdonald Windsor Hotel offers opulence right opposite the castle with doubles from £150pn. If you want a more boutique option then try Frances Lodge B& B which is central. It has ten contemporary rooms with doubles from £90pn. There’s an overwhelming choice of chain restaurants and independent places around Windsor and Eton. If you want elegant candlelit dining try Gilbey’s, while family-run Al Fassia is a good Moroccan restaurant. About 8km west sits the small village of Bray, home to a pair of Michelin starred restaurants; Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and Alain Roux’s Waterside Inn.
If you are staying then start early and head straight for Her Majesty’s weekend home, the Royal Standard will be flying if she’s in residence. Windsor Castle’s walls guard the magnificent State Apartments, the Drawings Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls House and St George’s Chapel. Also as mentioned in winter, the five Semi-State Rooms are also open. Admission includes a guided tour of the Precinct and an audio tour for a cost of £20. The best views over the surrounding countryside are from the north terrace. A visit to the castle takes two to three hours so keep an eye on the time if you want to catch the Changing the Guard which happens at 11am Mon to Sat from April to July. Outside these dates, it happens on alternate days so check when it’s due.
Next door to the castle is the elegant, Grade 1 listed Guildhall. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1690, it has hosted the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. It’s also home to the Windsor & Royal Borough Museum. From the Guildhall, head back past the castle gates and Queen Victoria’s statue to follow the road down to the Thames. Cross the footbridge into Eton to visit the prestigious college, where 19 prime ministers and many young royals have studied. Guided tours run on certain dates between March and October. Cross back over the bridge to finish with a meal at Bel & The Dragon which has been an inn since the 11th century.
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