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Windsor/Eton, England

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Did You Know … ?

  • Windsor is the world’s oldest (1070-1086) and largest (13-acre footprint) inhabited castle.
  • Twenty British prime ministers were educated at Eton College.
  • It takes 16 hours to move the Windsor estate’s 450-plus clocks forward an hour, and 18 hours to turn them back.
  • The Windsor knot is named after King Edward VII.
  • It takes eight to 10 people two days to lay the table for a banquet at Windsor Castle.

A castle and Legoland

Windsor Castle is the obvious centerpiece in the small town of the same name on the River Thames, and it has been since William the Conqueror selected the site for one of a chain of fortifications around London. The first structure was wooden, but even after reconstruction and enhancements, the outer walls of today’s castle are in the same position as those of William’s original fortress.

Resembling a kind of fortified town, the castle is so large it extends over the equivalent of 269 tennis courts. In addition, this stone behemoth is, in aesthetic terms, a joy to look at and very evocative of its medieval origins despite the many changes over the centuries. No wonder it is one of the U.K.’s top tourist attractions. Visitors have options for tours of the interior, and on occasion, may spot a member of the royal family.

Eton College across the river is new by comparison, dating from 1440. It, too, is open to tours but on a schedule that works around student needs.

For most North American visitors, the towns of Windsor and Eton are all about their long histories. Related attractions include a couple of racecourses (Ascot and the Royal Windsor) plus opportunities to do some riding or even take polo lessons; Eton’s rowing lake with options to do more than watch others in their boats; acres of gardens referred to as the Royal Landscape, plus the 4,500-acre Windsor Great Park, which seems designed for walking, and the de rigueur in-town historic buildings and Runnymede (of Magna Carta fame) at river’s edge.

Tourist may happily acquaint themselves with Windsor in guided or self-guided walking tours (the municipality offers maps for a Windsor Heritage Trail that includes Eton) or treat themselves to a short tour by horse-drawn carriage.

Neighboring villages have their historic charms, too; Old Windsor, which predated New Windsor (today’s Windsor), is among them.

However, the second of Windsor’s two most popular attractions is a modern invention that seems antithetical to the authenticity of Windsor and Eton. It is a theme park, Legoland Windsor, which scores with families that include small children.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Take a canoe out on Eton’s Dorney Lake, which is a site for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games.
  • Walk the Thames Path National Trail from Henley to Runnymede, the place where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215. Or walk further: The entire trail stretches 184 miles from the Cotswolds to London.
  • Climb the 200 steps to the top of Windsor Castle’s Round Tower as part of the Conquer the Tower guided tour offered at the castle. At top, 215 feet above the Thames, on a fair-weather day, take in views of the London skyline and across several counties.
  • Take polo lessons at one of the Windsor area polo clubs.
  • See professionals and locals alike as they provide a program of art, comedy, drama and music during the spring Cookham Festival, in the village of the same name. Hone your drawing and painting skills in one of the event’s workshops.
  • Go horseback riding in Windsor Great Park or in the countryside around Windsor.

Things to do for Centrics

  • For the fun of it, sample foods that carry the name Windsor: red Windsor, a local cheddar, and brown Windsor, a hearty soup of meant, vegetables, herbs and Madeira wine.
  • Attend the Royal Windsor Horse Show on the grounds of Windsor Castle. It attracts 3,000 competing horses each May.
  • Or, focus your planning on getting to the Royal Ascot races, a five-day event in the third week of June.
  • Join a themed Windsor Town Walk, available Saturdays and Sundays from Easter to the end of August.
  • See something of the inside of Windsor Castle. Your entry fee includes an audio guide.
  • Haggle for original art sold by the artists at Art on the Street in Maidenhead.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Stay at the Sir Christopher Wren’s House Hotel and Spa in the center of Windsor. The 17th century property is believed to have been designed and lived in by the famous architect, hence the name.
  • Take a sightseeing cruise on the Thames.
  • Let the aura of royal living rub off on you. Take a tour by horse-drawn carriage from the center of Windsor or in and around the Windsor Great Park.
  • Take a guided tour of Eton College. It is essential to book in advance.
  • Treat the kids to a day at the theme park, Legoland Windsor.
  • Watch and photograph the changing of the guard at the castle.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead tourism site at www.windsor.gov.uk