Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will marry in Windsor today
CASTLE ON THE HILL
Dominating the skyline with a thriving town full of shops, hotels and an 18th-century theatre wrapped around it, Windsor Castle feels more up close and personal than other royal residences.
You can be sitting enjoying a cuppa at Clairmont’s cafe on High Street while the royal guards parade by just a few feet away.
At almost 1,000 years old, Windsor is the oldest inhabited castle in the world – 40 monarchs have called it home – and it’s no secret that it’s Her Majesty the Queen’s favourite.
Since Prince Philip’s retirement it’s been much more than just a weekend retreat and the Queen has often been seen horse-riding in the grounds and along The Long Walk, the imposing ceremonial route from the castle into Windsor Great Park.
Follow in the Duke of Edinburgh’s tracks and tour it in a horse-drawn carriage with Windsor Carriages (windsorcarriages.co.uk).
BEYOND THE WALL
Pretty much the whole of the castle – except for Her Majesty’s private rooms and staff cottages – are accessible.
Wander through the splendid State Apartments, furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection, while discovering the rich history of this magnificent building.
Meanwhile, strictly off-limits is the Royal Family’s very comfortable private suite that overlooks the grounds of St George’s School, founded in 1348 to educate the choristers of St George’s Chapel, where Harry and Meghan will marry today.
It’s still a prep school and the Queen has revealed she enjoys watching the cricket matches from her sitting room.
St George’s Chapel is within the walls of the castle and is one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in England.
The Gothic interior contains the mortal remains of 10 kings including Henry VIII and his favourite queen, Jane Seymour, in addition to George VI and the late Queen Mother.
There are usually three services daily.
The extensive Great Park, at the end of The Long Walk, is among the most pampered land in the country.
The Duke of Edinburgh acts as ranger of Windsor Great Park, which is part of the Crown Estate, and in 2001 he had the bright idea of opening Windsor Farm Shop, which sells goods from the Royal Estates and other small local suppliers.
It has been a great success, selling royal meat and game as well as local cheeses, chocolates and beers brewed at the Windsor & Eton Brewery.
Eton College offers guided tours every Friday
SIP A PINT
Windsor is full of cosy pubs and one of the best is the Duchess of Cambridge – the first pub in the land to be renamed after Catherine Middleton when she married Prince William in 2011 – with open fires and a handmade copper bar.
It serves hearty grub – try the cauliflower cheese tart with a sunblushed tomato chutney.
The pub is a stone’s throw from the castle and Windsor Royal Shopping Centre, originally a Victorian railway station – you can still see the cobbled stones and Queen Victoria’s waiting room – and now home to 40 shops and restaurants.
GUARD OF HONOUR
The Changing of the Guard is one of the highlights of a visit to Windsor.
Accompanied by jubilant crowds and a marching band (unless it’s raining), this age-old tradition takes place on alternate days but never Sundays.
It sees some of the five guard regiments that stay at Victoria Barracks proceed through the High Street and into the castle grounds.
The Changing of the Guard is a highlight of a visit to Windsor
Less than a 10-minute walk away is the cluster of magnificent Eton College buildings, founded in 1440 by Henry VI and attended by both William and Harry.
The princes were known to pop over to granny’s for afternoon tea on their days off.
On Friday afternoons you can take a guided tour of Eton College (etoncollege.com) and see its ancient desks and benches that still bear graffiti by past pupils.
OFF TO THE RACES
The Queen’s affection for Windsor could have something to do with its proximity to Ascot Racecourse (ascot.co.uk) too.
The venue is best known for Royal Ascot week in June, which is not only a wonderful time to dress up but also offers the rare opportunity to be in close proximity to the royals, who arrive by carriage from the castle.
As well as 26 race days held each year, there are also beer and wine festivals, exhibitions and music events.
Windsor is the perfect place to stay for a visit to Royal Ascot
HOME SUITE HOME
Housed in an elegant Georgian building, with a Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and elegant cocktail bar, the Castle Hotel Windsor (01753 252800/castlehotelwindsor.com) has come a long way since it began in 1528.
Back then it was The Mermaid Inn, humbly brewing beer and cider for the people of Windsor, then scarcely a town of 1,000 people.
Things changed in the 1700s when innkeeper Richard Martin was awarded the first of the hotel’s eight Royal Warrants, to provide horses and carriages for the royal household.
The hotel swiftly grew to become one of the grandest in town. Doubles from £126, B&B.
The royal swans call the shots along the part of the River Thames that flows through Windsor.
Frequent boat trips bound for Runnymede and Hampton Court offer the chance to experience this serene section of the country’s most famous waterway.
Alternatively, skipper your own vessel aboard a yellow motorboat or gleaming blue row boat from John Logie Motorboats (johnlogiemotorboats.com).
• Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead: windsor.gov.uk