The largest occupied palace in the world, Windsor Castle in Berkshire, England sits on land that has housed royalty since the 800s. Currently it is one of several places Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip call home, and on April 29th 2011, will be used as the venue for the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. This residence, fortress, and palace is a grand way to spend an afternoon in merry ol’ England. Covering 484,000 square feet, this massive castle boasts extravagant staterooms, an art gallery, a dollhouse replete with many remarkable antique treasures, a chapel, and vast gardens just begging to be explored. It is hard to see how the Queen spends only about six or seven weeks a year here when you see the splendors Windsor Castle has to offer.
As you enter the main building for your tour, the guides first present you with a brief but enlightening history of the palace and its royal residents. As the remainder of the tour is self guided, pay close attention to the docent here, you will want to remember the details as you peruse the rest of the grounds. A very popular exhibit, and usually one of the first stops on your visit, is Queen Mary’s Dollhouse. This three foot tall 1:12 scale replica of the castle is filled with amazing miniature replicas of items owned by the monarchy. It is fully plumbed and includes a flushing toilet, a tiny wine cellar with actual petite bottles of wine and other spirits, and even mini versions of famous novels created by the authors themselves including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle J. M. Barrie, and Rudyard Kipling. After the dollhouse, you will want to make your way into the lavish staterooms. Soaked in the palace’s fascinating history of 900+ years of royalty, these beautiful rooms have been thoughtfully and thoroughly restored after a fire in 1992 destroyed much of the original interiors. Another interesting stopping point will be the Drawings Gallery which features the royal art collection (including Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Rembrandt) and changing exhibits from the Royal Library. You can find out what is being displayed on the castle website or calling ahead.
St. George’s Chapel has played to host to many celebrated weddings (King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra among them) along with several funerals. Some of the notable royals entombed here are King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth (aka The Queen Mother), and King George VI. Even without its fabled history, the grand gothic architecture is enough of a draw on its own. There are plenty of opportunities to pick up souvenirs and even little snacks at the end of your tour. Make sure you check ahead prior to your visit to see if the castle is open as the Queen does make unexpected stopovers effectively closing down the palace to tourists. Also, October to March will afford you the full castle tour (as major portions of the grounds are closed off during the summer months). A trip to Windsor Castle is both whimsical and romantic, capturing the breadth and depth of the truly amazing past of the English royal family.
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