I realize I’m writing about Christmas in March, but with good reason. Have you ever had an experience so unexpected, so absolutely magical that it stayed with you in vivid memory like it just happened yesterday? I have, and I just couldn’t wait until the festive season rolls around again to share it with all of you.
Now of course everyone’s idea of a magical day out differs, but if you love all things fairytale including castles, royals and history you’ll definitely want to keep reading! If you’re just after tips and advice for visiting Windsor Castle scroll down, otherwise fix yourself a cuppa, this is going to be a long one.
Look at it this way, if after reading this post, you find yourself inspired, you’ll have 280 ish days in which to plan your own magical day out! Nothing wrong with planning ahead, right? So, how did this magical day out come to be? Well, it had all happened similarly once before. Let me explain…
A Tale of Two Christmases
Many years ago, six in fact, I decided I was quitting Christmas, at least the big at home extravaganza that no-one seemed to appreciate all that much. Instead we set off to see how the holidays were celebrated in Rome and London. I felt quite sure Santa would find us, and “he” did!
Related: Buon Natale da Roma Merry Christmas From Rome!
Related: London: Our Favorite Hotel!
During my trip research I discovered a special event taking place at Buckingham Palace. The Palace, which isn’t normally open to the public during the winter months, would be offering small group tours twice daily for five weeks only. Sign me up!
I had a feeling this might be something special, and I didn’t want anyone tugging at my sleeve asking when it would be time to go home, so I went alone.
As soon as I entered the Palace my mouth literally fell open. Beyond the already beautiful interiors, there were multiple Christmas trees glittering with beautiful ornaments lining the entrance hall, and evergreen boughs filled with brightly colored baubles climbed the stair rails on both sides. Everything, and I mean everything, was decorated to the hilt, and it all seemed to give off a golden glow.
During the tour I learned that the interior really hasn’t changed since Queen Victoria lived in the Palace, and as you can imagine everything is in perfect condition, almost as if you’d just stepped back in time.
We visited the State Apartments, just as visitors in the summer months do, but because the number of visitors was greatly reduced there was no need for roped off areas or removal of certain items. For two hours it was just our small group, the guide and the Palace. Something about being inside this very real in use Palace made me feel about 11 years old. SQUEE!
At the end of our tour we enjoyed a glass of champagne (not for 11 year olds) and had time to shop the items in the billiards room, which was temporarily serving as the souvenir shop. The ornaments I’d seen on the Palace’s Christmas trees were for sale. and you know I picked up a few!
Related: Oh Christmas Tree
Six+ years later, and my memories are just as vivid today as they were the day I went. I know this was an experience I will never forget. Are you still with me? I did mention this would be a long one… I hope I’ve done justice to just how magical I felt this experience was, but photos aren’t allowed inside the Royal Palaces, so words will have to do.
Six years later… Windsor
Knowing we’d once again be in London during the festive season I set about trying to repeat the amazing experience I’d had six years prior. I discovered a special holiday event would be taking place at Windsor Castle! For nine nights only, a presentation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol would be performed in the Waterloo Room. Although very familiar with the story, we’d never seen it performed inside a castle. This time I would bring the boys along! Sign us up!
Stepping off the train at the Windsor Eton Station I was delighted to see that the entire town was decked in royal themed holiday decorations, I couldn’t wait to seem them lit up later that evening!
Windsor Castle Day & Night
Our special event wouldn’t take place until 7 pm, so we decided to make a complete day of it, and purchased tickets to tour the Castle during the day. This way we would see it both day and night.
Built in 1070 by William the Conqueror, Windsor Castle is the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world. A visit here means you’ll be walking in the footsteps of 40 different monarchs over the course of almost 1000 years. Talk about history, now if only walls could talk!
As you can imagine there is a lot to see and do at Windsor Castle. There are three main areas within the castle walls, the Lower Ward, Middle Ward, and Upper Ward with each section containing worthwhile points of interest.
Your ticket includes a tour of the State Apartments, Queen Mary’s Dolls House, A 30 minute Precinct Tour, St. George’s Chapel, and an audio guide. Allow plenty of time!
St. George’s Chapel – Dragons, Knights, and Fairytale Weddings
St, George’s Chapel, located in the Castle’s Lower Ward, will serve as the venue for the upcoming wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. I did mention fairytales didn’t I?
The current chapel is over 500 years old, but there has been a chapel on this site since the 1200s. The building, stunning inside and out, is filled with amazing artifacts. If you’re traveling with kids they’ll want to look out for the 6+ foot battle sword, as well as stone carvings of angels, animals and flowers which encircle the entire inside of the chapel and line the roof.
The Chapel is the final resting place for many members of the royal family including some of the most well known: Edward IV (who built the chapel) and his queen Elizabeth Woodville, Henry VIII (who finished the chapel) and his favorite wife Jane Seymour, Charles I, and King Charles VI father to the current queen, and his wife Queen Elizabeth.
The architectural details and craftsmanship are exquisite and I particularly enjoyed the Quire with it’s beautifully carved stalls and fan ceiling. The story of St. George defeating the dragon is represented in the wood carvings above the stalls, and the stalls themselves are lined with gold plates, dating back centuries, each of which represents a Knight of the Order of the Garter.
Currently, there isn’t anywhere within the castle grounds to get a meal, but you can exit and reenter as needed, so after our visit to St. George’s Chapel we grabbed lunch, across the street from the castle, in the town of Windsor.
Queen Mary’s Doll’s House
After lunch we visited Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, which is located in the Castle’s Upper Ward. The Dollhouse is a replica of a Georgian town house and was built to showcase what aristocratic life might have been like in the 1920s.
Everything within the dollhouse is operational and it is complete with working lights, and running water. There is even a tiny flushing toilet with a tiny bath tissue roll. The dollhouse cellar is filled with miniature wine bottles complete with wine, and the library’s tiny books were all contributed by famous authors including J. M. Barrie, A. A. Milne., and Vita Sackville-West, whose book is pictured here.
The State Apartments
The entrance to the State Apartments is just beyond Queen Mary’s Doll’s House. Starting with the Grand Stair case you’ll walk through 23 beautiful and very ornate rooms. Each one filled with priceless works of art and furniture collected over centuries.
The entire castle was decorated for the festive season, and you can probably imagine just how beautifully done up it was. My favorite rooms had to be the Crimson Drawing Room with it’s gorgeous red walls, and St. George’s Hall with it’s magical golden Christmas tree. Lets just look at it again, shall we?
We’d spent the entire day exploring the castle, and in fact stayed until it closed enjoying a spectacular sunset as we left .
We still had some time before the evening’s performance, so after we took photos of the town’s holiday decorations we warmed up with tea and cakes at a nearby shop, and waited for 7 pm to come around. Still with me?
Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
Arriving back at the Castle after dark was exciting! There was a buzz among the guests, as entering the Castle after hours seemed particularly special. We would all be participating in this first of its kind experience together. We checked in and pre-purchased refreshments, which we would collect later during the intermission in the Grand Vestibule. Now that we’d taken care of business it was finally time to head up to the Castle…
As we made our way up Castle Hill we noticed a little girl sitting on the ground just outside St. George’s Gate. Just as I wondered, what is she doing there? She spoke, “Would you like to buy some matches?” Huh? We continued along the Moat Path, but before I could process what had just occurred a tall gentleman in a top hat breezed by us, shouting “Bah Humbug!”
The play had already started!
We made our way up the Grand Staircase and into the Waterloo Room. The Play would be performed in the round, and there were big fluffy cushions on the floor for the children. We quickly took our seats and anxiously awaited the play to continue.
The play was performed by just 8 actors who along with limited props, mood lighting and music managed to transport us all to 1840s London. As Scrooge came to from his ghostly adventures he invited us all to join him in St. George’s Hall where the play concluded around the base of the most magnificent Christmas tree I’ve ever seen. It was truly glowing with a golden light as the players and the audience proceeded to sing Jingle Bells, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, and We Wish You A Merry Christmas.
I felt almost in a daze as we collected our things, and filed out into the quadrangle. History, literature, and holiday traditions had all came together to create what had been a truly magical evening in a fairytale setting.
I do hope you’ve enjoyed my tales of surprise, delight and Christmas Magic! Have you ever had what unexpectedly turned out to be the experience of a lifetime?
Fun Facts, Tips & Advice:
- Plays have long been held in the Waterloo Room. Queen Victoria had a passion for theater, and Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret performed pantomimes to raise money for the troops during WWII.
- A special edition of A Christmas Carol from 1882 was on display in the Grand Vestibule and we enjoyed looking at it as well as other items of interest during the Play’s intermission.
- I was interested to learn that many of the holiday traditions we know and love today came from Victoria and Albert’s love of the Christmas season and their celebrations at Windsor Castle.
- Prince Harry will marry Meghan Markle in St. George’s Chapel on May 19, 2018.
- Windsor Castle is open all year round, but is still very much in use by the Royal Family. Do check the official website for operating days and times.
- Check the official website for special events, which are offered throughout the year.
- The town of Windsor is 30 minutes by train from London’s Paddington station. The Windsor & Eton Riverside station is the closest stop to the Castle, and is only a few minutes walk from the Castle.
- Purchase your tickets online in advance. Alternatively you can wait in a very long line like the one pictured below.
- Families with younger Children will enjoy the many family themed activities available throughout the Castle.
- Although there are no restaurants within the Castle, your ticket allows you in and out privileges, and the town of Windsor has many food options. Make sure to stop in a castle shop to get a wrist band before leaving.
- The multiple shops within the castle grounds sell everything from fine china, tea, and other kitchen items to toys, purses, and of course those ornaments I mentioned earlier. The ornaments are made by St. Nicholas, and benefit a women’s charity in Thailand.
- While I wasn’t able to take interior photos during my visits to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. I did source photos via PicSelect for the purposes of this post and have noted wherever they’ve been used, otherwise all photos are my own. Look for additional official photos on the Royal Family’s Instagram and Facebook accounts.
Pin for later:
Wow, you’ve really captured the magic of Christmas in a royal castle, Hilary! I love that it’s written from the point of view of an American because it can be all too easy for us Brits to forget how insanely special all of this is because we’re so used to it. We really love visiting the Royal palaces and Windsor Castle is one of my boys’ favourites. I was blown away by the grandeur and the history and would visit again in a heartbeat. Even more so if I could see a performance as special as this at the same time. Plus, that dolls’ house is absolutely incredible!
Thank you! Yes, knowing many of my blogging friends are British can be intimidating at times. It was very special and I’m grateful we had such amazing experiences not just once but two times! Something about this all taking place in a working castle rather than an uninhabited one makes a huge difference. I could have spent hours at The dolls’ house!
I loved reading about your two royal holiday experiences! Those tickets sell out fast from what I recall. As I LOVE Dickens and Christmas this is really a no-brainer for me, so I must book this if/when it becomes available this coming December. I am curious…what was your interval snack? And what did your boys think about it? You know, I have my priorities (food!) in order. Ha!
I do hope they do this again as it was truly magical! I read they performed Cinderella in the Moat Garden during the summer tho for me that wouldn’t have been the same. Funny, I deleted the line listing our interval treats I guess I should have left it in… we had white wine, a chocolate bar and some juice for the boys.
Oh! My boys enjoyed this! The younger one more as I was close to him and could whisper explanation if need be. The older one is a teen, so… he rarely admits to liking anything, but seemed to enjoy this.
so pretty! what a wonderful Christmas experience! #citytripping
I’ve been to both of those castles but during the summer. A Christmas experience looks like it would be so much more magical! #citytripping
The exclusivity coupled with the exquisite holiday decorations made visits unforgettable!!
Well that does it. We’re doing a Christmas trip to England and we’re doing both of these castles 🙂
Wow, sounds like quite the experience! I do love making the most of Christmas with a special outing like that. Windsor Castle is on our list for this year – the boys are now 5 and 7. Perhaps I’ll look into their special events to plan something really memorable. #FarawayFiles
Oh! I hope you do! I noticed they also offered summer plays in the Moat Garden, hopefully they’ll do it again!
Wow, that’s some Christmas tree ornaments! Windsor Castle looks more exciting than I thought is was going to. #farawayfiles
If you’re at all interested in castles then consider Windsor it is one of the best I’ve visited!
I´m putting this on my bucketlist.. Ah wish it was Christmas again!! Love all the photos too, they´re so beautiful!!
Thank you! I do love Christmas time! It’s so beautiful and festive!
Windsor is so pretty isn’t it? You are right though, Christmas might seem far off, but I typically need around 280 days to plan anything. It looks wonderful! 🙂
It truly was wonderful! Ha ha! Yes, I’m a planner, and with events like this planning ahead is a must!
I was a bit unsure about reading a Christmas post but this is such a fun read Hilary! The dolls house looks brilliant and the play sounds great fun. All very festive! #FarawayFiles
Yes, I know it’s the wrong time of year… however planning ahead never hurt anyone, and while reading about Christmas travel at Christmas seems more appropriate by then it’s too late to plan… that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Phoebe | Lou Messugo
You manage to find some unique experiences during your England travels, somehow I don’t think it would ever occur to me to see if Buckingham Palace was open at any other time than the summer, or that there might be special events going on at Windsor over Christmas. Seeing A Christmas Carol in a royal castle really must have been very special, what fabulous memories to treasure. #farawayfiles
My initial experience was quite by accident, but I loved it so much I think I’m always attempting to uncover amazing experiences like this everywhere I go! It truly was magical.
What a magical experience! It’s no wonder it’s still so fresh in your mind. #farawayfiles
It truly was! I already love a good castle! But when you throw in a Christmas play and a royal wedding venue It’s a while other level!
So I’m currently sat on a beach in Mozambique reading this, it’s March, and you’ve made be SO excited for Christmas! It looks so magical!
Im so glad you’re inspired although a beach in Mozambique sounds pretty magical too! 😘
This is such a great story and all your pictures are magical! Getting in the Christmas Spirit in March over here. 😀 #FarawayFiles
Thank you! Nothing wrong with a little Christmas spirit in March, or anytime!
Wow, what an experience! I love the story of your tour of Buckingham Palace but Windsor at Christmas sounds incredibly special- it is ages since I was last in the castle but my daughter has never been so I would love to take her around as well. Perhaps this Christmas would be the perfect introduction. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping
I think Christmas would be a perfect intro. Will you watch the royal wedding? Will your daughter? Maybe she’ll enjoy visiting the chapel?!
Elizabeth (Wander Mum)
You’re right, this is sooo magical. Loved reading this post, felt like Christmas all over again. The Buckingham Palace experience sounded incredible but Windsor Castle – wowzers – and that tree in St George’s Hall. I really want to do this at Christmas!! #farawayfiles
I’m so happy you enjoyed it! It was sooo magical! And the tree!!! Photos just don’t do it justice!
Nicky @ GoLIveYoung
Two wonderful Christmas experiences. I was skeptical at first…a post about Christmas in March…but i loved reading about both the tour of Buckingham Palace and your day at Windsor Castle culminating with the performance of A Christmas Carol. I will definitely look out for such events in the future #FarawayFiles
It’s tough because writing about holiday experiences at the holidays means your readers won’t have time to plan ahead. However, most people don’t share holiday experiences at other times of the year… I’m glad you were Inspired, and I hope you’ll find your way there one day!
Truly Madly Kids (@TrulyMadly7)
It does sound utterly magical. I really need to take my kids to Windsor, I know I need to revisit Queen Mary’s dollhouse! #farawayfiles
I loved the dolls’ house! The craftsmanship is amazing! The palaces do an amazing job with children’s activities too!
Wow! I never thought to visit the palace at Christmas but the decorations look amazing! #farawayfiles
They were stunning!
Wonderful post. I have not been to Windsor during Christmas and your post with its beautiful photos have certainly inspired me. It’s was so great you could visit Buckingham Palace in winter. I would love to visit the palace someday. Thank you so much for this post.#farawayfiles
I’m so happy you enjoyed the post and we’re inspired! I hope you get to visit someday it’s worth it!
This is something I had never thought to dowhile still back home in the UK. I can only imagine how beautiful the castles would be around Christmas! Such a cool idea and seems like a lovely day out 🙂 #farawayfiles
A fabulous day out and the decorations are out of this world!
Bryna | Dotted Line Travels
If I could have it my way, it would be Christmas all year round, so I don’t mind a Christmas-related post in March at all! How lucky that you got to experience the Christmas festivities at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace! I’d love to see the doll’s house, and St. George’s Chapel is so beautiful, I can see why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle picked it as their wedding venue!
I agree! Christmas is magical! I didn’t get married in a church, but I wouldn’t mind St. George’s Chapel if I had a do over. Ha ha! The dolls house is spectacular.
These two experiences sound great and unforgettable (like you mentioned). I am sure spending the end of the year in London is something high on traveler’s bucket lists. My family didn’t celebrate Christmas when I was growing up. Therefore, Christmas decoration do not necessarily wow me. Now, there are places like New York City where the decorations are superb. Going to New York at the end of the year is special too. #FarawayFiles
We didn’t celebrate Christmas either, but I admit to loving all things glittery, glowing and sparkly! It was a truly unforgettable day out… both times!
Two wonderful experiences here, I love it when something unexpected happens. How amazing you were able to get tickets for these unique Winter events – I had no idea that there were winter visits to Buckingham Palace nor plays at Windsor. The play sounds fantastic especially with the actors interacting with the audience prior to going on stage. I was fortunate enough to visit Buckingham Palace as a guest when the Queen gave my father in law a special award and it was a wonderful day with all the pomp and ceremony you would expect. Windsor Castle I’ve visited as a tourist – so much to see! I haven’t taken my children to either so I must do that some time. Thanks for sharing your special experiences and for hosting #FarawayFiles
Wow, now that’s an experience that must have been for you to see a ceremony like that and with someone in your family being honored in such a special way. We were so surprised and delighted at the way everything worked out with both of these visits! I hope you’re kids love it when they visit!
Oh, my! What a treat to visit Windsor Castle at the holidays! We ran out of days to visit during my last trip to London. I hope to return, and this will move to the top of the list. And the holiday trees and decor and a play. You planned everything just right!
I admit it all worked out beautifully, and I felt very fortunate. In a city like London it’s hard to find time to fit in all the wonderful in city activities let a lone getting out of town for day trips.
fifi + hop
Indeed sounds very magical! I just love that the actors were already in full swing on the ascent to the play! How great that you got to see Windsor Castle both during day and night. #farawayfiles
It was a very magical day and evening out! I’m sure we’ll remember it for a lifetime!
Kathleen (Kat) (@katpegimana)
Oh my, how lovely! A little jealous that you had a chance to pay a visit to Windsor Castle during the festive season and experienced A Christmas Carol play 🙂 Your pictures are beautiful and i bet the castle was probably more beautiful in real settings, bedecked in Christmas lights and decorations. Will look out for special events at the castle when I travel to London in the future 🙂 #FarawayFiles
You’re so right about it being even more beautiful in person, its hard to describe just how lovely it all was. Magical really! The good news is they offer a variety of special events all year round, so definitely keep your eye out for opportunities next time you’re in town.
What a wonderful post, and with the weather as it has been in the Uk recently its not actually that hard to imagine Christmas! Windsor castle is so impressive isn’t it, I can only imagine how magical seeing A Christmas Carol performed within the walls of it must have been. Definitely something to add to the list for later in the year. #FarawayFiles
Thanks you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! It was SO magical, and would have been anytime of the year, but throw in all those magnificent decorations and the play and I was practically floating on air I was so happy!
There is always such a warming atmosphere around these occasions, who couldn’t enjoy an evening at a Royal Castle.
It doesn’t matter how many times you see ‘A Christmas Carol’ it always a pleasure to watch. A lovely post and full of wonderful photos. #farawayfiles
Thank you! I’m with you, an evening at a Royal Castle is always a good idea. The play was wonderful as always. It just wouldn’t be the holidays without A Christmas Carol.
Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays
Wow! Windsor is pretty special at any time of year but how amazing at Christmas. AND A Christmas Carol!
It was pretty great! I practically floated to the train after I was so excited!
The details in the doll’s house are impressive. I really must get over to see it with the children. And as for watching A Christmas Carol there……what an experience! It may only be March, but I’m getting that tingly festive feeling just from reading, and looking at your pictures. #CulturedKids
How in the heck did I miss this post?! This would be awesome! We just spend Christmas Day reading A Christmas Carol out loud (me) and drinking hot cocoa! I’m going to make it a yearly tradition!
What a lovely tradition! It was an amazing and unforgettable experience! I highly recommend.