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: 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.