It wasn’t until I went to link back to my Windsor post that I realized I had not, in fact, ever written it. So here it is, over a month after our return…Ed.
Traveling with children typically involves some negotiation and compromise between what the parents want to do and what will keep the children entertained enough to prevent complete melt-down. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the best possible solution to this dilemma–Windsor, England.
The very walkable size of the town, the number of outdoor attractions, and the presence of Lego-Land make this small town just outside of London a great location to visit with children. Having spoken to many parents who shudder at the thought of losing a child in the crowds of London, I think Windsor offers a nice balance of kid-friendly activities and amazing historical sites bound to please family-members of all ages.
Where to Stay
Windsor makes for a fairly easy day-trip if you’re staying in London–there are frequent trains from Paddington Station and bus tours that stop for several hours in Windsor leave from several downtown London locations. But I suggest staying in or around the Windsor-Eton area to truly appreciate all that it has to offer.
As with many world-famous tourist towns, Windsor is not cheap–both dining out and accommodations are on the expensive side–but there are nice, child-friendly lodgings available. If you want to avoid driving (which I heartily recommend), consider:
- Budget – The Clarence Hotel is nice, child-friendly, within easy walking distance to many of Windsor’s attractions, and about the least expensive accommodations you’ll find in the area.
- Mid-range – The Royal Bourrough provides a helpful searchable database of accommodations in the area, including apartments for rent.
- Not Budget, but nice – The Christopher, Eton, is situated between the River Thames and Eton College. Eton is always quieter than bustling Windsor, and that is reflected in the higher price, but this hotel provides a nice afternoon tea, comfortable bar, and excellent breakfast, in the perfect location to walk both towns.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, as there are many options in this area, but this will get you started on your planning. Note that there a resort hotel located at Legoland is under construction and due to open March 12. Check Legoland‘s web site for more information. You can also book combined room/Legoland entry deals, often at a serious discount from regular Legoland rates, but I have to admit that I didn’t have the best of luck getting their search engine to work!
Started by William the Conquerer in the 11th century, Windsor Castle remains one of my favorite castle/palaces and rivals Versailles. From the striking skyline to the tiny details in Queen Mary’s doll-house, the pieces of the castle that tourists can access (it is, after all, a working castle and QE2 is often in residence) show both the complexity and historical span of the British monarchy.
Children will love the cannon, the doll house, the guilt-work, and the amazing geometric arrangement of both weaponry and coats of arms on display in the state apartments.
Adults might appreciate seeing the tomb of King Henry VIII and Queen Victoria’s beautiful memorial to her beloved Albert in St. George’s Chapel, and can take a crack at explaining the amazing span of history represented by the castle to the little ones as they wander the grounds.
If your idea of a family holiday involves Mickey Mouse, you might be disappointed by the scale of Legoland Windsor. However, younger children who might be overwhelmed by Disney will find Legoland altogether more manageable.
For our family, the roller coaster pictured here was the children’s first. At ages 5 and 7, one child was still too small to ride the larger rides, while the older one was thrilled to go on some of the “big boy” rides that his sister was too little to enjoy.
Children under the age of three (or under the requisite 90cm) might be too small to do much, even with an accompanying parent, at LegoLand, but the park seems ideal for the 4-8 year-old set.
On the weekends, the lines for the rides are long, as you might expect at any amusement park. However, there are so many Lego-themed play grounds sprinkled throughout the park that there are plenty of things for children to do without standing in line.
I found the food to be both expensive and relatively unhealthy, and found myself wishing we’d made a trip to Marks & Spencer or Waitrose for some of their lovely prepackaged foods before we spent the day at LegoLand.
Other things to see and do
There are so many things to do in the area, and the farther afield you’re willing to go, the more you can see (London is only 20 minutes away by train!). However, here are a few things you can get to either on foot or by bus from central Windsor/Eton:
- Eton College – School of princes and nobility, this is a great guided tour during the season (April through early October), especially if you have a little girl who loved the fanfare of the Royal Wedding.
- The Savill Garden– Not only a great open area for the children to run in, but home to a truly stunning array of plants from Rhododendrons large as a house to some of most beautiful natural bulb plantings I’ve ever seen. Oh, and the roses! I could go on…
- Windsor Great Park – Start with a stroll down the Long Walk, which leaves from the east edge of the castle. If you get a chance, consider renting bikes and cycling deeper into the lovely Great Park and watch for massive herds of deer, beautiful little ponds and wooded areas, and quaint thatch-roofed villages nestled in the immense grounds.
- Windsor Guildhall – This beautiful building sits just outside the castle entrance and was built by Sir Christopher Wren.
- Frogmore House – Although it’s only open for a few short days each August, if you happen to be in Windsor during this time, Frogmore House holds a real piece of history. Not only is it a beloved holiday home of the monarchy, but it contains the royal mausoleum.
Dining in Windsor/Eton
From the collection of high-end chain restaurants (and shops) in the Windsor Royal Station to the pubs that line Thames Street in Windsor and the Eton High Street, finding a good place to eat in Windsor is perhaps easier than in other more metropolitan areas in England.
We particularly enjoy The George Inn & Gilbey’s on Eton High Street, as well as Bel & The Dragon, Cafe Rouge, and The Spice Route in Windsor. For a quick meal or a picnic in one of the many parks in the area, there are several specialty food stores in the Peascod Street/Windsor Royal Station shopping area, as well as a large new Waitrose and Marks & Spencer for the usual picnic fare.