The insider guide to Windsor
Spotlight's on Windsor thanks to a little Royal Wedding. Ditch the guide book, here's where to hang out.
So apparently there’s a little Berkshire wedding happening soon. My invite got lost in the post (*sniff), but thanks to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Windsor’s hot hot hot right now. This sassy royal couple have put the cool back into Cool Britannia, and I’m determined to do the same for Windsor. Shall we saunter across the cobbles…
There’s no shortage of places to scoff and quaff in these parts. If you’re looking for somewhere hip and casual, hop over to Flaming Cow, on the other side of Eton bridge. A brilliant burger joint that reminds me of Meat Liquor, it’s got an urban vibe, good food and a cool pitstop to refuel with friends, teens or littlies. For something a bit more leisurely, The Boatman is blessed with the best location – river views to die for. The food is more gastropub than pub fayre, and is an idyllic spot to tuck in while the sun shines.
Want to escape the tourist hustle? Oh but you can. Take an afternoon tea cruise (Bateaux Windsor Cruise), take in the sights while scoffing delicate finger sarnies, cakes and scones. They offer a kids menu but more importantly there’s fizz as well as tea.
I’d also recommend The Bel & The Dragon on Thames Street for a relaxed meal, in a stylish setting that’ll put a smile on the face of the fussiest eater. For grown up chefy food, head to Old Windsor and enjoy Stephen Ellis’s phenomenal menu at the Oxford Blue.
Personally, I’d stay out of just out of town to really get the most of the town and country feels of Windsor. The Winning Post Windsor is a pub with rooms, think Four Weddings cosy and a lovely spot to eat, drink and celebrity spot. A few drinks by the open fire and a boutique room to rest your weary head, it’s the perfect bolthole. For more formality, The Oakley Court is a grand riverside hotel with sexy rooms kitted out squishy bed and *ahem* chandeliers. A little further afield you cannot beat the scandalous glamour of Cliveden House Hotel and Spa and Bray Cottages offer boutique boltholes that give you the space of your own cottage with the luxuries of a hotel. If it’s a central spot of nothing, the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa, on the approach to the Eton Footbridge is in a cracking Georgian building and oozes luxury. Plus there is a spa. cuff said.
You can’t leave Windsor without following in the footsteps of kings and queens down The Long Walk. It’s 2.64miles, a 2-3 hour round trip and takes you up to the copper statue of mad King George III. No bikes, no cars (unless you’re the crown wearing VIP) just you, Windsor Great Park and lots of roaming deer. It’s the perfect spot to clear a fuzzy head. If you’re after something more organised, there are lots of walking tours to choose from, but the ghost tour (Windsor Walks) with its tales of royals, rogues, mistresses and murderers is always fun.
Windsor’s best kept secret? No5 St Leonards Road. A champagne bar that’s as sexy as a burlesque dancer’s boudoir. It’s a 10-minute walk from the centre, but the Porn Star Martinis, Chesterfields and vintage vibes are worth the trip. If you’re at the other end of town, make your way over Eton Bridge and down to The Eton Mess. Stylish interiors, industrial details, an epic selection of gins and a cocktail menu that will keep you busy. The food is good here too, so dine, drink and bed in for a cracking night. If only dancing and daiquiris will do, Bar Yello has an extensive bar menu and live DJs.
Largely high street, but Windsor Royal Shopping has a boutique vibe and you’ll find Whistles, Sweaty Betty, Le Creuset, Jo Malone, French Connection, Daniel’s department store, Space NK and a very good Zara. For some thing completely different, the Thames Hospice charity shop on Peascod Street, is a hidden gem. A dedicated Vintage and Retro shop, it’s a hotspot for the fashion crowd, TV stars and media stylists. It’s absolutely teeming with one-off clothes, accessories and homeware.
It goes without saying that when you’re in Windsor, you kinda have to visit Windsor Castle or ‘Orf with your head’. It gives you the Through The Keyhole experience in real life, as the Queen and Prince Phillip, actually live here. In fact it is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. I’m not suggesting you rifle through her underwear drawer, but perv at the interiors, admire her art and antiques and check out the sitch for the ‘I dos’ in St George’s Chapel. Plus there are lots of family events throughout the year, including a Royal Wedding themed family Saturdays in May and a special family music festival in the Moat Garden on 28 May.
Alternatively (and rather more exclusively), head to Frogmore House. It provided the stunning backdrop for for Harry and Meghan’s engagement photos and you can see it for yourself if you time it just right. Frogmore is only open to the public for 3 days in June (all proceeds go to charity) or for pre-booked groups of 15+ people, during August.
The juggernaut that is Legoland is a big draw for families and fans of the plastic brick. But for alternatives, try Go Ape. The nearest one to Windsor is Black Park Country Park– 560 stonking acres of woodland where you can hang out on the high ropes, zip wires, Tarzan swings and obstacles. Just watch your zip wire landing, mine is a little less than dignified. Windsor Duck Tours gives you the local lowdown without being naff. The fact you start off on a bus and end up in a boat is great fun. Honest to god, my kids love it. Finally, if you’re looking for a place where the cool little kids hang, it can only be The Jelly Lounge. It’s funky, fun serves great food, superb coffee and booze. Nuff said.
The Queen living right in the centre of town is a quirk in itself, but you also have The Crooked House (home to jewellers, Jersey Pearl). Why does it tilt? It was either built with unseasoned wood or the builders of the Guildhall extension gave it a shove as the house next door was too close. Either way, cowboy builders were to blame. Windsor also has the shortest street in the world. Charlotte Street is just 16m long and conveniently takes you to a pub and you’ll also find the UK’s only blue post box in town. Yes there is such a thing. It was erected in 1911 to mark the first UK airmail flight which took place between London and Windsor.
Royal Windsor Horse Show celebrates its 75th anniversary this year (9-13 May). It’s grown from a small charity dog and horse show to a big deal. A whopping 50,000 people visit the show each year in Her Maj’s back garden. Many top show jumpers and dressage riders compete here, the military put on a mega display, the kids’ Shetland Grand National is awesome and there’s a pretty high quota of royals ambling around.
If you prefer to park your bum on a red velvet seat, Windsor’s Theatre Royal is a stunning venue, owned by the legendary Bill Kenwright. Lots of gold gilding and plush velvet. Some of the shows are a bit old fashioned but they throw a few gems in to pull in a younger crowd. If you’re visiting from 21 Sept – 6 Oct 2018, check out Windsor Fringe Festival. The 2nd oldest fringe festival (after Edinburgh, obvs) it offers showcases new talent in music, dance, comedy, drama and art.
There are 2 places guaranteed to drag urban hipsters out of a cereal cafe, it’s Firey Things & The Hope and Brewery Comedy at Eton & Windsor Brewery. Fiery Things & The Hope is a bar come culture club, hosting indie cinema nights and film festivals, fringe comedy, supper clubs, cool club nights and so much more. It’s the epitome of alternative and I love it. Eton & Windsor Brewery is more than a regional beer producer, it’s also a comedy venue. Yup. Craft beers and comedy – it a match made in hipster heaven. Fresh meat, I mean talent, perform regularly from the factory floor and they jessie it up with fairy lights.
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