Some of the best things to see and do in Eton
PUBLISHED: 11:27 28 August 2020 | UPDATED: 14:45 28 August 2020
Famed for its Prime Minister-producing college and proximity to the Royal town of Windsor, Eton manages to keep its old charms. With quirky shops, timeless museums and community spirit, many still cross the famous bridge to pay a visit
If you Google "Eton" your first page of search results will be dominated with links pertaining to the world-famous Eton College. Princes Harry and William both attended, as did our new Prime Minister Boris Johnson (the 20th Eton pupil to have the role). It's impossible to ignore the college's influence on the area, ever since its inception in 1440.
It was an 18-year-old Henry VI who picked Eton as the location for his new college. All of the land immediately around it was granted to the college, which many say restricted the growth of the town itself. The college literally blocked expansion north and the river stops the town to the south and east. Then where there is open land, there are ancient rights and Trusts that restrict any new activity.
The glorious buildings that make up the college include the cloisters, the gatehouse and chapel, but did you know that there is also a nuclear bunker on the site? It was built in 1959 to house the college's provost and fellows.
What the college may be remembered for, however, is developing Dorney Lake, used for the 2012 Olympics. Over 400,000 people visited the lake during the games and it was voted the best Olympic venue by spectators. Thirty medal events were held there and Team GB won 12, making the lake one of the most successful venues for our athletes. It's certainly worth a visit.
Eton may be overshadowed a little by its neighbour Windsor, but it retains a certain charm. Stores that have been on the High Street for decades still serve the community and students. Plus the river attracts visitors whether by boat or for a picnic on the grass at Brocas, where they can admire one of the best views of Windsor Castle.
Its great stories may sit firmly in the past, but Eton has always been progressive. For example, don't forget it was the first town in the UK to have a complete modern drainage system and it was also the first in England to have a Victorian post box. You can still send your letters from it today.
The Eton Mess Bar
Fluffy whipped cream, freshly picked strawberries and broken bits of chewy meringue is what you would normally think of when you hear the words "Eton Mess". In this case, it's the aptly named cocktail bar at 55 High Street, boasting delicious drinks and British food. Cocktails are on the menu if you're looking for something different to the usual. They host a happy hour, and also have a cocktail of the day. Just a minute's walk away, at number 75, is the Flaming Cow. Tarek Elawadi is the director of both venues; he says his ultimate aim is "to develop Eton into a destination famed for its food and drink, just like Marlow!" The burgers at the Flaming Cow are said to be the best in town - which might go a way to explain why this venue is so popular with families.
All essentials and more
Strolling down Eton's High Street you will see an abundance of brightly coloured independent shops and businesses. Their facades take you back in time and you might say there is a sense of the traditional about the whole shopping experience. First there's the choice of three men's clothing stores, New & Lingwood gentlemen's outfitters, Welsh & Jefferies, and Billings & Edmonds. Each has a long history in Eton, supplying students from Eton College with their uniforms for over 100 years.
CJ Reid Dispensary, Eton Stationers and Luxe Flowers have the essentials covered, while art lovers can peruse the J Manley Gallery. Most shoppers won't be able to resist popping into Tastes Delicatessen - fully stocked with cold meats, preserves, pickles, breads, cakes and chocolates. This is where to go if you're looking for a tasty gift for someone.
Step back in time
With around 16,000 objects on display, the Eton College Natural History Museum on South Meadow Lane celebrates the life of Sir Joseph Banks. Visitors can look into his cabin onboard the HMS Endeavour before exploring the museum to uncover all the prints of the plants he discovered on his epic voyage. Stuffed birds, mammals, moths and butterflies peer from their glass cases as part of the Thackeray Collection, among others.
The museum is only open on Sunday afternoons from 2.30pm-5pm. Admission is free.
Sip tea on the river
Cakes, scones, sandwiches and a plethora of teas to choose from, all onboard 'Melody' as you glide past the best sites in Eton and Windsor. Relax to sounds of the piano on Willow Room's 75-minute cruise. You might even like to treat yourself to something fizzy and alcoholic as you take in views of Eton College, Windsor Racecourse and Windsor Castle. The afternoon tea (without alcohol) costs £46.
Just across the bridge and opposite Windsor Castle, the whole family can get stuck in to some chocolate making at Dr Choc's Windsor Chocolate Factory. First up, take the tour to find out the science and history of chocolate, then spend an hour learning the fine art of making delicious chocolate from over 30 ingredients. Bonbons, hot chocolate on a stick, truffles and pralines - you name it, you will end up eating it.
Have you ever explored what goes into making the perfect pint? There's a chance to find out and sample some ales at the same time at Windsor & Eton Brewery. The brewhouse and taproom are five minutes from the bank of the Thames and just 10 minutes more from Windsor Castle. The factory doors are often opened to offer public and private tours for anyone in search of a good day out and a taste of a carefully crafted beer.
"We pride ourselves on making a better glass of beer," says the brewery's Charlotte Thomson. "Our focus for the last nine years has always been on providing every guest, every pub we supply and every customer who drinks our brews with the best experience we can possibly give them."
It's not just tours on offer, if you're looking for entertainment in the evening they also host comedy nights, live music sessions, society events and a wide range of street food trucks at the taproom.
The brewery's flagship pub and restaurant, The George Inn, sits right on the bridge at the south end of Eton High Street with a suntrap garden and cosy interior - the perfect place to fill up on food before heading off to sample some ales. Charlotte says: "It's our mission to make beer Windsor and Eton's biggest attraction!"
Tours cost from £15.50 per person.
"It's been almost a decade since I opened the Eton Beauty Salon," recalls owner Saj Ferguson. "Being situated in this beautiful town and overlooking the river and Eton Piazza inspired me to rename my salon Eton Beauty Riverside.
"My aim was to create this little oasis of peace and quietness for my clients to enjoy as soon as they step in. Walking through the door you immediately feel a sense of calm and peace. The unique ambience of high ceilings, stone floors, subtle smells and the sound of quietness allow you a little time to escape. Often clients say to me: 'Even though that was a wax; I feel totally relaxed.'
"I also love it when my clients get on the massage couch all tense and within minutes, as the conversation trickles to silence, you feel them gently letting go and hopefully forgetting their day-to-day stresses.
"It gives me satisfaction knowing that my clients leave here feeling great, no matter what treatment they've had. All the treatments have been designed to leave you feeling like you have hit the 'reset' button."
Hot stones massage, waxing, Ananda Face Therapy, luxury manicure and eyebrow and eyelash treatments - the spa menu is extensive. Spoil yourself and escape the outside for a while.
See the full list of what Saj offers online, pop by to book an appointment at 67 High Street, Eton, or call 07786 912335.
- Route for a Berkshire walk at Pangbourne along the Thames - Colin Wharton heads to Pangbourne for an 11-mile journey across the meadows and along the Thames