The best things to see and do in Windsor
PUBLISHED: 12:09 13 November 2018 | UPDATED: 12:20 13 November 2018
Royalty, independent shops, a buzzing arts scene and some great places to eat out, it's easy to see why everyone loves Windsor
The image of Windsor for those of us who don’t live there is usually ‘Royal Town and tourists’ but that’s just because we never stop to look beyond the High Street. If we did, we’d understand why it’s such a popular place to live.
Windsor is an international destination, even in the years when no Royal Weddings are taking place. Indeed, there are at least 30 towns around the world that share the name Windsor with our town.
Every year there are around 8 million day-trippers to the Windsor and Maidenhead district – including Eton of course – and getting on for three-quarters of a million staying visits, with more of the overnight stays made by people who live in the UK.
But for all the ‘putting on a show’ for the visitors, and welcoming their spending, Windsor & Eton has an incredible heart, an identity which the community nurtures and vigorously defends. Chat to people who live here and time and again you’ll hear the sort of stories you’d expect to find in a West Berkshire ‘country set’ hamlet rather than a cosmopolitan destination.
“Everyone knows each other here, it’s a close community,” says one. “It takes a bit of getting used to after the anonymity of West London,” says another. “But people look out for each other, here which is so refreshing.”
Yes, there’s community spirit here. There are the Windsor families and businesses stretching back generations with stories of aunties who served at the Castle for monarchs before our Queen. Living alongside them are those residents who have decided that the edgy bit of London that delighted them in their 20s is not such a great choice for family life, so have made the move down the river. Glitz, glamour, and a big heart beating underneath it all. What more could you want?
Theatre and the arts
You’ll be royally entertained here, all year round. For a start, there’s The Theatre Royal, a fantastically intimate showcase for everything from sing-alongs to top stage actors in spell-binding adult productions. The panto is a ‘not-be-missed’ treat and in 2018/19 it’s Dick Whittington, running from 23 November to 6 January. The Old Court in St Leonards Road provides an eclectic mix of art, live music, comedy and stage performance.
Unlike many town centres, Windsor remains a first class destination for those who can’t resist going home with bags and labels. Fashion, interiors, art and much more, it has a pedestrianised centre including Peascod Street, Windsor Royal Shopping and Windsor Yards, and finds in the Victorian railway arches. A huge plus is the proper department store, Daniel of Windsor, a must for Christmas shopping, particularly if toys are on your list.
Make sure you head down Peascod Street and make the most of that ‘beating heart’ we mentioned, the St Leonards Road area. It’s a gem for independent shops and foodie treats. In the other direction, definitely cross the bridge into Eton – you go from the designer labels of Windsor’s show-off style to a small and historic High Street full of window displays which will draw you in.
What more could you want? The big one… decent schools, and here Windsor gets good marks in both the private and state sector.
The usual route is through the middle schools to the highly regarded comprehensive Windsor Boys and Windsor Girls Schools - yes, this is one of the areas where single-sex education sets the state standard.
Queensmead School (formerly known as Brigidine) is an independent non-selective Catholic day school spanning from two to 18 years, while other favourites include Upton House, a nursery and prep (boys until seven, girls to 11).
The children, of course, will be more interested that Legoland is just down the road.
There’s no other word for it, Windsor is ‘handy’. There are two railway stations, to Waterloo (journey time around an hour) and Paddington via Slough (about 40 minutes). The M4 is easily picked up at Slough or Langley, giving access to the M25, and the M3 is 12 miles away across country. Of course if you live in Windsor and also work there, then you are not only lucky but rather clever too!
Kerry Manning, manager at Vinegar Hill in St Leonards Road, the independent small chain of just 11 shops specialising in gifts and homewares, loves the culture and history of Windsor but says: “The best bit is that it still feels like a village.” Kerry’s expecting a baby in the New Year. She recommends boutique café Madame Posh in Peascod Street for a bite to eat.
Huttons is a wonderful interiors and giftware independent chain with just five stores but a very clever eye for discovering and selling ‘must have’ items to set off decors and showcase individual style.
We discovered Freya kalra and James overton behind the counter. They recommend a visit to Clairmont’s in the high street for coffee and light bites with a very friendly welcome.
Martyn Crossley in Peascod Street is often called upon to supply flowers for events at Windsor Castle – including ones for the Royal Wedding of Harry and Meghan – and was also behind the floral decorations when Sophie, Countess of Wessex, visited Daniel department store to mark their centenary.
He knows what the royal family like after 28 years just yards from the Castle. But you won’t pay right royal prices at this excellent florist for the flowers or display pots.
Food & drink
This is where you really feel the warmth of the Windsor Effect. Lots of visitors means the foodie offering is diverse and expansive, a giant tableau of international cuisine from fine dining to quick bites. We suspect you could eat out every day but rarely visit the same place, although you’ll want to, particularly at the long-established family businesses.
The centres of Windsor and Eton offer all the better and reliable chains and you’ll find backstreet local pubs and cafés which only the most intrepid day-trippers (who are always welcomed) end up in, serving very filling ‘grub’ at fair prices. Click here for details on Windsor’s pubs and restaurants.
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