Buckingham Palace vs Windsor Castle: How to choose between the two royal homes
If you're visiting the United Kingdom, you can't leave without visiting a royal monument of one of the most famous monarchies in the world. The most famous of the royal residences are Buckingham Palace, a magnificent home for the monarch of the U.K.; and Windsor Castle, a century-old castle that was Queen Elizabeth II’s beloved royal residence.
But what are the differences between the two? This guide will give you the lowdown on Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, and what you need to know when planning a visit.
Buckingham Palace vs Windsor Castle
Buckingham Palace is the home to the monarch of the U.K., and is one of the most iconic royal residences. It also acts as the administrative headquarters for the royal family, with state occasions and national events frequently being hosted at its grounds. Buckingham Palace also houses the largest private garden in London at 17 hectares, which is about the size of 672 tennis courts.
Windsor Castle, on the other hand, is the world’s oldest and largest inhabited castle. It was the main residence of Queen Elizabeth II from 2011 to 2022 and is said to be one of her favorite royal homes. Much of the Royal Collection is based here, like the Royal Archives, the Royal Photography Collection, the Print Room, and the Royal Library.
History and royal significance
Originally known as Buckingham House, Buckingham Palace was a townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703, hence the name. After being acquired by King George III in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte, Queen Victoria became the first monarch to stay there after her accession in 1837. The principal facade of Buckingham Palace was later completed in 1850.
Meanwhile, Windsor Castle dates back even earlier to the 11th century, after the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror. The reigning monarch has occupied Windsor Castle since 1100 and over the years, it has been rebuilt with elaborate architecture with Rocco, Gothic, and Baroque furnishings. It eventually became the center for royal entertainment during Queen Victoria’s reign.
Buckingham Palace is in the City of Westminster, located in the western part of London’s city center. It’s easily accessible by public transport, with the closest Tube stations being Victoria, Green Park, and Hyde Park Corner, and several nearby bus stops as well. It’s conveniently close to other tourist attractions too, like Westminster Abbey, The Guards Museum, St. James Theatre, and more.
Windsor Castle is in the English county of Berkshire, about a 45-minute drive from London. While you’re there, you can also explore the town of Windsor, home to the Windsor Guildhall and the Theatre Royal Windsor.
What to do at each
Things to do at Buckingham Palace
You can explore Buckingham Palace on this two and half hour walking tour. Admire the opulent decor and classic architecture of the palace, along with the Queen’s own collection of priceless art.
Outside the palace, treat yourself to one of London’s most quintessential experiences—the Changing of the Guard. On this semi-private two hour walking tour, you’ll stop by the Horse Guards Parade at Whitehall and witness the ceremony from the best viewing spots, without having to fight with the crowds. After a walk through St. James’s Park, the oldest Royal Park in the city, you’ll get to see Clarence House, the official residence of the newly-crowned King Charles III and Queen Camilla.
End your visit to Buckingham Palace at The Royal Mews, where the royal carriages are housed. Get an exclusive look at the Gold State Coach, the iconic 260-year-old carriage used for State occasions like Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. The Royal Mews is open throughout the year for you to go behind the scenes and experience the royal working stables.
Things to do at Windsor Castle
Take in the Castle Precincts and its history as a fortress and palace on this half-day trip. You’ll also be able to admire the Grand Reception Room with its grand furnishings and ornate chandeliers. In the State Apartments, you’ll be able to see paintings from artists like Rembrandt, Rubens, and Canaletto, while works from Leonardo and Michelangelo are on rotation in the Drawings Gallery.
A must-see is Queen Mary’s Doll House, a perfect replica of an aristocratic home that was built for her in the 1920s. The centerpiece of the doll house is its library, complete with 700 miniature books. If you’re not a fan of the crowds at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle also has its own Changing of the Guards ceremony.
While you’re already outside of London, explore all that the English countryside has to offer with this full-day tour of Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Oxford. You’ll be able to marvel at Stonehenge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back over 5,000 years to prehistoric Britain. End the day in Oxford, home to Britain’s oldest university, for an introduction to the city’s sights and history.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Buckingham Palace is between July to October, as the state rooms are only open to visitors in the summer. Buy your tickets in advance, as they tend to sell out quickly. Arrive early for your visit, as there can be long lines and security checks, and you may not be allowed to enter if you’re late. There may be state events throughout the year, so be sure to check the opening hours of the attractions you plan to visit, especially the Changing of the Guard.
Unlike Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle is open all year round. The castle is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and St. George’s Chapel is closed on Sundays for regular services. In summer, you can check out the State Apartments and St. George’s Chapel. But be sure to buy your tickets in advance to skip waiting in line, especially during this peak period. In the winter, your ticket provides entry to the private apartments constructed by George IV.
Windsor Castle vs Buckingham Palace: Which one should you visit?
If you only have two to three days in London, Buckingham Palace is close to many of the city’s top attractions and makes for a convenient stop on a half-day tour. The palace is a must for first-time visitors to U.K. for an introduction to Britain’s royal traditions.
If you’re spending more time in the U.K., set aside a day to explore Windsor Castle and the county of Berkshire. The castle and its surroundings are a great English countryside respite from the bustle of the city.
At the end of the day, both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are amazing monuments rich with beauty and history—make the time to add both as stops on your itinerary.
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