Windsor with kids - Castles in stone and Lego
A Windsor with kids trip is more diverse than you would expect.
Travel in time from the Stone Age at the Henge, through the Norman Conquest at Windsor Castle and into the laser shooting Ninjago Lego-ride future; touring castles in stone and Lego in lands both real and fantasy.
Virtual world travel is also possible in Lego form from Big Ben in London to Moscow’s St Basil’s. Practically educational.
So, a theme park/history combo – something for everyone!
Here are some top tips to make the most of your stay:
Is Legoland safe in Covid?
Windsor with kids tip 1 – Legoland being outdoors, queues being socially distanced and rides being regularly cleaned it is a pretty safe Covid bet. Also crowd free!
This year was to have been large. Child 1’s birthday was to be at Disneyland, California. When that whole plan was Covid-binned, his plan B was to suggest Legoland Windsor which had just opened instead. Crowds and shared fairground rides might not be ideal in these virus-filled times but it was outdoors, they would surely have a pretty stringent cleaning plan and maybe smaller queues? We went for it. Especially as its only £33 pp at the minute – bargain. Windsor with kids became plan B.
The day we travelled also turned out to be the day that masks must be worn for most things you’d want to do on a weekend away. Was going to be an odd one. But maybe a tad safer.
Where to stay in Windsor with kids?
We checked to see if the Legoland hotel was offering any pandemic deals, but it’s price tuned out to be Covid-inelastic and still way out of our price range.
Scanning the options for a commutable family room on Trivago, the closest we could get was Bracknell, which didn’t sound very glamorous but did have a pool and the government had kindly decreed that it could open on his birthday.
What other Windsor with kids activities were there?
Windsor with kids tip 2 – Book ahead for Highclere and pretend to be a Downton dame.
What could we tag on to the Windsor with kids trip? Windsor castle – closed. Highclere – set of Downton Abbey? Open, but fully booked. We thought we’d throw in a Wiltshire white horse and maybe Stonehenge. The night before setting off – Windsor castle opened and we booked a slot. Nice one.
How to see Stone Henge for free
Windsor with kids tip 3 – Look for the junction of Fargo and Willoughby Road in Amesbury for a free peak at Stonehenge
On the way over from Bristol to break up the trip to Windsor, we’d decided to swing by Stone Henge. As it’s about £60 for a family ticket and we’d just paid for the castle, we wondered if you could cheekily see the Henge for free. On Googling we found that you could. Great.
Plugged Fargo Rd, Amesbury into the satnav as instructed, with a vague plan of looking for a gravel path when we got there.
Fargo road is quite long. We drove past some military barracks then into some kind of housing estate. Interest was waning in the whole plan. We drove up and down a few more times only to find there were several gravel paths but most of them instructed us to, “Get off my land,” or words to that effect. We chose one at random without the, “You are trespassing,” sign on it and, contrary to all expectation and much like a spiritual vision, the Henge came into view.
The missing part of our instructions was that you are looking for the junction of Fargo and Willoughby Road
A 15 minute walk takes you past some hippy campervans to a National Trust emblem (never felt so welcome) indicating a perfectly permissible walk though a small field to the stones. You stand on the other side of a knee-high wire fence to the fee paying crowds. I’d say there was a 50/50 split of freeloaders and fee payers. Now obviously you don’t get the full historical picture but last I heard the historians hadn’t worked out its secrets yet anyway. You can practically stand on the metal marker showing the sun’s solstice path, and is it perfect for a flying visit. (You could always make a charitable donation online if you are feeling bad about being a robber by omission.)
After struggling to find the stones, no one was really up for an hour’s diversion to fail to find a white horse so we popped that idea on a shelf for next time and set off for the hotel in Windsor.
Finding your Windsor hotel
Windsor with kids tip 4 – There are 2 Bracknell Hiltons. Check which one you have booked before you get there.
We arrived to find we had no booking. But it turned out that this was because there are 2 Bracknell Hiltons. Oh. Back in the car with all the luggage again we found the right one. The lady in this second reception, giving with one hand and taking with the other, allowed us to check in but confirmed the pool was not set to open for a week.
Having the bar to ourselves, we didn’t have to take advantage of the very Covid-aware table placements and ordered an ironic Corona.
Windsor with kids activity 2 - Legoland!
Day 2 in the Windsor with kids plan was the main event – Legoland!
You’re never too old for Lego – be it a house-sized Egyptian Pharaoh or a gun toting monkey shooting water at your face.
Buy your tickets online in advance
Windsor with kids tip 5 – Save time and money by buying Legoland tickets online.
Buying online in advance will not only get you a discount but also avoid wasting time queuing to buy them on the day.
You can often get 2 for 1 deals, with Tesco points. In non-Covid times kids go free if they have a Blue Peter badge. See my Travel Tips page for other money saving ideas.
Windsor with kids tip 6 – Arrive at Legoland early for pole queuing position.
We planned to get there early as in the past we had encountered large crowds amassed at the entrance waiting for the gates to open and vying for pole position in the ride queues.
Time is limited here – the park opens at 10 and closes at 5, which feels like a really short day if you’ve been to the midnight fireworks show at Disneyland. As queues for rides can be in excess of an hour (our personal cut off point for not joining one) you have to move quickly and decisively between rides to fit it all in.
Covid meant the carpark was pretty empty when we rocked up about 9:30. A teenager conducted our forehead temperature checks and we all felt some relief at not inadvertently having one. (I also felt like an extra in a Black Mirror episode, where they have stolen reality and replaced it with something quite similar but also fundamentally very different.)
Go straight to the rides
Windsor with kids tip 7 – To avoid the queues ignore the shops and head straight for the rides.
Taking our new masks out of their plastic wrappers we headed into the shop and posed for a face-masked photo by the TARDIS, thus fusing the fictional and real life sci-fi worlds.
We would not have squandered precious time in this manner if we had realised that in these socially distanced times, there is no corralling you in the park entrance until official opening time at 10am. Once you are through the ticket gates, you can head straight to your favourite attraction and start your day of ride queuing immediately. Seeing this, we headed for the Viking Ride and squatted down in cagoules in watery anticipation of both the forecast rain and log flume fun.
Queuing in Covid
Windsor with kids tip 8 – The Covid safest are the outside queues.
On all rides, there are markers on the ground for each family to stand on, but the snaking railings are still in the same pre-Covid position so you find yourself filing shoulder to shoulder past people moving in the opposite direction in the aisle ahead of you.
Masks must be worn for some rides which have queues indoors, but not all.
Rides are stopped every so often for a full clean, but not each carriage after each rider. If you are in anyway nervous about the virus or are a recent shielder, it may not be time for you to visit. But then I guess you wouldn’t really be looking at Legoland anyway at the minute.
But if you are happy to go you will find the crowds and queues a fraction of their former size, making time for much more family fun than usual.
Windsor with kids tip 9 – Do not miss the Pirate log flume and the Viking ride. You will get wet!
Enjoy being twirled around on a torrent of Viking water and then being shot down Pirate Log flumes. These are our firm favourites. Prepare to be fired upon at any point by a Lego pirate.
Windsor with kids tip 10 – The roller coasters are tame enough for most medium-brave kids (and adults).
On this occasion we were all brave enough to try the Dragon Roller coaster in the pretend castle with no one having to wait, miserable and alone at the bottom. A win for this visit.
You pass tableaux of Lego characters, including a smoking red dragon before rocketing around a woodland track in a dragon carriage.
Laser shooty rides
Windsor with kids tip 12 – The pictures on the walls are not just for decoration – they are instructions. Ignore them at your peril.
Wandering into the new Ninjago ride – we weren’t really paying attention to the walls until we noticed that they weren’t just telling us about Ninja Characters but were issuing us with instructions for the shooty laser ride which lay in store. Whip-lashed our heads in the nick of time, scanning the walls frantically as we realised this. only managing to ascertain rule one (of about five), that you were not to move your arms sideways. Missed the other pictures showing us what you were supposed to do. Oh well.
Climbed into a large Ninja logo’d red carriage and proceeded to be bombarded with 3D snake monsters, which we shook our arms in vain at in what we imagined to be regulation Ninja moves, for the duration of the ride. Quite hard work for a very low score.
There is a sizeable Egyptian theme going on in the Land of the Pharaohs who are incongruously linked to another laser shooty ride. Here you fire red light, from a traditional gun this time, at snakes in urns and a towering animated Tutankhamun. Mummies are available in small, medium and large.
Tip 13 – Recreate former holiday snaps – in Lego.
The rain really started to drum down as we wandered the mini-Lego cities where we got to revisit sites of former holidays in Lego form. Master Lego builders had clearly been at work here.
It was bitter sweet to see the Lego Las Vegas Luxor hotel, were we should have been staying for our wedding anniversary, next to a Lego Las Vegas sign we would have renewed our vows under the following week had Covid not stolen our US summer road trip. Still, we will see them in better weather next year. Hopefully.
When the rain was running down the phone to the extent that it was inoperable and no longer recognised my finger instructions, we sought shelter. The boys found a crocodile but although large, it was no good for 4.
Windsor with kids tip 14 – Find cafes which still offer seats in Covid in advance (there is one by the entrance)
Most- on site cafes are now take away and, like Disneyland at parade time, seeing the seats all stacked and out of bounds in the corners felt like an unfun game of musical chairs.
We eventually found a bench under a tree with seats over which water still flowed, and ate a soggy birthday waffle.
Windsor with kids tip 15 – It is cheaper to buy the large fluffy llama than to try to win it
To cheer the troops, we then tried our hand at hooking a duck to win a mega fluffy birthday lama prize, but a tenner poorer we walked away with a disappointingly unfluffy gonk toy.
Closing time at Legoland
Windsor with kids tip 16 – No queues at the end of the day!
Was it home time yet we wondered? It was about 4 O’ clock and the rain and the Covid meant that most people had given up. For those still standing we could now walk straight on to rides that earlier would have had hour long queues. Brilliant. Squeezed in 2 more pirate log flumes and had the equivalent of 2 buckets of water poured over our already sopping heads from the backspray.
Legoland ride photos
Windsor with kids tip 17 – Ride photos are good for comedy faces. Choose the non-mask rides!
As you can’t take a photo on a ride, the Legoland cameras strategically placed in the best positions do this for you. It is not cheap, at around £15 for one of the smallest packages but you can get some corkers, but only if you pick a non-mask ride.
As the pirate flume was indeed not a mask ride, we bought the photo. Masks do tend to take the fun out of the facial expression but could make a novelty factor souvenir for those with a darker sense of humour?
Windsor with kids tip 18 – Do not miss the walk in hot air facial
Saving the very best til last, we paid the 2 pounds for the whole family human hair drier, turning our faces to the warm red light , damp coats billowing in the hot breeze. Bliss.
Selfies with the Lego Simpsons look-o-likes
Windsor with kids tip 19 – Join a surrogate Lego family
Time for a final coffee in the café near the car park (noting to self for next time – this is where you find indoor seats), and a photo shoot with a Simpsons–esque Lego family. No making your own Lego figure in the shop this time – all that rummaging strictly disallowed.
Our work here was done, time to peel off the semi-sodden waterproofs, change into dry clothes in the car and move on to the next Windsor with kids holiday agenda – the birthday tea.
Eating with kids in Windsor in Covid
Windsor with kids tip 20 – Book ahead for Windsor restaurants in Covid!
So the advice here is to book ahead. In a somewhat horse already bolted scenario, having spent the day with a thousand others at Legoland, we’d decided to avoid crowds at restaurants, and go for a take-out pizza by the river.
It not being the sunny day envisaged in our pre-planning scenario, dining al fresco was not really on the cards. Everyone else in Windsor had foreseen this and been busy pre-booking the dry restaurant tables. A post-Legoland circuit of the town pretty much killed off the cheer and legs and revealed that there was no room at any inn. We ended up in a kebab shop with a broken window. Happy birthday!
Windsor with kids activity 3. Windsor Castle
Windsor with kids tip 21 – Windsor castle is a crowd-free Covid winner
By day 2 of the Windsor with kids trip the children were hobbling around, so booking a castle tour may not have been the wisest of plans. But the Queen visits here most weekends – maybe we would catch a glimpse. And we’d pre-paid, so we had to go.
Parking in Windsor
Windsor with kids tip 22 – Research cheap parking options in advance., there there are some, but we didn’t find any
Parking is an issue. The castle, being built when the list of potential visitors was more modest in size, it doesn’t have a car park. In town the first one we tried was 16 pounds and cash only (who has 16 pound coins even in pre-cashless Covid?). The next one took cards (yay) but was 18 pounds. Yikes. Only having a 40 minutes before our allotted entry time and there still being a Weatherspoons breakfast to fit in – there was no option but to go for it.
Book tickets to Windsor Castle
Windsor with kids tip 23 – Book Windsor Castle tickes online in advance as entry is limited
As we rushed towards the castle, we could see that it dominated the top of the town. You could hear the mutters of other tourists who had also recently checked online and been told castle was closed, frantically trying to book tickets on their phones.
Popped on our masks, waited in the very small queue and entered the practically deserted home of the Queen.
Windsor Castle facts
Windsor with kids tip 24 – Meet Prince Charles on the Audio tour
Prince Charles himself welcomes you (albeit through the medium of a head set). Facts I did not know – Windsor castle has been a palace for 900 years, has been home to 39 monarchs and is the final resting place for 10 of them. This includes opponents in the Wars of the Roses (who are parked on opposite sides of the church to calm them down and preventing them starting another fight, like naughty children).
Windsor Castle tour
Windsor with kids tip 25 – Walk in the footsteps of kings on the North Terrace
There are 2 sections open to the public, the State Apartments and the Chapel, where, on a Sunday you can pop into a service for free and maybe spot a Royal.
On the way to the State Apartments, peep over the stone walls guarding the former moat and wonder who sits on the bench. Then walk in the footsteps of Henry VIII along the North Terrace taking in the views over Windsor and the former hunting grounds.
Windsor Castle state apartments
Windsor with kids tip 26 – Find out about the demise of Hawaiian royalty from a guide (we were too chicken)
In the State Apartments you can see all manner of wonders – including Hawaiian armour made of matting, presented by the King and Queen of Hawaii on their visit to London, before the sadly contracted chicken pox and promptly died. This bit may not be true as I only half heard it being told by a member of staff to another visitor as I was too cowardly to talk to them myself.
A glass case houses a giant golden Indian tiger with crystal teeth. On the wall hangs a painting of a light footed King Charles dancing on his tippy toes, and in the window of a room decorated in gold sits a Russian Urn you could hide a man in (maybe they did? – would be a great Russian Trojan horse). The crystal goblets would not look out of place in the n Game of Thrones or Dumbledore’s potions lab. We wondered if they used the smaller ones for camping.
If only photographs were allowed!
We walked through the rooms were men are transformed into Knights of the Garter and and where royals old and new go to dance: an historic ball room and site of Megan Markle’s wedding reception.
The ceilings are alternately encrusted with gold and festooned with wooden shields. Wooden knights sit astride near life-sized horses, looking down on you from the rafters.
As you exit you have the option to eat like a king in the stone arched café. Visit in Covid to have the place pretty much to yourself, and pretend it’s really all yours.
St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle
Windsor with kids tip 27 – Play spot the Queen on a Sunday
In the chapel there are so many heraldic flags, golden plaques, jewel encrusted panels and turned wooden posts wearing mini crowns you don’t know where to start. There are also many dead monarchs.
- The bones of Henry VIII are interred with the lucky surviving wife Jane Seymour.
- It has been a site of pilgrimage for 500 years due to the burial of part of the cross within the chapel and also the draw of the grave of a celebrity priest who managed to trap the devil in his boot. I wanted his plaque to say more about this.
- The Queen has her own very special 800 year old red and gold doorway.
Our tour over, it was time for our grand exit and to return to the land of the commoners.
And they all lived happily ever after - The End
Just after giving away the remainder of our golden parking ticket, we discovered that the car was refusing to reverse. It just whined instead. Perhaps it had been exhausted by too much action too. Hmm. In a tightly packed city centre car park this was not ideal. Would we be buying a second 18 pound ticket? It might be the family/camel’s final straw.
We phoned a friend for instructions, yanked a few wires, swore, effectively de-activated the handbrake and set off nervously with red light flashing for the 2 hour journey home.
Windsor with kids - lessons learned
- Don’t wing it in Covid – book ahead for Legoland, Windsor Castle and birthday teas. If you are really organised you can hang out in Downton.
- You really can see Stone Henge for free – go for Fargo and Willoughby at Amesbury. Leave your guilt in the car.
- The human hairdrier is the best.
- Pirates and Viking rides win the day.
- You will get wet whatever the weather. Pack dry clothes in the car (or an on-site locker).
- Locate the cafe with chairs in advance.
- Learn how to be a Ninja.
- Don’t book the castle day back to back with Legoland (we failed to learn this lesson with Disneyland Paris – little and big legs will need a day off.)
- Be ready to pay big money for parking in Windsor.
- If you have one child who is interested in history an another who won’t even turn on the head set (both slightly tired/edgy) it is possible (just) to wear your earphones is such a way that you have one plugged to your ear to answer complicated questions and the other ear free, to simultaneously entertain the other child looking at big goblets and shields. This is as tricky as it sounds and in no way relaxing.
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