It could be said that nowhere is as quintessentially English or thoroughly royal as the Great West Way - it follows a road commissioned by King Charles I and is home to Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, Eton College and Highgrove. You will find that the route also has particularly special connections to the modern royal couples. For Harry and Meghan, it is home not only to Windsor Castle, where they married, but also to Cliveden House, where Meghan got ready for the wedding and spent her last night as a single woman. Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, attended the independent boarding school Marlborough College in Wiltshire. Here are the top spots to enjoy a royal journey along the route:
Hampton Court Palace Just outside London is the best place to start this trip: Hampton Court Palace. Originally the home of Cardinal Wolsey and then famously home to King Henry VIII and all six of his wives, this was then a royal residence for over 200 years until in 1737 it was used to house 'grace and favor' aristocrats. A century later, in 1838, Queen Victoria herself opened it to the public. While you are here be sure to visit the sumptuous Baroque apartments and stroll through 60 acres of beautiful riverside gardens. While the gardens are beautiful any time of year, they are particularly spectacular in spring - in 2021 the 200,000 tulip bulbs planted last autumn will burst forth with what is sure to be a magnificent show.
Runnymede and Windsor From Hampton Court Palace head to Runnymede where you can visit the Magna Carta Memorial in the very meadow where it was signed over 800 years ago. Then take a leisurely boat trip along the ‘royal river’ Thames up to Windsor, during which you will have the opportunity to admire Windsor Castle from the river. The ‘royal river’ Thames has been host to the pageantry of coronations and magnificent gilded barge processions for centuries.
Windsor & Eton
Spend a day exploring Windsor and Eton, starting with Windsor Castle and then on to Eton College. Windsor Castle is the world’s oldest and largest occupied royal residence and was the focus of the British Empire during Queen Victoria’s reign and was also where she spent most of her time.
More recently, St George’s Chapel, within the grounds of the Castle, was the setting for Harry and Meghan’s May 2018 wedding, and Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank’s wedding that autumn. Visitors to the castle can tour the State Apartments and Chapel. While you are here be sure to enjoy some of the ice cream made from the milk produced by the Queen's own cows which roam the lush pastures of Windsor Home Park. Eton College – where both William and Harry attended school – is walking distance from Windsor Castle and open to visitors on guided tours between May and September.
Malmesbury, Highgrove, Berkeley Castle About 90 minutes drive from Windsor through either the North Wessex Downs or the Cotswolds is Malmesbury. Explore Malmesbury, England’s oldest borough with 12th Century Malmesbury Abbey, still in use today and Abbey House Gardens. From here it is just a short drive to Highgrove, Prince Charles’s beloved private residence. The gardens are open to the public on selected dates throughout the year and taking a private tour through the beautiful grounds is quite a treat. You will see where Charles has sat to write speeches, and the chair undercover where he can dash in to get out of a sudden rain. Also in the area is Berkeley Castle, about 30 minutes drive through the Cotswolds. Henry II gave this Castle to the Berkeley family in 1153, and it has received royal guests ever since: Edward II, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, the Countess of Wessex, and the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother have all been to Berkeley Castle. Berkeley Castle is open to visitors from April to October.
Bristol and Brunel’s SS Great Britain
Another half hour drive brings you down to Bristol. Take a walk to the Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre and then down to Bristol harborside for a boat trip. Visit Brunel’s SS Great Britain - Prince Albert launched the ship here in Bristol on July 19th, 1843, having travelled aboard the Royal Train along the then-newly opened Great Western Railway from London to Bristol (a route you can replicate today, albeit not aboard the Royal Train!). Queen Victoria also boarded the ship when it was docked in London in 1845 and described it as “magnificent.” When visitors today explore Brunel’s SS Great Britain, they can dress up in replica Victorian costumes, some of which are inspired by Queen Victoria’s dresses. Enjoy a drink at Prince Street Social, a welcoming modern-style restaurant and bar before heading onward - either take the train back to London or continue your exploration of this lovely corner of England.