Windsor, and the surrounding area, is about as British establishment as it gets. The centrepiece is Windsor Castle, one of the Queen's official residences and the venue of the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19. But nearby, there's also the Ascot racecourse, home to Britain's most be-seen race meetings of the year, and Eton College, the school that educated several British prime ministers.
Just to the south, there’s also Runnymede, where the Magna Carta – a key milestone in the history of democracy – was signed in 1215.
What’s weird, given all this, is how normal Windsor seems. A McDonald’s, Pizza Express and WH Smith can be found right opposite the castle, almost oblivious to their gigantic neighbour. The attention of the world will be on Windsor for the wedding, but the attention of Windsor is likely to be on getting on with daily life.
A comfortable bed
The Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa (www.sirchristopherwren.co.uk) is unusual – it's split over several buildings near the river – but it manages to hit that ideal mid-point between homely and swanky. Many rooms come with fireplaces and spa baths, and complimentary fruit is provided. Common areas such as the gorgeous and accurately- named Oak Room make for refined hangouts. Doubles cost from £148 (Dh758).
A more garish alternative is to stay at the Legoland Resort (www.legolandholidays.co.uk), where the rooms are covered in colour and themed to look like castles and pirate ships. There's also plenty of Lego to play with. Prices start at £99 (Dh507) for two adults and two children.
The Castle Hotel (www.castlehotelwindsor.com), which has history dating back to 1528, has kept touches of the past such as military uniforms and handwritten letters blown up to be wallpaper. But it has done so in a clever way, blending them into a modern, borderline hip look. Doubles cost from £111 (Dh567).
Find your feet
The best place to kick a visit off is on the River Thames, where French Brothers (www.frenchbrothers.co.uk) runs 40-minute boat tours, scattering a few swans on the way. The best views of the castle are arguably from the water, and there are a few other sights – such as Eton College – to tick off on the way. Tickets cost £9 (Dh47).
But, let’s face it, it’s the castle (www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle), you’ve come to see. It’s up the most feeble of hills, and the hulking great rounded towers of the exterior give way to showy opulence and elaborate detail inside. It’s easy to spend the best part of a day here, with St George’s Chapel being the prime target for anyone who wants to see where Harry and Meghan will marry.
The roof – a prime piece of fan-vaulted Gothic wonder – lies above intricate choir stalls designed for the Knights of the Garter. Elsewhere, before you get to the State Apartments, check out Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a three-year labour of love that comes with running water and electricity.
The Apartments themselves are predictably lavish – all chandelier, gilding and painted shields – with St George’s Hall the most impressive single room. It’s 55.5 metres long and can seat 160 people at one table for special banquets.
Meet the locals
The Windsor Great Park (www.windsorgreatpark.co.uk) was originally the hunting grounds for the castle, but now it is open to all – including the semi-nomadic red deer that roam it. The park is split into several sections, with the Long Walk. The tree-flanked Long Walk, a dead straight 4.25km promenade, provides the strikingly photogenic central focus, and locals head there for picnics, dog-walking and waistline-trimming jogs.
Book a table
Riverside gastropub the Boatman (boatmanwindsor.com) leans heavily towards steak and seafood – and it’s the latter that’s the better deal. The £15.95 (Dh82) sea bass fillet, served with roasted new potatoes and spinach, peels off beautifully.
But head 8km north-west, and you’ve got one of the world’s culinary highlights. The village of Bray holds seven Michelin stars, with the Roux brothers’ Waterside Inn (www.waterside-inn.co.uk) and Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck (www.thefatduck.co.uk) having three each. Our advice, book well in advance.
Windsor’s shopping is astonishingly bland, and for the most part could be mistaken for any random English high street. One exception is Daniel’s (danielstores.co.uk), a home-grown department store celebrating its 100th birthday this year. Its strength lies in its massive toys section – full of model train sets, stuffed animals and shelf after shelf of jigsaws.
What to avoid
Windsor's proximity to Heathrow Airport is a bonus in many respects, but the planes coming in to land can be noisy. If you're planning to go to bed early or take an afternoon nap, bring some earplugs.
If travelling with kids, then Legoland Windsor (www.legoland.co.uk) is a crowd-pleaser. The worlds, made largely from little colourful bricks, are mini-masterpieces, and there are plenty of rides to keep kids less fussed about small scale architectural feats happy. Scary thrill monsters, they are not – the most hardcore is probably the rapids ride. But that’s not really the point – it’s a fun day out for those who’ve not yet hit their teens. Tickets cost from £32 (Dh164).
Emirates (www.emirates.com) and Etihad (www.etihad.com) fly direct to London Heathrow. Returns costs from Dh2,575. Windsor is only a 25-minute taxi ride away from Heathrow. Pre-book with Royal Windsor Taxis (www.royalwindsortaxis.co.uk) and it’ll cost £22 (Dh113).