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34km (21 miles) W of London

Buckingham Palace is a mere pied a’terre. The Queen actually prefers this great castle, which dominates the skyline of town like a cloud of stone. Windsor Castle (32km/20 miles west of London) has been the home of the Royal Family for some 900 years, far longer than anything in London. Queen Victoria is buried in the back yard (although they don’t phrase it quite that way). Despite the inevitable crowds, this is unmissable.

 

Were it not for the castle, Windsor might still be a charming Thames town to visit. But because it is the home of the best-known asset the royal family possesses, it is overrun in summer by tourists who all but obscure the town's charm.

The good news is that after the disastrous fire of 1992, Windsor Castle is restored, though some of the new designs for it have been called a "Gothic shocker" or "ghastly." Actually, in spite of some media criticism, a remarkable activity in restoration went on, as woodcarvers, gilders, and plasterers followed the same techniques their predecessors did in the Middle Ages, when William the Conqueror built the castle. Queen Elizabeth opened the state apartments in November 1997 following a $62-million project that returned most of the ruined part of the castle to its original condition. Windsor Castle remains Britain's second-most visited historic building, behind the Tower of London.