When and where?: Okay I’ll level with you, that title is pure clickbait. Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House is currently closed due to the Coronavirus because the room it lives in is too small for people to socially distance in, although God knows why they can’t just let one family in at a time. Anyway, it’s not happening right now, which is a huge bummer since it’s literally the child-friendly attraction at Windsor. But hey, get over it. It’s gone.
So what the hell else can you do with your kids here? Well, honestly, if they’re anything like Roma – i.e. walking and under the age of three – then just leave them at home. I didn’t check the website before we set off because I’m stupid, but pushchairs aren’t allowed inside the castle’s state rooms and, horror of horrors, have to be checked in at the cloakroom before you enter. To be honest I might as well have checked in my sanity while I was there, since that basically did a runner along with Roma the second she was freed. I think we endured about 20 minutes of misery while she pushed her way against the one-way system, repeatedly planked on the floor when we tried to stop her from touching the priceless things, and eventually had to be removed altogether (by Adam, who took her out into the grounds for a runaround – don’t worry, we didn’t get security to take her away or anything, although I am now wondering if that was an available option).
Babu though. Babu loved this. She’s four and a half now and has probably been dragged to more museums than most adults, so we’ve reached a point where not only does she probably behave better in museum settings than most adults, she responds to them better than one too. I’m always so thrilled when she shows a genuine interest in something we take her to that isn’t obviously child-friendly, and this was very much one of those occasions. We had “I can’t believe we’re looking at all the Queen’s stuff”, “I wish I lived here” and “Wow Mummy, look at all these cool plates“. Basically just extreme enthusiasm about everything, including the china, which was very cute. I should probably also add that she’s currently very into princesses, which I think played a significant part in her excitement about this place, and we spent a lonnng time in the Princess Beatrice wedding dress room staring at “the sparkly bits”.
Other Bab-friendly highlights included the usually private East Terrace Garden, which she decided was a “maze” due to the layout of the flowerbeds and suggested we play a game where we “just walk wherever we want until we find each other again”. The garden, where the Queen apparently used to grow vegetables during the war, has sadly closed for the autumn since our visit, but hopefully it will make a comeback in the spring, along with its programme of family-friendly art activities. Actually the grounds in general were a massive hit with Babu, which made me feel momentarily guilty that we live in a small flat with barely enough space to swing a cat, let alone play a decent game of hide and seek. But I guess it’s not like many children have 13 acres of land to roam.
Babu also really enjoyed the ‘pantomine pictures’, a series of 16 paintings of pantomime characters such as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella that were commissioned to cover the walls of the castle’s Waterloo Chamber during the war. They’ve only recently been uncovered, while the portraits that usually conceal them are cleaned, but they offer an excellent distraction for kids who can have fun trying to ‘guess the character’. Finally, there was the newly opened cafe, where Babu tucked into a delicious but extortionate macaron, and Roma screamed the place down because how dare we try and contain her in a high chair? The cafe space is nice and airy and the food options looked good, although I was kind of disappointed that the coffee came out of a machine, and Adam’s sandwich was dry – particularly since we spent nearly £30 on not much at all.
In sum, we had a nice day. There’s something really magical about this site and it was a big hit with half of our children, which is kind of a running theme at the moment since Roma’s only really happy if you enclose her in a padded cell – AKA soft play – or install her in a puddle, preferably in cotton leggings and suede shoes so she can get really nice and damp. It goes without saying that anywhere where you have to surrender your toddler’s buggy and also they’re not allowed to touch anything is going to be a nightmare. It’s not the castle’s fault – they don’t want you trailing crap all over their nice carpets, I get it. Just know that you will not be having any kind of fun here with your toddler around.
Cost: Adults cost £23.50; under-5s go free.
Best bits: Taking a princess-obsessed four year old around a castle is kind of lovely, whatever your feelings about the monarchy.
Worst bits: The lack of dolls’ house was disappointing. The lack of buggy was hellish. The cafe was expensive.
Would we come back? Sure, why not?
Disclaimer: this was a gifted experience but my reviews are always completely (sometimes painfully) honest.
Babu and Ro explore the grounds at Windsor Castle, Berkshire.