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Royal Wedding Guide: What to See and Do in Windsor

Move over, Will and Kate: England’s hottest new couple award goes to younger brother Prince Harry and his bride-to-be, American actress Meghan Markle, who are tying the knot this May. Unlike his big brother, the twosome chose to forgo cosmopolitan London for the fairytale-worthy chapel and grounds of Windsor Castle for their ceremony and reception. Didn’t score one of the 2,600 personal invitations? Windsor is just 40 minutes by train from London, making it easy to soak in the atmosphere before or after the big day. Here’s what to do while you’re there.

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Attend an Evensong at St. George's Chapel

Prince Harry was baptized in St. George’s Chapel, a gorgeous Gothic cathedral built in 1475 on Windsor Castle’s grounds—which makes it an especially personal location for the couple’s choice of ceremony. Tickets are sold at Windsor Castle for entry, but services are free and open to the public. Our suggestion: sit in on an Evensong. Attendees are directed to seats in the quire, where members of the royal family are likely to sit during the wedding ceremony, where they can listen to the house choir as their notes echo beneath the chapel’s vaulted ceiling and stained-glass windows. From here, you can even get a glimpse of the altar, where Harry and Meghan will exchange vows, and—if you look closely—the resting place of King Henry VIII.

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Take a tour of Windsor Castle

Queen Elizabeth II still spends most of her weekends at Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, but don’t think that means it’s off-limits to visitors. On the contrary, barring royal engagements (like the royal wedding, of course), the grounds are open for tours every day of the week. It’s worth the $30 admission to see it all. The State Apartments and King George IV’s Semi-State Rooms are particularly impressive, as is—and this may sound childish, but it’s anything but—Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a tiny masterpiece complete with miniature tableware made of real silver, running water, working elevators and cars, library books (with all their pages), and exact replicas of carpets and furniture found inside the castle.

RELATED: 9 Stunning Castle Hotels in England That Take You Back in Time

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Walk the processional route in Windsor Great Park

It may not be a balcony kiss, but we’d argue this statement is even more grand. After Harry and Meghan exchange vows, they’ll depart Windsor in a horse-drawn carriage for a two-hour procession through town—a perfect way to let members of the public in on the celebration. On their final approach back to the castle, the carriage will turn into the 5,000-acre Windsor Great Park—home to deer lawns, ancient oak forests, old hunting lodges, and a 2.5-mile-long tree-lined avenue known as the Long Walk that makes a straight shot to the castle.

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Shop on Eton's High Street

The pedestrian-only High Street of Eton, just north of Windsor across the Thames, stretches from the bridge to the boundaries of the prestigious all-boys boarding school Eton College, which Princes William and Harry attended. Here, you’ll find all amounts of British tailors, antique and art dealers, chocolatiers, beauty brands, and restaurants selling the town’s famous “Eton mess,” a traditional dessert of strawberries and broken meringue floating in whipped cream. For a taste of old England, stop into Eton Antique Bookshop to peruse dusty second-hand volumes on history and poetry, then head on over to the College Gift Shop for local mementoes such as straw boater hats, tea towels, and ties embroidered with the Eton College Arms.

RELATED: 6 Best Day Trips from London

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Attend a horse race in Ascot

Every June, the famous Ascot Racecourse in nearby Berkshire hosts the five-day Royal Ascot meet, England’s biggest racing event of the year—you might know it from My Fair Lady—and regularly attended by the Queen, who has her own box from which to cheer on the competing horses (some of which are her own). The event draws an estimated 300,000 visitors a year, who don their best spring outfits, hats, and fascinators and down some 51,000 bottles of champagne and 160,000 Pimm’s Cups over the course of the week. The atmosphere is electric, and, despite the pomp and circumstance, there's few better places to rub shoulders with (and people-watch) England's elite.

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Eat at The Hind’s Head, in Bray

During Ascot week in 2009, British celebrity chef Heston Blementhal was invited to Windsor Castle to cook for the Queen. She enjoyed it, apparently, because he was later invited to prepare a picnic for those involved with her Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012 (and was a guest in the Royal Box during the Jubilee concert). Get a taste of his experimental cuisine (which earned him an OBE in 2006) at The Hind’s Head, his 15th-century tavern turned Michelin-starred gastronomic pub in charming Bray, not far from Windsor proper. The interiors are like a hunting lodge on steroids—tufted Chesterfield sofas upholstered in tartan and red leather; hanging trophies and taxidermy; stained glass windows—but are no match for the three-course set lunch and five-course tasting menu, which juxtapose savory (pea and ham soup with scotch egg; roast duck breast with asparagus) with sweet (chocolate mousse with almond biscuit, raspberry sauce, and hazelnut ice cream; quaking pudding with cinnamon, nutmeg, and compressed apple).

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Stay at Coworth Park - Dorchester Collection

Harry and Meghan’s love story may have begun away from the public eye, but it was during an event at the Coworth Park polo club that they made their very first public appearance together. The grounds—part of 240 manicured acres edging Windsor Great Park littered with pools, lanterns, and carefully placed benches—belong to Coworth Park, a country house hotel that delivers a heady dose of the aristocratic lifestyle. Behind its regal white-washed façade (and in satellite cottages), you’ll find 70 elegant rooms kitted out with four-poster beds and freestanding copper bathtubs. A tranquil spa offers lavender-infused treatments and a blue-lit pool, the restaurant (which recently earned a Michelin star) serves up modernized British cuisine like herb-crusted lamb with Yorkshire fettle and mint, and the service here sets a new standard. There’s also an equestrian center and stables (to serve the polo club), but if you’d rather sit in the stands, the hotel will more than oblige: four different hats from British milliner Stephen Jones are on loan for guests attending an Ascot race.

RELATED: 8 Charming Country House Hotels in Europe

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