I was a spectator at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and IT WAS EVERYTHING.
Click through to see more photos and read about my experience!
Deciding to go
I didn’t initially plan on going to Windsor to see the royal wedding, but my friend Catarina has been planning to for weeks. When I asked her on Thursday what her plans were, she mentioned that she had two train tickets leaving out of Waterloo station and asked if I’d like to come with her. After talking with the hubby, who thought we were straight crazy for braving what was sure to be insane crowds, I decided that I kind of needed to go. It’s a historic moment! The hubby graciously took care of the kids back home in London for the day, since we weren’t sure whether the crowds would be suitable for young kids.
Arriving at Windsor
We arrived at Windsor & Eton Riverside train station around 9:00am. The crowds were pretty manageable at that point, and we sailed through the train station’s exit and right into the center of town. Windsor is a small, quaint little village, and police were already guiding folks through the closed-off streets. Sign marked “Royal Wedding” were propped up along the way. After a walk along the River Thames, we stopped at Alexandra Gardens, a beautiful public park. The park was set up with food stalls and a Jumbotron for spectators to view the Royal Wedding, and a water play area was brimming with young kids taking advantage of the perfect spring day. Most importantly, Alexandra Gardens had clean public toilets.
Working our way through town
Eventually, we made our way to Peaccod Street, one of the main thoroughfares in central Windsor and one of the streets on the royal wedding parade route. At that point, it was around 9:30, but we decided we needed to stop at Lilly’s Cafe for some Union coffee and a sultana scone with clotted cream and jam. Shockingly, the cafe was busy but not packed, and the shop owners seemed legitimately surprised that there were so many customers. The barista even apologized to Catarina for running out of “proper” dishes and giving us coffee in to-go cups. Um, to-go is fine. I have a royal wedding to catch.
Peaccod Street turned out to be a downright party to work through. You could hear American accents everywhere, and American and Canadian flags dotted the crowd. People seemed to come from everywhere to be a part of the royal wedding, including one woman who was rolling her suitcase down the street and telling everyone she was catching a flight to Houston as soon as the parade was over. Life-sized cutouts of Harry and Meghan were perched every few feet, and vendors were selling everything from bacon buttys (bacon stuffed into a soft roll slathered with butter) to hand-painted glitter streaks for your hair to Harry and Meghan purple wool scarves. Um, in 70 degree weather? No thanks.
First signs of trouble: the People Jam
By the time we made our way to Kings Road, my Google Maps was still showing that we were a 17-minute walk from the entrance of Windsor Castle, but the crowds had literally multiplied by a factor of ten. We were shoulder-to-shoulder with what seemed like over a thousand people. My heart sank because I thought that we’d end up on Kings Road, which we knew was so far from the Castle that we wouldn’t be able to see a thing. After about 20 minutes, we realized that the crowd was stalled because police were conducting security checks through a single metal detector.
Clearing security and finding a “spot”
Once we walked through security, the crowd thinned out significantly. The area in front of the Long Walk (the road leading up to Windsor Castle) is a vast, park-like green space, yet people were already jammed up against the barriers along the metal detectors to try to get a good “view.” Catarina and I made a decision at this point that I think ultimately led to us securing a fantastic viewing point: we decided to walk away from the crowds.
We speed-walked north up the Long Walk for about 4-5 blocks until a security guard stopped us and said that the next portion of the street was sealed off to non-Windsor residents, and that we wouldn’t be able to cross. At this stretch of the Long Walk, the only folks out really were local residents and a spattering of spectators. We were able to claim a spot right up against the barriers, which we did by spreading out our jackets. There wasn’t anyone in front or behind us, so we could even sit down!
Waiting, watching, wondering
All that was left to do was to wait. By this point, it was around 10:30am, and guests were arriving to St. George’s Chapel. Catarina and I are both moms, so we came really well-prepared — juice boxes, granola bars, plenty of water, sandwiches, sunscreen and baby wipes (I mean, you never know, right?)
As we settled in, we heard cheering, and a rumor rippled through the crowd that George and Amal Clooney had just arrived. We turned around and realized that most of the crowds were lined up behind us along Queen Victoria’s Walk to the east of where we were standing. We couldn’t really see or hear the Jumbotrons that were set up along Queen Victoria’s Walk.
We craned our necks to get a view of the Jumbotrons and realized that the folks along Queen Victoria’s Walk had access to toilets, food stalls and even bars. We had none of that on our quaint little stretch of the Long Walk, and we started to wonder whether we really were positioned to see the wedding procession, or if we’d miss it because we foolishly veered off-course. Was it better to stay where we were, right up on the side of the street, or should we move to where the masses were?
Luckily, along came a “bobby” (police officer) who confirmed for us that the wedding procession would, in fact, zoom right by us. Decision made. We were staying put.
Actually, we should have known from the outset that we were right along the parade route just from the sheer number of police (and snipers!) that surrounded us.
As the wedding started, we couldn’t really see anything on the Jumbotrons or hear very much over the cheers of the crowd, so the people around us just settled in and made themselves a little party! I can catch a replay of the royal wedding anytime.
Looking around, the diversity of the attendees was really remarkable. A couple of the women standing next to us had flown in from Chicago, coming to England for the first time to see an African-American marry into the British royal family.
And then…it was time. We heard cheers as the newlyweds exited St. George’s Chapel, and they kept getting louder.
The Main Event
Before the procession started, I’d tied my selfie stick to the street barrier in front of us with the idea that I’d use my iPhone to video the entire parade while I took photos with my big camera. As the horses approached, I realized that I hadn’t factored in the crush of the crowd behind me or my general fever pitch of excitement, so I ripped my phone of the selfie stick and caught this video instead:
My royal wedding experience was better than I ever could have planned it. We ended up on a narrow section of the Long Walk with phenomenal front-row views! ????? … … … #londoncalling #royalwedding # #thisislondon #lovelondon #igerslondon #windsor #royalfamily #londonlive #lovegreatbritain #toplondonphoto #instalondon #london_enthusiast #royals #visitlondon #princeharry #harryandmeghan #prettylittlelondon #mydarlinglondon #britishroyalfamily #london_only #londonist #london4all #londonbylondoners #photosofengland #visitbritain #kensingtonpalace #icu_britain #iglondon #buckinghampalace #mylondon
You can actually hear me going crazy in the video. I have zero chill when it comes to life in general, so I’m only mildly embarrassed that my royal wedding freakout was caught on tape for the whole world to hear. The whole spectacle was dazzling, from the glint in the armor of the cavalry down to Meghan’s veil whipping through the breeze as their carriage rode past. The clip-clopping horses’ hooves, the screaming public — honestly, being there in the moment was like living in a fairy tale, even if I am one of the broke-ass commoners. At least I’m not creepy Prince Harry backwards head mask guy:
In the end, I’m so glad that my friend Catarina invited me to join her at the royal wedding. Sometimes you just need a friend to give you that extra “push” of encouragement to go and be in the moment, and Catarina is a great companion for that. I think the fact that it was just the two of us actually made it easy for us to move through the crowds without much hassle.
Plus, I’ll never forget that I was so close to Harry and Meghan that I could’ve poked them with my selfie stick.
If you’re visiting London, Windsor is an excellent day trip, and you can relive the magic of the royal wedding yourself!
Southwestern Railway operates trains from Waterloo station in London to Windsor & Eton Riverside station, which has 11 stops along the way, taking roughly an hour. You can purchase your train tickets to Windsor online here and then pick up the paper version using your credit card at one of the automatic ticket machines at Waterloo.
Read part 2 of this post later this week, where I’ll give you all the details on where to stay and what else to do in Windsor!