No doubt you would have heard of the popular British television series Downton Abbey but maybe you didn’t know that you can visit the the real life castle where the show is filmed.
Located in Berkshire in south east England, Highclere Castle is home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, whose family have lived on the site since 1679. The author of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, is a longstanding family friend and had Highclere in mind when he was writing the series.
Before chosen for the set of Downton Abbey, the house was in desperate need of repair. Only the ground floor and a few rooms on the first floor were usable with the rest of the house suffering from water damage, collapsed ceilings and crumbling stone. The popularity of the show draws thousands of visitors to the castle each year and the revenue earned has taken financial pressure off the Carnarvon family and pays for many of the needed repairs.
Inside the Castle
When you enter the castle you’ll be greeted by a stunning entrance hall and will walk through several state rooms on the ground floor including the library, the music room, the saloon and the dining room. There are many personal photographs of the Carnarvon family throughout these rooms so you definitely get that sense that it is a family home, albeit a rather grand one. You then continue up to the first floor where you’ll be able to see some of the bedrooms. There are only a couple of bedrooms that you can physically step into, the others you’ll only be able to peek at through the doorway. This does create a bit of a backlog as you walk through the house as only a couple of visitors can peer into a room at a time and the foot traffic moves rather slowly.
Many of the rooms you will see are used for filming and there are signs that will tell you which rooms are used in the show. The state rooms in particular are beautiful but sadly they don’t allow you to take photos inside the castle. This is signposted in pretty much every room so it’s definitely something they feel strongly about!
Once you have finished viewing the bedrooms on the first floor, you make your way downstairs to the cellars where you can enter the Egyptian Exhibition. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered the Tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 with his colleague Howard Carter and this exhibition has been put together to celebrate the story and achievements of the 5th Earl. As with the main part of the castle, it is also requested that you do not take photos within the Egyptian Exhibition.
Highclere Castle is set within 1,000 acres of parkland so you are surrounded by seemingly endless green countryside. It’s not difficult to find a tranquil spot away from everyone else as there is so much to explore. Unfortunately the day I visited was rather cold and damp so I didn’t enjoy the gardens as much as I think I would have on a sunny day.
Highclere Castle is only open for a brief period during the summer and tickets are snapped up pretty quickly. Its worth following their twitter account as they announce when the tickets go on sale. I booked in March for a visit in August.
You can purchase either a morning ticket or an afternoon ticket. Morning ticket holders must enter the castle between 10:30am-1pm and afternoon ticket holders can enter between 1pm-4pm. It’s advisable not to turn up at the beginning of your timeslot as this is when most people arrive. I turned up at 11:30 and there was no queue to enter the house but I noticed as I was leaving at 1:30 that there were a number of people lining up waiting to go inside.
If you miss out on the advance tickets you can try your luck purchasing a ticket on the day at the gates. The day I visited there were still tickets available at 11:30am.
Alternatively, if you have a Historic Houses Association membership you can visit the castle from 1pm. This membership does not include access to the Egyptian exhibition so if you’d like to see this there will be an additional charge.
The easiest way to get to Highclere Castle is to drive. There is plenty of free parking available on site.
Trains regularly depart from London Paddington to Newbury. From Newbury Station you will need to take a taxi to Highclere Castle (about a 15 minute drive). Taxi fare is roughly £15 each way. There are normally taxis waiting at the train station but you would probably have to call one to pick you up from Highclere Castle for your return journey.
Are you a Downton Abbey fan? Have you visited Highclere Castle? What did you think?