Immerse yourself in the regal world of the real-life Downton Abbey on a Highclere Castle tour.
IIn Downton Abbey, an invitation to the Crawley’s meant putting on your best frock or tailcoat and rubbing elbows with the British uppercrust. Today, scoring an invitation to the real-life castle that served as the Downton Abbey set is as easy as booking a tour online.
At Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England, fans of Downton Abbey can immerse themselves in the real-life castle that was the estate of the Earl of Grantham in the popular series and movies. Today the castle is home to the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. The couple is the face of the castle so don’t be surprised if you see Lady Carnarvon during your tour of the historic property.
It’s easy to see why Downton Abbey creator, Julian Fellowes, set the ICONIC series at Highclere Castle. Dating to 749, Highclere Castle oozes history from every tower. The current Italianate Gothic façade was designed in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry, who also designed the Houses of Parliament in London. Driving in on a road that feels miles long, the grandeur of the imposing castle soars into view.
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The Highclere Castle was originally the home of The Bishops of Winchester. In 1551 King Edward VI took the castle from the Church of England during the English Reformation. The castle was the home for noble families for centuries.
During WWI the castle was converted into a hospital for wounded soldiers and run by the 5th Countess of Carnarvon (a plot line woven into season two of the Downton Abbey series). In WWII it was home to children evacuated from London.
In 1922 the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, along with Howard Carter, discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt. To commemorate the historic find, there is an ongoing Egyptian Exhibit housed at Highclere Castle.
Highclere Castle boasts between 250 and 300 rooms on its 6,000-acre estate.
Highclere Castle Tours
Throughout the year, seasonal Highclere Castle tours are offered. Tours give guests a chance to get a sense of Highclere Castle as both a home and as the Downton Abbey set.
The roughly two-hour tour takes visitors through the State Rooms, the Gallery, the Castle Bedrooms and the Egyptian Exhibition. Expert guides share the history of the castle, stories from the set and details about the artworks. The tour ends with tea featuring a selection of finger sandwiches, homemade soup, quiche, delicious mini cakes and traditional scones. After the tour, guests are encouraged to enjoy the gardens.
Don’t miss picking up a bottle of Highclere Castle Gin as a souvenir of your time living like Lord or Lady of the Castle. The spirit is a collaboration between the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon and Connecticut-based Onyx Spirits Co. distillery. The gin is inspired by the gardens and botanicals on the estate including a lavender that was originally planted in the 9th century by the Bishops of Winchester.
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Lord of the Manor
For the die-hard fans nothing beats extending your time at Highclere Castle with a stay on property. While you can’t sleep in the castle, there are two lodges on the castle grounds available sporadically throughout the year for travelers to rent.
London Lodge was built in 1793 when Colonel Henry Herbert was named 1st Earl of Carnarvon by King George III. To celebrate, he built London Lodge as an imposing entrance to his Park at Highclere. The building was completely restored and reconfigured as a cottage with two wings and one double bedroom.
Grotto Lodge was designed by the Victorian-era architect, Thomas Allom, who was the assistant to Sir Charles Barry when he built the current Highclere Castle. It is a two-story lodge built like a turret that has a bedroom on each level.
Whether you stay for the night or simply enjoy living like a Crawley for a day on a Highclere Castle tour, a trip to this impressive estate is a must for any Downton Abbey fan.