Are you looking for tips and inspiration for visiting Downton Abbey filming location, Highclere Castle?
You’ve come to the right place…
Here’s everything we think you should know ahead of your visit, plus information on travelling from London to Highclere Castle as a day trip or day tour.
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Visiting Highclere Castle: How Things Have Changed
I remember first visiting Highclere Castle when I was about 10 or 11 with my Dad. Back then, Downton Abbey wasn’t “a thing” let alone even thought of by the writers or producers.
This meant that visiting Highclere Castle back then was also very different.
At the time, the castle was open more days than it was closed. You didn’t need to pre-book tickets; you could literally just rock up on the day like my Dad and I did, grab some tickets and explore to your heart’s content.
Although the popularity of Downton Abbey has made things a little trickier to score tickets for Highclere Castle, I personally am beyond happy that this hit TV show (and soon to be movie) has helped put this stunning and truly remarkable castle (and its location) on the map.
So… although times have most definitely changed over the past 15+ years; visiting Downton Abbey aka Highclere Castle today is just as magical as back then; if not more so given its link to such a popular commodity.
Highclere Castle can be found just south of Newbury in Berkshire – within the magnificent North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and is about 1 hour 30 minutes from London by car (depending on traffic and your starting location).
Highclere Castle is the current home of the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon and has been in the Carnarvon family for well over 300 years.
During your visit to the Highclere estate, you’ll be able to tour grand rooms within the castle itself – both on the first floor and downstairs – alongside the extensive 5,000 acres worth of grounds that the castle’s plot sits on.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to take photos inside the castle – the castle is first and foremost, a family home, so I suspect this might be one of the reasons why. We’ve seen a few blogs in the past where photos have been taken inside simply because they didn’t agree with the policy. We personally think this is a little bit disrespectful so we chose not to do that ourselves.
That said, we wanted to be able to show you a couple of photos of Highclere Castle’s interior – to show off its beauty to both those who want to visit and to those who might never be able to. So we were absolutely delighted when the lovely Marketing team at Highclere sent us a few photos of rooms inside the castle that we could use with their permission.
The castle, grounds and gardens are only open at certain times of the year (and certain days within those times) as it’s still the home of the Earl and Countess. You must pre-book your tickets before visiting and because of the castle’s popularity, it’s recommended to book several months in advance of your visit. As an example, we booked our tickets at the start of March 2019 for our mid-April visit and only two Sundays were left in the 2 week period.
In order to see the castle, some of the grounds, the gardens and Egyptian Exhibition (plus stop for a bite to eat in one of the onsite tea rooms), we’d recommend you devote around 4-5 hours to your visit (minus travelling times).
After showing your tickets at the front gates, you’ll start the short walk up to the castle. These are some of the most iconic views of Highclere and you’ll most definitely recognise the view if you’ve seen Downton Abbey.
Upon arriving at the castle, you may be expected to queue a short while before going in (depending on how busy it is). We arrived dead on the morning opening time of 10.30am but we only had to wait a few minutes.
You’ll enter through the main doorway – the same one that appears in Downton Abbey. Sadly, no Carson this time, but then, I guess we can’t expect everything…
After a brief glimpse of the main Entrance Hall, you’ll walk through The Library, complete with a staggering collection of over 5,500 books on gilded bookcases.
From there, you’ll follow a one way route, which will take you through rooms such as the Music Room, Drawing Room and Smoking Room.
Some of my favourite rooms downstairs included the Music Room with its stunning gilded panels, and the Drawing Room, which has been adorned with pale green silk, colourful flowers and large windows.
Once you’ve finished exploring downstairs, you’ll be guided up one of the smaller staircases to the first floor, which has a number of bedrooms and dressing rooms circling the gallery.
For each bedroom that was used in Downton Abbey, you’ll find an information board to let you know whose room it was in the television series – you’ll even find what I nickname ‘The Red Room’, which was where Kemal Pamuk was staying in Series 1.
After exploring the rooms upstairs, you’ll be guided down the grand Oak Staircase and into The Saloon, which is magnificent with its 50 foot high vaulted ceiling.
From there, The Dining Room awaits.
At this point, many visitors tend to head to the Gift Shop and out into the grounds and gardens. However, you’d be missing out on seeing another marvellous treasure (or collection of treasures)…
The Egyptian Exhibition
What many don’t know is that the 5th Earl of Carnarvon helped discover the Tomb of Tutankhamun with Howard Carter in 1922.
The latest Earl and Countess of Carnarvon have opened an Egyptian Exhibition in the castle’s cellars to tell this interesting story. Here, you’ll find displays of real Egyptian artefacts alongside replicas of what they discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb all those years ago.
It’s an impressive exhibition and well worth seeing if you have the time.
You can either buy tickets for the exhibition in advance of your visit – there’s a ticket option for all three attractions (i.e. the Castle, Grounds and Egyptian Exhibition) when you book. But if you’re not sure if you’ve got time, or if you change your mind later on, you can upgrade your ticket on the day to include the exhibition.
The Castle’s Grounds and Gardens
Out in the grounds, there are acres and acres to explore – 5,000 to be exact.
From the Wild Flower Meadow, to the Walled Garden and Secret Garden, there’s a lot to see, alongside yet more stunning views of the castle itself.
One standout highlight to mention is the memorial for the B-17 bomber aircraft that crashed into Siddown Hill behind Highclere Castle on May 5th 1945. Today, you can see a wooden carving of the sole survivor, surrounded by plaques to commemorate those who lost their lives. There are also several benches here that have been thoughtfully carved to look like airplane wings, with actual parts they’ve found from the plane on display inside the bench plinths.
Another highlight is a pillared Temple ‘folly’ called Jackdaws Castle. It was built in 1743 and offers unique views of the castle and the surrounding cedar trees – some of which are now over 250 years old!
It also makes for an interesting family photo if you’ve got the right number of people…
If you’re visiting in the early spring months or in the autumn/winter months, then you might find that there’s not a huge amount to see within the gardens when it comes to colourful flowers. We visited in mid-April, and sadly, the tulips hadn’t fully opened yet.
If you’re intent on seeing lots of flowers, you might want to hold off from visiting until the summer months although do expect this time of year to be even more popular than usual!
Something I found particularly interesting is that despite seeing a huge number of rooms within the castle, it’s only until you get outside into the grounds that you realise you probably only saw about ⅛ of it (if that!). There’s a whole other floor upstairs, which isn’t open to the public.
At the end of your visit – and if the weather is good – I’d also highly recommend chilling out at the refreshments van near the entrance / exit gates. There are fabulous views of the castle from here for one last ‘Goodbye’ look and the van even offers Champagne and Pimms alongside the usual tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
Travelling from London to Highclere Castle (and other interesting tourist spots)
As mentioned, Highclere Castle is about 1 hour 30 minutes from London by car (obviously depending on exactly whereabouts you’re staying in London and what the traffic is like).
You’ll be driving along the M4 motorway for most of it before heading down the A34 dual carriageway.
Highclere Castle is close to the outskirts of the North Wessex Downs AONB, so it’s really easy to find and you won’t be driving along country lanes for much time at all.
In case you don’t want to drive or rent a car, there are also loads of day trips to Highclere Castle from London – some of which take you to other places along the way, such as Bampton (the real-life village that served as the fictitious Downton Village).
While you’re in the area…
Stonehenge is just 45 minutes away from Highclere Castle. Stonehenge is an iconic image when it comes to the UK. It’s thought to have been constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC, with each stone weighing in at an incredible 25 tons. This is perhaps one of the UK’s greatest mysteries – the feat of creating this impressive monument without the modern machinery of today’s era. Although entrance to Stonehenge is a little pricey, it’s well worth visiting. But if money’s tight, there’s nothing stopping you from just driving past or walking in the countryside nearby to see it from afar.
The charming town of Newbury is just 10 minutes away. The town centre has lots of interesting landmarks and historical buildings to see including the 15th century St Nicolas Church, medieval Cloth Hall and a myriad of 17th and 18th Century listed buildings. Newbury warrants a slow meander through its town to uncover all of its incredible historic gems.
Marlborough is another charming market town and is about 40 minutes away from Highclere Castle. You’ll find lots of historic listed buildings and townhouses here, as well as quaint tearooms and an abundance of antique shops. Marlborough is well worth a slow meander around if you want to see a charming English town during your visit.
Finally, the North Wessex Downs AONB is right on Highclere Castle’s doorstep in case you haven’t quite had enough English countryside views and walks for one day. Notable walks include Milford Lake Summer Walk, which takes you past rhododendrons, azaleas and two glistening lakes, and Watership Down near Ecchinswell, which inspired the 1972 novel of the same name.
TLDR: 7 Quick Fire Tips For Visiting Downton Abbey In Real Life
Short on time? Here are our seven quick fire tips for visiting Highclere Castle:
- DO book well in advance. You must pre-book tickets, but given that the castle is only open for certain times of the year and on certain days, they sell out fast. It’s recommended that you book at least 3 months ahead to get your preferred dates.
- DON’T forget to visit the Egyptian Exhibition. It might not be what you came for Downton Abbey fans, but it’s well worth a look around if you’re interested in this period of history.
- DO give yourself about 4-5 hours to see all the main attractions (with a break for lunch). And even then, you’ll only just scratch the surface as the castle has over 5,000 acres of grounds to explore!
- DON’T take big rucksacks and bags with you. They’re not allowed in the castle and although there is a storage area, it’s simply easier to travel light if you can manage it.
- DO expect to queue a short while before entering the castle. This is especially true if you’re visiting in the afternoon, but you’ll still be in a queue for a few minutes come the morning slots as well. It’s a popular place!
- DON’T take photos inside the castle. It’s not allowed – you’ll see hundreds of signs about it – so just be respectful and don’t do it.
- DO keep your eye out for special events. Alongside the usual public openings, the Earl and Countess also put on a number of special events throughout the year such as concerts and antiques fairs. But as you might expect, tickets sell out FAST so get in there quick!
A Few Final Thoughts From Us
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Highclere Castle. To be honest, we thought we would as we do love visiting filming locations of movies and TV shows that we like, so it was great that Highclere didn’t disappoint. If we were to do anything differently, we probably would have chosen to visit during the summer months instead of early spring, so that we could better enjoy the gardens – but this is only a minor thing really.
Would you visit Downton Abbey in real life? Do you have any other questions about visiting Highclere Castle? We’d love to hear from you so just drop a note or two in the comments section below…
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