There’s no greater way to celebrate your love for Downton Abbey than to visit Highclere Castle in southern England.
Much of Downton Abbey was filmed at the castle. While visiting, you’ll recognize the home of the Crawley family and be instantly transported to scenes that are guaranteed to fill you and your travel companions with nostalgia and excitement.
The castle isn’t open to the public year-round, which means careful planning is a must for your Highclere visit. Eager to go? We have tips for every step of your journey to the heart and soul of Downton Abbey!
History Of The Estate
The earliest record of Highclere Castle dates back to 749 B.C., when the estate belonged to the Bishops of Winchester. In 1679, the palace was rebuilt and renamed the Highclere Place House after being purchased by Sir Robert Sawyer, attorney general to Charles II and James II.
In 1842, Sir Charles Barry gave the estate a facelift, remodeling Highclere Place House into Highclere Castle — the castle we know and love today.
After a long history of different occupants, the eighth Earl and Countess of Carnarvon live in the castle today.
Know Before You Go
The castle is not open year-round to the general public, so make sure to check the castle’s calendar before planning your trip. From late 2019 to 2020, the castle is open around Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, April through May, and July through September. You can buy tickets once you arrive at the castle, but it’s common for tickets to sell out. We suggest you book ahead of time to play it safe.
For a more intimate adventure, you can book a private tour or a group tour for 20 to 53 people. These tours can be booked outside of general public tour times per request.
Getting To Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle is roughly 60 miles west of London and less than 10 miles south of Newbury. There are three popular means of travel that can get you there: car, train, or tour bus.
London is a popular starting point for travelers trekking to the castle. Some tourists like to rent a car and drive from London to the castle. If you’d prefer to sit back and relax instead of worrying about driving, you can also catch a train from London, but the farthest the train will take you is the station in Newbury. From there, you’ll take a taxi to the castle. There will be taxis waiting at the station, but when leaving the castle, you’ll have to call a taxi to take you back to the station.
There are also Highclere tour bus options. Expect an active and informative day, but know that these tours only operate during certain times of the year.
How To Spend A Day At The Castle
Highclere Castle sits on 1,000 acres of parkland, making the estate a sprawling sanctum in the English countryside. Rolling hills and manicured gardens around the castle add to the idyllic beauty of the estate. As long as the castle is open, the grounds of the estate are yours to explore. There are many trails to choose from, and this map can help you select the best trail for you.
There are three parts of the castle visitors are permitted to view: the state rooms, upstairs and downstairs, and the Egyptian exhibit.
Guests can visit six rooms during the state rooms tour, including the iconic library and drawing room. Downton Abbey fans will immediately recognize both. Visitors can also meander through 12 of the castle’s bedrooms.
The castle was once home to the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, who is best known for his discovery of the tomb of the Egyptian boy pharaoh, Tutankhamun, in 1922. In the cellar of the castle, an exhibition celebrates the Earl’s legendary discovery and collection of artifacts. If you’re interested in learning about his other achievements, the exhibition describes the incredible sequence of events leading to his discovery of the tomb.
If you get hungry during your time at Highclere, you can grab snacks or a light lunch from tea rooms in the castle. Or, even better, if you plan ahead, pack a lunch and picnic on the grounds overlooking the lovely English countryside!
Celebrate The Holidays At Highclere
Staff at the castle deck Highclere’s halls for the Christmas season. To celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, you can book one of many Christmas-inspired Highclere Castle tours. The tours vary, but the months of November and December feature extravagant decor, champagne, caroling, and magical tours dedicated to conjuring up the Christmas spirit. To learn more about what Highclere Castle has to offer during the holidays, check out this list of events and tours you can book in advance.
Staying On The Estate Overnight
There are a few lodging options on the grounds of Highclere Castle. Grotto Lodge is a lovely circular home with a double bedroom and two bathrooms. London Lodge is another gorgeous option for a cozy stay for two. Complete with a sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, full kitchen, and even a Chesneys wood burner, visitors have everything they need to nest and experience the castle’s grounds in all their splendor.
A stay on the grounds of Highclere Castle is ideal for country walks and soaking up the pastoral beauty of North Hampshire and West Berkshire. The estate neighbors Hungerford, meaning you’ll be just 30 minutes away from a handful of pubs and shops.
If you want to stay overnight but not necessarily on the castle grounds, check out the other options nearby — there’s everything from hotels and bed and breakfasts to inns and glamping.
Highclere Castle Mementos
To commemorate your time spent at the castle, make a pit stop at the gift shop. There, you can find the brand new, recently perfected Highclere Castle gin, just released to the general public. The gin is a “traditional London Dry Gin produced in England’s oldest distillery.”
Christmas at Highclere is a book detailing the magic of the holiday season at Highclere. The book has a little information about a lot. It includes details about the transformation of the castle around Christmas time as well as recipes from Lady Carnarvon herself. If you’d like to buy this lovely, informative book now, you can purchase it and other books written by Lady Carnarvon — a current resident of the castle — online.
Dine With Royals In November 2019
For one night and one night only, two lucky guests will get to stay in Highclere Castle and be treated like true royalty.
This once-in-a-lifetime stay, made possible by Airbnb, will take place on November 26, 2019. Join the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon for cocktails and dinner served by their very own butler.
After the feast, you can retire to your extravagant bedroom, which overlooks 1,000 acres of parkland.
Breakfast and a private tour of the castle, including rooms the iconic cast of Downton Abbey stepped foot in, and the grounds will take place in the morning.
Mark your calendars — reservation opportunities will begin on October 1st, at 12 p.m. BST!
If you’re UK bound and enjoy learning about the past, consider a walk through history in London’s Bankside District.
You can also experience royalty in these nine United Kingdom castles you can actually stay in or at one of these seven movie castles you can visit in real life.