Hey there, fellow Downton Abbey fans!
Chances are that if you are reading this, you are a Crawley Family aficionado. So let me ask you, what’s the first image that pops into your head when you hear the words “Downton Abbey?” Raise your hand if it’s one of the hundreds of scenes featuring the glorious and centuries old structure that is known to the rest of the world as Highclere Castle?! *raises hand*
This British period drama is not only about the Crawley Family, but just as much about their estate and the castle itself. I don’t think the series would have been what it is now if it had been filmed in a different location or on a fabricated TV set. One of the best choices, if not THE best, that was made by the producers of this series was choosing Highclere Castle as their filming location. The other best choice being the actors and actresses, obviously!
The story of Downton and its characters is fictional, but it is inspired by true events and history. Highclere has gone through many of the hardships that Downton did in real life, and the Lord and Lady Carnarvon (the current Earl and Countess) are going through many of the same things Lord and Lady Grantham had to go through to secure the future of the estate.
This trip was on my bucket list for years and the timing finally worked out for us to go. So, sit down with me for a cup of tea and let me tell you all about it!
Where Is Highclere Castle Located?
Highclere is located in Hampshire, England which is just a few miles south of Newbury, England. It is roughly 45 miles (72km) west from central London.
Traveling To Highclere From London
Although Highclere is tucked away in the English countryside, it isn’t all that complicated to plan a journey there. First of all, getting there from London is going to be your best bet. If you are renting a car, it’s pretty straightforward with Google Maps. As Americans not used to driving on the opposite side of the road, we just decided to stick with train travel. My husband and I actually love to travel by train, so it wasn’t hard to make that decision! (And train travel is cheaper!)
London Paddington Station has a direct train to Newbury, which only takes about an hour. It is also possible to board a train from Paddington to Reading, and then transfer from Reading to Newbury. That was what we did round-trip since the direct train doesn’t run as often as the connecting trains do. Depending on your timeline, transferring might be the more practical option. You can buy tickets from the Great Western Railroad Ticket Office inside London Paddington, or you can book them online in advance here (this might be a good option for those traveling during peak times).
When you arrive in Newbury by train, you should be able to hail a cab pretty easily. It’s a very small station and there were several cabs waiting outside the entrance when we got off our train. I can pretty much guarantee that any cab driver in Newbury will know exactly where to take you when you tell them Highclere is your destination.
From London Heathrow
(Note: Traveling to Newbury from London Heathrow is very simple because there is an express train from Heathrow to Paddington. The Heathrow Express costs about 22 pounds per person which is probably as much or less than a cab since Heathrow is so far outside the center of the city. It’s also a very nice and comfortable train with a bathroom and WIFI!)
Admission To Highclere
Ticket prices will vary based on whether you want to visit the Castle, the Gardens, the Egyptian Exhibition, or all three. There is also an option to add afternoon tea to your itinerary for a little extra cost. Prices may also vary according to the season that you choose to visit. We visited the week before Easter (April 11th, 2019) and our tickets for all 3 options were 23 pounds per adult. We did not do the afternoon tea, though I wish we had!
You are going to want to plan ahead and book your tickets in advance! Highclere is only open to the public a few times a year (I read somewhere for a total of about 60-70 days) so it sells out pretty quickly. I bought our tickets about a month in advance, but in some cases that may not always be early enough.
You will also have to decide on a morning ticket or an afternoon ticket. Once you buy your tickets, you cannot change it! We chose an afternoon ticket because we didn’t want to get up super early and rush from London to Newbury. We took a late morning train and gave ourselves time to check into our hotel and drop off our luggage before we went on to Highclere. Which brings me to our next topic…!
Where To Stay
There are a couple of options regarding where to stay. You could choose to do a day trip from London as part of a touring group or on your own. I looked into joining a tour group that takes you to and from London in one day, but many of them are quite expensive and then you are bound to someone else’s schedule. I personally like having the freedom to explore off the beaten path.
To Tour Or Not To Tour?
A tour might be a good option for someone who doesn’t mind being put on a schedule and wants to have everything taken care of in one payment. Also, depending on the tour, they may or may not provide transportation, admission, and lunch. Some tours might even take you to other Downton Abbey filming locations! So that’s something to consider. It really just depends on your travel style. I’m sorry that I don’t have any recommendations for tours! Check TripAdvisor, or a similar site, to see what your options are if you want to go that route.
If you want to do it our way: We chose to make it an overnight trip from London all on our own. I just had a feeling that taking the train there and back in one day was going to be too much, and I think I was right. I’m SO happy that we chose to stay the night nearby.
We took a train from London Paddington Station to Newbury in the morning, visited Highclere in the afternoon, stayed the night down the road at The Carnarvon Arms, and then took the train back to London the next morning.
The Carnarvon Arms
The Carnarvon Arms is a little inn and pub just down the road from Highclere Castle. By just down the road, I mean that my husband and I walked to the castle from there! It was less than a mile to walk to the front gates, but then the driveway up to the castle itself was probably close to another mile. We didn’t realize that at first, but luckily we were up to the challenge.
Taxi Or Walk?
If you are not up for the walk, you can call a cab to come get you from The Carnarvon Arms and take you all the way up to the closest parking lot near the castle. There is a designated cab drop off right at the ticket entrance. I imagine that since it’s such a short distance that it wouldn’t cost much to take a taxi from there, but I’m not sure since we decided to walk. There is an unpaved sidewalk, but please be careful and aware! We noticed people driving very fast on that little country road.
Everything about our stay at this charming English inn and pub was lovely. We ate lunch and dinner there that day and had breakfast there the next morning before heading back to London. The food was wonderful! Their craft burger menu made us question all of the things you hear about English food being bland. From our experience that’s a very untrue statement! If you want to be sure to get a table, you should consider making reservations. We were able to dine without making any reservations on a Thursday, but were told that it gets very busy on the weekends and during peak touring seasons.
Our room was nice and clean and the rates are very reasonable. Usually around 90 pounds per night, fluctuating based on seasons and weekends. It’s a fantastic deal to be able to stay so close to Highclere. If you’re looking for a very authentic British lodging experience, this is it! It added so much to our trip to stay in a place with so much character and authenticity. It was so much better than a Travelodge or something else generic and boring.
Highclere is currently home to the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. That is one of the many reasons why photography is not allowed inside the castle, because it’s a private home. Though, the family goes away on holiday most of the time when the castle is open to visitors. The rooms on display are mostly the common areas and the bedrooms used for filming.
We did the self-guided tour, which I recommend. There are info signs in each room and even behind the scenes posters of filming Downton.
No Photos Allowed Inside
I really wish I could have taken photos inside to show you! I’ve read other blog posts in which the bloggers took photos inside the castle. But I’m a pretty big believer in following those kinds of rules and respecting people’s wishes, so I refrained. It’s also technically illegal to publish photos of private property without permission. You’ll just have to go see it for yourself! It actually feels a lot smaller inside than they make it appear in Downton Abbey. It is still a gigantic home, but not quite as vast as I had imagined.
DID YOU KNOW?The scenes in the servant’s hall and kitchen in Downton Abbey were not filmed at Highclere. They built the sets in Ealing Studios which is about 60 miles away from Highclere!
The Grounds & Gardens
The grounds and gardens are beautiful! Everything is so well manicured and cared for and it’s quite enjoyable to wander around exploring the area. We visited in April a few days before Easter and the flowers were just beginning to bloom, so I imagine in May and June it’s even more beautiful. Make sure to grab a map at the entrance so that you don’t miss anything and you can easily find your way around!
The Egyptian Exhibition
In the basement of the castle is an ancient Egyptian relics museum that you can visit with the all-inclusive ticket. We chose that option because it didn’t cost much more to do so. We thought we might as well since we were planning on spending half of our day at Highclere. It was interesting, but not really our cup of tea, so to speak. I enjoyed the castle tour and being outside taking pictures more. However, if you are at all into Egyptian history then you definitely need to check it out. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon funded the discovery and excavation of Tutankhamun. He was an avid collector of ancient Egyptian artifacts and many of those are on display at Highclere.
If you’re the souvenir type, don’t miss the gift shop! Obviously, I had to get a postcard or two…
I hope this post helps you plan an amazing trip to visit one of the most popular filming locations in England! Downton Abbey fan or not, Highclere Castle is a beloved part of English history that is well worth the visit.
We were there on a very beautiful bright and sunny day, which is a little bit uncommon for England, or so I’ve heard. Although it was gorgeous, from a photography perspective it was a little challenging! Since I’m a photography nerd, I booked afternoon tickets with the thought that maybe we could be there at the golden hour and sunset. But since the grounds close at 6pm, there was still an hour or two of daylight left! In spite of all that, I still managed to get my husband to take this photo of me. I LOVE IT.