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Visiting the Real Downton Abbey: A Guide To Touring Highclere Castle

With the third season of the British drama Downton Abbey underway in the U.S. and the series growing in popularity, many are flocking to a small corner of England to see a very large and impressionable estate. The real Downton Abbey actually takes on the name Highclere Castle. In a few hours drive from London, you too can mingle with the Crawleys, or at least where they put on their show. Aside from fascinating fans of Downton Abbey, a visit to Highclere Castle showcases one of England’s great estates, completed with Egyptian treasures in the basement.
What is Highclere Castle?: Despite the British drama’s name, Downton Abbey resides at Highclere Castle. The Victorian castle sits on thousands of acres of parkland and has been home to the Carnarvon family since 1679. However there has been some form of settlement here for 1,300 years. Highclere Castle was majorly transformed into a grand mansion in 1838 under the design of Victorian architect Sir Charles Barry. Perhaps the most notable Earl of Carnarvon was the 5th as he discovered the tomb of King Tut. Aside from seeing politicians, Egyptologists, aviators and soldiers during the Edwardian period, Highclere Castle also served as a hospital during World War I. The 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon still live part time in the castle.
What will I see on the tour?: Tours of Highclere Castle take guests through many of the rooms seen on Downton Abbey. A guide provides information on some of the staterooms, bedrooms and the picturesque salon at the heart of the castle. A ticket including the Egyptian Exhibition provides interest to even those that haven’t seen the show. The fifth Earl of Carnarvon discovered the Tomb of Egyptian boy Pharaoh Tutankhamun along with Howard Carter in 1922. The cellars of the castle celebrate that monumental find with artifacts from the dig and a mockup of the tomb. Tickets that include the gardens and grounds showcase the estate’s green spaces including the Wild Flower Meadow, the Monk’s Garden and Penelope’s Wood.
How can I get tickets?: If you want to visit Highclere Castle, you will have to do a bit of planning. The castle is currently opening up for the season March 30th for a handful of days and weeks. The summer hours will stretch from Sunday to Thursday beginning July 14th to September 12th. A tour of the castle, the Egyptian exhibition and gardens costs £18. A ticket for the castle and the gardens runs at £11 while a ticket for the Egyptian Exhibition and Gardens is also £11. Travelers that just want to take in the gardens can do so with a garden ticket of £5.
How Do I Get There?: Highclere Castle sits just west of London with Oxford to the north and Southampton to the south. Close to the town of Newbury, you can reach the Downton Abbey set from London in less than a 2 hours drive. It is also possible to reach the castle by train or bus.

 

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Photo: garybembridge

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