As part of their 50th wedding anniversary celebration, my parents decided to revisit some of their favorite sights in Europe. I was able to join them on this adventure. It was an unforgettable trip, filled with spectacular sights. One of the highlights was our Downton Abbey visit, and it all began at Heathrow Airport. We actually had been in England for a few days, but had taken a detour to Colchester before making our way back to the London area. We returned to the airport that day for the sole purpose of renting a car for the next phase of our travels. The car ended up being a massive (to me) Vauxhall station wagon. I was already a little apprehensive about driving on the left side of the road. At least we would have a lot of room for our luggage.
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Rental Car Caution
Before we pulled out of the rental car lot, I circled the car and noticed a scrape near the right front tire. I looked around for an employee, but none were in sight. We had a schedule to keep, so I took a photo.
Later, I was thankful I had done this. When we returned the car later that week, I was able to show proof that we hadn’t caused the damage. The date and time were on the photo. It was the second time in my travel history a car rental agency had tried to charge for damages not caused by the party I was traveling with. So, just a word of caution: Always take photos of any damage you find when renting a car. It saved us a lot of hassle. Okay, on with the Downton Abbey visit!
Route to Downton Abbey
From Heathrow, we took the M3 towards Basingstoke. I learned that the roads with M in front of the number are like freeways in the United States. Roads with an A in front of the number are the rural roads. I found it much easier driving on the M3 than I did driving on the A339, which is the road we took from Basingstoke to the turnoff for Highclere Castle. Roads with an A, I learned, are often quite narrow, especially for big Vauxhall station wagons. The trip from Heathrow was approximately 50 miles and took about an hour.
Pulling Into the Grounds
The route to the castle was well-marked, and we were directed to park on the expansive lawn. I was relieved, because I was still getting used to the size of the car. We had plenty of room to park, then got out and strolled toward the castle. Our Downton Abbey visit had begun!
Welcome to Downton Abbey!
The grounds are so expansive, although there were crowds, the castle grounds didn’t seem crowded. There was no line as we approached the door, so we were able to snap a few photos at the entrance. Just think of all of the people who have walked across this threshold.
Gazing From the Gallery
After looking around at the main rooms on the ground floor, we ascended to the upper floor and were able to view the rooms surrounding the gallery. We were able to take a peek into some of the bedrooms where filming had occurred. Back out in the hallway, it was amazing to be able to look down on the impressive ground floor from the gallery up above. I was slightly disappointed by one thing. No one was allowed to use the main grand staircase to descend into the lower hall. I had harbored visions of myself sweeping elegantly down the stairs like Lady Edith or Lady Mary, but it was not to be.
A Note About Interior Photos
As with some other locations we visited on our European tour, photos were not allowed inside the castle. I looked around online for some stock photos to add, but the only interior photos I found contained the current Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. Since we did not meet them during our visit, I didn’t think it would be very authentic to include them. For interior views of the castle, I referenced the Highclere Castle website further down in the post.
Back Stairs to the Egyptian Exhibit
Although many of the upstairs and main floor rooms were used in filming Downton Abbey episodes, the downstairs basement scenes, including those in Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen, were filmed at another location. Here’s the reason why: The Egyptian Exhibit is housed on the lower level. Many people, myself included, sometimes forget Highclere Castle’s earlier claim to fame. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon, former resident owner of Highclere Castle, was the financial backer of the 1922 Howard Carter archaeological expedition which unearthed King Tut’s tomb. As a result, for many years the main attraction at Highclere Castle was the Egyptian Exhibition and the artifacts from that famous event. The artifacts are still housed downstairs, but are no longer the main reason most people visit the castle.
The actual rear view of the castle looks quite different from the rear view of the castle on the television version. There are various outbuildings which were never shown. The stable yard is surrounded by the Coach House, which houses a gift shop and cafe. It is possible to take afternoon tea, by reservation, in the Coach House as well.
Rolling Country Vistas and Garden Pathways
The park-like setting is truly breathtaking. We were fortunate to be visiting on a lovely summer afternoon, with sheep grazing in the surrounding pastures in a bucolic setting. When the castle is open to the public, the gardens and pathways are accessible as well.
Yes, there really is a folly, as shown in Downton Abbey, as well as an Etruscan temple. There are also public footpaths surrounding the castle which may be accessed offsite year round. For a downloadable map of the public walks, click here.
Planning Your Own Downton Abbey Visit
If you plan a Downton Abbey visit for yourself, be sure to take the time to explore the excellent Highclere Castle website. As the castle is still home to the 8th Earl of Carnarvon and his family, the castle isn’t open to the public year round. One very interesting resource you may want to read before your Downton Abbey visit is the book Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle. Written by the current Countess of Carnarvon, the book chronicles the life of Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, who opened the castle to wounded soldiers during the First World War.
How About You?
Has this made you want to plan a visit to Hampshire in England? Do you have your own tales of a Downton Abbey visit to share? I’d love to learn about your experience, or any other fabulous travel experiences you have had. I have many fond memories of my visit to Highclere Castle, and I hope to return one day. If you like what you’ve read today, you might also like reading about the scenic northern Oregon coast or my visit to historic Salzburg, Austria. For some simple travel wardrobe ideas, you can check out my post listing Wardrobe Essentials for the Savvy Traveler.
Wherever your journeys take you, I hope you make wonderful memories. Thanks for visiting the Fluxing Well site. If you would like to receive the latest posts before they are shared anywhere else, consider subscribing. Happy travels!