Downton Abbey Visit: Adventure at Highclere Castle

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.

Downton Abbey visit Vauxhall station wagon

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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.

Downton Abbey visit Vauxhall scrape

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!

Downton Abbey Visit Adventure at Highclere Castle

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!

Downton Abbey visit walk to the castle

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.

Downton Abbey visit front entrance

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.

Downton Abbey visit castle exterior

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.

Picturesque Courtyard

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.

Downton Abbey visit rear entrance

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.

Downton Abbey visit pasture

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.

Downton Abbey visit folly

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.

It might also be fun to review the Downton Abbey series before your visit. The 2019 Downton Abbey movie is also available for viewing. I just love the costumes, drama and the vintage automobiles!

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!

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24 thoughts on “Downton Abbey Visit: Adventure at Highclere Castle”

  1. What an awesome trip! I just sent a link to your post to a friend who is a huge fan of the show.

    Reply
    • Shana,

      Thanks so much for sharing it and taking the time to let me know. Glad you found something to pass along.

      Lisa

      Reply
  2. Journeys are always pleasurable & give new thoughts, energy, new experiences in life. Thank you for sharing your visit.

    Reply
    • Jitendra,

      I appreciate your kind words. It was a pleasure to take the trip and very fun to write about it!

      Lisa

      Reply
  3. How exciting! I’d love to visit this castle. I loved the series and movie. I’ll look for the countess’ books.

    Reply
    • Cindy,

      The one about the Lady Almina was excellent. My mom clued me into it, and it was very interesting. I hope you get to fit the castle into one of your trips someday. Thanks so much for your comment.

      Lisa

      Reply
  4. What an amazing experience! I would love to visit this beautiful place one day. Thank you for sharing your trip– glad you had a nice time.

    Reply
    • Ana,

      It was amazing, and I’d love to return again one day. The weather was perfect when we were there, and we were fortunate it wasn’t too crowded. I was happy to share the story of my visit. Thank you for commenting!

      Lisa

      Reply
  5. Makes me wanna visit 😊 Great post!!

    Reply
  6. I haven’t seen Downton Abbey but this castle looks amazing! Must have felt surreal to walk into a filming location!

    Reply
    • Corinne,

      It was totally surreal. I walked around in awe of my surroundings, thinking of all the people who had walked in the same hallways I was using. Crazy! Thanks so much for commenting, and have a great week!

      Lisa

      Reply
  7. I love Downtown Abbey! It is great that you had the chance to visit! Thank you for sharing this inside information and beautiful photos!

    Reply
    • Hadassah,

      It was a lovely visit. It’s hard to believe I was actually there. I’d love to go back and spend time walking the footpaths around the estate someday. It was a beautiful place, and I’m glad you liked the post. Thanks for your kind words!

      Lisa

      Reply
  8. How bold of you to drive. I have yet to do so while traveling out of the country! Great tip on the car rental. I worked for Enterprise/AAA so I know all about the hassle even a minor scratch can cause.

    You’re so blessed to not only have both parents but to be able to celebrate their 50th anniversary! I haven’t been to London but it’s on the list!

    Reply
    • Sandra,

      I was pretty nervous about the driving, but it turned out okay. We just had to go around some roundabouts a few extra times, and fortunately the traffic was never too bad where we were. I would not have tried driving in London! The Tube was the way to go there. I hope you get to visit someday. Thank you for your positive words.

      Lisa

      Reply
  9. This is one place I really want to visit! I’m a huge Downton fan. Looks like a great experience! And great tip about documenting the issues with the rental car.

    Reply
    • Heidi,

      It was a great place, although I did so want to glide down that staircase!=) Thank you for the affirmation and the kind words. I hope you get to visit one day.

      Lisa

      Reply
  10. Such an incredibly beautiful building! Although I don’t watch Downtown Abbey, I certainly appreciate the architecture. lanalikes.com

    Reply
    • Lana,

      It was amazing, and the surrounding countryside was beautiful as well. Thanks for commenting, and happy travels to you!

      Lisa

      Reply
  11. I have always wanted to visit Highclere Castle. This post makes me want to even more! It looks like such an amazing place.

    Reply
    • Jody,

      It was fun and very interesting. I hope you do get to visit someday. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      Lisa

      Reply
  12. How neat! I’ve got to watch this show. I’ll bet was a unique experience seeing a mansion with such a history!

    Reply
    • Jess,

      Yes, I still can’t believe I was really there. So many people have walked through that front door. Thanks for your kind words.

      Lisa

      Reply

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