Plan the perfect trip to Highclere Castle
Calling all Downton Abbey fans, this post is for you! We spent some time touring Highclere Castle, which just happens to be the same place where Downton Abbey is filmed. And while unfortunately it wasn’t Carson who greeted us at the door, we still had a great time and wish we would have set aside more time to explore this gorgeous castle and all its history.
History and Things to See
The sight of the castle dates back to 749AD, although it wasn’t renovated into the stunning estate it is today until closer to 1838 when the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon decided the property needed a facelift and hired Sir Charles Barry to transform it into the mansion you see today.
Highclere Castle has been a part of history in many different ways; it was a hospital during WWI (you might remember a similar scene in an episode of Downton Abbey!) and a home for evacuee children from London during WWII. In 1922, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, which is why the castle has such an extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts.
Although you’re not allowed to take photos inside the castle, you can easily remember what it looks like just by watching a single episode of Downton Abbey- it’s exactly the same! The producers of the show didn’t change a thing. In fact, as you’re touring the castle you may notice photos of the show being filmed in the various rooms that were used. You can see the grand dining table where members of the Crawley family sat for dinner parties, and even the servants’ quarters and the kitchen where Mrs. Patmore worked; it’s not hard to envision both the fictional storylines from the show as well as to imagine all the real stories that these walls could tell...
Before we get into everything Highclere has to offer, it’s important to take note of some important logistical details. For example, the cheapest way to get there is to rent a car with multiple people and drive. Uber doesn't work there so if you don’t want to drive yourself you’ll have to take a taxi, and it’s not cheap.
There are 2 tours, in the morning and the afternoon. Tickets sell out really quickly for the entire summer, but you can go and purchase standby tickets for the day, but you HAVE to go in the morning. You’ll want to get there as soon as the castle opens because the lines get really long.
Additionally, the castle is closed up to 9 months out of the year. However, it IS open the 3 weeks before Christmas, and if you remember at all from watching Downton Abbey, the castle looks amazing all decorated for the holidays.
They have a pretty extensive variety of ticket packages depending on what you’re looking to do when you visit the castle. Go to their website’s ticket page here to learn more about the various options.
Tours and Key Details
It’s important to remember that while Highclere Castle is an amazing historic estate, it’s also still a family home. Although the Crawley family doesn’t actually live there, the (8th) Earl and Countess of Carnarvon definitely still do. They live both in the private residences of the Castle, as well as in residences nearby, and they are incredibly involved in the day to day life and goings on of Highclere Castle.
Because of this, you may notice on your tour that while the castle is decorated with amazing antique paintings, they’re displayed right next to photos of the Carnarvon family skiing and taking part in other activities that typical families enjoy. It truly brings a unique element to the visit and one you have to experience for yourself.
It takes approximately an hour and a half to tour the castle and the Egyptian Exhibition, but you really could stay there the entire day if you wanted to and never run out of things to see or do. I really wish we would have planned to stay an extra couple hours to have a drink in the gardens.
They have an antique car that's been converted into a coffee shop in the morning, as well as 3 tea rooms with dining menus as well. And while England isn’t generally known for their food, we were pleasantly surprised at how good the food at Highclere really was! They have a lot of vegetarian options, and you can even book a formal, afternoon tea package. We loved that you have the option to dine or drink in their beautiful gardens, and you can even buy gin drinks with their own brand of gin. It doesn’t get much more authentic than that! Just give me a hat and call me Lady Mary.
If you haven’t seen Downton Abbey stop reading this post and go watch it immediately, and then book your tickets to tour Highclere Castle! It was definitely at the top of my bucket list of things to do in Europe, and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. It’s amazing to experience the history of the castle and to envision what life was like for everyone who lived there, and I think it’s even more cool that the Carnarvon family’s legacy still lives on today!