Highclere Castle – The Real Downton Abbey

Photo copyright Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013

Photo copyright Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013

The history of the real Downton Abbey – Highclere Castle near Newbury – is every bit as exciting as the much-loved television series. Not only that, but the real life characters who lived here at Highclere Castle were every bit as interesting. The best thing is, you can actually come and see the real Downton Abbey for yourself.

I was lucky enough to visit Highclere Castle back a year or so ago. It’s in the Berkshire countryside, about half an hour from where I live.

The 21st Century Housewife at Highclere Castle

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I booked my tickets several months in advance as Highclere is understandably a very popular place to visit. Tickets sell out quickly as they have again this year. There are some last minute ‘walk up’ tickets available for Summer 2016 – you can find more information about them here on the Highclere website.

The Real Downton Abbey

Photo copyright Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013

Photo copyright Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013

From the moment you arrive it’s apparent this is a very special place. There has been an estate here at Highclere since 749 AD. From medieval hall to Elizabethan mansion to Georgian house and finally Victorian castle, Highclere has evolved with the times. It has even served as a hospital for wounded soldiers in World War 1 and an American airbase and home for evacuees in World War 2.

Today Highclere is still a family home – the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon and their family live here part of the time, as well as in a house next door to the castle. Highclere can also be hired for private and corporate parties, team building events and weddings. Yes, you really can get married in a castle!

Photo copyright Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013

Photo copyright Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013

As for the people who lived here, of course the first one who springs to mind is the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who with Howard Carter was responsible for the discovery of Tutankamun’s tomb. However the ladies of Highclere were amazing characters as well.

The Countess of Carnarvon has crafted beautifully written biographies of two of her predecessors – the bestselling ‘Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey – The Lost Legacy of Highclere’ and ‘Lady Catherine, The Earl and the Real Downton Abbey’, both published by Hodder and Stoughton. I have read both and they are fascinating- although non-fiction, both titles are really addictive reads!

Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey
Both Lady Almina and Lady Catherine were strong, interesting women who had fascinating lives. Using letters, diaries, visitor’s books and household accounts from the archives at Highclere, The Countess of Carnarvon transports the reader back to the thrilling and alluring world of the real Downton Abbey and its inhabitants.

Love stately homes? Read about more of my Favourite Castles and Palaces in England.

Exploring The Real Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle is beautiful inside and out, and unlike some stately homes I have visited, it is light, bright and cheerful as well. The library looks like an incredibly inviting place to curl up with a book – and you would have quite a selection to choose from!

Photo copyright Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013

Photo copyright Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013

My favourite room had to be the Drawing Room, originally decorated by Lady Almina, its walls lined with silk in a beautiful shade of green.

Photo copyright Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013.

Photo copyright Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013.

I also loved the Morning Room, a sitting room for the ladies of the house. It is bright, beautiful and very peaceful.

Photo copyright Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013

Photo copyright Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013

The tour also includes many of the bedrooms, some of which are used regularly in the filming of Downton Abbey. Discreet signs point out where this is the case. While many people visit because of Downton Abbey, during the tour it is Highclere Castle that is definitely the star of the show.

Do take the time to visit the Egyptian Exhibition in the basement, as well as the wonderful grounds and gardens.

Highclere Collage

There are also tea rooms with both indoor and outdoor seating.

A lovingly and beautifully maintained piece of British history, Highclere Castle is well worth a visit. It’s a great day out and an excellent way to really immerse yourself in the history of this part of the world, as well as a bit of the magic that is Downton Abbey.

For more information about Highclere, read Lady Carnarvon’s blog and follow the castle on Facebook and Twitter.

Photographs which are copyright Highclere Castle are used with permission. My thanks to Highclere Castle for their kind permission.

This is not a sponsored post. 

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Article by April Harris

April has written 1281 great articles for us.

April is a writer, recipe developer, frequent traveller and blogger sharing travel, food, and style. Based in the south of England, April is a British Canadian who is passionate about family, hearth and home, healthy living (with treats!) and the transformative power of travel.

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  1. Beautiful! It must have been amazing to be surrounded by all that beautiful wood molding. I could spend time in each of those rooms. One day I need to go to England. My father is from the London area, and my grandfather is from Coventry. My dad’s family moved to America in 1952 to work for Phillips TV. They came over on the Queen Mary. I almost visited when I graduated from high school, but a terrorist attack or bombing (I don’t remember what happened!) changed our plans.

    I’ll stop gushing now. 🙂

    • You would love England, Barb. It really is beautiful. My paternal Grandpa was from London too. Ironically he lived just streets away from my husband’s Grandpa’s family but they never knew each other!

    • Barb . . . when you go, be sure to get out into the countryside. That is where the real beauty is. My favorite spots are Haworth, home of the Bronte Sisters and, of course, the Lake Distirct. Grasmere to be exact. One cannot take a bad picture in the English countryside. Happy traveling!!

  2. What a thrill to see, and the photos are stunning. Thanks so very much for sharing!

  3. Thank you for this post, April. I’m adding Highclere Castle to my must-see list for my next trip to England =)

  4. How thrilling! I am totally, completely jealous! What a fabulous place to tour, and that you live so nearby…wow. 🙂 Wasn’t Highclere Castle also used in the filming of Wooster & Jeeves? We’re big fans of both Wooster and Downton over here in the states, too, and unfortunately, we have to wait until I think January to watch the new season. Thanks for sharing, April!


    • Hi Lisa, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! Highclere Castle was used in the filming of Jeeves and Wooster – it’s such a fabulous location. You would probably really enjoy The Countess of Carnarvon’s books while you are waiting for the new series of Downton 🙂 x

  5. Back around 9 years ago when I started planning my wedding, Highclere Castle was one of my dream venues! lol. It looks like you had a wonderful visit. A good friend of mine recently went there as well and also enjoyed it, she too said she had booked around the beginning of this year! As soon as we get a car I think that is one of the first places I will arrange for us to visit. x

  6. Wow! Very beautiful castle! I’ll have to make a trip there someday! Would love to see it.

  7. Just back in Cape Town from a visit to my daughter and family in Basingstoke, and the first place they took me to was Highclere castle, as we have seen the series and loved it. The place took my breath away! So beautiful and such a pleasure to see in real life the rooms and places we saw on TV. My eternal gratitude to the Earl and Countess or allowing people through their magnificent home!

  8. I was there in June with my hubby!! He surprised me with the tour, like days before going to Europe. We were in Paris for four days and then London, for another marvelous 4 days. First thing we did when we arrived in London, was take our luggage to the hotel and ran to take the train to Newbury. Then, we took a cab to the castle. I could not believe I was there, inside the “Crowleys’ house”! We were very lucky because they suddenly open 4 days for tours, since the shooting of the movie was cancelled those days. There were no other tours in the month. Talk about my good fortune!

    • What a lovely surprise, Lorena. Your husband is really thoughtful! Your whole trip sounds like it was fantastic. And what luck they opened the castle unexpectedly! I’m so glad you got to see Highclere 🙂

  9. I have only been to London but the next time I go to England I would love to visit Highclere Castle! That you for your post at least I could get a glimpse, looks like an amazing place to visit!

  10. You’ve given me new books to add to my reading list.:) Wow, the history of this place alone makes me want to visit. I didn’t know that an estate had been there since that long ago; that is amazing. Beautiful too. Thank you for sharing on Inspire Me Wednesday. Can’t wait to feature you in next week’s issue.:)

  11. April, what fun! Though the rooms are beautiful, I’m not keen on the exterior of Highclere. I much prefer Georgian architecture. I’m going to check out the website and the books when I get a break. Thank you!

    • Hi Jean, I agree, the outside of the Georgian buildings were prettier. I like how the windows are placed and how clean everything looks. I still like the outside of Highclere though, and the inside is really gorgeous 🙂

  12. We visited there in the early 80’s. Talk about a flashback, I had forgotten all about that place!

  13. I would love to visit this castle!! The scenery in Europe is always so pretty, and to visit a real castle would be amazing.

  14. Beautiful castle. My son and I love to visit as many castles as we can when in Europe, since we lack them here, haha.

  15. That looks lovely, inside and out. I’d love to tour a castle like that. I did see one while in England back in the late 70s (79ish) and have always wanted to return.

  16. How very, very cool that there is a real Downton Abbey with real live guests. I have never seen the show but I’d really much rather see the real deal. 🙂

  17. I think I’m jealous. Visiting Highclere Castle is on my “if I ever get to England” list. I fell is love with Downton Abbey. 🙂

  18. Thank you so much for this armchair tour! I’m envious that you are so close and can readily visit. I especially loved the garden pictures. I wish I could grow an ‘English garden.’ Alas, I believe you have more rain than we do here in Utah. Being a semi-desert makes it hard to grow such lush gardens. Sigh. . . .

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Nina 🙂 I wish my garden was like the one at Highclere too 🙂 I must admit, the rain does make it much easier to grow flowers!

  19. Wow, April this is so amazing! The pictures are amazing, the castle, the surroundings, everything. I guess it`s a real thrill to be able to visit it. And wow, getting married there? Now that would be like a dream for me 🙂
    Thanks for the great post, and also for the books you mentiones. I will try and find them!

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Cristina! It really would be an amazing place to get married 🙂 I hope you are able to find the books. The women of Highclere were amazing – and in fact, still are!

  20. LOVE that show! Was the Lab there? I think the owners have a yellow lab.

  21. What an amazing opportunity to tour the castle, it is lovely!!
    Stay safe in travels.

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