Highclere Castle: the Real Life Downton Abbey Castle, Now Briefly Open to Fans of the Show

With the Downton Abbey movie coming out mid-September, we thought this would be the perfect time to take a sneak peek inside the historic home of our fantasies: the exclusive Downton Abbey castle.

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It’s been quite a few years since the dramatic finale tied up the loose ends of the award-winning Downton Abbey British TV series. This extraordinary period drama invited us all into the ‘upstairs downstairs’ world of the 1900s and had nearly 10 million bums on couches every single week. 

And while there doesn’t seem to be any hope of a seventh season, we’re certainly counting down the days to the upcoming film which promises a brief ‘welcome back’ to Downton. 

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If you, like us, are a (huge!) Downton Abbey fan, you’ve probably already marveled at the Crawley’s extravagant lifestyle and formed a special bond with the characters – perhaps even imagined living in the castle yourself. 

But now, as this famous film set is open to the public for a couple months of the year, picturing yourself inside the Downton Abbey Castle can be so much more than a simple fantasy.

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Downton Abbey: Britain’s best TV show 

Throwback to the very first episode of Downton Abbey: September 2010 in the United Kingdom and a year later in the US. It didn’t take long for this historical period drama to become a coveted family favorite. 

Over the course of its six seasons, it won a number of impressive accolades, including three Golden Globes, 15 Emmy Awards and even a Guinness World Record for being the most critically acclaimed TV show in history! Now, that’s pretty impressive.  

Filled with grand staircases, glittering chandeliers, and hired help from footmen to chefs, life inside the Downton Abbey Castle is an accurate depiction of the British upper class during the post-Edwardian era. 

downton abbey real life Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England
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But what makes this drama series so significant is its behind-the-scenes look into the lives of the working class: the (under) butlers, kitchen crew, chauffeurs, stewards, maids, valets, housekeepers, and goodness knows how many more members of staff who work for them. 

From the endless courting dramas of Mary Crawley upstairs to the romance of Carson and Mrs. Hughes downstairs, the series does a great job of tugging on the veritable heartstrings. On the other side of the TV screen, there’s no denying that it’s all rather emotional. Tissues may be required. 

But dramatic moments (of which there are plenty) aside, Downton also tells a tale of British history. It highlights the hierarchy between the social classes — including the pecking order among the servants themselves. It covers some important events from history such as the sinking of the Titanic and the unfolding of the First World War and the impact they had on society, regardless of class, race or creed.

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Highclere Castle is the Downton Abbey house in real life — and the inspiration for it

Outside of the glamorous film set, the Downton Abbey Castle does actually exist in real life. Well, almost. It goes by another name: Highclere Castle. 

downton abbey real life Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England
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Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England. Photo credit: Mike Searle

This stunning Victorian country house towers above a sprawling 5,000-acre landscaped estate in the Hampshire countryside. While it’s not the only location for the drama series (there are many more in the Cotswolds, Sussex, and Buckinghamshire), most of the exterior shots and the upstairs interior shots were filmed here. 

In the TV series, the Downton Abbey house was filled with constant activity with over 50 staff members (that we know of). In reality, it’s home to just one family: the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon whose family has been living here since 1679.

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The Countess of Carnarvon in front of Highclere Castle. Image credit: The Steeple Times

Interestingly enough, the Earl and the Countess are good friends of the author of the Downton series, Julian Fellowes, who pictured Highclere Castle as the setting when he penned the show.

The Downton Abbey location

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Now onto the exciting news. The castle and the grounds are open to the public for about 70 days a year, including two months over the summer and a few of the major bank holidays (check the website for exact dates). 

You’ll need to allow plenty of time to explore – the castle is so big that the Carnarvon family (who have lived here for over three centuries) still don’t even know exactly how many rooms there are. It’s estimated at somewhere between 200 and 300 rooms, and 50 and 80 bedrooms! 

Make your way through the most famous Downton Abbey locations, such as the great hall, the dining room, the library, the drawing room, and many of the impressive bedrooms. You can also stop for a tea break in the cafe, stroll through the beautifully manicured gardens, and explore the more recent albeit unrelated Egyptian exhibition hall. 

inside the downton abbey castle
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As Highclere Castle is only open on specific days of the year, getting your hands on these sought-after tickets can be tricky. But if you’re one of the lucky few to have booked one in advance, the daily tours will offer you an enviable behind-the-scenes look at the Downton Abbey location in real life!

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