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The Downton Abbey House is Real – And You Can Go Tour the Castle

With a 2nd Downton Abbey movie coming out next year, we thought this would be the perfect time to take a closer look at the historic home of our fantasies: the real Downton Abbey castle.

downton abbey real life location highclere castle

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. 

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 and fans of the show, picturing yourself inside the Downton Abbey Castle can be so much more than a simple fantasy.

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

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.

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 and can find it in Newbury, a market town in the county of Berkshire, England.

downton abbey real life Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England
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.

The first written records of the real-life Downton Abbey castle date back to 749 when an Anglo-Saxon King granted the estate to the Bishops of Winchester. Bishop William of Wykeham built a beautiful medieval palace and gardens in the park. Later on, the palace was rebuilt as Highclere Place House in 1679 when it was purchased by Sir Robert Sawyer, the direct ancestor of the current Earl of Carnarvon.  In 1842, Sir Charles Barry, who also designed the Houses of Parliament, transformed Highclere House into the present day Highclere Castle.

During the First World War, Highclere Castle was converted into a hospital for wounded soldiers run by the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. Throughout the Second World War, Highclere Castle was home to  children evacuated from London.

One of the most recognizable filming locations in the world

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. 

Not only was the series filmed at the Highclere Castle, but so was the first movie — and the second movie, which is now scheduled for release in March 2022.

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.

The Countess of Carnarvon in front of Highclere Castle.
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. And the couple is excited to welcome the filming crew on the their property for the filming of the second Downton Abbey movie.

 “We are thrilled to be welcoming Downton Abbey back to Highclere again. Julian and the wonderful cast and crew became so much part of our lives here at Highclere and we look forward to our next adventure with them.” 

Lady Carnarvon

You can go visit the iconic Downton Abbey building

Now onto the exciting news. The castle and the grounds are open to the public and welcome visitors inside the castle for a variety of tours (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

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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Written by Lauren Morling

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