If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a Downton Abbey fan (like myself!). Let me go ahead and preface this post by saying that Highclere Castle is 100% worth the hype. With the astounding grounds and gardens as well as the beautiful castle, you won’t be disappointed if you take a day to visit this country home. In this article, I’ll be explaining exactly how to visit Downton Abbey in real life. From which ticket to buy to how to get to the castle, I’ve got you covered. Don’t forget to say hello to Mrs. Patmore for me!
What is Highclere Castle?
Highclere Castle is best known as the set for the hit drama TV series, Downton Abbey. As a fan myself, I knew this before arriving. However, I don’t think I realized the extent to which the home was used! As you walk through Highclere, you’ll recognize almost every room from iconic scenes of Downton. Nonetheless, even before its TV debut, the castle had quite an interesting history.
As the official country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon, many famous residents and guests have passed through Highclere. The current Earl, George Herbert, is Queen Elizabeth II’s godson. George Herbert’s great-grandfather was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, a resident of the castle, and famous in his own regard. During the early 1900s, he provided financial backing for the discovery and excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt. For this reason, Highclere also currently has an Egyptian Exhibition going on to tell the story behind this great achievement.
Do I need a ticket to visit Highclere?
Yes! But, please be aware that Highclere Castle is not open year-round. In fact, it’s only accessible to visitors for approximately 65 days per year. Remember, it IS someone’s house. The Castle is typically open to the public for certain days during Easter/Spring and during the Summer. Furthermore, there are guided tours on specific days during the midsummer and fall. Nonetheless, these are much more expensive than visiting on your own. To see the exact dates you can visit Highclere Castle this year, follow this link. If you’re ready to book your ticket, you can click here. Keeping in mind that the castle is only open for a limited amount of days per year, I recommend booking your ticket well in advance. Tickets often do sell out, so please plan for this!
What will I be able to see there?
What you’re able to see at Highclere depends on which ticket you choose. For example, if you want to see everything possible, you’ll buy the Castle, Exhibition, and Gardens option. However, you can also choose to visit a combination of the Castle and Gardens, the Egyptian Exhibition and Gardens, or the Gardens only. I recommend buying the Castle and Gardens option. To me, the Egyptian Exhibition was fascinating, but just not worth the money. When you purchase your ticket, you’ll have to choose a morning or afternoon option. These different times allow you to enter the castle either between 10:30 am-1 pm or between 1-4 pm. To view all ticket options and availability, click here.
Once inside the home, you’ll immediately turn to the left to enter the Library. You’ll most certainly recognize the “State Rooms” from Downton Abbey. For example, the famous staircase, where much of the drama unfolds on the show. It’s important to note that photography is not allowed inside Highclere. As you explore the castle, you’ll notice that the Carnarvons have collected many exciting pieces of furniture and art. This includes a desk owned initially by Napoleon and paintings by Anthony van Dyck. Continuing upstairs, you’ll see a few of Highclere’s approximately 61 bedrooms. You’ll even get to see Sybil, Edith, and Cora’s rooms from Downton Abbey. After you’ve sufficiently perused the castle, I suggest making your way to the gardens.
If you need a bite to eat, Highclere has plenty of options for lunch or a snack. Behind the castle, you’ll find about three different places with sandwiches, salads, ice cream, and other various offerings. If you’d like to bring home a souvenir, you’ll also come across the gift shop in this area. After taking your short break, spend some time getting to know Highclere’s Gardens. On a sunny day, you may even want to bring a blanket to sit and relax on the grounds.
Okay, I’m sold. How do I get to Highclere?
Now, this part can be a bit confusing, especially if you’re hoping to visit from London. However, I’m here to help you get to Highclere Castle with as much ease as possible! I visited from London just for an afternoon, so I can tell you it’s possible with a bit of planning. So, Highclere Castle is located approximately 45 miles to the West of London, close to the town of Newbury. What makes arriving at the castle difficult is the fact that no buses, coaches, or trains run directly from London to Highclere. Nonetheless, there are still a few options depending on your budget.
Go by car
Depending on how cheap of a rental car you can find, the best option may be to drive. My friend and I were looking for the most budget-friendly way possible, and this ended up being our decision. We booked our tickets to visit Highclere for the afternoon, to not be rushed and picked up our rental car in the morning. Initially, we were a little nervous about driving on the other side of the road. Nonetheless, we adjusted, and the drive was quick and straightforward. After arriving in Newbury, you’ll notice signs directing you to the castle. Once on the property, various attendants will help you enter and park in the correct area.
Go by train + taxi
This option is great if you’re looking to save a little money but don’t feel comfortable driving. Trains run regularly from the London Paddington Station to Newbury. For exact times and prices, click here. Once at the Newbury Station, you’ll be able to find taxis waiting outside. However, for the ride back to the station from the castle, you’ll need to pre-book your taxi. You can find recommended taxi companies on Highclere’s website.
Go by taxi
You could take a taxi directly from London to Highclere, but I don’t recommend this option unless money is no obstacle. For example, it is possible to take an Uber from your hotel in London to Highclere Castle and back. However, I’d assume you’d need to make sure your Uber driver was okay to meet you when you’re ready to return to London.
Go with a tour group
For those who would rather let someone else do the planning to relax, a group tour of Highclere might be your best option. I’m linking a few different tours from London to Highclere Castle below. Most of these are entire day trips and also explore other towns and areas outside of London.
No matter how you arrive at Highclere Castle, you’re sure to have a great time!
Final thoughts & recommendations
- Make sure to book your ticket to Highclere Castle well in advance.
- I recommend booking the Castle and Gardens option for the afternoon slot.
- The cheapest option to arrive at Highclere is most likely to rent a car.
- Remember that no photography is allowed inside. However, you can take pictures of the outside and grounds.
- You do not need to bring lunch (unless you want to). There are plenty of café options directly behind the castle on the grounds.
I hope this post has sufficiently explained how to visit Downton Abbey in real life! Remember, feel free to reach out if you have any questions.
Wednesday 21st of October 2020
I know that many times special days are scheduled during the month of October. Our 50th anniversary is in 2022 in October and would like to surprise my wife with a trip to Highclere. When will the schedule for the special openings in October be announced for 2022?
Sunday 9th of June 2019
Wonderful post! Is there any way to see the big house from outside by free? We don't have too much time so we'd like to see only the building. Thank you!
Sunday 9th of June 2019
Hi Sara! Unfortunately, the house is not close to a public road and you'd have to pay the entrance fee and drive up to the house to see it. Hope this helps!
Wednesday 5th of June 2019
When should I look to buy tickets for April 2020? I am traveling then and really want to tour!
Sunday 9th of June 2019
I would recommend checking at the beginning of 2020 to see if tickets for 2020 are on sale. At the moment, you can only purchase for 2019. So I would check the website a few months in advance! Especially if you have a specific day in mind that you want to go.
Monday 15th of October 2018
I just purchased my ticket to Highclere Castle. How did you find driving there? Was it easy?
Tuesday 30th of October 2018
Yes! We found it to be an easy drive, just make sure you're vigilant about being on the correct side of the road and when making turns!
Sunday 2nd of September 2018
I am literally on the tour bus returning to London from Highclere Castle. It was fabulous.
Saturday 22nd of June 2019
I have a question .. if you book your ticket alone that is with no tour. When you arrive there is there any audio narration tour you can purchase ?