A taste of the high life on Downton Abbey tours and experiences

Alexandra CaseyThe West Australian
Highclere Castle.
Camera IconHighclere Castle. Credit: Brit Movie Tours/Supplied

Set in the early 20th century, Downton Abbey is a British historical drama television series that details the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants. The fictional Crawleys are based on the Earls and Countesses of Carnarvon, who, to this day reside at Highclere Castle — the filming location of much of the series.

With more than 270 million viewers worldwide and numerous accolades under its belt — Golden Globe, BAFTA and Primetime Emmy Awards, to name a few — the series has been dubbed a “cultural phenomenon”.

The period drama was even featured in the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed English-language television series of 2011, beating Mad Men and Modern Family.

Due to the initial success of 2010’s first instalment, which was set in early 1912, when the Titanic sinking leaves the estate without an apparent heir, a further five seasons were released.

By the third series, Downton had become one of the world’s most widely watched and adored television shows. The franchise also includes two feature films, one of which was released on April 28.

Downton Abbey: A New Era, the latest film to the box office, tells the tale of the Crawley family’s journey to the South of France, where the Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley (played by Maggie Smith) has inherited a villa from a man of her past.

The widely adored drama has shot England to the top of many travel bucket lists, worldwide. With the easing of restrictions, travellers and film fanatics are free to pack their bags and explore the real-life filming locations for themselves.

Sprinkled across the UK, locations include Hampshire, Cotswolds, Oxfordshire, London, Sussex, Berkshire and Scotland. Highclere Castle in Hampshire was the set of Downton Abbey, and Downton village was filmed in Bampton, in the Cotswolds.

St Mary's Church is visited by Silver Screen Tours.
Camera IconSt Mary's Church is visited by Silver Screen Tours. Credit: Supplied

The post office, St Mary’s Church, Churchgate House (Isobel Crawley’s home) and the fictional pubs were all Bampton locations, and the Bampton Community Archive was the Downton hospital. The elegant interiors of London’s Lancaster House were used to replicate Buckingham Palace, while Scotland’s Inveraray Castle and Sussex’s heritage site Horsted Keynes Station also made appearances in the films.

Whether you prefer a self-guided experience or group tour, the international success of the period drama has encouraged the creation of a collection of Downton inspired activities, begging to be explored.

If you were charmed and captivated by the cast, in awe of the history and landscapes, you’ll be sure to enjoy these Downton Abbey inspired experiences.

Highclere Castle is visited by Brit Movie Tours.
Camera IconHighclere Castle is visited by Brit Movie Tours. Credit: Brit Movie Tours/Supplied

Highclere Castle

Regular themed tours are offered by Highclere Castle and Lady Carnarvon (the real-life Chatelaine). Guests have the opportunity to explore the castle and grounds, while reliving their favourite film moments. From gliding down the oak staircase like Lady Mary on her wedding day to sitting at Jackdaws Castle like Lady Edith. Highclere Castle offers general admission, as well as guided tours and special events.

For an additional cost, Highclere offers guests the opportunity to combine their visit with the picnic afternoon tea, which includes an assortment of cakes, scones and sandwiches and half a bottle of Joseph Perrier champagne.

Visitors also have the opportunity to book a stay within the grounds and rent the London and Grotto Lodges. London Lodge was built in 1793, to celebrate the first Earl of Carnarvon and Grotto Lodge was built about 150 years ago. Grotto was designed by Victorian architect Thomas Allom, who was the assistant to Sir Charles Barry, the man behind the design of Highclere Castle.


Highclere dining room.
Camera IconHighclere dining room. Credit: Supplied

Highclere Gin & Recipes

Lady Fiona Carnarvon is the wife of George Herbet, the eighth Earl of Carnarvon. The couple took over the care of the building in 2001, and to this day, still reside within the charming castle walls. Fiona is in charge of managing the affairs and has her own blog and podcast, where she shares her everyday life with all who are interested. She even has her own Highclere Gin and posts recipes and themed cocktail classes to her blog and podcast.


Brit Movie Tours' Downton Abbey Tour.
Camera IconBrit Movie Tours' Downton Abbey Tour. Credit: Brit Movie Tours/Supplied

Brit Movie Tours

Downton Abbey and Village Small Group Tour

Guests on this nine-hour Brit Movie Tours day will visit Bampton for a guided walk around Downton Village. The Downton hospital, village pub and former home of Matthew Crawley will be on the hit list, as well as the local church, the resting place of Matthew Crawley and the place where Mrs Hughes and Mr Carson got married.

A visit to Highclere Castle will involve lessons about its 1000-year history and life “above and below” the stairs. Guests will visit the entrance, library, music room and drawing room, as well as the morning room, staircase, saloon, dining room and servant’s staircase.

Visitors will learn about the history of the locations, while gaining an insight into how the award-winning series was made.


Downton Abbey London Tour of Locations

While Highclere and Bampton are the primary film locations, several London destinations were also used. The walking tour will feature famous sites and historic streets, including the exterior of Grantham House, the park where Daisy shares her new found love of art and much more.


Highclere Castle saloon.
Camera IconHighclere Castle saloon. Credit: Supplied

Silverscreen Downton Abbey Tours

From city to countryside, Silverscreen Tours offer a range of tours covering the best and most iconic scenes of the series. Guests will follow in the footsteps of Lady Edith, Mr Bates and the Earl of Grantham. They offer a Walking Tour of London, as well as private and group tours of Cotswolds, Blenheim Palace and Highclere Castle. Tour destinations include Cogges Manor Farm/Yew Tree Farm, the Swan Inn, Shilton/Kirkbymoorside, Bampton/Downton Village, Highclere Castle.


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