How to Visit Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey)
Visiting Highclere Castle, the set of BBC’s Downton Abbey, was one of our main goals on our first trip to London. It is just as beautiful in person as it is on television and the fact that it is still a primary residence makes it feel more personal and inviting than many other castle tours in the area. While the journey is quite easy, it does take some planning as the castle is only open about 60-70 days a year. But for those who make the effort, Highclere Castle does not disappoint.
Highclere Castle is only open about 60-70 days a year. The exact days change each year, but these days usually include the two weeks around Easter, each bank holiday in May, two months during summer (Sun-Thurs) and a few select days in spring and winter. If visiting Downton Abbey is a priority for you, your first step is to check the official Highclere Castle website for public opening times and plan your trip around these dates.
When you are planning your trip, make sure to check the prices for your preferred day. A regular spring or summer admission ticket costs £17, but a Special Winter Guided Tour may cost £120. That’s a big difference. As a basic rule of thumb, tickets listed as "Admission Tickets" are the cheapest options, while guided tours and special events cost much more. The Exclusive Valentines Champagne and Canapés Reception is quite a stretch at £150 per person, but could be perfect for a special occasion.
Tour or Solo
Your next step is to decide if you want to purchase a packaged tour ticket or arrange the visit on your own. A packaged tour ticket for regular admission will cost anywhere from $100-$250 from a third party like Viator, and will include transportation, making it the easiest but more expensive option. Arranging the visit on your own is much cheaper but does require a bit more planning for your transportation.
A Note on Packaged Tours
Apart from the increased cost, Downton Abbey packaged tours are a great option. They make the process seamless and stress free and often include other locations such as the Costwolds or Brampton Village (another filming location). Just make sure the tour you book specifically states that it includes entrance to Highclere Castle. Some tours may call themselves “Downton Abbey Filming Locations”, “Downton Abbey Experience” or “Downton Abbey Village” but only include visiting the nearby village or driving by the castle. Avoid disappointment by clarifying the included stops and admissions before booking. This is the most affordable tour I found at just $105, but it is already almost sold out for summer 2020.
Booking Highclere Castle Directly
Cost - A regular admission ticket for the castle and gardens costs only £17 through the official website. However the train and taxi cost for transportation can add about £60 making the total around £77 or $99 for the solo traveler (it's cheaper if you are traveling as a pair or a group and can split the taxi cost). More on transport to follow.
Morning or Afternoon - When purchasing directly through the website you will have to choose between a morning or afternoon admission. Morning admission for Highclere Castle starts at 10:30, afternoon admission starts at 1pm. However, the estate and grounds open at 9:30am so I recommend choosing the early admission and arriving early to walk the grounds before the crowds arrive.
Ticket Options - There are also multiple ticket options. You can choose the gardens only, castle and gardens, gardens and exhibit, or all the above. The exhibit refers to the Egyptian Exhibition currently at the Castle. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon collected many ancient Egyptian artifacts and famously discovered the body of Tutankhamun in 1922. His great-grandson, the current Earl of Carnarvon, opened the exhibit to celebrate his achievements. Admission to the exhibit costs an extra £7, and can also be purchased on site. We chose not to buy entrance to the exhibit as we were far more interested in the gardens and castle. Just make sure you choose an option with the castle; "exhibit and gardens" tickets and "gardens only" tickets will not allow you entrance to the castle.
Arranging Transport to Highclere Castle
Train From Paddington to Newbury - The quickest and fastest way to get from London to Highclere Castle, is to take a train from Paddington Station to Newbury and then take a taxi. For European train travel we usually use Omio.com to search for the best rates. A one way ticket should be about £17-£30 and take 1 hour. We took the 8:06am train (booked the night before) and arrived at 9:08am (£17), giving us just enough time to taxi to the castle before the grounds opened at 9:30am.
Taxi To and From Newbury Train Station - Some people recommend prearranging taxi transport, but there is no need as there is a taxi stand directly in front of the station. You can also save money this way because there will most likely be other travelers headed to the castle as well; ask to carpool and save a few bucks. However, I highly recommend arranging a pick-up time from the castle with your taxi driver or at least getting their number to call later in the day. It can be very difficult to get a taxi from the castle without prearrangement. We were lucky enough to join a sweet older couple's cab but if we were to do it again would prearrange the return transport.
Return Train From Newbury to Paddington - We waited to book our return train because we didn’t know how long we would stay at the castle. It is not a crowded route so not need to worry about booking in advance. Return train tickets cost between £16-£34. If you are looking to save money just check the Omio app the day of and pick the cheapest time.
Exploring the Grounds
I highly recommend you arrive early to the estate to take advantage of the less crowded grounds. You basically have free reign to wander the estate and gardens, and when we visited in December we were basically the only people there. We felt like Matthew and Mary out for a leisurely walk on the property.
Inside the House
There is no photography inside the house which, honestly, is really nice; it keeps people in the moment and enhances the old school "Downton Abbey" feel. It costs an extra suggested £3 to go upstairs and explore the bedrooms, which is obviously a must-do. It is a little surprising that the interior does not mention the show very often. You may see a small printed page in a few of the rooms denoting whose bedroom it portrayed but that is it. Much of the property focuses on the current residents, the Earl and Countess Carnarvon. You will see family photos scattered throughout the house.
Dining at Downton Abbey
The kitchen in the show unfortunately does not exist in the real house, it was merely a production set. However the property does offer two locations for a bite and a cuppa: a small refreshment room on the lower level and the larger Coach House. I recommend the Coach House, especially at Christmas. I’m a sucker for mulled wine, and while the food is nothing to write home about, it's not every day you get to dine with a view of Downton Abbey. The interior of the Coach House is also covered in Downton Abbey facts and behind the scenes pictures which makes for great entertainment.
You can visit Highclere Castle by packaged tour or book directly through the website and arrange transport separately . Packaged tours are more expensive but totally stress free, booking admission and transport yourself is cheaper and allows for more time at the grounds but transport may be confusing for some people. Either way, Highclere Castle is one of the most beautifully preserved still-working estates and is absolutely worth a visit.