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The International Writers Magazine: Downton For Real

Visiting Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey
• Marija Stajic
If you’re one of the millions of fan of the award-winning Downton Abbey series, a thought of visiting the real castle must have entered your mind once or twice. I’m here to tell you how to do it right and assure you it is worth your time and money.


Highclere Castle is located about an hour away from London’s Paddington station, in Newbury, Bershire. It is open to visits only in the summer and a few days around Christmas for the Christmas Fair. Buy your ticket early since they sell out fast. When I say early, I mean months and months in advance. Maybe even a year. But if you don’t manage to purchase a ticket on the castle’s Web site: (,
you could show up at the Castle’s gate at 1pm sharp and they will almost certainly sell you a ticket.

Now, this prospect of flying from Washington, DC to London, then taking a train to Newbury only to be at mercy of the ticket salesmen, made me nervous as well. But most people visiting Highclere are such fans who have purchased their tickets probably once the castle opened for visits for the first time. And the property is so vast that a few visitors coming without tickets will certainly be welcomed. The crowds are noticeable only inside the house, where you sometimes have to wait in line to move up or down the stairs or peek into Lady Edith’s bedroom, but the whole tour still lasts, even with slow pace, about 20 minutes only.

Interior If you’re buying your ticket to Highclere Castle online, you will have to choose to visit the castle between the hours of 10.30am and 1pm, or between 1pm and 3.30pm. That doesn’t mean you have to come at 10.30am and leave at 1pm; it actually means you have to enter the gate between the hours on your ticket and you could leave as you please.

When buying a ticket, you will be offered to visit the Castle, the Grounds, and the Egyptian exhibition. I found the Egyptian exhibition claustrophobic, skimpy and unremarkable compered to, for example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City or the National Gallery in London, where the entrance is actually free. I would say, skip the Egyptian exhibition and enjoy the grounds and the castle’s architecture longer. The Tutankhamun’s tomb in it is actually a reproduction, not the original.

You won’t be able to take photos inside the castle, and many rooms shown in Downton Abbey TV series are either closed or located in a studio, such as the servants’ quarters. Touring the inside of the castle will consist of some dozen rooms—the dining room, the library, the drawing room and bedrooms with occasional notes, pictures and posters describing which scenes were filmed where. There are also historical records of the real Earl of Grantham, i.e. Earl of Carnarvon and his ancestors’ lives throughout the castle.

Two of the most impressive, memorable and worth a lengthy visit to Highclere reasons are: the castle’s architecture and its vast lands and gardens.

Highclere gals When you arrive to Highclere by cab from the train station in Newbury (cabs are lined up in front of the station. One-way costs about 16 British Pounds and the ride takes about 10-15 minutes.), the castle rises in front of your like a mirage, in all its magnitude and charm. It’s truly a spectacular view. It will make you grab your camera at once. If the weather is dry, you should picnic by the castle, in shades of its many trees. The grounds are so large, well maintained and occasionally sprinkled with sheep that even the biggest city slicker would enjoy them.

The Castle has a disappointing tearoom that looks like a cheap cafeteria. The only advantage is that you can take your tea and a donut and enjoy them outside. Even on a cheap plastic table, the view of the castle makes the simple paper-bagged English breakfast Twinning’s tea you could buy in any Tesco around England for a few pounds, a pleasurable moment. I wouldn’t suggest ordering a meal. It’s bland. Eat before you arrive and have a snack with your tea, a pastry of a cookie.

You will need about three hours to explore the land properly, longer if you decide to bring a blanket and a bottle of wine. You could make a whole day out of it. The castle closes at 4pm and nobody cares how long you stay once you’re in.

It’s an easy day trip from London. The return ticket to Newbury is a bit pricey and costs $80 (£54 British Pounds) if you buy it on the day of the trip and during the rush hour. So once you book your plane to London, and your ticket to Highclere, try booking your train ticket online as well by going to: or the Trainline (1/3 off all prices).

*It’s much easier to buy your ticket online than wait in line at the station. If you’d still like to purchase it with a U.S. credit card on one of self-serve machines at the Paddington Station, you will find yourself out of luck. The U.K. machines do not recognize or accept U.S. credit cards. You need a person to process a U.S. credit card. And the wait for the ticket booth could be lengthy.

You are likely to meet other Downton Abbey aficionados on the train to Newbury. Feel free to share a cab with them to Highclere Castle. It’s a great way to cut the cost and chat about your favorite characters from the show.

Other than that, charge your camera or cell phone, bring a pen to write postcards to your envious friends at home, and some money for the tea and gift shop. And it will be a perfect 19th century day.

© Marija Stajic January 2014

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