Updated August 16, 2020.
Who has ever wanted to visit Highclere? Basically everyone who’s ever seen Downton Abbey or is at all interested in English history! It’s still the ancestral home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, and its story goes much deeper than Downton. There are definitely some things to know before you go, though, so here is your ultimate guide!
Know Before You Go
There are a few things to be aware of and to know before you go, so you sound like you know it’s more than just Downton Abbey:
- Lord and Lady Carnarvon actually do live here! This is their private home, so guests are treated well but should be very aware and respectful of their home.
- The Castle and Estate are about 70 miles (about 112 km) from London, about 1.5 hours’ driving from downtown, 1 hour driving from Heathrow International Airport.
- The 5th Earl of Carnarvon was the financier and co-discoverer of King Tut’s Tomb in Egypt. There is an exhibit to explore under the Castle after your tour.
- The Castle really was used as a hospital during World War I, which was the inspiration for the show!
- There is very spotty cell phone reception and no wi-fi at the Castle.
- You must print your ticket before you arrive to be admitted.
- No photos inside the Castle, only outside.
- The Castle sits at the top of the highest site on the estate, so it does get very breezy! You may want to bring a jacket.
More here: What to Know Before You Visit the United Kingdom
You can sometimes get walk-up tickets, but there is no guarantee. It’s best to buy online here. Ticket prices vary by season and event, so make sure you choose the correct ticket.
We bought our tickets four months in advance, and I suggest buying yours at least a month or two in advance as well. Because it’s so popular, and will likely rise even more in popularity with the Downton Abbey movie coming out in September, it’s never too early to start keeping an eye on availability! You will need to print your ticket and bring it with you; showing on your phone will not be accepted.
More here: Movie Moments at Downton Abbey
We rented a car, but if you’re not comfortable driving on the left, you can also go with a tour company out of London or take a train. I do not advise taking a cab because it’s quite a ways out in the country!
We chose to rent a car, which is a pricey option, but we wanted to see a few other things within driving distance as well. For your reference and planning purposes, here is the breakdown of our cost:
- Underground from London to Heathrow: 3.10 GBP per person (off-peak, with Oyster Card)
- Car Rental for 1 Day: 81.33 GBP (Automatic transmission, Alamo Car Rental, including insurance)
- Gas: 15 GBP (give or take a few pence)
- Underground return trip from Heathrow to London: 3.10 GBP per person (off-peak, with Oyster Card)
- Total Car Rental Cost: 102.53 GBP
That seems high, but the more people you have in your party, the more the price of that rental car goes down per person. There are charter bus tours from London, but prices I saw ranged from 122-132 GBP per person and is not at all flexible, so that was not the route we wanted to take.
Check the Rome 2 Rio website or app for all your options so you can choose what’s best for you!
Plan on driving? Tips for Driving on the Left
What to Expect
When you get close to Newbury, you’ll start to see brown signage for Highclere Castle, so just follow the signs! You’ll turn up a long driveway and be greeted with a ticket checker several yards in. He will check your ticket and direct you to the visitors’ parking lot.
When you park, you’ll walk up to the Castle and show your ticket once more to the man at the ticket counter by the gate. Feel free to walk around the grounds and visit the gift shop before starting your tour at the front door.
Kee reading: The Secrets of Happy Couple Travel
Upon starting your tour, you’ll be able to take off your jacket (you’ll probably want to bring one–it’s cold and breezy up there), then gently instructed not to take photographs. I know, I was sad, too!
But the tour was lovely. You’ll see many of the rooms downstairs, and if you’re here for a winter time tour, you’ll get to see even more—including some of the upstairs bedrooms! Your tour guide will be very knowledgeable, so take advantage of that fact and ask lots of questions!
Keep reading: 9 Habits of Successful Travelers
What to Eat
Did you know you can have Afternoon Tea at the castle? You can! It’s not quite as formal as you might have had with the Crawleys, but it’s pretty good! Tea was included in our Winter Tour ticket price, though not all tickets include it. Check the terms of your ticket when choosing, but even if it’s not included, you can always purchase Afternoon Tea before or after your tour!
Still hungry? What to Eat in the United Kingdom
What’s in the Gift Shop
You can’t come all this way and not bring back a little something to remember your trip! The gift shop has plenty of fun things to choose from, such as tea, aprons, books, shirts, mugs, soaps, stationery, and more! Check out their gift shop online here! The nice ladies at the gift shop are happy to help you choose what you’d like and hold your purchases until after your tour!
Read on: Downton Abbey Movie Moments at Highclere Castle
Want more about England and the UK? Check out my United Kingdom Page!
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