Highclere Castle is certainly distinctive, with Gothic towers, a Georgian interior, and neo-Elizabethan tributes. It's a whimsical mishmash of architectural styles that somehow adds up to the very picture of English aristocratic heritage. The castle sits on a thousand acres of rolling Hampshire countryside just a couple of hours west of London, and Earls of Carnarvon have called it home since 1679.
You don't have to be a fan of the TV show Downton Abbey to appreciate the stately beauty of Highclere Castle. But if you are a fan--like so many visitors who now flock to it when it's open to visitors in the summer--you're in for a real treat.
The grounds look just like they do in the series--lush, rolling, and stately. Fancy a walk up the pathway to the castle that's featured in the opening credits? It's exactly as you've seen it. Want to sit on the bench where Lady Mary and Cousin Matthew have a chat after his return from the war? Go ahead. Feel like pulling up to the entrance where Mr. Carson and Mr. Bates wait to greet Downton's many guest? After you. (In fact, if you want to gain entry to the house, you must go through this entrance.)
Once inside, it can be hard to remember that the characters of Downton Abbey are just that--characters--for so much of the castle looks familiar. (At least the above stairs sections, that is. The below stairs parts are filmed at a film studio.) Wandering about the first floor, there's the impressively stocked library, a music room, a smoking room, and, of course, the great hall. The floor above has the 11 main bedrooms, each with a beautiful view of the grounds. And there are another 40 or 50 unused bedrooms elsewhere in the building.1
But while it's hard to be in the house without thinking of Downton, Highclere Castle also has an identity all its own. It's a functioning home, as is evident by the shoes and personal effects strewn about by its owners. And though it's big, it's also small in a way; the home doesn't seem nearly as sprawling once you're in it as it does from the outside. But, frankly, as impressive as it is, and as enjoyable as it is to visit, I'm not sure I'd like to live there.
Photos of Highclere Castle
It's not open all the time, so be sure to check their website for hours. In general, they're open to the public in July and August, but there are sometimes closures during that time for special events. They also have special openings at other times such as Valentine's Day, Easter, and Christmas. You can find information about buying tickets online here.