Can you go on a Highclere Castle Tour? Are there Downton Abbey Tours from London? Why would I go on a tour of Downton Abbey from London? Can I do a Downton Abbey tour on my own? All will be answered, and probably questions you never thought to ask!
Have you heard of Downton Abbey? Perhaps you’ve seen the grand house that stars in the show, well I’ve been lucky enough to visit Highclere Castle – and it’s even more beautiful in person.
This article may contain affiliate links – this just means that if you make a purchase through a link on this page we may earn a small commission, you will NEVER pay more to use an affiliate link. To learn more about affiliate links click here. Access to this tour was provided to me by Brit Movie Tours in exchange for a review. Brit Movie Tours have absolutely no control over the content of this review and it reflects my honest experience and opinions. All food and extras were paid for by me.
Downton Abbey has captured the hearts and minds of people from all over the world. The show is full of stars and incredibly talented actors. The show features the aristocratic airs and graces of Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville, and the now Game of Thrones Famous Rose Leslie. But we all know who the real star is – the house itself. The show is based around the Crawley family and the quest to save the great house of Downton Abbey. This is not such an easy feat as viewers soon discover, thanks to the aristocratic red tape of binding tradition. Downton Abbey is filmed at Highclere Castle which sits on its beautiful estate just outside the modern city of Newbury. Downton Village is actually Bampton, or more accurately certain parts of Bampton. Though it is a stunning little village in Oxfordshire with at least once thatched roof cottage, it is a generally modern place. I was lucky enough to be invited on the Downton Abbey and Village Small Group Tour offered by Brit Movie Tours. Here I am going to do a quick review of the Downton Abbey tour from London
Brit Movie Tours Downton Abbey and Village Small Group Tour Review and Rundown
- Professional guide
- Entry fees to Highclere Castle House and Gardens
How Long is the Tour?
- 9 hours, it is a properly full day tour which deposits you back in London just in time to seek out an early dinner.
What actually happens?
First things first, get a coffee, because you are set to meet your guide outside the Gloucester Road Tube station at 9am. After a quick roll call and counting the chickens we shuffle a street or so over to our waiting driver and van.
On the way out of London we are further introduced to our guide, Ben, and to each other. Remarkably more than half the group is from Texas and I am one of only two Australians. We chat about the history of the village we will be visiting, and eventually settle in to watch the first episode of the show on the built-in screen. With impeccable timing (almost as if they’ve done this before) we arrive in Bampton around the critical moment when Isabelle and Mathew Crawley are arriving at Crawley House. A short clip disk shows some critical scenes filmed in Bampton to refresh your memory of Downton Village.
First stop is the church, with its beautifully kept garden and blooming tulips. We are shown around the area by Ben who keeps surprising us with titbits about the show and the ways they convert the unmovable modern bits like the telephone poles and the far too modern street signs into something fitting for Downton Village. Walking through the church yard you can see the camera angles that filmed the funerals of *spoiler* and *spoiler*, as well as where *spoiler* rejects *spoiler*.
Walking through the village is a great experience, with the gorgeous historic houses and memorable scenes. If it’s time for another coffee – as it was for me – The Bampton Coffee House near the post office has decently priced cakes, sandwiches, and legitimately good coffee.
Back on the bus to head to Highclere, we get a run down of Highclere Castle and its history before Downton. Ben genuinely impressed me with just how much he knew about the house itself as well as the show. My favourite snippet from the day – without a doubt – is that life has imitated art. The show follows the ordeals that come with trying to maintain the existence of the grand house, and the lives of the people who live there. In reality, Highclere Castle is in great need of repair and TLC. This costs serious money. Serious money that Downton Abbey and the ensuing tourism from it has helped fund. So in short, a tv show about saving a great house has helped to save the great house it is filmed in – it could be the plot of a movie in itself (someone make this movie).
Arriving at Highclere, we drove up the road towards the house with the theme tune playing through the speakers. Is it cheesy? Yes. Is it overdramatic? Yes. Did I love it with every fibre of my nerdy soul? Oh Yes.
Walking up that path towards this breath-taking sight is just wonderful, we were so lucky to have gorgeous sun and even a hint of warmth to bask in.
Now, the guide you have on the bus isn’t allowed to come into the house with you. For good reason, the house is a one way system and having a guide stop every room and give you a spiel will block the way for other guests.
So now the choice is – to eat before or after you take yourself around Highclere Castle. I, personally, was starving and required nourishment. Plus, the hot food is served between 12noon and 2pm and I wanted something more than a sandwich. Which is ironic because I ended up getting a sausage spiral with caramelized onions on a bap. It was delicious, and decently priced. There are also options for a roast lunch, plenty of cakes, scones, and of course tea and coffee.
Walking around the house is a real treat, not least because it isn’t changed much for filming and you can really see the scenes coming to life. The house is stunningly kept, with fresh flowers in most rooms and friendly room guides who know everything about the place. I had a long conversation with a lady in The Smoking Room about some souvenir paintings of Venice that live at the very top of the wall, almost too high too see, and yet she knew about them. The dining room is actually a little smaller than you’d think from watching Downton Abbey – that’s the camera angle magic at work!
I overheard some people expressing disappointment at how the house didn’t seem so grand as on the show and I have rather strong thoughts about that. Yes, on the show Highclere Castle is at her absolute best, prim and proper, and professionally lit. You get a front row seat of the gorgeous space. But seeing it in real life is getting a real insight into how gorgeous it is, the details of a place so full of history that several books could (and have been!) written about it.
After making my way around the house I headed down to the Egyptian Exhibition, basically because it’s Lord Carnarvon’s fault that I’m in England at all. Not the one that lives there now – I mean his great, great, great grandfather. In 1914 Lord Carnarvon sponsored excavations in the Valley of The Kings, in Egypt. He employed Howard Carter. After a lot of hard work and the First World War, 1922 saw the discovery of what is possibly the finest tomb and treasure still existing – that of Tutankhamun. About 78 years later, I found a beautiful old book that detailed the story and the contents of the tomb. Without Tutankhamun – and without Lord Carnarvon – I may not have studied ancient history, moved to England for my Masters, found Brit Movie Tours, and be writing this review. The Egyptian Exhibition is an extra ticket, so take some cash as there is no card machine.
Should you visit the Egyptian Exhibition at Highclere Castle?
Depends. Do you love Egyptology? Do you want to see some cool artefacts and memorabilia from the Tutankhamun excavation? If either of these apply to you, then yes, it is a worthwhile ticket. If, however, Egypt isn’t really your thing then save your quids and go to the British Museum because the artefacts are visually stunning and have a more general appeal.
The actual walking around the house doesn’t take all that long, there are no photographs allowed inside so that saves time and the information cards placed in the rooms featured on Downton Abbey are succinct and informative. Once you have finished the house walk you can head into the gardens – and you really should head into the gardens.
Living in London you can forget that real countryside still exists, even though it’s within spitting distance of a highway. The walled garden was probably my favourite, which is largely because of my obsession with The Secret Garden as a child, but equally because it is beautifully kept, utterly quaint, and peaceful. You can get your photo op at Lady Mary’s Bench and look out over the estate. From these vantage points, you really start to see the quiet beauty in the rolling countryside.
Meeting back at the bus you start the journey back to London, picking up from the last episode you watched. We got back to London around 5pm, so I went off to meet a friend for early dinner – perfect end to a wonderful day!
Could I do a Tour of Downton Abbey from London on my own?
Like the sound of visiting these places but not sure you want to take a tour? Well you technically can do it yourself of course, but I’ll be honest – I wouldn’t. Not because I’ve been on this tour and I liked it, but because it honestly seems like such a pain in the arse.
If you wanted to recreate the whole day by visiting Bampton Village and then on to Highclere Castle there are several steps involved. To figure out what it would take to recreate this, I did all the planning. I looked at mid-summer, mid-week, because that’s when the transports would be most plentiful because of high tourist season.
The first step of getting to Bampton means busses, because there is no train station. Taking public transport from London to Brampton takes between 2 hours and 15-minutes to 3 hours, according to the Google machine.
Bampton itself isn’t difficult to get around, it’s a lovely village and is very walkable, but the magic of the tele is that you don’t always know where to look. Even the most dedicated and trivia driven on our tour didn’t recognise the gates to Crawley House until the side by side was shown by Ben. Except for the larger stars like the church you very well might not recognise anywhere.
Getting from Bampton to Highclere via public transport is even more of a pain and takes between 3 hours, and a rather daunting 5 hours according to Google maps. I couldn’t work out exactly how much this would cost as fare calculators for local busses aren’t particularly reliable. And getting from the nearest town to Highclere itself isn’t easy.
So lets say you don’t mind missing out on visiting Downton Village and want to just tour Highclere Castle.
The trains from London Paddington to Newbury, which is the closest train station, will take about an hour and cost around £26.20 for an off-peak day return. Though if you can’t time your return with the off peak times you’ll have to get an open return which is currently at £59.99. Highclere Castle is around 6.5 miles (11km) by foot outside of Newbury, which Google estimates to take just over 2 hours, but the suggested paths run along A and B roads which have a 50 mile an hour speed limit and no sidewalk or verge – maybe not the best idea to try and walk it? You know, for not being run down’s sake.
Generally, people who do this will take a taxi from the platform to Highclere Castle, which costs between £15 and £20 each way – so between £30-40 for a round trip.
The Highclere ticket, for house and gardens because you’re not going to come all this way to not go inside, costs £16 for adults and £11 for children.
So, if you’re one adult and get the cheapest of everything it’ll run you at least £72. That’s just for Highclere – if you wanted to include Bampton you’d have to add at least £15 for busses, and a potential 7 hours on public busses with up to 9 changes.
Brit Movie Tours offer a Downton Abbey and Village Tour for £80. No timetables, no bus changes, no uncertainty if the next leg will show up or not.
So, yes you can do it on your own – but why would you?
If you feel like reading up on Downton Abbey, and the history of Highclere, The Book Depository have an amazing range – some even written by the current Countess!
Brit Movie Tours Downton Abbey and Village Tour – Scored/20
The Guide 5/5
Impeccable. Ben was fantastic. He knew what he was on about and honestly made you feel like it was the best art of his day getting to talk about Downton Abbey. He was helpful, polite, and genuinely pleasant to listen to.
The Bus 4.5/5
Very modern, clean, with seatbelts (yes, I know I’m a nanna who worries about seatbelts). The only thing was that there was occasionally some interference in the speakers – but this cleared up when we got through the gorge. It’s not worth docking a whole point for, but I did notice it. Additionally the driver was fantastic.
The Content 5/5
I haven’t watched every series, but I’m on my way. I love the episodes I have seen and since the tour I have started from the first episode all over again because it reignited my interest. The facts and figures are genuinely interesting, and the trivia Ben threw in made the history side of things pop into life. I loved how we were angled in the same way the cameras were, so that what we see is what you see on the screen. As a historian the content was top notch, a good mix of dates and important people as well as fun stories from the past.
The Price 5/5
Let me explain – there are levels of tour pricing. I would personally go with the cheaper options if I chose to attend another tour. Simply because that is how I like to travel.
However, if you’re feeling ultra-fancy and want to see everything totally on your own and with a private guide then you can do so from the luxurious back seat of a Black Taxi – for £650.
Then the small group tour which has a maximum of 15 people costs £120.
The cheapest option for Village and Highclere is the tour by coach which will run you £80.
All of these options to tour Downton Abbey from London include a guide, transport, and entry fees to the house and garden. But if heading out to the Downton filming locations does prove too much for your daily spend then there is a London Filming Locations tour for only £12.
This range of tours means that you have options – I cant say I’d ever imagine myself spending £650 on a day tour, but it all comes down to personal choice. You can get your Downton Abbey Tour from London without breaking the bank, but know that the gorgeous option of the Black Taxi Tour is there too.
19.5/20 – that’s a 97.5% score. Not too shabby! I honestly couldn’t have asked for anything more, it was a great day and
Brit Movie Tours:
I mentioned other tours – Brit Movie Tours have a HUGE range of tours from all sorts of different shows. Midsummer Murders? Yes. Gavin and Stacey? Yes. Harry Potter? Of course. Love Actually? YES! There are options throughout the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and you can almost definitely find something to your taste – whether that is rom coms or James Bond. I completely recommend Brit Movie Tours, and if you get a tall guide called Ben who grew up in Bampton – tell him hello from me!
If you’re around on the 22nd of June 2019 Downton Abbey LIVE is on at Highclere Castle! Hosted by Jim Carter – Mr. Carson that is – and roused by the London Chamber Orchestra for one night (and one night only)! Grab your tickets from Encore.