Downton Abbey: 15 beautiful filming locations in the UK
As the sixth and final series of Downton Abbey hits the box this September, we invite you to take a tour of some of the TV show’s most memorable film locations – and help plan your pilgrimage to some of them.
It’s the Upstairs Downstairs of our generation: for many, Sunday nights just aren’t complete without watching Lady Violet (played by the formidable Maggie Smith) deliver some sharp-tongued home truths, or catching up on the saucy below stairs dramas. For others, news that this season is the last will bring only sweet relief – you’ll soon be freed from any obligation to endure this weekly ritual with your significant others. Either way, you must agree that the filming locations featured in the hit British TV show are exceptionally beautiful!
Watch clips and find out more about where Downton was filmed so that you can go and visit some of the locations for yourself.
1. Highclere Castle, Highclere, Hampshire, England
First stop has got to be the Abbey itself – well, it’s less abbey more Victorian castle, but hey, let’s not kick things off by picking holes in the factual accuracy of the show (we may not stop). This beautiful castle sits pretty in the south-east of England in Berkshire, and whilst on screen Downton Abbey is home to the main cast (including Lord and Lady Grantham, Lady Mary and Edith, plus Carson, Bates the rest of the hired help) in real life Highclere Castle is the seat of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. The family, who’ve lived on the site for generations since 1679, are close friends of Julian Fellowes, author of the series, who had Highclere in mind when creating the show’s primary setting.
The castle is open to the public for about 70 days of the year, including two months during the summer and a few days at Christmas, so check their website for dates and times before setting off. Besides feeling like a Downton extra while you sip your tea in the café or ramble through the gardens, there’s also the Egyptian Exhibition here, full of artefacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb - the fifth Earl of Carnarvon was none other than Howard Carter, the man famed for finding the pharaoh’s final resting place. To get to Highclere head towards Newbury via the M4 or by train from Paddington.
©Richard Munckton / Flickr.com
2. Bampton, Oxfordshire, England
If you’re barmy about Downton then you’ve got to call in at the charming Cotswolds village of Bampton, a.k.a. Downton Village. Meant to be set in Yorkshire, this chocolate-box hamlet is actually about 20 miles west of Oxford. Wander through cobbled lanes, past the Crawley House, Downton Cottage Hospital, the Post Office and St. Mary’s Church - you’ll recognise it from season three when poor Edith is jilted at the altar by local landowner Anthony Strallan. Once you’re done reminiscing about episodes gone by, stop at Bampton Coffee House for a pot of tea, or The Horseshoe Inn for something a little stronger. It won’t take you long to tour the village, so venture out into the surrounding countryside for some lovely bracing walks, or press on to Woodstock which is just 17 miles down the road. If you fancy staying the night then head to The Vineyard at Stockcross, a luxury five star hotel in Berkshire rumoured to be Maggie Smith’s abode of choice during filming.
3. West Wycombe House, Buckinghamshire, England
Another film location, another leafy county in the south of England: this time we travel to Buckinghamshire to check out Lady Rosamund’s pad, West Wycombe Park, 35 miles north-west of London. This aristocratic aunt is the Grantham girls’ main confidante, turning to her when they have secret affairs or illegitimate babies to confess about, and the drawing room of this grand Palladian house is where many of these high drama storylines have unfolded. The home of the Dashwood family for more than 300 years, this 45 acre mansion has also featured in other British period dramas, including Cranford and Little Dorrit. The house is currently closed for the season (check the National Trust’s website for information) but the nearby village is of course open all year-round – climb West Wycombe Hill for breath-taking views of the Chilterns. To visit, head towards High Wycombe on the A40 and parking is available 250 yards from the park.
©Amanda Slater / Flickr.com
4. Horsted Keynes station, Bluebell Railway, West Sussex, England, UK
This former junction station was given a new lease of life when Downton Abbey’s producers rolled in to town and chose Horsted as the face of Downton Abbey railway station. First opened in 1882, British Railways ceased sending carriages through Horsted in 1963 and today it’s part of the Bluebell Railway heritage line. On screen, it’s where Mary waved Matthew off to war in season two and also where the young Mrs Crawley goes into early labour after returning from Duneagle Castle (see point 12). The Metrobus 270 calls at this grade II listed station every Saturday from Haywards Heath and East Grinstead - if you show your bus ticket at Horsted’s booking office you’ll receive a discount on all Bluebell Railway travel. In nearby Horsted Keynes village you’ll find St. Giles Church, where former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan is buried. Apart from this and a few (two) pubs there’s not much to see here, but the station is still a fun place to pull in.
©Ed Webster / Flickr.com
5. Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, Northumberland, England, UK
The seat of the Duke of Northumberland, Alnwick Castle is home to the current duke and his family, (although they live in just a small wing) making it the second largest inhabited castle in England, after Windsor Castle. This grand grade I listed building starred in Downton Abbey in 2014’s Christmas special as the building-double for Brancaster Castle, hired by Rose’s father-in-law, Lord Sinderby, for a round of grouse shooting. Much of the episode was shot in the stately gardens, opulent halls and Hulne Abbey, and visitors can now enjoy a Downton display of costumes, photographs and props used during filming. You may also recognise Alnwick from Harry Potter as the world’s most famous school, Hogwarts. Open from the end of March until November 1st, if you book online the day before you go then you’ll receive a 5% discount – adults £14, children £7.20.
6. Hall Place, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England
If you could step over the threshold of Hall Place you’d find yourself amidst the eighteenth century chintz of Mrs Crawley’s private residence. This is where Matthew and his mother Isobel first lived when they moved to Downton after the former was made heir to the Earl of Grantham’s estate. Unfortunately, this grade II listed manor is not open to the public, but the market town of Beaconsfield (walking distance from the house) is a great place to soak up some Georgian grandeur and the high street is strung with ornate shopfronts and opulent tea rooms.
©Reading Tom / Flickr.com
7. Akenham, Suffolk, England, UK
Thanks to Khaki Devil, an outfit providing historically accurate props and costumes to production companies, Akenham is now home to Trench Farm, a full replica set of WWI trenches, used for Downton filming in 2011. Company director, Taff Gillingham even starred as an extra, alongside Dan Stevens and the rest of the cast as they sought to recreate the bloodshed of the Battle of the Somme. Visits are by appointment only, but watch the video below to relive those harrowing moments for Matthew and the other soldiers in the trenches.
8. Ealing Studios, Ealing, London, England, UK
You’ve been to Highclare and seen how the other half live, now go below stairs to roam the corridors of Downton’s servants’ quarters at Ealing Studios. Sets were built on stages 3A and 3B, however, once the cameras stop rolling they are dismantled and removed from the building, so unfortunately, this is another location you soon won’t be able to see first-hand. Oh well, wheel out that box set and settle in for a marathon instead, or take a quick look back with the clip below.
9. Byfleet Manor, Mill Lane, Byfleet, Surrey, England, UK
Abandon hope all ye who enter: Byfleet is the private residence of the Dowager Violet, Lord Grantham’s formidable mother and master of quick-witted comebacks. This ancient eight bedroom mansion has four reception rooms, sits on 18 acres of land and was once where King Henry III and King Edward II would retreat to for relaxation and hunting. Since filming started the ‘Downton Room’ has been added to Byfleet, where you can delicately nibble crust-less finger sandwiches and sip tea from vintage bone china cups (for more places to scoff a fantastic scone, check out these world class afternoon teas). They even have accommodation in their West Wing if you fancy a break from the city (25 minutes to Waterloo); the ground floor comes complete with a dining room with wood burner and an open kitchen with an Aga. Make a day of it and explore Wisley Gardens just down the road, or Hampton Court and Kew Gardens which are about five miles away. We’ve got more English gardens for you to get lost in here. Learn to take people down a peg or two from the queen of quips (and get a sneak peek inside Byfleet) in this video.
10. Basildon Park, Reading, Berkshire
Rewind to Christmas 2013, the year Rose was presented at court, Cora’s mother and playboy brother (played by Paul Giamatti) visited from the United States to experience the Great British Summer and Edith had second thoughts about leaving her illegitimate child in Switzerland. All this drama was unfolding under the roof of Basildon Park, an exquisite eighteenth century Georgian mansion in the Berkshire countryside used for filming interior scenes of Grantham House. See the impressive stately home for yourself, wander through the 400 acres of surrounding parkland or time travel back to the 1950s in their retro post-war kitchen. Seven miles north-west of Reading just off the A329, the nearest train station is Pangbourne (two and a half miles away) and from here take a short five minute taxi ride to Basildon Park. Both the house and the grounds are open until 5pm and to get a nosey of the whole property expect to pay £12.50 for adults £6 for children - arrive at 11am for a guided tour of the house.
©Glen Bowman / Flickr.com
11. The Criterion, 224 Piccadilly, London
The Criterion, opened in 1874, is where Edith Crawley meets Michael Gregson for dinner in season four: they share their first kiss here, and he reveals plans to become a German citizen, divorcing his wife in order to marry Edith. And that’s all before the main course! Aside from romantic trysts, the Criterion, one of the world’s oldest dining rooms, hosted many political figures, from Winston Churchill to suffragettes and members of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Unfortunately, the Criterion went into administration this summer and the future of this luxury restaurant, famed for its gold ceilings, is still uncertain.
12. Inveraray Castle, Argyll and Bute, Scotland
One of the few sets not to feature the English countryside, producers headed to the wilds of western Scotland to shoot that Christmas special – Matthew and Mary, their new baby, the car, the endless reams of tissues, lots of crying over the Christmas pud. In 2012 Inveraray Castle, on the banks of Loch Fyne, was transformed into Duneagle Castle as the Crawley’s headed north to visit Rose and her dysfunctional parents, Susana and ‘Shrimpy’. Home to the Duke of Argyll and chief of Clan Campbell, stroll through opulent rooms in this gorgeously grand neo-Gothic castle, explore some of the 16 acre garden, or, in case you’ve haven’t had enough tea and cake, visit their tea rooms for rich refreshment. Tickets cost £10 (£7 for children) but book online beforehand and you’ll save £1. Inveraray is only open from April 1st until the end of October, so go soon or you’ll have to wait until 2016!
13. Lincoln Castle, Castle Hill, Lincoln
Lincoln Castle is the oldest filming location featured in Downton Abbey – it was built in the eleventh century by William the Conqueror on the site of a pre-existing Roman fortress and was still in use as a prison until 1878. This is where the unfortunate Mr Bates winds up after being accused of murdering his ex-wife in season three. Apart from on screen appearances, the castle is famous for housing the original Magna Carta since 1215, and has become a major tourist attraction after its £22m restoration which began in 2012. There’s plenty to see and do; spend a stint in jail, see the iconic charter close-up, watch your favourite film under the stars at an open air screening, or celebrate the British banger at the Lincolnshire Sausage Festival this October. Open all year round, see everything (prison, Magna Carta, events) with an all-inclusive ticket (£12 adults, £7.20 children) and you can return for free within six months. If arriving by car you’re better off parking at Whisby Garden Centre and taking the Lincoln Castle Shuttle bus (£6 per car), rather than run the risk of pricey street parking in the middle of the city.
©Kate (deedofthedanes) / Flickr.com
14. The Albert Memorial, Kensington Gardens, London
Another Christmas Special (2013) and we’re back down south in Kensington Gardens with Cora’s brother Harold, Madeleine and William Allsopp, Martha Levinson and Violet, picnicking in the park in front of the Albert Memorial. This Gothic monument, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, was commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of her beloved husband, Prince Albert who died of typhoid in 1861. It’s 176 feet (54 m) tall and took more than ten years to build. See it for free in one of London’s prettiest parks, once the private gardens of Kensington Palace - the former home of the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana, which you can also admire from behind the palace gates during your stroll through the greenery. There are a number of London Underground stations and bus stops nearby and the park is open from 6am every day.
15. St. Pancras International, Euston Road, London
It may not appear on screen for very long, but St. Pancras features in the first episode of season four, as Edith jets down to London to meet Gregson (see point 11). First opened in 1868, St. Pancras is surrounded by other famous landmarks lining Euston Road, including the British Library and King’s Cross Station. Since the completion of the high speed rail link in 2007, St. Pancras International has become not only a major travel hub but also a place for fine lunches and a spot of shopping. For train snacks befitting a Lord or Lady, head to Fortnum and Mason inside the station and swap sweaty cheese sandwiches for smoked salmon on rye bread (£12) or Fortnum’s famous fish pie (£14).
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