The Crawleys are back in prim and proper style this January, as Britain’s favorite period drama, Downton Abbey, finally hits US screens for its fourth season, and it seems America just can’t get enough of Edwardian-era England. So get your top hats and teacups at the ready, because visitors to London can now add Downton Abbey tours to their itineraries.
Lady Mary, Cousin Matthew and Lord Grantham might be the lead characters in the award-winning drama but Downton Abbey itself is the breakout star, with the magnificent 1,000-acre estate that features onscreen steadily building its own fan base. The location for the majority of filming, both interior and exterior, is Highclere Castle, a 19th century historic home in Hampshire. The present day mansion, fashioned around an original Georgian structure, was designed by Sir Charles Barry and features the spectacular timeless façade that has become so synonymous with the TV show. The exquisite High Elizabethan interiors are also a hit with viewers, with the Castle’s own furnishings bringing the era to life on screen.
Fans can explore the Jacobethan splendor of Highclere Castle’s grand entrance hall and wander the 18th century parklands designed by legendary landscaper Capability Brown on a Tour of Downton Abbey Film Locations by Private Chaffeur, where you’ll get to uncover the fascinating history of the real-life Downton Abbey. The exquisite estate, belonging to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon since 1679, even has some eerie parallels with its fictional alter ego – Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, converted Highclere Castle into a hospital in 1914, just as Downton Abbey was in Season 2 of the series.
On the tour, you’ll also get a chance to visit the real-life location of the fictional Downton Village – filmed in the historic Oxfordshire village of Bampton. One of England’s oldest villages, dating back to the Iron Age, Bampton’s rows of 12th century cottages and Norman style St. Mary’s Church now draw a steady stream of tourists thanks to their Downton fame.
More Downton inspired sights are added to the itinerary on the Small Group Downton tour from London, where you’ll stop in Bampton in the Cotswolds, to see the setting of the Downton village and check out the church that was the site of Lady Mary’s wedding to Matthew Crawley before continuing on to see some of the most iconic Downton sets within Highclere Castle. Browse the 5,650-book library where the Earl of Grantham conducts business with his trusty Labrador Isis at his heels; walk the grand stairwell where Lady Mary and Matthew first kissed; or marvel the original Van Dyck painting of King Charles I in the regal dining room where dinnertime chatter has revealed more than a few of the show’s explosive storylines. Don’t expect to get a peek at the servants’ quarters though – the downstairs areas where the staff live and work are shot on set at Ealing Studios, which is currently off-limits to guests.
Back in London, there are a few other ways to get your fix of British period drama. Pay a visit to Angels Fancy Dress of London, who supply many of the series’ elegant gowns and accessories, where you rent out glittering 1920’s flapper dresses and long cigarette holders for a Downton-inspired night on the town; or brush up on your World War I era history at the Imperial War Museum. Make sure you don’t forget the most important tradition of the British aristocracy – traditional English Afternoon Tea. Head to one of Central London’s glitziest venues where you can sip the national brew from fine china teacups, munch on bite-sized sandwiches and stage your very own high-society revival.