British Telly: 10 Downton Abbey Filming Locations You Can Visit on Your Next Trip
Downton Abbey has become something of a cultural phenomenon on both sides of the pond since it first aired in 2010. Beginning with the sinking of the Titanic, the programme has followed the Crawley family and their servants through the latter 1910s, World War I, and into the mid-20s. Though it came to an end with this past December’s Christmas special, Julian Fellowes’s period piece ultimately ran for six series and a total of fifty-two episodes. If you’re a fan, you may be wondering where some of these fantastic places are and how you can visit them. You’ll be happy to know that many are easy to reach and love having fans come to call.
Inveraray Castle next to Loch Frye in Argyll, Scotland will be instantly recognisable to fans as Duneagle Castle, the home to Crawley relatives Hugh, Susan, and Rose MacClare. Duneagle was used as a location multiple times since the 2012 Christmas Special, but was eventually sold by the MacClares when they lost their fortune. In real life, a castle had existed on the estate since the 1400s, though the current manor home was constructed after a fire in 1877. Inveraray doesn’t seem to do much to take advantage of its Downton connection, but still offers tours, a tearoom, gardens, and regular events that will make a visit enjoyable for anyone.
Far from the streets of London, Basildon Park is a stately manor home in Berkshire where the interior has doubled for that of Grantham House, the city residence for the Crawleys during the summer season every year. Built between 1776 and 1783, the Georgian mansion has been in the care of the National Trust since 1978. As such, it’s open to tours and regularly hosts events including art exhibits, wildlife walks, and more. Basildon is more than happy to play up it use as a filming location for Downton Abbey and larger parties can opt for a filming talk or tour of the house.
Doubling as Brancaster Castle and the home of the Marquess of Hexham, Alnwick Castle first appears in the 2014 Christmas Special as the setting for a grousing party by Lord Sindersby, who is renting the estate. Dowager Countess actress Maggie Smith was familiar with the location well before its appearance in Downton, as it was also used for filming parts of Hogwarts Castle in the first two Harry Potter films. In real life, it’s the ancestral seat of the Duke of Northumberland and his family still resides there, though they have transformed significant parts of the castle and grounds into a great tourist attraction. It’s been a filming location on a dozen times over for different productions, but don’t expect as much Downton as it prefers to play up its Potter affiliation.
If you want to visit Buckingham Palace, you may have a difficult time getting inside, but Lancaster House in the West End of London was used for the interiors and Rose’s presentation at court during the 2013 Christmas Special. It’s not the only time Lancaster House doubled for Buckingham Palace, as it also did so for the film The Young Victoria. Since the house is owned and maintained by the British Government, specifically the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it plays host to many important events and government functions. As such, it’s not often open to the public, but you can catch the occasional open day and take advantage of the chance to visit.
The Criterion Restaurant in London is one of those rare venues in Downton Abbey that actually gets to play itself, appearing as a dinner location for Edith Crawley and Michael Gregson. The 1874 neo-Byzantine restaurant is Grade II listed and is lavishly decorated on the inside. Despite a brief financial hiccup in 2015 after a rent hike forced it into administration, it continues to operate. You might want to set aside some money to eat there, however, as it can get a little pricey.
One of the more interesting subplots of the programme have involved John and Anna Bates, especially during the time in which he was falsely accused of murder and sent to York Prison. In reality, the prison scenes were all done at Lincoln Castle, a fortress built by William the Conqueror in the 11thCentury and has served as a jail and law court in more modern times, allowing its cells to easily double for John Bates’ own accommodations. Lincolnshire County Council now operates the castle as a museum that offers tours of the medieval castle, the Victorian prison, and its special Magna Carta exhibit, where the famous legal document has housed a copy since 1215. Tickets cover all three exhibits.
West Wycombe House
Sister to Lord Grantham and widow of Lord Marmaduke Painswick, Lady Rosamund Painswick resided at the real-life West Wycombe Park when not in London. It was used for filming during the fifth series, though it’s no stranger to use as a location, having appeared in The Importance of Being Earnest, 2011’s W.E., and other productions. As with Alnwick, it was home of real nobles, the Dashwood family, who held the title of Baronet of Great Britain. Run by the National Trust since 1943, it is both a museum and an actual home for the current Baronet, Sir Edward Dashwood. The house is only open for a few months every year, so make sure to plan your trip accordingly.
Trench Farm, Akenham
If you want to experience the trenches of World War I in a much more subdued manner than Matthew Crawley and other members of Downton Abbey did, you can visit Trench Farm in Akenham where those scenes were filmed. Recreating the Battle of Somme for the programme, Trench Farm has accurate reproductions of both the English and German sides during the war and is often bused by film and television productions. You’ll need to make an appointment to visit (in case some filming is going on), but the location boasts a large car park, toilets, a camp site, and some period buildings.
If you want to go walking through the Yorkshire village of Downton, you’ll need to visit the real village of Bampton twenty miles west of Oxford. The streets and buildings within Bampton have been used repeatedly for filming while the series was ongoing. One of the most prominent locations is St. Mary the Virgin parish church, which was a filming location both externally as well as internally. There are also a number of tours out of London and Bath that will treat you to a Downton view of Bampton.
The number one stop for any Downton Abbey fan, Highclere Castle is the stand-in for the famous home. It is the county seat for the Earl of Carnarvon and home to the Herbert family, who use part of the mansion as their residence while utilising the rest for filming, galleries, and a museum. In addition to its Downton heritage, Highclere also has an impressive collection of Egyptian artefacts belonging to the 5thEarl, George Herbert, from his expedition of King Tut’s tomb with Howard Carter. Do be sure to check the castle’s website for opening times as it does tend to close during the winter months, though it also has an app that will let you explore the home from afar.