The ‘Downton Abbey’ location tour that involves drinking

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A question for the Downton Abbey fans: who is your favorite character? Perhaps the plucky housemaid Anna, or the saucy Dowager Countess, maybe that conniving, self-loathing, and undeniably sexy valet Thomas Barrow? These characters have worked their way into the hearts of viewers, who dream of jumping through The Fourth Wall and joining the cast for some delicious upstairs/downstairs drama, while soaking in the glamour of that breathtaking castle.

For some viewers, their favorite part of Downton Abbey are the gorgeous locations, and that castle is as much a character in the story as are any of the people living in it. Downton—real name Highclere Castle, although fans of the show already know that—exists as it appears in the movie and the TV series, with all of those grand staircases, vaulted ceilings, and stone corridors where aristocrats would meet for a shadowy, clandestine kiss.

As tour groups bring wide-eyed visitors to Highclere, and the other castles and manors that have served as filming locations, Downton Abbey has breathed life into the crumbling countryside of England’s grand estates. These visits bring much-needed tourism dollars to the families who live in those castles and mansions, but  can no longer afford to pay armies of staff to maintain the properties.

Here are some of our favorite locations that have been so deliciously depicted in Downton Abbey. Because traveling is taxing work, there are also suggestions for places to have a drink while on the road. And we do hope you read this entire introduction while hearing the posh voice of Lady Mary, because that is the accent that was heard while writing every word. 

Now let’s begin:

Highclere Castle

 
 
 
 
 
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The scenes in the servants’ areas were filmed on a soundstage in London, but the dining room, the bedrooms, all of the living spaces of Downton were filmed in Highclere Castle. And this place is the real deal. Much of the scenery is the furniture that has been in the house for generations. Notice everybody sits gently and otherwise does not touch much. The actors must be very, very careful not to break anything.

 
 
 
 
 
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Tours of the house and estate are available mostly in the summer, when the grounds are looking their best, but there are events year-round. Insider’s tip: check the Highclere Castle web site on “banker’s holidays,” when banks in England are closed, and Highclere is often open for tours on those days.

 
 
 
 
 
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Where to drink: Highclere Castle is near the town of Newbury, which is approximately 90 minutes west of London by car. If you can’t make it back to London for some G&T (gin and tonic, which the Brits are myseriously obsessed with these days), pubs with names like The Pheasant and The Rampant Cat are nearby, or stop by The Vineyard for some chardonnay. Perhaps go west to the nearby town of Swindon, where they have the all-male Touch Sauna? Swindon has a sauna? If only Thomas had been alive today! He would come back from Swindon on his days off in a much better mood.

 

Bampton, Oxfordshire

 
 
 
 
 
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Bampton is the real village that was Downton, and the winding roads and stone buildings were the settings for many scenes throughout the TV series, as everything looking so perfectly English and adorable. Bampton’s Churchgate House served as Isobel Crawley’s home in the show; St. Mary’s Church is where Mary married Matthew, and where poor Edith was humiliated when the guy with the paralyzed arm left her at the altar.

Downton Abbey has been a lifesaver to Bampton, literally. When the production team paid to film at the Bampton town library—appearing in the TV series as the cottage hospital (photo above)—that influx of money saved the deteriorating building from being demolished, and kept services available to the town’s residents. Now that it is fixed up a little bit, the building hosts an exhibit on “Downton Abbey behind the scenes,” and is one of the most popular spots in town. So cheers to that.

Where to drink: There are pubs everywhere in Bampton, complete with exposed wood beams, and ale served in pints. Plush, the gay bar in Oxford, is a half hour away.

 

Alnwick Castle

 
 
 
 
 
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Remember Lord Sinderby’s shooting party in Season 5 of the TV series? That was filmed on the grounds of Alnwick Castle, in northern England near the Scottish border. This is a popular tourist attraction, as castle is often used for filming various TV shows and movies; most notably, Harry Potter learned how to ride a broom at Alnwick Castle, and that means lots of wannabe wizards and witches visit Alnwick to take selfies in their Hogwarts colors. But there is also a nice Downton Abbey exhibit, with costumes and props from the show.

Where to drink: Alnwick Castle is in a rural area, but Newcastle upon Tyne is 40 minutes by car to the south. Powerhouse is a long-established dance club, and Switch gets crowded on weekend nights.

 

Lancaster House

 
 
 
 
 
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Lancaster House is only a minor set location for Downton Abbey—it was used in the 2013 Christmas Special, which a lot of American fans have not seen—but it deserves a visit just because it is so jaw-dropping gorgeous.

Where to drink: It is near Buckingham Palace, which is in London. There are lots of options.

 

Basildon Park

 
 
 
 
 
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Basildon Park provides the interior for Grantham House, the family’s London residence. Lady Rose married Atticus here. Too bad Lily James, the actress who played Lady Rose, didn’t stick with the show and wasn’t in the Downton Abbey movie. But she is rich off of Mamma Mia! money now.

Where to drink: The Blagrave Arms is a fun spot in nearby Reading, 20 minutes away. Also in Reading is a club called The Purple Turtle, where it looks like things get messy.

 

Byfleet Manor

 
 
 
 
 
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Byfeet Manor appeared as the home of Downton Abbey’s most beloved sourpuss, Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. It was here that Lady Violet hosted her infamously confrontational tea parties, as she was doted upon by her butler, Septimus Spratt, who was so uptight he could barely breathe.

This is a major Downton Abbey location, and it is a beautiful place, but here’s the challenge: like the Dowager Countess herself, Byfleet Manor is not particularly warm to visitors. The estate does not provide tours, and it is most certainly not open to people just wandering through the grounds. However, they do offer private afternoon tea in the “Downton Room,” and the visit also involves a short tour of some other rooms in the home. 

Invitations to tea parties and cocktails can be sent to [email protected]