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The Castles of Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey operates in a land of fiction—fictional characters and fictional settings—but what if I told you that you could visit the castles of Downton Abbey? They may not be called Downton Abbey or Brancaster Castle, but many of the shooting locations include both the interior and exterior of real castles that you can visit.

Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle poses as Downton Abbey, and is the main attraction you’re interested in visiting, surely. Both interior and exterior are used in the show, and you can get a pretty good sense of the place in the first episode with the oner—a camera technique that takes us through multiple rooms all in one shot. Highclere Castle had been home to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon (who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun) and his wife Lady Almina in the early 1900s. When WWI broke out, Lady Almina worked in the hospital where she saved lives. Later, Lady Catherine married Lord Porchester (aka Porchey), the 5th Earl’s son. Lady Catherine helped save the castle from being sold when they owed money, being liable for the Earl’s death. The castle is located in Newbury, Berkshire, to the southwest of London, toward Bristol. After being closed for the winter, they are open again for Valentine’s Day! You can visit the castle—both the grounds and the interior—with Brit Movie Tours’ Downton Abbey Village Tour of Locations.

York Prison

Lincoln Castle actually did have a prison. It didn’t contain Mr. Bates when he was locked away for the murder of his former wife like in the show, but it was intended to be a revolutionary Victorian prison where everyone would get their own cell so that prisoners could find their own moral compass without the bad influences of cellmates. However, over-crowding took priority and it was shut down 30 years later. The castle, used as York Prison in Downton Abbey, was built by William the Conqueror nearly a millennium ago. The castle is currently open for touring. I recommend seeing the magna carta that resides here in their vault, one of only four surviving documents! In 1141, the castle was known as the “Joust of Lincoln” during a war between King Stephen and his cousin Matilda. When Stephen was captured by Matilda’s men, Stephen’s kingdom captured Matilda’s half brother, so they had a trade off and Stephen was returned to the throne. Wow, the family dynamics of Downton Abbey sure aren’t far off from the real thing!

Brancaster Castle

July through August 2014, the Downton Abbey team settled into Alnwick Castle, which was used as Brancaster Castle, where the Christmas special was shot (not to mention Harry Potter). You remember, Stowell’s scandal upturned the lives of the Crawleys for one devastating holiday season. The castle is located in Northumberland, and they recently held a Downton Abbey photo and prop exhibition there, but it is closed now for winter. Check back in March to book your tour or even your wedding!

Duneagle Castle

In the 2012 Christmas special, Inveraray Castle was used extensively as Duneagle Castle, the Scottish home of Lord Flintshire. The characters dine in the State Dining room, have a picnic overlooking the Dhu Loch, walk the gardens, visit the Armoury Hall, and more. The castle was built from 1746 to 1789 as a home for the Campbell family in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. It’s known for its hunting grounds. In fact, the Isle of Tiree has the Guinness record for amount of snipe shot with one barrel. This castle is also closed for tours until March 25th.

Sources: Highclere Castle website, Lincoln Castle website, Alnwick Castle website, Inveraray Castle website, Wayfair blog

Jaime Pond is the editor of

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