The wildly popular television series Downton Abbey premiered its sixth and final season on Masterpiece on PBS on Jan. 3, 2016.
All great houses have great stories, but Highclere Castle offers both the fictional drama of Downton Abbey’s Crawley clan and the fascinating history of the Carnarvon family, which has lived in the castle for more than 300 years.
From your first glimpse of the iconic castle—which is framed by precisely planted cedars and stands of deciduous trees and surrounded by 1,000 acres of spectacular castle gardens and woodlands—to the moment you cross Highclere’s threshold, it’s clear you have arrived someplace special.
Imagine being greeted by Mr. Carson and a line of servants as you step past the winged dragons guarding the entrance and through the massive front doors, which are adorned with cast-iron wolf-mask knockers.
The heart of Highclere is the gothic salon, a stateroom crowned by a two-story gallery. In Downton Abbey, this is the setting for the Crawley family’s opulent Christmas parties. Belgian tapestries line the Cordovan leather-covered walls, and the heraldic crests chronicle Carnarvon family history.
Just off the salon, the grand oak staircase fills the Italianate tower. Who can forget Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary descending the stairs in her elegant wedding gown? Upstairs, you can peek into several bedrooms, including the red Stanhope bedroom, used by the Prince of Wales in 1895.
Lavish meals and lively dinner conversations take place in the dining room—both in the real lives of the Carnarvon family and the fictional ones of Downton Abbey’s Crawleys. Some of Maggie Smith’s best one-liners are delivered while seated at the dining room’s table. Anthony van Dyck’s portrait of Charles I on horseback dominates the room, but the most intriguing painting is the portrait of Countess Margaret Sawyer. According to Carnarvon family legend, anyone who removes it will be cursed.
With its green silk-covered walls and dazzling crystal chandelier, the drawing room is the most feminine space at Highclere. In Downton Abbey, this is where family members retreat for a bit of gossip and a cup of tea—or possibly something stronger.
The coziest room in Highclere is the library, decorated in gold and chocolatey brown and dotted with red velvet settees. Resembling a London men’s club, this is the domain of Downton Abbey’s Lord Grantham. Here, Robert writes letters at the Carlton House desk, and the Crawleys gather by the fire to talk, entertain and have a nightcap.