Visit Real-life Sites From ‘Downton Abbey’ With an Exclusive Look at Highclere Castle on Viking's New Cruise Extensions
After topping the box office in the UK and the U.S. after its recent release, it’s clear that "Downton Abbey" is here to stay. And thanks to a sponsorship with Viking, fans of the show, movie, and those fabulous costumes can head to the UK for privileged, private access to Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey — home to the fictitious Crawley family on screen, and the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon in real life.
Viking's newest cruise extension (before or after your sailing) is Great Homes, Gardens and Gin, beginning in 2021 on the Rhine Getaway and British Isles Explorer itineraries. Guests are greeted with champagne and a potential visit with Lady Carnarvon, who mingles with guests on extensions as her schedule allows. Led by a historian, guests then tour the 5,000-acre property, including the castle’s interior, grounds, and gardens for stories about the castle’s history.
During the visit, guests can sample the recently launched Highclere Castle Gin, inspired by botanicals from the castle’s gardens. This extension also includes a look at Broughton Castle, the setting for PBS’s MASTERPIECE series "Wolf Hall," and a visit out to the Cotswolds to tour Chavenage House, known from the MASTERPIECE series "Poldark." If you’re lucky, you’ll get to tour Chavenage with Caroline, a family member who lives at the property and tells about the history of the home and its tenants in an entertaining, cheeky fashion. Another big-ticket item from this extension: walking through the gardens of Highgrove House, the private home of Prince Charles.
Viking’s popular “Oxford and Highclere Castle” pre-/post-cruise extension is another way guests can enjoy a private visit to Highclere Castle. After traveling through the beautiful English countryside, guests are welcomed with a cup of tea and given a tour of the castle’s spacious public rooms. If you’re lucky, Lady Carnarvon might be there to greet you and share some secrets of the Victorian Gothic-style castle, which was built by Sir Charles Barry, who also built the Houses of Parliament.
Also included is a trip to the village of Bampton, known as the Yorkshire village in "Downton Abbey." Here, travelers see memorable locales from the show like the church; Churchgate House, used for the exterior shots of Isobel Crawley’s house; the Grammar School building, which served as the Downton hospital; and St. Mary’s Church, which held numerous Downton weddings and funerals. This extension is available on the British Isles Explorer, Paris and the Heart of Normandy, and Cities of Light itineraries.
The third way to see the castle is on the British Collections of Ancient Egypt cruise extension, available on the Pharaohs and Pyramids itinerary. Here, guests get to see the 5th Earl of Carnarvon’s private collection of Egyptian artifacts in the cellars of the castle. The 5th Earl, George Herbert, was the benefactor for Howard Carter, the Egyptologist who discovered the intact tomb of Tutankhamun, aka King Tut. Other exclusive experiences on this extension include an early morning look at the Egyptian Collection at the British Museum before it opens to the public, and a behind-the-scenes tour at Oxford University’s Griffith Institute, where guests can see Carter’s archives, including his notebook which details the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. While on campus at Oxford, stroll through the Bodleian Library and Christ Church, both filming locations in the "Harry Potter" film series.
Even if you’ve never seen "Downton Abbey," taking in the breathtaking Highclere Castle and other filming locations will have you bookmarking the show for when you return home.