Highclere alternative

I am going to spend 4 nights in London this May and have not been able to secure ticket to Highclere Castle during my stay. I am a huge Downton Abbey fan and I am wondering if there is a worthwhile day trip from London that would satisfied my appetite to see how the British aristocracy lived in the early part of the last century, as Downton Abbey depicts. I have already seen Warwick Castle. Any suggestion would be appreciated.

Posted by Anita
Long Beach, California, USA
1811 posts

Blenheim Palace is a nice day out...it's no more complicated to get to than Highclere. A car would be best and easiest but you can also take the train to Oxford and then catch the bus or a taxi out to Blenheim. It's a beautiful country house that is still lived in by the Marlborough family. Winston Churchill was born here and the family is related to the Spencer family, of Diana fame. It's not as in demand as Highclere but it is equally stunning, if not more so. Blenheim Palace
Another house that I really enjoy that is quite stately and impressive, and within easy travel of London, is Hatfield House. It is closer than Blenheim and, like the other two, is still occupied by the family and is full of history. Elizabeth the first was staying at this house when she was told she was queen. Lovely gardens and a really nice tour. Last time I was there there was a ping pong table set up for their teenage kids in the armory amongst the suits of armor and lances lining the walls! Hatfield House
If you just search google for "stately houses near London" you'll get many more from which to choose but these are two of my favorites! Good luck deciding! It's not easy...

Posted by steven
white plains, ny, usa
1469 posts

Just to tag onto Anita's post , If you do go to Blenheim it holds one major attraction for " Downton Abbey " fans : it is a real life version of the tales of the Crawley clan . In 1895 , The ninth Duke of Marlborough married the American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt at St Thomas church on Fifth Avenue in NYC , thus combining cold cash with the English aristocracy . The story is even better than Downtown ! Consuelo dutifully provided the duke with two sons ( " An heir and a spare " , as she infamously quipped ) the older of which succeeded to become the tenth duke . She was quite close to her cousin , Sir Winston Churchill ,and is buried next to him in the churchyard of St Martin in Bladon just down the road from Blenheim Palace

Posted by David
Sacramento, CA, USA
389 posts

Will you be in London on a Sunday? If so- Spencer House IN London (only open Sundays for part of the year unless things have changed)

Otherwise out to Richmond (by tube)--Syon House (great Robert Adams rooms)via bus from tube station and Ham House (nice country walk from downtown Richmond).

Or just outside London to the top of Hampstead Heath(tube and walk) to Kenwood House (great Robert Adams library) and a few choice paintings (Vermeer, Rembrandt)...The backside of Kenwood House was used as a film set in "Notting Hill" (near the end of the movie...the big white country house when Hugh Grant goes out to see Julia Roberts while she is on a film set)

Smaller scale--Chiswick, outside of London via tube and a walk.

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
1290 posts

You could visit Althorp, the ancestral home of Lady Diana (Spencer), Princess of Wales. It is now owned by her brother, Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer. It is a manor home possibly more lovely than Highclere. The house is open for tours May through September, on certain days; check the schedule. About 20 rooms are open on the tour. Lady Diana is buried there, on an island in the middle of a large pond. You can visit the Diana Memorial that has been built by the lake. The stables have been converted into a Diana exhibit/museum, with family photos. My sister and I loved this exhibit when we visited Althorp.
There is a cafe on the premises for lunches, which we found to be very good. Althorp is about an hour and a half by train, bus, or car, to the northwest of London.

From their website: Althorp will be open to the public from 1pm to 5pm, with last admission to the house at 3.45pm, and to the stables and grounds at 4pm, on the following dates in 2014:
May: Sunday 4th; Monday 5th; Sunday 11th; Sunday 18th; Sunday 25th; Monday 26th.
You did not say which dates in May you will be there, but I would reserve a ticket to Althorp through their website right away if you wish to go.

You asked for aristocracy not royalty. I thought this would be a good place to visit to see how Diana's family lived before she was a princess, and before she was even born.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
9896 posts

I'm another fan of Blenheim. Windsor Castle is closer, but Rick rates it 2 stars (versus a strong 3 for Blenheim).

Posted by pattyinnes
2 posts

Blenheim Palace looks like a great alternative for Highclere Castle. I am taking a tour from London there, it also will be stopping for lunch in the Cogswold. Will be a great day. Thanks to everyone for your feedback.

Posted by Susan
Atlanta, Ga, USA
1605 posts

Do some research if you decide to visit Kenwood House. It was closed for renovations when we were in London last fall. Supposedly the Vermeers were in the National Gallery at that time but a guard informed us they were being exhibited elsewhere. Sorry you will miss Highclere--it was definitely worth it. If you have time while in London you may enjoy The Wallace Collection. Blenheim will be a great visit--nice gardens there also.

Posted by LeeB.
211 posts

I didn't have an advanced ticket to visit Highclere. Just took the train and a taxi out there and bought a ticket (and it was on a bank holiday). The website does say: "Tickets can be purchased on our online ticket website. However, there are walk up tickets available each day that we open to the public. These tickets are available at the Castle Main Gate at either 10am or 2:30pm."

Just an FYI: you can't take photos inside but the gardens are quite extensive. And it is fun to walk down the staircase where all the Downton Abbey actors made dramatic exits or entrances.

Posted by Ragan
Blair, Nebraska
31 posts

Patty we too are visiting during the closed times and I was so wishing to visit Highclere! And even Buckingham Palace is closed :(! Maybe we can swing the Blenheim visit, it sounds wonderful and the Spencer's home is a must! Enjoy your trip!

Posted by Diana
Michigan, United States
359 posts

I'm so happy I saw this post. I too wanted to go to Highclere but Blenheim Palace looks amazing so I think another day trip while we are in London is in order. Thanks!

Posted by Laurel
Arlington, WA
886 posts

You want aristocracy not royalty so Windsor is out. Blenheim is a good choice for a day trip. Chatsworth is best but too far for a day trip.