I am a huge Downton Abbey fan, and since the show started I have found myself jealous of friends who have been able to visit Highclere Castle – where the show is filmed – while traveling through England. With no immediate plans to go to England, I took advantage of my time visiting family in North Carolina this summer, and made a trip to the Biltmore, just a two hour drive from Charlotte.
The Biltmore is a huge estate built by the Vanderbilts around the turn of the last century. Touring the home, which includes 33 guest bedrooms, a bowling alley, and indoor pool, plus walking downstairs through the servants’ dining room, kitchen, and bedrooms, it is impossible not to make comparisons to Downton Abbey. There is also a village outside the property, just like on the show. I have to admit, if I had visited the Biltmore before watching the show, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much (just a big, old house!). But it was so easy to visualize Mrs. Patmore yelling at Daisy in the kitchen, and Anna helping Lady Mary dress for dinner in an elegant upstairs bedroom, that it brought the house to life.
Recently, I made the short trip from my home to Wilmington, Delaware to visit the Winterthur estate. Winterthur was built by the du Pont family in the early nineteenth century, with each generation expanding the property. While not quite as grand as the Biltmore, it offered something uniquely special – an exhibit featuring 40 costumes worn by the characters on Downton Abbey. Edith’s wedding gown, Sybil’s harem pants, Mrs. Hughes’ uniform, and Mary’s dress from the night Matthew proposed were just some of the highlights. It was amazing to see how intricate the costumes were up close, some of them even utilizing vintage materials.
Tourism based on TV show locations is becoming increasingly popular. While I would still like to visit Highclere Castle, it’s nice to know there are similar offerings closer to home, which can make for great weekend trips. Next on my list are the Newport Mansions in Rhode Island. But first I have to get ready for the next season of Downton Abbey!