If you're among the legions of "Downton Abbey" devotees who wateched the show's season premiere, you might want to incorporate a bit of Downton flair into one of your vacations this year. The following six historic homes offer spectacularly luxurious "upstairs" rooms and fascinating glimpses of the "downstairs" servants' quarters.
And what about the real Downton Abbey? Highclere Castle, where "Downton Abbey" is filmed in Newbury, England, "is a must," wrote one TripAdvisor traveler, though many reviewers lamented that "it was a pity that you couldn't take pictures inside." Still, several rooms display signs indicating what scenes were filmed there.
The castle is open on an irregular schedule beginning in late March 2013, but is sold out. However, fans should keep an eye on Highclere's official website, which says summer tickets will be released in early February.
|The Elms, Newport, R.I.|
According to many TripAdvisor reviewers, it's practically a crime to visit The Elms and not take the behind-the-scenes Servant Life Tour. It "contrasts sharply the exorbitant lifestyle of the owners and the humble lifestyle of the servants," one TripAdvisor traveler wrote. Another said, "We saw staff quarters and spartan furnishings that were the antithesis of the splendor just one floor below." A third reviewer wrote that it's "well worth taking this tour—to understand the 'other side of wealth'!"
|Berrington Hall, Hereford, England|
"Very Downton," wrote one TripAdvisor traveler who visited Berrington Hall. Another said, "The 'below stairs' tour by the footman was fascinating and he clearly knew his subject." You'll see "working areas including the dairy, laundry, butlers rooms and the cellars under the courtyard where the kitchen maids had to carry the food to the dining room," according to another traveler, who also noted that young kids on the tour had a blast.
|Mark Twain House, Hartford, Conn.|
Mark Twain's grandiose home in downtown Hartford has been meticulously restored, and TripAdvisor travelers say it's a must-see if you're in town. "Extremely knowledgeable guides" give tours of the 25-room main house (with walls and ceilings embellished by Louis C. Tiffany) as well as the kitchen and servants' quarters. While the latter tour requires an additional fee, one TripAdvisor traveler said it's worth it, as you gain "perspective of how the servants had to live alongside the wealthy."
|Chirk Castle, Chirk, Wales|
Lovely gardens and family-friendly exhibits make Chirk Castle quite popular with TripAdvisor travelers—as one traveler wrote, "The tower with its dungeon is great for the kids with armour to dress up in and staff in costume to make their day more memorable." However, after you're done touring the grand rooms of the castle, check out the servants' quarters. One TripAdvisor traveler wrote, "The servants tour was also interesting, seeing some of the rooms not yet open to the general public." Another said the "austere servants' quarters" were a "sharp contrast to the splendor" of the rest of the castle.
|Biltmore Estate, Asheville, N.C.|
This "wonderfully restored" 256-room mansion offers a Butler's Tour, which many TripAdvisor travelers highly recommend. As one traveler wrote, "The ability to visit certain rooms not on the public tours, and to actually go inside other rooms (normally viewed only from the doorway) was priceless. Visiting the sub-basement and seeing the original central heating system and electrical system (both AC and DC!) made for another fascinating part of the Butler's Tour."
|Belton House, Grantham, England|
Belton House has lovely rooms and beautiful gardens, but for many TripAdvisor reviewers, the Below Stairs tour is "the highlight of the day," as one traveler wrote. According to another reviewer, it's helpful to do the Below Stairs tour first: "It made the subsequent visit to the house all the better for understanding the roles and numbers of staff needed to run it." Overall, wrote one reviewer, it's simply "a brilliant insight into life of the servants."