The massive popularity of Masterpiece Theatre’s Downton Abbey has tourists flocking to Highclere Castle, the real-life setting of the Grantham family home. Now you can too on this AAA Sojourns EXCLUSIVE itinerary that visits Highclere as well as several other impressive private estates. Complete your immersion into British culture and history with visits to Windsor Castle, Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown. See more journeys in our eCatalog! 
• Visit five private estates, including Highclere Castle, the setting of Downton Abbey.
• This compact itinerary lets you spend less time on the bus and more time exploring.
• See iconic British sights such as Windsor Castle, Shakespeare’s home and the Tower of London.
The success of Masterpiece Theatre's Downton Abbey has become quite a phenomenon. Millions of appreciative viewers from around the world have been following the lives of the Crawley family and their servants as they cope with the changes and challenges brought about by the First World War. This aristocratic tour lets you channel Lord and Lady Grantham on a visit to Highclere Castle, the real-life setting for the Grantham family home. This beautiful Victorian castle is set amid 1,000 acres of spectacular parkland and has been the home of the Carnarvon family since 1679.
And you won't want to miss the village of Bampton where most of Downton Abbey’s outdoor scenes are filmed. Fans will recognize the Crawley house exterior and the library, which serves as the entrance to the cottage hospital.
Your exploration of grand private estates continues at Chastleton House, built between 1607 and 1612, and largely unchanged for the past 400 years. See Chatsworth, home of the Duke of Devonshire. The 105-acre Chatsworth Garden is particularly impressive with 300-year-old waterworks, a huge maze, a rookery and over five miles of walking trails among rare trees, shrubs, streams and ponds. Visit Haddon Hall, a fortified medieval manor house from the 12th century and the home of Lord and Lady Edward Manners, whose family have owned it since 1567. This remarkable old house is surrounded by terraced Elizabethan gardens and served as the backdrop for the 1998 film Elizabeth and 2005’s Pride and Prejudice. And see the Jacobean-era Hatfield House owned by the 7th Marquis and Marchioness of Salisbury. Here, you can view the famous knot garden adjoining the Tudor Old Palace where the real Elizabeth I spent much of her childhood.
Other highlights include a panoramic tour of London's iconic sights and a tour of the 900 year old Tower of London. Over the centuries, the Tower has served as a royal residence and prison as well as housing the Royal Mint and the Crown Jewels. Pay homage to the royal family at art-filled Windsor Castle, Britain’s oldest castle and its largest with over 1,000 rooms. Spend time in Oxford where you'll visit Christ Church College, a setting for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter films, including the dining hall at Hogwarts. Complete your immersion in British culture and history with a visit to Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. The 16th century half-timbered house of glove maker John Shakespeare on Henley Street is where the young William was born and brought up. Today it houses an exhibition of the life of the world’s greatest playwright.
• 7 nights in 4-star hotels: 4 nights in London, 1 night in Oxford and 2 in Coventry
• Meals - Daily full English breakfast, 2 lunches and 4 dinners
• On-tour motor coach transportation and airport transfers
• A professional tour director plus all attraction entry fees as per itinerary
• Castles & Manor Houses – Visits to Windsor Castle, Highclere Castle, Chastleton House, Chatsworth, Haddon Hall and Hatfield House Park & Gardens
• Sights – See attractions in Bampton, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Coventry and London, including the famous Tower of London
Note: Additional nights can be requested for London. Inquire at time of booking. For those who want to extend their trip, AAA Sojourns European City Stay packages can be requested for other major cities in Europe such as Paris, Rome and more.
Day 1 – Arrive in London
Upon mid-morning arrival at London’s Heathrow Airport, you will be met for an orientation panoramic tour of London before transferring to your hotel. The balance of the day is free for independent activities and dinner.
Accommodation: Kensington Close Hotel, 4 star – 2 nights
Day 2 – Windsor & Highclere Castles
Following breakfast at the hotel, we start the day with a visit to the small English town of Windsor in Berkshire where you will visit Windsor Castle – the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world and the Queen of England’s favorite weekend home. The castle is at the top of a steep hill and the visitor route covers longs distances. Visit the State Apartments, the Drawings Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House and St. George’s Chapel at your leisure using the complimentary audio tour, which is approximately 1.5 hours in length.
Following a three-course lunch at a local restaurant, we then visit Highclere Castle, one of England’s most beautiful Victorian castles set amidst 1,000 acres of spectacular parkland. The Carnarvon family has lived at Highclere since 1679 and the current castle stands on the site of an earlier house, which in turn was built on the foundations of the medieval palace owned by the Bishops of Winchester that stood for some 800 years.
Longstanding friend of the Carnarvon family, Julian Fellowes had Highclere Castle in mind as he wrote the television series Downton Abbey. Fellowes has commented he wanted a house which spectacularly testified to the confidence and soaring optimism of the Edwardian period. The success of Downton Abbey has become a phenomenon with appreciative viewers all around the world. The series follows the lives of the Crawley family and the servants who work for them, whose lives were changed forever during the First World War.
Return to London in the late afternoon for dinner and the remainder of the evening at your leisure.
Day 3 – Chastleton House, Bampton & Oxford
Following breakfast at the hotel, we depart London to begin a tour of the English countryside. Our first stop will be Chastleton House. A rare gem of a Jacobean country house, Chastleton House was built between 1607 and 1612 by a prosperous wool merchant as an impressive statement of wealth and power. Owned by the same increasingly impoverished family until 1991, the house remained essentially unchanged for nearly 400 years as the interiors and contents gradually succumbed to the ravages of time. With virtually no intrusion from the 21st century, this fascinating place exudes an informal and timeless atmosphere in a gloriously unspoilt setting. The house does not have a shop or tea-room, so you can truly believe you have stepped back in time.
Later depart for Bampton, a village and civil parish in Oxfordshire. But Bampton is not just any village! It’s where most of Downton Abbey’s outdoor scenes are filmed. Bampton was singled out as the ideal location for Downton due to its proximity to London and the fact that it is so well-preserved. Fans will surely recognize Crawley’s house exterior, St. Mary’s Church and the Library, which serves as the entrance to the cottage hospital.
After an extensive look around (with time for lunch), we continue to Oxford, "The City of Dreaming Spires" famous throughout the world for its university and place in history. For over 800 years, it has been a home to royalty, scholars and writers, although people are known to have lived in the area for thousands of years. Nowadays, the city is a bustling cosmopolitan town. You will have the opportunity to visit Christ Church College, one of the largest in the University of Oxford. It was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland and recently the location where scenes from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter films were shot. Visit the dining hall – the setting for the dining room at Hogwarts – and drop into the Eagle & Child Pub where fellow authors and Oxford professors J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis regularly met and read out passages from their books. This evening, dinner is included at our hotel.
Accommodation: Cotswolds Lodge, 4-star (Mar 30, 2015); Belfry Hotel, 4-star (Aug 30, 2015) – 1 night
Day 4 – Stratford-upon-Avon & Warwick
After breakfast depart Oxford for Stratford-upon-Avon, where you will visit Shakespeare’s birthplace. The 16th century half-timbered house of glove maker John Shakespeare on Henley Street is where the young William was born and brought up. Today it houses an exhibition of the life of the world’s greatest playwright. You will also visit Shakespeare’s grave in Trinity Church.
Our next stop is Warwick, home to Warwick Castle, St. Mary’s Church, beautiful parks and gardens and more. Warwick’s mainly independent businesses offer an exciting blend of the old and the new – from gift shops, antique centers and traditional tea rooms to trendy boutiques, art galleries and fine restaurants. Don’t miss going to Smith Street, which is bustling with character. It was untouched by Warwick’s Great Fire of 1694 and many of the medieval building still survive. This evening, dinner is included at your hotel.
Accommodation: Hilton Coventry, 4-star – 2 nights
Day 5 – Chatsworth & Haddon Hall
After breakfast, drive north into Derbyshire to visit Chatsworth. Home of the Duke of Devonshire and set in the heart of the Peak District in Derbyshire, there is always something new to see and do in the house, garden and farmyard. Having evolved over more than 450 years, the 105-acre Chatsworth Garden continues to change today. The famous waterworks include the 300-year-old cascade, the trough waterfall in the rockery and the enormous gravity-fed Emperor Fountain. As well as the huge maze, the rockery and the rose, cottage and kitchen gardens, there are also over five miles of walks with rare trees, shrubs, streams and ponds to discover. Today the garden is managed by a team of 18 gardeners and trainees. At the same time as preserving its layers of history, the present Duke and Duchess are developing new areas and features of the garden for visitors. In 2011 this included the installation of a selection of bronze busts by the artist Angela Conner, commissioned by the 11th Duke.
We also visit Haddon Hall, a fortified medieval manor house dating from the 12th century and the home of Lord and Lady Edward Manners, whose family have owned it since 1567. This remarkable old house is surrounded by terraced Elizabethan gardens and is set amongst the rolling countryside of the Peak District National Park. Return to Coventry in the late afternoon. This evening dinner is included at your hotel.
Day 6 – Coventry & Hatfield House Park and Garden
Following breakfast at the hotel, it is time to say goodbye to Coventry today but not before we visit Coventry Cathedral. Here, we climb the tower for the best view of Coventry and then pop into the Blitz Experience Museum. Located in the ruins, the Blitz Experience Museum contains five 1940s room reconstructions.
Before returning to London, stop at Hatfield House Park and Garden. The garden at Hatfield House dates from the early 17th century when Robert Cecil employed John Tradescant the Elder to collect plants for his new home. Tradescant was sent to Europe where he found and brought back trees, bulbs, plants and fruit trees that had never been previously grown in England. Visitors can enjoy the sundial garden and fountains, and view the famous knot garden adjoining the Tudor Old Palace where Elizabeth I spent much of her childhood. Following the fashion for landscape gardening and some neglect in the 18th century, restoration of the garden started in earnest in Victorian times. Lady Gwendolen Cecil, younger daughter of Prime Minister Salisbury, designed the West Garden as it is today. The adjoining woodland garden is at its best in spring with masses of naturalized daffodils and bluebells. Return to London in the late afternoon. The evening and dinner are at your leisure.
Accommodation: Kensington Close Hotel, 4 star – 2 nights
Day 7 – Tower of London
After breakfast, visit the Tower of London. Work commenced on this riverside fortress 900 years ago and the structure we see today was completed in the 14th century. The Tower was the refuge of Richard II during the Peasant’s Revolt and the prison of Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh and the future Queen Elizabeth I. It is also the execution place of Lade Jane Grey, British sovereign for 9 days, and Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s second and fourth queens. The afternoon is at leisure for last-minute shopping or personal sightseeing. This evening includes a special Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 8 – Depart London for home
After breakfast and hotel check-out, transfer by motor coach to the airport for your flight home.
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