These opulent estates are the closest you can get to Downton Abbey in America


"Hard work and diligence weigh more than beauty in the real world."

Dowton Abbey may be a quintessentially British show, but that hasn't stopped scores of Americans from getting hooked on the Masterpiece Classics Drama about the English upper class and their servants navigating the huge changes of the early 1900's. Luckily, even though the stunning Highclere Castle, where the show is filmed, is in England, there are still grand estates here in America where, if you use a little imagination, you can pretend that you're in the middle of some posh drama about the lady's maid stealing her former employer's diamonds. Or whatever.

Biltmore Estate: Welcome to America's largest private house! This massive estate is beyond a mansion, with 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, towers, carriage houses, and millions of dollars worth of antiques and art. It was built between 1889 and 1895 for the super duper wealthy Vanderbilt family, who were about as close to an American version of the Crawleys as you can get. Tours will take you everywhere from the Bachelor's Wing (hidden behind a seccret panel) and also take you down to the servant's domain, where there were multiple kitchens, walk in refrigerators, bedrooms, laundry rooms and tons more. Bonus: there's a current exhibition at the Biltmore Estate all about the costumes of Downton Abbey (which, let's be honest, is one of the best parts of the show)...there really is no better place in America for the display!

Houmas House Plantation and Gardens: Elegant plantation houses are pretty similar to grand estates like Downton Abbey itself (with a few major differences) and this Lousiana mansion is one of the country's best-preserved. In fact, during the Civil War, it was owned by Irishman John Burnside, who managed to maintain control of the property by suggesting that if the Union were to seize it, it would cause an international uproar. Totally sounds like a move Lord Grantham would pull, if you ask me.

Hearst Castle: If the Crawleys manage to keep ahold of their fortune into the 1940's, this is what Downton Abbey might wind up looking-- not that there's anything wrong with that. Hearst Castle is absolutely stunning, from the gorgeous swimming pool (seriously, the Neptune pool is to die for) to the incredibly detailed Gothic study...plus I feel like Rose would be right at home with the fashionable Hearst family as they mingled with the elite social circles (and glamorous movie stars!) of the day.

Boldt Castle: George C. Boldt, proprietor of NYC's Waldorf Astoria, built this ginormous castle estate for his beloved wife...but he halted construction and left the structure unfinished after his wife's untimely death, as he couldn't bear the thought of enjoying it without her. It sounds a little like Matthew and Mary, to be honest. I could have imagined Matthew building Mary something like this...but tragically, it was not meant to be :(

The Breakers: Yet another Vanderbilt house-- but since they were American royalty, it's not a huge surprise. Newport, Rhode Island is home to tons of beautiful mansions, as it was once the fashionable place for the wealthy to vacation. After Cornelius Vanderbilt and his wife Alice died, the estate was left to their youngest daught Gladys, who became European nobility by marrying a Hungarian count.

Iolani Palace: This is the only castle in all of America to be home to actual royalty! The Hawaiian mansion has a fascinating history, and Queen Liliuokalani was held prisoner in her own throne room for awhile. The royal who built the current palace, David Kalākaua was incredibly well-traveled and sought inspiration from European palaces. Also, it had electricity and telephones (remember the stir when Downton got its first phone?) before the White House had them!

Castello Di Amorosa: This fairly modern (opened to visitors in 2007) Italian-style castle has 107 rooms, including a torture chamber complete with antique iron maiden (yep, really). On the... less disturbing side, it's also home to a winery (obviously, since this is Napa Valley we're talking about). I'm sure if you ask nicely, they'll bring you a crystal goblet of claret to further enhance the Downton Abbey vibe.

Oheka Castle Hotel & Estate: It's inspired everything from Jay Gatsby's mansion (which happens to take place in the same time period as Downton Abbey)  to Citizen Kane's Xanadu to Taylor Swift's Blank Space video, so there must be something about the estate that attracts the disillusioned and rich. It's the second-largest private home in America, with 127 rooms, and it was built by Otto Hermann Kahn, yet another wealthy American financier.

Header via Wikipedia/Highclere Castle

Places explored in this article:

This was originally written for Roadtrippers, a great resource for anyone interested in travel.
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