Since word reached me that The Downton Abbey Exhibition was going to be touring the United States I have been trying to attend. I couldn’t get to New York, the Boston stopover didn’t work with my schedule and Florida was out of the way. So when they announced they were going to the Biltmore Estate I knew my chance to attend had come- I could drive and the hotels weren’t insanely expensive. Although the original trip was cancelled due to Covid, they reopened the exhibit for the summer and my mother and I were able to experience it after a two year wait!
Based on the beloved television show this exhibition transports you to post-Edwardian England, where the characters and iconic house come to life right in front of you. You will be immersed in the fashion, culture, history and some of the most memorable moments from the series.
What Happens at The Downton Abbey Exhibition?
When you enter the exhibit you sit in a room that gives you a video overview of what you are going to see from Carson (the butler). For those who haven’t seen the series it fills you in a little bit on some characters.
These dresses are vintage and were used for the show.
Throughout the entire exhibit you get to see the beautiful costumes and accessories the show featured in all six seasons. There are a few costumes from the movie but 99% are from the series.
Various wedding outfits.
One of the things that fascinated me was they treated the characters as if they were real. I went in expecting to see things like “Michelle Dockery wore this dress as Mary in Season Two.”
Carson and Hughes Wedding Outfits!
What I found were pictures from the actual show, documented with the character and what was going on at the time. For people who have not seen the show this would make the exhibit far more interesting.
The jewelry, hats, rings and other items were interesting to see. They were clearly a mix of newer and vintage pieces.
And, if you are like me and haven’t watched it in a while, it was nice to have the reminder of plot points I had since forgotten.
An exhibit on the Dowager was one of my favorites. They had video of some of her best quotes.
These were the costumes of the King and Queen from the movie.
This is one of Tom’s costumes.
One of Mary’s beautiful dresses.
Looking for some other places to go? Check out my Frugal Travel Ideas!
A nice focus is given to the characters. Especially for those who have not seen the show the exhibit would be boring without this section. Some have video of performances and some still photos.
Each character is given a nice section where they explain who the character is, some of their props and what a person of their position would have been like during the time period. Instead of just learning about Daisy you learn about other cooks in England at the time.
There was much information about social status, education, rights of servants and legal information about the time.
Anyone who has seen the series would recognize this glove right away!
There was also great information about the war and how it affected each household member. including how Thomas’s actions weren’t all that unusual.
O’Brien’s resignation letter
The iconic bells.
For me the best part of the exhibit was the feeling like you were on the set. It gave the sensation of being immersed in their world.
My mother gasped when she walked into Carson’s office.
Every tiny detail was thought through. Each letter on Carson’s desk was written in script with era appropriate stamps and addresses. There was nothing in the room to pull you out the time period.
Each thing in Mary’s room was exactly as seen on the screen!
The beds seemed so tiny. People were absolutely shorter during this time period.
Anyone feel like cooking?
Information about the kitchen was fascinating. In this case they did add some tidbits about the actresses and crew. Turns out they had to cut the legs off the table the first day of filming because the actresses were so short you couldn’t see much of their body. They would have had to act on their tiptoes. They also had to get some cooking instruction!
Where all the good gossip happened.
While Carson stated in the video he couldn’t understand why anyone would care what the servants did peeking into their rooms was amazing.
Additionally there was this amazing room with three walls that were all LED screens. They lead viewers through some big moments in the house and gave a feel for the rooms. Think of it as a five minute “previously on Downton Abbey” movie.
I got to ring the dressing gong!
Overall I absolutely loved the exhibit. We saw it at the Biltmore Estate where it is included in the cost of entrance. The other cities it was approximately $20 for a ticket and I believe it is worth every penny for someone who adored the show. I have not been able to find a discount on the tickets but as it continues to travel there may be some discounts.
We took about 75 minutes to go through. If we had not been worrying about social distancing I believe two hours would have been an appropriate amount of time because we might have lingered a bit longer.
An additional note for those visiting at the Biltmore- the exhibit is in two different locations. The much bigger section is at Deerpark and I would head there first. Once you have seen everything head down to Antler Village, finish it off and then enjoy a visit to the winery of one of the great restaurants!