Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
Beyond the bombast and the bomb blasts, season four of Netflix’s historical drama The Crown has been its finest to date. And while two new cast additions – Emma Corrin as Lady Diana Spencer and Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher – have usurped the headlines, the most awe-inspiring stars of the show remain unmoved: ancient British bricks and mortar.
From turrets and towers to barbicans and battlements, these magnificent backdrops are a major part of The Crown’s appeal, as the royal intrigue moves from palatial estates to magnificent manors, with all the graceful ease of an expert courtier’s curtsey.
The real Queen Elizabeth II was less than courteous when it came to Netflix tramping through her many residences – including Buckingham Palace, Balmoral Castle, and Windsor Castle – so the producers had to scour the UK for suitable replacements. And, as viewers of all four seasons can attest, they found some incredible stately surrogates amid the great houses of Great Britain.
The good news is that, once travel returns, many of this unbeatable royal flush of palaces and piles will be going all in on tourism again. So read on for our ultimate travel guide to The Crown – and get planning your own regal retreat to England’s green and pleasant land.
1. Buckingham Palace
Season four gives us the unforgettable scene of a soon-to-be Princess Diana roller-skating through the gilded corridors of Buckingham Palace while blasting out Duran Duran on her Walkman. The Palace itself, the monarch’s official London residence since 1837, was doubled by Lancaster House – a neoclassical mansion also located at the heart of the British capital.
Built in 1825, Lancaster House opens its doors to the public during London’s popular Open City festival, but in the meantime you can whet your appetite with this virtual tour. (The real Buckingham Palace is also open to the public between July and October, with a bevy of 19 state rooms to explore, as well as the royal gardens).
2. Balmoral Castle
‘The Balmoral Test’ is a momentous episode in season four, when both Lady Diana and new British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are invited to the Queen’s beloved Scottish hideaway to be scrutinized by “the Firm.” Imposing Ardverikie Castle doubles as Balmoral throughout every season of the show.
A 19th-century Gothic masterpiece bristling with turrets, the captivating castle of Ardverikie looks spookily similar to Balmoral – and you can expect to see it again soon, in the new James Bond film, No Time To Die. Located near Inverness (the capital of the Scottish Highlands) it has a number of cozy guest cottages and lodges for rent in the grounds, while tours of the castle itself are also available.
Charles and Diana’s country estate, picture-perfect Highgrove in Gloucestershire, is still inhabited by the Prince of Wales today – along with his second wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles. For the show, the enchanting Somerley House on the Hampshire-Dorset border stands in as a more-than-worthy stunt double.
A striking country house on the edge of the New Forest National Park, Somerley looks like the kind of magical place where you could enter a wardrobe and exit in Narnia. In the meantime, it’s open for weddings, festivals, concerts, and photo shoots – and you can book the house in its entirety for a weekend, with nine bedrooms and seven bathrooms up for grabs.
4. Windsor Castle
The venue for Prince Harry’s much-publicized wedding to Meghan Markle, Windsor Castle also features heavily throughout The Crown. The world’s oldest working castle, it was built nearly 1,000 years ago by William the Conqueror, and today serves as the Queen’s weekend home. In the show, it’s doubled by two properties: 16th-century Burghley House in Lincolnshire, and the fairytale-esque Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire.
Burghley House, a grand Tudor mansion which also appeared in Pride and Prejudice, reopens to visitors in March 2021, with a number of accommodation options on offer (our pick is The Dairy). Meanwhile, the gardens of 11th-century Belvoir Castle have already reopened, with the castle itself due to follow in early 2021 (check out the official butler’s tours of the private quarters for an insider’s view of aristocratic life).
The Queen’s Christmas retreat, Sandringham is a relatively new addition to the royal property portfolio, having only been in the family for four generations. In The Crown, it’s the setting for the season four finale, when the entire family gathers here. That scene – along with the rest of the Sandringham action – was shot at statuesque Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk.
A pristine Tudor-Jacobean mansion, Somerleyton – or Somerledetuna in the original Norse – has been a homestead since the Viking invasion of Britain in the 9th century. Today, the house is privately owned, but it does open to the public for day visits between April and September (while you’re there, don’t miss the famous hedge maze, which has been confounding visitors since 1846).
6. Gatcombe Park
The home of Princess Anne, Gatcombe Park is a handsome manor house set in 730 acres of rolling Gloucestershire countryside, just six miles from the Highgrove hideout of her brother, Prince Charles. In The Crown, Gatcombe is doubled by Wrotham Park, a neoclassical mansion located a 30-minute drive north of London, in leafy Hertfordshire.
Wrotham Park might look a bit familiar – its film and TV credits are almost as long as the Queen’s Honours List. Highlights include "Bridget Jones’s Diary," "Gosford Park," "Vanity Fair," and "Jane Eyre" – and the good news is that the Palladian mansion is now available for private hire (dinner party for 120 guests anyone?)
Lady Diana’s ancestral home, Althorp, has been in her family for more than 500 years. In the show (although sadly not in reality), it’s here that she first meets Prince Charles, when she’s dressed as a tree for her school play, and he arrives to take her older sister out on a date.
The Althorp scenes were shot at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire, deep in the heart of Shakespeare country. Various rooms and halls of the stately home can be rented for private events, while it also hosts a series of fun public festivals, from DogFest to The Game Fair. The real Althorp, just 55 miles away, is open to the public each July and August. Guests are able to explore the state rooms where Diana grew up and picnic in the grounds, but the grave of the late Princess (on an Arthurian-style island in the middle of a lake) is strictly off-limits.
8. Kensington Palace
Grand, gorgeous Kensington Palace in west London was the birthplace of Queen Victoria, and is Charles and Diana’s London residence in season four of The Crown. Producers chose a handful of venues to double as this important royal residence, led by the luxurious Hertfordshire stately home, Brocket Hall.
Built in 1760, Brocket Hall was one of Queen Victoria’s favorite country estates — and was also home to two British Prime Ministers in the 19th century. Today, members of the public can stay in elegant Melbourne Lodge – a converted coach house in the mansion’s leafy grounds with 16 en-suite bedrooms available.
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