If you’re visiting Boston this summer and you’re a Downton Abbey fan, Downton Abbey The Exhibition is in the city until September 29, 2019. We visited on opening day, and we’ll share what was amazing about the exhibits, and what wasn’t so great.
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Mr. SBC and I are huge fans of the PBS period drama, Downton Abbey (Is it really a drama? Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess cracks us up constantly). So when we heard that this Downton Abbey exhibition was coming to Boston, we immediately bought our tickets and planned a weekend in the city.
Billed as a way to experience the history, the fashion, and the house, we weren’t really sure how the exhibit would be presented, but we knew we couldn’t miss it!
Exhibition location and how to get there
Downton Abbey The Exhibition is being held at the Castle at Park Plaza, at 130 Columbus Avenue in the Back Bay. This unique space was The Armory of the First Corps of Cadets between 1891-1897. It’s the only remaining High Victorian armory in the City of Boston and is a designated National Historic Landmark.
If you’re taking the T, Boston’s subway system, the closest stop is Arlington on the Green Line. From there it’s a quick, 4-minute walk to the Castle.
If you’re driving to the exhibition, there’s no onsite parking for Downton Abbey: The Exhibition. There is metered parking on the street (good luck getting a space!), and there are also several paid parking garages and lots located close to the exhibition.
We took the T this time, but we usually park at the Motor Mart Garage at 201 Stuart Street, just a three-minute walk from the Castle. Their prices are very reasonable.
Tickets for Downton Abbey The Exhibition
General admission tickets for Downton Abbey The Exhibition are $35 per adult ($33 for age 65 and over). Children 14 and under can visit the exhibition for free when accompanied by a paying adult. These tickets require you to choose a day and time that you’ll be entering, and you’re encouraged to arrive 15 minutes prior to your selected time. If you’re more than 30 minutes late, they will attempt to let you enter with a later group, if space permits.
VIP tickets will allow you to enter at any time on your selected day, and also come with a complimentary audio guide. These tickets are a bit more expensive, at $49. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (866) 811-4111.
What’s in the Exhibition?
Downton Abbey The Exhibition has several components, including some short video segments, an exhibit featuring each character and their story, an immersive wraparound video, set recreations, and costume displays.
When we first entered the exhibition, we were ushered into a small theater room to watch the welcome video. Narrated by Mr. Carson, Downton’s butler, this was a short introduction to what we would soon be seeing. Unfortunately, the top of the room was open to the rest of the exhibition, and the loud string music being played throughout the building drowned out a lot of the video’s sound.
Character and historical exhibits
Next we were led to the historical and individual character exhibits. We were encouraged by staff to enter either from the left or the right, a practice which proved to be a bit of a problem throughout our entire visit.
Each character had a station, set up with a large photo and an explanation of the character’s role in the program. Each station housed “artifacts” related to the character, such as faux diaries and letters they would have sent or received, along with small personal effects like gloves, jewelry, or watches worn by that character.
The stations were set up in a maze-like pattern, with no obvious order to flow from one station to another. Despite the staggered entrance of patrons, the jostling crowd made it difficult to spend much time at any station. This was unfortunate, because the stations were very nicely put together. The creators obviously wanted people to linger over each section and explore, but it was impossible with the amount of people each trying to fit in a very small space.
In addition to the character stations, there were also stations explaining different aspects of social history of the time, and how events and changing social norms informed the characters. Ranging from the impact of the sinking of the Titanic on the family, to changing views of race relations, the historical stations gave an overview of the time.
As well-presented as all the stations were, what really struck me was that someone who is a fan of the show (as anyone would have to be to pay $35+ per person) would already know most if not all of this. The character stations contained a large photo and a brief description of who each character was (we don’t need an explanation that Mrs. Patmore was the cook). The historical stations were very basic – anyone with any knowledge of early 20th-century social history won’t learn anything new here.
The set exhibits
One of our favorite parts of the exhibition was the set recreations. The kitchen, the dining room, and Carson’s pantry were among the displays that were set up.
The kitchen was the most realistic, with a steaming kettle and pots simmering on the stove, it smelled just like you’d imagine Downton’s kitchen would!
We could almost imagine Carson sitting at his desk in his pantry, or chatting with Mrs. Hughes in the cozy sitting area.
The dining room set was also very accurate to the original, with the exception of a modern video screen on the back wall where a painting should have been (and some very crooked candles on the table!)
A very well-produced segment of Downton Abbey The Exhibition was a unique three-paneled video. One large room was floor-to-ceiling video screens on three sides, and a video montage played on a loop.
The sound in this theater was fantastic, and the experience was immersive as scenes from the program played around us, interspersed with recreations of various Downton Abbey rooms. If not for the crowd of modern-day guests in front of us, we’d almost feel like we were visiting Downton!
A huge draw for many visitors to Downton Abbey The Exhibition is definitely the vast display of costumes from the show. I was shocked at just how many there were!
There was everything from the servants’ uniforms to the Crawley family’s everyday wear, to the wedding dresses (all of them!) I was especially happy to see Lady Sybil’s gorgeous harem pantaloons included.
In addition to the many dozens of beautifully-made costumes (be sure to check out the intricate beadwork on many of the gowns), hats and jewelry from the program were also on display.
At the end of the exhibition, before you have to walk through the extensive gift shop to the exit, there’s one final farewell video. Hosted by Lord and Lady Grantham, Carson, and Mrs. Hughes, the farewell video is a short goodbye from the characters to those of us who just “visited their home”.
The video is sweet, with the exception of a montage of literally EVERY DEATH in the entire series, thrown at viewers in bloody rapid-fire. Close your eyes if you’re squeamish (or just don’t want to revisit all of those emotional scenes in the span of 60 seconds)!
What did we think?
We’re definitely glad that we visited Downton Abbey The Experience. It was a bit too crowded, but we did visit on opening day, and during the weekend. I would have liked to have spent more time exploring the character stations, but there were just too many people to spend much time there. The set recreations and the costumes were fantastic! We both recommend this to any Downton Abbey fans who are visiting Boston this summer.
Plus, its Back Bay location is close to so many Boston attractions. Be sure to stroll through the Public Garden after your visit and take a ride on the Swan Boats!
More resources for your trip to the Boston area:
- Iconic Boston Food You Need to Try
- How to Get to Boston’s Cruise Port
- Top Things to do in Salem for a Day Trip or Weekend
Are you a Downton Abbey fan? Are you thinking about visiting Downton Abbey The Exhibition in Boston, or have you seen it in another city? Let us know in the comments below!
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