You’re not short of fantastic days out in this beautiful corner of Berkshire County. Here you’ll find three wonderful historic buildings including the nation’s beloved Highclere Castle. On top of that you can swap Newbury for the Amazon rainforest where you can rub shoulders with a sloth before making your way to see reindeer roam free. Confused? It’ll all make sense when you’re done with our local guide to activities in Newbury.
Activities in Newbury
The top attraction in the area is Highclere Castle. This incredible Jacobean country house is the masterwork of renowned architect Charles Barry. It is surrounded by parkland sculpted by England’s greatest gardener, Capability Brown. The estate covers a whopping 5,000 acres, and rather incredibly dates back to 749. Having said that, Highclere Castle as you see it today was built in the 17th century and is widely considered one of the country’s finest stately homes.
If Highclere Castle looks familiar but you’ve never visited before, it may have something to do with the fact it’s a favourite location for films and TV programmes. Fans of Jeeves and Wooster will recognise the estate, while more recently it’s become better known for being the main setting of Downton Abbey. You can follow in the footsteps of the Dowager Countess of Grantham and go swanning around the castle grounds and gardens before having a nosy around the staterooms.
It’s certainly not as showstopping as Highclere, however, Donnington Castle is just as historic, and well worthy of a visit for anyone staying at one of our Newbury hotels. As you can tell from the name, the castle can be found in the nearby village of Donnington. It dates back to the 14th century and was owned by the son of Geoffrey Chaucer – one of England’s greatest poets.
Sadly, the castle only survives in ruins today. To have seen its full glory would have been spectacular. During the English Civil War, this once-mighty fortification withstood an 18-month siege. When it eventually surrendered, Parliament voted to demolish Donnington; the gatehouse you can see today is all that’s left. Thankfully, much of the castle’s impressive earthworks survive, so you can trace its walls and imagine what it might have been like, standing watch with panoramic views across the Berkshire countryside.
Rounding off our trio of historic buildings in Newbury is Shaw House. This fine Elizabethan home was built for Thomas Dolman, an esteemed clothier from Newbury. Shaw House has recently undergone a multi-million-pound restoration project bringing it back to its former glory after years of neglect. It’s now a fantastic place to visit, particularly if you have a couple of hours to kill, and especially because it's absolutely free. There are plenty of information boards for you to read up on the building’s wonderful history. However, we’d recommend arranging your visit around one of the fascinating tours of the house. Your guide will reveal all of the house’s secrets, including the days when it became the headquarters of King Charles I during the English Civil War. Shaw House is just a mile away from our Newbury Town Centre (London Road) hotel. If you’re planning on paying a visit on a weekday, check its website to confirm opening hours.
The Living Rainforest
If you’re in Newbury with family, ten miles from the town centre you’ll find one of the area’s top family activities. The Living Rainforest is an indoor greenhouse full of more than 700 plants and animals. It was once the home of one of Europe’s leading orchid nurseries. However, as well as beautiful flowers, you can now see sloths, monkeys, pythons, toucans, frogs, armadillos and marmosets in this most incredible home for nature. It’s not the biggest place in the world; if you’re expecting anything like the Eden Project, we’d recommend lowering your expectations. However, if you want to see some wonderful wildlife, and delve into a lush tropical rainforest of exotic plants for an hour or two, it’s well worth a visit.
Bucklebury Farm Park
Another popular option for young families and wildlife lovers is Bucklebury Farm Park, a fun deer safari park set in 77 acres of Berkshire countryside in the picturesque Pang Valley. While you’re here you can pay a visit to the farmyard to see rare Berkshire pigs, pygmy and anglo-nubian goats, dexter cattle, ponies, donkeys, and – here’s a special one if you’re staying with us during the festive season – reindeer. The separate deer park is where you’ll find the large herds of red deer, sika deer, fallow deer and axis deer. Visit in spring if you want to bottle feed some baby lambs, goat kids, rabbits and piglets.
Sometimes, when the weather takes a turn for the worst and you're driven indoors for something to do, you simply can’t beat a trip to the cinema. The major cinema chain here in Newbury is the Vue in the Kennet Shopping Centre. Surrounded by shops and fast food restaurants, there are plenty of options if you want to grab a bite to eat before or after. The Vue Newbury has a grand total of seven screens with nearly 1,000 seats. You can catch all of the latest blockbusters with screenings early-til-late seven days a week.