Many of the best things to do in Northumberland revolve around its long and tumultuous history that includes Roman, Celtic, Viking and Anglo-Saxon legends. While it’s one of the largest in England, the county is dotted with quiet villages and towns rather than modern cities – great for a relaxing getaway thanks to fewer crowds of tourists.

    Nature lovers can explore miles of hiking trails through deep valleys and rugged moorland, while families can visit stately homes surrounded by flowering gardens. The many castles in Northumberland are reminders of the region's rather turbulent past, as battles and sieges were constant occurrences in medieval times. Escape the city on a road trip to Northumberland with our handy guide below. 

    1

    Alnwick Castle and Garden

    A must-visit for Harry Potter fans

    • Families
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    • History

    Alnwick Castle is a Norman-era country house and Grade I listed building in in Northumberland. It’s home of the duke and his family, making it one of England’s largest inhabited castles – second only to Windsor Castle in Berkshire.

    The castle and adjacent garden are open to the public in summer, offering plenty of family-friendly activities. Fans of the Harry Potter franchise can take part in broomstick lessons between 10.30 am and 4 pm. The Alnwick Garden contains lush gardens, water sculptures, a bamboo maze, and one of the largest treehouses in the world.

    Location: Alnwick NE66 1NQ, UK

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1665 511 100

    Map

    photo by TSP (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    2

    Hadrian’s Wall

    A UNESCO World Heritage site in Brampton

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    • History

    Hadrian’s Wall dates back to 122 AD when it served as a defensive fortification for the Roman Empire. It stretches over 70 miles between Wallsend and Bowness, with forts and outposts about every 5 Roman miles.

    The structure has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, attracting many visitors to Brampton. Hadrian’s Wall is rumoured to have been the inspiration for author George RR Martin’s bestselling Game of Thrones book series. Seasoned walkers often tackle the Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail, an 84-mile-long footpath along the wall that passes quaint villages and notable Roman forts.

    Location: Brampton CA8 7DD, UK

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    3

    Bamburgh Castle

    An 11th-century landmark on top of a volcanic rock

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    • History

    Bamburgh Castle towers 150 ft above the Northumberland coastline and the North Sea. One of the largest inhabited castles in England, its grounds span around 9 acres on a rocky plateau. It was the home of many kings, including Henry VI and James I, before it was bought by Victorian inventor Lord William Armstrong in 1894.

    Now open to the public, Bamburgh Castle houses an armoury, art gallery and several lavish staterooms. A must-see is the King’s Hall, which has a Victorian vaulted teak ceiling installed in the 19th century.

    Location: Bamburgh NE69 7DF, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)1668 214 515

    Map
    4

    Cragside

    A grand estate owned by inventor Lord William Armstrong

    • Families
    • Photo
    • History

    Cragside, located near Rothbury, is the Victorian country home of Lord William Armstrong. Built in Tutor revival style, it’s surrounded by one of the largest rock gardens in Europe, which spans towards an iron footbridge over Debdon Burn. The 19th-century estate was the first in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity.

    Today, it offers many activities suitable for families. Children can explore rhododendron paths and tunnels in Nelly's Labyrinth, while the Power House displays interactive models which you can use to generate electricity. There are also over 30 miles of footpaths and lakeside walks within the grounds of Cragside. 

    Location: Morpeth NE65 7PX, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)1669 620 333

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    5

    Northumberland National Park

    Check out the famous Sycamore Gap tree

    • Adventure

    The Northumberland National Park offers plenty of outdoor activities, from hiking along UNESCO-listed Hadrian’s Wall to stargazing with the naked eye. This protected area spans over 400 square miles of hay meadows, moors, grasslands, rivers and waterfalls.

    One of Northumberland National Park’s most photographed spots is the Sycamore Gap tree, located in a steep dip near Hadrian's Wall. It’s even featured in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Stargazing events often take place at the Cawfields and Walltown Dark Sky Discovery Site. Thousands of stars, the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy are visible on clear nights – you don’t even need a telescope.

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    6

    Hexham Abbey

    Discover the abbey's history at its permanent exhibition

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    • History

    Hexham Abbey is an Anglo-Saxon church founded in AD 674, with additions between the 12th and 20th centuries. It has a well-preserved crypt that dates back over 1,300 years, which has intricate frieze patterns and inscribed stones from Roman ruins in the area.

    The Grade I listed place of Christian worship has a permanent exhibition detailing its history. A must-visit is the Night Stair, a series of 35 stone steps rising from the abbey’s south transept. Visit the gallery at the top for views of the church organ, transepts and Victorian stained-glass windows.

    Location: Hexham NE46 3NB, UK

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1434 602 031

    Map
    7

    The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

    A place of pilgrimage off the Northumberland coast

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    • History

    The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a prominent pilgrimage site of Celtic Christianity. The tidal island dates back to the 6th century AD, famous for being the birthplace of the Lindisfarne Gospels, a manuscript gospel book.

    One of the island’s most prominent landmarks is the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory. You can learn about its history in its onsite museum – its collection includes Anglo-Saxon stone crosses, grave markers, and ceramics. There’s also the 16th-century Lindisfarne Castle, which is open for casual visits and overnight stays. It usually opens from mid-February to early November.

    Location: Berwick-upon-Tweed, UK

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    8

    Seaton Delaval Hall

    Explore the formal Rose Garden of this Grade I listed country house

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    • History

    The Seaton Delaval Hall is an 18th-century baroque country house in Northumberland. The elegant estate is the work of architect Sir John Vanbrugh, with its halls and rooms decorated with stucco statues, paintings, and antique furnishing.

    Visit the Long Gallery to see portraits of the Seaton Delaval Hall’s previous occupants, and the Old Kitchen to check out 16th-century German suits of armour. Feel free to explore the surrounding gardens, which also date back to the 18th century. The estate is just over 1 mile west of the coastal village of Seaton Sluice.

    Location: The Avenue, Seaton Sluice, Whitley Bay NE26 4QR, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)191 237 9100

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    9

    Chillingham Castle

    A medieval stronghold with many chilling stories

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    • History

    Chillingham Castle dates back to the 12th century, originally a monastery and military stronghold before it was owned by English baronet Sir Humphry Wakefield in 1982. It’s surrounded pristine lakes and formal gardens, including a topiary garden. If you want to stay the night, 8 self-catering apartments are available in the castle and its nearby Coaching Rooms.

    Today, you can explore sections of the castle via guided tours and holiday events. Join the evening ghost tour to explore the torture chamber and dungeons – disembodied voices of sightings of apparitions have been reported over the years.

    Location: Chillingham, Alnwick NE66 5NJ, UK

    Open: Daily from noon to 5 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1668 215 359

    Map
    10

    Farne Islands

    Home to puffins, grey seals and Arctic terns

    • Families
    • Photo

    The Farne Islands are a cluster of 15 to 20 uninhabited islands off the coast of Northumberland. From spring to autumn, boats depart from Seahouses Harbour to National Trust-owned islands such as Longstone, Inner Farne, and Staple Island.

    Birdwatching is a must-do on the Farne Islands – see thousands of puffins and Arctic terns, especially between mid-April and late-July. The islands also have a large colony of seals, so visit in late October to see white seal pups resting on the pebbly beaches. 

    Map

    photo by Pontificalibus (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveler

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