The northernmost county in England, Northumberland is loved for its rich history, dramatic landscapes and breath-taking beaches. Lying on the Anglo-Scottish border, it's flanked by Cumbria to the west and County Durham to the south, while the North Sea coastline lies on its eastern side.
WHAT TO DO & WHERE TO VISIT
Gardens & Historical Sites
The iconic Hadrian’s Wall – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – was originally built to guard the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. Today, visitors flock to the 73-mile-long coast-to-coast site to explore its rich history and dramatic views. There are plenty of walking trails to embark on, such as the Sycamore Gap route or the trail to the Housesteads ruins. Alternatively, get lost in the maze of ruins or take a trip to the site’s own museum to discover some ancient treasures.
National Trust-owned Wallington is a Grade I listed country house and garden. It's 13,000 acres of lawns, lakes, woodland, parkland and farmland can all be explored on foot or bike, and there’s also a secret walled garden, which is accessed via iron gates down a stone staircase. Children can let off steam in one of three play areas, and in the wildlife hide, with dogs are also welcome – as long as they're kept on a lead.
The magnificent Bamburgh Castle has stood guard over the Northumberland coastline for more than 1,000 years. With panoramic views over to Farne Islands, Holy Island and the pretty village that sits at its base, there’s plenty to see and do here, including Anglo Saxon and Norman treasures in the stateroom, walking up the majestic Keep and telling stories in the castle's grand centrepiece: the King’s Hall.
The Alnwick Garden
A collection of pretty gardens, The Alnwick Garden is a lovely spot to spend an afternoon. With 12 acres to explore, visitors can wander around the Cherry Orchard, get lost in the Bamboo Labyrinth or enjoy the Serpent Garden’s water sculptures before tucking into a light bite from The Potting Shed or Pavillion Café. In total, the garden contains over 4,000 different plant varieties, with something in bloom no matter the season.
Beaches & Islands
This seven-mile stretch of sand leads right up to the start of the Northumberland Coast Path. A beautiful sweeping bay, there are sand dunes and rock pools to explore, as well as several nature reserves behind the beach itself. Head out on a sea view walk or try your hand at water sports at the nearby Ladyburn Lake, which offers windsurfing, canoeing and sailing courses. There’s an impressive surf here, as well as plenty of room for dogs, who are welcome on the beach all year round.
Situated just off the coast near Seahouses, this scattering of islands is a bird lover’s paradise. They are home to 23 different varieties of birds – including colourful puffins – as well as a colony of seals. Visit in late October to spot the adorable seal pups lounging on the rocks or plan a trip during the summer to see a large array of winged creatures. There are plenty of boat tours around the islands that depart from Seahouses, such as Golden Gate Farne Island Tours. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a bottlenose dolphin.
Ross Beach offers beautiful views over the water and towards Lindisfarne. Approximately three miles of wild dunes and soft sand, this secluded beach is ideal for peace and quiet. Thanks to its remote setting, visitors need to walk along the mile-long footpath from the car park to reach the shore, but visit at the right time and you’ll feel like you have the entire thing to yourself. Birds also rest on the sand here, so be careful not to disturb them during your walk.
Just off Northumberland’s coast lies Holy Island, home to Lindisfarne Priory, an ancient monastery built more than 1,000 years ago. You’ll also find the National Trust-owned Lindisfarne Castle here, which dates back to the 1500s. Holy Island is in the centre of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, so expect to spot several rare plants and birds on the island. It's cut off twice a day thanks to fast-moving tides, so plan your visit in advance to avoid being caught out.
Parks, Forests & Walks
Northumberland Coastal Path
This walking route stretches along Northumberland’s coastline and passes by sweeping beaches, towering sand dunes, pretty villages and dramatic castles. It's 62 miles long, starting at Cresswell in the south and finishing in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The entire walk, which is mostly level, would take roughly three days to complete. For those wanting to just do a piece of it, the route is split into six stages, so there’s something to suit every ability.
The National Park
The Northumberland National Park is the northernmost national park in England. Spanning more than 400 square miles, it covers approximately a quarter of the country. There are several distinct areas to explore, either on foot or by bike, including the Cheviot Hills, College Valley and Otterburn Ranges, as well as beautiful lilac-hued heather moorland. If you’re looking for an adventure, you can also go rock climbing, mountain biking and horseback riding. The least populated national park in the UK, this peaceful spot also offers several wildlife spotting opportunities.
Northumberland International Dark Sky Park
The Northumberland International Dark Sky Park was unveiled in 2013 and makes up part of the wider National Park. One of Europe’s largest areas of protected night sky, visitors journey from all corners to gaze up at the stars. Expect to see up to 2,000 stars, the Andromeda Galaxy and even the Milky Way, as well as shooting stars and the Aurora at certain points in the year. By far one of the best places to enjoy the sparkling English night sky.
Kielder Water and Forest Park
This park is home to one of the biggest man-made lakes in Northern Europe and, at over 250 square miles, it's the largest working forest in Europe. Start your woodland adventure at one of the three visitor centres – Tower Knowe, Kielder Waterside or Kielder Castle – before exploring the vast space. There’s plenty of wildlife to see, as well as cycling routes, hikes and the chance to try your hand at water sports. The park is also peppered with interesting art, architecture and statues, providing visitors with a unique open-air art exhibition.
Towns and Villages
The medieval market town of Alnwick is home to rows of pretty cobbled streets. with an array of independent shops and charming tea rooms for an afternoon pick-me-up. The fairy-tale-like Alnwick Castle – which was used for filming during the Harry Potter movies – can also be found here. A magical place to explore with children, families can book into broomstick training and archery lessons in the castle grounds.
Journey right up to the Scottish Borders to reach Berwick-upon-Tweed. A haven for beach lovers, as well as walkers and cyclists, Berwick is a coastal town with a sandy beach and plenty of riverside walks. It's also home to a selection of art galleries, which host an array of exhibitions throughout the year. A Film & Media Arts Festival also takes place annually, showcasing new and established local talent alongside seminars and child friendly events.
Seahouses is a traditional fishing village within the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Beauty. Wander along the bustling harbour before heading to the beach – a gently sloping stretch of sand backed by grassy dunes. With its prime position near Farne Islands, you can easily hop on a boat tour here. It is also home to several pubs and restaurants, where you can enjoy everything from fresh cockles to ice creams.
This village is where you'll find the iconic Bamburgh Castle, as well as a vast stretch of beach. Fringed by sand dunes, it has plenty of space for families, dog walkers and swimmers. Once voted one of the North East’s best surf spots, it’s also a great location for rock pooling. A must visit for walking enthusiasts, Bamburgh is also surrounded by some impressive hikes, as well as more easy-going trails.
WHERE TO STAY
This relaxing cottage makes for a cosy home away from home. A wood burning fireplace will greet you on arrival, while large windows frame uninterrupted views down to Embleton Bay. There’s just one charming bedroom here, making it the ideal place for a romantic getaway. Enjoy your morning coffee on the deck, with fresh eggs provided by the owner and his hens. For dinner, a warming home-cooked meal can be delivered right to your door, as can beer from one of the local breweries. After supper, settle into the al fresco loveseat and drink in the view while the firepit keeps you warm.
This boutique B&B can be found in Alnwick. A relaxing beachside retreat exclusively for grown-ups, expect comfy beds, fluffy towels and a five-star breakfast. In the winter, guests can cosy up in front of the roaring fire, while summer evenings are often spent in the garden. Just a few moments from the beach, pop over to the water for a sunrise swim or enjoy dinner on the shore before heading back to St Valery for a night cap. This B&B is also dog friendly, with handmade treats, beds and towels for sandy paws.
This pretty restaurant with rooms lets guests enjoy a tasty meal followed by a restful night’s sleep. There are 15 rooms to choose from, all with traditional features and modern touches to ensure a relaxing stay. The garden is also magical, with a lovely terrace where guests can enjoy a sundowner, offering picturesque views across the River Tweed and over the Scottish Borders. This charming inn is also just a stone's throw from a range of walking routes – which four-legged guests will enjoy – as well as some prime fishing spots.
WHERE TO EAT
For fine dining, reserve a table at Hjem, a high-end restaurant inside The Hadrian Hotel. The ideal place for a celebratory meal, it serves up an 18-plate tasting menu created solely with ingredients sourced from local farms and gardens. There are both small bites and larger dishes on offer, all with a fresh Scandinavian feel. The tasting menu costs £85 per person, while the accompanying wine menu is £65. The dry-aged Northumbrian lamb is a must-order.
The Jolly Fisherman
For the freshest seafood, visit The Jolly Fisherman in Craster. Enjoy tasty home cooked meals alongside a selection of local ales, with everything from steak to a famous crab soup on the menu. A characterful pub, inside is warm and cosy while outside there’s a beer garden with glorious sea views. The menu is split up into three categories – land, sea and field – with something to suit every taste. We recommend the sharing seafood platter.
The Potted Lobster
One of the prettiest and cosiest bistros in the county, The Potted Lobster serves up creative and warming dishes that are bound to please. Starters include mussels and the eponymous potted lobster, while mains range from fresh crab salads to lemon battered haddock and a shoulder of lamb. Make sure you leave room for dessert, as you won’t want to miss the salted caramel brownie.
HOW TO GET THERE
It's over 300 miles from London to Northumberland, with the drive taking between four to five hours. Most tourist attractions and historical sites – including National Trust-owned properties – have their own on-site parking, but you can also purchase parking discs in the towns and villages for shorter stays. These cost £1 each and can be bought from libraries, a selection of local businesses – look out for the signs in the windows – or tourist information centres. For those journeying to the area by train, take the East Coast mainline route from London King's Cross all the way to Newcastle, Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick-upon-Tweed. The Northern rail line lets you explore the local area, with Day Ranger and Round Robin tickets starting from £23 per person.
*DISCLAIMER: Always check the latest government guidelines before travelling, even in the UK, as advice is changing daily. Please also ensure you respect social distancing guidelines when visiting public sites – including National Trust properties – and remember to book a place in advance where necessary.