Northumberland is a wild part of England with big landscapes, hidden beaches, rugged coastal paths and the remnants of history. Discover our favourite things to do in Northumberland.
As the border between England and Scotland, Northumberland has walked on the wild side for centuries. Once the largest Kingdom in the British Isles, big landscapes and rugged coastlines contain the battle-scarred remains of generations of history.
Imposing castles – more than any other county in England – hint at the strategic significance Northumberland once had in shaping modern Britain. Lindisfarne Island, known as the cradle of Christianity in Europe, played a pivotal role in religious pilgrimage. Even the Romans staked their claim with Hadrian’s Wall, the sinuous defensive barrier between Scotland and Roman England.
As the least-populated county in England, laze on golden sandy beaches that remain a secret from the rest of the country, stroll quiet fishing villages and roam Northumberland’s rugged coastal paths. At the end of a long day, dine on seafood from the morning’s catch.
As one of the best destinations for outdoor activities, this is wild England with a quiet side.
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IN THIS GUIDE
THINGS TO DO IN NORTHUMBERLAND
1 – PHOTOGRAPH PUFFINS ON THE FARNE ISLANDS
Located just off the coast between Seahouses and Bamburgh, the Farne Islands are an important sea bird sanctuary where a total of around 290 species have been found. At peak times throughout the year, it’s home to upwards of 100,000 pairs of breeding birds, making the Farne Islands one of the best wildlife experiences in the UK, and a wonderful thing to do in Northumberland for nature lovers.
Currently, boats are permitted to land on two of the islands, Inner Farne and Staple, between the end of March and the start of November. As the birds are remarkably tolerant to visitors, it’s possible to get up close to masses of Arctic terns, shags, razorbills, eider ducks and guillemots.
The most famous inhabitant, however, is the puffin. Catch them making their regular journey out to sea and back again in search of food, and their clumsy walk to their nests with a bill full of fish.
On a boat tour to the Farne Islands, take a short loop among nesting birds, spot grey seals on the shores and duck out of the way of shags circling overhead. Peak season is between April and August, see the National Trust website for more information.
2 – STROLL TO CRUMBLING DUNSTANBURGH CASTLE
As an embattled buffer between England and Scotland, the tranquil landscapes of Northumberland are dotted with the remnants of the region’s turbulent past. The most evocative of which is the crumbling ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle.
Set on a remote headland between the villages of Craster and Embleton, Dunstanburgh Castle was the focus of intense fighting during the War of the Roses. Seeking refuge in his castle, The Earl of Lancaster was captured on route and later executed by King Edward II.
Fortunately, the journey to Dunstanburgh Castle today is a far more pleasant affair. From the short walk from Craster, see its magnificent scale come into focus as it lay in ruin beside the dramatic coastline. The three-story Great Gatehouse is the most prominent section today which makes a commanding focal point beside the working farmland that surrounds it.
The best views are from the outside, however, it’s possible to visit the castle and take a poke around inside.
Dunstanburgh Castle / 10am – 5pm | Cost: £6.50, free for Visit England members | Tickets: online in advance.
3 – TAKE A HOLY PILGRIMAGE TO LINDISFARNE
In 635 AD Saint Aidan made the journey from Iona and founded a new monastery on the island of Lindisfarne. Over the centuries it would become a celebrated place of Christian learning. Today, the remnants of this ancient life, together with some fine modern additions, make Lindisfarne an intriguing place to visit in Northumberland.
Tucked into this four-square-mile island are the ruins of Lindisfarne priory; a small castle perched on a rock and the Gertrude Jekyll Garden (Country File 2019 Garden of the year). It also offers two rather excellent tipples. Lindisfarne Mead, a fortified wine that can be sampled at St. Aidan’s Winery, and Pilgrims Coffee, roasted at the café in the village.
Most of the sights are tucked into the southern end of the island, but if you want to see the northern beaches and dunes, there is an excellent 3-hour walk which we cover in our guide to the best walks in the area.
Access is only possible at low tide, so plan your visit so that you can cross the causeway and see all the sights before high tide when the road will be underwater. Check crossing times here.
Lindisfarne Priory / £8.60 (free for English Heritage members) | Hours: change daily due to tide tides, check their website | Tickets: must be booked in advance.
Lindisfarne Castle / £9 (free for National Trust members) | Hours: change daily, check their website. Closed Friday | Tickets: must be booked in advance.
4 – EXPLORE ROMAN HISTORY AT HADRIAN’S WALL
Almost two thousand years old, Hadrian’s Wall runs for 73 miles from coast to coast across England. The most scenic section is in Northumberland where it gallops over dramatic crags and rolling hills.
Along the wall, there are 17 forts that were built to station the local Roman legionaries, 80 guarded posts to control the flow of human traffic, and 158 turrets used to keep watch for invading forces.
Although it would take 4 to 7 days to walk the entire wall you can see the highlights in just one day. All the details are in our guide to visiting Hadrian’s Wall.
5 – HIT THE NORTHUMBERLAND BEACHES
The Northumberland Coast has an enviable stash of beautiful beaches, the perfect destination to base yourself for a weekend getaway in the UK. Here are some of our favourite beaches to explore.
EMBLETON BAY BEACH
For a massive sweep of golden sand, Embleton Bay is a beautiful beach overlooked by the crumbling ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, it’s a wonderful place to enjoy a lazy day with a great view. The medieval village of Embleton is just over the low dunes.
Beadnell is a family-friendly destination perfect for water sports on a naturally sandy horseshoe-shaped bay. KA Adventures hires out equipment and provides lessons on surfing, kite surfing, stand-up paddleboarding and more. The Bait, a small hut in the car park, does one-meal evenings. Try to stick around for Lobster night on Thursdays.
Sugar Sands is a secluded cove surrounded by rocky outcrops and dazzling views. Being a 30-minute walk from either Boulmer or Howick, you’ll most likely have this pristine spot all to yourself.
6 – SAMPLE THE SEAFOOD AT CHARMING CRASTER
Craster is an attractive fishing village full of interest.
Near the tiny harbour, L Robson & Sons is a traditional fish smoker that has been producing the famous Craster Kippers for almost 100 years. Unfortunately, the restaurant is closed for the rest of the year (2021) due to Covid, but you can still pick up their fish to cook yourself.
The Jolly Fisherman is a great pub with a seaside terrace, famous for delivering the freshest Lindisfarne Oysters. It’s the perfect place to finish a walk in the area as the Northumberland Coastal Path passes right through the terrace.
7 – EXPLORE THE GREATEST SANDCASTLE OF THEM ALL AT BAMBURGH
While Dunstanburgh Castle lies in ruins, Bamburgh Castle is still in fine fettle. At its core it is a Norman castle, but its numerous restorations in the 18th and 19th centuries have maintained its menacing presence. Today, it stands proud above windswept grassy dunes and a lovely sandy beach.
The interior is now more like a modern stately home with grand paintings, tapestries, and a snooker table. However, it’s the views of the castle from outside that held our attention the most.
Just beyond the walls lies the small village of Bamburgh. The high street has a grassy section packed with picnickers on a summer’s day. There are any number of pubs, delis where you can get everything from the traditional Kippers-in-a-bun to fancy lobster dishes.
If you time your visit on a Sunday, you may be rewarded with the local cricket team playing directly under the walls of the castle. Is there any more quintessential English scene?
Bamburgh Castle / 10am to 5pm | Cost: £12.50 | Tickets: pre-booked recommended
8 – WALK THE NORTHUMBERLAND COASTAL PATH
Stretching from Cresswell in the South to Berwick-upon-Tweed in the north, the Northumberland Coastal Path passes through some of the most stunning scenery in Britain. The undulating trail heads along golden sweeping beaches backed by windswept dunes and through charming villages with pubs serving locally brewed ales and fish straight off the boat.
At around 100 kilometres, it takes 3 to 6 days to walk the entire path, but it’s entirely possible to pick off some of the finest sections and complete them on shorter day walks.
You can find all our favourites on our best short walks on the Northumberland Coast guide.
9 – POP INTO A GRAND STATELY HOME
Northumberland is blessed with impressive stately homes, making it a popular destination in the UK for exploring the region’s fascinating history.
The English Heritage run Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens contain a grand hall built with pillars inspired by ancient Greek temples. A medieval castle attached to a Jacobean manor house with a Greek Revival villa rounds out the quirkiness. The quarry garden has masses of strange plants growing amongst channels in the rock.
CRAGSIDE HOUSE & GARDENS
The gardens at Cragside House are a mix of mazes, woodlands and trails, but the house is a paean to its owner and industrialist Lord Armstrong. The Victorian inventor packed his home with modern gadgets all powered with hydroelectricity. Keep an eye out for early fire alarms, passenger lifts and even a Turkish bath.
Howick Hall is the ancestral home of Lord Grey. The second earl had tea specifically blended by a Chinese mandarin to suit the water in the well at Howick. Today you get a Twinning’s bag in a plastic cup with UHT milk. Nonetheless, the gardens are best seen from spring to mid-summer.
Read Next — Where to stay in Northumberland
10 – SIP A LOCAL ALE OVERLOOKING THE SEA
As pubs on the coast go more and more upmarket it’s always great to find one that is sticking to its traditional ways. The Ship Inn in Low Newton is a no-frills pub, right next to the sea on Embleton Bay.
On a cold wet day its cosy interior will have you sorted, but when the sun is shining, grab one of the picnic tables on the green outside and watch the tide come and go.
They brew their own ale including a light and refreshing Indian Summer; a medium Newton Gold; and the very dark Squid Ink.
11 – STROLL THE QUAINT STREETS OF ALNMOUTH
Alnmouth is charming a little village. Stuck out into the River Aln estuary it’s a mix of grand old houses peeking over dunes, coloured facades shimmering in the sun and fishing boats lolling in the natural harbour.
The high street is a blast of old England with a lovely church, an old post office and a couple of pubs. Scott’s of Alnmouth provides all the tasty local produce you would need for a picnic and serves Lindisfarne’s Pilgrim Coffee.
It doesn’t take more than an hour to stroll every street, but that’s all it takes to make Alnmouth one of the best places to visit in Northumberland.
Read Next — 15 wonderful things to do in the Lake District
12 – UNCOVER THE JOYS OF ALNWICK
In 2001, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone propelled Alnwick to fame. Scenes for Hogwarts were filmed in the courtyards, archways, and bailey of Alnwick Castle. Potter the grounds where games of quidditch took place and Hagrid took his leave to his hut in the Forbidden Forest.
Just next door is The Alnwick Garden, an ornate 12-acre landscaped gardens. A mix of elegant gardens and showy grandeur, the highlight is the Grand Cascade, a tiered water feature that wouldn’t look out of place in Vegas. The gardens have jumped on the Harry Potter bandwagon with the Poison Garden, but you’ll need to join a tour to explore the 100 intoxicating and narcotic plants. Even if you don’t pay to enter, go to the car park and check out the massive wooden treehouse which functions as a restaurant.
Alnwick town itself is a great place to stay in Northumberland and well worth a quick explore. The backstreets behind the castle are charming and attractive even if the central square is more a haven for cars than people. Make sure you pop into Taste of Northumberland to see all the locally made booze on display and to Barter Books for a huge selection of second-hand books laid out in an old railway station. It’s a hidden highlight and one of the best places to visit in Northumberland.
Alnwick Castle / 10am to 5:30pm (5 Sep to 16 Jul); 9:30am to 5:30pm (17 Jul to 5 Sep) Last entry: 2:30pm | Cost: £18.50 | Bookings: in advance
13 – PADDLEBOARD TO WARKWORK CASTLE
The River Coquet is a lazy winding river as it heads to the coast. Wedged into one of its U-shaped loops high up on the hill is Warkworth Castle. Once home to the Dukes of Northumberland, it’s now a ruined medieval castle that keeps watch over the small market town.
There’s not a lot to see in the castle but it’s worth exploring the area around it. You can either take a short walk along the river (see our Northumberland walk guide) collecting views of the castle and nearby hermitage, or take a stand-up paddleboard tour.
Northside Surf offers 2-hour tours where you’ll get all the gear and if you have no idea, all the training you need as well. It’s a beautiful part of the river and a wonderful thing to do in Northumberland.
14 – READ THE ANCIENT VINDOLANDA TABLETS
Vindolanda is a Roman fort just south of Hadrian’s Wall where the archaeological finds have been remarkable.
The highlight is the Vindolanda tablets. Written on fragments of thin wooden-leaf tablets with carbon-based ink, they date back to 1st or 2nd century AD and include official military matters as well as an invitation to a birthday party. Most of the tablets are now at the British Museum but some still reside at Vindolanda.
You can explore the remains of the fort and chat to the archaeological team digging on weekdays. There’s a small museum on-site that continually adds new items found on the site.
Vindolanda Museum / 10am to 5:30pm | Price: £8.30 | Bookings: online in advance
15 – EAT AT THE FISH SHACK IN AMBLE
Set in a slightly forgotten end of Amble’s fishing port, just ten metres from where the boats bring their catch ashore, is the Fish Shack. Resembling a corrugated ship container, it’s created a lovely cool place for lunch where the emphasis is just where it needs to be, on fresh, simply cooked fish. You’ll get offered whatever they have on the day – our menu had roast sea bream stuffed with lemon and thyme or smoked cod with muscles.
Wash it down with a glass of wine or an ale from Amble’s own Brewis Beer Company – one of the tastiest things to do in Northumberland.
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT IN NORTHUMBERLAND
There are many great things to do in Northumberland, but we like to curate our lists with the best of the best. However, if you have some more time to explore, here are a few other suggestions worth exploring.
Kielder Observatory is surrounded by the second largest area of protected night sky in Europe. This lack of light pollution allows the observatory to run a range of events which usually include educational presentations and a chance to stare into the sky using their whopping telescopes. Just don’t pre-book for a cloudy day.
BERWICK ON TWEED
This town has marked the border between England and Scotland for centuries and has changed hands many times. It’s a bit run down in places, but the highlight is the medieval walls that surround the town and overlook lovely Northumberland beaches.
ROCK POOLING AT RUMBLING KERN OR CRESSWELL
A careful eye rock-pooling can spot crabs, anemones and other creatures lurking amongst pools left behind by tidal waters. The best places to visit on the Northumberland Coast for rock-pooling are at Rumbling Kern and Cresswell. Just make sure you check for low tide times.
This charming market town just south of Hadrian’s Wall is a joy for a few hours stroll. It has the oldest jail in Britain, a lovely abbey, independent shops and an Art Deco cinema.
NORTHUMBERLAND NATIONAL PARK
If you are into the great outdoors, then there are plenty of things to do along the Northumberland Coast. But another wilderness area is tucked just inland. Its miles and miles of rolling hills, remote walking paths and some of the cleanest rivers in England.
MAP / PLACES TO VISIT IN NORTHUMBERLAND
We have included our list of the best things to do in Northumberland on a map to help you find all the main attractions dotted along this rugged part of England.
BEST TIME TO VISIT NORTHUMBERLAND
The best time to visit Northumberland is from May to early July when the days are long and dry, the headlands are dotted with wildflowers, and the school holidays have not yet begun. September and October are also good options.
From mid-July to end of August the weather should be better and the beaches in their prime, however, this is also peak tourist season. Although Northumberland is less busy than many other tourist areas in the UK, if you plan to visit over this time, make sure to book your trip in advance. All our trip tools can be found on our BOOK page.
Winter months can be cold and wet, but if you can book late and wait for a window of good weather, then this could be a great time to do some hiking in the area in lovely winter light.
WHERE TO STAY IN NORTHUMBERLAND
If you are exploring the Northumberland without a car, we recommend staying in Alnwick which has convenient buses to the nearby villages and which can cover many of the attractions listed in this guide.
Read our guide to hotels in Northumberland with more suggestions on the best locations to base yourself for the type of experience you are looking for.
For luxury lodges and cosy cabins with bubbling hot tubs in Northumberland, look no further than Lodges With Hot Tubs.
Good budget self-catering apartments right in the centre of Alnwick from where buses leave to all over the Northumberland Coast.
A Grand old hotel with a beautifully designed interior that is high on style and low on stuffiness. It’s a stone’s throw from Alnwick Castle so you’re well located to explore the area.
Luxurious apartment in the centre of the lovely village of Alnmouth. Modern and bright it is well-appointed, has onsite parking and a lovely garden, making it a great self-catering option.
HOW TO GET AROUND NORTHUMBERLAND
The major attractions in Northumberland are widely spread and many are in remote areas or tiny villages, so the easiest way to get around is in your own car.
Car parks are spread throughout Northumberland in convenient locations for many of these attractions. Parking cost can add up; however, most parking areas use Pay By Phone so you don’t need to have a load of coins with you.
If you are looking to hire a car for your Northumberland trip, we recommend rentalcars.com who compare prices from all the major car rental companies.
Although getting around by car is easier, public transport in Northumberland is pretty good and a fast train service operates along the east coast, collecting many destinations in Northumberland. The major train stations are Newcastle & Berwick-upon-Tweed for the coast and Hexham & Haltwhistle for Hadrian’s Wall.
TRAIN STATIONS IN NORTHUMBERLAND
LONDON TO NEWCASTLE
2 hours, 45 minutes | 35 trains per day
LONDON TO BERWICK UPON TWEED
3 hours, 31 minutes | 15 trains per day
LONDON TO HEXHAM
3 hours, 36 minutes | 44 trains per day
LONDON TO HALTWHISTLE
3 hours, 52 minutes | 34 trains per day
There is a very helpful bus service that connects many of the coastal areas in Northumberland. The 418 runs every two hours (although not on Sunday) connecting Berwick on Tweed with Bamburgh, Seahouses, Beadnell, High Newton, Embleton, Dunstan, Craster, Howick and Alnwick.
The X18 is hourly and connects Alnwick, Alnmouth and Warkworth with Newcastle in the south and Berwick-upon-Tweed in the north.
For Hadrian’s Wall, the AD122 bus runs hourly every day from Easter to the end of October and then at weekends in November and December. Starting at Hexham, it passes Chesters Fort, Housesteads Fort, Once Brewed (for Steel Rigg), Vindolanda, Milecastle Inn (for Cawfield Crags), Walltown and Greenhead before ending at Haltwhistle Station.
MORE NORTHUMBERLAND READING
Northumberland is a scenic part of Britain that’s ideal for outdoor adventures, castle hunting and beautiful under-visited beaches. Here are some more guides to help you plan the perfect Northumberland getaway.
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