Known as “England’s last great wilderness”, Northumberland is home to the least populated national park in the country – and this northern county certainly isn’t short of spectacular beauty spots. With miles of beautiful moorland and rugged coastline, vast, sweeping valleys, and more castles than anywhere else in England, there’s plenty to see and do here.
If you’re planning a staycation but prefer to stay away from throngs of crowds and busy tourist spots, Northumberland might be the destination for you. With that in mind, here are eight unforgettable beauty spots to inspire you.
1. Alnwick Castle
While Northumberland isn’t short of imposing and well preserved castles, Alnick is surely the most impressive. Nicknamed the “Windsor of the North”, Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in the UK, and has been featured in many films and TV shows – including appearing as Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter films, and Brancaster Castle in Downton Abbey.
Alnwick has been home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family for over 700 years, but the castle is still open to visitors, and history buffs will be interested to learn about the role this castle has played over the years. Boasting magnificent medieval architecture and an intriguing history that includes dramatic gunpowder plots and famous knights, there’s a lot to see and do here.
The grounds of Alnwick are just as beautiful as the castle itself, and Alnwick Garden is a popular tourist attraction in its own right. After you’ve explored the castle, take a stroll through 12 acres of meandering, magnificent gardens, where you can admire the world’s largest white cherry orchard, wander among roses, or relax on one of the many swinging benches. If you get hungry during your day out, you can even enjoy a delicious meal in the world’s largest treehouse restaurant.
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2. The Farne Islands
Northumberland might be England’s quietest county, but if you really want to get away from it all, then why not visit the Farne Islands, just off the Northumberland Coast? This group of islands has the honour of being Sir David Attenborough’s favourite place in the UK, and if you’re a fellow wildlife enthusiast, there’s a good chance you’ll be similarly beguiled.
These isolated islands are home to 23 varieties of seabirds – from puffins to razorbills – as well as Atlantic seals and dolphins, so there’ll be plenty of chances to spot wildlife. This is a place so wild that you’re advised to wear a hat to protect yourself from dive-bombing Arctic terns! The history of these Islands is just as fascinating, and you can learn about St Cuthbert, who spent 10 years living as a hermit here, as well as Victorian heroine Grace Darling, the keeper of Longstone Lighthouse who famously rescued survivors of the steamer SS Forfarshire in 1838.
You can reach the Farne Islands from the pretty fishing village of Seahouses. In the summer months, you can book a boat trip to the islands with Serenity Farne Island Boat Tours, Billy Shiel Boat Trips, or the Golden Gate Farne Island Tours. The boat ride itself is a wonderful experience, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to spot a pod of dolphins or even a Minke whale during your journey.
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Located in the sweeping Breamish Valley, and surrounded by trees and pastureland, Ingram is one of the prettiest villages in Northumberland National Park, and makes a wonderful base to explore the history and beauty of this unique area. Packed with ancient hill forts and Bronze Age settlements, as well as plenty of picturesque waterfalls and heather-clad moorland, there’s so much to see here.
The village of Ingram itself has existed since before the Saxon times, and its 11th-century Anglican church, St Michael and All Angels, is steeped in history. Just outside the village are many Neolithic hill forts and Bronze Age settlements within walking distance – so if you’re interested in ancient history, you’ll probably want to explore these hill forts and burial mounds that are over 2,500 years old!
If you want to enjoy some hiking or cycling during your break, Ingram has plenty of walking routes and trails to choose from. You can trek to Cochrane Pike to see the remains of four ancient stone huts, pack a picnic, and cycle through Northumberland’s ‘blackland’ moors, or, if you’re one for views, be sure to admire the gorgeous valley vista from Hedgehope Hill. Stargazers will be in their element here too, as Ingram is a designated Dark Sky Discovery Site.
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4. Howick Hall Gardens
If you love relaxing with a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea, then a visit to Howick Hall Gardens should definitely be on your Northumberland to-do list. Howick Hall is the residence of the Grey family, and it was here that the first cup of Earl Grey tea was blended for Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey. To offset the limey taste of the water from Howick well, bergamot was added, and the blend was so popular that Twinings came to market it (though not being particularly business-minded, the Grey family didn’t register the trademark, and so have never profited from their famous tea!).
Listed as one of the top five coastal gardens in the country by BBC Gardeners’ World, as well as ‘Garden of the Year’ by Gardens Illustrated magazine, Howick Hall Gardens is a delight to wander through. The extensive grounds boast a spectacular variety of rare plants throughout the seasons, and in the arboretum, you can enjoy walks through 65 acres of beautiful woodland.
After a day exploring the gardens, you can then enjoy a meal or a snack at the Earl Grey Tea House – washed down by an obligatory cup of Earl Grey tea, of course!
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If you love wandering around characterful towns and villages on your holidays, then you can’t miss the beautiful market town of Morpeth, which is viewed as the gateway to Northumberland National Park. Packed with history and heritage, Morpeth is a place where old meets new, and its winding cobbled streets are lined with traditional shops as well as trendy bars and restaurants.
Located on the banks of the River Wansbeck, there are some lovely walks to take through the town – and if you want to cross from one side of Morpeth to the other, be sure to use the historic Steppe Stones. Famous residents of Morpeth include suffragette Emily Davison, who’s buried in St Mary’s Church, and botanist William Turner, whose eponymous gardens are well worth a visit.
If you’re interested in music, you might want to visit the Chantry Bagpipe Museum, where you can learn about Northumberland’s own musical instrument, the Northumbrian Pipes – and if you fancy picking up some souvenirs, then why not visit the Morpeth Farmers’ Market (every Saturday) and pick up some fresh pies or homemade chutneys? Or, just enjoy strolling through this gorgeous town, and admiring the quiet woodlands and river of its pretty Carlisle Park.
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6. Dunstanburgh Castle
Another one of Northumberland’s most impressive castles is Dunstanburgh Castle – though, unlike the immaculate Alnwick Castle, Dunstanburgh is a dramatic, mysterious ruin. Standing on a remote and windswept headland just a short walk from the lovely village of Craster, Dunstanburgh Castle was enormously powerful during the 14th Century, and its long history includes violent sieges and wars including the Wars of the Roses.
Eventually, the castle fell to ruin, but today it remains one of the most popular – and iconic – sights in Northumberland. Its coastal setting provides a dramatically beautiful backdrop, and behind the huge twin-towered keep, the waves churn beneath the towering cliffs, and seabirds soar through the sky. If you’re looking to get some atmospheric photos while on holiday, this is the place to come!
To get to Dunstanburgh Castle, you can park in Craster village and walk along the picturesque coastal footpath. Craster itself is also worth a visit: you can relax in the harbour and watch the fisherman going about their business, go bird spotting at the Arnold Memorial Nature Reserve, and admire nautical-inspired arts at The Mick Oxley Gallery. If you enjoy seafood, you might want to try Craster’s famous kippers, which are said to be a favourite of the Royal Family!
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7. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne
If you enjoy feeling like you’re cut off from the rest of the world, then why not pay a visit to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne? Located just off Northumberland’s coast, this tidal island becomes out of reach when the tide washes over its causeway – but when it’s accessible, there’s plenty to see on this mysterious and historic island, including an ancient priory, a castle, and plenty of pubs and cafes.
For hundreds of years, Lindisfarne has been a place of worship and pilgrimage, and just like the Farne Islands, it was once the home of St Cuthbert. History enthusiasts will enjoy visiting the 12th century Lindisfarne Priory, which was a core of Christianity in Anglo Saxon times, and often raided by Vikings in the 8th century. Perched on a plateau above the island is Lindisfarne Castle, which you can visit and explore, before enjoying a walk around it to admire the striking sea views.
Lindisfarne is also a great place to spot wildlife, and its tidal mudflats, salt marshes, and sand dunes make up the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, where you can spot all kinds of seabirds as well as sunbathing seals. There’s also a thriving community on the island, with a bustling harbour, shops, hotels, and pubs – just be sure to check the tide times to ensure you don’t get cut off!
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8. Coquet Valley
Another breathtakingly beautiful area in Northumberland is the Coquet Valley. Located beside the rushing River Coquet, which flows through a tapestry of meadows, rolling hills, and moorland, this peaceful spot is just as perfect for a leisurely picnic as a strenuous hike – and there are plenty of lovely cycle trails if you fancy hopping on a bike, too.
As you walk through Coquet Valley you’ll come across many fortified buildings which hint at this tranquil area’s surprisingly violent past. From the 13th to 17th centuries the valley was raided by border reivers – Scottish and English raiders who raided the borders without regard for nationality – and from visiting these defensive buildings you can learn all about Coquet Valley’s history.
Today though, this is a place of beauty and serenity, and once you’ve got your fill of the scenery you can visit the nearby market town of Rothbury. Just as peaceful and picturesque as the countryside surrounding it, Rothbury has a lively high street lined with shops, pubs, and tea rooms. And, its proximity to the Cheviot Hills and Simonside Hills, as well as Coquet Valley, make it an ideal base for exploring Northumberland National Park.
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Known for its dramatic beauty and fascinating history, Northumberland is a wonderful destination for a staycation – whatever type of holiday you’re after. If you’d like to take it easy you can relax on unspoilt beaches, visit romantic castle ruins, and wander through bustling market towns – and if you’d prefer a more energetic break, there’s countless walking and hiking trails, whether you want to explore wild moorland or wind-swept clifftops.
With its famous dark skies and acres of rolling moors, Northumberland is the place to come when you want to get away from it all and experience a sense of freedom and unlimited possibility.
Are you hoping to visit Northumberland this year? Or do you have any of your own Northumberland tips you’d like to share with our readers? We’d love to hear about your holiday plans! Leave us a comment below, or join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum.