With over 70 castle sites, Northumberland is home to more castles than any other county in England. A testament to the region’s turbulent history, including the infamous Border Wars which raged from the 14th to 16th centuries, the landscape is dominated by former fortresses which invite visitors to step back in time to centuries past.
While some of the castles have disappeared over time, there are still more romantic ruins and resplendent restorations than you could possibly imagine - so you’ll need to take more than a few days’ break if you want to see them all!
From muscular fortresses whose inhabitants inspired the Bard, to a beautiful castle with a magical alter ego, here are a few of our top picks.
History in action for young and old alike
Bamburgh Castle is claimed by many to be the most magnificent coastal castle in Great Britain, and once you see it for yourself, you may well agree. Towering majestically 150 feet above the sea, it still looks every inch of what it once was - the Royal Seat of the Kings of Northumbria. Bamburgh was also a royal city during the 8th century and in 1464 became the first castle in England to succumb to gunpowder in the War of the Roses – you can still see some of the fallen masonry on the village green!
The castle’s imposing position and stunning architecture has made it a firm favourite with the film and television world too. It has featured in everything from Robin of Sherwood to the 2015 adaptation of Macbeth, as well as a starring role in the spooky Most Haunted.
Don’t miss: The chance to explore the 14 public rooms which house more than 2,000 artefacts, including arms and armour, treasured paintings, significant collections of porcelain and fine furniture. There are always friendly and knowledgeable guides on hand to answer any and all of your questions, and an audio tour if you prefer to look round in your own time.
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Romantic relic of the War of the Roses
The dramatic ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle can be seen for miles around, dominating the coastline from its volcanic knoll, just a mile north of Craster. The sheer scale of the castle in its heyday must have been truly awe-inspiring and even today this huge, shattered ruin still has the power to stop you in your tracks. The 14th century sea fortress was once the stronghold of John of Gaunt, defended on two sides by cliffs and on the third by a man-made ditch dug through the solid rock. Its impact really has to be seen to be believed.
In the summer, you’ll hear kittiwakes calling on the Whin Sill stone cliffs, and we suggest going rock pooling at low tide to see sea urchins and star fish, as well as wading birds like oyster catchers, dunlin and redshanks. While visiting the castle, you should take the chance to stroll into the lovely little village of Craster; the whole family can have fun on the Secret Walk Trail which veers off the beaten track and guides you to the spectacular volcanic rock formations.
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Once the historic home of Harry Hotspur
The lion badge that is carved into the walls of the Warkworth Castle is the badge of the powerful Percy family, whose fame and fortune was at its height during the time of Henry Percy, the first Earl of Northumberland. His son, “Harry Hotspur” was immortalised by Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part I.
Don’t miss: Even though the great tower, or keep, was built more than 600 years ago, it is still largely intact and it’s good fun to walk round the circuit of this fascinating fortress, admiring the view as you listen to your free audio tour.
There’s more to Warkworth than just the castle though – you can stretch your legs (and those of the little ones!) by walking just half a mile up river followed by a boat trip across the River Coquet to see the Hermitage. Once the home of monks who prayed for the souls of the Dukes of Northumberland, the Hermitage is accessible only by boat which adds to the excitement. You may even see seals and otters swimming up to this genuine historical curiosity.
Take your time to wander round the shops in the little town and whatever you do, don’t forget to round off your visit with a delicious cone of homemade ice cream from the nearby Morwick Dairy!
Sear cottages near Warkworth Castle.
A magical treat for all the family
No visit to Northumberland is complete without a trip to Hogwarts, AKA Alnwick Castle, where many of the most iconic scenes of the Harry Potter movies were filmed.
Old or young, if you’re potty about Potter then a visit is a must. You can even join the resident wizard professors for a broomstick training session, on the very spot where Harry had his first flying lesson in the film production of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone!
Alnwick Castle is the ancestral home of the Percy family. Ralph Percy, the 12th and current Duke of Northumberland lives in the castle with his family, and its outstanding gardens are the creation of his wife, the Duchess of Northumberland. Don’t miss the chance to take a guided tour of Poison Garden, where you can get wrapped up in the myths, legends and science behind deadly plants.
If that doesn’t tire you out, spend some time soaking up the splendour of the State Rooms, especially the magnificent paintings by some of the great masters, including Canaletto, Titian, Tintoretto and Turner.
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