As the most northern county of England, it would be easy to overlook visiting the Northumberland coast in favour of southern seaside resorts. As we all know, staycations are the new vay-cay, but it can be tricky to know where to start when it comes to planning your trip. But trust us when we say that you’ll never be short of places to visit or things to do in Northumberland. With more castles than any other county in England, the largest protected area of night skies in Europe and 30 miles of barely-disturbed beaches, here’s our guide to the top Northumberland destinations and picnic spots for 2021.
When it comes to castles in Northumberland, you’ve got 70 to choose from. A testament to its turbulent but remarkable past - including the infamous Border Wars which raged from the 14th to 16th centuries, Northumberland has more castles than any other county in England.
Towering 150 feet above the coast, Bamburgh Castle has seen its fair share of both gruesome battles and breathtaking sea views. In 1464, Bamburgh became the first castle in England to fall to gunpowder during the War of the Roses. And in the Victorian era, inventor, innovator and landscape genius Lord William Armstrong restored the castle into the incredible, looming coastal landmark you can see today.
Spanning 9 acres of land, Bamburgh Castle is one of the largest inhabited castles in the country. With continual occupation on the castle’s site for thousands of years including a succession of kings from Henry VI to James I, The Armstrong Family currently resides there with - some say - the ghost of a lady in pink.
Looking for a staycation where you and the family can truly disconnect? We’ve got just the spot.
Simply cross the dramatic causeway to reach the magical island of Lindisfarne and lose yourself in the wild coastal world of Holy Island. Its splendid isolation is exactly what appealed to the monks hundreds of years ago and continues to appeal to millions of visitors today. Cut off from the mainland twice a day by rising seas, be aware when planning your trip that it’s very important to check the safe crossing times.
Uncover Lindisfarne’s often-forgotten industrial past where a busy lime industry operated during the late 19th century. Along with the massive Lime Kilns, networks of trackways remain leading to all parts of the island, making this a great destination for some rejuvenating explorations.
For views you won’t forget in a hurry, (carefully) climb the high ridge for breathtaking coastal views of the Farne Islands and across to Bamburgh Castle. Or, if steep hillsides aren’t quite your thing, you’ll get just as wonderful a view - and equally as windswept - from down at Holy Island harbour.
You’ll feel a million miles from civilisation when you step foot on Holy Island and explore the incredibly rousing and dramatic ruins of Lindisfarne Priory, built by the ancient monks nearly 1,400 years ago.
Wander through the arches, climb the night stairs and breathe in the invigorating Northumberland sea air. You can’t miss the Rainbow Arch, a remnant which has remarkably remained standing despite the central tower above it collapsing over 200 years ago. The remote island setting adds to the unique atmosphere of the priory, cut off from the world and reached by a causeway only visible at low tide.
Wildlife lovers will relish the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, where tidal mudflats, sandbanks and salt marsh lagoons attract vast amounts and variations of birds - and, of course, hundreds of bird-watchers, particularly in the autumn and winter months.
Grey seals are commonly found in the waters and on the rocks around the isle of Lindisfarne, so keep your eyes peeled for bobbing shapes in the sea!
For a closer encounter with the seal colony, as well as puffins (in season) and the nature reserve’s internationally important wintering bird populations, look into the Farne Island cruises, which can either take you around or onto one of the islands. You may even catch a glimpse of a whale or some dolphins if you're’ lucky.
From broomstick training to spectacular state rooms, gruesome grounds tours and magical scientific experiments, ‘something for everyone’ has never been truer than it is when it comes to Alnwick Castle. Since 1309, this is a castle that’s served as a military outpost, a teaching college, a refuge for evacuees, a silver screen film set and - today, a family home.
From blockbuster movies to binge-worthy TV dramas, Alnwick castle has been a huge hit with Hollywood stars and household names. Alnwick Castle most recently featured in Transformers: The Last Knight and as the magnificent Brancaster Castle in Downton Abbey's 2015 and 2016 Christmas specials, but is most popular for playing the role of Hogwarts* (*internal squeal!) in the first two Harry Potter films, as well as appearing in Elizabeth and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, amongst others.
The brainchild of The Duchess of Northumberland, Alnwick Garden is a multi-award winning destination that you simply must visit when planning your trip to Northumberland. 12 acres of meandering and magnificent gardens, 50 swinging benches, the world’s largest Tai Haku Cherry Orchard, an adventure mini golf course, a Grand Cascade consisting of 120 water jets, a poison garden filled with around 100 toxic, narcotic plants, and the world's largest Treehouse Restaurant makes this a destination not to be missed.
And if you like your lunch portions large, head to the nearby Barter Books - a rambling, quirky secondhand bookstore with open fires, armchairs, model trains and the best sausage sarnies and chunky, hand-cut chips that we’ve come across.
Featured in The Guardian’s ‘20 best travel discoveries of 2020’, Berwick-upon-Tweed is a self-proclaimed ‘town of contrasts [...] where England meets Scotland and the land meets the sea.’
Formely Scottish, but now proudly English, Berwick combines stunning natural scenery and coastlines with a highly cultural centre.
“This is a place full of unexpected sights and unexplored places. Adventuring down alleyways, stumbling upon hidden courtyards, climbing up a sand dune, peering down at medieval remains - there's always a view you haven't seen or a story you haven't heard.” - visitberwick.com
If possible, enjoy a pint amongst friendly locals in The Curfew Micropub, visit cinema and live arts venue The Maltings, peruse the various art galleries and enjoy your picnic somewhere along the picturesque pier before heading down to the infamous red-and-white-striped Berwick lighthouse.
Berwick-upon-Tweed is also the starting place for the Northumberland Coastal Path which ends in Cresswell Bay some 62-miles away to the south.
Considered the ‘gateway to the Northumberland coast’, Seahouses is a small but bustling fishing village, with a really picturesque harbour. Take a boat trip to the Farne Islands, one of the UK’s top wildlife experiences or follow in Prince Charles’s footsteps and enjoy a pint (or two) at the historic Olde Ship Inn.
This is a spot for rockpooling, seal-spotting, horse-riding on pristine sands or simply enjoying a picnic while looking out to sea. If you’re after a taste of something a little more local in your packed lunch, head to Swallow Fish - the UK’s oldest operating smokehouse that was established in 1843 and still dishes up everything from smoked kippers to locally-caught shellfish straight from the North Sea.
With over 1,000 acres to explore and 14 waymarked routes, you certainly won’t struggle for a perfect walk or prime picnic spot at Cragside. From a gentle stroll through the Pinetum to a hike through the heart of the estate, visitors can explore Cragside’s extraordinary Victorian house (the first in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity and feature the first proper installation of the electric light bulb), undulating gardens, stunning views and expansive woodlands.
Inside, Cragside house is crammed full of ingenious gadgets – most of them still working, while outdoors, the Pinetum is a colossal collection of conifers planted to recreate a North American forest landscape in the northern valley of Northumberland.
From calming forest bathing to clambering amidst one of the largest rock gardens in Europe, Cragside is a real feast for the senses. Kids will particularly enjoy exploring Nelly's Labyrinth, a mysterious maze named after a reputed local witch, which provides the perfect place to play hide-and-seek as well as make music on the turtle drum and sit in the storyteller’s chair.
For a picnic as special as the Cragside surroundings, why not order a takeaway Afternoon Tea from us in advance? Packed with lovingly handmade sweet and savoury goodies, the only thing you'll have to worry about is peckish seagulls and jealous passersby.
For a stunning and secluded picnic spot - look no further than the iconic Sycamore Gap. A 3-hour circular walk starting from the visitor centre to the Roman Fort and along the World Heritage Roman wall footpath will lead you to the Sycamore Gap, where you can enjoy magnificent views, natural wilderness - and a well-earned picnic.
The Cheviots are packed full of hidden delights. Millions of years ago, lava cooled to form these distinctive rounded and rolling hills that straddle the Anglo-Scottish border. And there’s a bit of something for everyone amongst them.
Which hardy hiker wouldn’t fancy a photo opportunity at Northumberland’s highest point? At 815 metres, you can see as far as the Lake District from the summit on a clear day and even - some claim - Edinburgh.
Or, if you’re more fond of a ham sandwich than a hike, head for a picnic and a paddle in the tucked-away ponds of Wooler Common or the Breamish and Harthope Valleys. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of otters in the shallow rivers while you tuck into your al-fresco feast.
Don’t leave without visiting Linhope Spout, a wild and wonderful waterfall located inside the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park. This spectacular natural waterfall tumbles 18 metres down a rock face to the plunge pool below. Take a walk along the burn and see the ‘bottomless’ plunge pot, beneath the tall spout in a pretty glade that’s ideal for picnics.
For a 2-hour, dog-friendly walk with some prime picnic spots en route and a waterfall at the end to make it all worthwhile - take a trip to Hareshaw Linn.
Here, you’ll head along paths and old quarry grounds, past a small waterfall, up some steps, through the kissing gate and into the ancient Linn woodland filled with oak, hazel, elm and ash. Catch your breath, take a selfie or tuck into your packed lunch on the curved stone seat, before walking over the first bridge to ‘Cupid’s Bower’ overlooking the waterfall.
Continue on over 3 more bridges, past entrances to 2 old mine shafts, discover towering Douglas firs planted by the Victorians before reaching the sixth bridge, where a Victorian bandstand once existed for picnics, music and storytelling. This is where you’ll find Hareshaw Linn waterfall. Its depth and dampness give the feel of an ancient rainforest – ideal conditions for the 300 species of mosses, liverworts and lichens that live amongst it.
For a unique spot off the beaten track and some serious respite from the same 4 walls, discover Dilston Psychic Garden.
Wander up a country lane in a panoramic stretch of Northumberland to find this hidden, quirky garden on the banks of a winding river. Dilston Physic Garden is brimming with over 700 cutting-edge medicinal plants used throughout history. Learn all about their medicinal usage, as well as the science, bioactive ingredients and folklore that makes them so magical. Filled with special collections of science-backed plants that boost memory, mood and sleep, the garden is also an ideal spot for wellbeing and unwinding. But try not to get too sleepy - this is also the perfect place for a picnic with friends and family.
Relax on the clinically calming chamomile lawn with a cup of hot chocolate or something soothing from the garden’s takeaway range of botanical infusions. Wander the labyrinth, medicinal meadow or 100 willow coppice – dedicated to the most-used medical drug in the world, soak up the sun at the sundial seat or simply be soothed from watching the wind sculpture.
Make a wish at the Cloutie Tree, stop by a TimeSpace collection to see plant medicines from around the world and visit The Physic Shop for local botanical products including teas, tinctures, oils and balms. Children can visit the witches' den, follow the Explorer Trail, join a potion club, play croquet and giant chess or plant a magic bean, as well as meet botanical sculptures Mandrake, Mugwort, Belladonna and Angelica.
Whether you’re interested in miles of dedicated mountain bike tracks, a spot of star-gazing in Europe’s largest protected area of night skies, a ride on Europe’s first zipcoaster, watersports on northern Europe’s largest man-made lake or simply a wander through Europe’s largest forest, Kielder Water & Forest Park is easily one of Northumberland's best destinations.
The Lakeside Way is a 26 mile multi-user trail, suitable for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and wheelchair users, that encircles the shoreline of Kielder Water. While Kielder Water & Forest Park is a haven for wildlife and home to around 50% of England’s native red squirrel population. In 2009, 3 chicks were born to a record-breaking osprey couple - the first birds for at least 200 years to successfully raise chicks in Northumberland. You can also spot a range of rare and special wildlife including the pipistrelle bat, roe deer, salmon otter and water voles.
For a luxurious glamping staycation, Kielder Waterside offers a range of modern, self-catering forest lodges with access to an indoor-heated swimming pool, sauna, restaurant, bar and the Kielder Water Birds of Prey Centre.
If an active staycation is more up your street, you can take part in any of the following at Kielder Waterside:
Or head to Calvert Kielder for climbing walls, zip wire, King Swing, high ropes course and other adventure activities that are perfect for both big and small thrill-seekers.
Famed for having the darkest night skies in England thanks to minimal light pollution, Kielder Water & Forest Park is a star gazers’ heaven. Home to the Kielder Observatory alongside Northumberland National Park who have gained Dark Sky Park Status, there’s simply no more remarkable or romantic a destination to visit in Northumberland At nearly 580 square miles, the Northumberland and Kielder Water and Forest International Dark Sky Park is the second largest area of protected night sky in Europe.
Famed for having the darkest night skies in England thanks to minimal light pollution, Kielder Water & Forest Park is a star gazers’ heaven. With skies so dark that the Milky Way and even the planet Jupiter can cast shadows, there’s simply no more remarkable or romantic a destination to visit in Northumberland (or the UK, for that matter!)
Over the past 25 years, the landscape around Kielder Water & Forest Park has also become home to a unique collection of visual art and architecture.
Discover unique open-air art experiences located at sites around the lake, in the forest and within Northumberland National Park:
Take the winding Northumberland Coastal Route and head to Alnmouth for a picture-perfect village situated within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The sandy beach is relatively untouched compared to busy tourist spots like Tynemouth and Whitley Bay, so it’s a perfect choice for family trips, beach games, picnic lunches, as well as both sunrise and moonlit strolls.
With colourful cottages, fire-warmed pubs, modern restaurants, delis serving up delicious takeaway goodies (perfect for the beach), a very picturesque golf course and a couple of brilliant beer gardens, Alnmouth is the epitome of a small but mighty destination. We also recommend visiting the Old School Gallery for a beautiful selection of original artwork and prints in a really lovely setting.
Ran by the same owners, complete your trip to Alnmouth by staying in their lovingly-designed coastal camping huts on the beach. With gorgeous views of the sea, toasty log-burners, a super comfy double-bed, small kitchen and prime access to St Oswald’s Way coastal path, you’ll have the perfect base for exploring the area.
Craster is famed as being the home of the oak-smoked Kipper, popular with the British Royal Family and visiting foodies alike. But there’s far more to this picturesque village than its particularly fishy delicacy.
Go rare-bird spotting in the Arnold Memorial Nature Reserve, owned by the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, browse seaside-inspired artwork and crafts at The Mick Oxley Gallery, or just sit at the harbour and - in the words of Bob Fox - watch the boats come in.
Complete the 4-mile coastal walk to and from Craster and the ragged, romantic ruins of 14th-century Dunstanburgh Castle, before rewarding yourself with fresh seafood and stunning views at The Jolly Fisherman gastropub. Don’t forget to try their famous crab soup before tucking into your kippers.
If you find yourself taken with the local, legendary dish, just one original smokehouse remains where you can bag yourself some smoked produce along with fresh fish and indulgent pâtés.
A little further south is the hidden cove of Rumbling Kern, once the haunt of whisky smugglers bootlegging their contraband up and down the coastline, it’s now an award-winning secret beach, incredible sunrise location and perfect picnic destination.
3 miles south of Amble, Druridge Bay is one of our absolute favourite Northumberland destinations and picnic spots. With miles of sand dunes and beaches, a series of nature reserves and a Country Park surrounded by the 100-acre Ladyburn Lake, it’s a wonderful place to wane away a slow, summer day.
Druridge Bay Country Park has a cafe serving up hot drinks, a play park for the little’uns and plenty of seats, benches and picnic tables. You can swim in the lake if you’re feeling brave, or simply sit on the grassy banks and watch the hardened windsurfers and kayakers take to the water during April-October.
A network of paths allows you to explore the whole park, while discovering wildlife and lovely landscapes en route. The walk around the lake is roughly 1.5miles and includes a set of popular stepping stones that take you from one side to the other - with some great photo opportunities along the way (as long as you’ve got good balance!)
The locals would probably prefer it if we kept Warkworth beach a secret, but we simply couldn’t leave it out of our list of Northumberland destinations. This beautiful, dune-filled, sandy beach is unspoilt and rarely busy. A 15-minute walk from the ancient village of Warkworth on the banks of the River Coquet, there’s also a golf course here with coastal views that are hard to beat. It’s a perfect place for dog-walking as well as secluded sunrise picnic breakfasts while taking in stunning views out to the RSPB nature reserve at Coquet Island.
With its pretty cobbled streets, charming boutique shops and beautiful landscapes, the historical village of Corbridge is a must-visit Northumberland destination.
Corbridge was once a thriving Roman town where civilians and tradesmen would mingle with soldiers on their way to Hadrian’s Wall. Today, Roman ruins can still be seen and visitors can explore what’s left of the town and learn about Corbridge Roman life.
Corbridge high street is famed for its shopping. Discover a quaint cluster of boutique craft shops, characterful gastropubs and traditional tearooms. Whether you’re partial to upcycled homeware, local artwork, designer clothing or homemade produce, Corbridge is full of eccentric finds. Don’t leave without dipping into Forum Books, an award-winning independent bookshop based in a listed chapel selling a wonderful selection of hand-picked literature.
And of course, for the ultimate, edible handmade treats, head to our very own award-winning Grant’s Bakery for everything from indulgent raspberry and white chocolate flapjacks to lovingly-made lemon meringue pie and traditional Northumbrian pasties.
The Angel offers proper British pub food, local real ales and quaint, cosy bedrooms ideal for your staycation. If you fancy a tipple in Corbridge, head to Pele Tower Pub. This incredibly unique microbrewery serves up locally-brewed craft beer within a beautiful, converted 14th century tower.
We’re certain you’ll agree that Northumberland is a scenic, vibrant and diverse destination for both staycation trips and memorable, al-fresco picnics. Wherever you choose to visit, we guarantee that once you’ve experienced a piece of Northumberland - its rich history, delicious food, friendly locals and stunning coastal landscapes - you won’t stay away for long.
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