Five of the best castles in Northumberland

5 of the best castles in Northumberland not to miss

As the battleground between England and centuries of Scottish and Viking invaders, Northumberland has seen some fierce fights. So it’s no wonder that you can’t move far in the county without coming across a castle. There are over 70 castles in Northumberland, and that’s just the ones still standing, which makes it a must-visit region of the UK for any history lover. But where to start? Here are five of my favourite Northumberland castles to help you find your perfect match, whether you like them ruined and remote, or lavish and perfectly preserved.

Read more: A weekend in Alnwick, Northumberland: A 48-hour itinerary

Five must-visit castles in Northumberland

Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland

Ruined Dunstanburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle: The dramatic one

Towering above the coastline and the village of Bamburgh from the top of a volcanic outcrop, there’s no missing Bamburgh Castle. It began life as a Celtic fort and was home of the kings of ancient Northumbria, but it’s been destroyed and rebuilt a few times since then.

The Norman castle forms the heart of the site but most of what you can see today was built at vast expense by Victorian industrialist Lord Armstrong, and his descendants still live there now. Bamburgh Castle stretches over nine acres with great views from the battlements down to the long sandy beach below and out to the North Sea, Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands.

Sixteen of its rooms are open to the public, with something like 2000 different items of art, furniture, armour and china on display. There’s also an archaeological museum showing some of the Anglo-Saxon finds that have been uncovered around the castle, and an aviation museum with a display of old planes, wartime artifacts and the history of the Armstrong family.

Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland

Bamburgh Castle

More things to do in Bamburgh: Take a walk through the dunes to sandy Bamburgh Beach, visit historic St Aidan’s Church and call in to the Grace Darling Museum, dedicated to the Victorian lighthouse keeper’s daughter who rescued survivors from a paddle steamer after it was shipwrecked off the Northumberland coast. Wyndenwell café makes a good stop for ice cream, coffee and cake, or the Potted Lobster restaurant specialises in local fish and seafood.

Bamburgh Castle interiors

Bamburgh interiors

Chillingham Castle: The spooky one

Built in the 12th century, Chillingham Castle has been owned by the same family since the 1200s. It was King Edward I’s base on his way to battle with William Wallace’s Scottish army and has hosted plenty of royal visitors. But it’s the castle’s uninvited guests which have made it famous.

It’s claimed Chillingham is Britain’s most haunted castle, and its paranormal activity has attracted visits from TV spook-hunters Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters International. When you walk through its dungeons and torture chambers, and hear the grisly tales of the people who were executed here, you can see how it got its creepy reputation.

The castle was lovingly restored by its current owners after being abandoned in the 1930s, and you’ll find their eccentric collection of curios on show, with prehistoric elk horns and Antarctic expedition sledges among tapestries and suits of armour. Or take a ghost tour to see if you can spot the White Pantry Ghost, the Ghost in the Chamber or hear the Voices in the Chapel.

Chillingham Castle in Northumberland

Chillingham Castle

More things to do in Chillingham: Chillingham is pretty tiny but you can take a look around St Peter’s Church or there’s the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association, a parkland sanctuary for ancient breeds of wild cattle which you can take a guided tour around. There’s a café in the Minstrels Gallery at the castle, serving lunches and afternoon teas, or it’s not far to Alnwick.

The exteriors of haunted Chillingham Castle

Spooky Chillingham

Alnwick Castle: The lavish one

The second biggest inhabited castle in England after Windsor and probably one the most famous castles in Northumberland, Alnwick Castle has been home to the Dukes of Northumberland for over 700 years. It’s still used as their family home, but this is a house on a seriously lavish scale, whose ornate interiors were refurbished in the 19th century in Italian Renaissance style.

On the castle’s stateroom tour you see its silk walls, gold and silver details, elaborate carved ceilings and one of the country’s best private art collections. Not to mention a double-level library with 14,000 books. Alnwick’s storybook good looks mean it’s had its share of film and TV fame, including as Hogwarts in Harry Potter and in the final episode of Downton Abbey.

There are tours of the staterooms, grounds and Alnwick’s film locations as well as exhibitions about Alnwick’s past residents, who range from gunpowder plotters to famous knights. There are plenty of of family-friendly events too, like broomstick training sessions for Harry Potter fans as well as have-a-go archery, magicians, court jesters and falconry displays.

Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England, a Harry Potter filming location

Alnwick Castle

More things to do in Alnwick: Next to the castle is the recently restored Alnwick Garden, with fountains, formal walled gardens, a maze and poison garden. There’s also a gorgeous treehouse café and restaurant in the grounds. Or call into the White Swan for a drink in the bar, where the original interiors from the Titanic’s sister ship have been reconstructed. And bibliophiles definitely don’t want to miss the giant, eclectic Barter Books second-hand bookstore.

Alnwick's lavish interiors

Lavish interiors at Alnwick

Lindisfarne Castle: The remote one

Perched on a rocky peak on an island that’s accessible only when the tide is out, you can’t get much more remote – or well protected – than Lindisfarne Castle. This unique Northumberland castle began life as a 16th-century fort, and was partly built using stone from Lindisfarne Priory after it was destroyed in Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. For 300 years the castle was used as a lookout, first for garrisons of soldiers from Berwick and later for the coastguard.

In 1901, an Edwardian publishing magnate bought the castle to transform it into a holiday retreat. He was the owner of Country Life magazine so had it renovated in the latest Arts and Crafts style by his friend, architect Edwin Lutyens. You can still see a lot of Lutyens’ original interiors, and there’s also a walled garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll, and another clever bit of recycling where old boats have been turned upside-down and used as storage sheds.

Lindisfarne Castle in Northumberland

Lindisfarne Castle

More things to do in Lindisfarne: Not all of the stone from Lindisfarne Priory was pinched to build the castle, and you can explore the part of the ruins that’s still standing. You can find out more about the island’s history and the Lindisfarne Gospels at the Heritage Centre. Stop off at the Pilgrims Coffee House and Roastery to refuel with tea and cake, or try some local mead (a kind of wine made with grapes, honey and herbs) at St Aidan’s Winery.

Boats turned sheds on Lindisfarne Island

Boats turned sheds

Dunstanburgh Castle: The ruined one

Set on a remote, windswept coastal headland, Dunstanburgh Castle just needs a brooding hero in a billowing white shirt emerging from its ruins to be straight out of a romantic novel. The castle is surrounded by sheer cliffs on one side and a rocky, wave-battered shoreline on the other, with the outline of a twin-towered keep rising up above crumbling ruins.

It’s hard to imagine now, but in its day this was one of the most impressive castles in Northumberland. Dunstanburgh was built in the 14th century by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, on the site of an old Iron Age fort, but was badly damaged during the Wars of the Roses. Since then its ruins have inspired writers and painters like Turner, who came to capture the views.

Dunstanburgh is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest as a home for birds and wildlife, and you can spot Kittiwakes and other sea birds nesting in the cliffs. You can only reach the castle by foot along a 1.3-mile coastal pathway from Craster or Embleton, which stops it getting too busy, so if you’re lucky you can still get your own romantic moment.

Walking along the coast path from Craster to Dunstanburgh

Walking along the coast

More things to do in Dunstanburgh: There’s not a lot more to Dunstanburgh than the castle, but follow the coast path in either direction for stunning coastal scenery. Nearby Craster is famous for its kippers, and you can pick some up fresh from the smokehouse at L Robson & Sons. Or try one of the area’s other seafood specialities – crab sandwiches at the Jolly Fisherman pub. And local artist Mick Oxley has a gallery and studio in Craster featuring his seascapes.

Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland

Dunstanburgh Castle

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Five of the best castles in Northumberland, England, you don't want to miss, whether you like them ruined and remote, or lavish and perfectly preserved | Castles in Northumberland | Things to do in Northumberland | Northumberland castles | English castles | Best castles in England5 must-visit castles in Northumberland in Northern England, including Alnwick, Bamburgh, Lindisfarne, Chillingham and Dunstanburgh – the best things to do in Northumberland  | Castles in Northumberland | Things to do in Northumberland | Northumberland castles | English castles | Best castles in England

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  • Reply
    March 7, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    Northumberland is somewhere I’d love to explore properly. The wild coast and castles are sleeping tempting, so this is really useful for my wishlist!

    • Reply
      March 7, 2016 at 3:50 pm

      It’s such a beautiful area – amazing beaches and landscapes plus so much history, My sister has just moved up to Edinburgh so I’m hoping to do a bit more exploration in the future as it’s not far at all.

    • Reply
      April 24, 2020 at 5:52 pm

      Its fascinating me to visit. One day I will definitely come with my family to see Percy family. That’s my wish list. Wow what beautiful castle…amazing.

  • Reply
    Emma Fox
    March 7, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    We did a tour of the castles six years ago before children. It was a lot of fun. I liked Lindisfarne the most – it was quite spectacular on a cold, wet and foggy autumnal day.

    • Reply
      March 7, 2016 at 6:13 pm

      Lindisfarne is lovely – we left ourselves get stranded there for a few hours and did a big walk past the priory and castle and along the coast. Can imagine it gets a bit bleak in the middle of winter though!

  • Reply
    March 7, 2016 at 9:01 pm

    gorgeous castles!

    • Reply
      March 8, 2016 at 9:01 pm

      Thanks, there are some beautiful sights in the area!

  • Reply
    March 8, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Such gorgeous photos. Nice to see my home being showcased 🙂

    Bamburg is my favourite, but I do have a bit of a soft spot for Alnwick too.
    Other Northumberland castles you should visit: Warkworth (especially in the summer when they have events and reenactments) and Prudhoe. I believe both of those also belong to the Percy family (the ones who own Alnwick castle). And of course there’s the castle keep in Newcastle, although that isn’t Northumberland.

    • Reply
      March 8, 2016 at 9:04 pm

      The Percys have a lot of castles! There was a lot to see in Alnwick and we had a beautiful day, but I do like the spookier, ruined castles. Thanks for the tips of others to visit too, I will check them out next time I’m in Northumberland – loved our stay up there, such stunning landscapes.

      • bevchen
        March 10, 2016 at 3:19 pm

        If ruined castles are your thing, Tynemouth Castle is a nice one (not Northumbelrand though… but Tyne and Wear is close enough!).

  • Reply
    March 25, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    oohh nice! Just one question, whatever happened to your like button.

    • Reply
      March 25, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      Good question – I did some plugin updates recently so that might be why, will have a look into it!

  • Reply
    Jaillan Yehia
    June 8, 2019 at 6:37 pm

    I was born in Newcastle and these places bring back some lovely memories for me, especially Bamburgh Castle, because it reminds me of the famous Geordie song, The Blaydon Races, which my mum used to sing to me!

    • Reply
      June 11, 2019 at 12:29 pm

      Ah glad to bring back some good memories, I have a lot of love for this part of the UK.

    • Reply
      Phil Martin
      April 30, 2020 at 7:35 pm

      Except Bamburgh Castle isn’t mentioned in the Blaydon Races

    • Reply
      May 6, 2020 at 3:36 pm

      The Blaydon races refers to the music hall (now pub) named Balmbras which is on the Cloth market (next street along from Bigg market)

    • Reply
      John Gordon King
      January 27, 2021 at 12:06 am

      Bamburgh Castle doesn’t actually feature in the sound The Blaydon Races, and is often a misconception of people not from the area. The line in the song to which you’re referring is “We took the bus from Balmbra’s and she was heavy laden”. Balmbra’s was an old music hall in Newcastle which was popular for many years.

  • Reply
    Dylan Jones
    June 9, 2019 at 9:59 am

    I travel a lot up to North Yorkshire but have never headed further up to Northumberland. I love exploring castles and it’s so interesting to read about the history. Bamburgh Castle looks majestic, but for me there is something about castle ruins that drum up a lot more imagination about how these places would have been. Definitely need to add these places to my list.

    • Reply
      June 11, 2019 at 12:29 pm

      So many historic sights in Northumberland, it’s definitely one of those parts of the UK which deserves to be better known (though it’s also good that it isn’t too busy!).

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    June 9, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    Northumberland is a great park of the UK for exploring castles. I’ve only seen two of them so might have to make a trip back. I’d love to visit Alnwick Castle.

    • Reply
      June 11, 2019 at 12:31 pm

      Alnwick is amazing, so lavish inside, and the gardens are brilliant too.

  • Reply
    alison abbott
    June 10, 2019 at 3:56 am

    I love reading your posts. I’ve never been to the UK and live vicariously through all your wonderful writing. Surely Northumberland and its castles will have to be on my list. And those boats turned sheds-genius bit of upcycling!

    • Reply
      June 11, 2019 at 12:35 pm

      Thanks Alison, glad to introduce you to some new parts of the UK!

  • Reply
    Ann Moody
    June 10, 2019 at 7:01 am

    Dunstanburgh has been the first one in my bucketlist, until I visited in the last summer. Awesome! and never forget to buy the famous Craster kippers, watching the wading birds, Saddle Rock, wild flowers like the purple bloody cranesbill, and Marram and lyme grass grow on the sand dunes!

    • Reply
      June 11, 2019 at 12:35 pm

      The Craster kipper are so good! I missed out on Dunstanburgh on my first couple of trips to Northumberland so was really glad to finally make it there.

  • Reply
    Sally Akins
    June 10, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    I’ve never been to Northumberland yet, but I love visiting castles so it looks like a trip is definitely on the cards. I’m amazed by how well restored some of the castles are – Bamburgh looks particularly gorgeous

    • Reply
      June 11, 2019 at 12:36 pm

      If you like castles then you’d love it – such a good range too!

  • Reply
    July 9, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    What a nice castle! Outstanding design and wonderful view. Thanks for share with us.

    • Reply
      July 21, 2019 at 8:49 pm

      You’re welcome!

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