A weekend in Alnwick, Northumberland

How to spend a weekend in Alnwick in Northumberland, England, with tips on what to see, do, eat and drink on a 48-hour escape to this beautiful stretch of coastline with its castles, beaches, gardens and seafood.

Rolling hills, sandy beaches, tiny islands, medieval castles and fantastic seafood – just a few of the reasons why Northumberland is one of my favourite places in the UK. This part of the country just south of the Scottish border is home to one of the UK’s most beautiful stretches of coastline – so you’d think it’d be packed with people too. But there’s so much space around here you’ll have no problem finding a peaceful spot – whether you’re soaking up the sun or hibernating by the fire. So relax, take a deep breath of fresh sea air and join me for the perfect weekend in the pretty town of Alnwick in Northumberland.

Read more: Northumberland for castle lovers

Seabirds in Northumberland, England

Seabirds at Dunstanburgh

Friday evening

Check into the gorgeous Cookie Jar in Alnwick, a former convent that’s been converted into 11 luxurious rooms and suites. The interior designer worked for Hotel du Vin and it’s got that same luxe feel with dark walls, stylish prints, classic furniture and interesting artworks and curios. Rooms start from £160 but the showstopper is the Chapel suite, an old chapel with arching beamed ceilings and stained-glass windows in the bathroom. They also have a small bistro with a creative three-course dinner menu for £39.50.

Or if that sounds a bit pricey, The Plough in Alnwick is a historic coaching inn that dates back to 1896. Inside it has a hunting lodge meets contemporary style décor with seven rooms starting from £99 a night, bed and breakfast. The inn has a comfy bar with 40 different gins on the menu, and a restaurant which serves seafood sourced by their sister pub in nearby Craster and game from local Northumberland estates.

Barter Books in Alnwicjk, Northumberland, England

Brilliant Barter Books

Saturday morning

Start the day with a trip to Barter Books – aka ‘the British Library of secondhand bookshops’. Alnwick’s Victorian train station has been transformed into a book-lovers’ paradise, with thousands of books, maps and manuscripts covering every subject you could possibly think of. It’s a real warren of a place, with lots of cosy nooks, fireplaces and armchairs to curl up in with a book (and if you want to take one away then you can either pay or barter with another book). The old station waiting room has been transformed into a café which is a great place for a late breakfast/early lunch – the Northumbrian rarebit’s a favourite.

Next head over to Alnwick’s Castle and Garden (entry £26.10 for adults, £22.20 for concessions and £11.15 for children 5–16, but you can save a bit by booking online and tickets are valid for a year). Start off in the Alnwick Garden, which has recently been restored, redesigned and replanted. The original Capability Brown-designed formal gardens were overgrown and abandoned, so a new garden was created featuring a rose garden, cherry orchard, giant waterfall, water sculptures and bamboo maze. Don’t miss the fascinating Poison Garden – a chance to get up close (but not too close) to some of the world’s deadliest plants.

Alnwick Gardens in Northumberland, England

The Alnwick Garden

Saturday afternoon

Alnwick Castle has been home to the Dukes of Northumberland for over 700 years. From outside it’s a perfectly preserved, storybook castle, all golden stone turrets, towers and lush green lawns. So perfect it’s a film location favourite, featuring in Downton Abbey and Harry Potter. Potter fans can take broomstick flying classes in the same spot as Daniel Radcliffe, or there’s Dragon Quest, dungeon tours and archery sessions. Inside the castle is just as lavish, and a tour of the state rooms takes you past priceless artworks, sparkling gilt and carved ceilings. It’s still home to the Percy family though so it doesn’t have that dry, museum feel.

Pop into the White Swan pub in Alnwick for a pre-dinner drink – the unlikely resting place for the interiors from the SS Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic. When the ship was dismantled in the 1930s the fittings were auctioned off and some were bought by the pub’s owner. The two ships were almost identical so it’s the nearest you can get to being on board the Titanic. There’s a revolving door from the ship’s restaurant, its grand oak staircase and wood panels, ceilings and stained glass from the first-class lounge.

Head back to Anwick Gardens for dinner at the Treehouse Restaurant, set among the branches in one of the world’s largest treehouses (make sure to book in advance). Climb up through wobbly bridges and twisting tree trunks into a magical woodland wonderland draped in fairy lights. The menu features local fish, meat and seafood – and don’t miss the ‘Deadly Jane’ cocktails, created by the Duchess of Northumberland.

Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England

Alnwick Castle

Sunday morning

Blow away any cobwebs with a morning walk along the coast to Dunstanburgh Castle. Where Anwick is picture-perfect, Dunstanburgh is a total contrast – remote, ruined and windswept. To get there you follow the coast path for about a mile and a half from Craster, seven miles north-east of Alnwick. The castle was one of the grandest in England in the 14th century, but the War of the Roses left it worse for wear, and the Northumberland weather finished off the job. Now it’s an atmospheric ruin that’s inspired writers and artists. Entry is £5 for adults (£4.50 concessions, £3 children and free for English Heritage or National Trust members). Opening hours vary through the year, but if it’s closed you can still take a look from outside.

Back at Craster, refuel with some of the area’s fresh seafood. The town is famous for its crab, so grab a picnic table with a sea view in the garden at the Jolly Fisherman pub and choose between their rich crab soup or a doorstop-thick crab sandwich packed with silky crab meat. Just across the street you’ll find another of Craster’s fishy specialities – kippers from L Robson & Sons. They’ve been smoking herring and salmon in the same smokehouse for over 130 years, and have a shop where you can buy some to take home.

Craster crab sandwiches in Northumberland, England

Craster crab sarnies

Sunday afternoon

Next head three miles south to finish off the weekend at Howick Hall Gardens and Arboretum (entry £7.70 for adults, £6.60 concessions and children free). The estate has been the ancestral seat of the Earls Grey since 1319 – including the second, tea-loving, ex-prime minister Earl. You can’t go into the house but you can take a walk around the pretty gardens and arboretum. And of course there has to be a cup of tea in there somewhere. The Earl had his special tea blend made with bergamot to hide the taste of lime from the well water on the estate and it was a big hit (though not with me, I think it tastes like soap!). The hall’s Earl Grey Tea House serves up soups, sandwiches, scones and cake along with cups of Earl Grey.

Dunstanburgh Castle in Alnwick, Northumberland, England

Dunstanburgh Castle

Have you visited Northumberland? Do you have any tips to add on what to see, do and eat?

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How to spend a weekend in Alnwick in Northumberland, England, with tips on what to see, do, eat and drink on a 48-hour escape to this beautiful stretch of coastline with its castles, beaches, gardens and seafood. #Alnwick #Northumberland #weekend

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  • Reply
    February 28, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    I really want to visit Alnwick Castle! All the Harry Potter related activities are right up my alley! Great write up on Northumberland.

    • Reply
      February 28, 2018 at 8:09 pm

      I probably shouldn’t admit this but I’ve never read the books or seen the films! One day I’ll finally catch up – and spot lots of places I’ve visited!

  • Reply
    Confuzzled Bev
    March 1, 2018 at 9:11 am

    YAY, Northumberland!
    One of my cousins had a birthday party in the tree house at Alnwick Gardens. I think he was 6 or 7?

    I think Early Grey tea tastes (and smells) like perfume.

    What to see in Northumberland? SO much! Hadrian’s Wall, all the castles, the Farne Islands (although I haven’t been for years), Lindisfarne, Cragside House and Gardens, Roman forts – Vindolanda is my favourite, Wallington Hall (my dad used to work there!). Go hiking around Rothbury. I could go on, but I won’t. And eat stotties (special type of bread) – to be full on traditional they should be filled with ham and pease pudding 🙂

    • Reply
      March 3, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      Ooh you’ve mentioned a lot of my favourite places! I love Cragside, particularly when the flowers are in bloom. Seahouses is also my absolute favourite for fish and chips!

    • Reply
      March 5, 2018 at 11:24 am

      That’s an amazing birthday party venue! Definitely so much to see in Northumberland – I’ve still to make it to Vindolanda and there’s a few more to add to my list there, hopefully it won’t be too long until I can make it back up again.

  • Reply
    March 3, 2018 at 8:01 am

    Thank you so much for this! I’m going to head up this way once I’m back from New Zealand so this guide is perfect – no further research is necessary…yay! xx

    • Reply
      March 5, 2018 at 11:27 am

      Fab! Hope it comes in useful – and have an amazing trip home.

  • Reply
    March 3, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    I love Northumberland and Alnwick is one of my favourite places to go. Barter books is great and Alnwick Garden is absolutely gorgeous. I’ve still not made it to Howick Hall but think it will have to be next in the list.

    • Reply
      March 5, 2018 at 11:28 am

      I could just move into Barter Books and never leave! Love this part of the world and hopefully can make it back up soon to explore some more.

  • Reply
    March 8, 2018 at 10:00 am

    I know I sound like a broken record, but I do admire your photo consistency — they always look sharp and crisp with vivid colors! I have to admit that this part of England was a place I didn’t really know much about, but your photos and description make it go up on the list of places I want to visit should the chance to go back to the UK arise.

    • Reply
      March 9, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      Ah thank you! It took me a bit of time to get to grips with changing camera but I really love the XT-1 now and so pleased with the results. There’s such great light in Northumberland too (if you can avoid the showers!).

  • Reply
    Thrifty Mumma
    March 8, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    Oh I love Alnwick and the castle is so beautiful. It sounds like you had a wonderful time exploring Northumberland. It really is a beautiful part of the country to visit. Great post!

    • Reply
      March 9, 2018 at 9:08 pm

      Love this part of the world – just wish it was a bit closer!

  • Reply
    Sara @ Travel Continuum
    March 9, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    Oh wow! Northumberland is home to Northumberland International Dark Sky Park – the largest Dark Sky Park area of protected night sky in Europe & I’m planning a visit soon. What I hadn’t considered was a ‘cosmos and coast’ twin-centre break, as I knew nothing about the coast – so thanks Lucy, you’ve given me a fabulous idea!

    • Reply
      March 9, 2018 at 9:31 pm

      Ooh that sounds like a great plan! I haven’t been to the Dark Sky Park yet but that’d one for next time.

  • Reply
    amanda obrien
    March 10, 2018 at 9:13 am

    So many great things to do in this post! I love the sound of the book shop like a train station and nothing like a boutique hotel in a former convent! Thick crab soup also sounds delicious!

    • Reply
      March 15, 2018 at 11:24 pm

      Barter Books is so amazing – I could just move in!

  • Reply
    Kathryn @TravelWithKat
    March 11, 2018 at 10:46 am

    As you say, there are so many reasons to go yet I’ve still never made my way here. There’s so much of the UK I’d love to see (let alone the rest of the world) but how I’m going to fit it all in!

    • Reply
      March 15, 2018 at 11:22 pm

      I know what you mean – cross one place off the list and add five more!

  • Reply
    alison abbott
    March 11, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    The light in Northumberland is exquisite! You’ve outlined so many reasons to spend some time here. I think Dunstanburgh castle would be at the top of my list and I would love to wander the grounds and then have a picnic of coaster crab sarnies with a lovely bottle of wine!

    • Reply
      March 15, 2018 at 11:21 pm

      That sounds like a fabulous day! The light up there really is lovely – it’s a wonderful place to photograph.

  • Reply
    Victoria @TheBritishBerliner
    March 20, 2018 at 7:59 am

    ‘Love this. Really nice!

    • Reply
      March 23, 2018 at 7:52 pm

      Thanks – it’s a fab place!

  • Reply
    March 25, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    I’ve never been to Northumberland, but now I know I definitely need to visit Alnwick Castle!

    • Reply
      March 28, 2018 at 5:23 pm

      Hope you get to make the trip sometime soon!

  • Reply
    May 7, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    Great post! I can’t believe I’ve never visited Northumberland, it looks fab. I love discovering new places in the UK, they’re often overlooked in favour of more exotic foreign locations but there are so many nice places to visit. I’ll definitely be looking into that treehouse restaurant, that’s right up my street!

    • Reply
      May 8, 2018 at 10:30 am

      The treehouse is amazing! Northumberland has so many fab places to explore – just wish it was a bit closer to home for me!

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