things to do in alnwick

The Best Things to do in Alnwick Northumberland

A visit to England’s most northerly county wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Alnwick.  This small, but lovely town is the traditional market town of Northumberland, dating back to around 600 AD.   The town is most famous for Alnwick Castle, the ancestral seat of the Earls of Northumberland and the town was a staging post on the Great North Road from London to Edinburgh.   The main route north, the A1 has bypassed the town for decades, which brings an element of peace to a lovely, mainly stone-built central area.   Alnwick is a fabulous place to base yourself for a visit to Northumberland – and whatever your interest you’ll find plenty of things to do in Alnwick.

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The town of Alnwick is named for the river Aln and the old English word “wic”, which means dairy farm or settlement.   The River ALN rises at Alnham (14 miles by road from Alnwick) and ends when it empties into the North Sea at the small village of Alnmouth on Northumberland’s east coast.    The town of Alnwick is dominated by Alnwick Castle, the second-largest inhabited castle in England (after Windsor Castle) – and is famous for having starred in many films including Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and Harry Potter.  And while visiting Alnwick’s Castle will definitely take time there are some excellent places to visit in Alnwick and some fabulous things to do in and near the town.

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The Best Things to do in Alnwick, Northumberland

Alnwick has some excellent hotel and holiday cottages to rent.  There are cafes and restaurants here if you don’t want to self-cater and several cosy pubs too.  Be sure to start with a visit to Alnwick Castle and then plan the rest of your visit to Alnwick with our guide here to the best things to do in Alnwick.

Take a Walking Tour of Alnwick

Exploring the town of Alnwick with a guide in your ear is a perfect way to understand the history and layout of Alnwick. And it’s super easy with this – self-guided audio tour! It’s easy to download, and lets you explore Alnwick at your own pace. You’ll visit the marketplace, explore the old Alnwick Garden and learn about the history of the town. The guide will steer you to Barter books, the castle and all the other places of interest that you’ll read about below! Plus it comes with a map too! Download your audio-guided tour of Alnwick here!

Visit Alnwick Castle

Alnwick is Northumberland’s most famous and well-known castle.  And in a county that has 70, that’s no mean feat!  Alnwick is the most famous because of its starring role in the Harry Potter movies, Downton Abbey and Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.  Today Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England (after Windsor Castle) and remains the family home of the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland.    There’s a huge amount to see and do at Alnwick Castle.  You’ll definitely need a full day to visit.  And you’ll also want to pre-book any tours if you have a specific interest in the film location tours, here are our top tips of what to see and do at Alnwick Castle.  We wrote more about Alnwick Castle in our guide to the castles of Northumberland here.

  • Visit the double-level library of 14,000 books at Alnwick Castle.
  • Take a stateroom tour of Alnwick Castle and see the Italian Renaissance style staterooms with elaborately carved ceilings, silk walls and a stunning private art collection.
  • Take a film location tour of Alnwick Castle and visit where the flying car belonging to the Weasley Family of Harry Potter fame crashed.
  • Take a broomstick training class while in Alnwick
  • Visit the exhibitions of the history of Alnwick Castle’s previous residents and plotters.
things to do in northumberland alnwick castle

Alnwick Castle is located right in the middle of the town of Alnwick and you cannot miss it.  If you’re staying in Alnwick, then we’d recommend leaving your car at your accommodation and walking.   There is a charge of £3 to park at the castle.

It’s best to prebook your visit and any tours that you might want to take and you do that directly with Alnwick Castle.

Alnwick Castle is open only during the summer months – and closes from 1st November until the Spring – although the gardens are open year-round. 

Visit Alnwick Garden

The Alnwick Garden is the brainchild of the current Duchess of Northumberland, Jane Percy.   The idea of the garden was conceived in 1996 and the first part of the new garden opened in 2001.  The Rose Garden, Grand Cascade, Ornamental Garden and the Woodland Walk formed this first part of the project.   Additional projects followed and the garden now also includes the world’s largest Taihaku cherry orchard.  The gardens cover 42 acres and include more than 4,000 plant varieties and seasonal blooms. Alnwick Garden is one of the best gardens in Northumberland – we wrote about them all here.

You can always find out what’s in bloom here – and it’s worth taking the time to visit

  • The Taihaku Cherry Orchard – comprising 392 cherry trees which bloom for around two weeks from the end of April to the beginning of May.
  • Alnwick Garden’s Rose Garden:  June and July are the best times to visit to see the more than 300 highly scented roses.
  • The Treehouse – the largest wooden treehouse in the world – the structure is built around 16 mature lime trees, which grow through and into the building.  It’s a special place for a glorious meal, a wedding or a special event.
Alnwick Gardens things to do in northumberland

Prebook tickets – or even become a friend of the Alnwick Garden and visit more regularly.  Special event tickets are required for events like Halloween at Alnwick Garden or Christmas at Alnwick Garden.

Visit the Poison Garden at Alnwick Castle

Along with your entry to Alnwick Garden is access to the specially gated area of the Alnwick Poison Garden.    Here you’ll find 100 toxic, intoxicating, and narcotic plants.   You can only visit the Poison Garden on a guided tour.  There’s no smelling, touching or tasting and of the plants – although some visitors do occasionally faint from inhaling some of the fumes from the plants in the Poison Garden!

things to do in northumberland alnwick poison garden

Explore Barter Books in Alnwick

Located in Alnwick’s old Victorian railway station, this bookstore was opened in 1991 and receives more than 350,000 visitors a year.  It’s often described as the British Library of second-hand bookshops.   The building was built in 1887 and was the main railway station in Alnwick until the Alnwick branch line closed in 1968.   The name of the shop comes from its use of a barter system – customers can exchange their books for credit against future purchases.  You can also buy books traditionally.  For cash. 

Barter Books is also famous for being the re-birthplace of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” trend of posters, books, mugs and so on that has swept the world.  The owners, Stuart and Mary Manely bought a box of old books at auction and discovered an original World War II poster – an original Keep Calm and Carry On – and an entire worldwide merchandising theme was born.

things to do in northumberland barter books

There is also a famous writers’ mural by local artist, Peter Dodd, which consists of 33 life-sized figures of famous writers.   The figures in the mural were selected by Mary Manley and it took two years to complete the 40 feet x 17 feet piece of artwork.  Adding to the murals in Barter Books is also a children mural and the characters from world literature mural.   

And as if you wanted more there’s a café, a roaring fireplace, a running model train and comfy armchairs in which to sit and get engrossed in your literary finds.  If you like books, you’ll LOVE Barter Books – and you’ll also love our selection of Northumberland’s best books.

Finally, Barter Books now has its own ice-cream parlour.   The Manley’s redesigned the former Stationmasters office and the former Lamp Room so there’s a display room for the ice cream and cakes and also a seating area too.  The ice cream comes from local Wheelbirks Farm’s Jersey cows.

Visit the Baliffgate Museum in Alnwick

The Baliffgate Museum is a volunteer-run museum in the heart of old town Alnwick – close to the Baliffgate entrance to Alnwick Castle.         The museum is housed in the old St Mary’s Church and since 2002 has provided an area to put the heritage of Alnwick and her surroundings on display.  The museum has always been volunteer-run and includes educational displays that showcase the heritage and art and crafts of the area.    You can easily while away several hours here and it’s great as a rainy day activity.  The Baliffgate Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday and tickets cost £4 for adults and £1 for children aged 5-16.  Under 5’s are free.  There’s more about the Baliffgate Museum here – including details of temporary exhibitions.

Visit and Eat at The White Swan Hotel

The White Swan in Alnwick on Bondgate Within is a Grade II listed, 300-year-old coaching inn with a glorious arcade and decorated windows.   The most distinctive feature, however, of the inn is the Olympic Suite.   This room is furnished with the interior decorations from the RMS Olympic – and are virtually identical to those that were on the RMS Olympic’s sister ship, the RMS Titanic.  In 1822 the White Swan was the principal inn at which all coaches stopped on the Great North Road.

The Olympic Suite – an almost 4-metre high room measuring 18 metres by 19 metres – has panelled walls and decorated ceilings.  The room incorporates panelling, mirrors, a ceiling and stained-glass windows which were removed from the RMS Olympic when she was being dismantled in Jarrow in 1936.    Algernon Smart, the hotel’s owner had been a frequent traveller on the RMS Olympic and took part in the ship’s auction of the fixtures and fittings in 1935.    He had the winning bids for areas of the First Class Lounge, the D deck bannister from the Grand Staircase, the Aft First Class Staircase, and the revolving door from the liner’s restaurant.

Olympic Suite The White Swan Hotel Alnwick

So, if you’d like to dine in what is essentially a period replica of the Titanic First Class lounge, then Alnwick is where you need to come.  You’ll need to book, but it’s a unique dining experience here at the White Swan Olympic Restaurant.  (here’s a sample menu) – you can also take afternoon tea here or a sumptuous breakfast.   Chefs at the White Swan use seasonally available produce and showcase the best of Northumberland’s food.   

Play Golf at Alnwick Castle Golf Club

Alnwick Castle Golf Club is one of 33 golf courses in Northumberland and is located less than a mile from the centre of Alnwick.  This is a stunning 18 hole parkland golf course and they welcome visitors.  Tee times can be booked in advance and buggy and trolley hire is available.  More information on golfing in Alnwick is here.

Visit the Fusiliers Museum of Alnwick

The Northumberland Fusiliers Regiment was raised in 1674 and provided services until 1968 when the regiment was amalgamated with Fusilier regiments from London, Warwickshire and Lancashire to form the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.  The museum is located within a tower of Alnwick Castle and is open from 1100 until 1700 during the Alnwick castle opening seasons.   Your ticket to Alnwick Castle includes your access to the Fusiliers Museum.   The Museums displays the history from the origins of the regiment in 1674 to the present day and is presented through the stories and voice of a soldier from recruit to veteran.  More information about the Alnwick Fusiliers Museum is here.

Visit Hulne Park, Northumberland

Hulne Park is the last remaining of three huge parks on the Alnwick Castle estate.  It’s still privately owned by the Earls of Northumberland, but is open to the public and includes a network of circular walking trails through the park.  Hulne Park covers thousands of acres and was one of the family hunting grounds.  It was in the 18th century that landscape architect Capability Brown was hired to remodel the parkland.

There are walking trails here for all fitness levels, but the land is still used as a grazing area for cattle and sheep so no dogs are allowed here.  Cycling is also not permitted. Hulne Park is open from 1100 to sunset each day and both entry and parking are free.

Plan your route using the Ordnance Survey OS Maps app – easy to use and you can download the map data to your phone. Try a free trial for a week or buy monthly.

As it is privately owned, Hulne Park may be closed for special events – always check before visiting – and you can see details of openings as well as Hulne Park trail maps here.

One of the trails goes to the Brizlee Tower – it’s a 26 metre high Gothic  Revival tower. The tower is generally only open for special occasions, but views from the top are incredible.  Brizlee Tower was built in 1781 by Hugh Percy, the 1st Duke of Northumberland, in memory of his wife, Lady Elizabeth Seymour.

See the Lion Bridge, Alnwick, Northumberland

The Lion Bridge, Alnwick is the most famous bridge over the River Aln.   Alnwick’s Lion Bridge was built by John Adam for Hugh Percy, the first Duke of Northumberland.  It’s in the Gothic Revival style.  The Lion in question is the Percy Lion, sculpted by John Knowles.   The Lion was restored in 1944 after a fairground wagon knocked it into the river.  

Lion Bridge things to do in northumberland

See the Hotspur Statue in Alnwick, Northumberland

You’ll find the Hotspur statue in Pottergate, Alnwick. This bronze statue is of the legendary knight Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy.   It was unveiled in 2010 to commemorate 700 years of occupation of Alnwick Castle by the Percy family.  Hotspur was the name given to Sir Henry Percy, born in 1364 (or 1366, records as a little vague).   Hotspur was the eldest son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland.  His nickname indicates he was somewhat impulsive and he acquired a reputation for being a great warrior.  After fighting the French and the Scottish he led a rebellion against the English King, Henry IV in 1403.  Hotspur was defeated and killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury when he was hit in the mouth by an arrow.  He was buried in Shropshire but later exhumed to quash rumours that he was still alive.  His body was then displayed in Shrewsbury impaled on a spear (he was after a traitor to the Crown), the body was later cut into four quarters and sent around England.  His head was stuck on a pole at the gates of York.  Hotspur is mentioned in some of our favourite books about Northumberland.

Visit Alnwick Market

You’ll find fresh produce, local crafts and a whole lot more at the weekly Alnwick Markets.  There’s also a local produce and makers market on the last Friday of the month.  Located in Alnwick Market place in the centre of town, the markets in Alnwick are open

  • Thursday 0900 – 1700
  • Friday 0900 – 1600
  • Saturday 0900 – 1600

Where to Stay in Alnwick Northumberland

The town of Alnwick is a great place to stay and base yourself for a visit to Northumberland.   Hunker down in a cosy hotel, pub or B&B or pick out a stunning apartment or holiday cottage.  Here are our recommendations for the best Alnwick accommodations. If you need more recommendations, then our guide to the best places to stay in Alnwick is here.

Self Catering Holiday Cottages in Alnwick

You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to finding houses, apartments, and cottages in Alnwick. Whether you’re interested in a cosy central cottage or even a historic TOWER in the centre of Alnwick here are our favourites.

Stay in Pottergate Tower, Alnwick

Imagine saying I went to Alnwick and stayed in a Gothic Tower! Pottergate Tower is a glorious Grade II listed tower in the centre of Alnwick with stunning views over the town and castle. The tower sleeps 2, and is the perfect place for a romantic weekend away. It is stunningly decorated and furnished! Check prices and book your stay in a TOWER now!

Fox Cottage, Alnwick

Sleeping 6 people in 3 bedrooms, Fox Cottage, close to the centre of Alnwick is a lovely place to stay for your visit. The lounge is comfy, the kitchen is seriously well equipped and the property also welcomes dogs. There’s a washing machine, dishwasher and offroad parking for two cars! Check prices for Fox Cottage Alnwick and book now!

Hotels in Alnwick Northumberland

These hotels in and around Alnwick are fabulous places to stay for the night or longer.

  • The Hogs Head Inn Alnwick – A great option on the outskirts of Alnwick. This full accessible Inn welcomes walkers, cyclists, people and dogs! With comfortable rooms and an onsite restaurant this is a great option for staying near Alnwick > check availability and book now
  • The Cookie Jar – Alnwick. The Cookie Jar was formerly the Convent of Mercy and is right in the centre of Alnwick. There’s a fully licensed residents lounge, super fast WiFi and 24 hour front desk. Each room has a private en-suite with a rainfall shower. Hypnos beds and flat screen TVs and you also get tea and coffee facilities and a jar of cookies! – reserve a room at the Cookie Jar now!

Things to do near Alnwick Northumberland

Alnwick is a great place to base yourself – try a holiday cottage for the ultimate flexibility and then explore the area around Alnwick, this part of the country really is glorious.  Here are some of the best options on what to do near Alnwick.

Visit Alnmouth from Alnwick

This small seaside town is just 4 miles, or 10 minutes drive from Alnwick – you can also get the bus here (details here).  Alnmouth is where the River Aln empties into the North Sea – and there’s a lovely sandy beach here along from the river mouth.  You’ll also find the smallest museum in Northumberland – the Ferryman’s Hut.  It was originally used as shelter by the ferrymen who use to row visitors across the river mouth but hasn’t been used for that since the 1960s.  The museum has photos and memorabilia of the last ferryman and his predecessors.  There are great views of the coastline from the St Cuthberts Cross on Church Hill and the Alnmouth Golf Club is the 4th oldest in England. Mainly though, come to Alnmouth to spend a day on the gorgeous sandy beach!

visit alnmouth

Visit Holy Island from Alnwick

Linked to the mainland by a tidal causeway you’ll want to seriously check the tide tables before heading to Holy Island or Lindisfarne.  It’s a fabulous place to spend a day, or longer with Lindisfarne Castle to explore as well as some great walks and some super local mead to stock up on. > Read more about the best things to do on Holy Island here

Visit Bamburgh and Bamburgh Castle from Alnwick

It takes around 30 minutes to drive from Alnwick to Bamburgh and you’ll want to visit this gorgeous village.  There’s a stunning castle, fabulous village cricket in the centre and a superb museum about the heroine of the area, Grace Darling.  A visit to Bamburgh Castle can take most of the day, so pack a picnic, or head to the tea room there for lunch – check out what else to do in Bamburgh here. Bamburgh also has one of the best beaches on the north east coast.

See the Chillingham Wild Cattle from Alnwick

There’s a castle at Chillingham, home of the Wakefield Family, but for us, the star of the show here are the Chillingham Wild Cattle.  These cattle are rarer than Giant Pandas and they’re descended from the herds that once roamed the ancient forests of Britain.  You can see them at Chillingham Castle.  Alnwick to Chillingham Castle takes about 25 minutes in a car.

Visit Holy Island on a Day Trip from Alnwick

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is just 40 minutes drive from Alnwick – tides depending of course.  This glorious island of sanctuary just off the coast of Northumberland is connected by a tidal causeway – so you’ll want to be very clear when the causeway is clear as the tides are dangerous here.  Holy Island makes for a fabulous day trip from Alnwick (longer stays are even more special!) with a ruined priory in the location where Christianity came to the North East, a glorious Castle and walled garden and some stunning walks around the island – read more about what to to do on Holy Island here. 

Visit Dunstanburgh Castle from Alnwick

Dunstanburgh Castle is located on a headland on the Northumberland Coast between the villages of Embleton and Craster.   There is only pedestrian access to the castle and it’s easiest to park in the village of Craster and walk the 1.3 miles from there.  It’s an easy, but uneven walk.  The castle is ruined, but the views of it from the shoreline are stunning.  It’s a great opportunity to walk part of the Northumberland Coastal Walk. We use the Ordnance Survey app – it makes finding your way around seriously easy!

Where is Alnwick Northumberland

Alnwick is in the county of Northumberland – 60 minutes north of Newcastle Upon Tyne and 30 minutes south of Berwick upon Tweed.  The town of Alnwick is 10 minutes from the North East Coast at Alnmouth and is 35 miles (56 kilometres) from the closest airport, Newcastle Upon Tyne.

How to get to Alnwick Northumberland

Alnwick is bypassed and therefore easily accessible from the main route north through Northumberland, the A1.    Alnwick is around 60 minutes drive north of Newcastle Upon Tyne.  Alnwick is accessible by local bus services, by train to nearby Alnmouth and it is also easy to drive to Alnwick.

How to get to Alnwick Northumberland by Car

Getting to Alnwick by car is easy.  The town is just off the main A1 road.  You’ll find it about an hour north of Newcastle Upon Tyne and 30 minutes south of Berwick.  You’re just 10 minutes from the coast at Alnmouth.

How to get to Alnwick Northumberland by Bus

Buses from London are run by National Express and take about 7.5 hours – check availability and detail here. Buses in Northumberland are run by Arriva Coast and Castle Connections.    The Arriva Coast Connection runs from Newcastle Upon Tyne to Alnwick (and beyond to Berwick Upon Tweed).  Traveline North East has all the details of bus services, times and fare prices here.

How to get to Alnwick Northumberland by Train

The closest train station to Alnwick is Alnmouth, which is 10 minutes, or 4 miles away.   Fast trains stop at Alnmouth from London, Newcastle and Edinburgh.  Alnmouth is on the East Coast Mainline route.   Check train options to Alnwick here. There’s a local bus stop a short walk from Alnmouth train station where you can then take the X18 or X20 bus run by Arriva from Alnmouth to Alnwick.  It runs every 30 minutes, or every 60 minutes on Sundays, with the journey taking 10 minutes.  The bus station in Alnwick is on Lagny Street, near Morrisons.

Travel Tips for Exploring Northumberland

Final Words on the Best Things to do in Alnwick Northumberland

The gorgeous Northumberland market town of Alnwick might be most famous for its castle, but there’s much more to explore here.  Find delights in one of the biggest secondhand bookstores in the world, a heritage museum, stunning gardens and fabulous places to eat, drink and stay. 

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