things to do in northumberland national park

The Best Things to do in Northumberland National Park

With its clean air and pristine waters, Northumberland National Park is home to some of our most peaceful hidden gems, most remote footpaths, and most amazing natural beauty. The serene landscapes can be used for guided walks, mountain biking, stargazing, and even spotting wild Cheviot Goats.  The diverse landscape of the National Park in Northumberland, the least populated of the UK’s 15 National Parks, attracts visitors from all over the world who come to enjoy this ancient, unspoiled place’s heritage, history, and culture.  Here’s your guide to the best things to do in Northumberland National Park.


The Best Things to do in Northumberland National Park

Many of the things to do in Northumberland’s National Park are about the great outdoors, but they’re not all intensely energetic.  You’ll get to see wildlife, the night sky and explore some incredible culture too.  Come on in!

If you need to rent a car in Northumberland, we recommend Discover Cars for car hire.  You can search, compare and save up to 70%, with no hidden fees and free cancellation, what have you got to lose? Get a price for a rental car in Northumberland here.

Walk along Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland National Park

Hadrian’s Wall is arguably the most important pile of stones in the United Kingdom – a barricade that runs from one side of the country to the other. Northumberland has the longest stretch of this magnificent achievement which spans 73 miles, and it rises and falls across some of the county’s most stunning landscapes. Our guide to the best places to see Hadrian’s Wall is here.

Taking a 2 hour guided tour – with a local guide – is a great way to understand more of the history of this UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a fabulous way to also see a little of the National Park and get a fun, but informative history lessons too. This event often sells out, so book your tickets early!

Hadrian’s Wall is a magnificent achievement, a fixed frontier of the Roman Empire, occupied by soldiers and civilians, from coast to coast. It took six years to build a 73-mile barrier – or 80 Roman miles that ran from the Solway Firth to Wallsend on the River Tyne.   The Hadrian’s Wall frontier area extends from Ravenglass, the western Roman coastal defenses, through Whitehaven, Workington, and Maryport to Bowness-on-Solway, and then along Hadrian’s Wall to Newcastle, Wallsend, Carlisle, and South Shields. 

Hadrians Wall Northumberland National Park

Along dramatic crags and escarpments, it twists and snakes. With over 80 milecastles or forts, two observation towers, and 17 larger forts, there was a lot to see. A six-meter-wide ditch was also dug to the south of the wall. Much of the wall fell into disrepair after the Romans left Britain 300 years later, was recycled into local buildings and houses, and was threatened by the growing demand for roadstone from the Walltown and Cawfields quarries.

One of the best places to visit in Northumberland to understand more about Hadrian’s Wall is Housestead Roman Fort. There are some incredible views here and as you tour the fort site, you can learn about life here as a Roman soldier.  There are ruins of the barracks block, hospital, Commander’s House, granaries, and communal toilets.  Once you head into the museum, though, you can see the fort brought to life in film with stunning recreations of the original Roman buildings.  The museum also houses a collection of Roman finds.  The Housesteads trail lets you explore some of the glorious parts of Northumberland National Park.  Younger (or older, we’re not judging) visitors can also dig into the dressing up box and act out what it was like for the Roman soldiers here.  Buy your ticket to Housesteads Roman Fort here.

You can walk the length of the wall, or explore small parts of the remains of Hadrian’s Wall at your leisure.

Stay in Northumberland National Park

In the Northumberland National Park, you’ll find everything from the charming Old Repeater Station, which serves as a friendly pit stop for walkers and cyclists along the Wall, to a 14th-century fortified castle with spa baths, four-poster beds, and 7-foot-thick walls, to luxurious cottages with views of the Northumberland hills.

The National Park of Northumberland is a wonderful place to stay, with accommodation for all budgets available throughout the park. 

  • There are campsites throughout the National Park – for tents and touring caravans.
  • In partnership with the Northumberland National Park Authority, YHA The Sill at Hadrian’s Wall is the brand new Youth Hostel at The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre.  This high-end hostel is conveniently located in the Northumberland National Park’s beautiful countryside, just a few hundred yards from Hadrian’s Wall, Sycamore Gap, and the Roman fort at Vindolanda, as well as the world-famous Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site.
  • It’s a fantastic way to see some of Britain’s most beautiful and inspiring landscapes while on holiday in one of the country’s 15 National Parks. As a result, the National Parks of the United Kingdom have formed a national partnership with Sykes Holiday Cottages, who are encouraging everyone to find their ideal National Park getaway.  Staying longer in a holiday cottage means you can truly immerse yourself in these special places while supporting local businesses and communities, whether you’re exploring villages, traversing Hadrian’s Wall, or hiking in the Cheviots. Make a reservation with Sykes Holiday Cottages as soon as possible.

Visit Sycamore Gap, Northumberland National Park

One of the most photographed trees in the country is the Sycamore Gap tree. In the Northumberland National Park, it stands in a dramatic dip in Hadrian’s Wall. In the Woodland Trust’s awards in late 2016, it won the title of English Tree of the Year. 

Sycamore Gap Northumberland National Park

Just to its left is the Roman Milecastle 39. It’s called Castle Nick because it’s built into the side of a cliff.  Between 1908 and 1911, the site was excavated and re-excavated between 1982 and 1987. A stone oven was found in the southeast corner, and a rectangular building with a sunken floor was found in the southwest corner, both of which were associated with Roman finds. Until the late 4th century, the milecastle appears to have been occupied. A possible milking house was built in the west corner in the 18th century.

A small replacement sycamore sapling is protected from the local sheep, who would otherwise nibble on it, by a circular wall nearby. The National Trust and Northumberland National Park both look after Sycamore Gap.

Go Star Gazing at the Dark Skies Site in Northumberland National Park

We are fortunate in Northumberland to have very low levels of light pollution. So we have one of the best “pristine dark skies” in the country (CPRE Night Blight Report 2016), making it one of the best places to stargaze (CPRE Night Blight Report 2016).

Dark Skies Northumberland National Park

Throughout the year, Northumberland has several truly outstanding venues for stargazing:

  1. Because of the lack of light pollution, Kielder Observatory is located in Europe’s largest gold-tier dark sky park. They host events for people of all ages and backgrounds throughout the year; winter nights are the darkest and best for viewing deep-sky objects like galaxies and nebulae, while summer nights are best for star clusters, shooting stars, and the moon’s and sun’s surface.
  2. The Battlesteads Dark Sky Observatory is a public astronomical observatory that is open to the public. It has a variety of talks, activities, drop-in sessions, stargazing, and astronomy courses for everyone, from the novice to the expert.
  3. At the Twice Brewed Inn, astronomers from the Stargazing team will show you the incredible starry skies above Northumberland. You’ll have a clear view of the Milky Way arching across the sky and see thousands more stars than can normally be seen from our towns and cities because it’s located within the Dark Sky Park, which has minimal light pollution. You can also book a room at the Twice Brewed Inn here.
  4. Northumberland Tourism has awarded the Redesdale Arms with the “Dark Sky Stay and Gaze” award, recognizing the facilities on offer to allow guests to observe the night skies in Redesdale.
  5. In Kielder Park, Stonehaugh Astronomy is situated in the most protected dark sky area in the world.

Walk to Hareshaw Linn

A three-mile walk from a Northumberland National Park car park in Bellingham to a spectacular waterfall is part of Hareshaw Linn, a wooded valley. Over 300 species of mosses, liverworts, and lichens thrive in the waterfall’s environment. Red squirrels, great spotted woodpeckers, spotted flycatchers, and Daubenton’s bats are just a few of the animals that can be found here.

Hareshaw Linn Northumberland National Park

In 1833, Messrs Bigge and Partners established ironworks in this area. In addition to two blast furnaces, 70 coke ovens, and 24 large roasting kilns for calcining iron ore, there were a variety of coal storage facilities, as well as a blacksmith’s shop, wagon shed, stables, and other buildings.

Until 1848, the ironworks continued to operate. Many of the buildings were demolished and the plant was auctioned ten years later. The dam that supplied water to power the ironworks and mounds formed from leftover ash and stone are still visible. Lichens are the grey and green growths on rocks and trees in Hareshaw Linn (and it’s pronounced like-ens). Fungi and algae live together in lichens.

Drink at the Twice Brewed Pub in the Once Brewed Village

The Twice Brewed Inn is a popular country pub and bed and breakfast in the heart of rural Northumberland, just a stone’s throw from Hadrian’s Wall and surrounded by some of England’s most breathtaking scenery.

The Twice Brewed is situated in the shadows of Steel Rigg, one of Hadrian’s Wall’s most dramatic sections, and is surrounded by some of England’s most beautiful scenery. All of the major Roman sites – Vindolanda, Housteads, and the Roman Army Museum – are within easy reach of the Inn, which is located on the B6318 (The Military Road) between Newcastle Upon Tyne and Carlisle.

The Twice Brewed is the ideal stopover for tired walkers and families alike, serving hearty, home-cooked meals and an impressive selection of home-brewed ales and spirits. There’s a large beer garden, a fabulous fire, or the chance to sip a pint in their onsite Brew House and Dark Skies Observatory.

Visit the Prehistoric Forts of the Breamish Valley

A picturesque river that flows through one of England’s most important archaeological landscapes and is ideal for picnics.  A picnic on the haugh land (pronounced ‘hoff’) alongside the River Breamish or a walk up to one of the many prehistoric hillforts beyond the Breamish Valley’s high, rolling hills and lovely river setting.

Breamish Valley Northumberland National Park

Breamish Valley meanders through the Northumberland National Park, winding through the Cheviot Hills of north Northumberland. The ancient landscape is also home to numerous Neolithic and Bronze Age hillforts and burial sites, as well as a diverse range of wildlife, trees, and flowers.

This is another part of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park and is a stargazer’s dream, with some of England’s clearest night skies! The unspoiled coastline and beaches of Northumberland’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are only a few miles away, so there’s something for everyone!

Go Mountain Biking in Northumberland National Park

A cyclist’s paradise is found in Northumberland National Park. Quiet roads are ideal for cycling long distances, and off-road family-friendly routes allow anyone to bring their bike and get out and ride. Northumberland National Park is ideal for both road cycling and family day rides because of its quiet roads and beautiful scenery. The specially designed trails or bridleways are ideal for mountain bikers.

Want to see what it’s like?

Visit the Sill Discovery Centre

The Sill, located on Hadrian’s Wall, welcomes you and helps you understand the wonderful Northumberland National Park landscapes.  This is the “go-to” destination for the Northumberland National Park and Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site, where they have friendly staff who will assist you in making the most of your visit!

Go Geocaching in Northumberland National Park

Try geocaching in the Northumberland National Park.  Geocaching will get you outside, teach you about the landscape and history, and you’ll get a lot of exercise by walking farther than you think. The Northumberland National Park is full of interesting wildlife, plants, and trees, and while you’re looking for caches, you’ll be able to see new places.

There are several Historic Heritage Geocaching Trails in Northumberland National Park. All you need to get started is a suitable mobile phone or a handheld GPS device.  Simply enter the coordinates for each location into your device or GPS smartphone* app and it will take you to eight ‘caches’ hidden in different locations throughout the National Park, from Thirlwall Castle in the southwest to Ad Gefrin near Wooler in the north.  There’s more information here on Geocaching in Northumberland National Park.

Go Fishing in Northumberland National Park

Visit Northumberland’s streams, rivers, and coast with your rod and bait and you’ll find a plethora of fishing opportunities. Northumberland can provide you with the best in all aspects of fishing. 

There are a variety of places to fish for salmon, sea trout, or brown trout, depending on your preference. From the mighty Tweed in the north to the Tyne in the south, river fishing is available. The Coquet, Aln, Wansbeck, and Till rivers, which run between the two, all offer exciting opportunities to catch wild fish.

The Rivers Tweed and Till, the River Coquet, the River Aln, and the River Tyne are all good places to fish for salmon. Want to try your hand at coarse fishing? Except for grayling, which is a game fish, coarse fish cannot be eaten and are returned to the river. The river Tyne is the main source of coarse fishing in this area. The Tweed, Till, and Blyth, on the other hand, are known for their grayling fishing. Trout fishing, brown trout fishing in Kielder Forest, and still-water fishing are all available on the river.

See Red Squirrels in Northumberland National Park

Northumberland is one of the last places in the country where you can hope to see these beautiful creatures, as invasive grey squirrels have overpowered the native reds across most of England.

Red Squirrels Northumberland National Park

‘Red Squirrel Appreciation Day,’ which was established in 2001 by wildlife rehabilitator Christy Hargrove, recognizes the importance of these animals in nature and the environment.  Invasive grey squirrels are much more common in the North East, but if you know where to look, you can also find their smaller and less common cousins in our area.  You can also book Red Squirrel safaris at certain points in the year.  There’s more here.   Don’t forget your camera or binoculars!

Where is Northumberland National Park?

Northumberland is the most northerly of the 15 National Parks in England and Wales, and it is also the least visited and least populated of the 15 National Parks in England and Wales. 

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 was the catalyst for the creation of national parks. Residents and politicians raised concerns about strict planning controls and a massive influx of visitors to the areas when the first Parks were established in 1951. Consequently, the Parks are concentrated in the country’s most remote upland areas.  To protect the natural environment of the Northumberland National Park Authority, In the United Kingdom, the highest level of landscape protection is that of a national park.

Northumberland National Park is in England’s North East Corner, between Hadrian’s Wall and the Scottish border, covering an area of more than 1,050 square kilometres.  A 40-minute drive away is the equally beautiful but separate Northumberland Coast AONB.

How to Get to Northumberland National Park

While it is possible to get to Northumberland National Park by public transit, it’s also easy to get there in a car. Here’s how to get to the park.

How to Get to Northumberland National Park by Car

There are excellent road links to Northumberland National Park. It will take you around 6 hours to drive from London to Northumberland National Park, or 2 hours from Edinburgh. Newcastle to Northumberland National Park is about an hour away and it’s about 90 minutes from Carlisle to Northumberland National Park.

  • From the M6 to Northumberland National Park take the eastbound A69 from Carlisle, then the A68 north.
  • From the A1 take the A696 northwest at Newcastle.
  • From Edinburgh take the A68 or the A7 south.

How to Get to Northumberland National Park By Bus

To take a bus into Northumberland National Park you’ll need to get to Hexham, Newcastle, or Carlisle and then take local buses from there. The main bus route that services Northumberland National Park is the AD122 – the Hadrian’s Wall Country Bus. This bus operates daily from July 6th until 1st October. It runs once an hour during the day and goes between Hexham Bus Station and Haltwhistle Rail Station via Hexham Rail Station, Acomb, Wall, Chollerford, Chesters Roman Fort, Housesteads Roman Fort (buy your tickets to Housesteads Roman Fort here), Once Brewed (for The Sill), Vindolanda, Milecastle Inn, the Roman Army Museum, Walltown, and Greenhead. This bus is operated by GoNorthEast.

The best way to plan your bus journey into Northumberland National Park is to use Traveline. You can also call them on 0871 200 2233.

How to Get to Northumberland National Park by Train

There’s no mainline train station in Northumberland National Park. Newcastle is the closest mainline station. You can take East Coast trains which links Edinburgh, York, Peterborough, and London to Newcastle and Berwick-upon-Tweed; Virgin trains operate services from London, Manchester, Glasgow, Carlisle, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham, and South West England; and TransPennine services serves Newcastle from Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and York.

Once in Newcastle, you can take the Tyne Valley Line which takes you into the southern part of Northumberland National Park. The Tyne Valley Line has stations close to Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. The stations that are useful to visitors to Northumberland National Park are Wylam, Prudhoe, Stocksfield, Riding Mill, Corbridge, Hexham, Haydon Bridge, Bardon Mill, and Haltwhistle. These Tyne Valley trains are operated by Northern Rail and First ScotRail.

How to Get to Northumberland National Park By Bike

Most buses heading into the National Park will accommodate bikes, although on the Hadrian’s Wall Country Bus (the AD122) you are required to prebook your bike on the bus by 1500 the day before. The service is operated by GoNorthEast and contact details are here.

The 170 mile Hadrian’s Cycleway also leads to the Sill (NCN72). There are three bike racks in front of the Sill, as well as six bike storage units that can be rented for bikes and bags. There’s also a bike repair stand here too.

Travel Tips for Exploring Northumberland

Final Words on the Best Things to do in Northumberland National Park

Deciding what’s the best thing to do in Northumberland could be one of the hardest decisions to make. This National Park has an amazing combination of cultural heritage, great food, world-class beaches, and of course, its people.  There’s clean air, pristine (freezing cold) becks, streams and rivers, and some amazing wildlife.    There are some of the darkest skies in Europe.  Some of the most wonderful cottages to hide out in.   What are you waiting for? Pack your bags and come visit Northumberland National Park.

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