In England’s northernmost county, transport yourself back to the Kingdom of Northumbria, once the largest kingdom in the British Isles and a region with more than 70 castle sites to explore.

It stretches from the Firth of Forth in Scotland to the River Humber, some 300 miles south, hence the term ‘north-Humber-land’. A land of incredible beauty, its stories go back thousands of years.

Coast and Castles Cycling Route

Discover a castle-dotted coastline along Northumberland’s 85-mile Coast and Castles Cycling Route. Begin your journey at Berwick-upon-Tweed as you pedal down south to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

Cut off twice daily from the outside world due to ocean tides, the tiny five square kilometre island is home to Lindisfarne Castle and the 12th century Lindisfarne Priory, as well as a selection of cafes, pubs and B&Bs.

Aerial view of Bamburgh Castle on the coast of Northumberland

Further down the coast, discover thousands of years old castles – from the 1,400-year-old Bamburgh Castle, which acted as a royal palace for several kings to the 13th century and infamous Chillingham Castle, which is rumoured to be one of the country’s most haunted sites.

Back along the coast, pay a visit to the remote 14th century Dunstanburgh Castle before finishing your castle journey at Alnwick Castle, the Britain’s second-largest inhabited castle and home to the Alnwick Poison Garden.

A bit more about Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle (Hogwarts) is the setting for the first flying lesson in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Meet witches and wizards from the Harry Potter films and have a broomstick lesson during your visit. Alnwick has also been the setting for magnificent Brancaster Castle in the 2015 and 2016 Downton Abbey Christmas specials (home to Lady Edith and Bertie Pelham, the Marquess and Marchioness of Hexham).

Lilidorei fantasy village at Alnwick Gardens

Landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was born in the little hamlet of Kirkharle in the heart of Northumberland, where many believe he found inspiration as the sweeping Northumbrian countryside is echoed in his renowned naturalistic style. You can see Brown’s work at Alnwick Castle. 

Market towns and water sports

Scale the North Sea on a surfboard, kayak along the coastline, windsurf on the largest, man-made lake in the UK and canoe along rivers that wind through our market towns. The water sports in Northumberland will add endless excitement to your visit. Explore Bellingham, home to hidden waterfalls and abundant walking routes.

Sitting on the banks of the North Tyne, stone cottages adorned with ivy sit around every corner, oozing that stereotypical English village charm. Rothbury, a traditional market town is in the heart of the Northumberland countryside.

Visit Cragside House, Gardens and Estate, a Victorian building described as Britain’s original smart home with hydro-electricity and powered by hydraulics. Corbridge is a town of distinction, an English heritage Roman town, where some of the oldest finds in Britain were discovered including rare Roman armour and the Corbridge Lion. Stroll its historic streets and peruse its charming collection of shops.

Hadrian’s Wall, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Spanning 73 miles of northern England, Northumberland holds the longest stretch of it, which rises and plunges across some of the county’s most scenic places. It extends from Wallsend at the River Tyne on the east coast to the shore of the Solway Firth at Bowness-on-Solway in the west.

Built under the orders of Emperor Hadrian in AD122, the incredible structure inspired George RR Martin’s wall in his bestselling books and TV show Game of Thrones. Take a themed tour along the archaeological wonder, or Live Like a Roman with an immersive experience day.

A section of the historic Roman stone wall fortification

Scattered along the length of the wall are Roman Forts, excavation sites, ancient temples and Bath Houses that sit before a backdrop of sweeping Northumberland National Park  landscapes. Visitors can watch live excavations take place at Vindolanda, where 5th century gaming boards, jewellery and other pieces are revealed by skilled archaeologists. 

Housesteads Roman Fort takes you back in time to the Roman Empire where you can wander the barrack blocks and explore this ancient fortress. Bike, hike, wander or tour the Roman wall along the Hadrian’s Wall Path national trail. Hadrian’s Cycleway can also be ventured into for anyone wanting an active pursuit of the wall. 

Enjoy a cup of Earl Grey Tea

Earl Grey Tea originated in Northumberland, the birthplace of British Prime Minister, Charles 2nd Earl Grey. His name was given to the tea blended at the request of his wife, Lady Grey, using the addition of bergamot oil to offset the strong taste of lime in the local water.

Visit his ancestral seat Howick Hall, just six miles from Alnwick, with its beautiful gardens and arboretum, stopping at the Earl Grey Tea House for a cup of – what else – Earl Grey Tea.

While in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, be sure to stop by Grey’s Monument and explore Grey Street and Grainger Town, renowned for its architecture, market and theatre.

Grainger town, historic centre of Newcastle upon Tyne

Largest protected area of night skies in Europe

In 2013, a section of Northumberland was awarded Gold-tier International Dark Sky status. This means the sky above Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park was officially recognised as Europe’s largest area of protected night skies.

Thanks to minimal light pollution and great conservation efforts, Northumberland offers some of the best stargazing experiences and clearest night skies in England. With the naked eye, you’ll see roughly 2,000 stars shining bright like diamonds on inky black skies and easily trace the fuzzy arc of the Milky Way.

The sky over the protected landscape of the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is also a fantastic window into the aurora borealis or Northern Lights.

Top tip: the autumn and winter months are the best time for stargazing, as the colder temperature creates clearer, darker skies. Discover our suggestions for a great autumn and winter stargazing break at NlandStars

All images courtesy of Visit Britain