10 must-visit castles in Northumberland fit for a princess

Posted on 7th Oct 2021. In , , , ,


As well as breathtakingly beautiful beaches, cute-as-a-button cottages and, crucially, top pubs, Northumberland is absolutely swimming in fabulous castles. From the grand and the imposing to the weathered and forsaken, there are over 70 Northumberland Castles, and each has a story to tell.

History buffs will be in their element, but you don’t have to be Herodotus (that’s the Greek historian considered to be the father of history, to you and me) to appreciate the impact of each striking structure.

Take a step into the past and soak up what remains of a bygone era with our pick of the best Northumberland Castles to visit on your next trip.

For more Northumberland weekend inspiration, see our guide to the cosiest Northumberland cottages, Northumberland’s best beaches and the best Northumberland pubs.

Northumberland Castles | No. 1

Dunstanburgh Castle, Craster

A fabulous fortress near the Northumberland coast

On a secluded Northumbrian peninsula, with the waves rolling below, sit the striking remains of Dunstanburgh Castle. Built back in 1313 by the Earl of Lancaster, the castle initially served as a fortress, erected as a display of disdain for King Edward II.

Dustanburgh has certainly seen its fair share of conflict and bloodshed, playing a key role during the War of the Roses. The ensuing battle took its toll, and the castle suffered extensive damage.

Dunstanburgh may have a troubled past, but nowadays it attracts visitors from far and wide who as make their way to the castle via an exhilarating walk from Craster, a small fishing village, eight miles from Alnwick. The village is built around a small harbour, erected in the memory of Captain Charles Craster.

Today, Craster is well-known for its fresh and local fare, in particular the Craster kippers and smoked delicacies. Visit the kippering shed and savour the fresh fish at the on-site restaurant, or buy a portion or two to take home. There’s also a pub, aptly named the Jolly Fisherman. Dine on the crab soup and sandwiches – both of which have gained rave reviews from discerning food critics and travelogues.

If you can still move after a wealth of tasty food you can enjoy a 1.3-mile leisurely stroll to the castle, which takes you along the dramatic coastline and through far-reaching farmland. On blustery days this might be more of an exhilarating trek than a gentle amble and remember to keep your eyes peeled for an osprey or two soaring by!

  • Open weekends only during the winter months from 10.00 to 16.00
  • English Heritage Members: Free
  • Adults: £5.90
  • Children (5 – 17 years): £3.50
  • Concessions: £5.30

Northumberland Castles | No. 2

Bamburgh Castle, Bamburgh

A carefully-restored castle dating back over 3,000 years

Given that it dates back to the 6th century, to say Bamburgh Castle is rich in history is something of an understatement. The stronghold suffered at the hands of the Vikings in 993 AD and witnessed the Norman Conquest before sadly falling into a state of dilapidation. Thankfully, towards the end of the 19th century, Lord Armstrong decided to act, restoring Bamburgh and breathing new life into the castle.

The castle towers 150ft above the Northumberland coast, overlooking the turbulent waves of the North Sea. As well as its striking good looks, the castle boasts plentiful legends, myths and even a few resident ghosts!

The castle’s keep is impressive – it’s the oldest part of the buildings and houses the armoury, which boasts a range of artillery including muskets and crossbows. You can also roam the King’s Hall, with its false hammer beam ceiling, or wander through the State Rooms and immerse yourself in the heirlooms and artefacts. And once you’re done in the castle, fear not: there are many other things to do in Bamburgh that’ll keep you busy.

  • Open weekends only during the winter months from 10.00 to 16.00
  • English Heritage Members: Free
  • Adults: £7.90
  • Children (5 – 16 years): £6.15
  • Concessions: £10.15

Northumberland Castles | No. 3

Warkworth Castle, Warkworth

A magnificent castle with spectacular views

Situated in a loop of the River Coquet, Warkworth Castle occupies a picturesque location on the north-east coast and boasts fabulous views out to sea. Although parts of the castle are now ruined, there is still plenty to see, including the striking cross-shaped Great Tower. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the lion badge of the Percy family, who have owned the castle since the 14th century, which appears around the building. Tune into the free audio guide to get a full understanding of Warkworth’s history and how it has developed and evolved over the centuries.

Across the river is the Warkworth Castle Hermitage which has been carved out of rocks on the banks of the Coquet. Thought to have been a private chapel for the castle’s residents, it is possible to visit the Hermitage during the summer months by rowing boat.

  • Open weekends only during the winter months from 10.00 to 16.00.
  • English Heritage Members: Free
  • Adults: £12.50
  • Children (5 – 17 years): £4.70
  • Concessions: £7.10

Northumberland Cottages | No. 4

Alnwick Castle, Alnwick

 A Northumberland castle with Hollywood connections

Situated just under a mile from the A1 in Newcastle, Alnwick is arguable one of the most well-known Northumberland Castles. You might recognise the place too, as Alnwick has taken a leading role in many a television series and even a blockbuster movie or two.

Harry Potter devotees step this way – Alnwick Castle played the part of Hogwarts, the magical and marvellous school for aspiring witches and wizards. If you’re one of the millions of avid fans of Downton Abbey you’re also in for a treat as Alnwick featured as the regal Brancaster Castle in the popular series.

Aside from being a movie and TV star in its own right, Alnwick is also the beloved ancestral home of the Percy family. The estate itself comes in as runner-up behind Windsor Castle, in terms of being the largest occupied castle. The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland reside at Alnwick, and for seven months of the year you can take a sneaky peek inside too.

You can find out more about the castle’s 950 years of history by joining one of the many talks and tours on offer. Learn about the resident knights – such as English born Sir Henry Percy KG, affectionately known as Harry Hotspur.

Relive the restoration of the castle, by discovering how it was transformed during Georgian and Victorian times and take in the grandeur of the state rooms with their carved ceilings and collection of paintings by the masters of old.

  • Alniwick Castle closes on 1st November and reopens in spring 2022
  • Adults: £18.50
  • Children (5 – 16 years): £9.75
  • Concessions: £15

Northumberland Castles | No. 5

Prudhoe Castle, Prudhoe

A small castle steeped in rich history 

Built after the Norman Conquest in 1066, Prudhoe Castle was originally created with a traditional motte and bailey arrangement although it has evolved significantly since then. Despite being one of the area’s smaller castles, Prudhoe is know as Northumberland’s only castle not to have been captured by a Scottish army during the area’s turbulent history.

However, although smaller than many of its counterparts, Prudhoe still has plenty to offer with a keep, great hall, dry moat and mill pond in the grounds to explore as well as a Georgian mansion enclosed within the walls. Don’t forget to check out the on-site gift shop for a local souvenir of your visit!

  • Prudhoe Castle will reopen in spring 2022
  • English Heritage Members: Free
  • Adults: £6.90
  • Children (5 – 17 years): £4.10
  • Concessions: £6.20

Northumberland Castles | No. 6

Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island

A stunning structure in a dramatic setting

Built with security in mind, 16th century Lindisfarne Castle has sat atop Holy Island for many years. As Northumberland castles go, this one is unapologetically rugged and defensive, rather than romantic and handsome, but that only adds to its appeal.

The island itself neighbours Berwick-Upon-Tweed and the castle is perched upon a volcanic plug, known as Beblowe Crag. The fortification is small, but it has remained steadfast – facing up to untold danger and threat over the years. The site has witnessed fierce fighting and bloodshed, with regular clashes between the English and Scots, along with aggressive Viking invasions.

Nowadays, the castle’s only adversity appears to be the howling wind and choppy North Sea, and the visitors no longer wield axes, instead, they come to soak up the history and revel in the striking setting.

Getting to Lindisfarne Castle does take a little bit of effort and you need to book tickets to the castle in advance. First of all, you need to check causeway tide times to ensure you can access Holy Island. Once at the village, you can then take a leisurely mile-long stroll along the cobbles, follow the winding path as it loops around Lindisfarne, drawing you closer and up the lofty volcanic foundations.

  • Opening hours vary, be sure to check before your visit
  • Adults: £8
  • Children: £4

Northumberland Castles | No. 7

Bellsay Hall, Castle and Gardens, Bellsay

A family-friendly day out in beautiful surroundings

With a castle, Grecian-style hall and impressive grounds, Bellsay is a visit the whole family can get on board with. The ruined medieval castle can be well explored and it’s even possible to climb the pele tower and take in the views of the surrounding grounds. Bellsay Hall is also open to explore and the Hall’s original kitchen is now a quaint little tearoom so that you can refuel ahead of exploring the gorgeous grounds. Don’t forget to visit the second-hand book shop in the old laundry room to snap up a bargain.

The gardens at Bellsay are truly unmissable and extend to some 30 acres of Grade I listed beauty. Discover the exotic plants and magical backdrop of the quarry garden, get lost in ancient woodland or marvel at the huge collection of rhododendrons.

Bellsay Hall also offers a dynamic programme of events throughout the year including spooky Halloween woodland walks and adventure quests for the family so check out the events calendar before your go.

  • Open weekends only during the winter months from 10.00 to 16.00
  • English Heritage Members: Free
  • Adults: £10
  • Children (5 – 17 years): £6
  • Concessions: £9

Northumberland Castles | No. 8

Chillingham Castle, Chillingham

Discover Britain’s most haunted castle, if you dare…

If you scare easily it’s probably best to avoid Chillingham Castle! Dating back to the 13th century, this stronghold has a reputation for being one of the most haunted castles in England. Chillingham has seen its fair share of battles and skirmishes in the past, so perhaps a few of the lost souls have remained, ready to make the acquaintance of unsuspecting visitors!

The residents of Chillingham seemed to acquire honorary Royal appointments and allegations of high treason, in equal measure. At least eight members of the family were executed for their apparent treachery, while others courted Royal favour, ensuring Chillingham Estates continued its existence.

Nowadays, the castle gives off a more tranquil vibe. Yes, there are the ghostly goings on, but there’s also the impressive stately rooms and an exquisite tea room. You can even stay overnight in one of the self-catering apartments or coaching rooms.

Outside, take a stroll through the formal gardens, conceived by Royal Designer Sir Jeffry Wyatville, who is also credited with designing gardens at Windsor. There are also woodland walks to enjoy, lakes and fountains and, of course, exhilarating views of the countryside.

  • Chillingham Castle will re-open in May 2022
  • Adults: £10.50
  • Children (5-16 years): £6.50
  • Concessions: £9.50

Northumberland Castles | No. 9

Edlingham Castle, Edlingham

 A historic ruin with a striking solar tower

It’s not only Italy that can boast a leaning tower – Edlingham Castle’s gravity-defying tower needs to be seen to be believed! Dating from the 14th century, Edlingham was originally built by Sir William Fenton and it was his son who, around 50 years later, added the incredible solar tower as private quarters for himself and his family. Today the ruins of Edlingham are largely at foundation level but the solar tower still stands some three storeys high.

Located to the east of the village of Edlingham, the castle (which technically is a fortified manor house) is free to visit however, be sure to wear appropriate footwear as the area can become muddy underfoot.

  • Reachable during daylight hours
  • There is no entry fee to visit Edlingham Castle

Northumberland Castles | No. 10

Etal Castle, Etal

A border castle with a bloody past

Etal Castle has a bloody and intriguing history which you can uncover through the detailed exhibition hosted in the museum area of the castle’s chapel. One of the most notable historic events occurred ahead of the Battle of Flodden in 1513 when Etal was captured by the invading Scottish army of James IV, before being retaken following the Scots’ defeat. The nearby Flodden Battlefield, site of the gory battle between Scotland and England, can also be visited and is situated just a few minutes’ drive from the castle in Ford & Etal Estate.

Today the castle’s setting is altogether more peaceful and the beautiful village of Etal has a number of attractions of its own making it well worth a visit. Take a trip to Heatherslaw Light Railway, Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre or the Ford Moss Nature Reserve to make your most of the time in this historic area.

  • Etal Castle will re-open in spring 2022
  • English Heritage Members: Free
  • Adults: £5.90
  • Children (5-16 years): £3.50
  • Concessions: £5.30

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Claire Robinson Founder of Weekend Candy
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