Summer might be well and truly behind us but that doesn’t mean your travels have to be. Britain is bursting with destinations that are just as delightful to explore in the autumn sunshine as they are in the summer, Northumberland is just one of them. Situated on the northernmost corner of England, just below the Scottish border, I have been wanting to visit this part of the country for as long as I can remember. With its rugged landscape, Roman settlements and stunning coastline, not to mention the fact that Northumberland castles are some of the best in England, it isn’t short of culture. The county is steeped in history. Yet I know very few people who have actually been here. Given how picturesque this part of the country is and just how much it has to offer, I can’t understand how this gem has stayed under the tourist radar for so long. Although I have a feeling this will soon be changing! If you’re looking for somewhere new to extend your explorations in the UK then head to the northeast corner of England for a historic tour. 3 days in Northumberland is just the right amount of time to introduce you to this fantastic county. Here is the perfect Northumberland itinerary!
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How to spend 3 days in Northumberland – Day 1
Belsay Hall Castle and Gardens
Driving north from my home in Derbyshire, the first stop I took was at Belsay Hall and Castle. Belsay is a great place to start, with its 14th century medieval castle and its 19th century hall built in the Greek revival style.
Belsay castle was built by the Middleton family in the late 14th century. They kept adding to it and expanding, but ultimately the castle was replaced by the new hall a short walk away. The stone for the new house was taken from a quarry in the grounds, which today is a magical garden that you walk through to reach the old castle. Filled with rare and exotic plants, it really felt like I was walking through Narnia! Enchanted Belsay which takes place ever year is an opportunity to see the castle and grounds illuminated by night and it’s well worth timing your trip for. Find more information on the annual event here.
Explore Cragside Northumberland
Close by is another historic attraction to add to your itinerary. Cragside is a Victorian country house which was once the dream home of inventor William Armstrong and the first in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity. Here you’ll have the opportunity to delve deep into the technology he pioneered alongside the family’s collection of arts and ceramics. If the weather permits, a hike through the 1000-acre estate comes highly recommended. You get the most beautiful views of the house from along the river path down the valley in front of the property. And I have to say, Cragside looks so pretty in Autumn when the ivy climbing its facade turns the most wonderful shade of red.
Stay at The Cookie Jar Hotel – Alnwick Northumberland
All that walking is sure to have you ready for a well-earned early night and there’s no better place in the area than The Cookie Jar hotel. Located in the nearby town of Alnwick, just a 20 minute drive away from Cragside and positioned directly opposite the imposing Alnwick Castle. Formerly St Mary’s Convent, the building was purchased by current owners Debbie and Robert Cook who renovated the property beautifully. The Cookie Jar now has 11 luxurious rooms and one outstanding suite, set in the former Chapel. The Chapel suite has gained a reputation as one of the most unique rooms in the North East, complete with the original stained glass windows and at just £325 per night is an absolute steal.
This characterful hidden treasure is well known for its interiors. Decidedly quirky in style, the rooms are a mix of eclectic pieces like birdcage chandeliers paired with a relaxed blue colour scheme and period features. Not to mention the fantastic views of Alnwick Castle from a lot of the bedrooms! It doesn’t stop there though. I particularly enjoyed the food in the Bailiffgate Bistro, the in-house brasserie. Each dish was perfectly cooked using in season, local ingredients.
What sets The Cookie Jar a cut above the rest of the hotels in Alnwick is the level of service you get which is nothing short of superb. They are extremely attentive to every detail and their knowledge of the surrounding area allows them to give you excellent advice and recommendations on places to go during your stay. I’d definitely mark this one down as one of the best luxury Northumberland hotels.
Click here to check prices and availability
How to spend 3 days in Northumberland – Day 2
Venture to Alnwick Castle and The Alnwick Garden
Another day means another castle to tick off your list and Alnwick Castle is definitely one worth considering. Known as one of Britain’s most iconic castles, it dates back to the Norman period and is the second largest inhabited castle in the UK after Windsor Castle. Alnwick Castle is home to the Dukes of Northumberland, the Percy’s – one of the oldest noble families in the country. Unfortunately, because it is still a family home, there is no photography allowed inside the castle. If there was, I would have had a field day. The interior is spectacular!! I was spellbound.
Alnwick Castle is also the famous backdrop for the first Harry Potter film. Broomstick training and Dragon Quest make it an ideal location for families. I couldn’t help but stop and watch as the first flying lesson of the day was taking place in exactly the same location as where Harry first took to his broom. I’d like to say that this place is a fantastic place for a family day out but even the adults were having fun with their brooms so perhaps children aren’t a prerequisite for flying lessons!
Book tickets for Alnwick Castle here.
Whilst at Alnwick Castle it is well worth paying a visit to The Alnwick Garden. There are a number of elements that make this such a wonderful garden to include on a trip to Northumberland from the bamboo labyrinth, the cherry orchard (stunning in spring when the blossom is out!!), the tree house cafe, the grand cascade fountain and the ornamental garden. However my favourite is the poison garden, the brainchild of the Duchess of Northumberland. She knew that visitors would be intrigued by a garden filled with plants that had the power to kill. Locked behind wrought iron gates, the poison garden is filled exclusively with around 100 toxic, intoxicating and narcotic plats – this garden truly is fascinating. Take a tour and learn how some of the species behind the bars were used to commit murder by the likes of Graham Young and Lakhvir Singh.
Find more information on The Alnwick Garden here.
If you have time, I highly recommend a walk through the town of Alnwick and popping into Barter Books, one of the best book shops in the country! Set in a converted railway station, it really is worth a visit. Their cafe also comes highly recommended for their home cooked soup – I didn’t have time to test this out for myself but I have it on good authority from the staff at The Cookie Jar!
A short journey by car will lead you to Howick Hall and the origins of Earl Grey tea. The ancestral seat of the Earls Grey, the history of Howick Hall starts in 1782 and was designed by a Newcastle architect by the name of William Newton. What Howick Hall is most renowned for is of course, its special blend of tea. The recipe for Earl Grey Tea was specially blended with bergamot by a Chinese mandarin for the 2nd Earl Grey to suit the water at Howick which was heavy with the taste of lime. Lady Grey would often entertain in London and took her special tea with her. It proved so popular amongst the London scene that it was soon sold to others, including Twinings to whom we now associate it. Unfortunately Earl Grey didn’t have his recipe patented and so never made a penny from it.
Whilst at Howick Hall make sure to stop in to the tea rooms to sample this classic British tea for yourself. I opted for a cream tea so happily tucked into a scone with cream and jam with mine!
If you have some time to spare, Craster and Embleton are nearby and are also worth a visit.
Craster is home to a lovely smokery where you can stop and get yourself some local fish to take home with you – you can smell the smokery across the village making it very hard not to! Also, if you have time you can always pay a visit to Dunstanburgh Castle. Just a warning though, you have to park on the edge of the village and have a half hour walk to get there along the coast.
Stay At Doxford Hall
The Doxford Hall Hotel and Spa is the perfect place to unwind after another day’s exploring. The 200-year-old mansion is almost as historic as the attractions on this list. I absolutely adore the facade, coated in ivy which was just beginning to turn with the seasons. The rooms were spacious and gorgeously styled, and the food was marvellous. I think I spent a good two and a half hours in the restaurant happily tucking into three delicious courses and some white Merlot. I can’t remember the name of the wine but I would happily buy a crate of the stuff if I could remember what is was!
Check prices and availability for Doxford Hall here.
How to spend 3 days in Northumberland – Day 3
Spanning nine acres of land on its rocky plateau high above the Northumberland coastline overlooking the North Sea, Bamburgh is another of the largest inhabited castles in the country after Alnwick and Windsor. Most of what we see today was built in the Victorian times by Lord Armstrong and the castle is still inhabited by the Armstrong family today. Bamburgh’s written history begins in the times of the Anglo-Saxons with one chronicler citing Bamburgh as probably the most important place in all of England. As the Royal Seat of the Kings of Northumbria, the exhibitions at the castle span from its origins as an Anglo-Saxon palace to the present day. But even before the Anglo-Saxons there were people living here. There is archaeological evidence that there were people here as early as 10,000 BC. If you visit in the summer months you can watch as archeologists continue their work to see what more they can discover.
There is so much to see at this castle that makes it a great place to spend an afternoon with the family. You can visit the towers, go down into the dungeons and walk the castle walls. My favourite room was the old hall with its carved wooden ceiling. I stood there staring at it for a good twenty minutes in amazement. I love history, what can I say.
Click here for more information on visiting Bamburgh Castle.
Lindisfarne – Holy Island
Just half an hour away you’ll find Lindisfarne, or Holy Island as it is otherwise known. I’ve been wanting to explore this place for years! Ever since we stopped off on a road trip to Edinburgh about 8 years ago but couldn’t get onto the island as the tide was in. This tidal island is located about a mile from the mainland and is cut off twice a day by powerful tides, bringing a whole new meaning to the term island escape. There is a massive car park when you get to the island where you can park up for the day, just make sure you check the timings for the tide so you can get back across later on! There are hotels on the island if you fancy stopping over, however they are usually full up well in advance so make sure to book early if you want to stay on the island. Click here to see what accommodation is available if this option is of interest to you.
Holy Island is also home to plenty of impressive attractions including the old priory and of course, Lindisfarne Castle perched high atop of rock on the island. Unlike Bamburgh or Alnwick, this castle isn’t magnificently decorated inside but it is still an impressive place to visit and take in the views for miles around.
More information on Lindisfarne Castle here.
Stay At The Lord Crewe Arms – Blanchland
I found my dream hotel in The Lord Crewe Arms. Nestled in the picturesque village of Blanchland, in the Northern Pennines – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and the very south of the Northumberland border, lies a true gem in the world of hotels. Situated at the heart of this quaint estate village, it has the perfect position. Church on one side, river on the other.
This former medieval priory was built in 1165 for the abbot of Blanchland Priory and structurally, it doesn’t look like it has changed one jot! Massive stone fireplaces (all of which are lit on a cool evening) flagstone floors, worn steps from the passing of time, stone archways, a priest hole. What more could you want? Stylish, modern comforts? Yes, it has those too! Exceptional food? Yes, head chef Emma Broom delivers plates of seasonal ingredients, many of which are grown and harvested right from the garden at the bottom of this lawn. Friendly service? Everyone was so smiley, chatty and helpful – something that really puts you at ease and makes you feel welcome.
This place really does tick all the boxes. It is so incredibly atmospheric, with all the modern comforts we desire. Not to mention the picture postcard village it inhabits. I genuinely didn’t want to leave. This has become one of my favourite UK hotels I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying at. And it is ideally located for your next destinations in the morning.
Check prices and availability for The Lord Crewe Arms here.
Walk Hadrian’s Wall & Discover Vindolanda and The Roman Army Museum
No trip to Northumberland would be complete without a visit to Hadrian’s Wall so, if there’s still some exploring left in you, make this one a priority. Built to defend the region from Roman invasion, the monument spans 73 miles and offers visitors a fascinating insight into the lives of the men, women and children who settled just behind it.
Just south of the wall, the Roman fort, Vindolanda, delves even deeper into the region’s history. Occupied by the Romans between 85 AD and 370 AD the archaeological site is truly unique and houses some of the oldest surviving handwritten documents in existence. It also has a fantastic array of shoes that they have exhumed from the site, one of the largest collections in existence. This really is a fascinating place to end your trip.
What do you think? Does Northumberland sound like somewhere you’d be interested in visiting? I for one am already planning a trip back to discover more! 3 days in Northumberland was a superb introduction to the region, but it surpassed all my high expectations and I can’t wait to return.
Further reading: The Most Beautiful Villages In North Yorkshire
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