Did you know that there are over 70 castles in Northumberland: more than any other English county? Very much a buffer between Scotland and England, the county has suffered a turbulent past with battles raging here for centuries. The still-standing castles are legacies of this bloody history and range from small secluded ruins to giant fortresses on the hills and lavish country estates which are still inhabited.
Full of mystery and intrigue, many of these time-ravaged ruins are open to the public, welcoming visitors to hear their tales of theft, murder and spooky apparitions. One such fortification, the majestic Alnwick Castle, has even had a starring role in Harry Potter!
Why not book a stay in one of our fabulous cottages in Northumberland and discover the magic of this region's castles with our complete guide to Northumberland's Castles, starting with one that boasts some of our favourite views in the area…
#01 Bamburgh Castle
Towering above the Northumberland coast atop a rocky plateau, Bamburgh Castle is a magnificent fortress that was once the royal seat of the Kings of Northumbria. Restored by Lord Armstrong in the late Victorian period, this 11th century Norman castle provides an ancestral home to the Armstrong family to this day. Spanning over 9 acres of land, Bamburgh is one of the largest inhabited castles in the country.
Connected by a series of intriguing stairwells, meandering corridors and passages, there are 14 State Rooms open to the public to explore, featuring more than 2,000 artefacts including arms and armour, porcelain, furniture and artwork. There are also breathtaking views from the battlements down to the long sandy beach below, as well as out into the North Sea and across to Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands.
#02 Alnwick Castle
The second biggest inhabited castle in England after Windsor, Alnwick Castle has been home to the Dukes of Northumberland for over 700 years. Originally a motte and bailey castle, it has withstood numerous sieges over the years, gradually evolving into the splendid palace that it is today. With its commanding position over the River Aln, this impressive fortress has a rich history brimming with drama and intrigue, from a gunpowder plotter to medieval England’s most celebrated knight, Harry Hotspur.
Combining mighty medieval architecture with sumptuous Italianate State Rooms adorned with silk walls, elaborate carved ceilings and one of the country’s best private art collections, the castle is so spectacular that it has taken starring roles in a myriad of recent film and television productions, such as Downton Abbey and, most famously, the magical Harry Potter films. It even has some wizard-themed activities and attractions to remind you of it – broomstick training, anyone?
#03 Warkworth Castle
Crowning a hilltop above the River Coquet, Warkworth Castle is one of the largest and strongest fortresses in Northern England. Its striking cross-shaped keep which is virtually complete presides over the remains of a great hall, chapel and gatehouse.
Managed by English Heritage, this former home of the powerful Percy family, whose lion badge can be seen carved on many parts of the stronghold, is thought to date from the 12th century. Harry Hotspur was perhaps the castle’s most famous resident, immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I. A fine example of medieval life and architecture, Warkworth Castle is a must-see on any heritage coastal holiday in Northumberland.
#04 Chillingham Castle
The ancient and remarkable 12th century fortress of Chillingham Castle was once home to Sir Humphry Wakefield and his family. Largely unchanged since its medieval beginnings, the Great Halls and State Rooms reveal fascinating tapestries, arms and armour while outside, there are 18th century gardens to explore and the chance to get up close with the famous and incredibly rare wild cattle.
The castle’s long list of royal guests includes King Henry III, Edward I and Charles I, the latter of whom stayed here for three nights before he was imprisoned. But it’s the unwanted guests which make this castle different. It’s claimed that Chillingham is Britain’s most haunted castle, with high levels of reported paranormal activity. When you walk through the dungeons and torture chambers and hear the grisly tales of the people who were executed here you will start to see why.
#05 Dunstanburgh Castle
Set on a remote, windswept coastal headland, Dunstanburgh Castle is an iconic ruin, once one of the largest and grandest fortifications in Northern England. Built in the 14th century by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, it is now owned by the National Trust and managed by English Heritage. Brooding and atmospheric, the castle can't be reached by road and is instead accessed by picturesque walks along panoramic cliffs from Craster, or over the dunes and beach from Embleton.
The castle was the scene of much bloodshed during the War of the Roses - it was twice besieged and captured by Yorkist forces, but subsequently fell into decay. Since then its crumbling ruins have inspired writers and painters like Turner, and caught at sunrise or sunset, is a photographer’s dream, casting a dramatic silhouette upon the vast coastal sky.
#06 Lindisfarne Castle
Perched on a rocky peak atop an island that’s accessible only when the tide is out, you can’t get much more remote – or well protected – than Lindisfarne Castle. Following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, this 16th century Tudor stronghold was built to defend the Harbour of Holy Island using stone recycled from the demolished Lindisfarne Priory.
It was manned by armed guards until 1893 when it fell into disrepair before being bought and converted into a private holiday home by famed architect Edwin Lutyens for the founding editor of Country Life magazine in 1901. Now in the hands of the National Trust, you can cross the causeway (check the tide times beforehand) and explore its intriguing interiors as well as its enchanting walled garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll.
Map of castles in Northumberland
From haunting ruins to imposing palaces, Northumberland’s castles are a must-see when visiting this beautiful part of North East England. Why not make the most of your historical holiday by staying in one of our cottages in Northumberland? Whether you are a couple looking for a romantic break for two or a family searching for a fun-filled break in a larger property, we have plenty of places to rest in comfort and style after a day exploring.
Need more inspiration? Our ‘Things to do in Northumberland’ guide is packed with ideas for days out!