Northumberland is a historic county in North East England and is a magical place filled with ancient castles, white sand beaches, rolling hills, seaside villages, sweeping views and cultural heritage.
Visitors come from far and wide to experience the relaxed pace of Northumberland, not to mention those history buffs for all the castles and the Harry Potter fans for Hogwarts, of course - oops, we mean Alnwick Castle!
Staycations to Northumberland are also extremely popular with London being less than three hours away on the train, and Newcastle Airport being about 30 minutes from Morpeth. This makes it an accessible spot for those city dwellers to escape to for some much-needed countryside and fresh air.
As well as the architecture, market towns and cultural attractions, one of the biggest pulls to the area is Northumberland’s National Park. It will not surprise you to hear that this National Park has been listed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covering 400 square miles, encompassing Hadrian’s Wall in the south and the Cheviot Hills in the North. It is one of the least populated counties in the UK with its clear air, clean waters and the freshest of forest and is easily one of England’s most tranquil locations.
Within the park, you will find Kielder Forest Park which covers a whopping 250 square miles and includes Europe’s largest man-made lake, Kielder Water, and is home to the largest expanse of protected dark skies in the UK. The National Park is a huge adventure playground with every activity imaginable on offer from mountain biking and rock climbing to horse riding and wind surfing! It is also home to many historical sights, picturesque villages and unique attractions. Read on to discover the best places to visit in Northumberland National Park.
Sights and landmarks
Here are some of our top sights and landmarks that we think you should visit whilst in the National Park.
Cragside House and Gardens
Cragside House is an extraordinary Victorian house, built on a rocky crag high above Debdon Burn, which was the family home of Lord Armstrong, the fondly-remembered Victorian inventor and industrialist. It is a building of interest being the first one in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity and throughout the interior, all sorts of gadgets are on display from fire alarm buttons to a passenger lift!
As well as being a successful inventor, Armstrong was a lover of the outdoors and constructed five lakes along with planting over seven million trees and shrubs, so you can only imagine the beautiful grounds to explore here. Dogs are welcome in all outdoor areas, just remember to pick up after them!
Location: Morpeth, NE65 7PX
- A day can be spent exploring the house, gardens and woodland
- The estate has more than 30 miles of footpaths and lakeside walks
- There is a play area, a rhododendron maze and a trim trail for family fun
- The estate provides a shelter for the endangered red squirrel – often sighted!
Brinkburn Priory is an impressive 12th-century monastery which is one of the best examples of early gothic architecture in Northumberland. Built on a bend in the River Coquet near Rothbury, little survives of the structures that were originally erected by the monks, apart from the Priory Church. In the 19th century the roof was restored, and the stained-glass windows inserted which you can go and admire today.
The Priory is now used as a venue for music concerts, weddings and even the Brinkburn Festival, but without all of that, it is a peaceful and tranquil place to go and visit.
Location: Morpeth, NE65 8AR
- The neighbouring abandoned manor house (16th century) can also be explored
- Walks by the river are pleasant and otters have been spotted here by visitors
- The on-site gift shop has a vending machine that serves tea, coffee and hot chocolate
- There are benches on the grounds where you are welcome to bring a picnic
Sycamore Gap walk
This is a lovely circular walk which leads you to the iconic Sycamore Gap – the most photographed tree in Northumberland! Voted England’s tree of the year, this sycamore grows in a gap near Castle Nick on Hadrian's Wall. This gap is said to have been created thousands of years ago by vast amounts of meltwater flowing beneath ice sheets that once covered the area.
Scientists say that there were likely to have been more trees here, but these may have been removed for game shooting, or improving landscape views but none the less this one stands strong and has become quite the national treasure with over 12,000 posts on Instagram alone.
Location: Henshaw, National Park
- Start off at the visitor centre (located on the B6318 between Greenhead and Chollerford) to the Roman Fort and swat up on your knowledge
- Enjoy views of Hadrian’s Wall
- Immerse yourself in history as you return via the Roman Military Way
- Also known as ‘Robin Hood Tree’ after featuring in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ starring Kevin Costner in 1991
You have probably guessed by the name that this farm has links to Lord Armstrong too, and you would be right! He remodelled this farm himself in the 1880s to keep his prize cattle, and it sits quietly on the edge of the famous Cragside Estate in Rothbury. Like Cragside House, he got the farm running on hydropower, which back then was revolutionary.
Now privately owned, it is a working farm in which the family live and run, and the Victorian farmworkers' cottage is now a holiday home. The farm and historic site is open to the public to enjoy and makes for a fun day out.
Location: Rothbury, NE65 7XN
- Historic tours available on site – book in advance
- Pedigree Whitebred Shorthorn cattle and Park Type Cheviot sheep roam the farm fields
- Lots of interesting artefacts to see dating back to the 15th century
Towns and villages
There are a few significant settlements in the National Park itself, with most lying around the borders. These picturesque villages are fun to discover and potter around, spending as much or as little time as you like in them. Each one has something different about it, giving you lots of variety on your village tour. The ones we have featured are within easy reach of each other, making it possible to visit more than one in a day amongst nice walks and coffee stops.
Alwinton is a village nestled in the South Eastern foothills of the Cheviots, in the Coquet Valley, and is best known for its ancient church. Named after the River Alwin, it lies on the edge of the National Park making it an ideal destination for outdoor activities and relaxing breaks. Although there are no shops here, there is a popular pub called The Rose and Thistle which offers a delicious menu of home-cooked meals and a wide range of drinks. Stay in Bridge End Cottage (sleeps five) to experience this tiny village for yourself.
Bellingham is situated on the banks of North Tyne and is generally known as the gateway to Kielder Water and Forest Park. There is a thriving community here with a café, three pubs and a hotel with swimming pool. There is an excellent 18-hole golf course and a fitness centre for those who like a bit of gentle exercise and we have heard the North Tyne river makes a good spot for some fishing! Brookside Cottage (sleeps two) lies in the heart of Bellingham and is the perfect base to get out and explore from.
Otterburn is a small village about 30 miles north-west of Newcastle and it has a fascinating history. It is the site of a major Battle of Otterburn in 1388 between English and Scottish armies. It also saw a lot of action during the days of the Border Reivers when rival gangs terrorised the local people. Thankfully, it is a lot quieter today (!) and has a vibrant community at the heart of the Resesdale Valley. The Otterburn Mill is a big attraction with its museum focusing on the history of weaving and wool milling in the area. Weavers Cottage (sleeps four) is a charming cottage in Otterburn close to restaraunts and shops; make this your next holiday base in Northumberland.
Holystone is a tiny stone-built village well known for its little pool called Lady’s Well. History rumours that this pool was originally associated with the Anglo-Saxon Saint Ninian, who baptised many early Christians in its holy water. If you visit, you will see the stone cross placed in the centre of it by Victorians; you can decide if this is eerie or magical. Set on the edge of the National Park, it is well placed for venturing in and enjoying the wilderness. Byre Cottage (sleeps six) nearby in Low Alwinton, would be a nice base for you and your family to explore from.
Rothbury is a traditional market town in central Northumberland and is known as the Capital of Coquetdale, offering a peaceful haven to those who come and visit. Home to the National Park Centre, this is a popular starting point for lots of walking routes in the region. It has a bustling high street complete with shops, cafes, pubs and tea rooms. Rothbury is the centre for fun events that run throughout the year, including a traditional music festival in July. Star House (sleeps eight) is a fantastic base for exploring this area and is ideal for families, keen walkers and cyclists too!
Dark Sky Park - stargazing in the National Park
Within the National Park, you will find Kielder Observatory which is located high upon Black Fell. Here you will be able to partake in lots of stargazing events which run seven days a week and learn all about the wonders of the night sky. There are other more ‘wild’ spots to enjoy the stars, as well as viewpoints and village greens!
For all the info on best places to stargaze, check out our guide on Dark Sky Discovery sites in Northumberland.
Kielder Water and Forest Park
This forest park covers a whopping 250 square miles and is a large adventure playground for those who love outdoor activity, woodland walks and peaceful nature. With a variety of habitats that range from woodland to marshy bogs, Kielder Forest is a haven for wildlife throughout the year. The forest is home to about half of England’s red squirrel population and ospreys started nesting here in 2008 – a great feat! Other animals such as roe deer, water voles and otters can also be spotted with patience throughout Kielder. The waterside park has three play zones for the children where they can play in safety, surrounded by nature. If you are still interested, why not read our six reasons to visit Kielder Forest?
This is a smaller option to Kielder Water and perhaps a more family-friendly one when it comes to fishing. It is located within easy reach of Tyneside and offers top-class fly and bait fishing for all levels of angler. There is also a waterside park which offers charming circular walks and playzone which is great for the kids. They are sure to burn energy on the swings, slides, climbing frame and zip swings – you might enjoy it too! Being here makes you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and the 3.5-mile circular walk is a lovely way to immerse in nature and spot wildlife like squirrels, badgers, roe deer and swans.
Walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders will love the enchanting atmosphere of Thrunton Wood as trails weave and cut through the woodland, eventually reaching open views across moorland and the Whittingham Vale and Cheviot Hills. Wildlife is abundant here, with squirrels, deer and birdlife and mischievous hobgoblins are fabled to dwell here – it’s up to you whether you believe it or not!
Rothbury riverside walk
This is a really easy walk which would be a perfect option if you have small children with you although the path is thin so not very pushchair friendly. The route starts at Beggars Rigg car park and takes you on a pleasant stroll alongside the River Coquet and into Rothbury. This walk will give you a lovely mix of peace and culture as you pass other holiday makers, locals, cyclists and horse riders! This is a nice round-trip with an explore around Rothbury in-between; perhaps a spot of lunch is in order too!
Activities in the Northumberland National Park
Being largely rural with an interlacing network of quiet roads, Northumberland is a gem for cycle touring. Cycling is an excellent way to explore a new area: you can take in the sights a lot slower than you can when in a car, you can get to places cars can’t get and it’s environmentally friendly! The wild open spaces make it a haven for mountain biking with lovely natural trails and, with over 100 miles of purpose-built trails, there are so many options for family days out. That’s it, get the bike rack on!
This activity centre offers exciting and exhilarating outdoor adventure for groups of friends and families. Activities include archery, laser-clay shooting, a high-ropes course, canoeing, abseiling, sailing and zip wires, amongst many more! There is so much fun for everyone here, and there are even options for those who don’t want the thrill of hanging from high ropes – the swimming pool and sauna may be more up your street. Day tickets are available from their website.
There are two golf courses within Northumberland’s National Park.
- Bellingham Golf Course is an 18-hole golf course situated in the North Tyne valley between Hadrian’s Wall and the Scottish border. The course overlooks the village with lovely views up the valley towards Kielder Water and Forest Park. For those enthusiasts out there - there is a pleasing mixture of testing par threes, long par fives and a memorable collection of tricky par fours! Location: NE48 2DT
- Rothbury Golf Course is nestled in the heart of the Coquet Valley and is a pretty 18-hole course, popular with locals and tourists alike. The course boasts amazing views of the valley and the Simonside Hills so a game of golf has never been so pretty. Visitors are welcome so make sure you take your clubs and pay them a visit! Location: NE65 7RX
- Check out more Northumberland golf courses
Boat, canoe or kayak on Kielder Water
If you want to try these activities but do not have your own equipment, then Calvert Kielder will sort you out. However, if you do come equipped with your own boat, canoe or kayak then head to Kielder Water to launch and explore. Make sure you follow all safety guidelines provided to you on this site.
Places to eat
It is important to take a break from your adventures to rest and re-fuel so here are some great options for places to eat in Northumberland National Park. Whether you want a big meal, a light bite, or coffee and cake, these are the eateries to keep in mind!
- Enjoy good food from soup of the day to home-cooked meals in a quirky train carriage. You can even enjoy a refreshing beer on the platform!
- Open: 10am – 4.30pm daily
- Afternoon tea served 2pm – 4pm
- Address: Station Yard, Woodburn Road, NE48 2DG
- A lovely informal café with a homely buzz, serving delicious coffee, cakes and traybakes. Perfect for a quick stop to refuel
- Open: 8.30am – 4.30pm daily. Sunday: 9am – 3pm
- Address: Manchester Square, Bellingham, Hexam, NE48 2AH
- A welcoming family-run café serving delicious home-cooked food, particularly popular with bikers and cyclists.
- Open: Monday: 9.30am – 4.30pm, Tuesday: 8.30am – 5pm, Wednesday – Friday: 8.30m – 5pm, Saturday – Sunday: 9.30am – 5pm
- Address: Coquet Dale House, High St, Rothbury, NE65 7TE
- A cheery café bar serving filling breakfasts, lunches, dinners and tasty traybakes. Expect good British food.
- Open: Monday – Thursday: 6.30am – 8.30pm, Friday: 6.30am – 9pm, Saturday: 7.30am – 9pm, Sunday: 8am – 7.30pm
- Address: Otterburn, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE19 1NP
- A homely inn offering great food for everyone, from classic fish and chips to a traditional Sunday roast. Perfect for a stop on your way through Otterburn.
- Open: 12pm - 9pm daily.
- Address: Jedburgh Road, Otterburn, NE19 1NR
Where to stay
When you plan to visit a new place, your accommodation is key. We have lots of cottages throughout the National Park that suit all sorts of holidays, from romantic getaways to group adventure.
Rochester House Barn
Rochester House Barn is a beautiful stone cottage set in the Cheviot foothills. It is the perfect romantic getaway with bubbling hot tub, cosy cottage interior and luxurious four-poster bed. There is bike storage for the keen cyclists, and it’s pet friendly too!
For something a bit different, try Pheasant Cottage in Low Alwinton. This is a quirky Scandinavian-style log cabin in a peaceful setting just waiting to be enjoyed. The double doors opening from the living room makes it possible to enjoy fresh air all day, and the surrounding area lends itself well to lots of outdoor adventure.
Family holiday homes
Coquet Cottage is a traditional cottage located close to the River Coquet. The cosy lounge will become the main hub of the house as you all relax after days out exploring. There is a nice big lawn for outdoor play for both the kids and the pooch. Here you are surrounded by stunning woodlands and nature, perfect for family getaways.
Tapestry Cottage is a delightful stone holiday home settled in the pretty village of Harbottle. Children will love the enchanting garden which has lots of flowers and shrubs, and they will enjoy watching the birds gather around the feeder. The outdoor seating area with stove offers the perfect place to sit of an evening, and the inside is absolutely charming too. Sleeps six, three dogs welcome.
Catcleugh Farmhouse is a stylish and rustic former farmhouse located in Northumberland Dark Sky Park, which means starry nights and an amazing atmosphere! This impressive house, sleeping ten, offers plenty of space for a group gathering and acts as the perfect base to explore from. It also welcomes three dogs!
Star House is set on the edge of the National Park in Rothbury, making it a good location for exploring the coast too! This spacious cottage makes for a relaxing break with its comfortable interior and luscious furnishings. There is a nice big kitchen to cook in, and a warm sitting room to settle down in after days out exploring. Sleeps eight, two dogs welcome.
Hopefully after reading this guide you are raring to get over to Northumberland’s National Park to experience it for yourself. If you are planning to take the family there this year, make sure you check out our favourite family-friendly cottages and remember, many cottages welcome the dog too so keep them in mind when planning. Perhaps some research is in order with our dog-friendly guide to Northumberland?