Six reasons to visit Alnwick, Northumberland

Treehouse restaurant Alnwick

At the end of last year, D and I escaped the kids for a night and visited Alnwick, a market town in Northumberland, north England.

Alnwick

Did you know it’s possible to see the northern lights (Aurora Borealis) from parts of England? The Northumberland coast is one of those areas, and Alnwick is just a little way inland, making it an ideal base for gazing into dark, dramatic skies. It’s a quaint, historic town, with lots of interesting nooks and crannies.

Alnwick

So if you fancy some star-spotting in a place that’s still relatively unspoilt, I’d recommend Alnwick. It also has plenty more to offer both families, and travellers without kids.

 

Here are six reasons to visit Alnwick:

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle – aka Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films – closes for winter, but when we visited it was bustling with Halloween-themed activities: wand making, potion brewing and broomstick training were all on the menu for families that weekend.

Alnwick Castle

The castle is set in beautiful grounds – the northern side was designed by 18th century Northumberland-born landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, and it has been in the Percy family for over 700 years. The current owner Ralph Percy, the 12th Duke of Northumberland, lives with the Duchess in the castle, and for the seven months of the year they open their doors to the public. Inside Alnwick Castle you can see a grand collection of art and furniture dating back hundreds of years.

A family ticket to Alnwick Castle is £39; or £14 per adult, £12 per child. It’s free for under-5s to enter, and discounts apply if you book online.

Alnwick Garden

Alnwick Garden

The Alnwick Garden was also owned by the Percy family. It’s now ben taken over by a charitable trust, after it was renovated in 1997 by Jane Percy, Duchess of Northumberland. It’s home to several impressive water features; you enter in front of the cascade (seen in the picture above), and can then meander through different  landscaped zones. We arrived too late to visit properly, but I was sorry to miss the poison garden, where you can see poisonous and intoxicating plants (just don’t let your kids nibble those leaves…..)

Alnwick Garden

A winter family ticket to Alnwick Garden is £21.50; or £7.70 per adult, £4.40 per child. It’s free for under-5s to enter, and discounts apply if you book online.

Barter Books

It was a chilly day when we visited, so the roaring open fire in Barter Books‘ front room was a welcome sight. The cavernous bookshop is set in what used to be Alnwick’s Victorian train station, and once you’re past the cosy front room, it does still have the feel of a terminus, with a toy train rattling on tracks above your head, and stack after stack of second-hand books.

Barter Books

 

Barter Books

D and I could both quite easily have spent the day here. Browsing is encouraged, with seats laid out in each room (the space devoted to children’s books has bean bags and toys). It’s a fascinating place, set up like a shrine to reading matter; quotes have been plucked out of books and displayed on top of the rows, leading to a fascinating display of rare and valuable books. Oh, and there’s a cafe, on the old station platform.

Barter Books

Arts and Culture

As if that wasn’t enough mental stimulation, there’s also an arts centre. The Alnwick Playhouse is home to live and live-streamed theatre and music (like opera from New York’s Metropolitan, or National Theatre performances), as well as films for adults and children.

Alnwick

Countryside

The countryside surrounding Alnwick is stunning. It’s close to the Northumberland National Park, which together with Kielder Water and Forest Park makes up Europe’s largest international Dark Sky Park, and is officially the best place to go in the UK to get a clear view of the night sky.

Alnwick

As well as stars-spotting, open space enthusiasts can enjoy walking in the North Pennines, the second largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Britain’s first UNESCO European and Global Geopark, or even venture north to the Cheviots, a series of hills on the border with Scotland.

Food and drink

Alnwick has a decent spread of pubs (bars) and cafes, serving breakfasts and lunches. If you’re looking for something a bit special, the Alnwick Garden Treehouse restaurant has a decent menu of local fare, including dishes like chicken liver parfait, venison burger and Alnwick Garden gin cocktails; or Turnbull’s of Alnwick sausages for the kids.

Treehouse restaurant Alnwick

Treehouse restaurant

Be warned: it’s difficult to get an evening reservation. We visited on a Thursday (during half-term) and the restaurant was fully booked a good six weeks in advance. Instead we dined in the afternoon; the treehouse has a separate cocktail bar if you miss out on an evening slot.

Outside, the Treehouse is a rickety-looking mass of wood and stairways; inside, it’s strewn with twinkly lights and has a hushed feel. You can go upstairs and look at the castle from a viewing tower, although it was closed on the day we visited.

Treehouse restaurant

Where to stay

We were invited to stay at the Bondgate Boutique hotel, conveniently located in the centre of Alnwick; I’ve posted about it here. Next door was the Plough Hotel and restaurant, where we ate a slap-up breakfast, and enjoyed a couple of drinks in the evening. It’s recently been refurbished and the families we saw at breakfast seemed to be enjoying their stay.

Alnwick

The gardener’s cottage, Alnwick Garden

Getting there

Alnwick is slightly off the beaten track, but that all adds to its charm. It’s located off the A1, almost exactly half-way between Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and the Scottish border. Trains run directly from London to the nearby seaside town of Alnmouth; these take around three hours and 40 mins.

More information

Visit Northumberland

Visit Alnwick

Have you been to Northumberland?

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36 Comments

  1. Alice Project: Wanderlust
    January 26, 2016 / 8:22 am

    I never knew you could see the Northern lights from there! Plus that bookshop….beautiful! Great post.

    • January 27, 2016 / 7:50 pm

      Thank you!

  2. January 26, 2016 / 12:24 pm

    The treehouse restaurant sounds amazing. I would love to visit Alnwick Castle. One of my best friends lives near there so hopefully we will make it to Northumberland soon. x

    • January 27, 2016 / 7:50 pm

      The restaurant was fab. Looking at these pics makes me really want to come back!

  3. Helen @actuallymummy
    January 26, 2016 / 12:29 pm

    Ooh Alnwick is Hogwarts?! That’s an epic reason to visit – I didn’t know! I will definitely add to my travel bucket list just for that. But equally, how many hours could me and GG spend in that bookshop? I fear we might spend the whole week there 😉

    What a great post.

    • January 26, 2016 / 7:37 pm

      Apparently the Castle featured in a Dowton Abbey Christmas special too! I bet you and GG would love the place. x

  4. January 26, 2016 / 12:43 pm

    Must make sure we visit next time we are up north, My sister lives close by so hopefully we will get to visit this year, looks lovely x

    • January 27, 2016 / 7:50 pm

      You should do!

  5. January 26, 2016 / 6:17 pm

    I love exploring new places and Northumberland is spectacular. I’ve head the beaches are amazing, but for me the rolling countryside is so impressive. Lovely post, thanks for sharing

    • January 27, 2016 / 7:52 pm

      It’s a pleasure – thanks for stopping by.

  6. January 26, 2016 / 8:56 pm

    What a great looking place! That Treehouse restaurant looks amazing. Will definitely add it to my list of places to visit!

    • January 27, 2016 / 7:53 pm

      I’d love to read what you think of it.

  7. January 26, 2016 / 9:29 pm

    I live in Northumberland….hehehe
    Alnwick is about an hour away from me and it is absolutely stunning! There is so much to see and do!

    • January 27, 2016 / 7:53 pm

      Ha ha – Northumberland? Really? 🙂

  8. January 27, 2016 / 6:54 am

    That Tree House restaurant looks amazing – I have pinned to my UK travel board and hope to visit one day

    • January 27, 2016 / 7:54 pm

      Thanks for pinning! You really should go – I bet you’d love it.

  9. January 27, 2016 / 9:28 am

    We LOVE Alnwick for all of the reasons above. We ate at the treehouse the last time we went

    • January 27, 2016 / 7:54 pm

      Yum! I want to go there again!

  10. January 28, 2016 / 10:33 am

    This looks like a fascinating place, and reading your post has made me want to go there.

    • January 31, 2016 / 5:03 pm

      It’s not as well-known as it should be – you should definitely go there some time.

  11. January 28, 2016 / 10:30 pm

    We had a great week in Northumberland a few years back although it was rather colder than we’d packed for!

    I’m always keeping an eye out for Northern lights in the UK as I’d love to see them – but we’re right down south so highly unlikely (I also spent 4 nights in Iceland trying to see them and it was cloudy the whole time!).

    • January 31, 2016 / 5:04 pm

      My in-laws went all the way to Norway and still didn’t see them! Elusive old things.

  12. January 29, 2016 / 11:03 am

    Aww I’m orginally from up North so I used to visist Alnwick with school or with my folks as a fun day out! It definitely has lots to offer! x

    • January 31, 2016 / 5:13 pm

      It certainly does!

  13. January 29, 2016 / 8:12 pm

    I have an old friend from school that now lives there so I often see it in her pic on facebook. I’ve always thought it looks beautiful.I’d love to visit the castle and gardens. Interesting post x

    • January 31, 2016 / 5:19 pm

      Thanks. Lucky friend, to live in such a pretty place.

  14. January 29, 2016 / 11:09 pm

    A great article, showing Alnwick for the fascinating place it is – we love it and it seems everyone who visits falls in love with it too and becomes a regular visitor! Thank you for sharing this.

    • January 31, 2016 / 5:21 pm

      It’s a pleasure

  15. James Armitage
    January 30, 2016 / 2:44 pm

    The Alnwick Gardens should be free! They got. £6 million of Lottery Funding and then charge admission! Outrageous, but typical of the owners!

  16. Spookella
    February 1, 2016 / 6:14 pm

    The Poison Garden is really interesting and, you’ll soon discover, all those plants in your own garden which you had NO idea were toxic!

    • February 3, 2016 / 10:56 am

      I’m sorry we missed it this time. A good excuse to go back to Alnwick again soon!

  17. February 2, 2016 / 4:35 pm

    I have written a couple of articles about Northumberland before but have never actually been; this looks like such a lovely place to escape to for a short break. Sounds and looks like you had a great time.

  18. February 4, 2016 / 1:28 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever been to Northumberland, but Alnwick Castle looks amazing!

    • February 4, 2016 / 7:49 pm

      It’s a beautiful place to visit.

  19. February 21, 2016 / 2:45 pm

    Oh I love Alnwick, we have stayed a few times, and usually stay in town we love the castle and gardens and have spent many a happy day sunbathing in the gardens with a picnic and the food in the Tree House OMG it is amazing I just loved it xxx

    • Nell
      Author
      February 23, 2016 / 10:21 am

      Isn’t it just? I really want to go back and eat there soon.

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