Nestled in the rolling hills of northern England, the small tourist town of Alnwick may well be somewhere you recognise from film and TV. While its cobbled streets and historic architecture are a regular sight in many old English market towns, its impressive castle is a showstopper!
No matter whether you’re a film buff or a history nut, there are plenty of things to do in Alnwick. From books to broomsticks and everything in between, the following Alnwick attractions are guaranteed to make you fall in love with this timeless English town.
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Good to know! Despite its spelling, Alnwick is actually pronounced Annick. Try to get this in your head as early into your trip as possible – you will receive confused looks and laughs if you say it wrong in front of a local!
13 Fun Things to do in Alnwick, England
1. Explore Alnwick Castle
The jewel in Alnwick’s crown is undoubtedly its imposing 11th-century medieval castle which looms large over the town. It has long been held by the Percy Family and now belongs to the 12th Duke of Northumberland, Henry Percy. Although the castle is open to the public during the summer season, the Percy family still live there!
Architecturally impressive, the castle has doubled up as a popular filming location over the years and you may recognise it from productions such as Downton Abbey and the early movies of the Harry Potter franchise.
Even though a ticket to the castle isn’t cheap, there are plenty of activities included in the cost. History tours run several times a day and there is an ‘On Location’ tour which takes you around some of the most famous filming locations inside the castle grounds.
As well as being a must-visit location for history nerds and film enthusiasts, there are plenty of child-friendly activities on offer at the castle. As well as the Dragon Quest walkthrough experience, visitors have the opportunity to sign up for a broomstick lesson at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!
I recommend budgeting at least an entire morning or afternoon at the castle though it would be easy to spend the whole day there, especially if you want to get involved in the various activities on offer. If any of your party fancies zooming about on the back of a broomstick, you should be aware that the classes get full very quickly and tickets are distributed on a first come first served basis. Therefore, the earlier you can arrive, the better.
Also read: Alnwick Castle: Harry Potter Guide
2. Get Lost at Barter Books
Bibliophiles, unite! For everyone who agrees that the best place to be is in a bookstore, you’re in luck. Barter Books is one of the largest second-hand bookshops in the country.
Located in Alnwick’s old train station, this immense store is packed full to the brim with books. From dusty volumes to rare collections and chart-topping novels, you’ll definitely find some pages to get lost in here.
In homage to its roots, Barter Books features a model train set which weaves around the top of the shelves. Quotes from literary classics form archways between the aisles, highlighting the works of influential figures such as Robert Frost.
3. Sample the Local Goods
The tourist town of Alnwick is full of cute independent shops and cafes. From kitsch finds like the Origami Cafe to mouthwatering spots like the Cheese Room (don’t miss the Durham Blue), local produce abounds around town.
For fashion, ladies should head to Robinson’s of Alnwick which has a big selection of quality shoes and chic clothing. For men, check out Jobson’s which specialises in outdoor gear and country wear.
4. Explore Alnwick Gardens
When it comes to attractions in Alnwick, the gardens are undoubtedly one of the best. A must-visit spot for botanists and nature lovers alike, the gardens boast a range of exotic plant species and art installations.
Although Alnwick Gardens is impressive no matter the time of the year, a trip during the autumn months is highly recommended due to the wonderful changing colours of the leaves.
The most eye-grabbing attraction in the Alnwick Gardens is undoubtedly the Grand Cascade which hosts an impressive water display several times a day. Featuring a number of levels, this water fountain marks the central point of the park.
As well as the Grand Cascade, there are more water installations, many of them exhibiting impressive displays of physics! Also, check out the rose garden and bamboo labyrinth.
5. Brush Death at the Poison Garden
For lovers of dark tourism destinations, a trip to Alnwick’s Poison Garden is a no-brainer. Home to a variety of plant species, all of which are dangerous in some way, this garden is both morbidly intriguing and truly fascinating.
Only available to visit on a guided tour, the botanists at the Poison Garden have special permission to grow both cannabis and coca (the plant which cocaine is made from). The most enticing of the plants are housed in black cages to stop people from attempting to smuggle anything out.
Visitors should not smell, touch or eat anything inside the garden – while it may be tempting, it can have very serious consequences such as lightheadedness, nausea and in extreme cases, even death!
6. Enjoy a Picnic in Hulne Park
One of the best free things to Alnwick is to head to Hulne Park. Situated close to Alnwick Castle, this is a stellar example of the beautiful outside spaces in Northumberland. It’s a great activity to do with kids as you can let them burn off some energy in the big open space.
If you’re someone who likes wildlife spotting and hiking, choose one of the walking trails around the park. They range from around four miles to just over six miles. Don’t miss the walk up to Brizlee Tower.
7. Eat at the Cosy Treehouse Restaurant
Within eyeshot of Alnwick Gardens lies the quirky Treehouse Restaurant. This higgledy-piggledy wooden structure is not only hugely charming but also serves some of the best food around.
If you want to eat here, be warned. Although prices are pretty reasonable, the Treehouse Restaurant gets booked up quickly so it is always worth making a reservation in advance. All dietary requirements are catered for and the menu changes seasonally to bring you locally sourced ingredients.
8. Check Out Alnwick Market
If you happen to time your visit to Alnwick on a Thursday or Saturday, don’t miss a visit to the market. Selling everything from locally-made handicrafts to fresh produce and household goods, this is a great place for a spot of shopping. There is also an extra market on the last Friday of the month.
9. Learn About the Legend of The Dirty Bottles
Although now a hugely popular hotel, bar and restaurant, The Dirty Bottles has a dark history. Legend has it that back in 1725, the then-landlord dropped dead while he was arranging bottles. Convinced that the bottles in question were cursed, his wife encased them inside the window for everybody’s protection. At the front of the building, you can still see the original dirty bottles. Some still believe this place is haunted… why not grab a drink and see for yourself?
10. Eat Craster Kippers
Hailing from Northumberland’s Craster village, these kippers are the local delicacy of the area and appear on many a breakfast menu in and around Alnwick. You may be interested to know that kipper is not a type of fish, the fish used in kipper dishes is herring. It is the smoking process which makes the herring a kipper.
Although these herrings are not as locally sourced as they would have been once, the act of smoking the fish is still done in the village of Craster, hence earning them the name. Craster kippers are absolutely delicious and you should try them at least once while you’re in Northumberland!
11. Visit the Bailiffgate Museum
Just a stone’s throw from the castle, this community-run museum documents the history of Alnwick and the surrounding local area. It boasts “10,000 years of history in one visit” so might not be the best option if you’re after detail, however, it’s great for a good historical overview of the area. A visit here will complement a visit to Alnwick Castle so it is good to pair these nearby attractions together.
12. Go Stargazing
Did you know that the area close to Alnwick is one of the best places in England to see the stars?! Northumberland National Park makes up a large portion of England’s first International Dark Sky Park. Grab your binoculars, download your star-finding app and look up! See how many constellations you can recognise!
13. Explore the Places Near Alnwick
For those staying longer, you may want to consider some of the day trips from Alnwick. All of the below destinations are less than 45 minutes away by car and offer a great day out.
Just 18 miles from Alnwick and accessible only at low tide, this island makes for a wonderful day trip. The journey across the tidal causeway is a novel experience and the island itself has plenty to offer visitors.
The remarkable Lindsfarline Priory is a must-visit, however, the castle is reported to be a little underwhelming. Walkers will be delighted at the chance to hike some of the famous St. Cuthbert’s Way, a well-known UK pilgrimage route. Keep an eye out for wildlife as seals and different species of waders are frequently seen here.
If you’re not yet castled out, head to Dunstanburgh. Atop a remote headland, stands this 14-century fortress, now just ruins. Managed by English Heritage, entry is free for members but costs around £6 for other visitors.
If you’re visiting Alnwick during the summer months, consider a trip to the nearby beach at Alnmouth. Only a 15-minute drive from Alnwick, this white sandy bay is a delightful spot on a sunny day, especially if you are travelling with little ones.
Where to Stay in Alnwick
Situated in a Grade II listed building, The Bondgate Boutique offers comfortable accommodation in a central location. Although they are a room-only establishment (meaning no breakfast or reception), plenty of amenities are nearby.
For Harry Potter fans, there is likely no better accommodation choice than Hallow and Crux. This themed accommodation option is centrally located and decked out to look like Hogwarts! Although a stay here isn’t cheap, you will want for nothing during your stay, making it a great option for special occasions.
The Cookie Jar £££
If quirky luxury is what you’re after, head to the Cookie Jar. Formerly the Convent of Mercy, this character hotel offers a range of private rooms and suites. Period features such as stained glass windows and original beams have been retained throughout the property, giving this place an elegant air.
What is your favourite attraction in Alnwick?