Things to do North East England

10 north-east England destinations you need to know about

I’m trying something a little different today – a throwback post back to the UK! It was only fitting that my first post about my home country should be about my home region, too. So here’s a local’s guide to some of the many charming points of interest in the north east of England. If you’re visiting my little corner of the world, these are the first places I’d send you!

Note: To keep this concise, I’m going to focus on Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and Co. Durham. I’ll save the lovely North Yorkshire (and Cumbria) for another post.

1. Alnwick

Things to North East England - Alnwick-Alnwick Castle

Harry Potter magic at Alnwick Castle and Garden. For fans of Harry Potter, Alnwick Castle is a natural first stop. (It’s the filming location for Madam Hooch’s flying lesson in the first film.) If you can, combine the castle with nearby Alnwick Garden. Their Treehouse restaurant looks almost as magical as the castle, plus the tour through the poison garden is brilliant. You’ll learn so much about deadly plants that it’s basically a Herbology lesson. 😉

A bookshop in an old railway station. If you love second-hand books as much as I do, the wonderful Barter Books is unparalleled for selection, setting and atmosphere. Housed in a gorgeous former station building, it’s a unique mix of ‘impressive library’ meets ‘cosy reading nook’ that I’m yet to see rivalled.

2. Barnard Castle

Things to do North East England - Barnard Castle-Bowes Museum
Things to do North East England - Barnard Castle-Bowes Museum

A touch of France in the Teesdale countryside. The Bowes Museum is the jewel in Barnard Castle’s crown. Housed in a jaw-dropping French-inspired building is a solid permanent collection, including a glittering silver swan automaton that performs daily. The museum hosts an impressive roster of temporary exhibitions, too, often with a history of fashion focus.

A shopper’s delight. There are stacks of antique shops here, but a good place to start is the Mission Hall Antiques Centre on the Bank. For modern design (stationery, books and art), Oswell’s is superb…I can rarely resist a browse in here when I’m in town.

3. Hadrian’s Wall Country

Things to do North east - Hadrians Wall / Sycamore Gap - by Tim Withnall

Sycamore Gap – Tim Withnall

Roman ruins, Robin Hood and rugged scenery. If you’ve ventured this far up north, chances are you fancy a look at some Roman remains. For a glimpse of rugged scenery, best to don your walking shoes and head along Hadrian’s Wall itself. I particularly like the walk from Steel Rigg to Sycamore Gap. A lone tree is the star of the show here – you might recognise it from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. For more striking Roman remains, continue on towards Housesteads Fort.

4. Cragside

Things to do North east - Cragside - by Mat Wall

Cragside – Mat Wall

Inspiration for your dream country home. I’m a diehard National Trust fan, and Cragside is probably my favourite in the North East. The English Gothic country home of Lord Armstrong, this was the first home to be lit by hydroelectric power. The house alone is fascinating; among its many beautiful rooms is housed its own Turkish Bath, complete with plunge pool and cooling room! There are some gardens and wider grounds to wander, too.

5. Durham

Things to do north east England - Durham Cathedral - The National Churches Trust

Durham Cathedral – The National Churches Trust

UNESCO, Harry Potter and Avengers-approved history. On Palace Green you’ll find two parts of Durham’s World Heritage Site, Durham Cathedral and Castle. The Cathedral is magnificent architecturally, but has additional cachet as a Harry Potter filming location (both the cloisters and Chapter House feature). Apparently it’s going to be in Avengers Infinity War, too. Durham Castle is part of the University, so entrance is by guided tour only. Even though it wasn’t used as a filming location, its Great Hall isn’t a million miles away from the one in the Harry Potter movies!

A pretty riverside and a “Greek Temple”. Take in the lovely scenery and skyline from different angles by taking a walk along the riverside or taking a rowing boat out on the river itself. See if you can spot The Count’s House, an ornamental, Greek Temple-style folly built by Józef Boruwłaski, a Polish musician and dwarf who lived out his retirement in Durham.

6. Kielder Observatory

Things to do north east England - Kielder Observatory - by Jake Cook

Kielder Observatory – Jake Cook

A place to stargaze. If you appreciate the wonders of the night sky (and who doesn’t?) I’d recommend making a journey to Kielder Observatory. Set in the heart of the largest expanse of dark sky in Europe, it’s ideally placed for seeing a range of celestial pheneomena. Though sightings can’t be guaranteed – we went to see Jupiter and sadly the weather wasn’t playing ball – you’ll still get a really engaging and informative talk on the topic of your chosen event. They’re popular, so be sure to book in advance.

7. Beamish Open Air Museum

Things to do north east England - Beamish

Time travel through 19th and 20th century Britain. If you like history, I can’t recommend Beamish enough – it’s a living museum, so the closest thing I can think of to stepping back in time. They’ve transplanted an array of actual historic buildings from around the north east into one small area, including a 1900s high street (complete with a functioning bakery and sweet shop, along with a stationers, bank and other businesses and residences) and Pockerley Old Hall, a gorgeous little manor house from the 1820s.

8. The coast – Lindisfarne, Dunstanburgh Castle & Bamburgh Castle

Things to do north east England - Dunstanburgh castle

Spectacular stretches of coastline. The north east has some beautiful coastal areas. I particularly like the walk to Lindisfarne (aka Holy Island) but, being an island, access depends very much on tide times, so exercise caution. The beaches around Dunstanburgh Castle and Bamburgh Castle are photogenic, too, even more so with the castles on the horizon.

9. Berwick-upon-Tweed

Things to do North East England - Berwick - by Tom Parnell

Berwick – Tom Parnell

Border country and LS Lowry. If you drive much further north from Bamburgh and Lindisfarne, you’ll hit the northernmost English town, Berwick-upon-Tweed (and the Scottish border soon thereafter!). It’s a pleasant seaside destination of particular interest to fans of LS Lowry, with remains of Elizabethan fortifications belying its troubled history on the border.

Fun fact: Berwick is also the subject of a great story that claims the town is or has recently been technically at war with Russia. Sadly that’s apocryphal!

10. Newcastle (& Gateshead)

Things to do North East England - Newcastle
Things to do North East England - Newcastle

I was a little reluctant to include a large city here as my favourite north-east locations are definitely rural rather than urban, but I’ll admit Newcastle does have its charms. Some favourite sights include:

Centre of town

  • The honey-hued architecture on Grey Street is a sight to behold, and the historic tile work and mosaic floors of Central Arcade make it one of the prettiest spots in the city.
  • Grainger Market is worth a visit if you like browsing market stalls – they have an adorable Marks & Spencer’s Penny Bazaar selling cut-price M&S goods, plus great food at Pet Lamb Patisserie and Slice Pizza, amongst others.
  • For a bit of culture, check out the Laing Art Gallery or the Tyneside, an independent cinema with lots of history, is worth a visit, whether for a tour or to catch a film.

Ouseburn

  • I love both the Star & Shadow Cinema and Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books (geared towards children, but still!).
  • Tour Victoria Tunnel, provided you’re not claustrophobic! Its history as a subterranean wagonway and then a WWII air raid shelter is intriguing to say the least.

Quayside

  • A great area for a photo walk, with its series of interesting bridges (including the Tyne Bridge, the design of which was based on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The likeness is kind of striking, actually.)
  • On the Gateshead side is possibly my top thing to do in Newcastle/Gateshead: the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Entry is completely free and it’s packed with excellent exhibitions. Besides the art, it’s got great views, a lovely café and an awesome shop.
  • The Sage, a really wonderful cloud-shaped music venue, is also recommended if you have the time to attend a concert.

Over to you

Have you visited the North East before? Or is it somewhere you might visit in the future? I’d be very interested to hear where you went and what you thought in the comments. 🙂

I’m definitely missing the history and charm of the UK being here in New Zealand. Look out for a few more UK guides in the future. 🙂

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42 thoughts on “10 north-east England destinations you need to know about

  1. Jane @ Raincity Librarian

    Oh, I’d love to visit the north of England – alas I’ve only been to England once, years ago, but didn’t make it far outside of London! Given the fact that both my parents were born in England, and that my dad’s family is English, I really ought to explore my ancestral homeland in more detail!

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      You definitely should if you get chance, Jane! I love London, but there are so many wonderful, underappreciated spots outside of the capital. 😀

      Reply
  2. Baby Loves Travel

    I really liked Newcastle when I visited. I’ll have to try some of the other destinations – the castles look great and I would love to walk along Hadrian’s Wall. #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      So glad to hear you enjoyed Newcastle! Hadrian’s Wall is wonderful for a bit of a ramble – so many walks.

      Reply
  3. Amanda

    Hadrian’s wall is a great place to visit, and I really enjoyed spending a weekend in Newcastle. I’d like to get out to some of the coastal castles though, these photos look amazing.

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      It’s such a unique and powerful piece of Roman history, isn’t it? The coastal castles make great subjects for photography in my opinion. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid

    Hubby’s family are all from Newcastle. Reading your post makes me wish we’d seen and done more in the north east when we lived in the UK. Now that we’re living down under, any visits “home” are spent seeing family, rather than our spectacular surrounds. Sob!

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Aw! At least if you ever get the chance for a little day out with the family, you’ll have a couple of ideas. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Brooke of Passport Couture

    Unfortunately, I have not visited North East England, but I wish I had now that I’ve read your post! There are many features in these areas that appeal to me including the museums, fashion history, outdoor scenery, and bookstores. The architecture in these areas is incredible, I can see why you have such fond memories of it!

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      So glad they appeal to you, too, Brooke! My favourite places always tend to be either historical or have beautiful natural scenery (or both!). I was lucky to grow up in a place that had lots of those places not too far away. 🙂 Hope you get to visit one day!

      Reply
  6. Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles)

    What a great post, Lorna! The North East doesn’t get as much press attention as the south or Scotland so it’s good to see so many wonderful places being featured. Those beaches look absolutely stunning and I’ve always wanted to visit Durham. I love the design of your blog, by the way. Thanks so much for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Thank you so much for your kind comment, Clare! I’m in awe of your blog, so it means a lot. 🙂

      Agreed. Besides Newcastle, I think the North East is an oft-overlooked region for tourists. It’s home to so many gems! Hope you get to visit Durham and the coast sometime. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Jenny @ The Little Adventurer

    I loved reading this post. The NE has a special place in my heart, as my Grandparents are from Consett, and so we often find ourselves in that neck of the woods. Many happy childhood memories of Durham and Lindisfarne. I’ve never been to Beamish, and I love a good museum – so I will definitely be looking this up next time we visit. Thanks for sharing! #thefarawayfiles

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      That’s so lovely to hear! Beamish is one of my favourite places – I do hope you get the opportunity to visit. 😀

      Reply
  8. Katy Clarke

    What a fantastic guide Lorna. I went to university in Manchester so I know the north west pretty well (for an Aussie!) The north east of England is a bit of a mystery apart from York. The coast looks gorgeous! We are heading up north on a road trip next year so I have saved this for our trip planning. Thanks for joining us on #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Thanks so much Katy! York is one of my favourite cities in the UK – may have to do a post devoted to North Yorkshire sometime in the future. Can’t wait to see what you get up to on your road trip. 😀

      Reply
  9. Sarah

    Absolutely love the design of your blog 🙂 I’ve lived in the UK for a few years but one area I’ve yet to *really* explore is the North East! My friend studied in Durham last year and I was desperate to go but the train was so expensive!! It looks gorgeous though… hoping I can make a trip sometime soon 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Thanks so much Sarah! That’s very kind. 😀

      I so hope you can make the trip, though I empathise with those prohibitive train costs. I studied in Durham, too, as it happens. 🙂 Never intended to stay so close to home but it ended up being my first choice!

      Reply
  10. jo

    I grew up in Newcastle so many of my childhood faves are here! Beamish, Durham Cathedral (my number 1 favourite building in the UK), Cragside, Hadrian’s Wall and Lindisfarne. Now I live in the South West rather than the North East but I have huge affection for Newcastle and great memories of my 20 years in the city and it’s environs. #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Great to meet someone else from the area. 😀 Durham Cathedral is fantastic, I can see why it would be your favourite. I’ve seen so little of the South West, I’d love to spend some time there.

      Reply
  11. Anisa

    I have really been enjoying exploring more of England that just London. I have been very impressed with what I have seen. We drove through this area but didn’t have much time to explore it last year, so I want to go back. Holy Island is one of the things on the top of my list. Pinning this for future reference, thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Thanks Anisa, hope it’s helpful for you. 😀 I seriously need to explore more of my own country. I hope to properly road trip around the whole of the UK one day!

      Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Thanks Marcella! I’m exactly the same. I love to discover places off the beaten track. 🙂

      Reply
  12. Dr B

    Great post and thank you for all the recommendations too. We have already visited quite a few. We travel the world lots, just back from 3 weeks trans rail USA, but also believe in real local exploration too. We are creating a “tour of England ” for ourselves spread across a year and Beamish, Holy Island and Bamburgh Castle are included.

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Excellent choices! 🙂 What else is on your tour of England? I need to see much more of the country myself, hoping to do a road trip around the UK sometime in the future.

      Reply
  13. Lolo

    This part of England looks lovely! That cathedral is stunning!! I’ve seen a lot of England but don’t think I’ve managed to get so far north. Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      It really is – definitely worth making the journey up north if you can sometime! 🙂

      Reply
  14. Vanessa Brune

    To be honest, I’d never heard about any of these places before, except Newscastle. And boy, they all look and sound incredibly charming! Thanks for putting the North-East of England on my radar!! 🙂

    Reply
  15. Chiera

    I realised the other day that while I go on day trips to Scotland at any possible opportunity, I never venture south. North England is the same distance (if not closer) than some of the Scottish places I visit. I’m going to make it a conscious effort to visit more – I’ve love to go and see Hadrians Wall 🙂 #FarawayFiles

    Reply
  16. Erin Gustafson

    One of my favorite book shops in the world is Barter Books in Alnwick! And we loved Bamburgh and Seahouses – we took the boat tour out to the Farne Islands from there which I can highly recommend – especially during puffing nesting season! So fun! But wear a hat! 😉 Lovely sites and lovely post. We are happy to have you part of the #FarawayFiles community, where will you take us next? Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Ah, me too! It’s right up there with Shakespeare & Co in Paris. I so need to find more gorgeous book shops and libraries around the world, I think that would be a fantastic way to choose potential travel destinations!

      I remember taking a boat around the Farne Islands in school but unfortunately didn’t get to see any puffins. Sounds like it might be worth a return trip to see them! 🙂

      It’s been so fun being part of #FarawayFiles, will definitely be linking up again soon! Watch this space. 😀

      Reply
  17. Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net)

    What a great post! These are just the sort of sites we love exploring. Durham Cathedral looks beautiful, and we’d love to explore Cragside. Oh, who are we kidding? We’d love to move into Cragside! 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Cragside has so much “dream house” potential! Part of me thinks it might be a little on the large side, but I’m sure I could live with that. 😀

      Reply

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