The North East of England might always not have the weather, but it’s got pretty much everything else. Vibrant cities, stunning coastline and an impressive selection of national parks ensure there’s never a dull moment round these parts.
Live the Hogwarts dream at Alnwick Castle, venture through the North York Moors, step back in time around York’s city walls, and even catch a glimpse of the iconic Northern Lights!
Whether you’re staying close to the northern cities of York, Durham or Newcastle, or going deep into the beautiful countryside, a family trip to the North East of England wouldn’t be complete without a few of the following highlights...
4 must-see sights in the North East of England
1. Alnwick Castle
Wands at the ready! Treat the Harry Potter fans in your life to a day out at Hogwarts. The incredible exterior of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland was used as a film set for a number of the Harry Potter films and it really is a sight to behold. Would-be wizards can even join in the Dragon Quest and take a Broomstick Training session!
If castles are your thing, and you’re basing your trip around the Northumberland Coast, there are plenty other historic sites to put on your list, too. Bamburgh Castle is fantastically well kept, and Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island can only be accessed during low tide — quite the adventure!
2. York Shambles and Snickelways
No, we aren’t pulling your leg — you really can spend a day meandering the Shambles and Snickelways of York city. The Shambles (York’s oldest street) is full of wonky, Medieval buildings and souvenir shops, and has its own links to Harry Potter — if it reminds you of Diagon Alley, you’d be right! The rest of the narrow streets (also known as the Snickelways) are well worth a stroll too, with plenty of independent stores, cafes and snack stops.
It’s a place quite unlike any other in the UK.
3. Newcastle Quayside
Newcastle makes the perfect pitstop while travelling up to Northumberland (and even Scotland!) but if you can find time to spend at least a day exploring ‘The Toon’, you won’t be disappointed.
The city’s highlight has to be the Quayside, on the Tyne river, which is alive with hustle and bustle Sunday mornings when the local arts, crafts and food market comes to town. Arty types should stop in at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art on the Gateshead side of the water, while book lovers can easily pass the day at Seven Stories — a museum and playspace dedicated to children’s literature, a short walk away in the Ouseburn Valley.
3. Whitby Bay
Upon arrival in the picture-perfect seaside town of Whitby, you’ll see evidence of the town’s long and unusual list of famous visitors everywhere you go. From the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, to the Dracula Experience, and The Rosa Hotel which displays a blue plaque for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known as author Lewis Carrol).
It’s true, Bram Stoker and Lewis Carrol both made Whitby a holiday destination of choice once over, while Captain Cook was born just down the road!
One glimpse at the dramatic silhouette of Whitby Abbey at sunset, and it’s hardly surprising a character like Dracula was born there!
5 must-do family activities in the North East of England
1. Squirrel safari by day...
Kielder Forest in Northumberland is one of the few remaining habitats for red squirrels in the UK. Grab a pair of binoculars and venture into the woodlands, looking for clues and tracking down a few of these beautiful animals with the help of your very own guide.
2. ...and stargaze by night
Then, once the sun goes down, book yourself a place at the incredible Kielder Observatory. Built underneath some of the darkest skies in Europe, this modern (yet modest) wooden structure is one of the best places to see our stars at night.
Tickets are essential, as is booking in advance as only a handful of guests are permitted every evening. In return, though, you get a night to remember — see the solar system through state of the art telescopes, ask all your burning planetary questions and, if you’re really lucky, witness the iconic Northern Lights.
3. Discover Durham’s mining history
Step back in time at Beamish, a Durham museum that recreates an early 20th century town. Visit the farm, head down the mine — if you dare! — pop in to the olde worlde bakery and then go to school!
This is a history lesson kids will never forget.
4. Walk Hadrian’s Wall (or at least part of it!)
Hadrian’s Wall is a genuine UNESCO World Heritage Site, dating back to 122 AD. In its entirety, it spans 84 miles — probably a bit too far for little legs to last! But even a day spent exploring one or two sites within Northumberland will leave kids eager to know more about the Roman history of the UK.
Start your day at Chesters Roman Fort and Museum to brush up on your knowledge — there may even be some live events scheduled, complete with legions in full costume! From there, you can travel on foot to Brunton Turret, or drive the short distance to Housesteads.
5. Ride the North York Moors Railway
If your little one is into trains, you will make their holiday with a trip on the North York Moors Railway. And we bet you’ll be pretty impressed, too.
Travelling through the best of Yorkshire’s lush countryside, the steam-powered journey goes northbound from Pickering to Whitby (a great way to arrive in town), and back again.
Run by volunteers, and entirely non-profit, your ticket goes towards railway conservation for years to come.
The best time to visit the North East of England?
The North East of England is notorious for its less than perfect weather conditions. Northumberland is blustery. Newcastle is rainy. And the North York Moors is often clouded in mist — but that’s all part of the region’s charm.
Travel in summer to get the best chance of sunny skies, but this region is unmissable all year round.
What to pack for the North East of England?
A raincoat and layers are a must, and walking boots will come in handy if you’re planning on spending much time in the national parks or Hadrian’s Wall. Keep that old adage in mind: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing”.
Getting around the North East of England?
If you’re sticking to the major towns and cities in the North East of England, travelling by coach, bus or train will be easy. However, if you want to get out into nature to discover Northumberland at its very best, you’ll need to travel by car.
And driving around couldn’t be easier. The A1 connects the North East to the rest of England, starting down by London and reaching all the way north to the Northumberland coast, finishing in Edinburgh!