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The Best Places to Visit in North England

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4 weeks ago

With over 37,000 square-kilometers of land and 17 cities to explore, there’s a huge selection of places that could make the cut for the best places to visit in North England. Finding the time to visit them all is pretty much impossible. However, if you’re trying to pack as many of the United Kingdom‘s top sights into one trip, we’ll tell you where to visit and why.

There’s no finite line dividing the north and south of England. Some claim it’s as far south as the Watford Gap in Northamptonshire (just 70 miles north of London). Today, the broadly accepted starting point of ‘The North’ is the the Humber Estuary in the east and the Dee Estuary in the west. We’ll take that as our marking line.

The Best Cities in the North

York

An absolute must for history lovers, the beautiful walled city of York sits in the shadow of its Gothic cathedral, York Minster. Along with a walk around the Roman walls and a visit to the Minster, make time to learn about the city’s Viking heritage at Jorvik Viking Centre. Taking its name from the Norse name for York, Jorvik takes you on an interactive journey back to 975 AD.

What to do

And you can’t miss the Shambles, the cobbled medieval street which inspired JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series. It’s a great place to lose yourself and browse some excellent independent shops.

Local tip: One of my favorite museums to explore in York is the National Railway Museum, situated behind the train station.

They have over 100 locomotives on display plus thousands of artefacts dating back to the first trains in the UK. Even better, it’s free to visit.

Not all of York’s museums are free though. If you’re planning to visit a few during your time here, it’s worth considering a York City Pass. The Pass gives unlimited access to over 25 museums and attractions. For more ideas on how to spend your visit to York, take a look at our guide to the unmissable things to do in York which cements York’s place as one of the best places to visit in North England.

Where to eat

When it comes to finding somewhere to eat, you’ll be spoiled for choice. York is full of places to savor rich flavors, from the world-renowned Bettys to classic English pubs (and maybe the best grilled cheese toastie in the UK).

Where to stay

If you decide to stay in York overnight or for longer, there’s no shortage of hotels. Our top picks are Principal York (just next to the National Railway Museum), The Grand, and 23 St Mary’s.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne

More commonly known as just Newcastle, or simply “the toon” by locals, the city on the River Tyne is famous for it’s energetic nightlife scene. If partying the night away is your idea of fun, you can’t miss a night out in Newcastle. We’re also of the opinion that Newcastle is the ideal base for day trips around North East England.

What to do

Some of the country’s best nightclubs are here: Flares, Digital and World HQ are all time favourites, with oriental-themed Madame Koo and cocktail hotspot Livello being the places to go if you fancy something a little different.

Newcastle is no one trick pony though. There’s plenty to see during the day too.

The city takes its name from the medieval castle, known as Newcastle which was completed in 1177 on the orders of King Henry II.

The castle’s origins date from around a century before this, when a motte and bailey castle was built to defend England from the Scots in 1080. It’s strange to imagine a time when the Scots were the greatest threat to England, but it wasn’t until 1707 that Scotland became part of the United Kingdom.

The castle is open to visitors five days a week (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays) with tickets priced at £12.50 as at the time of writing.

architecture in newcastle england

Newcastle is also home to two grand cathedrals. The most famous, and more photogenic of the two is Newcastle Cathedral, a Church of England church first built in 1091. It was added to over the centuries, finally being completed in the 15th century, when the spire was added. It became designated as a cathedral in 1882.

The second cathedral is St Mary’s Cathedral, a Roman Catholic place of worship, completed in 1844.

History quest complete, there’s one place you simply can’t leave Newcastle without stopping: a Greggs bakery. A name seen on high streets, train stations and retail parks up and down the country, Greggs was founded in Newcastle, opening their first shop here in 1951. You don’t need to visit a Greggs anywhere else in the UK, but in Newcastle it’s almost a pilgrimage.

Another aspect which makes Newcastle one of the best places to visit in North England is for shopping. The city center has a great range of boutiques and chain stores, with Eldon Square being the largest mall. Just outside of Newcastle, in Gateshead, there’s an even bigger and better mall: MetroCentre. Home to over 300 stores, MetroCentre is the second-largest shopping mall in the country.

Where to stay

Given how lively Newcastle is at night, it’s a great place for an overnight or weekend stay. Thankfully, there are some fantastic boutique hotels in the city center. My top picks are Malmaison Newcastle, Grey Street Hotel, and The Vermont.

Day trips from Newcastle

If you decide to stay in Newcastle for a few days, there’s lots of great things to see and do on a day trip from the city. Beamish Open Air Museum is my top pick, whilst the dramatic beaches of the Northumberland coast are another excellent choice.

Harry Potter fans won’t want to miss a trip to Alnwick Castle. The castle was used as Hogwarts’s exterior in the first two films. Alnwick is less than half an hour by train from Newcastle (get off at Alnmouth station).

For more details on day trips, don’t miss our comprehensive guide to the best day trips from Newcastle – many of which are also the best places to visit in North East England.

The Best Coastal Spots in the North East

Scarborough

The North Yorkshire town of Scarborough has been a seaside favorite amongst British holidaymakers since the 1600s. An acidic stream was discovered in 1626 which led to the building of Scarborough Spa. When the railway reached the town in 1845, tourism boomed.

Despite being heavily bombarded during the First World War, Scarborough remained a popular destination throughout the 20th century.

Whilst many British seaside resorts have become increasingly rundown in more recent years, with Brits preferring to escape to the warmth of the Mediterranean thanks to the advent of cheap flights, Scarborough is still holding its own.

What to do

A highlight of a visit to Scarborough is the medieval castle which overlooks the town. Originally built out of wood in the 1130s, the castle was rebuilt in stone in 1150 and over the years has protected against invasion by the Scots and served as a stronghold for both sides during the English Civil War. The castle is open daily to visitors, with the cheapest tickets available online.

The Sea Life Aquarium, Rotunda Museum, and North Bay Railway (a heritage miniature steam railway running along the shores of the North Sea) are well worth a visit.

Where to eat

Nothing says the Great British seaside like Fish and Chips. My favorite place to get them in Scarborough is Lifeboat Fish Bar on the street behind the seafront. This family-run restaurant and takeaway thoroughly deserves its place as Scarborough’s favorite restaurant.

Where to stay

If you fancy spending the night, or a few days, the top picks are Bike & Boot Inn, Riviera Town House, and Crown Spa Hotel. By staying overnight in Scarborough, you could easily add on a trip to nearby Whitby, another classic Yorkshire coastal town, albeit a little smaller, whose Abbey served as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in North England.

Seahouses & The Northumberland Coast

From Tynemouth in the south to Berwick-upon-Tweed in the north, Northumberland’s stunning coastline stretches for over 40 miles. Narrowing it down to one place to visit is an impossible task, but luckily all the coastal towns and villages are well connected by public transport.

Whilst having a car would give you the opportunity to see as much as possible, if you prefer to let someone else do the driving, you’ll still be able to enjoy all the top sights.

What to do

The reason I’ve chosen Seahouses as a base is simple: it’s my favorite spot on the Northumbrian coast and one of the best places to visit in the north of England. It’s small, yet busy, has some excellent restaurants, is just down the road from the imposing Bamburgh Castle and is well connected to the larger towns of Alnwick and Berwick.

Local tip: The best way to get around on public transport is by bus.

Service X18, operated by Arriva, runs between Newcastle upon Tyne and Berwick-upon-Tweed every hour and serves Amble, Alnmouth, Alnwick, Seahouses, Bamburgh and Beal along the way.

Seahouses’s main industry has always been fishing, something that’s still very important to the village today. A great place to learn about the history of fishing in the area is the Fisherman’s Kitchen, where you can also sample the catch of the day.

Local tip: To make the most of your visit, take a guided walking tour around the village to learn more about the history, which goes far beyond just fishing.

Special Mention: Farne Islands

The main attraction of Seahouses is that it’s the starting point for journeys to the Farne Islands. This archipelago comprises of 20 islands and is home to hundreds of seals a massive seabird colony, including puffins! So special are these islands that they are Sir David Attenborough’s favorite place to spot wildlife in the UK.

Boat trips run from Seahouses to the Farne Islands from March to October, giving you the opportunity to go ashore on the largest island, Inner Farne.

Head to the seafront in Seahouses and book a ticket from one of the wooden ticket booths (or book online for ease). Either way, this is one of the reasons why Seahouses ranks among the best places to visit in North England, and all the way up the top for best places in North East England.

Where to eat

When it comes to mealtime, there’s a surprisingly good choice of restaurants. My favorite, The Bamburgh Castle Inn, serves a changing seasonal menu topped off with a view of the castle. Elan is my top pick for Italian food, and for fish & chips, try Lewis’s.

Where to stay

If you decide to stay the night, the Bamburgh Castle Inn has the best views and affordable rooms and Beach House Hotel is the best for luxury.

The North East’s Best Countryside

Pickering & The North York Moors

Covering an area of over 550 square-miles, the North York Moors National Park is one of the largest expanses of heather moorland in England. Stretching forty miles inland from the coast, there’s plenty to see and do here.

The market town of Pickering sits on the edge of the National Park. This makes Pickering a great place to base yourself to explore the Moors.

What to do

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway starts in Pickering, running right through the Moors to Goathland, Grosmont and Pickering. During the summer months, there are up to six trains per day, allowing you to hop-off at stops along the route.

Local tip: Get off the train at Goathland and walk to Mallyan Spout, the highest waterfall in Yorkshire.

Following that, have lunch and a pint of real ale at The Goathland Hotel. It may look familiar to you; after all, it doubled as The Aidensfield Arms in the 90s TV show Heartbeat.

Castle Howard, an elegant stately home, is just 15 miles from Pickering and accessible by public transport. For families, Flamingo Land theme park is a great place to visit. If you have a thirst for history, Beck Isle Museum tells the story of Pickering’s past.

Where to stay

There’s not a huge choice for hotels in Pickering, but most are comfortable and offer good value. The White Swan Inn is the best place for a traditional country inn experience whilst the Old Manse is ideal if you prefer modern comforts.

If you’re travelling with a car, consider staying within the National Park itself: The Horseshoe Inn, Cottage Lea’s Country House, and Lastingham Grange are a few of the best spots near Pickering.

Kielder Forest

Kielder Forest spans 250 square-miles and, with over 150 million trees, Kielder Forest is England’s largest forest. It’s deep in the Northumberland countryside (right on the border of England and Scotland) and is definitely one of the best places to visit in North England.

What to do

If you’re looking for a beauty-ridden paradise in which to lose yourself, Kielder is the place for you. There’s trails aplenty and the views never cease to amaze. One of the forest’s biggest draws is Kielder Water. This reservoir which holds over 200 billion litres of water which supplies much of the North East.

On the banks of Kielder Water, Kielder Bird of Prey Centre is home to the largest collection of birds of prey in the North East of England. At night, head to Kielder Observatory, a one-of-a-kind attraction offering the opportunity to stargaze whilst learning about the night sky.

Where to eat

The Forest Bar & Kitchen, located next to the Bird of Prey Centre is my top pick for lunch, dinner or both. They serve all the British favorites with unspoiled views of the reservoir. If you’re craving a traditional pub lunch, head to Anglers Arms in Kielder village.

Planning your Adventure to England’s North East

Many travelers try to see as much of the UK as possible in one visit. If so, you’ll almost always pass through the North of England. A great itinerary is to do a circular trip from London: journeying up the east coast and back down the west coast.

This is allows you to combine your England visit with a trip to Glasgow or further afield. If you do this, make sure to spend some time in Edinburgh (don’t miss our suggestions for a day in Scotland’s capital). This way, you’ll also get to experience the best of the North West and the North East of England.


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