Car-free holidays in NorthumberlandNorthumberland

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From the beautiful borderlands around Berwick upon Tweed to the less explored industrial heritage around Blyth, Northumberland is packed with cracking destinations for a car-free break: seaside castles and colonies of seals, gardens, museums and miles of dune-backed beaches. With a railway line along the coast, regular bus services, and year-round boat trips, there's no need to drive. Or head inland to the medieval treasures of Hexham with its ancient abbey and bus connections to Hadrian's Wall.

  • County: Northumberland
  • Great for: castles | cycling | family fun | gardens | history | museums | nature reserves | scenic bus and train | walking | wildlife |
  • Refreshments: lots of fabulous restaurants, pubs and cafes
  • Please note: researched/updated in November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have more tips to share, do get in touch:
  1. Alnmouth

    On the winding River Aln with its colourful houses and quiet beach, this coastal village is a lovely place to stay. It’s 1½ miles from the railway station to the beach and there are regular buses.

    • Ten minutes ride on bus X18 is the lovely town of Alnwick with its castle, a key film location for Harry Potter. How to get to Alnwick Castle without a car? Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • Nearby Alnwick Garden is another great attraction with rose gardens, fountains and terraced paths, swings in the cherry orchard, a bamboo maze and even a poisonous plants garden! Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • Bus X18 will also take you directly to Bamburgh or Warkworth Castles (both of which give you 20% off for arriving by bus) and the harbour villages of Amble or Seahouses, jumping off point for the Farne Islands. Take a boat trip to see the thousands of grey seals who live here, their curious, whiskered faces surfacing just metres from the boat. You’ll see puffins swimming, gannets diving and surreally beautiful vistas of the castle-spangled coast.
    • Head out to Holy Island and you’ll also get discounts with your Borders buses 477 ticket: 20% each off entry to Lindisfarne Priory and Lindisfarne Castle. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • The Northumberland Coast AONB has put together this handy summary of buses from Alnmouth to other sights.
    • Alnmouth is packed with places to stay like the Old Granary B&B in the middle of the village. But it’s all likely to get quite booked up in summer so keep reading for some slightly more off-the-beaten-track suggestions.
  1. Berwick-upon-Tweed

    If you look out of the window near the Scottish border, on a train journey between London and Edinburgh, you’ll get a fabulous view of Berwick-upon-Tweed’s long, arched bridges, its polygonal town hall spire rising over the rooftops, and the river widening out to meet the sea.

    • Better still, step off the train for a holiday packed with castles, boat trips, wildlife, history and waterside walk. The sights around Alnmouth (above) are all accessible from here along with lots of others in this fascinating border town with its castle ruins right next to the railway line. The town walls now form a mile-long amble round the major sights with medieval ramparts overlooking the Tweed and Elizabethan fortifications towering above cave-backed beaches.
    • The town’s beaches below are alive with wading birds: noisy oystercatchers, stilt-legged redshanks, curve-billed curlews and seaweed-brown turnstones. You can see all these and more from the Berwick Boat Trips, who operate cruises on the smart new Border Belle into the winter months and regularly spot seals and dolphins near the estuary.
    • There’s bike hire on Bridge Street near the Curfew micropub and Atelier, opposite the pub, which is a great wine bar and bistro. Or there’s tasty fish and chips up the road at Coull’s on Castlegate.
    • Bus X18 will take you to Seahouses harbour (for trips to the wildlife-rich Farne Islands) and to Bamburgh castle, on its volcanic headland, while bus X15 will take you to Alnwick for the castle and garden. Northumberland Coast AONB have suggested lots of great days out from Berwick by bus including trips inland to the hills or over the border to Scotland – see our feature writer Phoebe’s Guardian article for details.
    • The Walls B&B, in a quayside Georgian townhouse fifteen minutes’ walk from the station, has a log fire and honesty bar in the lounge. Three big rooms look out over the River Tweed so you can seal-watch from the upstairs windows. Or for a budget option head to the quayside YHA Berwick hostel.
  1. Blyth

    At the southern end of Northumberland, close to the border with Tyne and Wear, the area around Blyth makes an interesting base for a holiday. Blyth is not a typical seaside resort, but rooms and restaurants are easier to book in this less-touristed southern part of the county, which has plenty of its own attractions for visitors as well as bus links to tourist hotspots further north – see Phoebe’s Guardian article for details.

    • Seaton Deleval Hall is a newly-restored National Trust property five miles south. Architect John Vanbrugh, of Blenheim and Castle Howard fame, designed it in 1718 and its empty halls are brilliantly memorable. Bus X7 from Blyth stops outside the gates frequently (regularly on Sundays). Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • A five-mile walk from the hall, through fields and wooded valleys, passes close to St Mary’s Lighthouse, which stands on a small rocky island with a causeway.
    • The Woodhorn Museum, heading north on bus 1, has a dramatic walk-through Coal Town and a gallery of artworks by the local “Pitmen Painters”. To get there, hop off the bus at the Tweed Street bus stop, among Ashington’s brick terraces, walk a few steps back and turn right along Ashfield Mews. Keep straight five minutes past allotments, over the A197 and freight railway, into the QEII Country Park and turn right to reach the museum.
    • The Drift Café, in a former mine building near Cresswell Beach is also served by bus 1, which runs all the way to the picturesque harbour village of Amble. The bus stops in Cresswell near the Pele Tower, a small recently-restored border castle. The dune-backed miles of Druridge Bay are just steps away.
    • In Blyth itself, there’s a beach with a distinctive row of colourful beach huts with flowery Ridley Park nearby. The Northumberland coast path and the Coast and Castles cycle route both run through the park past neat banks of germaniums.
    • The Commissioners Quay Inn is a great place to stay. It has a maritime-themed bar and views out to sea across Blyth’s harbour, with its tall sailing ship. Facing east means catching some great sunrises in a county where each day can bring spectacular new adventures.
  1. Hexham

    For a Northumbrian break that explores wild moors and ancient heritage, you could also base yourself at Hexham. Trains from Newcastle to Hexham take around 45 minutes.

    • In the heart of this lovely town is a medieval abbey and flowering Sele Park. There are great walking routes passing through the town, including the River Tyne Trail and the new Way of Light to Durham, one of six new Northern Saints Trails.
    • Hexham also makes a great base for exploring Hadrian’s Wall using bus AD122 to reach impressive Roman sites like Chesters Fort, Housesteads and Vindolanda. If you get there on bus AD122, you’ll get 10% off entry. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
    • For bus journeys to Hadrian’s Wall and beyond on the day you arrive by rail, get a PlusBus ticket.
    • There are lots of places to stay in Hexham including the reasonably-priced, convenient Station Inn which makes an excellent base for car-free travellers. Nearer to the abbey, the Victorian Beaumont Hotel is about ten minutes’ walk from the station.
    • For a challenging six-mile walk with great views across the Tyne Valley, catch bus AD122 to Chesters Roman Fort and walk back past Roman walls and watchtowers, battlefields and the atmospheric hilltop Heavenfield church. Follow the Hadrian’s Wall walk eastwards to Heavenfield and then the waymarked Northern Saints Trail back to Hexham.