Last Updated on January 15, 2021 by Anisa
Even if you haven’t heard of Alnwick Castle, you have probably seen it. Harry Potter fans know it as Hogwarts from the first two movies, but in real life, it is home to the historic Percy family. Lucky for us, they share their home with the general public for half the year.
Yes, you can go inside the elaborate Alnwick Castle state apartments, try riding a broomstick like Harry Potter, and learn more about the history of the area at the museum. Additionally, the gorgeous Alnwick Gardens are right next door.
Whether you are a Harry Potter fan, interested in history or the gardens, or just love castles, Alnwick Castle has plenty to offer. In this guide, you will learn more about Alnwick Castle history, its connection to Harry Potter, what to see at Alnwick Castle and Gardens, and tips to help make the most of your visit.
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About Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle (pronounced ANN-ick) was built shortly after the Norman Conquest and quickly became a key border fortress. In 1309 the castle was purchased by Henry de Percy and has been one of the family residences ever since. It is located in Northumberland in northeast England close to the Scottish border, so it has been at the center of several battles between the English and Scottish.
Over the years, Alnwick Castle has been damaged, seized by the Crown, repaired, and remodeled. Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England – only Windsor Castle is bigger! Today, it is the main home of the Duke of Northumberland and his family, a popular filming location, and one of the top tourist attractions in northern England.
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About the Percy Family
When you study English history, the Percy family name keeps popping up! Their ties to England can be traced back to William de Percy, who was one of William the Conqueror’s knights. The most famous member may be Harry Hotspur, who was immortalized in Shakespeare‘s King Henry IV (Part 1). He was born at Alnwick Castle.
A few other notable members of the family are:
- Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland (1421–1461), was the Lancastrian leader in the Wars of the Roses
- Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland (1449–1489), sided with Yorkists and was present at the Battle of Bosworth Field where Richard III was killed.
- Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland,(1528–1572) was part of the Rising of the North against Elizabeth I. When it was defeated he fled to Scotland but was eventually executed.
- Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland (1564–1632) was known as “The Wizard Earl” and imprisoned after the Gunpowder Plot.
Alnwick Castle has been home to the Percy Family for over 700 years. They also have a London residence called Syon House. In medieval times, they also had homes at Warkworth Castle and Prudhoe Castle. Now these castles are ruins and English Heritage properties.
Alnwick Castle and Harry Potter
Harry Potter fans flock to Alnwick Castle as it was used as a filming location for some of the movies. In the first two Harry Potter movies, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone as it was called in the US) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, it was used for outside scenes at Hogwarts. The Harry Potter filming locations to visit at Alnwick Castle are:
- The Outer Bailey: Madam Hooch taught the first years to ride a broomstick in the first Harry Potter movie in the grassy area of the Outer Bailey. It’s also where Harry Potter learned the rules of Quidditch. It’s so special to get broomstick training (more on that below) in this same spot!
- The Inner Bailey: Ron and Harry crashed the flying Ford Anglia car into the Whomping Willow.
- Main Courtyard: The students appear walking in and out of Alnwick Castle a few times including when Harry and Ron are complaining about Hermione and when they are on their way to Professor Snape’s Potions Class.
- The Lion Arch: Harry, Ron, and Hermione walk out of the Castle to Hagrid’s hut and the Forbidden Forest.
Alnwick Castle in Other Films/TV
Harry Potter is not the only movie that used the grounds of Alnwick Castle as a set. In fact, many tv series and movies have been filmed at the castle over the last 50 years. Some of the most popular ones include Downton Abbey, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Elizabeth, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Transformers: The Last Knight.
If you are interested in learning more about the filming at Alnwick Castle, check out the “On Location” tour that is included with admission. Times vary daily so check the chalkboard by the entrance.
Things to Do and See at Alnwick Castle
I don’t think there are many other castles anywhere in the world that offer as many things to do and see as Alnwick Castle. Be sure to grab a map when you arrive to help find your way around.
The State Apartments at Alnwick Castle are impressive. It’s generous of the Percy family to invite us into their home. (When the castle is open, the family stays in other rooms that are not open to the public.)
You don’t see that many different rooms but each room is breathtaking and full of spectacular pieces of art and furniture. It’s one of the finest private collections in England, including work by Canaletto, Titian, and Van Dyck. Pay special attention to the details in the ceilings and fireplaces. There are also some elaborate wood carvings.
There is a special exhibit in the State Apartments about the Pedigree Roll. I thought it was fascinating to see this 15th-century document. By researching it, the family learned that William de Percy came to England with William the Conqueror. Previously it was believed he came a year later.
After you see the Pedigree Roll, circle back to see the China collection. They have enough China to feed an army! After the China collection, you pass through the servant’s quarters to the exit.
During peak times (10.30 am – 2.30 pm during July and August) a timed ticket is required to visit the State Rooms. The tickets are available on the Drawbridge as you enter Alnwick Castle.
Note: No photography is allowed inside the State Apartments and they ask you to turn off cell phones.
We walked right by the dungeon at first as it is off to the side as you walk towards the State Apartments. You don’t actually go in the cell, instead, you stand in a small room right above and look down into it through the grate.
Fusiliers Museum of Northumberland
The Fusiliers Museum is located in one of the towers of Alnwick Castle. It is dedicated to telling the story of this historic regiment of the British Army. Admission to the museum is included when you visit the castle.
The museum has three floors with lots of interesting artifacts. I thought it was powerful to see one soldier’s bible that literally took a bullet for him. I was impressed by all the medals on display that had been awarded to the Fusiliers including a few Victoria Crosses – Britain’s Armed Forces’ highest honor only awarded for acts of extreme valor. The stories in the museum reminded me of the price of war. Not just the deaths but also the struggles of families being separated and not knowing if soldiers were ok.
Duke’s Museum (also called the Castle Museum)
The Castle Museum was founded by the 3rd Duke of Northumberland in 1826. It is located in the Postern Tower and has an impressive collection of archaeological finds on two floors. You could easily spend an hour or two inside this museum, but we rushed through it because we wanted to make sure we had time for everything else.
The Constable’s Tower is close to the Duke’s Museum and has three levels to visit. The ground floor has been kept as it would have been back in 1314. The room was likely used for storage. The middle level has fascinating objects collected by various Dukes of Northumberland and a short film about the Constable’s Tower’s history.
On the top floor, you can learn more about the Percy Tenantry volunteers. The group was formed in response to the threat of a French invasion through Northumberland’s ports. From the top floor, exit right onto the wall walk.
There is a short section of the wall close to the Castle Museum that you can walk along. I always enjoy wall walks because they give you a different perspective.
The Coach House is not marked on the map, but you will see it when walking towards the Artisan’s Courtyard. It’s worth a quick stop. Inside on display is the State Coach which was recently refurbished in preparation for the Duke’s eldest daughter’s wedding.
In Dragon Quest, you get the chance to hunt down a dragon. Kids will love this attraction. To be honest, as adults, we loved this attraction too. It is entertaining and gets the adrenaline flowing a bit!
It begins with a video that explains the premise, then you are sent off on a mission. You walk across a wobbly bridge over (fake) fire, then through a mirror maze to get to the dragon. During peak season, you will need a timed-entry ticket for the Dragon Quest which you can get at the costume cart in Artisan’s Courtyard. These tickets go fast.
In addition to the Dragon Quest, there are a few other activities to check out inside the colorful Artisan’s Courtyard. You can sign up for the broomstick training and take broomstick photos. They also had some crafts and an area where you can play dress up with medieval costumes.
You can learn to ride a broomstick on the same grass as Harry Potter did, if the weather cooperates. Since it was raining during our visit, there was no official lesson but we did get to borrow a broomstick for photos in the Artisan’s Courtyard.
The staff (I mean wizards!) gave us some tips on how to take the best broomstick photos. Ideally, you want to use a digital camera that can do continuous shooting or a phone with an app like Instagram that can do a boomerang video. Here are two photo options to try:
- Photo on flying broomstick – Squat down with the broomstick between your legs. Then jump while kicking your heels up towards your bottom. Take photos using a continuous shooting mode to capture the second it looks like you are flying. If your camera has the option, set a fast shutter speed or a sports mode to make sure the photo isn’t blurry.
- Photo summoning broomstick – Hold the broomstick out to your side and parallel to the ground. Drop it. Capture it on video on a smartphone and use the boomerang option on Instagram to get the desired effect.
During peak season, you will need a timed ticket to attend the broomstick training.
Along the gun terrace, there are several cannons that serve as a reminder that things were not always peaceful here. It’s the best spot to take in the views of the countryside, the River Aln, and the landscaping done by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Capability Brown also did the landscaping at Blenheim Palace and Chatsworth House to name a few.
In the Inner Bailey, there are targets set up so you can give archery a try, weather permitting. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate the day we visited Alnwick Castle.
Alnwick Castle Tours
Throughout the day, there are various guided tours and 10-minute talks that are included in your admission price. The schedule varies each day so it’s best to check the chalkboard inside the entrance.
Food at Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle has three different cafe options – the Courtyard Cafe, the Stables Fryery, and Armoury Takeaway. They have a wide range of menu options including sandwiches, fish & chips, pizza, and cakes. I was impressed with the Alnwick Castle food prices.
We decided to have fish & chips, and it was cheaper than what I have seen in many other seaside towns. The portion was also generous! We sat inside but they have lots of tables outdoors that would be ideal in nice weather. Additionally, you can also dine at the Treehouse or Pavilion Room at Alnwick Gardens.
What to See at Alnwick Gardens
I knew the Alnwick Gardens were big, but I didn’t realize how many different attractions there are to see. Depending on how long you have to explore, you will probably need to prioritize what to see. It’s important to also take into consideration what will be in bloom during your visit. We did not have time for several of the attractions.
The dramatic Grand Cascade fountain that greets visitors right in front of the entrance is awe-inspiring, but it is not the only water feature in Alnwick Gardens. Hidden behind some of the hedges to your right when you enter the Alnwick Gardens are some interesting fountains. These fountains are modern art pieces that show off different water effects. On a warm day, I would be tempted to get a bit wet!
The Poison Garden at Alnwick Gardens is full of plants that can be harmful, some are even deadly. Given the serious nature of the plants inside, you can only visit the Poison Garden on a guided tour. There is no published schedule, just go to the entrance to the garden and they will tell you the times.
The tour starts out with a safety briefing including instructions not to touch, eat, or smell any of the plants in the Poison Garden. I was not familiar with many of the plants that we saw since I don’t think we have them in the US, but Russell learned some scary facts about several plants – Foxglove, Yew, and Giant Hogweed – that were in his yard when he was growing up!
One of the types of plant I recognized in the garden was the stinging nettles. I learned about these after getting stung by them last year. It was painful but luckily didn’t last too long. The funny thing that I learned on the tour is that the Dock leaves I had been told would help ease pain are actually a placebo.
The bamboo labyrinth is similar to a corn maze without a map. It felt a bit disorienting as we were going round and round and each turn looked the same, but it wasn’t too long before we found our way out. We also had fun taking some pictures here. I think kids would love it too.
Other Attractions at the Alnwick Gardens
As I mentioned, we didn’t have time to visit all parts of the Alnwick Gardens. Additionally, some of the areas were not in bloom. It’s another good reason for us to go back. Here are some other attractions you may want to see when you visit:
- The Ornamental Garden: Above the Grand Cascade is the entrance to the formal walled garden.
- The Rose Garden: Past the bamboo labyrinth is the rose garden. It wasn’t quite in bloom when we visited but I could imagine how magnificent it would be in the summer.
- The Cherry Orchard: The Alnwick Gardens are known for their cherry blossoms, but unfortunately we just missed the blooms. Visit in late April to see the peak.
- Woodland Walk: The Woodland Walk area has some lovely paths to explore with nice views of Alnwick Castle and the countryside.
- The Pond: As you walk in from the parking lot, the pond will be on the left. Inside the Alnwick gardens, you see the other side. Don’t wake the sleeping giant!
- Roots and Shoots Garden: In this garden, local schools get plots so that students learn about the growing process and more about where food comes from.
- Forgotten Garden Golf (Mini-Golf course): Just outside the Alnwick Garden entrance is an impressive 13-hole mini-golf course. You do not need to buy a ticket to the Gardens to play on the golf course, but there is a small charge.
Tours at Alnwick Garden
In addition to the tours of the Poison Garden, there are a few other guided tours that are offered as part of your admission. You can find out how the Grand Cascade works on one of the Pump Room tours. They also offer tours of the Roots & Shoots Garden and the Alnwick Gardens. Check with a member of staff for details on the timings.
A Giant Adventure
Throughout the gardens, there is a giant theme. For example, in the pond, there is a giant sleeping. This is designed to be paired with the “a giant adventure” augmented reality app on your phone.
The Treehouse at Alnwick Garden is one of the largest in the world. It’s not even in the same league as one of the ones you may have had as a kid. This one has a restaurant and cafe (The Potting Shed). It was hosting a wedding the day we visited. When you go to the Treehouse, don’t miss the wobbly bridges which are accessible by wheelchair and stroller.
The Treehouse is technically outside the gates of Alnwick Garden so you can visit without purchasing a ticket. If you come to the Treehouse restaurant for dinner, you can park in the disabled lot since the castle and gardens are closed. At other times, park in the main lot.
Alnwick Castle Review
In spite of the bad weather, we had a fantastic time at Alnwick Castle and Gardens. Before I started planning my trip I had no idea how much there is to do. It was a full day and if my feet would have held up and the opening hours were longer, I could have enjoyed a few more hours there. It’s fine, I will just have to go back!
I think it’s the perfect place to bring the family. Both kids and adults will love the Dragon Quest. Harry Potter fans of all ages will get a kick out of the Broomstick training. The gardens have so much to offer that there is something for everyone.
I learned a lot during my visit. Other than knowing the name, I didn’t know much about the Percy family. It was fun to think about what it would be like to come from that family and live in Alnwick Castle. I also learned a lot during my tour of the poison garden, who knows it might save a life one day? When I make it back to Alnwick Castle, I would like to take some of their other tours.
How Long Should You Spend at Alnwick Castle & Gardens?
Get to the castle as soon as it opens and plan on being there until it closes! There are plenty of things to keep you busy for a full day at Alnwick Castle & Gardens. In fact, I don’t think you can see everything at both attractions in one day. You will need to prioritize or come back for a return visit.
Tickets for Alnwick Castle and Gardens
There is the option to purchase tickets for Alnwick Castle and Alnwick Gardens separately or you can save money with a joint ticket. Both the Castle and Gardens are worth a visit, so book the joint ticket and plan to spend the whole day there.
For those that only have a few hours or half a day, choose one or the other as you won’t have time to do both. If you buy tickets for just Alnwick Castle, you can get them validated at visitor admissions for unlimited free visits to Alnwick Castle for one year. Book online here more than 24 hours in advance and save 10%! Children 4 and under are free.
Ways to Save on Alnwick Castle Admission
The cost of tickets to Alnwick Castle especially for families can quickly add up, but there are a few ways for you to save:
- Buy tickets online more than 24 hours in advance and save 10%. Book here.
- Travel by train or bus to Alnwick Castle and save 20%. More info here.
- Get a family ticket, which includes two adults and up to four children and save up to 33% compared to buying the individual tickets. Book here
- Buy combined tickets for the Castle and the Garden to save about 8%. Book here
How to Get to Alnwick Castle
We drove to Alnwick Castle. It’s located about 35 miles north of Newcastle. Foolishly I thought I could just put “Alnwick Castle” into Google Maps. That didn’t work so well. It’s best to use the postcode NE66 1YU, which will take you directly to the parking lot. It’s £3 to park for the whole day, but you will need to pay in cash
Newcastle to Alnwick Castle
It’s about a 45-minute drive from Newcastle to Alnwick. If you want to take public transportation, the easiest way to Alnwick Castle from Newcastle is to take either the X15 or X18 bus from Haymarket bus station. Then walk six minutes to the castle from the bus station. That will take about an hour an half.
If you would like a faster option, take the Cross Country train headed to Glasgow and get off the train at Alnmouth station. Then either take a taxi or the X18 bus from Alnmouth station to Alnwick, which is about 4 miles. This way takes a little more than an hour.
If you take the train or one of the buses from Newcastle to Alnwick Castle you can save 20% discount on Castle only tickets! Click here for more information.
Edinburgh to Alnwick Castle
It is possible to visit Alnwick Castle as a day trip from Edinburgh. The fastest way would be to take the train from Edinburgh Waverley Station to Alnmouth station, which is four miles from Alnwick. Then either take a taxi or the X18 bus from Alnmouth station to Alnwick. There is also a bus from Edinburgh to Alnwick Castle, but this takes a bit longer. Catch the National Express Bus 594 to London from the Edinburgh Bus Station. Alnwick is the second stop. It’s a six-minute walk to the Castle. Total travel time is about two hours.
If you don’t want to deal with public transportation on your own, check out this tour to Alnwick Castle from Edinburgh. It also takes you to Kelso and Melrose, historic towns in the Scottish Borders, with Abbeys that are in ruins. On the way back, there is a stop in Berwick-upon-Tweed which is a lovely walled town with a fascinating history. Note that with this tour from Edinburgh you won’t get the whole day to spend at Alnwick Castle and admission to the Castle is not included in the tour price. Still, you won’t have to worry about transportation and you also get to see another part of Scotland.
London to Alnwick Castle
It’s a trek from London, so plan to stay in the area for a few days. Driving to Alnwick Castle from London takes around 6 hours. It is faster on the train. Catch the East Coast Mainline train from London’s King Cross Station headed to Edinburgh. Get off the train at Alnmouth station, which is four miles from Alnwick. Then you can either take a taxi or the X18 bus from Alnmouth station to Alnwick. If you take the train to Alnwick Castle you can save 20% discount on Castle only tickets! Click here for more information.
Where to Stay Near Alnwick Castle
The town of Alnwick has some convenient accommodation options close to Alnwick Castle. It’s also a good choice as your home base to explore more of Northumberland. The Cookie Jar is a modern luxurious B&B a short walk from Alnwick Castle. (Click here to check reviews on Tripadvisor or here to check prices and availability). If you are looking for something more budget-friendly, check out the Hog’s Head Inn. (Click here to check reviews on Tripadvisor or here to check prices and availability) Booking.com
More Things to Do in Alnwick
If you have time (and energy) after visiting Alnwick Castle and Gardens here are a few other area attractions that look interesting:
- Barter Books, the largest second-hand book shop in the UK located in a Victorian Railway station, originally opened in 1887. The “Keep Calm and Carry On” phenomenon can be traced back to a World War II poster discovered in 2000 here.
- The Bailiffgate Museum covers the history of Alnwick and surrounding villages. It has hands-on exhibits perfect for kids.
- There are plenty of other castles within a short drive – Warkworth, Bamburgh, Prudhoe, Lindisfarne, and Dunstanburgh.
It is easy to see why Alnwick Castle and Gardens is such a popular tourist attraction. There is so much to do. It’s entertaining and educational for both kids and adults. I would love to go back and explore more.
Have you been to Alnwick Castle and/or Gardens?
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Disclosure: Thanks to Alnwick Castle for providing us with complimentary tickets so that we could share the experience with our readers.
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