This post was most recently updated on March 17th, 2019
The North East of England comprises the counties of Northumberland, County Durham, Tyne and Wear, and the Tees Valley. While the region is in general hilly and sparsely populated, it has pockets of more diverse landscapes that include maritime cliffs, extensive moorlands, saltmarshes, estuaries, bogs, hay meadows, and even alpine areas.
England’s North East is filled with both natural beauty and cultural marvels. In Durham, one of the region’s three true cities, you can visit the majestic Durham Cathedral. If you’re looking for a more cosmopolitan experience, Newcastle’s art museums and architectural marvels might be more to your liking.
While North East England is filled with great places, the true charm lies in how quiet the area is. So few tourists – and even many English natives – know how beautiful and welcoming the region is.
While the best-known areas, like Hadrian’s Wall, tend to see more visitors, vast areas of the North East see few crowds.
Cuisine varies depending on where you are in the North East, with fresh fish being more common in coastal areas, while larger towns and the cities will have chain restaurants, as well as Italian, Indian, and French restaurants.
The people of this beautiful region pride themselves on what they argue is the best traditional English fish and chips–no matter where you are in the region, you’re sure to find both fish and chip shops and pubs.
The North East is a region of great contrast with hidden gems. We’ve assembled a list of our favorite places to visit in the region, and that includes some truly hidden gems and some popular tourist spots.
Region In Focus: North East
1. Newcastle Upon Tyne
As the most populous city in the North East, Newcastle Upon Tyne (or just Newcastle) is a university city that sits on the River Tyne. Along with its twin city, Gateshead, it was a major shipbuilding and manufacturing hub throughout the industrial revolution.
The city continues to be a centre of business, arts, and sciences. The city is well-known for it’s signature Gateshead Millennium Bridge, which has a unique tilting aperture.
Newcastle is also home to remains of the Castle Keep, its namesake. Parts of this keep were built in the 13th century, while the original castle was built by Robert Curthose, the son of William the Conqueror.
Visitors should also check out Central Arcade, a beautifully preserved Victorian shopping arcade, and St. Nicholas Cathedral is always worth a visit.
Beamish is a small village within Hell Hole Wood, and is home to Beamish Museum, an open-air facility that replicates a northern town throughout the 20th century. The museum features 1820s Pockerly, with gardens, the old hall, a waggonway, and even a Medieval church from Eston.
Other featured sections of the open-air museum include a 1900s town, pit village, colliery, and a 1940s farm. Each section is painstakingly detailed, with knowledgable staff and demonstrations.
Beamish’s open-air museum is one of the can’t-miss locations in the North East, and promises a day filled with history, fun, and family.
3. The Angel of the North
The Angel of the North is just a short drive from Newcastle, and is a 20 metre high steel structure with an impressive 54 metre wingspan. The imposing sculpture dwarfs everything else in the landscape, and was designed by celebrated artist Antony Gormley.
Durham is a historic city that sits on the River Wear to the west of Sunderland. The city is well-known for its Norman Cathedral and 11th century castle, which were both designated World Heritage sites by UNESCO in 1986.
Durham’s castle has housed Durham University since 1832, and contains the oldest student accommodations in the world.
Visitors to Durham can relax on a riverside walk or cruise, shop in the city-centre, or visit historic landmarks.
5. Lindisfarne, The Holy Island
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, and has a recorded history from the 6th century onwards. Lindisfarne was an important centre of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert. Eadfrith of Lindisfarne, and Eadberht of Lindisfarne.
While the island fell out of use during Viking invasions and the Norman conquest, a priory was established on the island.
The ruins of Lindisfarne Priory include the famous ‘rainbow bridge’ that spirals skyward along the ghost of a long-crumbled tower.
Lindisfarne is also home to Lindisfarne Castle, which was built to defend the harbour during skirmishes with Scotland. The castle was restored by Edward Lutyens in modern times, turning it into a historic holiday home that is open to the public for tours. The rooms remain largely unchanged.
6. Farne Islands
The Farne islands are a group of islands off the coast of Northumberland, and there are about 15 to 20 depending on the state of the tide.
Around 23 different varieties of birds can be spotted on the islands, including razorbills, guillemots, eider ducks, and vibrant puffins. Visitors can take boat tours to the islands to birdwatch or to visit the islands’ colonies of grey or Atlantic seals.
The islands have the largest breeding colony in England, with around 1,000 pups born each autumn.
7. Hadrian’s Wall
Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification begun in 122 AD under the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian. It originally ran from the banks of the Tyne to the Solway Firth on the Irish sea. Hadrian’s wall marked the northern limit of the Roman Empire.
Visitors can view forts, museums, and countless milecastles and turrets on foot or by bicycle. The foot trail along the wall leads through countless cities, market towns, and quaint villages.
8. St. Peter’s Church in Monkwearmouth
St. Peter’s Church is the active parish church of Monkwearmouth. The church was built on land given by King Ecgfrith to St. Benedict Biscop in 673 AD. The church features some of the original carved stone and a reconstruction of the abbot’s seat.
The church also holds many artifacts that were uncovered during a 1960s archaeological excavation conducted by Dame Professor Rosemary Cramp of Durham University.
Visitors can sit in on services in the active church, or simply tour the building to view the magnificent architecture.
9. Northumberland National Park
Northumberland National Park is the northernmost national park in England, covering an area of more than 1,030 square kilometers, or 400 square miles between the Scottish border and just south of Hadrian’s Wall.
The park is secluded and unspoilt; its College Valley is one of the most remote and dramatic valleys in the park. Visitors can take a walk among the Cheviot or Simonside hills, explore valleys and clear rivers like the North Tyne, Rede, and Coquet, or feel on top of the world at the Otterburn Ranges.
The park is also home to lesser-known ancient spots, including the remains of Bronze Age burial sites at Turf Knowe.
Nightfall is perhaps one of the most unforgettable experiences at the park. Northumberland National Park is a dark zone, meaning you can stargaze the darkest skies in the country with no artificial lights.
10. Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England and home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family, the Percys. The family has owned the castle for over 700 years, and has opened up the building to a number of public events and tours that are fun for visitors of all ages.
The castle combines magnificent medieval architecture with Italianate State Rooms, and has, in recent years, taken starring roles in films and television programs that are popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
Alnwick Castle starred as the magnificent Brancaster Castle in Downton Abbey’s 2014 and 2015 Christmas specials, but more famously appeared as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter films.