Alnwick NE66 1NQ
Home to the Percy family for over 700 years, Alnwick Castle is a formidable piece of British history. As the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland, the Percys have been at the heart of English politics and history for centuries, and their imposing seat is steeped in tales of intrigue, battle and chivalry – not to mention a good old dose of art and artefacts collected by generations of family members. There are lavish state rooms – mostly refurbished in the 19th century in an opulent Italiante style – showing off the family silver, elaborately carved ceilings and cabinets and a library of 14,000 books, as well as tons of fascinating exhibits in the Coach House and various separate museum collections. But this is just the tip of the Alnwick experience, since the castle is very much an all-day, family-friendly attraction that goes well beyond the usual heritage tour of the big house and gardens. Remember Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films? That's Alnwick, which explains the film location tours, magic shows and broomstick-training sessions, while dressing-up games, sword-fighting, medieval crafts, Dragon Quest adventures, and tours of the mysterious 'Lost Cellars' are all part of the package. Everything is free with admission, but some of the tours and sessions have timed tickets – best check all the schedules first, on arrival, so you don't miss out. As for food, there's a Courtyard Cafe, a summer-season barbecue, and even a Victorian chippy in the old stable block. The manicured grounds are lovely, but the estate gardens are a different story – there's a separate entrance and admission to Alnwick Garden, which is an extraordinary visitor attraction in its own right.