Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, UK by Visit NorthumberlandAlnwick's medieval castle is best recognised for its role in the Harry Potter films © Visit Northumberland

Alnwick is one of the most vibrant and historically interesting market towns in Northumberland.

‘Alnwick is ever under the spell of the dreamy past’, a late 19th-century visitor to the town observed. Today, you might also say it is under the spell of Harry Potter, whose fans flock to the town’s famous medieval castle, better known to some as Hogwarts. For others, even without its fortress and celebrated gardens, Alnwick (pronounced ‘Annick’) is one of the most vibrant and historically interesting market towns in Northumberland, and easily reached from the coast by car in 20 minutes.

Enter the town from the north on the B6341, from where you will gain a superlative view of the castle as you cross the River Aln over the 18th-century Lion Bridge. From the south or east, it’s still amemorable arrival as you pass under Bondgate Tower – a mighty stone gateway that has served as a main entry point into the once-walled town since its construction in 1450.

Market Place marks the heart of this lively town where three venerable streets wrap around a piazza (still with its medieval market cross) and boasts a regular Friday market, summer folk music festival and several outdoor cafés (as well as the tourist information centre). Behind the Market Place is Fenkle Street – a long run of old merchants’ houses with a chocolaterie on the corner. The street curves to meet Narrowgate where there’s a scattering of tea rooms, interiors shops, an antiques emporium, art gallery and deli. The dusty bottles in the window of The Dirty Bottles pub and restaurant, at the junction with Pottergate, are said to be cursed and have not been touched in 200 years.

By continuing uphill and away from the Market Place you will reach the entrance to the castle, which blocks one end of Bailiffgate, Alnwick’s most elegant street of sandstone houses. At the other end is St Michael’s Church and halfway along, the Bailiffgate Museum. The entrance to Hulne Park is close by, should you care for an extended walk with country views.

Back at the Market Place, head south to Bondgate Tower along Bondgate Within, a wide thoroughfare of Georgian and Victorian buildings ‘within’ the old town walls. Look out for the White Swan on your left. In the 1930s, the then owner of the hotel bought all the fittings and artworks from the decommissioned Olympic cruise liner (the Titanic’s sister ship) and reconstructed them to make an opulent dining room. You don’t need to stay at the hotel to dine in the sumptuous oakpanelled restaurant that transports you back to the era of transatlantic cruises, Edwardian style.

Once under the medieval gateway the street becomes Bondgate Without where many visitors make straight for the acclaimed secondhand bookshop, Barter Books, housed in Alnwick’s old railway station. Note the moving war memorial on the junction opposite. Designed by Ralph Hedley in 1921, the three bronze figures of a soldier, sailor and airman warrant close inspection. Raised on a grassy mound opposite is the Percy Tenantry Column, a fluted pillar surmounted with a lion and guarded at its base by four other feline beasts. It was erected in 1816 by the tenants of the 2nd Duke of Northumberland after he reduced rents during tough economic times. The lion is the emblem of the Percy family of Alnwick Castle and crops up in many places about town.

An uphill walk along Prudhoe Street leads to Bakehouse Gallery, which showcases paintings, ceramics, handmade jewellery and various other quality craftwork, gifts and cards.

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