Northern UK (in particular, Northern England) has been missing from our family’s travel map until recently. While I had personally spent a significant amount of time in London and Edinburgh, the only opportunity I’d had to see any or the North of England or other parts of Scotland was through a train window. The rest of the family were mostly UK-newbies. However, one of our best mates recently got married in Yorkshire, which was the perfect opportunity for a whole bunch of Aussies to descend on northern England!
Given the number of Australians you might find in the UK, you would be forgiven for thinking it’s “normal” to fly to the motherland at the drop of a hat. Not so! It’s a really long journey, which gives rise to the attitude of “if we’re going to fly all that way, might as well make the most of it”. And we do.
So after a three-night stopover in Dubai, and a week in Greece exploring Athens and Naxos, we flew into Newcastle to start our England and Scotland adventure. Keep reading to get your own UK inspo from our Northern UK itinerary.
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We flew into Newcastle from Athens, and by the time we had landed, cleared immigration, and collected our luggage, it was about 9.30pm. Luckily, we had booked our first night at the DoubleTree by Hilton Newcastle Airport. This was so convenient as it was only 50 metres from the terminal. Staying here made it super easy to collect our car hire from the Europcar desk the next morning.
Nestled along the picturesque banks of the River Tyne, Newcastle felt so welcoming to our family and was an absolute delight. This charming city in the northeast of England offers a fantastic blend of history and modern excitement, making it an ideal destination for families. And of course, it is the home of Newcastle United FC, my favourite Premier League team. Yes, I did stop to take pics of St James Park and yell “Toon!”
Our journey began with a visit to the iconic Newcastle Castle, a true trip back in time. The kids were thrilled to explore the medieval chambers and winding staircases, and the panoramic views from the castle’s rooftop were pretty breathtaking.
For an educational yet engaging experience, we ventured to the Life Science Centre. It boasts interactive exhibits and a planetarium that had our young explorers enthralled. Animal lovers will find the Great North Museum a treat, with its captivating artifacts and a very cool life-sized T-Rex.
A stroll across the renowned Gateshead Millennium Bridge, beautifully lit at night, was a family favourite. The Quayside offered lively street performances, creating a perfect setting for leisurely walks and picnics by the river.
Newcastle’s culinary scene was surprisingly diverse! This was something we also really enjoyed.
In the heart of Northumberland, a 40 minute drive north of Newcastle, Alnwick is a place that stole our hearts with its picturesque landscapes and rich history. This enchanting town, with its cobbled streets and friendly atmosphere, made for the perfect family getaway.
The number one thing on any Alnwick itinerary is a visit to the magnificent Alnwick Castle. Walking through its grand halls and exploring the beautifully manicured gardens felt like stepping into a fairy tale. The kids even recognized it as the backdrop for some scenes in Harry Potter!
Alnwick Garden, just adjacent to the castle, is a paradise for young and old alike. I could have spent all day just sitting there. The grand water features and the thrilling Treehouse restaurant made our visit truly magical. We also recommend The Poison Garden – it’s a fascinating and educational experience, offering insights into the world of deadly plants. (Our kids loved this, haha!)
Another highlight of our trip was a journey to Barter Books, one of the UK’s largest second-hand bookshops, housed in a Victorian railway station. The kids were loved the model train that weaves its way through the shop.
Alnwick’s thriving market square offered a glimpse into the town’s community spirit. We indulged in delicious local treats and artisan crafts, making for a delightful day out.
The Oaks Hotel is a great place to stay in Alnwick – they do a quadruple room (a Queen plus two single beds) and include breakfast. Perfect for families!
Edinburgh and Stirling
From Alnwick, it’s about an hour and 45 minutes to central Edinburgh. We stopped in at Morrison’s in Alnwick to stock up on Jaffa Cakes before the next leg of our journey. And of course, stopped to take a photo at the Scottish border!
Edinburgh, with its dramatic skyline dominated by the majestic Edinburgh Castle, is probably my favourite city in the world. There’s something that, as a stressed 19-year-old, calmed my soul. 15 years later, I was thrilled to find Edinburgh still had the same effect on me. And actually, Mr. Winter started to feel the same!
Upon arrival in Edinburgh, we checked into our accommodation at Yotel Edinburgh, which was super funky and absolutely perfect for us (and in a good location too). Because there’s no car park at the hotel, we parked a five-minute walk away right next to Edinburgh Castle (the hotel has a deal with the parking company). From here, it was another glorious five minute walk around Edinburgh Castle to the Royal Mile.
The Royal Mile, a historic street stretching from the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is a bustling tapestry of shops, cafes, and street performances. We delighted in picking up tartan souvenirs, watching buskers play the bagpipes, and enjoying the lively atmosphere.
Our second day focused on a drive to the town of Stirling, just under an hour away from Edinburgh. Stirling has a thriving University, and is famed for its historic Stirling Castle, which dates back to the 1100s! We loved the way Stirling Castle had been set up with so many educational aspects, which were interactive and engaging. The kids absolutely LOVED this (especially all the gory details!) After exploring the castle, we had a late lunch at a pub in Stirling’s main street, which was awesome for watching the world go by.
If you can, a visit to the iconic Edinburgh Castle is a must. Just make sure you book well in advance! Perched on Castle Rock, as you walk through the historic fortress, you feel transported through centuries of Scottish history. The views of the city from the castle walls are sensational.
Other great options for kids are Dynamic Earth and the National Museum of Scotland. These interactive experiences are absolutely brilliant and again, get the kids really engaged in science and history with everything from dinosaurs to space exploration.
For nature lovers, Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat provide an escape into the wild heart of the city. For the daring (and fit!) a hike up Arthur’s Seat is a thrilling activity that rewards you with panoramic views of Edinburgh. I did this back when I was young but I didn’t think the kids would have coped (I probably don’t have the fitness right now either).
Set up for the Edinburgh Fringe was happening while we were there. Unfortunately, our visit didn’t coincide with the festival – it’s a dream of mine to one day attend though.
Scotland is so beautiful, that if you have a bit more time we also recommend checking out some Scotland scenic drives options.
We left fairly early in the morning from Edinburgh to get a head start on exploring Glasgow. The drive between the two cities takes about an hour. Known for its artistic spirit, warm people, and remarkable architecture, Glasgow provided an exciting and memorable urban escape. We’ve put together a two-day Glasgow itinerary to help you plan your own Glasgow trip.
We began in the heart of the city, George Square, surrounded by grand Victorian buildings and statues. The kids were fascinated by the storytelling unicorn fountain. The adjacent Glasgow City Chambers, with its opulent interiors, was a surprising treat.
The Riverside Museum offered a hands-on experience with an incredible collection of transportation history. We hopped aboard vintage trams and explored everything from steam locomotives to vintage cars.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was another family highlight. Its diverse exhibits, including art, natural history, and interactive displays, made learning engaging for all ages. Don’t forget to say hello to the famous Sir Roger the Elephant!
A walk along the River Clyde, with its modern architecture and bridges, offered stunning views. The SSE Hydro, an iconic entertainment venue, often hosts family-friendly shows and concerts, making it a great spot for evening entertainment.
Glasgow’s culinary scene was a “delight” (if you like traditional Scottish food!). We indulged in local delights like haggis, neeps, and tatties and explored the city’s bustling food markets.
Glasgow’s warm and welcoming residents, its artistic spirit, and its architectural marvels made it an ideal destination for our family’s urban escape. It’s a city that celebrates diversity and creativity, and we encourage you to experience the dynamic energy of Glasgow for yourselves. We’ll definitely be back to spend more time here.
(Side note – make sure to check out our guide on the best places to stay in Glasgow!)
From Glasgow, we made the two-hour drive to the Lake District. Nestled in the heart of Cumbria, the Lake District was a nature lover’s dream come true (that’s us!). With its majestic landscapes, serene lakes, and charming villages, this region offered us a tranquil and awe-inspiring escape from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the trip.
Our journey commenced with a visit to Lake Windermere, England’s largest natural lake. We embarked on a relaxing cruise, which not only provided us with stunning vistas but also allowed the kids to spot local wildlife. The quaint town of Bowness-on-Windermere along the lake’s shore was a delightful place to explore with its cafes, shops, and gardens.
We also really loved Ambleside, where we enjoyed fish and trips by the lake and a punt on one of the wooden boats.
The Lake District is a hiker’s paradise. This was a bit much for our little ones, but for those inclined, we hear Cat Bells is the hike to do. Apparently the view from the summit iss absolutely breathtaking, making the climb worth every step. Be sure to bring a picnic and enjoy the vistas by Derwentwater.
Exploring charming villages like Grasmere, made famous by the poet William Wordsworth, offered us glimpses into English countryside life. We enjoyed delicious cream teas and visited the Wordsworth Dove Cottage.
Another family favourite was the Beatrix Potter experience in Bowness-on-Windermere, where the kids could relive the tales of Peter Rabbit in an interactive museum.
The Lake District’s culinary scene featured local flavours and hearty meals, which warmed our hearts after a day of exploring.
This beautiful region of England is a nature lover’s paradise, and we invite you to experience the serenity and wonder of the Lake District. It’s a place that offers relaxation, adventure, and natural beauty in equal measure, making it the perfect family destination for those seeking an escape into the great outdoors.
Our family’s excursion to York and its charming neighbouring towns, Malton and Sheriff Hutton, was the whole point of our European adventure. Our friends, who live in Malton, were getting married in Sheriff Hutton, and York is the closest city.
The drive from the Lake District to Malton, where we stayed, took a little under three hours. The kids did get a little restless, but this drive took us through the spectacular Yorkshire Dales National Park, which provided some distraction. If we’d had time, I would have liked to detour via Richmond to visit Richmond Castle, the best-preserved Norman castle in England. Unfortunately (not really though – we were desperate to see our friends) we had dinner reservations to make.
York, steeped in history, offered an unforgettable glimpse into the past (and plenty of Harry Potter vibes for the kids!), while Malton and Sheriff Hutton provided delightful detours. A visit to the magnificent Castle Howard was the icing on the cake for our exploration of this picturesque region.
Our adventure began in York, where the iconic York Minster, a towering Gothic cathedral, dominated the skyline. We marvelled at its grandeur and ventured inside to admire the stunning stained-glass windows. The kids were thrilled to learn about its medieval history.
The city’s medieval streets, like The Shambles, provided a charming backdrop for family strolls and shopping for unique souvenirs. The kids absolutely loved The Shop That Must Not Be Named, and we bought a bunch of those Jelly Bellys that have the random flavours (earwax, vomit, and boogers being interesting ones, but there’s also a cherry so I guess that’s nice?)
In the centre of town are two other must-see attractions; The Jorvik Viking Centre, which features some fascinating exhibits from England’s Viking history (the kids loved the oldest surviving human poo – yes really); and Clifford’s Tower, the largest remaining section of York Castle. Clifford’s Tower also features panoramic views of the city from the tower’s ramparts.
We loved eating at the pubs along the riverbank in the centre of York, and also joined a Ghost Tour one night. This did say all ages but it was pretty damn creepy for the kids, so just make sure you do your research before joining one.
Malton, a short drive from York, was a culinary delight. The town’s nickname, “Yorkshire’s Food Capital,” held true as we explored its food markets, sampling local delicacies and artisanal goods.
Sheriff Hutton offered a tranquil escape with its quaint village charm and the picturesque St. Helen and Holy Cross Church, which was where the wedding was. The history buff in me was absolutely ecstatic – this church, built c. 1100, was part of the Neville family estate (yes, that Neville family for you Wars of the Roses nerds!) Obviously I was excited to see my friends get married but I reckon I nearly passed out from excitement about the history.
The other highlight of our journey was a visit to Castle Howard, a magnificent stately home surrounded by lush gardens. (And yes, it is in Bridgerton!) The kids had a blast in the adventure playground (“Skelf Island” – so cute!). The adults revelled in the opulence of the house and the beauty of the estate.
The final stop on our Northern UK Road Trip was Manchester.
Honestly, I was pretty sceptical about Manchester. The boys’ barber is from Manchester and he told us before our trip “meh, you’ve seen one English city, you’ve seen them all!” However, our family’s expedition to the dynamic heart of northern England was an exhilarating urban adventure filled with culture, history, and modernity. This lively city offered a diverse range of experiences, from industrial heritage to cutting-edge art and entertainment.
Our exploration kicked off with a visit to the Science and Industry Museum, a treasure trove of scientific wonders and Manchester’s industrial history. The interactive exhibits and steam locomotives captivated the kids and gave them a fascinating glimpse into the city’s past.
For a more artistic experience, the Manchester Art Gallery showcased an impressive collection of artwork, spanning from classic masterpieces to contemporary pieces. The vibrant street art scene in the Northern Quarter was also a visual treat, and the kids enjoyed spotting colourful murals around the city.
Football enthusiasts in the family won’t be able to resist a tour of Old Trafford, the iconic home of Manchester United. The stadium tour offers a behind-the-scenes look at the club’s history and its legendary players. This wasn’t us (and we ran out of time anyway) but as the kids get older (and they’re getting more into “soccer” as we call it) I can see us doing this on our next trip.
Another activity I’d like to do next time is a tour of Manchester’s music scene. This city is home to Oasis, Joy Division, The Smiths, The Buzzcocks, and New Order, just to name a few.
Manchester’s culinary scene was a pleasant surprise. From traditional British classics to global cuisine, there was something for every palate. We indulged in delicious Manchester tarts and explored food markets like Altrincham Market for artisanal treats.
Manchester’s friendly locals, industrial heritage, and vibrant arts scene made it an ideal destination for our urban adventure. This city is a melting pot of culture, history, and modernity, making it an exciting place for families to explore.
How long should I spend in Northern UK?
It really depends on the type of trip you’re after, but this trip could be theoretically done in 10 days to two weeks. We feel the longer the better to really soak it all in, but of course it’s going to depend on how much time you have.
One example would be to have a day and night in Newcastle, then drive to Edinburgh, breaking the day up with a visit to Alnwick Castle and its local village. This will have you in Edinburgh late afternoon/early evening, giving you time to check in and grab dinner. Two days at least is needed in Edinburgh as there’s so much to experience.
Then, head to Glasgow upon leaving Edinburgh – you could spend a night here or just do a day trip, before making your way down to the Lake District. Here is where you need to decide – do you want a quick getaway experience (one night), or do you want some time to rest and recover (two or more nights)? Onto York, we again recommend at least two nights, if not more, especially if you’d like to explore more of Yorkshire. One night in Manchester before flying out is all that’s needed.
Best Time to visit Northern UK
This wouldn’t be A Winter Escape if we weren’t chasing the sunshine. Of course we are going to say “Summer!” However, each season has its own appeal.
From May to September, you’ll enjoy milder weather, blooming landscapes, and longer daylight hours. This timeframe is ideal for exploring cities like Edinburgh and Manchester or venturing into the picturesque Lake District. The shoulder seasons provide a perfect balance between avoiding the summer crowds and unpredictable winter conditions. This is particularly important to note if you’re driving, as winter conditions can become dangerous quickly.
Just be sure to pack layers and a raincoat, as the Northern UK’s weather can be changeable (the Summer in particular is definitely not the same as an Australian Summer!).
Whatever the season, a road trip in this enchanting region promises memorable adventures.
Put it this way: I was SOBBING when we left. I knew I loved Edinburgh, but the whole of Northern UK just felt incredible. There’s something about it – you’ve left behind the pretense of London for the open air and friendliness of the North. You don’t have to be anyone other than yourself. It’s just a place that’s good for the soul – and it was clear that in their own way, the kids felt this too.
If you’re planning a trip to the UK, please consider heading north. Northern UK is waiting for you with open arms.
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