An historical road trip through the North East of the UK

The North East of the UK provides 250 miles of open road, and over 1000 years of history to explore. From castle ruins to ornate palaces, medieval priories, and towering cathedrals – this journey has them all.

Stretching from York to Edinburgh, this road trip incorporates stunning scenery and historical stops that will take you back to the Roman and Victorian eras all in the same day.

Hiring a car, you can take the trip at your own pace – whether that’s over two days, a long weekend, or a whole week. Each stop is immersed in history, and the route to Edinburgh is full of striking stretches of road that will live long in your memory.

Banner image credit: istockphoto.com/daverhead

All other images: Lucy Dodsworth

Here are five of my favourite historical stops to include on your road trip through the North East of the UK.

York

Start your history-packed road trip in the beautiful city of York, with its unique mix of Roman, Viking, Norman, Tudor, and Victorian influences.

The Roman city walls around the edge of York’s historic heart mesmerise me every time I visit. They are a small piece of what life would have been like during Roman rule, yet remain fascinating to visitors like me.

To discover more about the Roman way of life, head to the Yorkshire Museum which also looks at life in York before the invasion. Before leaving the Romans behind, check out the Roman bathhouse in the basement of the Roman Bath pub which is accessible to visitors.

Moving towards the Gothic period, York Minster is the city’s most iconic landmark and Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral. The view from the tower gives you panoramic views of York below and the stunning stained glass inside is enthralling. Legend has it that if you kiss your partner by the Heart of Yorkshire window, you’ll stay together forever!

Whitby

As you leave York, head northeast across the wild, heather-strewn landscapes of the North York Moors National Park to Whitby.

Whitby is a pretty Yorkshire seaside town meets Gothic hotspot. A town with a long seafaring history, it’s where Captain Cook learnt to sail.

Yet, it’s a fictional character who made Whitby famous. Follow the 199 winding steps up from the town and you’ll find Whitby Abbey perched on a cliff. These atmospheric Gothic ruins were the inspiration for legendary horror writer Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Follow in his footsteps through the Abbey’s skeletal arches, gravestones and crumbling pillars.

Durham

Whenever you’re ready to leave the Gothic architecture of Whitby in your wake, head inland for one hour and 30 minutes to reach Durham.

With its elegant college buildings, dusty bookstores and hordes of students on bikes, it’s the North East’s version of Oxford. Make the most of your time here by taking a peek around the colleges of England’s third oldest university.

The College of St Hilde and St Bede has some of the prettiest buildings, but University College has to take the title of most impressive. It’s inside Durham’s 11th century castle, with students eating in the Grand Hall and sleeping in the Keep. It’s the castle, along with Durham’s spectacular cathedral, that has made Durham a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Northumberland

On leaving Durham, you start to head further into the countryside as you bypass the metropolis of Newcastle and enter the Northumberland National Park.

This unspoilt county is home to 70 castles, numerous historic houses, deserted islands, and wild coastline.

Stop off at Alnwick – home to the Alnwick Castle and Gardens. Harry Potter fans might recognise the castle from the films. You can even join in broomstick flying lessons outside! Another Alnwick staple is Barter Books, a bibliophile’s paradise known as the ‘British Library of second hand bookshops.’

Just a bit further up the coast lies the island of Lindisfarne. Also known as Holy Island, it’s been a place of pilgrimage since 635 AD and there’s the ruined Lindisfarne Priory and its 16th century castle to explore. Make sure to time your trip carefully though as the island gets cut off by the tide twice a day – you don’t want to be left stranded!

Edinburgh

Edinburgh, Scotland, is only a two hour drive from Northumberland on a good day.

The Scottish capital is packed with fascinating historical sites, from the Scottish National War Memorial to Edinburgh Castle itself. The city’s Old Town is UNESCO-listed, with its cobbled streets, hidden passageways, and Gothic architecture making it a remarkable place to visit.

Mary King’s Close is one of Edinburgh’s historical gems. It’s a 17th century street buried and preserved like a time capsule when the Royal Exchange was built on top of it. Here, you can start to discover Edinburgh’s hidden history and it makes for a superb last stop on this historical road trip through the North East.

With so much history to explore in the UK, it’s often good to know where to look first. The North East is steeped in a rich history that stretches from Roman rule to the Gothic to 17th century social history in Scotland. This variety makes the North East perfect for an historical road trip, taking in the stunning views along the way.

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