Going Beyond Harry Potter: Inside the Still-Inhabited Alnwick Castle


Harry Potter (specifically the lure of seeing the castle that starred as Hogwarts) was enough to get us to take a detour to Alnwick Castle in Northeast England on our drive from Manchester to Edinburgh. But when we arrived we learned that there’s a lot more to Alnwick Castle than being the location where they filmed Harry Potter. Nicknamed “The Windsor of the North,” it’s the second largest inhabited castle in England. The Percy family, which includes the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, has been living inside this Medieval fortress for 700 years.


Alnwick_decor When I was in Wales, I loved visiting the crumbling beauties in Conwy and Beaumaris. As much I adore the romanticism of ruins, there’s something to be said for a perfectly intact castle that has the comforts of home. And Alnwick definitely does, as it’s the ultra-spacious home to the Percy family for much of the year, as the castle is only open to the public from April—October.

In 1309, Henry Lord Percy purchased Alnwick Castle from the Bishop of Durham and moved his family into it from North Yorkshire. Don’t we all wish we had descendants with such foresight! He paid between £2,666 and £6,666 for it, which is pretty expensive considering that all of Manhattan was purchased 300 years later for $24.

Alnwick_upper_guard_chamber But clearly he recognized the solid construction because 700 years later, the building still looks great, and it’s quite a business as the family rents it out a portion of it for weddings, conferences, a study abroad program with Minnesota’s St. Cloud State University. And, most importantly for Harry Potter fans, the outside of the castle was used for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Outer Bailey, the grass area in front of the castle (between the castle and the outer wall of the barbican and courtyard) was used for the famous flying broomstick lesson in the first film.

There are several State Rooms you can tour, and Alnwick Castle has provided me with photos that you see in this post because they don’t allow photography of the rooms. What I liked even more than the opulent decor were all of the decorative pieces and artwork — this Percy family are dedicated collectors. I particularly enjoyed an entire hallway devoted to their extensive china collection.

I also liked seeing the modern touches that let us visitors know that Alnwick Castle isn’t a museum — it’s a home. Because I’m nosy, I loved looking at the family photographs — they were prominently displayed, I didn’t have to go searching. And I loved that one of the fancy drawing rooms had a flat-screen TV and foosball table, which unfortunately is not pictured here. But the castle has never shied away from technology, as it installed electricity in 1889 and was one of the first northeast homes to do so.


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15 Responses to Going Beyond Harry Potter: Inside the Still-Inhabited Alnwick Castle

  1. Meagan February 8, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    Very cool. I didn’t realize it was filmed in someone’s “home”.
    Meagan recently posted..Panama City Beach Summer Camps

    • Liz Borod Wright
      February 8, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

      The filming was mostly done outside the castle, in the courtyard and the surrounding areas. The bulk of the Harry Potter movies, however, were shot on a Warner Bros set outside London.

  2. Vera Marie Badertscher
    Twitter: pen4hire
    February 8, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    Rather than envy people who live in those ancient castles, I pity them. It’s a very expensive proposition. I tip my hat to those who have found ways to finance upkeep and taxes. I’ll bet the movie company paid a bundle to film there!
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..Traveling Author Says, “Get Lost.” “Taste It.” “Smell It.”

  3. Sophie
    Twitter: SophieR
    February 8, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    I’d like to live there. I’ll admit it.
    Sophie recently posted..No more: The natural bridge of Aruba

  4. Abby
    Twitter: abbytegnelia
    February 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

    Hogwarts!!!! I can’t believe it’s still inhabited. So cool.
    Abby recently posted..How I chickened out on a challenge course at a five-star spa

  5. Angie Orth of Angie Away
    Twitter: angieaway
    February 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    Loved this! I didn’t get to visit Alnwick on my Harry Potter pilgrimage last summer, so thanks for sharing – beautiful home, and so cool that it’s still in use!
    Angie Orth of Angie Away recently posted..Desperate for Respite in Dahab

  6. Laura February 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    OMG! It looks absolutely amazing. Can I have it? :)
    Laura recently posted..Romantic Weekends: Three Luxury City Breaks on a Budget

  7. John February 12, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

    Did you get to see any of the other places in Northumberland? Lindisfarne, Bamburgh Castle, quiet sandy beaches etc? The North East Coast does not get the acclaim it merits.
    John recently posted..Discovering Evasion Mont Blanc and evasive buses

    • linda October 16, 2013 at 1:38 am #

      I could not agree more!!! I was fortunate enough to be on the first Friendship Force exchange to Newcastle in 1980 and stayed with an English couple who took me to Bamburg (which we came upon in a fog…then gasp!..there it was!). We went to Roxbury, Durham Cathederal and Castle, Washington Old Hall, Hadrian’s Wall, and looked at Lindesfarne from a distance. We went to Alnwick, Wallington, the Newcastle new castle which was built in 900 A.D., saw old cobbles in the streets, and most precious of all, saw marble steps worn with wear and got a concept of the ages for the first time.

      We went to a distraction (amusement park) and played and explored along the beaches.

      We were graciously welcomed to a high tea with my host’s mum. She gave me her recipe for battenburg which I continue to enjoy to this day!

      It was a highlight of my life! Northumberland is amazing and almost no one has heard of it!

  8. Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    Twitter: thetravelchica
    February 16, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    I cannot even imagine living in a place like that. The upkeep is frightening!
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Journey to the End of the World (aka That Time I Thought I Might Die in the Wilderness)

  9. alexa-- 52PerfectDays February 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    Amazing photos. Really enjoyed the piece. Last time I was in a castle was in Scotland at Castle Stuart.
    alexa– 52PerfectDays recently posted..Estiatorio Milos & Knave: A 5 Star Evening in New York

  10. Lissa February 21, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    I lived in the St. Cloud State University part of the castle as an exchange student. It was amazing. Definitely not as beautiful and upkept as the photos, but one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. There were dark creepy hallways, huge wooden doors, “secret” passways, a basement pingpong room. I got to live in a castle, and it was awesome.

  11. EurotripTips February 23, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    Looove English castles, especially those with history! I really think Northern England should be more popular with tourists.

  12. Joe W February 23, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    simply awesome, its gotta be a great experience


  1. no travel required « the lazy travelers - February 9, 2012

    […] Uhhh how did we not know about this before??? This just jumped to the top of our travel must-sees! Going Beyond Harry Potter– Inside the Still Inhabited Alnwick Castle […]

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