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.
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.
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.