Sometimes called the "Windsor of the North," the imposing Alnwick Castle is more familiar to many as a location in the Harry Potter movies. (The castle grounds appear as the exterior of Hogwarts School.) The building is still home to the dukes of Northumberland, whose family, the Percys, dominated in the Northeast for centuries. Family photos and other knickknacks are scattered around the lavish staterooms, a subtle but pointed reminder that this is a family home rather than a museum. Highlights include the extroardinary gun room, lined with hundreds of antique pistols in swirling patterns; the formal dining room, its table set as if guests are due at any minute; and the magnificent galleried library, containing 14,000 books in floor-to-ceiling cases.
There's plenty here for younger visitors: Knights' Quest lets kids dress up and complete interactive challenges; Dragon's Quest is a labyrinth designed to teach a bit of medieval history; and for the very young, there are Harry Potter–style
events on certain dates, including Broomstick Lessons on the exact spot used in the movie (check website for schedule). Spooky ghost stories are told by costumed actors in the Lost Cellars. In addition, the staff hides a toy owl somewhere in each room of the castle, and kids get a certificate if they spot them all. Tickets are valid for one year, so you can come back if you don't see everything in a day.