24 Hours in Barnard Castle, England – Must See Sights + Top Tips

Barnard Castle in County Durham is a beautiful market town where Charles Dickens spent time while writing Nicholas Nickleby

In 2024, the Caravan and Motorhome Club are running a Read, Tour, and Explore Campaign to encourage people to read more and visit places associated with book settings. We aim to help promote authors, both old and new, while providing suggestions on which locations to explore that, at one time, offered inspiration to those who went on to put pen to paper.

Taking its name from the castle that stands proudly at the heart of this town, Barnard Castle in Teeside is a historic marketplace known as Barney by the locals. It is home to not only the castle ruins but also museums, a vibrant shopping area teaming with independent shops, and the River Tees, popular with watersports enthusiasts and those who enjoy a wander in nature. 

 The History of Barnard Castle

The focal point of this town is most definitely the castle itself, which you can see from the road as you drive through. Building started here back in 1093, although what remains today is from the 12th and 13th centuries by the Balliol family, while the oldest building in town, Blagraves, dates back to 1484.

A view of Barnard Castle from the river. A striking addition to the skyline of the town.

A view of the castle from the river

The fact that famous artist J.W.M. Turner painted Barnard Castle and the riverside back in 1825 should indicate how attractive this small town is. Plus, several well-known writers and poets have spent time enjoying the pretty surroundings here and gaining inspiration for their work, including Walter Scott, who started his poem Rokeby with Barnard Castle as a backdrop, and Charles Dickens, who stayed at the King’s Head while researching his novel, Nicholas NicklebyWilliam WordsworthDaniel DefoeRalph Waldo EmersonHilarie Belloc and more recently, travel writer Bill Bryson have all enjoyed spending time at Barnard Castle.

 24 hours in Barnard Castle Itinerary

Barnard Castle is a town that can be seen in just a few hours, but in order to explore it fully, allow yourself a day to not only wander around the castle but also explore one of the most prominent museums in this part of the country.

We have created the perfect one-day walking itinerary for you, including a list of the top sights to make the most of your day in town.

Day 1 Barnard Castle Itinerary

Grab a coffee and enjoy the view from the park

The best way to start your day at Barnard Castle is to grab a takeaway coffee and a breakfast pastry and head to the park area overlooking the Castle itself. With only the river for company, the view here is unspoilt, and when the sun is shining, there is no better way to begin your day.

Uninhibited views of the castle from the park area

Head into Barnard Castle

Open daily from 10 a.m., the ruins of the once grand Barnard Castle sit high above the River Tees. It takes its name from the original founder, Bernard de Balliol before being passed on to the Beauchamp family and later Richard III before he became king. More recently, the castle has been looked after by English Heritage and will cost £8.50 if booked ahead, or £10.50 on the day per adult (2024).

Once inside, you can read more about the castle’s colourful past and its inhabitants, including the siege of 1569 and the Barnard hermit who lived there in the middle 1800s.

Enjoy the independent shops 

From the castle, head back into town and walk around the shops, admiring the local retailers and their crafts. If you enjoy fresh foods, check out the local bakeries, butchers, and delis for the best quality produce before settling in for lunch at another popular deli spot on the outskirts of the main town centre.

At the heart of the market town high street you will be greeted by the old market covering. This indicated the end of the high street.

The old covered market on the High Street

Go to Andalucia for Lunch

Andalucia, at the top end of town, is the perfect place to enjoy lunch. With plenty of options, including homemade steak pie and fluffy omelettes, you will be hard-pressed to find somewhere as inviting. The plus side of eating here is that the café doubles as a deli, which means you can purchase more produce to take home afterwards.

Explore the wealth of artwork housed in the Bowes Museum

From the outside, this grand building looks like it has been transported from the Loire Valley region of France and seems somewhat out of place in Yorkshire. After selling their property in France, the Bowes designed this outstanding piece of architecture, reminiscent of a chateau, which was built to share their love of art with everyone. 

The Bowes Museum looks more like a French chateau than a building in County Durham.

The outside of the Bowes Museum is reminiscent of French chateau

Josephine herself was an avid collector, painter, actress, and socialite renowned for the salons she used to host in Paris. John was an English art collector and thoroughbred racehorse owner. Therefore, it is unsurprising that many of the pieces now on show in the museum are from their private collections or painted by Josephine herself. 

The new reflection area of the Bowes Museum

One of the newer rooms at the Bowes Museum

There are many different areas of the Bowes Museum to explore, including temporary exhibitions, paintings by Turner, Gainsborough, Goya, Canaletto and Van Dyke, and the mechanical Silver Swan. Dating back to the1770s, this replica of a female swan contains more than 2,000 moving parts, which allows its head to move like a real swan would. During your visit to Barnard Castle and the Bowes Museum this is one thing not to be missed, therefore make sure you time your visit to watch the swan swimming for yourself.

The Silver Swan in the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle in County Durham

The Silver Swan at the Bowes Museum

For literary fans, it is worth noting that Mark Twain also saw this Swan display at a Paris exhibition in 1867, which he later wrote about in his novel The Innocents Abroad.

 ‘I watched the Silver Swan, which had a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes – watched him swimming about as comfortably and unconcernedly as it he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweller’s shop – watched him seize a silver fish from under the water and hold up his head and go through the customary and elaborate motions of swallowing it…’

Likewise, when Bill Bryson visited Barnard Castle, he described the Bowes Museum as ‘an absolutely fabulous institution’.

Spend time perusing the books at McNab’s Bookshop

McNab's bookshop at Barnard Castle

Selling old, new, and second-hand books, McNab’s is an institution in its own right around Barnard Castle. This delightful little independent bookshop, established in 1988, is spread across two rooms with comfortable sofas and walls lined with books on all different topics, from travel to literary fiction and children’s books. 

Inside McNab's bookshop with shelves of books and comfortable sofas to relax on.

Inside McNab’s Bookshop

The warm welcome you receive here when you walk through the door only adds to the cosy feel of this place. If, by this point, you are also after a caffeine fix, then there is a coffee shop attached where you can order before going back to enjoy yourself within the bookshop itself.

Find the Charles Dickens Plaque

Perhaps one of the most notable writers of classic literature, Charles Dickens, loved to explore the places he wrote about, and Barnard Castle is no different. In 1838, he visited the town while completing research for his book Nicholas Nickleby, and therefore, a blue plaque was erected in his honour. When visiting, be sure to wander down to the site of the old King’s Head Hotel, where he stayed with his illustrator, Hablot Browne.

Charles Dickens blue plaque

Head to Moments Café for afternoon coffee

With a selection of fabulous homemade cakes, including vegan options, paired with sustainably, ethically sourced Lonton coffee, Moments Café is the perfect place to unwind. Dating back to the early 16th century, this listed building still has some original features, including a fully working 18th-century stove that warms the whole place on a cold day.

Take a walk along the river to the Deepdale Nature Reserve

A walk along the river to the Deepdale Nature Reserve

Before the sun sets, head back down to the river and stroll down to Deepdale Woods, one of the best in Teeside, and complete the circular walk so that you once again end up back at Barnard Castle. This woodland has been lovingly maintained in the hope that more wildlife will return to the area and was mentioned in Sir Walter Scott’s poem, Rokeby:

“…and last and least but loveliest still, Romantic Deepdale’s slender rill”

Enjoy pre-dinner drinks at the Three Horseshoes

Sitting at the crossroads of the two principal shopping streets, this pub has been respectfully renovated and is now the ideal place to enjoy an early evening drink at their Cellar Bar or, in the warmer months, their beer garden. They offer a selection of classical cocktail choices and many different craft beers within the walls of a 17th-century building.

Have dinner at Babul’s 

Voted one of the best restaurants in town, Babul’s offers Indian and Bangladeshi dishes in a vibrant, colourful environment. You can enjoy a selection of South Asian delights mixed with cocktails to complement your choices.

Follow in the footsteps of Bill Bryson and have a drink in the Old Well Inn

In The Road to Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson mentions the Old Well Inn; therefore, before heading back to the town centre, visit the historic coaching inn, which has castle walls running along the beer garden, and enjoy a real cask ale.

Final Thoughts 

Barnard Castle is more than just the castle it is named after, and therefore, to do it justice, you should arrange to spend the day there exploring. Yes, you could quickly visit the castle if you are struggling for time, but you will miss out on so much more. For us, the warm welcome offered by everyone at Barnard Castle is a reason to visit.

The old King's Head hotel in Barnard Castle where Charles Dickens stayed during his visit to the town when he was writing Nicholas Nickleby

The old King’s Head Hotel in Barnard Castle where Charles Dickens stayed

Recommended Tours

  • Visit Raby Castle, built during the 14th century and one of England’s most impressive, still intact castles.  Inside the grounds, you can discover the woodland adventure playground at The Plotters’ Forest, wander around the 18th-century walled gardens or enjoy lunch in the Vinery.
  • Located in the Forest-in-Teeside in the North Pennines, the High Force Waterfalls are some of the most impressive in the region. Standing 21 metres tall, Turner may have painted the waterfalls in 1822, but they are still breathtaking today.
  • The ruins of Egglestone Abbey, a small monastery dating back to the 13th century, are free to enter. The monastery still stands to some degree and has views out over the Tees Gorge. 
  • Between 1171 and 1187, Bowes Castle was built on the site of a Roman fort and was a stronghold for Henry II. Today, the castle has a moat on two sides, with the keep being the only remaining part of this ruin; however, it is still worth a visit.
  • The Locomotion Museum in Shildon, which is free to enter, is the perfect family day out. It is home to more than 70 heritage railway vehicles, exhibitions, and gardens to explore.

If you have time to visit further afield:

  • Head to Richmond in the Yorkshire Dales, a vibrant market town with a castle and waterfalls. It is also where Lewis Carroll went to school for some time.
  • Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Durham. This university city is home to a cathedral and a castle, which is among the finest examples of Norman architecture in England.
  • Take a trip to Bolton Abbey and explore this sprawling estate, including the priory ruins and the stepping stones, before having lunch at The Devonshire Arms.

How to get to Barnard Castle

The closest train stations to Barnard Castle are either Bishop Auckland or Darlington, meaning that you would be at least 40 minutes away if travelling via bus or 20 minutes in a taxi. If you want to fly in, Teesside International Airport is 30 minutes away, while Newcastle Airport is one hour away. Finally, via road, Barnard Castle is just 20 minutes off the A1(M).

Travelling by Motorhome to Barnard Castle

For those travelling in their motorhomes, should you not wish to stay at a campsite nearby, there are a couple of parking options for you, including:

  • The Red Well Inn (Harmire Road, DL12 8QJ) in Barnard Castle allows motorhomes to park for free overnight if you have a drink or meal in their restaurant. However, other than water, there are no other facilities available.

Where to stay in Barnard Castle

For a relatively small place, a variety of accommodation is available, which should highlight just how popular this market town is. The Three Horseshoes is a centrally located hotel dating back to the 17th century. All bedrooms have been sympathetically renovated to a high standard but now include all the modern comforts you would expect. 

If you would prefer to be slightly further out of town, although still within walking distance and close to the Bowes Museum, perhaps the smaller Newgate House B&B would suit you better. For those willing to travel slightly further afield for a stay in absolute luxury, look no further than Runa Farm, which has been designed with exquisite detail in mind, where some rooms come complete with private balconies and hot tubs. There is also a glamping site attached and a restaurant and bar area offering seasonal and local produce from their farm.

Motorhome Campsite Options

The caravan and motorhome club at Barnard Castle entrance way

When travelling to the area via motorhome or camper, however, if you wish to stay for a night or two, there is no better place than Teesdale Barnard Castle Club Campsite, offered by the Motorhome and Caravan Club. 

The welcoming area of the Caravan and Motorhome Club in Barnard Castle

The entrance to the Motorhome and Caravan Club site

It is centrally located within walking distance of the town centre and offers a peaceful stay in a beautiful location with full facilities available. The staff onsite are extremely welcoming and are there to offer any guidance on where to visit and places to eat and drink.

The large camping pitches at the Caravan and Motorhome Club site at Barnard Castle

Pitches available at Barnard Castle

With 95 pitches to choose from, you can decide whether to be closer to the shower block or look out over the woodland that is set back slightly. In the evenings, alongside the resident rabbits, you will hear all manner of wildlife, including owls, making you feel like you are miles from anywhere when, in fact, you are just a 20-minute stroll from town. This site offers the best of both worlds; it is a place to relax and provides the convenience of a local town to explore, which means you can park up and forget about driving anywhere for a few days.

The Caravan and Motorhome Club site at Barnard Castle as the sun is setting

Sunset at Barnard Castle

Have you visited Barnard Castle? What would you recommend others visit when in the area?

(N.B. The Caravan and Motorhome Club did provide us with a free pitch for the duration of our trip, but all research and recommendations are our own and have in no way been influenced by others).

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A 24 hour travel guide to Barnard Castle, County Durham in England via @tbookjunkie

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