the best things to do in barnard castle

Best Things to Do in Barnard Castle Gateway to the Durham Dales

The picturesque market town of Barnard Castle sits high above the River Tees and is named after the castle of the same name.  The name originally came from her 12th-century founder, Bernard de Balliol.   Barnard Castle is easy to get to and the perfect place to spend a weekend or longer exploring the town and the surrounding villages of the Durham Dales.    We’ll cover what to do in Barnard Castle as well as things to do near Barnard Castle and the best places to stay in Barnard Castle and her surrounds.


In Barnard Castle, you’ll find traditional pubs, acclaimed restaurants and a world-famous museum to visit.   Famous visitors to the town include author Charles Dickens and landscape painter JMW Turner.  The renowned independent Barnard Castle School, located on the outskirts of the town educated alumni who include the English rugby internationals Rory and Tony Underwood and Rob Andrew.

Where is Barnard Castle?

Barnard Castle is in the Durham Dales, in the North East of England on the edges of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.    Known locally as ‘Barney”, the town is a few miles from the cross Pennine A66 and is known as the gateway to Teesdale.

Map of Barnard Castle and Surround Area

How to Get to Barnard Castle

It’s easy to reach Barnard Castle from the A1M, taking the exit at Scotch Corner from the South and then the A66.  The route is well signposted.  From the North, take the A1M exit 61 at Bowburn and then the A688 and A67.

The closest train station to Barnard Castle is Darlington, on the mainline between London and Edinburgh.  Buses operated by Arriva North East run hourly from Darlington until early evening, with a weekend service.   Although there is public transport from Barnard Castle to villages in Teesdale, it’s recommended to have a car to explore the area further.

If you need to rent a car, we recommend Discover Cars for car hire.  You can search, compare and save up to 70%, with no hidden fees and free cancellation, what have you got to lose? Get a price for a rental car here.

Barnard Castle Map

Map Of Barnard Castle
Barnard Castle Map

Top Things to Do in Barnard Castle

It’s easy to spend a weekend in Barnard Castle, with a plethora of activities, shops, history and places to eat.  Spending more time in the town will allow you to explore further afield – perhaps walking part of the Teesdale Way, discovering more of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and nearby attractions.  While you’re in Barnard Castle things to do are varied – and we’ve grouped them into the activities within the town and further afield.

Visit Barnard Castle (Castle)

The castle in Barnard Castle is easily spotted when approaching the town from the river.  Barnard Castle is perched high on a rocky outcrop above the River Tees.

Barnard Castle on the River Tees

Named after its founder Bernard de Balliol it passed through the hands of the Beauchamp family and was even owned by Richard III at one point.  You can see Richard’s boar emblem carved into a window inside the castle.    The castle is maintained and managed by English Heritage.

We recommend an English Heritage membership – whether you’re a UK or overseas resident – this area of the North East has dozens of heritage locations to visit!  Check out our guide to neighbouring county of Yorkshire’s Best Castles to visit.

There are stunning views over the River, great picnic areas and a sensory garden of plants and tactile objects to explore.

Barnard Castle Opening Hours;

10:00 – 18:00 Monday – Sunday (shorter times during the winter).

You can visit Barnard Castle with the English Heritage Annual Pass – from just £46 which allows access to more than 400 properties in England.  Overseas visitors can buy passes valid for 9 or 16 days from £33. > Buy your pass now! 

The Bowes Museum Barnard Castle

This 19th-century museum in the style of a French Chateau was purpose-built by John and Josephine Bowes to house their collection of decorative arts.  It’s viewed as one of the most significant museums outside London and is surrounded by formal gardens and woodland.  The foundation stone was laid in 1869 and the museum opened in 1892 some years after the death of the couple.  Their final resting place is in the Church abutting the grounds of the museum.

The Bowes Museum Barnard Castle

There is a diverse and changing collection at the museum – paintings by Canaletto and Goya and Sevres porcelain, however, the most iconic piece is the Bowes Museum’s, Silver Swan.  It’s 240 years old and was bought by the Bowes in 1872.  The Silver Swan is a life-sized model of English silver automation.  The hand-wound clockwork mechanism is used daily and enthralls visitors.

Bowes Museum Opening Times:

The museum is open daily, from 1000 – 1700.   There are free guided tours at 1130.  The Silver Swan automation happens at 14:00.

English Heritage members get 10% off admission prices to the Bowes Museum

Bowes Museum prices for entry: Adults GBP 14.00, Family Pass GBP 30.00

The North East of England is a stunning part of the country to visit – why not take a little more time and explore these top things to do in the North East?

Explore the Market Cross Barnard Castle

Built by Thomas Breaks in 1747 to replace the old toll booth, Barnard Castle’s Market Cross is an octagonal-shaped building with a covered veranda.  On top are a bell tower and a weather vane.  The Market Cross, sometimes called the Butter Market, is located at the junction of the Market Place, Newgate and the Bank.  In previous times the veranda was used as the market for butter and dairy products, hence the alternative name,” the Butter Mart”.  The upper part of the structure was used as a jail and a store for town records.

The Market Cross Barnard Castle Butter Market

The weather vane on top of the Market Cross contains two bullet holes, remnants of an 1804 challenge, when two local marksmen competed from the Turks Head, 100 metres away.

The main use of Barney’s Market Cross is now as a roundabout and it makes a pretty feature in photographs and postcards.

Barnard Castle Market Days

The town has been a market town for many years.  Market Day Barnard Castle is Wednesday when the cobbled area in the centre of Horsemarket is set up with stalls.  There are fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, local delicacies, clothing and also bric a brac stalls.

Market Days in Barnard Castle

Market day in Barnard Castle is particularly busy, parking is generally at a premium as the market is set up on “the cobbles” where there is usually free parking.  Park instead in the (paid for) Morrisons supermarket Barnard Castle car park.

Barnard Castle Farmers Market

The first Saturday of each month see’s the farmers market, Barnard Castle. It’s held on the cobbles during the better weather and inside the Witham Hall during winter.    There’s a wide range of artisan foods – handmade cheese, hand-reared meat, free-range eggs and homemade jams, fudges and wines.

Walks in Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle is surrounded by great walking countryside.  The long-distance Teesdale Way passes through the town and hikers often use Barney as a base for heading further up the dale to explore the fells.  Walks near Barnard Castle incorporate the banks of the River Tees, great round walks to the Meeting of the Waters, up the river to Cotherstone and further afield.   The Barnard Castle Ramblers Association has an active membership and regularly holds hosted walks in the area.   You can buy their best walks around Barnard Castle booklet from Bowlees Visitor Centre, The Conduit Cafe in Middleton-in-Teesdale, The Witham in Barnard Castle, 54 Degrees North in Barnard Castle and The Teesdale Mercury in Barnard Castle.

Alternatively grab the Ordnance Survey app – its a fabulous way to spot some of the great walks in and around Barnard Castle and Teesdale.

Enjoy the Witham Barnard Castle

Located right in the centre of Barnard Castle, the Witham is a community arts centre, art gallery, cinema, theatre and café.   There are workshops and classes held weekly and there’s a regular schedule of entertainment and ongoing exhibitions here.  Check out their schedule and head on down!

The Film Club at the Witham gives you the Cinema in Barnard Castle with a variety of new and old big-screen showings.  Check the schedule here

You will also find the Barnard Castle Tourist Information centre here in the Witham.

Take a Blue Plaque Walk Around Barnard Castle

The Blue Plaque Trail in Barnard Castle commemorates those who have contributed to the history of the town.  You can download a map here.  Learn about people like Cyril Northcote Parkinson, author of Parkinsons Law, the site of Charles Dickens Master Humphreys Clock and where John Wesley preached in 1763.

Blue Plaques of Barnard Castle

Explore Charles Dickens Barnard Castle

Dickens famously stayed at the Kings Head Hotel, now a nursing and residential home renamed the Charles Dickens.  He took inspiration from the Barnard Castle clockmaker, and you can visit the location on which he based Master Humprehys Clock shop.  While researching for Nicholas Nickleby he visited Shaws Academy in nearby Bowes Village.

Charles Dickens Barnard Castle

Watch Cricket in Barnard Castle

The Barnard Castle cricket club is excellently located in the centre of town, with a great ground surrounded by houses and with a fantastic clubhouse and bar.  Spend a sunny afternoon watching the league winning Barnard Castle cricket team.

Barnard Castle Cricket Club

Visit Egglestone Abbey near Barnard Castle.

The atmospheric ruins of Egglestone Abbey located on the banks of the River Tees are maintained by English Heritage but are free to visit.   There are traces of a 13th-century church and some living quarters here.  There is free parking on-site, or the Abbey makes for an easy and pleasant circular walk from Barnard Castle.

The Abbey is maintained by English Heritage, but is free to enter.

We recommend you follow the river from the Desmesnes on the Barney side of the river and return on the Abbey side, stopping into the clubhouse of the excellently located and well maintained Riverside Caravan Park for a well-earned beer.

Barnard Castle Golf Course

The Barnard Castle Golf Club has a par 73 course with numerous natural hazards such as streams and ponds with a pleasant outlook over woods and farmland.  Visitors are welcome, with daily green fees starting at £27.    Buggies are available for hire to visitors and you’ll also get access to the full clubhouse facilities.

Barnard Castle Mini Golf

If 18 holes are too many for you, you can always take in the 9 hole mini-golf on the Scar Top near the castle and the children’s playground area.  Open Weekends and Holidays.

Mini Golf at Barnard Castle

Visit Barnard Castle Pubs

There are 12 pubs in Barnard Castle catering to a variety of tastes.  CAMRA members will enjoy the Old Well, found on the Bank with a garden backing onto the Castle walls.  Real ale (and Gin) fans (including us!) flock also to the Firkin Alley, hidden away in Bakery Mews, off Horsemarket.  The upstairs room of the Firkin was formerly Sarah’s bedroom when she lived here with her family! Sadly the Firkin Alley closed during the Covid19 Pandemic.

Firkin Alley Real Ale Micropub Barnard Castle

Many pubs also serve food, or at the least will let you bring in a bag of award-winning fish and chips from one of the town’s chip shops. If you don’t want to eat a full meal, then check our some great beer snacks to try, including our favourites here in England.

Whet your whistle and get a drink in Barney at

  • The Bluebell, Bridgegate
  • The Old Well, Barnard Castle, located on the Bank
  • The Black Horse, Barnard Castle, Newgate
  • The Raby Arms, Barnard Castle located on Horsemarket
  • The Turks Head, Barnard Castle, found on Horsemarket
  • The Golden Lion, Barnard Castle, found in Horsemarket
  • The Three Horseshoes, Galgate
  • The Coach and Horses, Barnard Castle, located on Galgate
  • The Commercial Hotel in Barnard Castle, Galgate
  • The Cricketers, Barnard Castle, Galgate
  • The Red Well, Harmire Road
Real Ale Pubs in Barnard Castle

Shopping in Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle town shops are primarily independent retailers.  The town is well catered for with two independent butchers, greengrocers and several bakeries as well as two national supermarkets.    Barnard Castle town shopping incorporates furnishing stores, a pet store, hardware store, florists and clothing stores.

Barnard Castle supermarkets are Morrisons and the North East Coop.

There are a large number of antiques shops in Barnard Castle.  From the Mission Hall antiques centre Barnard Castle located at the bottom of the Bank to Ingnet Antiques.  Barnard Castle is also the home of BBC TV antique presenter David Harper.

You should make a beeline for the following shops in Barnard Castle

  1. The Teesdale Mercury Shop – pick up the weekly Teesdale Mercury here as well as good quality souvenirs of the town and all your stationery requirements.
  2. Barnard Castle Charity Shops – there are a variety of charity shops in Barnard Castle – all excellently located in Galgate or Horsemarket.
  3. MacFarlane’s Butchers – award-winning butchers, with great homemade sausages, traditional tray bake black pudding, a superb variety of pies and pasties and a source for the locally made Cotherstone Cheese.
  4. Peats Butchers – it’s hard to choose between Peats and Macfarlanes – the home-cooked ham and locally sourced produce from here are
  5. The 149 Chip Shop Barnard Castle – in the UK’s top 10 fish and chips shops year after year, this sit-in and takeaway is a firm favourite. The steps outside the front of the shop and the nearby Scar Top park are great places to eat your takeaway.
Local Produce Barnard Castle Shops

Barnard Castle Spas and Salons

Take time to relax in one of the spas in Barnard Castle.  There are many hairdressers offering additional services, and three dedicated spas in Barney.

  • The Beauty Therapy Clinic, Barnard Castle is found on Newgate offers treatments with Decleor, Jessica and Delilah.
  • Accent Beauty Salon on Horsemarket is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a variety of treatments.

Best Places to Eat in Barnard Castle

There are a wide variety of places to eat in Barnard Castle – from day time cafes to pubs, acclaimed restaurants, and takeaways.  Here are our best Barnard Castle places to eat.

The 149 Fish and Chips Shop Barnard Castle

Located in Galgate, this deservedly award-winning fish and chip shop has two other locations in the North East.  There’s a sit-down café and a busy takeaway that is thronged on a Friday night.

149 Fish and Chips Barnard Castle

Blagraves Restaurant

Located on the Bank, Barnard Castle, Blagraves Restaurant has played host to travellers for more than 500 years and is the oldest house in Barnard Castle.  The house was given to Joan Forest by Richard III.  Joan’s husband, Miles was reputed to be one of two men who disposed of the Princes in the Tower.  Oliver Cromwell held a council and ate and drank here in 1648.  The attic of the building was also used as a secret meeting place for the followers of Methodism founder, John Wesley The restaurant takes its name from the Blagraves who lived here in the 17th century.

Blagraves Restaurant Barnard Castle

Capri Italian Pizza and Pasta

Excellent Italian fare here at Capri, on Newgate.    A great selection of wine and fantastic lunchtime set meal deals are available too.

The Spice Island Restaurant (now Babuls), Barnard Castle

Good decent British Indian Food with friendly staff and a varied menu.  Sit down and takeaway options available.

Barnard Castle Accommodation – Where to Stay in Barnard Castle

Self Catering Accommodation in Barnard Castle & Teesdale

Want self catering accommodation in Barnard Castle and Teesdale?  Here’s our top picks for superb places to stay where you can also cater for yourself.

Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts in Barnard Castle

Barney has some great pubs and places to eat, so you’ll want to stay somewhere within the town and walking distance if you want a brew.  Here are our recommendations for places to stay in Barnard Castle.

The Three Horseshoes Hotel, Galgate, Barnard Castle

Excellent location, and a good pub here with decent food options and well-appointed rooms. >   Check prices and book your room now.

  • Flat-screen Tv
  • En suite Bathrooms
  • Free wifi access
  • Buffet Breakfast included
  • Free off-street parking
  • Bar

The Old Well, the Bank, Barnard Castle

17th-century hotel and pub that backs onto the ancient castle wall in the antique quarter of the town.  Lovely rooms and ensuites, with two cosy bars with cask ales, a fab beer garden and gorgeous conservatory to relax in.

  • Free parking
  • Free wifi
  • En suite bathrooms
  • Great bar
  • Full English breakfast included

Reserve your room now!

Baliol House, Galgate, Barnard Castle

Welcoming hosts and a great location with free parking and a garden to relax in.  Really comfy beds.  This is a B&B rather than a hotel, but a lovely one recognised as the best Barnard Castle B and B!

  • Free parking
  • Full English breakfast
  • En suite rooms
  • Free wifi
  • Private garden to relax in

Lock in a great price, this isn’t often available!

Barnard Castle is the gateway to Teesdale, one of the Durham Dales.  It’s one of our favourite places to visit in England – have you been?  What’s your favourite thing to do in Barnard Castle?  Let us know in the comments!

Travel Tips for Exploring England

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