Hadrian’s Wall stretches for 73 miles and walking the entire length takes 5 to 7 days. But the highlights are all quite compact; here’s how to see the best of the Hadrian’s Wall Walk in one day.
Hadrian’s Wall stretches from coast to coast along undulating countryside in northern England. Built by the Romans to defend the furthest north-western edges of their empire, the defensive fortification consisted of a 10-foot wall with forts and turrets backed by a massive ditch.
Set amongst beautiful rolling hills, glacial lakes, and rocky crags, it’s one of the finest Roman remains in the country.
Walking the entire length of the Hadrian’s Wall path takes 5 to 7 days. But the best-preserved sections of wall, most dramatic viewpoints and the finest scenery are all found in a relatively compact central section. Therefore, you can collect all the highlights of the Hadrian’s Wall Walk in just one day, capturing some of the best experiences in Northumberland.
Our guide to the Hadrian’s Wall highlights includes a map of the best sections to walk, our favourite scenic spots and where to grab refreshments. If you have time to explore a little longer, we have some recommendations on where to stay in Northumberland.
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HADRIAN’S WALL FACTS
Emperor Hadrian commanded the wall be built to defend the wild northwest frontier of the Roman Empire. Construction began in AD122, and it is thought to have taken only 10 years to complete.
The main defensive fortification was a 10-foot wall comprising 158 turrets, 80 guarded posts and 17 larger forts. The forts were built to station the local Roman legionaries who patrolled the border. The guarded posts (called milecastles with one built every Roman mile) allowed for the controlled movement of people across the wall. Between each milecastle, two turrets were positioned from where soldiers could spy any invading forces.
Today the wall, milecastles and forts lie in ruin. In some places, the wall has completely disappeared but in others, it rises to 5 feet or more as it undulates across the countryside. The forts and milecastles are in similar ruin but ancient floor plans of this once remarkable construction persist in a few locations.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE HADRIAN’S WALL PATH
The Hadrian’s Wall Walk is a path stretching the length of the wall as it divides the countryside in the north of England between Wallsend in Newcastle upon Tyne and Bowness in Cumbria. There are plenty of highlights along the route, but here are our favourite sections.
01 – BEST PRESERVED SECTION OF HADRIAN’S WALL
In many places along its near eighty-mile journey, the wall has completely disappeared, but in others, it is a solid ribbon of rock. Ominous and foreboding, it rises above the bucolic countryside.
In our opinion, the best section is on top of Walltown Crags. Here the wall has been restored, rising to around 8 feet high in places as it looms over the landscape and winds its way up and over rocky crests. This section is not particularly long, but it’s the most imposing fragment that gives the best representation of what the wall looked like in its prime. The scenery is also excellent.
Another good section of the wall is on Cawfield Crags. The wall is lower here, 4 to 5 feet high, but it is continuous and stretches for a mile or two along beautifully undulating hilltops.
Both Walltown and Cawfield Crags require a 15 to 20-minute walk from the nearest parking. If walking is not for you then there is also a well-preserved section of the wall just 100 metres from the carpark at Birdoswald.
Read Next — Excellent coastal walks in Northumberland
02 – BEST SCENERY & PHOTOGRAPHY SPOTS ON THE HADRIAN’S WALL WALK
Walking Hadrian’s Wall, we were genuinely surprised by the scenery along the 15 to 20 miles from Greenhead to Chesters. You aren’t just hiking along fields, but up and down steeply rising crags, along rocky edges and past glacial lakes. The continuous up and down makes walking more difficult, but the rewards are stunning views making it one of the best places to visit in Northumberland.
In our opinion, the best photos spots and iconic scenery are found in these locations.
A lone sycamore tree in a gap in the wall, set between U-shaped hills, was made famous by Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. It’s one of the most picturesque locations along Hadrian’s Wall.
HOTBANK’S CRAG VIEW
This is the view of Hadrian’s Wall seen in most brochures with a long well-preserved section of the wall winding its way over hills and trailing off into the distance.
From any number of spots near Steel Rigg Car Park, the views to Peel and Highshields Crags, show just what a challenging route the Romans chose to build the wall.
From nowhere else can you see such a long line of wall perched on top of breaking waves of hills disappearing into the never-ending horizon.
Read Next — Best views in the Lake District
03 – BEST PRESERVED FORT & MILECASTLES
Originally there were 17 forts and 80 milecastles built along the wall. Many are in disrepair but others allow you to get an idea of what life might have been like here.
The best-preserved milecastle is number 37. Little more than a small square of low-lying wall, its northern gate still reveals the signs of an archway peering over the wild Northumberland landscape.
There are a few decent forts to explore from Birdoswald Roman Fort in the east to Chesters Roman Fort in the west, but the best-preserved is Housesteads. Located amongst the finest scenery, you can still make out the purpose of some of the buildings. Check out the columns rising from the floor of the granary, and the latrines where the Romans went about their business.
Read Next — 15 excellent walks in the Lake District
04 – BEST ROMAN MUSEUMS NEAR HADRIAN’S WALL
The better preserved Roman forts in Hadrian’s Wall have a small museum attached to them, with a few small objects on display.
HOUSESTEADS ROMAN FORT
Housesteads is a Roman Fort set on a dramatic section of Hadrian’s Wall overlooking a steep escarpment. The fort was built between 122 and 132 to house soldiers and also included a hospital. It has a small museum with a few remains on display.
CHESTERS ROMAN FORT & MUSEUM
Chester’s housed around 500 soldiers on the wall and remained occupied until the Roman’s left Britain in the 5th Century. The collection in the museum contains important archaeological finds including materials with religious inscriptions. Chesters also comprised one of the most impressive bath complexes in the Roman world.
VINDOLANDA ROMAN MUSEUM
Vindolanda is a Roman fort that preceded Hadrian’s Wall by 40 years. Set a mile south of the wall, it has a less dramatic setting but the finds here have been remarkable. You can explore the fort and chat to the archaeologist team on weekdays. The Vindolanda Trust also runs the Roman Army Museum at Walltown – an interactive space for kids with 3D films and mannequins.
05 – HOW TO SEE THE BEST OF HADRIAN’S WALL IN ONE DAY
Although it takes 5 to 7 days to complete the entire Hadrian’s Wall Walk, the highlights are all located in a compact central section. So, if you plan carefully, you can see them all in one day.
We recommend 3 things to do at Hadrian’s Wall that will collect most of the highlights we have mentioned above, plus take you on a walk through excellent scenery. You can complete them in any order, just make sure you are at the museums you want to visit during their opening hours.
Please check whether you need to book museum entrance in advance as COVID restrictions are continually changing.
01. WALK FROM STEEL RIGG TO HOUSESTEADS
This excellent section along the Hadrian’s Wall walk takes in many of the highlights. It starts at Steel Rigg car park with fine views over the crags. Next, it travels east over rocky Peel and Highshields crags, past Robin Hood’s Sycamore Gap and over Hotbanks Crags for the iconic brochure shot. The arch at Milecastle 37 is next, before heading onto Housesteads, the best-preserved fort.
From here you can take a short walk to the road and catch the bus back to where you started, but it’s much better to head a little further east and then walk back below the wall on the northern side. The scenery is excellent and staring up at the crags from below as the wall meanders along the summit gives an entirely new perspective.
The entire loop is about 12 kilometres and takes 3 hours and 30 minutes. But allow an extra hour if you intend to look round Housestead’s Fort and its small museum. The walk is constantly going up and down and can be quite tiring in totality, but each ascent is only short. The route is marked in red on the map below.
Finally, if you have the energy, take the short detour up Sewingshields Crags to see the wall disappearing over the marching row of hilltops.
Housesteads Fort / 10am – 5pm | Adults: £9 – Children: £5.40 – Free for English Heritage and National Trust Members | Facilities: museum, snacks, and toilets on site | Website: Housesteads Roman Fort
Steel Rigg Car Park / Open all day but no overnight parking | Cost: £3 for 3 hours, £2 every extra hour up to £10 for the day. Both contactless and cash payments are accepted.
02. WALK UP TO WALLTOWN CRAGS
The only downside to the above section of the Hadrian’s Wall Path is that the wall only reaches about 4 to 5 feet high. To see it at its most magnificent, head to Walltown.
The Walltown Quarry has destroyed the wall, but park in the Walltown Quarry Car Park and hike up the crags to the east and a magnificent stretch of wall lies at the top. Seven feet high in places, it’s moody, menacing, and dark. Nowhere else quite suggests the defensive strength of the fortification than this short stretch running along the crest of hills.
It’s a brief but steep 20-minute walk from the car park, but well worth the effort.
Walltown Car Park / 10:00 – 17:00 | Cost: £1 for 1 hour, £5 for the day, accepts contactless and cash | Facilities: Toilets available 24 hours, information and some refreshments
03. VISIT THE ROMAN VINDOLANDA MUSEUM
To learn about Roman history in the area head to Vindolanda. Run privately by the Birley family, the site consists of the remains of a fort and the village that grew up outside it. It was first built around 85AD, lasted 400 years, but was significantly changed about nine times.
There’s a mock-up of a section of the original wooden wall and next to it a later stone version. Archaeologists are digging every weekday and you can ask them questions as you potter around.
The highlight in the museum is the Vindolanda tablets. Written on fragments of thin wooden-leaf tablets with carbon-based ink they date back to the 1st or 2nd century AD and include official military matters as well as an invitation to a birthday party. Most of the tablets are now at the British Museum but some still reside at Vindolanda.
The same family also run the more interactive Roman Army Museum near Walltown. If you want to go to both buy a joint ticket and get a discount
Roman Vindolanda Museum / 10am – 5pm with last admission 16:00 | Prices: Adults £8.30 – Children £4.75 | Facilities: Toilets and café on-site, no pets allowed (except guide dogs) | Website: Roman Vindolanda Museum
MAP / HADRIAN’S WALL WALK HIGHLIGHTS
Our Hadrian’s Wall walk map includes all the highlights in the area, the major museums and forts along the wall, where to stop for refreshments and the bus stops. If you intend to explore the area further make sure you check out our complete guide to Northumberland.
To save this map to your device, click on the star which will save to Your Maps, in Google Maps.
HADRIAN’S WALL FACILITIES
On a nice day, there’s no better way to enjoy the Hadrian’s Wall Walk than having a picnic at one of its magnificent viewpoints, but if you fancy something more substantial there are three other good options.
THE SILL / HADRIAN’S WALL VISITOR CENTRE
The Sill is a sleek metal and glass visitor centre, built into the landscape that was completed in 2017. It has maps, information, toilets, a shop and a nice café with indoor and outdoor seating that does a good range of food. The staff can provide information about visiting Hadrian’s Wall and the Northumberland National Park. You do however have to pay for parking (£2 minimum, £5 for the day).
The Milecastle Inn is an excellent country pub only 500 yards from the wall. Sip from a pint in the beer garden and tuck into pub classics as you overlook the ribbon of wall as it marches over the surrounding hills. They are only open Friday to Sunday during the winter months, so check on their website before you go.
TWICE BREWED INN
Our favourite pub in the area is the Twice Brewed Inn. It has sweeping views from the beer garden with pods to shelter in if you find yourself walking the Hadrian’s Wall Path in torrential rain as we did. They dish up all the pub classics you would expect, and its home-brewed ales are served in pint glasses upon which Hadrian’s Wall is etched.
Read Next — Yorkshire Dales National Park
GETTING AROUND HADRIAN’S WALL
Driving is the easiest and most flexible way to explore the wall. You can park at different car parks dotted along the path, hop out for walks, or visit the forts and then head off to your next destination whether that be the Northumberland Coast or the many great places to visit in the Lake District.
We recommend booking your car via RentalCars.com who compare prices from all the major car rental companies.
BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT
The most convenient railway stations are at Hexham and Haltwhistle, from where helpful buses transport you to the finest sections of the wall.
The AD122 bus runs hourly every day from Easter to the end of October and then at weekends in November and December. Starting at Hexham, it passes Chesters Fort, Housesteads Fort, Once Brewed (for Steel Rigg), Vindolanda, Milecastle Inn (for Cawfield Crags), Walltown and Greenhead before ending at Haltwhistle Station.
For the Hadrian Wall Walk from Steel Rigg to Housesteads get off at Once Brewed and walk for 5 minutes up the road to the Steel Rigg car park. For Walltown Crags and Vindolanda the bus takes you directly there. We have marked the bus stops on the map below.
To get to Birdoswald take the 185 bus running from Haltwhistle Station via Walltown and Greenhead to Birdoswald. There’s only about three a day so plan ahead.
WHERE TO STAY NEAR HADRIAN’S WALL
Although you can visit all the highlights of the Hadrian’s Wall Walk in one day you may want to spend a little longer and explore a little deeper. Here are our recommendations on where to stay.
For more options in the area, read our guide to the best hotels in Northumberland.
CARRAW BED & BREAKFAST
Family-run guest house sublimely situated on the foundations of Hadrian’s Wall overlooking the hills. Excellent breakfasts and pack lunches provided on request for the next day.
TWICE BREWED INN
Just 500m from the most scenic section of the Hadrian’s Wall Path, it doesn’t get much better located than this. On site brewed ales make for a merry night and the AD122 bus stops right outside.
18th-century farmstead stylishly converted into a country inn, it retains the beamed ceilings and cosy wood-burning stove. It’s received a Gold Award for it eco-credentials and the menu is based around the kitchen garden.
MORE READING FOR NORTHUMBERLAND
Northumberland is a scenic part of Britain that’s ideal for outdoor adventures, castle hunting and beautiful under-visited beaches. Here are some more guides to help you plan the perfect Northumberland getaway as well as some places nearby.
The best Northumberland hotels for your next getaway
Complete guide to the best things to do in Northumberland
Explore the Northumberland coast on these 7 excellent day walks
Our favourite 15 Lake District walks with instructions and maps
The best things to do in the Lake District
Amazing wild swimming in the Lake District
Best things to do in the Yorkshire Dales
A complete guide to the Malham Cove Walk
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