Holy Island has several attractions and things to do, whether you are interested in history and religion, walking, birdwatching, nature or beaches. Above all it is a special, atmospheric place that leaves an impression on those who visit, some referring to it as a ‘thin place’ where the heavens and earth are closer to each other. For us the impression was so great, we moved here.
During high season (Easter to October) everything tends to be open during the low tide, while many amenities shut just before or after the causeway to the island closes. For the best experience, stay a tide on the Island (i.e. arrive before the causeway is shut for the tide and stay on the island until the road re-opens after a few hours). That way you get to enjoy a much quieter more authentic experience of Holy Island. Better still: stay the night with us at Belvue Guesthouse, so you can experience the Island like the locals do, having an opportunity to enjoy the eerie peace of this place without the tourists, letting the seal song lull you to sleep at the end of the day.
This guide also includes some suggestions what to do on Holy Island when it rains (at the bottom of the article)
Top 12 things to do/see on Holy Island
1. Lindisfarne Castle
Run by the National Trust (free to National Trust members), the castle has recently been renovated and has the best views of the island from the Upper Battery.
After a long absence for renovations, furniture is back and the rooms are set as they were in early 1900s when owned by Edward Hudson and lavish parties were held at the castle for guests including Giles Lytton Strachey and Siegfried Sassoon. There is a sound installation by Paul Rooney in the Upper Gallery (cello music harking back to that period when Hudson was engaged to Madame Suggia). The climb up to the castle from the harbour is quite steep in places and should only be attempted by those who are surefooted. Free entry to National Trust members. Entry fee of approx. £9 for adults. Book ahead for timed entry. Suitable for a rainy day. 10 – 15 minute walk from village. Read our guide with full visitor details and history of Lindisfarne Castle.
2. The Gertrude Jekyll Garden
2019 winner of Countryfile Magazine’s Garden of the year award. This garden is best viewed in summer and sticks to the original garden plan set out in 1911 by Gertrude Jekyll. The garden is located to the north of the castle. It is well worth a visit, and is a stark contrast to the rest of Holy Island. The garden is managed by National Trust volunteers and is free to all visitors. 10 – 15 minute walk from village.
3. Lindisfarne Priory
Managed by English Heritage, this is where Christianity spread from across the north of England. The ruins you see here are 11th Century, not the original priory from the 7th century. Once inside the site you can imagine the scale of the priory by looking down the nave at the rainbow arch and large window to the east. The priory was famously raided by Vikings in 793. Free entry to English Heritage members. Entry fee of approx. £9 for adults. Tickets can be purchased at the English Heritage Museum and Shop behind the Manor House Hotel (Crossgate Lane). Read our full guide to visiting the priory.
4. St Aidan’s Winery
A great place to have a free sample of Lindisfarne Mead, the locally produced alcohol of Holy Island. The winery has a large showroom with a good selection of products for sale, including a great selection of whisky and other alcohol, as well as mead-based jam and biscuits. There is also an attached gift shop for Holy Island souvenirs. The winery is located in the centre of Holy Island village on Prior Lane, behind the Crossman Village Hall.
5. St Mary’s Church
The parish church of Holy Island village. This contains elements of the original Saxon church, which would have been part of the wider Lindisfarne Priory complex. The church is a quiet space, which has lots of information about the saints who established and lived at the Priory. Just as you enter the church, to the right, there is a large wooden sculpture called The Journey, depicting the carrying of St. Cuthbert’s coffin from Holy Island to Durham following Viking raids. Free entry
6. The Old Lifeboat Station Museum
Down on the shoreline below St. Mary’s church, and opposite St. Cuthbert’s Island, is the old lifeboat shed, which has been converted into a small museum detailing the story of the Holy Island Lifeboats station. The museum contains many photos bringing the stories to life. There are great views west from here over the sandbanks towards the mainland, and you may even see seals here at low tide.
7. St. Cuthbert’s Island (also known as Hobthrush Island)
A small tidal island that is only accessible from Holy Island at low tide. This is where St. Cuthbert was said to come for peace and quiet from the busy Priory on Holy Island, and remains of a chapel/monks cell have been found here. Great views from here across the sands towards the mainland and to the south of Holy Island, and also a viewing point for birds and seals. The island is located to the south west of Holy Island and is to the west of St. Mary’s parish church. Please only cross to this island when the tide is ebbing (as it approaches low tide). It has a much narrower window for visits than the tide tables for the causeway allow, and it is very easy to get trapped by the very fast rising tides.
8. The Links and north Holy Island beaches
Many day trippers don’t make the beautiful walk to the north of Holy Island away from the village. The Links, which is the dune covered area on the north of Holy Island, is part of the Lindisfarne Nature Reserve and has animals and plants which cannot be found anywhere else. Within the Links, you will see the remains of old buildings which were created as part of the Island’s lime industry. Beyond The Links are three beaches, North Shore, Coves Haven and Sandham Bay.
These beaches are remote and beautiful and if you walk up there you may be the only person there, especially at high tide. North Shore is a very wide and flat beach, whereas Coves Haven and Keel Head are more sheltered. You can walk from the main car park up to the beaches and return via the white pyramid at Emmanuel Head, the Castle and the Village – a walk of approximately 4.5 miles that can be done in under 3 hours. The path to the beaches and The Links can be found between the car park and end of the Pilgrim’s path, where the road bends right to head towards the causeway.
Details about recommended walks on Holy Island can be found here.
9. Heritage Centre
Marygate – The Heritage Centre is a museum and shop providing information and exhibits related to the history of Holy Island, including an interactive copy of the famous Lindisfarne Gospels. The shop has a good selection of history books and souvenirs related to the island. There is a fee to enter the museum.
10. Seal spotting
The seals rest together in locations around the island every year, and can be seen throughout summer. Their favourite resting spots are the sandbanks (between St. Cuthbert’s Island and the mainland) as well as Guile Point (opposite the Lookout tower). At high tide they can often be seen swimming in pairs or groups between the sands and the Castle (along the south side of the island, and sometimes near headlands to the north of the island (Castlehead rocks, Emmanuel Head and Keel Head). In order to see them clearly, especially at low tide, it is best to bring binoculars. You will often hear the seals wailing in the afternoon and evening – an eerie sound. At high tide good viewing points are St. Cuthbert’s Island, The Lookout and the path between the harbour and the Castle. Read our guide to seal spotting.
11. The Gospel Garden
A small garden inspired by the famous Lindisfarne gospels. This place is a quiet oasis, with lots of flowering plants and some sculptures. It can be found on Marygate opposite the Heritage Centre.
12. Visit viewing points around Holy Island
There are several spectacular viewing points around the Island. We recommend:
Wild Window on Lindisfarne
A large hide built close to the harbour, which has a view over a small wetland area, and contains lots of information on the wildlife you can find across the island. There are also interactive displays and bird prints imprinted in the floor – great for kids. Please be aware that this may be locked at high tide. Free entry
Also known as the Ouse, the harbour is a safe haven for fishing boats and has the closest beach to the village. Here you’ll find the unique fisherman’s sheds made from old upturned fishing boats, one of the symbols of Holy Island. At one end of the harbour you will find the jetty where fisherman still land their catches today. There are also amazing views from here to Lindisfarne Castle, as well as over to Bamburgh Castle and The Farne Islands, both about 5 miles away. The harbour is located between the village and the Castle and can be found by following Marygate, east out of the village.
This former coastguard tower is now a viewing platform, giving amazing views over the island and out to sea. The Lookout is located on the Heugh, the hill protecting the village and the Priory to the south, and can be accessed from the village green by following the path next to the Crown and Anchor Pub or from the harbour. The Lookout contains information boards showing places you can see in all directions, including Berwick, The Cheviots, Bamburgh and The Farnes. You can also spot seals swimming between locations, where they bask. There is information on the history and nature of the island on the stairs going up to the viewing platform (sorry, no lift). The Lookout also gives a great view of the Priory, which lies immediately to the north. Free entry. Please be aware that at high tide this may be closed.
Beyond the castle, this is a great location to look out to sea towards the Farne islands. You’ll also see Balancing Stones, also known as cairns where visitors have left stones balanced on top of each other all around. PLEASE DON’T BUILD YOUR OWN, as this is damaging to the fragile eco-system in this area – and volunteers have to continuously dismantle them.
You can also find the Lime Kilns here – walk in and have a look at where villagers would bring limestone to create lime for building – also great for photos. (Free entry). There are also large rabbit warrens here, so don’t be surprised if you see rabbits around.
Little Beblowe Crag
A hill between the Castle (which is on Beblowe Crag) and the sea, This is a great viewpoint to climb and look out to the sea and up towards the castle. The hill is quite steep and should only be climbed by those who are surefooted and have the right footwear.
This headland has a white pyramid that is a daymark (to stop ships crashing into the rocks below the Head) and is a good landmark to get your bearings. This location is at the east end of the beaches to the north of Holy Island, as well as being a great place to spot seals.
This headland is located between Coves Haven and Sandham Bay beaches and is made of flat volcanic rock. It is a great place to visit at high tide, when the waves crash below. Only attempt to go on the rocks if you are surefooted and have the right footwear. You can clamber around the headland to access Sandham Bay from Coves Haven beach. Great views out to sea looking north.
The tide makes a difference to what amenities and attractions are open on the island, with low tides (when most visitors come to the island) having more to offer
And, if you’re looking to stay on Holy Island when everyone else has to leave (highly recommended!):
Be our guest. We launched our guesthouse in 2019, after we fell in love with Holy Island and escaped from the big smoke. We put a lot of love into a project to renovate Belvue to provide quality accommodation on the Island. Book our luxury accommodation, enthusiastically recommended on Tripadvisor. Details here.
Things to do on Holy Island when it’s raining
Sometimes the weather in Holy Island can impact on what you can do, we are in the northeast of England after all. The following is a list of activities you can do if you find yourself on the island in the rain. All of these activities are centred around the village, with the exception of the castle.
- Go to Lindisfarne Castle
- Visit the church of St. Mary’s and see the famous Journey sculpture
- Visit St. Aidan’s Winery for free samples of mead
- Visit many of the cafes on the island (Post Office café, Oasis café, Pilgrims café) for great cake, tea, coffee and food
- Go the pubs/bars on the islands (The Ship, The Crown and Anchor, The Manor House Hotel) for a pint and/or an evening meal
- Visit the shops on Marygate (The Scriptorium, The NT shop, The Fudge shop, The Craft shop, The Art shop)
- Visit the Heritage Centre on Marygate
- Visit the Old Lifeboat Station museum on the shore below St. Mary’s church