It’s one of the most iconic ancient landmarks in Britain. An astonishing feat of engineering and organisation evidenced in its sheer scale. Built on the orders of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD to mark the north-west frontier of the Roman empire, Hadrian’s Wall routinely tops the list of must-visit attractions in the UK.
It’s not just the impressive stone wall itself - running 73 miles from Wallsend in the east to Solway Firth in the west - but also the various forts housing barracks and museums along the way that make it such a fascinating site.
If you’re keen to walk in the footsteps of a Roman soldier and discover more about this fascinating ancient landmark, read on for help on planning your trip. We asked Blue Badge Guide Laura Rhodes, who regularly organises personalised tours along Hadrian’s Wall, for her top tips to help you discover the best spots to enjoy at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Below you’ll find options for keen walkers, as well as those who prefer to see the more accessible sights associated with the wall.
Walk the wall from Hexham
According to Laura, you’d struggle to see much of the actual wall within modern, built-up Newcastle itself (blame it on the development of the town since the Roman occupation over 1500 years ago) and most people head out to the surrounding countryside for the best views. If you’re short on time, Laura suggests a day trip from the city as the best way to see the most important sights.
“If you really want to see the wall in a spectacular setting, I would recommend taking the train (a 25-minute ride) from Newcastle to the town of Hexham to the west. From Hexham, catch the hop-on hop-off Hadrian’s Wall Country Bus AD 122 named after the year during which the wall was built. It covers quite a lot of the wall and you could do three or four of the sites along this route. The bus travels along Military Road from Chesters Fort where you can visit the forts of Housesteads and Vindolanda, the Roman Army Museum near Greenhead and then head back into the town of Haltwhistle.”
The fort of Vindolanda is the site where famous Roman writing tablets were discovered in the 1970s. These ancient postcards are considered the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain and they offer us a glimpse into the lives of the Vindolanda community almost two millennia ago.
Laura adds: “The real draw of Vindolanda is that it’s a live archaeological site where they are still excavating Roman artifacts. You’ll find archaeologists living and working on the site during the summer months and there are very few places along Hadrian’s Wall where they are still digging. There’s also a fabulous museum and a great little café on the site.”
Feb 11th to March 31st daily 10 am to 5 pm
April – September, daily, 10 am to 6 pm
For a truly panoramic view of Hadrian’s Wall, a visit to the fort of Housesteads is a must. Standing along the north wall of the fort will give you the best views of the wall and the dramatic landscape it’s set in. Housesteads is also acknowledged as one of the best-preserved examples of a Roman fort and you’ll see plenty of original features such as a barracks block, hospital, granaries and even communal toilets.
There’s also a museum with a good collection of Roman jewellery, weapons and other artefacts. It also shows a short film about the origins of the fort.
April – September, daily, 10 am to 6 pm
Please Note: The Hadrian’s Wall Country Bus AD 122 only operates from April to October, so keep this in mind when timing your visit. You can find more details here.
Take the Metro & Ferry to Explore Segedunum & Arbeia
While the countryside is where you’ll see the wall at its rugged best, there are also some great forts and museums that don’t require hiking up hillsides. Laura recommends the Great North Museum within Newcastle for its permanent exhibits of Hadrian’s Wall. There are also the forts of Arbeia and Segedunum which lie to the east of Newcastle. They can be easily accessed by the local metro train and then a ferry across the River Tyne - an exciting adventure itself if you’re travelling with little ones.
Segedunum is close to Wallsend Metro Station and Arbeia is about a 10-minute walk from South Shields Metro. You can also get the ferry to South Shields from North Shields.
Click here for the metro map.
Great North Museum
For an authentic reconstruction of the wall within Newcastle itself, head to the Great North Museum. Here you’ll find a permanent exhibition dedicated to the wall including a scale model running along the entire gallery with interactive displays, as well as an impressive collection of sculptures and inscriptions. There’s also an exhibition (only in 2017) dedicated to Hadrian’s’ Cavalry, where you’ll be able to get up close to real excavated Roman cavalry armour.
Mon to Fri - 10 am to 5 pm
Sat – 10 am to 4 pm
Sun - 11 am to 4 pm
Open all year
The fort of Segedunum at Wallsend was built to defend the eastern tip of Hadrian’s Wall. Segedunum literally translates to ‘Strong Fort’ and has stood the test of time since 122 AD. During its heyday, it housed 600 soldiers and operated as a garrison at the mouth of the River Tyne.
As the most extensive excavated fort along the entire stretch of the wall, Segedunum has lots to offer, including a full-sized reconstructed Roman bath house (currently being refurbished and can only be seen from the outside) complete with frescoed walls and Roman toilets.
You’ll also be able to look at an 80-metre stretch of the original remains of the wall - the highest surviving section that’s still visible to the public in Tyneside. There’s also a new centurion sculpture installed this year.
April – September, daily, 10 am to 5 pm
Overlooking the River Tyne, the fort of Arbeia was built to defend the main sea route to Hadrian’s Wall. It soon became the main maritime supply fort for the entire wall.
The fort itself now contains reconstructed Roman buildings such as a Commanding Officer’s House, a soldier’s barrack block as well as a full-sized gatehouse. For a real glimpse of what life would have been like for the Roman soldiers of the day, Arbeia also hosts exciting recreations of gladiator battles and falconry displays.
April – October
Mon – Fri, 10 am to 5 pm
Sat – 11 am to 4 pm
Sun – 1 pm to 4 pm
Seeing the wall from Newcastle has never been so easy with CrossCountry. Just head over to our advanced tickets page for 70%* off your next train journey.
*Applies to CrossCountry journeys only. Average saving calculated by comparing Advance standard single ticket prices, purchased before the day of travel, for 4,858 CrossCountry journeys to the equivalent price of an Anytime standard single ticket. Advance fares are subject to availability, terms and conditions apply. Please see website for full details.
Laura’s top tips for walking the wall
- Be prepared for all kinds of weather. If you’re walking in the summer, take water, a hat and sun cream but don’t forget your water-proofs because you have to be prepared for anything. The most important thing is to have really good footwear. Think proper hiking boots for the terrain – it’s definitely not a place for flip flops or sandals!
- We don’t encourage people to go very far on the wall during the winter because walking on water-logged ground at this time of the year can damage the monument. It’s advisable to walk one of the circular routes near the wall instead.
- Just remember that to see some of the best parts of the wall, you’ve got to be prepared to walk and hike in the countryside. With Housesteads in particular, the bus drops you off at the base of the fort and you then need to climb hilly terrain to get to the site. Vindolanda is a mainly level site but it does have a steep paved hill down to the museum and café.
- Never climb or walk on top of the wall at any point – you risk damaging this ancient monument.
- It’s important to check the AD 122 timetable for time and route details. You can also ask the bus driver for the latest information.
- To get the most out of the AD 122 bus tour, it’s worth hopping off and walking at least a section of the wall to really experience it. You can still be at the bus stop in plenty of time to catch the last bus back to Hexham.
For more information and to book tours with Blue Badge Tour Guide Laura Rhodes, please click here.
Off the Wall – Three Things You Didn’t Know About Hadrian’s Wall
- It inspired the wall in Game of Thrones - Author George R R Martin has acknowledged that Hadrian’s Wall was the inspiration for ‘The Wall’ in his wildly successful book series A Song of Ice and Fire which was then televised into Game of Thrones. The fictional wall also stretches from coast to coast along the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms.
- It had flushing loos – some of the best preserved and earliest flushing toilets in the country can be seen at Housesteads fort near the wall.
- Hollywood thought it was walking distance from Dover - In the 1991 blockbuster Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Robin Hood (played by Kevin Costner) and his Moorish sidekick (Morgan Freeman) travel from Dover to Loxley in Nottingham in a logic-defying day (actual walking distance 75 hours to cover 230 miles) and include a detour to Hadrian’s Wall as well!