| Further afield
Family activities in and around Newcastle
Oddly, I haven’t been able to find a comprehensive list of days out in and around Newcastle, so I’ve been compiling my own, focusing on those which are family/child-friendly. I’ve sorted the list into indoor/outdoor, and price-coded them very roughly as:
- 0 = free
- £ = cheap, around £3 a head
- ££ = medium-expensive, around £6
- £££ = expensive, around £10.
I’ve also tried to include my (very) rough estimate of what ages the activity might most appeal to. Please feel free to contribute more.
Arts & crafts
- ££ 3-12 Seven Stories, Newcastle – children’s literature centre
- 0 1-A Discovery Museum — lovely museum in Newcastle’s town centre, and it’s free!
- £££ 5-15 Centre for Life — science museum. Good exhibitions for older children; probably too pricey to be worth it for under-5s.
- ££ 1-A Bede’s World — Anglo-Saxon history. Some displays indoors but also large outdoor section, showing Anglo-Saxon farm and buildings.
- 0 Shipley Art Gallery — in Gateshead; looks suitable for older children
- 0 0-A Hancock Museum — right next door to the university, fantastic for kids of all ages (and adults!). Has sections on natural history (including their star piece, an iguanodon skeleton), Romans, different civilisations, plus two cafes and a play-room. What’s not to like?
- 0 5-A Laing Art Gallery — in central Newcastle; has a special children’s play area and gallery where they can learn about art and make things.
- £ 1-A Durham Cathedral — our little one enjoyed things like the pelican lectern, as well as the audiovisual on St Cuthbert. Admission free but with a suggested donation.
- £ 1-10 Mister Twister, Gateshead — pretty big, with dedicated under-5s area and reasonable cafe.
- £ 1-10 Treasure Island, Morpeth — quite big and reasonable cafe.
- £ 1-12 Concordia Leisure Centre, Cramlington – has a nice family swimming pool with toddler area, as well as soft play.
- ££ 1-10 Adventurelands, Benton Rd, Heaton, tel 2599966. Quite expensive for a softplay, but has a nicer cafe than usual (and a bar!).
- £ 1-8 TJ’s Jungle, Bassington Ind Est, Cramlington. Tel 01670 738002. Tables in the middle and play area round the edge, so you can sit there with a coffee and still watch the kids.
- £ 1-10 Cosmic Kids, Unit 34, Kier Dev Off, Citadel West, Killingworth. Tel 2566677.
- £ 1-A Waterworld, Prudhoe — has soft play area & creche.
- £ 1-A Kenton Park Sports Centre – has a small soft-play, no cafe (vending machines) but fun & not crowded.
- ££ 3-A Climb Newcastle, in Byker – bouldering gym with weekend classes for kids from 3 upwards.
- ££ 3-A Sunderland Wall – climbing gym. On Saturday morning, they have bouldering sessions for kids from 3 upwards.
- ££ 3-A Whickham Thorns Outdoor Activity Centre — has indoor climbing.
- £ 3-A Whitley Bay Ice Rink — as well as the open sessions, has courses for everyone starting from toddlers.
- ££ 3-A Stepney Bank Stables — much more than just a riding stables, a wonderful equestrian oasis in the inner city. They do riding lessons for toddlers upwards.
- £ 2-A Waves, Whitley Bay — brand-new pool, our current favourite, super family pool. Has wave machine obviously, great toddler area with pirate ship and lots of squirters, plus 3 wavey slides. Also has cafe and soft play.
- ££ 1-10 Concordia Leisure Centre, Cramlington – has a nice family swimming pool with good toddler area including a mini slide, as well as soft play and cafe. Used to be our pool of choice when the kids were toddlers/preschool.
- £££ 8-A Wet ‘n’ Wild – waterslides etc. Wonderful idea, but expensive and somehow a little bit scuzzy in practice, plus I find it terribly cold.
- ££ 1-A Birtley Pool, Gateshead — apparently has a nice toddler area.
- ££ 1-A East End Pool, Byker — nice toddler area, very shallow pool for the tinies. I found it a bit cold.
- ££ 5-A Waterworld, Prudhoe — has wave machine on for 20 minutes in the hour, which makes it more suitable for older/water-confident kids. Water is very shallow, nowhere deeper than 3ft. Also has soft play area and cafe.
- ££ 1-A The Lakeside Centre, Killingworth. Nice pool; some sessions with giant inflatables. Cafe and soft play.
- ££ 5-A Haltwhistle swimming pool, which is outdoors (!) but heated and not too chilly on a sunny day. Has a long, shallow water-slide down into the outdoor pool.
- 0 1-10 Not swimming, but I’ll put it here too. Ridley Water Park at Blyth is an outdoor park with lots of sprays and splash pools for the little ones. Have not been yet.
Obviously there’s the beautiful countryside to walk in and explore. Northumbria is also particularly good for cycling, with a wide network of cycle-routes to suit all abilities. Looking at the Sustrans map of cycle-routes, it’s very clear how well the area does for off-road routes in particular, many of them going along disused industrial railways, often over spectacular viaducts. Here are some of our favourite spots.
- Derwent Walk Country Park, Swalwell. Absolutely marvellous bike ride through the park and along a disused railway line, including fantastic views from the Nine Arch Viaduct. It’s almost entirely flat, with a barely noticeable upwards gradient as you go upriver. There are loos at the car park near the rugby club.
- Newburn Riverside Park; google map here. Lovely cycle ride along the Tyne, with a few short but steep hills but mainly flat. Some of it is along a disused waggonway, going past the cottage where George Stephenson was born and over an impressive bridge. The route is 4 miles or so from Newburn to Prudhoe. There are loos at each end, and a small tea-room at George Stephenson’s cottage (a National Trust property).
- Plessey Woods Country Park. Lovely woods, full of bluebells in the spring, little streams for the kids to mess in, grassy areas for ball games. Cafe, loos and a children’s playground near the parking.
- Rising Sun Country Park, Benton — 400 acres of countryside with wide buggy-friendly trails to explore, hides to watch the birds from, very good adventure playground next door to a nice cafe.
- Castle Eden — beautiful woodland walks.
At the front I’ve given the round-trip distance in miles. Just to give a vague idea of family-friendliness, for each walk I’ve given the age (A) at which our kids walked it with minimal carrying. B = I reckon you could do this walk with a sturdy buggy.
- 5m. A: 3+ B Allen Banks and Staward Gorge. Wonderful walks along wooded valleys full of wild flowers (bluebells in the spring), along the broad, shallow River Allen. Ideal paddling spot for kids. There are loos at the car park; parking is free for NT members. No cycling. Things to see along the way include a suspension footbridge, Plankey Mill and Staward Pele Tower. I’ve put the distance as 5m, which is to the Pele Tower; we didn’t make it that far because we spent so long paddling and tadpoling! Staward Gorge is apparently the more dramatic scenery.
- 3m. A: 3+ Hareshaw Linn, Bellingham. Absolutely wonderful walk through beautiful woods up to a spectacular waterfall. 1.5 miles each way; 6 bridges across the river, mainly along Victorian stone-paved paths (with some steep steps). Good place for bluebells in the spring.
- 3m. A: 3+ Linhope Spout, near Powburn. 1.5 miles to a marvellous waterfall & plunge pool. While the views are marvellous, I thought the walk itself was less special – the first half or so is along a residents-only access road, and much of the second-half is along a wire fence; only right at the end do you come out into spectacular, wonderful countryside. But, I would totally recommend this walk because it takes you to the Linhope Spout waterfall. Lovely to look at, this would also be ideal if you fancy some wild swimming. The plunge pool is 5m deep and if you’re very brave/stupid, you can dive into it from the surrounding rocks. Wetsuit recommended. 3.5m.
- 3.5m A: 6+. Yeavering Bell, near Wooler. A wonderful walk up to a famous hill-fort. The ancient hill-fort is pretty well preserved, with the rock walls still remaining. Obviously there’s a fair amount of climbing on this one. Spectacular views over Northumberland.
- 6m A: 5+. Rothbury Terraces. Lovely walk over hills and moorland around Rothbury.
- Tynemouth Long Sands. Loos, Crusoe’s cafe which actually does quite nice meals as well as snacks. Dogs banned during the summer. Parking generally OK but quite a long walk when you have kids and beach stuff, down lots of steps. Wide sandy beach, rocks at one end in old concrete swimming pool; sometimes surf.
- Tynemouth King Edward’s Cove. Lovely sheltered nook at the foot of Tynemouth Priory. Dogs banned during the summer. Parking generally OK but quite a long walk when you have kids and beach stuff, down lots of steps. Good for rock-pooling.
- Blyth. Loos, ice-cream cafe, chippy. Parking free and only a short walk from the beach. Sandy beach, no rock-pools. Large and well-equipped play-areas for both older and younger kids. Blyth Ridley Water park also within reach
- Craster. Car park with loos outside the village, about 1/4 mile walk to shore. No beach, but fabulous flat rocks ideal for finding crabs, anemones etc. Brilliant walk across fields to Dunstanburgh Castle.
- Druridge Bay. Meant to be very good but just that bit further than I usually go.
Animals & wildlife
- 0 1-12 Jesmond Dene Pets’ Corner, Jesmond — cages with pigs, sheep, goats, chickens etc.
- 0 1-12 Bill Quay Farm, Gateshead – community children’s farm; free.
- ££ 1-A Farne Island boat trips – about 1hr from N’cl, go out to the islands & see tons of seabirds (guillemots, shags, and my favourite – puffins) and grey seals sunning themselves on the rocks. Some tours allow you to explore the islands, others just go around them.
- ££ 1-12 Whitehouse Farm Centre, Morpeth – children’s farm with good play areas too. Also good in wet weather due to indoor petting barn & soft-play.
- ££ 1-A Brocksbushes Farm Shop, Corbridge – farm shop and pick-your-own
- ££ 1-A Washington Wetlands Centre – walk round & feed the ducks & more exotic waterfowl; see the nursery with baby ducks; good play area for all ages (inc. pond with Archimedes screw, sluices & waterwheel), very good visitor centre with tea-room.
- £ 1-A The Sanctuary Wildlife Care Centre, Ulgham — wildlife sanctuary with lots of animals and craft centre. Haven’t been there yet.
- Wheelbirks Ice-cream parlour and farm, near Stocksfield. Has indoor and outdoor children’s play area as well as ice-cream from Jersey cows. Not been there yet.
- £ 1-A Tweddle Children’s Animal Farm, near Hartlepool — looks like more of a small zoo, really. £10 for a family ticket. Haven’t been there yet.
- ££ 1-A. Hall Hill Farm, between Consett & Durham. USP == donkey rides!
- ££ 1-A. Down at the Farm, between Chester-le-Street & Sunderland. USP == maize maze.
- £ 2-A. Kielder Water Birds of Prey Centre.
- ££ 1-A. The Sanctuary Wildlife Care Centre, Morpeth. Open Fri-Mon most of the year.
- ££ 0-A. Kirkley Hall Zoo. Small zoo but meant to be very nice for kids. Apparently has nice, free playground as well as the pay-to-enter zoo.
- ££ 7-A Whickham Thorns Outdoor Activity Centre — activities include dry-slope skiing & snowboarding, sledging & snow tubing, indoor climbing & outdoor bouldering, assault course, mountain biking, archery & high ropes. The ski slope is very small and flat, so don’t expect excitement!
- ££ 1-A. Haltwhistle Outdoor Swimming & Leisure Centre — Obviously only open during the summer! Has Giant Inflatable Fun Sessions at weekends and school holidays.
Stately homes, parks & gardens
(NT = National Trust, EH = English Heritage)
- 0 0-A Saltwell Park, Gateshead – brilliant Victorian park, with bandstand (music in the park every Sunday afternoon), boating lake, marvellous play area for all ages (including a big sandpit), aviary & rabbits, nice cafe in renovated Saltwell Manor and beautiful walks in the grounds.
- £ 5-A Holy Island of Lindisfarne – about 1hr from N’cl and re stricted access due to tides. Impressive converted castle to look round, plus ruins of priory.
- £ 0-A Dilston Physic Garden — a beautiful herb garden created by Prof Elaine Perry from the Institute of Neuroscience.
- ££ 1-A Gibside NT — nice grounds to walk in. Quite often has family events.
- ££ 1-A Cragside NT — vast grounds, amazing alpine rock-gardens, overlooked by striking neo-Gothic house. One of my favourites.
- ££ 1-A Wallington NT — charming gardens (my favourite is the walled garden), plus manor house. Large grassy courtyard in front of the tea-room ideal for picnic & family games on a sunny day.
- ££ 1-A Belsay EH – hall, ruined castle, beautiful quarry gardens. Often has exhibitions in the striking unfurnished hall.
- ££ 1-A Dunstanburgh Castle EH – impressive ruined castle reached by walk along seashore
- ££ 1-A Warkworth Castle EH – impressive ruined castle with very well-preserved inner keep. Go for a beautiful walk along the river and get ferried across in a row-boat to the hermitage hewn from a cave in the rock. Boats can be hired here too.
- ££ 1-A Tynemouth Priory EH — great location; not a lot to see or do except when they are hosting one of their frequent special events.
- £££ 3-A Alnwick Castle & Gardens — good castle & stately home, interesting new gardens with lots of water-features for kids to play in; impressive tree-house cafe. Downside: expensive entry, even more so as castle & gardens are charged separately.
- ££ 1-A Seaton Delaval Hall NT. Acquired by the Trust in 2010. Big house, gardens.
- ££ 1-A Howick Gardens. Ancestral home of the Greys, as in Earl Grey (tea and electoral reform). Absolutely beautiful, and extensive.
- ££ 1-A Longframlington Gardens. Not been yet.
I like to take the kids camping a lot in the summer. Here are some of the good local places I’ve found.
- Nenthead Mines Heritage Centre, Penrith.
- The Deep Submarium, Hull.
- Conundrum Farm, Berwick on Tweed. Has pony rides.
- Sea-Life, Scarborough.
- Cold War Bunker, York.
- Railway Museum, York.