Weather-wise, the North East has been pretty lucky so far this year and families will be keeping fingers crossed that our luck will hold for the upcoming schools' half-term break.
February can be the most unpredictable of months so who knows whether we might enjoy more of the sunshine which surprised us in January or whether we're due a wash-out.
Either way, parents can at least rely upon the fact that there is always plenty to do in and around Newcastle.
If, however, they find do themselves stuck for something to do when the schools break up, or are looking for new suggestions of ways to entertain the children, they might be relieved to know that we regularly draw up a list of ideas to help out.
So, here we offer up a range of attractions to enjoy - including outdoor ones to make the most of any sunshine as well as plenty of ideas too for indoor treats so that if the worst does happen with the weather then rain need not stop play.
And, as there's nothing better than spending quality time with the family - especially if it won't cost you a penny, the best bit is they're free.
Here's our guide to 53 free ideas for family things to do in and around Newcastle, Tyneside and the North East.
In and around Newcastle
Jesmond Dene Newcastle, NE7 7DA
Jesmond Dene has provided lots of generations of families with a pleasant day out right in the heart of Newcastle. Enjoy walking or biking through the extensive Tarmac paths, visit Pets Corner to see the farm animals, and then get the picnic out on the grass near to the ruined mill. Plenty of access points on foot from South Gosforth, Jesmond and Heaton.
Laing Art Gallery New Bridge Street, Newcastle, NE1 8AG
Situated opposite Newcastle Library, the Laing Art Gallery has regular exhibitions, from local artists to nationally-recognised paintings, as well as a children’s area for dressing up and interactive learning.
See the website here.
Newcastle City Library, New Bridge Street West, Newcastle, NE1 8AX
With regular children’s events, it’s not just about reading – although the extensive collection as well as computer access and heritage collections mean the family can spend a few enjoyable hours together. Head to the Newcastle Library website here to see what’s coming up.
Discovery Museum, Blandford Square, Newcastle, NE1 4JA
Discovery Museum is made for families – parents and children will all enjoy seeing the display of science and engineering triumphs, with a particular slant on what the North East has contributed to the world.
But the main event is always Charles Parsons’ Turbinia, the first vessel to be powered by steam turbine. The Discovery Museum is within walking distance of Newcastle city centre.
This summer it is celebrating all things LEGO: for the programme see here.
Bessie Surtees House, 41-44 Sandhill, Newcastle, NE1 3JF
An often-overlooked gem in the heart of Newcastle, Bessie Surtees House transports you back to a previous incarnation of the city. It consists of two five-storey 16th and 17th Century merchants’ houses, with Jacobean period interiors. It is also the scene of the elopement of Bessie with John Scott, a man of whom her father did not approve but later went on to come good as the Lord Chancellor of England. Walk down The Side to get to it, or approach from the Quayside. See here.
Ouseburn Farm, Ouseburn Road, Newcastle, NE1 2PA
Children love animals, and they’ll love meeting the various creatures at Ouseburn Farm near Byker. There are lambs, goats, a Tamworth pig, and several varieties of chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs. It’s free entry but donations are welcome. See here.
Leazes Park, Richardson Road, Newcastle, NE2 4BJ
Leazes Park was opened in 1873 and is the oldest park on Tyneside. The park is a much underrated sanctuary from the busy city centre and is a haven for people and wildlife away from the harshness of the built environment. It is also a great advert for lottery funding that has restored it to its former glories. See more about it on the council's website here.
Great North Museum: Hancock, Barras Bridge, Newcastle , NE2 4PT
The former Hancock Museum, beloved of many a school trip, was revamped in 2009 and now houses everything from natural history collections and a reconstruction of Hadrian’s Wall to Egyptian mummies and a life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex replica – plenty to keep the children occupied.
Only disabled parking available on site but easily accessed via public transport or by parking in Claremont Road.
In and around Gateshead
Angel of the North, Durham Road, Low Eighton, Gateshead, NE9 7TY
The dominating symbol of the North East, the Angel of the North is familiar to many who travel the A1 regularly. But you can get right up to it too, with on-site parking to enable the family to get their picture taken next to it. It gets at least 150,000 visitors a year, and if the weather’s nice you can enjoy the grassy areas with a game or a picnic. Find out more about it on the council's website here.
Metrocentre, Gateshead, NE11 9YG
With regular family events, the Metrocentre in Gateshead isn’t just about spending money. The Metrognomes perform free shows during the school holidays and, as well as the children’s play area, there are also regular family events. Served by regular buses from Newcastle as well as ample on-site parking. See here.
Saltwell Park, East Park Road, Gateshead, NE9 5AX
With 55 acres of parkland, woods and ornamental gardens, there are also sports facilities, playing areas and an animal house, as well as occasional events such as free live music. Saltwell Park is easily accessible via several bus routes. Read more on the council's website here.
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, South Shore Road, Gateshead, NE8 3BA
The Baltic has regularly changing exhibitions and is on the circuit for national and international touring exhibitions and has also hosted the prestigious Turner Prize.
Besides a beautiful location right next to the River Tyne it has a children’s area too. Baltic can be reached on foot from Gateshead centre or Newcastle Quayside over the Millennium Bridge. See here.
Shipley Art Gallery, Prince Consort Road, Gateshead, NE8 4JB
The collection of 800 paintings, art and crafts were designated as being of national importance in 1998. There are also regular events such as talks, craft groups and workshops. It’s a 20 minute walk from Gateshead Interchange and is also on some bus routes, or there is also limited free street parking near the gallery. See here.
Chopwell Woods, Gateshead, NE39 1LT
Chopwell Wood is 360-hectare mixed woodland set right on the fringe of Gateshead. Its miles of paths enables visitors to walk and cycle through this fascinating woodland. No two parts of this varied woodland are the same and you can enjoy spectacular views of the River Derwent and North Pennines. Horse riders are also welcome.
In and around North Tyneside
Stephenson Railway Museum, Middle Engine Lane, North Shields , NE29 8DX
Every young boy’s dream: steam train rides and lots of locomotives. Stephenson Railway Museum is also home to George Stephenson’s ‘Billy’, a forerunner of the world- famous Rocket. Special events are often hosted, including the popular Heritage Train Rides, which do incur a small charge. See here.
Tynemouth Market, Tynemouth Station, Station Terrace, North Tyneside, NE30 4RE
Tynemouth Market takes place every weekend at Tynemouth Station and combines a huge variety of goods, from vintage clothing and collectables to bric-a-brac and edible produce. Every third Saturday of the month there’s also a local farmers market which joins in with fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, preserves and homebaked goods. See here.
Combine the market with a trip to the beach at Longsands, where the children can let off steam with ball games or a paddle, if they're feeling brave.
Things to do with the kids if it rains.
St Mary’s Island, Whitley Bay, NE26 4RS
Visitors can cross the short causeway to visit St Mary's Island and explore the the beach’s rockpools, clifftop grassland, and newly created wetland habitat.
However, if families wish to go inside St Mary's Lighthouse and climb the 137 steps inside the tower to the lantern room to enjoy the spectacular views along the coast there is a charge. Admission prices apply to the visitor centre and lighthouse tower only.
Rising Sun Country Park, Whitley Road, Benton, Newcastle, NE12 9SS
The 400 acre green oasis is located in the heart of the North Tyneside and is open all year round. Visitors can enjoy the park’s rich and diverse wildlife and if you’re lucky you might even spot it’s resident stag. At the centre of the park is a lake area, which is designated as a Local Nature Reserve. There are lots of different habitats to explore throughout the park including: grassland, woodland, pond, wetlands and a lake. There is also a bird hide for keen bird watchers to use which overlooks the Swallow Pond.
See more on the council website here.
In and around South Tyneside
South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, Ocean Road, South Shields, NE33 2JA
Easily accessible on Ocean Road, South Shields Museum and Art Gallery has lots of local art and the personal memorabilia of Catherine Cookson. There’s plenty relating to the industrial and maritime history of South Tyneside, and there are also Tremendous Tuesdays school holiday craft activities to keep the children occupied. See here.
Trow Point to Lizard Point, South Tyneside, NE33 2LD to SR6 7NH
An impressive landscape with plenty to look at on a walk. While nesting seabirds cling to the cliffs, the magnesian limestone soils play host to a variety of rare flowers, including the most northerly site in Britain for the rare, deep blue perennial flax. Park at Marsden Bay and take a picnic. See here.
Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum, Baring Street, South Shields, NE33 2BB
The home of the Roman garrison that guarded the Tyne, Arbeia Roman Fort has a mixture of excavated remains and reconstructed buildings to give you a feel of what it must have been like, with child-friendly display boards. It is the most extensively-excavated military supply base in the Roman Empire and includes the remains of the headquarters, barracks, granaries, gateways and latrines. It’s a 10 minute walk from South Shields Metro and Bus Station and is signposted from Ocean Road.
See here for its current programme.
St Paul’s Monastery, Church Bank, Jarrow, Tyne and Wear, NE32 3DY
The monastery is the home of the Venerable Bede, chronicler of the beginnings of English Christianity, and Jarrow has become one of the best-understood Anglo-Saxon monastic sites. The Anglo-Saxon church ruins, including the oldest dedication stone in the country, dated AD 685, is incorporated into the current church.
In and around Sunderland
Penshaw Monument, Chester Road, Houghton le Spring, Penshaw, Sunderland, DH4 7NJ
For a Sunderland’s alternative to the Angel of the North head to Penshaw Monument, the 19th Century Greek-style folly which stands at the top of a hill near Washington, visible for miles around. It has impressive views if you put the work in to climb to the top. See the National Trust site here.
Search for Seaham seaglass, Sunderland coastline, SR6 9LX
Seaglass is beautiful frosted pieces of glass, worn smooth over many years by the movements of the sea – and Seaham on the Sunderland coastline is world famous for it. Thanks to Victorian glass factories throwing spoil out to sea, people have even travelled from other countries to see what they can find on the beach over the last few decades – and it’s right on our doorstep. The biggest pieces have long since gone but children will love searching the sand for the glinting pieces of treasure which comes in white, green, brown, and the rarer blue and red. Parking is available at the top of the cliffs.
National Glass Centre, Liberty Way, Sunderland, SR6 0GL
The National Glass Centre in Sunderland brings to life the area’s glass-making heritage, which 100 years ago was a national hub for the industry. Learn how glass is made, watch craftsmen making glassware, and take part in children’s activities and creative workshops. See here.
Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, Burdon Road, Sunderland, SR1 1PP
A venue of two contrasting interests to keep the whole family entertained. The museum houses an ever-expanding range of displays that especially focus on the North East’s heritage and industry, while the winter gardens hold a botanical collection of 2,000 plants. Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens is close to Sunderland Metro and train station and Park Lane Interchange. Find out more here.
Hylton Castle, Craigavon Road, Sunderland, SR5 3PA
On a nice day, why not visit Hylton Castle an imposing gatehouse tower which originally housed four storeys of family accommodation and was built by Sir William Hylton in about 1400. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic before exploring the surrounding area. See the English Heritage site information here.
Washington F Pit, Albany Way, Washington, Tyne and Wear, NE37 1BJ
Ok, this is one for the diary as the pit has only occasional open days, offering a chance to learn all about the North East’s coal mining heritage.
Washington F Pit, which was sunk in 1777 and closed in 1968, was the most productive pit on the site by the late 19th Century.
The Washington F Pit museum includes the winding gear that took miners down to the coalface. There are also models, photographs and art.
For news of opening dates keep an eye out here.
In and around Northumberland
Wild camping at Kielder Water and Forest Park, Hexham, Northumberland, NE48 1ER
The 26-mile Lakeside Way at Kielder takes you along next to the river and through some truly beatiful spots. It’s not always flat but the well-maintained surface is suitable for walking or biking and will definitely tire out the children. Kielder also hosts events and wildlife lovers will also enjoy the deep forests. If you want to stay over there’s also free wild camping – you just need to book ahead. See here.
The crags of Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland , NE46 1BS
The wilds of Northumberland are spectacular, especially around Hadrian’s Wall. One of the best places to enjoy it is at one of the dominating crags such as Cuddy’s Crags or Crag Lough. The children will also be impressed by the ruins of the forts at regular intervals along the Wall, as well as Sycamore Gap – the lone tree guarding the dip in the wall made famous by the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Castles tour, Northumberland, start North Haul Road, Hexham, NE48 1NE
See how many of these free castles you can fit into one day. You’ll have to drive but they’re an impressive site, their picturesque picnic-perfect settings belying their violent pasts. Black Middens Bastle House between Falstone and Bellingham is a ruined 16th Century fortified farmhouse with access to living quarters only on the first floor. There’s also good walking country nearby and the Reivers Route cycle trail. Edlingham Castle, near the A697 to the west of Alnwick, is the tower of a 14th Century manor house. Meanwhile, Norham Castle to the far north of the county boasts extensive ruins of a 12th Century castle which was beseiged 13 times by the Scots; while St Andrews Church in Bywell is an interesting example of a church tower built for defence, with walls an unbelievable five metres thick. Built in 850, it is a Grade One Listed property.
Northumberlandia, Fisher Lane, Cramlington, Northumberland, NE23 8AU
Rising from the ground in South East Northumberland, the female figure of Northumberlandia dominates the landscape and offers free public access. A new attraction, having only been finished in 2012, the huge lady lies in 46 acres of parkland, perfect for a day out and picnic, and has four miles of walking paths. The X13, X20, X21 and X22 buses stop near the pedestrian entrance, or there is paid-for parking on site. See here.
The causeway to Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, TD15 2SE
This is a day out unlike anything else you can do in the world. Read the crossing time guide and make your way across the tidal causeway to Lindisfarne, surrounded by stunning coastal scenery. There are plenty of free places to go such as the museum of the Coldstream Guards, and while you need to pay to get into Lindisfarne Priory, it’s still worth seeing from the outside. Either drive over or, to avoid parking charges, buses run on certain days between Berwick and Holy Island.
See here. And visitors have been extra-keen to see Lindisfarne Castle since its restoration.
Walk from Craster past Dunstanburgh Castle, Dunstanburgh Road, Alnwick, Northumberland, NE66 3TT
This stunning walk takes you through the picturesque village of Craster along the impressive Northumberland coast and past Dunstanburgh Castle. Take a picnic and set up camp at Embleton Bay. Parking in Craster itself is restricted but there are plenty of car parks nearby.
Warkworth Hermitage walk, Castle Terrace, Warkworth, Northumberland, NE65 0UJ
While you have to pay to go into the Hermitage itself, the countryside around Warkworth Hermitage is some of the most attractive in the North East, and is the perfect place to get away from it all for the weekend. After eating your picnic, head down to pretty Warkworth village itself, or walk the four miles to Alnmouth where you can stroll through the town before heading on to the beach. See here.
Tyne Riverside Country Park, Tyne Valley, Northumberland, NE42 6UP
Accessible from Prudoe or Wylam Stations and Tyne Valley bus routes, Tyne Riverside Country Park offers 200 acres of meadows, grassland, woods and river bank, following the River Tyne for four miles. Walk past Stephenson’s Cottage -– the now-picturesque birthplace of railway engineer George Stephenson – explore the industrial heritage remains, and go wildlife-watching.
Woodhorn Museum and Archive, QEII Country Park, Ashington, Northumberland, NE63 9YF
Woodhorn Museum always has something of interest going on. The changing exhibitions have previously included a history of video games with everyone’s old favourites, and costumes from major films. The permanent exhibitions commemorate South East Northumberland’s coal mining heritage, as well as the communities who worked in it. Although there is a parking charge for the day, you can walk to Woodhorn from Ashington Bus Station in about 15 minutes. See here.
Chain Bridge Honey Farm, Horncliffe, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, TD15 2XT
Chain Bridge Honey Farm boasts an incredible 2,000 bee hives in a 40-mile radius around the farm. The visitor centre is open from Easter and is free to visit and has calligraphed boards explaining everything there is to know about bees, wall murals of the surrounding areas, and a glass panel showing the internal workings of an actual bee hive where you can watch the bees coming and going. There is also a collection of vintage vehicles. See here.
Its winter opening hours are 10am until 5pm on weekdays (extending to weekends from April).
Northumberland beaches, NE76 5BW or NE69 7DF
We’re very lucky in the North East to have such an array of sandy, quiet, scenic beaches. And while the weather isn’t always great, at least it means you usually have a whole beach to yourself. Try Beadnell Bay and enjoy birdwatching at the little tern and arctic tern breeding colonies at the National Trust Nature Reserve at Long Nanny estuary. Or head for Bamburgh beach under the imposing walls of Bamburgh Castle.
Berwick Castle and Town defences, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, TD15 1DF
Up in the north of Northumberland, the defences of Berwick stand as a testament to its position as a border town. The remains of a medieval castle from the Anglo-Scottish wars is complemented by the most complete and impressive town defences in England dating from Elizabethan times and added to in the 17th and 18th Centuries. You can walk all the way around the defences – go to the Discovering Britain website for a guided walking plan and description. Combine it with one of the events held in Berwick such as the food festival, held in early September, where there’ll be lots of free events. See here.
Druridge Country Park, A1068, Red Row, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE61 5BX
Druridge Bay is a living landscape, rich in wildlife and is a stunning seven mile stretch of sand running from Amble to Cresswell. It is a popular place to ride, cycle walk, paddle and surf. Druridge Bay Country Park has all the amenities you will need to enjoy a day at the coast with toilets, cafe and children’s play area. The park is centred on a lake with surrounding meadows and woods which has been restored from an old opencast coal mine and is maturing into a very pleasant landscape for walks and picnics. See here.
In and around County Durham
Durham Cathedral, The College, Durham, DH1 3EH
One of the truly spectacular man-made sights in the North East, the history of Durham Cathedral is fascinating and was one of Britain’s first World Heritage Sites. Walk through the town centre from the bus or railway station and enjoy the cloister, cathedral church and monks’ dormitory, as well as heritage trails, music recitals and talks.
Free, but donations are welcome. See here.
And remember that it's central tower, so long under wraps due to restoration work, is now open again for tours.
Durham peninsular walk, Durham, DH1 1SQDH1 1SQ
With a relatively flat path most of the way around the Durham peninsular, as well as pleasant streets past the castle and cathedral, the walks takes you along the river and past some very pleasant green spaces. There are Durham peninsular walks to download from the internet that will take a few hours, such as the one starting at Freeman’s Quay Walkergate.
Finchale Priory, Finchale Avenue, Brasside, Framwellgate Moor, County Durham, DH1 5SH
Explore the beautiful ruins of the 13th Century priory in the crook of the river, founded on the site of a retired pirate’s hermitage, then enjoy some of the extensive garden and countryside walks nearby. The English Heritage property is free and open 10am-5pm.
If you’re looking to make a day out of it, combine it with Derwentcote Steel Furnace, about 11 miles away. It is the most complete steel-making furnace in Britain, built in the early 1700s. Located between Hamsterley and Rowlands Gill, if you’re going directly there you can either take the Go North East 45 or 46 bus from Newcastle, or drive along the A694. See here.
Auckland Castle Deer House, Bishop Auckland, County Durham, DL14 7NR
The mighty castle is now back in action after its ambitious works programme.
Besides its feast of treasure inside, there's the Auckland Castle Deer House, a gothic revival building dating from 1760.
It was built in the park of the Bishops of Durham to provide food and shelter for deer and today it provides beautiful views from its rooms and is surrounded by parkland ideal for a picnic.
It’s one mile from Bishop Auckland train station and is on several bus routes. To make a day of it, also visit Piercebridge Roman Bridge, stone remains in a field nine miles away, which was once a bridge which led to Piercebridge Roman Fort; and Stanwick Iron Age Fortifications, the excavated remains of a huge iron age trading centre of the pre-Roman tribe the Brigantes. See here.
Hamsterley Forest and Escomb Church, Redford, County Durham, DL13 3NL
The 2,000 hectares of Hamsterley Forest are great for all sorts of activities. As well as the walks and biking trails, there’s a children’s adventure playground and a Rainforest Rescue Discovery Trail, where you can hear the sounds of the rainforest. There are also regular events throughout the summer and beyond, with bushcraft survival days, painting events, lathe workshops and fungi foraging. Although parking is £3, a free way to get to Hamsterley is by taking your bike via public transport to the W2W cycle trail, which passes through the forest.
For a day out, combine it with a visit to nearby Escomb Church, County Durham. One of the most complete Saxon Churches in Europe, this is a real treat for the history buffs in the family. Built around 675 AD with stone probably from the Roman Fort at Binchester, it was around when Bede was alive. The tiny church is a place of peace and reflection and also houses medieval wall paintings. See here.
Locomotion: National Railway Museum, Dale Road Industrial Estate, Dale Road, County Durham, DL4 2RE
South of Durham, not far from Bishop Auckland, is Locomotion, the National Railway Museum - and the fabulous Flying Scotsman is now there until August 9, with footplate experiences available.
For information about the world's most famous train and associated activities see here.
Young children and dads also will love the 70-odd railway vehicles on display, while there are also regular family events and activities such as the opportunity to build a miniature vehicle and race it this summer. There are buses from Durham, and it’s a three-minute walk from Shildon Station. Donations welcome. See here.
Nature and heritage trail, Shincliffe, County Durham, DH1 2NU
Just outside Durham itself is Shincliffe, an attractive village with walking routes nearby. There are plenty to choose from including nature and heritage trails. Some walks start from Shincliffe itself while others start from Durham or from the rowing club.
Rainton Meadows, County Durham, DH4 6PU
Join the dragonflies among the quiet paths of Rainton Meadows reserve, run by Durham Wildlife Trust. There are woodlands and wetlands, lakes and walks, and it’s the perfect place for birdwatchers as there’s the possibility of seeing all five British owl species as well as more than 200 other species of birds. There’s a car park and visitor centre on site, and a bike rail to chain up to if you’re cycling. See here.
Hardwick Park, Sedgefield, Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, TS21 2DN
Hardwick Park will be a newly-discovered treasure for many people, yet the gardens are well worth seeing, with a visitor centre giving in-depth history of the park and its restoration. On the west side of Sedgefield, the nearest bus stop is at Sedgefield High Street. Walk for half a mile along a signposted footpath through the arch of the Hardwick Arms Hotel. See here.
Bowes Castle (The Street, DL12 9HP) and Egglestone Abbey, (Abbey Lane, Bowes, DL12 9TH ) both Barnard Castle, County Durham,
Bowes Castle is the remains of a 12th Century keep, built by Henry II on the site of the former Roman fort of Lavatrae which guarded the strategic Stainmore Pass over the Pennines. Enter through a former arrow slit and climb the stairs, seeing rooms built into the thickness of the wall. Either park in Bowes village or take the Central 72 bus from Barnard Castle.
Combine it with a visit to nearby Egglestone Abbey, a small monastery above a bend in the River Tees near Barnard Castle. The remains include a 13th Century church and a range of living quarters – and an ingenious toilet drainage system. See here for the Castle and here for the Abbey.
High Force Waterfall, Teesdale, DL12 0XH
A bit of a drive from most of the North East’s towns and cities, but well worth the journey. High Force Waterfall is spectacular and at 70ft is the largest uninterrupted waterfall in England. There are also forest walks where the falls are slowly revealed to you through the trees, and there is parking, a picnic area and gift shop on site. See here.
Wild flower spotting, Teesdale, DL12 0HX / DL12 0HA
Many visitors and keen botanists head to the beautiful, rugged landscape of Teesdale to see the nationally-rare flowers that thrive in the area. Here you can see rare arctic-alpine flora, as well as the famous Gentians in Spring. There are several car parks to try for different walks, such as Cow Green Reservoir and Hanging Shaws.