With the summer holidays a distant memory families are already planning on how to keep the kids entertained during the next school holiday – February half term.
With that in mind, we’ve come up with 56 free ideas for family things to do in and around Newcastle, Tyneside and the North East during February half term.
In and around Newcastle
Great North Museum Hancock, Newcastle
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
Jesmond Dene, Newcastle
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, Newcastle
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.
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 to see what’s coming up.
Discovery Museum, Newcastle
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. The main event is Charles Parsons’ Turbinia, the first vessel to be powered by steam turbine. The Discovery Museum is within walking distance of Newcastle city centre.
Bessie Surtees House, Newcastle
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.
Ouseburn Farm, Newcastle
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.
Leazes Park, Newcastle
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.
The Cycle Hub, Newcastle
The Cycle Hub is a social enterprise that promotes and facilitates cycling complete with bike hire facilities, bike cafe, bike shop and bike workshop. Whether you’re a mountain biker or Bmx’er, single speed aficionado or road purest The Cycle Hub welcomes everyone.
It’s location beside the River Tyne, means that you’ll be cycling virtually on the flat in both directions on traffic free routes so you can explore both sides of the Tyne for free.
In and around Gateshead
Angel of the North, Gateshead
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 150,000 visitors a year, and if the weather’s nice you can enjoy the grassy areas with a game or a picnic
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.
Saltwell Park, Gateshead
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.
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead
The Baltic has regularly changing exhibitions and is on the circuit for national and international touring exhibitions. Having recently hosted the Turner Prize, the Baltic has a beautiful location right next to the River Tyne and has a children’s area too. Baltic can be reached on foot from Gateshead centre or Newcastle Quayside over the Millennium Bridge.
Family Days Out
Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead
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 puppet 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.
Gibside beer garden, Gateshead
While you normally have to pay to go to Gibside, entry to its Friday and Saturday evening beer garden event, Sun down at Gibside, is free and you can wander around the Walled Garden with its flower borders, herb beds and vegetable patches. There’s a relaxed family-orientated feel and there are snacks and ice creams available for the children. There’s also sometimes live music, and a busker’s night on the first Friday of each month. Other music comes in the form of music and evensong in Gibside Chapel, which take place on various dates.
Chopwell Woods, Gateshead
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, North Shields
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. Meanwhile, there are special events throughout the school holidays, including the popular Heritage Train Rides, which do incur a small charge.
Tynemouth Market, North Tyneside
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. 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.
St Mary’s Island, Whitley Bay
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, Benton
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.
In and around South Tyneside
South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, South Shields
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 school holiday craft activities to keep the children occupied.
Trow Point to Lizard Point, South Tyneside
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.
Pubs you need to visit
Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum, South Shields
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.
St Paul’s Monastery, Jarrow
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, Sunderland
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.
Search for Seaham seaglass, Sunderland coastline
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.
Monkwearmouth Station Museum, Sunderland
Children will love Monkwearmouth Station Museum, where they can jump behind the controls of the play train or dress up as a fireman. There are also restored railway carriages and interactive displays. Head to St Peter’s Metro station, or walk for ten minutes from Sunderland city centre.
National Glass Centre, Sunderland
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.
Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens
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.
Hylton Castle, Sunderland
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.
Washington F Pit, Washington
Learn all about the North East’s coal mining heritage at Washington F Pit. Sunk in 1777 and closed in 1968, it was the most productive pit on the site by the late 19th Century. Washington F Pit museum includes the winding gear that took miners down to the coalface. There are also models, photographs and art.
In and around Northumberland
Wild camping at Kielder Water and Forest Park, Northumberland
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.
The crags of Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland
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
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.
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.
The causeway to Holy Island, Northumberland
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.
Walk from Craster past Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland
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, Northumberland
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.
Tyne Riverside Country Park, Tyne Valley, Northumberland
Acessible 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, Northumberland
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 parking at Woodhorn is £3 for the day, you can walk to Woodhorn from Ashington Bus Station in about 15 minutes.
Chain Bridge Honey Farm, Berwick, Northumberland
Chain Bridge Honey Farm boasts an incredible 2,000 bee hives in a 40-mile radius around the farm. The visitor centre 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.
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, Northumberland
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.
Druridge Country Park, Northumberland
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.
In and around County Durham
Durham Cathedral, Durham
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.
Durham peninsular walk, Durham
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, Brasside, County Durham
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.
Auckland Castle Deer House, County Durham
A gothic revival building built in 1760, Auckland Castle Deer House was built in the park of the Bishops of Durham to provide food and shelter for deer. 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.
Hamsterley Forest and Escomb Church, County Durham
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.
Locomotion: National Railway Museum, Shildon, County Durham
South of Durham, not far from Bishop Auckland, is Locomotion, the National Railway Museum. Young children and dads 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.
Nature and heritage trail, Shincliffe, County Durham
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
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.
Hardwick Park, County Durham
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.
Bowes Castle and Egglestone Abbey, 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.
High Force Waterfall, Teesdale
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.
Wild flower spotting, Teesdale
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.