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Best Free Things To do For Kids in Newcastle

Angel of the North Statue in Newscastle
Angel of the North Statue in Newscastle

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The last major city on the east coast of England (or the first, depending on your direction of travel), Newcastle is known as a great place to party for grown-ups – but there’s plenty here to keep kids occupied too. The history of the city as a settlement dates from Roman times at least, when it was known as Pons Aelius, and a surprising amount of Roman history can still be seen in the city and nearby. It’s known for its football team, great sense of humour, and warm welcome, and there are plenty of museums, trails, and other activities on offer to keep the whole family occupied. 

Table of Contents

Great North Museum

Great North Museum Exhibit
Great North Museum Exhibit

What it is: It’s been known by several names over the decades, starting life as the New Museum of Natural History before being renamed the Hancock Museum, with an emphasis on natural history. In 2009 it merged with the Shefton Museum and the Museum of Antiquities. The collections have expanded dramatically since, and alongside the excellent natural history exhibits, you can also learn about the history of society. You’ll find the Living Planet Gallery on the ground and first floors of the museum, and if mummies, world cultures, and the history of “Natural Northumbria” appeal you’ll be in your element. 

Why we liked it: Our favourite parts were the crystal gallery, Mouse House, and the Hadrian’s Wall gallery. One of the most fun aspects was standing against the projection of the wall to see just how many times higher it was. The smaller family members loved the Mouse House. This area is aimed at Under 5s, with regular events and activities going on – check with reception when you arrive. There are also plenty of talks going on all year round for all the family, and the exhibits are extremely interactive and impressive. You can easily spend the best part of a day here and still not see everything – it’s very easy to get to by public transport too. 

More information about the Great North Museum

Address: Barras Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4PT

Opening Hours: 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday; 10am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday; last entry 15 minutes before closing time. 

Jesmond Dene

Jesmond Dene Scenery
Jesmond Dene Scenery

What it is: Like many of the attractions in Newcastle, Jesmond Dene is easy to get to by public transport, and is an unexpectedly pretty narrow valley that follows the course of the River Ouseburn (Newcastle’s second river) from South Gosforth to Jesmond Vale. It stretches for more than three kilometres in total and is a great mix of quiet areas and busy areas, including Pets Corner, which is free to visit.

Why we liked it: We were lucky enough on our visit to see not just red squirrels but kingfishers, as well as plenty of other typical woodland birds. There’s also plenty of evidence of Lord Armstrong in the Dene, you can see it in the bridges and paths that network the valley. There’s even a boating lake which is fabulous for people watching, and there is plenty of space for play and picnics. Regular craft and food markets take place on Armstrong Bridge, offering plenty of local colour. 

More information about the Jesmond Dene

Address: Visitor Centre, Red Walk, Jesmond Dene, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE7 7BQ

Opening Hours: 24/7 all year round; 10am to 4pm Pets Corner (check as the attraction occasionally closes). 

Discovery Museum

A Kid Enjoying the Discovery Museum Exhibit
A Kid Enjoying the Discovery Museum Exhibit

What it is: Newcastle has a long, proud history of association with industry and engineering, and the Discovery Museum is a great place to explore history. It’s housed in Blandford House, the old Co-operative Wholesale Society building; it’s been a museum since 1993, although it started life in Exhibition Park in Newcastle. One of the major exhibits is the Turbinia, which you see right as you come into the museum; there’s also a replica of the first lightbulb invented by Swan, and plenty of interactive models of ships and steam engines. There’s even a BAE Systems Challenger 2 tank prototype on display outside the museum. Once upon a time, this steam-powered vessel was the fastest ship in the world – all 34 metres of it. If you make it all the way to the top floor, you’ll get to the Great Hall – often used for events including parties and weddings. You might also want to ask about the costume stores, which offer a great insight into life over the ages, with an emphasis on women’s fashion and household textiles. 

Why we liked it: We love the permanent exhibitions, but we also really enjoyed the temporary exhibitions you can find on the ground floor along with the Newcastle Story. Up on the first floor, it was great to learn more about the ordinary working lives of Geordies of the past. We’re really glad we kept going to the next floor, where we enjoyed the Science Maze and the PLAY + INVENT area, not to mention the dedicated gallery telling the tales of those who came from other locations to make Newcastle their home. There are plenty of activities for families taking place, especially in the school holidays. 

More information about the Discovery Museum

Address: Discovery Museum, Blandford Square, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 4JA

Opening Hours: 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday; 11am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday. 

Angel of the North

The Statue of Angel of the North
The Statue of Angel of the North

What it is: Displaced Geordies and visitors alike always know they’re approaching Newcastle from the south when they pass the Angel of the North, an enormous rusting angel that towers over the landscape. It’s long since come to represent the region, erected in February 1998 despite initial opposition locally and an initial “snooty” response to the proposed commission from the sculptor, Antony Gormley. Like many other works created by sculptor Antony Gormley, it’s based on his own body. That rusty colour comes from the steel material it’s made of, COR-TEN, and it can cope with wind speeds of well over 100 miles an hour. 

Why we liked it: Wrap up warm, but the panoramic view from up here on the hill over the north is stunning in every season and most types of weather (we’d not recommend heavy rain). It’s thought that this is the biggest sculpture of an angel anywhere in the world – around 33 million people see it every year. In case you’re wondering about the scale, the statue is 20 metres high, with a 54-metre wingspan – bigger than a Boeing 757. 

More information about the Angel of the North

Address: Durham Rd, Low Eighton, Gateshead NE9 7TY

Opening Hours: 24/7, all year round 

Ouseburn farm

Ouseburn Farm Aerial View
Ouseburn Farm Aerial View

What it is: This working community farm and charity is right in the heart of urban Newcastle and has been around since 1976. A group of Byker parents took over a small plot of land where the Farm now stands. They were keen to give their children the chance to be able to understand taking care of animals, growing their own food, and having the opportunity to access nature. Placements are available to help those with learning disabilities and other conditions to experience work in the visitor centre, gardens, and farmyard, and the inclusive ethos is apparent on the site. There’s a purpose-built barn right there in the meadows and fields, where you can see chickens, goats, pigs, and sheep. 

Why we liked it: We loved the thought that we were some of the 36,000 visitors who get the chance to find out about growing food in an urban environment. The site is also what’s known as a care farm, offering placements to adults with learning difficulties and disabilities. The mantra the farm states is ethical and sustainable – all about growing fruit, vegetables, and plants, sustaining animals, and especially people. The location is also lovely – right underneath three bridges that soar over the Ouseburn, and we really enjoyed the water-saving and energy=saving aspects of the visitor centre (yes, it’s won awards). Access for both wheelchairs and pushchairs is also very good. 

More information about the Ouseburn farm

Address: Ouseburn Farm, Ouseburn Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 2PA.

Opening Hours: 10am Tuesday to Sunday throughout the year (check directly for bank holiday opening hours).

Heaton Park

Heaton Park Bench and Green Scenery
Heaton Park Bench and Green Scenery

What it is: Although it’s connected to nearby Armstrong Park, Jesmond Dene, and Ouseburn Park, this attractive park is a separate location all its own, about two miles outside the city centre. Austerity has left its mark, but the flowerbeds, trees, and shrubs remain attractive whatever the season. There’s an appealing Victorian Pavilion as well as a Terrace, and you can even see ruins from the 13th century King John’s Palace. 

Why we liked it: We enjoyed the two different play areas, one designed for younger children, one for older, and the grassed areas with lots of space to run about. There are also family-orientated events going on all through the year. It’s one of the oldest parks in the city, with plenty of local history – although the 13th-century manor house remains bear King John’s name, it really belonged to a crusader called Adam of Jesmond, who never returned to his hometown.

More information about the Heaton Park

Address: Ouseburn Parks Visitor Centre, Red Walk, Jesmond Dene, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE7 7BQ

Opening Hours: 24/7 all year round

Bridges over the Tyne

Bridges Over the Tyne Architecture
Bridges Over the Tyne Architecture

What it is: Newcastle grew up around the River Tyne, and it remains one of the beating hearts of the city. Newcastle itself is on one side and Gateshead on the other. The array of bridges that span the river is stunning There’s the iconic Tyne Bridge, a wonder of engineering, pretty much identical to the bridge in Sydney Harbour, which was erected 4 years later. There’s the Millennium Bridge, which is a specially tilted bridge that links Newcastle to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art; the High Level Bridge; the utilitarian Redheugh Bridge, and the Edward VII railway bridge. All the bridges represent major engineering achievements; some are listed.

Why we liked it: The Tyne is a very special river, and there’s always something interesting to see or something extra to notice along the quayside. Feel like standing on the site of the original Roman “Pons Aelius”? head for the Swing Bridge which was built to allow tall vessels into and out of the Tyne – it still opens four times a week. Our favourite was probably the “Blinking Bridge”, or Millennium Bridge – visit the river after dark for a different view entirely – although be aware that Friday and Saturday nights can be extremely lively in the bars and nightclubs along the river. 

More information about the Bridges over the Tyne

Address (Quayside): Quayside, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 3DU

Opening Hours: 24/7 all year round 

St Mary’s Island to Tynemouth Priory and/or North Shields Fish Quay

Lighthouse in St Mary’s Island
Lighthouse in St Mary’s Island

What it is: While this walk isn’t in Newcastle itself, the northeast coastline is stunningly lovely and varied, and often somewhat undersung. This part of the coastline is around 20 to 25 minutes outside the centre of Newcastle. There are ruined priorities, gorgeous views, great sandy beaches, rocky outcrops, crab pools, and old lighthouses along the way. You can either start at Whitley Bay, move on to the quieter bay of Cullercoats, move past Tynemouth Priory, and, if you feel like it, progress to the Fish Quay at North Shields, or complete the walk in the opposite direction. 

Why we liked it: A walk along the coast will definitely blow any cobwebs away. If you’re looking for stretches of spacious sandy beach with gorgeous landscapes and even lovelier seascapes, wildlife, and local art, you’ll love the coast. There’s usually plenty of space on the beaches to play games, enjoy a picnic, build a sandcastle or two, and even go paddling in the North Sea if you’re feeling brave enough. (Bring a flask of hot drinks with you for the aftermath!)

More information about the Coastal Walk

Address (St Mary’s Island): St. Marys Island, Whitley Bay, NE26 4RS

Opening Hours: 24/7 all year round

Local Heroes Trail

Local Heroes Trail Sign
Local Heroes Trail

What it is: This trail honours the many Geordies who have left their mark on the world around them in the past 60 years. Plaques honour classic footballers to Ant and Dec (in case you’re wondering, Ant always stands on the left as you’re looking at the screen and Dec to the right). This trail was started in 2014, and you can find out about suffragettes to actors and novelists, this trail pays homage to some of those who’ve been ambassadors for the region. There are also recent local heroes there, like Alison Kay, who founded the People’s Kitchen, 

Why we liked it:  The names on this trail were all nominated by the public, and it’s a great way to enjoy a walk along the River Tyne. We had a list of people to look out for, including Alan Shearer, Ann Cleeves, Jill Halfpenny, Mo Mowlam, and many more. 

More information about the Local Heroes Trail

Address (Millennium Bridge starting point): S Shore Rd, Gateshead NE8 3BA (start on the Newcastle Side of the bridge)

Opening Hours: 24/7 all year round

Walk the City’s History

Bessie Surtees House Architecture
Bessie Surtees House Architecture

What it is: Newcastle has been strategically important for centuries, since at least Roman times, and you can take a whistle-stop tour through history from Roman times right up to the current day, through the “New Castle” of the late 12th century, the 17th century Bessie Surtees House, Georgian/Early Victorian Grainger Town, or the area at the top of Northumberland Street around the Civic Centre and the two Universities (Newcastle and Northumbria). 

Why we liked it: We loved the numerous nooks and crannies we came across along the way, and although our favourite buildings were probably those left behind by the Victorians we found statues and other quirks that were as intriguing as they were odd. Look out for the pink and black stucco “Vampire” rabbit behind Cathedral Buildings – once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it! 

More information about the Newcastle

Address (starting point Eldon Square, Grey’s Monument)

Opening Hours: 24/7 all year round

Honourable Mentions

Sage Gateshead and Skyline Scenery
Sage Gateshead and Skyline Scenery

NewcastleGateshead is packed with free parks, libraries, and museums to entertain all the family. Depending on your family’s interests, and how far outside the city centre you’d like to wander, you might also enjoy the Laing Art Gallery, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art; Northumberlandia; Saltwell Park, the Sage Gateshead, or Shipley Art Gallery; and the six floors of Newcastle Central Library, including the glass exhibit. 

Finally, as a sneak peek into the future, in 2023 the delightful Shaun the Sheep is going to pop up all over the place in Newcastle. The exact locations of the 50 sculptures haven’t been announced yet, but there’ll be a map and an app and a whole heap of fun to be found finding the Shauns. Check for more details, or look out for other art trails at https://www.visitengland.com/experience/follow-art-trails-around-newcastlegateshead.

Written by
David Prior

David Prior is an NCTJ-qualified journalist and the editor of Big Family Breaks. He is also a father of five and an experienced traveller, especially with kids.

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