Newcastle is well known for its great nightlife and there’s loads of great things to do for lovely family days out with the kids. But there’s also a great opportunity to soak up some culture while you’re in the city by visiting some of the best historical attractions in the North East and all within 20 miles of Newcastle City Centre.
1. Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum
The Segedunum Roman Fort is the most excavated and developed Fort along the famous Hadrian’s Wall and features a 35m high observation tower providing outstanding views across this impressive World Heritage Site, an amazing back drop for your family photo!
The site now also boasts a large interactive museum showcasing Roman artifacts found in the excavations between the 70s and the new millennium, ranging from the only known surviving stone toilet seat to accurate models of the Carpathia and HMS Comus, plus a recreated section of Hadrian’s Wall itself.
Kids can also get hands on with a bust of the Emperor Hadrian, a building model and some replica Roman fabrics.
You can also step out and explore the Roman Garden and Colliery (that’s the coal mine to you and I) and if you’re taking a group you can book a guided tour.
2. Arbeia Roman Fort
Arbeia Roman Fort housed a garrison and once guarded the entrance to the River Tyne.
Arbeia also holds regular events throughout the summer, from Roman gladiator training to hands-on family activities.
3. Tynemouth Priory and Castle
Tynemouth Priory and Castle on the coast of North East England was once one of the largest fortified areas in England.
Overlooking the North Sea and the River Tyne, it dominates the headland. With its 2000 year history and beautiful views it is the perfect location for a family fun day out including a delightful picnic spot with views of the river.
The interactive ‘Life in the Stronghold’ exhibition takes you on an exciting journey. It tells the story of the site from its original beginnings as an Anglo-Saxon settlement, an Anglican monastery, a royal castle, artillery fort and a coastal defence. Ideal for boosting the kids’ schooling if they’re on forts, or forming the basis for a secret schooling interest.
The newly refurbished battery gun was designed to defend the Tyne in the First and Second World Wars and can be explored. Kids can also dress up in Monks’ robes so take the camera!
4. Belsay Hall Castle and Gardens
Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens is like a great big adventure playground.
Bring along the kids to explore a fine medieval castle, a Greek Revival villa and acres of gardens perfect for a game of hide and seek, plus marvel at the views from the massive 14th century tower at the top of the ruined medieval castle.
The Magical Quarry gardens lead the way for your little princesses and princes to discover the castle, which has some very interesting stories to tell. Climb right to the top for spectaular views, if you are brave enough!
The Hall itself is a Classical Greek Revival villa, has many rooms to explore and more great stories to discover.
Belsay’s Victorian tea room, situated in the old kitchen is the perfect mid-visit stop off, or take advantage of the picnic area to really make a day of it.
5. Crook Hall and Gardens
At Crook Hall and Gardens the beautiful gardens include: The Secret Walled Garden, Shakespeare Garden, Cathedral Garden and The Silver and White Garden.
Plus kids will love the playful cotoneaster meadow maze, just be sure to go in with the small ones as it’s trickier than it looks!
Whilst visiting Crook Hall, stroll around the moat pool, ramble through the orchard, enjoy the wildflower meadow and relax and enjoy a home-made cream tea by the fountain in the pretty little courtyard.
Indoors you can imagine life in the Mediaeval hall and enjoy a log fire while you refresh yourselves then tip-toe into the haunted Jacobean Room… and run out! The Grade 1 listed Medieval Manor House is largely retained for functions and events so don’t go expecting to explore it all or go on a really wet day, as the indoor side is pretty limited: you’ll mainly be here to enjoy the many gardens!
And it’s all nice and close to Durham Market and The Gates Shopping Centre, so you can take the kids for a wander through there afterwards!
6. Woodhorn Museum and Gardens
Woodhorn Museum and Gardens, also known as Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives, is a great attraction for the whole family, with plenty of hands on activities, some blockbuster exhibitions, and a great events programme.
It is located in a delightful country park with a lake at its heart, and it is possible to walk or cycle around the lake, with public access from the museum end and the northern approach. There’s a cafe too!
The museum contains original colliery buildings, mining artefacts, and some great social history exhibitions, while the Northumberland Archives cover over 800 years of the county’s history, and provide an amazing record of the past. The Workshop Galleries host the large exhibitions, which have in recent years included famous movie cars, Wallace and Gromit, and even dinosaurs! These galleries were originally a 19th century blacksmiths’ shop, and still retain the blacksmiths’ hearth.
Not only is there plenty to see, you can also enjoy a trip on the Woodhorn Railway Society’s Narrow Gauge Train, which travels from Woodhorn through the QEII Country Park to the north end of the lake. There is plenty of wildlife to look out for, as the lake attracts numerous birds throughout the year, and the park is also home to the endangered red squirrel.
7. Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral is a worthwhile visit whether you are interested in religion, history, architecture or nature! Welcoming of all faiths and ages, this is a charming experience that always has kids hushed in awe just from the mysterious and reverent atmosphere.
The Cathedral contains the remains of Cuthbert, the saintly seventh-century bishop of Lindisfarne; it also holds the tomb of Bede, the chronicler of Cuthbert’s life and the first English historian. There are guided tours available and whilst here you may visit: The Treasures of St Cuthbert, Monks’ Dormitory, The ‘Building the Church’ exhibition, The Audio-Visual Display, The Tower and The Cathedral Library.
There are some stunning walks around the cathedral’s nearby woodland and riverside if you have the weather for it, where you’ll encounter the Corn Mill and the Fulling Mill, Prebend’s Bridge, a variety of charming boat houses and The Count’s House folly.
As an active place of worship, which also attracts many other events, the Cathedral is not always fully accessible to visitors. Please enquire at The Chapter Office if you wish to visit on a particular day, especially when travelling far, as there can be special events and services or functions which may necessitate adjustment to their timetables. Generally though, they’re very welcoming and let you do your own thing if you’re quiet.
8. Hexham Old Gaol
Built in 1330 this is the oldest custom built prison in England and has a befittingly rich history of plagues, bribed guards and jail breaks for your discovery amongst many other interesting stories! There’s nothing too gory or disturbing but of course young or sensitive types may need a chat about a few things afterwards as historical law does tend to be notably harsh! In the 1820s the prison relinquished its function and prisoners were split between the nearby Morpeth Gaol and the Hexham House of Correction, but it was sympathetically refurbished in 1980 and its current incarnation is a fascinating family oriented museum dedicated to the deep and specific history of the building and its itinerary of punishments, including branding, banishment, pillory and stocks! Great for kids of school age and interesting for everyone in the family as well as being a lovely perspective check for kids on why they should bloomin’ well behave when asked nicely!
There are relatively modern and interactive displays within the immense stone walls now, plus some great textile based displays of armor and costume of the periods the building has experienced.
9. Hexham Abbey
Hexham Abbey has many sights to take in, including some rare historical artefacts.
Listen as two mischievous church mice show you around the abbey! They’ll take you on a wild ride but they might get into some trouble on the way…
Creep down the steep steps to descend into the oldest part of the abbey, the Anglo Saxon crypt where there are rooms and passageways from the original church, built around 674! You can touch the cool stone of a Dark Age Cross, sit on a 7th century Bishop’s throne called the Frith Stool and scamper up 35 worn stone steps, called the Medieval Night Stair.
The mice will show you the stained glass windows, which are full of vibrant colours, and look amazing when the sun is shining through them.
There is a 15th century painted screen, plus a tiny goblet, called the Hexham chalice, which is the centrepiece of their exhibition “The Big Story’.
The exhibition will help you learn more about the history of the abbey with interactive displays that allow you to see how the abbey would have looked over 1300 years ago and how it has changed over time. You can also have a go at building a gothic arch, make sure St Wilfrid has not lost his head, plus find out how to lift a stone that weighs the same as a small car!
10. The Newcastle Black Gate and Castle Keep
The Newcastle Castle has been recently reopened to the public after extensive renovation work. The £1.67m restoration project was completed in mid-March with the historic Black Gate officially reopening Saturday 21st March 2015.
The Newcastle Black Gate and Castle Keep have been subject to a vast amount of research over the last couple of years which has revealed a colourful and grim history. The uncovered stories include prisoners being hung drawn and quartered to an unusual tale of a youngster being killed by a flying donkey.
The Keep currently stands as one of the UK’s finest medieval stone castle donjon’s which is still open to the public. Visitors to the iconic castle will enjoy picturesque views, alongside in-depth history displays covering the backgrounds of castle inhabitants over the ages, and offering an insight into Newcastle’s ancient heritage.
From a royal fortress to grim dungeons, new exhibits allow visitors to experience what life would have been like for inhabitants in these two astonishingly preserved medieval buildings. The Newcastle Castle has also hosted several ghost-hunting exhibitions due to its grim history and apparent sightings of The Poppy Girl, a previous resident of the castle who was jailed for owing people money and was beaten and died in the castle prison.
* All of our information is correct at the time of publishing