56 free things to do with kids in Newcastle and the North East this Bank Holiday weekend

With the Bank Holiday upon us, the extended weekend offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy some quality family time.

Days out – especially for those with a bigger brood – can prove hugely expensive however and with many parents already stretched having to keep young ones entertained during the summer school holidays they will be keen to find ways to enjoy an outing together that won’t hurt the pocket.

The good news is that there are plenty of free things to do and venues to visit across the North East and we cover a range of these in our updated guide.

Read more: Where children can eat for free throughout the summer break

In addition, we have news of a partnership involving Tyne and Wear Metro and TWAM – Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums – aimed at offering good value family days out.

There is plenty around to entertain the kids whatever the weather
There is plenty around to entertain the kids whatever the weather
(Image: Shared Content Unit)

Already under-16s can have free admission to all nine local TWAM attractions, which include the likes of Great North Museum: Hancock, Discovery Museum, Segedunum Roman Fort and South Shields Museum.

And now Tyne and Wear Metro is sponsoring TWAM’s summer programme Ways to Play and allowing up to three children aged 11 and under to travel for free on the Metro and the Shields Ferry with a fare-paying adult.

Find out more about that here.

The Ways to Play programme, initially inspired by concerns about the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns on children, focuses upon developing life skills while helping to keep young ones mentally and physically healthy and activities will encourage children to invent, imagine, discover, make, design, pretend, draw, decode, create, look and build. Find out about the free progamme here.

Clare Smith, TWAM learning and engagement manager, said: “Ways to Play is all about giving children and their families the freedom to play and have fun in our venues, which they have been denied for such a long time due to the pandemic.”

Since the lifting of restrictions, this summer has been looking a lot different to last year’s, with reopened venues in celebratory mood and intent upon grabbing the chance to remind people of what they have to offer.

Museums, galleries and visitor attractions in and around Newcastle have drawn up a programme of events and activities to occupy families during this year’s staycations and this Bank Holiday is no exception.

Here we offer up a range of venues and locations to enjoy, including outdoor ones – fingers crossed for some sunshine – as well as ideas for indoor treats so that if the worst does happen with the weather then rain need not stop play.

And the best bit is they won’t cost you a penny.

Here’s our updated guide – now with 56 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 generations of families with a scenic day out in the heart of Newcastle. Enjoy walking or biking through the extensive tarmac paths, visit Pets Corner to see the farm animals then why not enjoy a picnic on the grass near the ruined mill. There are plenty of access points for those reaching it 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.

Family fun at Discovery Museum, Newcastle

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.

The main event is always Charles Parsons’ Turbinia, the first vessel to be powered by steam turbine.

Every Wednesday over the holidays there will be free drop-in events on the outside plaza.

The museum, which is within walking distance of the city centre, is determined to make up for lost time with a summer programme of events guaranteed to attract those who may not have visited since lockdown. (Paid-for events are also on offer. The museum also has a the RAF’s Red Arrows flight simulator).

See here.

Summer in the City, Wesley Square, Newcastle Quayside, NE1 3RN

This urban park pop-up of the quayside near Newcastle Crown court is one of several areas of the city centre transformed by business improvement district company NE1 as part of its Summer in the City programme.

A range of seating, colourful planters and greenery adds a blast of summer colour and NE1 reports that tens of thousands of people have been enjoying the attractions.

The freebies include seesaws, artwork and games and guaranteed to catch the eye is a commissioned 75-metre-long Instagrammable vinyl artwork of vibrant shapes and patterns created on the pavement by internationally-renowned artist Tim Gresham, known as the artist Mr Penfold.

A day outing for visitors could also include a wander around the city centre to spot its other changes.

This weekend sees the last of NE1’s popular Blackett Street August takeovers – reclaiming the bus route with fake grass to host Sunday activities – and the last has a longer run.

From Saturday, August 28 to Bank Holiday, August 30, families can enjoy sitting out in deckchairs, craft activities, performers and music.

For NE1’s full programme – which has included free tours of the likes of Grey’s Monument, Swing Bridge and the Millennium Bridge and Yoga Therapies sessions in Wesley Square on Saturday mornings, which are free but need to be booked, see here.

Taking in the sun at the NE1 park on Newcastle Quayside
Taking in the sun at the NE1 park on Newcastle Quayside
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Screen on the Green, Old Eldon Square, Newcastle, NE1 7UG

Why not pack a picnic and, if you’re quick, bag a few of the deckchairs set up in Old Eldon Square to enjoy a free film screening.

Also part of NE1’s Summer in the City programme, this pop-up outdoor cinema offers visitors will be in a prime spot to take in other summer pop-ups too from fun activities to arty showpieces.

The six-week, two-a-day Screen on the Green film programme includes family-focused choices at 12noon then a real mix of styles and genres to follow each evening at 6pm.

The Bank Holiday weekend showings are Maleficent at noon and Wonder Woman (12a) at 3pm on Saturday then follow-ups Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil at noon and Wonder Woman 1984 (12a) at 3pm on Sunday and then Toy Story 4 at noon and Moulin Rouge (12a) at 6pm on Monday.

Find out more here.

Play Rebellion – an art exhibition also will run on the left of Screen on the Green until September, in collaboration with Baltic in Gateshead. Artist Pippa Hale has been commissioned to create a new set of the PlayShapes she exhibited at the gallery and these 16 1m cubes – which break down into steps, triangles, polygons, rectangular prisms and cylinders – no doubt will keep kids occupied in creating imaginative sculptures.

Ouseburn Farm, Ouseburn Road, Newcastle, NE1 2PA

Ouseburn Farm is free but donations are welcome to help with the running costs
Ouseburn Farm is free but donations are welcome to help with the running costs

Children love animals, and here they will have a chance to meet various creatures, including Susie the Psychic Pig who was a star with her match predictions during the Euros.

The farm near Byker has lambs, goats, several varieties of chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs. It’s free entry but donations are welcome. See here.

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Chroniclelive enjoyed a visit to the farm in the run-up to the Bank Holiday weekend – read more about that 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 urban hub. 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 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.

There is only disabled parking available on site but it is easily accessed via public transport or by parking in Claremont Road.

Bessie Surtees House, 41-44 Sandhill, Newcastle, NE1 3JF

Note – one to look out for the future but currently closed is this often-overlooked gem in the heart of Newcastle, which transports visitors to a previous incarnation of the city.

Bessie Surtees House consists of two five-storey 16th and 17th century merchants’ houses, with Jacobean period interiors and is also the scene of the famous elopement of Bessie with John Scott, a man her father disapproved of but who later came good as the Lord Chancellor of England. Walk down The Side to get to it, or approach from the Quayside. See here.

In and around Gateshead

Angel of the North, Durham Road, Low Eighton, Gateshead, NE9 7TY

The dominating symbol of the North East, the Gateshead Angel is the welcoming sight beloved by those who travel the A1 regularly.

Visitors can get up close and personal too of course and there’s on-site parking to make use of while families pose for that all-important picture of themselves under its outspread wings.

Antony Gormley’s sculpture attracts 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.

The Angel of the North
The Angel of the North

Metrocentre, Gateshead, NE11 9YG

Playing host to regular family events, the Metrocentre in Gateshead isn’t just about spending money. The MetroGnomes perform free shows during the holidays and, as well as the children’s play area, there are also regular family events. It’s served by regular buses from Newcastle as well as ample on-site parking. See here.

This Bank Holiday there’s a chance to take part in a competition, as pasrt of the centre’s new photo mosaic wall – compiled of thousands of customer photographs – at the entrance to the red mall.

It is asking its social media followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to submit feelgood photos, that bring to mind happy memories, using the hashtag #MyMetrocentre and those who submit a photo will also go into a draw for the chance to win a £100 Metrocentre gift card.

Submissions must include: ‘I have full consent to use this photo as part of the #MyMetrocentre competition’ and the competition ends on August 31.

Saltwell Park, East Park Road, Gateshead, NE9 5AX

With 55 acres of parkland, woods and ornamental gardens, the Victorian park also boasts sports facilities, playing areas and bird houses, 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; 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.

Family Days Out

Shipley Art Gallery, Prince Consort Road, Gateshead, NE8 4JB

The gallery’s collection of 800 paintings, art and crafts was 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 enable visitors to walk and cycle through this fascinating woodland. No two parts of this varied woodland are the same and visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the River Derwent and North Pennines. Horse riders are also welcome.

Stephenson Railway Museum
Stephenson Railway Museum

In and around North Tyneside

Stephenson Steam Railway, Middle Engine Lane, North Shields, NE29 8DX

Steam train rides and lots of locomotives have to be every young boy’s dream and there’s plenty of that action on offer here. The venue – formerly called Stephenson Railway Museum is also home to George Stephenson’s ‘Billy’: a forerunner of the world- famous Rocket. Its popular Heritage Train Rides, which do incur a small charge are running this Sunday, August 29 and Monday, August 30. See here.

Tynemouth Market, Tynemouth Station, Station Terrace, North Tyneside, NE30 4RE

Tynemouth Market takes place every weekend – 9am-3.30pm – 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.

Families can 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 recently-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.

A family walking on path in a forest holding hands smiling
There are some beautiful areas of the North East to enjoy a walk
(Image: Getty Images/Monkey Business)

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 can be lucky enough to spot its 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

South Shields Museum
South Shields Museum

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 as well as personal memorabilia which belonged to late author 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, this is an ideal location for a family 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. Why not 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, the fort has a mixture of excavated remains and reconstructed buildings to give visitors a feel of what life for Centurions must have been like and child-friendly display boards add further to the story. This 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 was once home to the Venerable Bede, chronicler of the beginnings of English Christianity, and has become one of the best-understood Anglo-Saxon monastic sites. The church ruins, including the oldest dedication stone in the country, dated AD 685, is incorporated into the current church.

Penshaw Monument
Penshaw Monument

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 is visible for miles around. It has impressive views for those who 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 over the last few decades have even travelled from other countries to see what they can find on the beach – and we have it right on our doorstep. The biggest pieces of glass 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.

This weekend – Saturday and Sunday – it also has a Studio Glass Sale, offering a handmade piece of studio glass “at a bargain price” due to being one-offs or slight seconds. The centre will open 10am-5pm on both days.

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. The venue 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 this 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 another 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 any news of opening dates keep an eye out here.

Kielder Water and Forest Park Northumberland
Kielder Water and Forest Park Northumberland

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 beautiful 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 hosts events too and wildlife lovers will also enjoy the deep forests. Those wanting to stay over there’s also free wild camping but you 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 the scene is from one of the dominating crags such as Cuddy’s Crags or Crag Lough. The children no doubt will 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

Fancy finding out how many free castles you can fit into one day? You’ll have to drive but the area’s castles are spectacular sights and picturesque picnic-perfect settings which bely 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 and Norham Castle to the far north of the county, boasts extensive ruins of a 12th century castle which was besieged 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 extraordinary five metres thick. Built in 850, it is a Grade l-listed property.

There are plenty opportunities for free family fun in and around Newcastle
There are plenty opportunities for free family fun in and around Newcastle
(Image: Shared Content Unit)

Northumberlandia, Fisher Lane, Cramlington, Northumberland, NE23 8AU

Rising from the ground in South East Northumberland, the huge female figure of Northumberlandia dominates the landscape.

With free public access, the creation – completed in 2012 – lies in 46 acres of parkland which is 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 visit such as the museum of the Coldstream Guards and although there’s a fee to enter Lindisfarne Priory it’s still worth seeing from the outside. Those wanting to avoid parking charges could make use of the buses which run on certain days between Berwick and Holy Island.

See here. Visitors also will be 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 visitors through the picturesque village of Craster along the impressive Northumberland coast and past Dunstanburgh Castle. Another ideal spot for a picnic is 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 entering the Hermitage itself comes with a charge, the surrounding countryside is some of the most attractive in the North East so offers an ideal location for a getaway. Families could enjoy a picnic then head down to pretty Warkworth village itself, or walk the four miles to Alnmouth for a 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. Passing Stephenson’s Cottage – the now-picturesque birthplace of railway engineer George Stephenson – takes walkers on to explore the industrial heritage remains and possible wildlife-watching.

Woodhorn Museum and Archive, QEII Country Park, Ashington, Northumberland, NE63 9YF

This former colliery site always has something of interest going on. Its changing exhibitions have previously included a history of video games and costumes from major films. The permanent displays commemorate South East Northumberland’s coal mining heritage; the communities and workers, and the famous Pitmen Painters. Although there is a parking charge for the day, the site can be reached from Ashington Bus Station in about 15 minutes. See here.

Those aged 16 and under can access all Museums Northumberland venues for free. Adult annual pass details are here.

This Sunday, August 29 Woodhorn also will be hosting a Classic and Vintage Car Rally from 11am-4pm. Run by NECPWA (North of England Classic and Pre War Automobiles), this event is at no extra cost as part of the Woodhorn Museum or Museums Northumberland annual pass where children go free. See here.

Chain Bridge Honey Farm, Horncliffe, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, TD15 2XT

This farm boasts an incredible 2,000 beehives within a 40-mile radius. The visitor centre (usually open from Easter) is free to visit and has information 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 beehive where people can watch the comings and goings of those wonderful insects. There is also a collection of vintage vehicles to add extra interest to a trip. See here.

Families enjoying the warm weather at Bamburgh beach Northumberland
Bamburgh beach Northumberland
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

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 families can sometimes find a whole beach to themselves. 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 why not head for Bamburgh beach under the imposing walls of Bamburgh Castle.

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Berwick Castle and Town defences, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, TD15 1DF

Far 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 are complemented by the most complete and impressive town defences in England dating from Elizabethan times and added to in the 17th and 18th centuries. Visitors can walk all the way around the defences – check out the Discovering Britain website for a guided walking plan and description. Bear it in mind too for future visits as the town hosts events, such as a September food festival which includes lots of free activities. See here.

Druridge Country Park, A1068, Red Row, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE61 5BX

This is a living landscape, rich in wildlife and including 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 needed to enjoy a day at the coast with its cafe, toilets and children’s play area. The park is centred around a lake with surrounding meadows and restored woodland on the site of an old opencast coal mine which is now maturing into a very pleasant landscape for walks and picnics. See here

Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral

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 1SQ

With a relatively flat path most of the way around the Durham peninsular, as well as attractive streets past the castle and cathedral, these walks take you along the river and past some calming green spaces. Durham peninsular walks, which can be downloaded from the internet, can 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.

Those looking to make a day out of it can combine a visit with one to Derwentcote Steel Furnace, about 11 miles away. This is the most complete steel-making furnace in Britain, built in the early 1700s. it’s located between Hamsterley and Rowlands Gill and those going directly there can either take the Go North East 45 or 46 bus from Newcastle, or else 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 pre-lockdown ambitious works programme. Work is ongoing but there’s lots to see, including an art exhibition for those willing to pay for entry.

But besides the feast of treasure inside there’s the Auckland Castle Deer House, a gothic revival building dating from 1760, which can be explored for free.

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, why not also visit Piercebridge Roman Bridge – stone remains in a field nine miles away – which was once a bridge leading 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.

Visitors enjoy Georgian entertainment at the re-opening of Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland. Photograph: House of Hues, courtesy of The Auckland Project
Visitors enjoy Georgian entertainment at the re-opening of Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland. Photograph: House of Hues, courtesy of The Auckland Project
(Image: The Auckland Project)

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 the sounds of the rainforest can be heart. There are usually regular events throughout the summer and beyond, such as bushcraft survival days, painting events, lathe workshops and fungi foraging. Although parking is £3, a free way to get to Hamsterley is by taking a bike via public transport to the W2W cycle trail, which passes through the forest.

For a County Durham day out, why not combine also visit nearby Escomb Church. One of the most complete Saxon Churches in Europe, this is a real treat for any history buffs in the family. Built around 675AD with stone probably from the Roman Fort at Binchester, it was in existence 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, County Durham, DL4 2RE

South of Durham, not far from Bishop Auckland, is Locomotion, the National Railway Museum – and the fabulous Flying Scotsman was on display outside here until August 17.

For information about the world’s most famous train and associated activities see here.

Young children and parents also set to love the 70-odd railway vehicles on display, while there are also regular family events and activities which previously have included the opportunity to build a miniature vehicle and race it. There are buses from Durham, and it’s a three-minute walk from Shildon Station. Donations here are always welcome. See here.

Nature and heritage trail, Shincliffe, County Durham, DH1 2NU

Just outside Durham itself is this 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 volunteer at work
A volunteer at work at Rainton Meadows
(Image: Handout)

Rainton Meadows, County Durham, DH4 6PU

Join the dragonflies among the quiet paths of this 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 for those travelling by bicycle. See here.

Hardwick Park, Sedgefield, Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, TS21 2DN

This area may be a newly-discovered treasure for those living further afield. 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. To reach it, 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. Visitors can enter through a former arrow slit and climb the stairs, seeing rooms built into the thickness of the wall. Visitors could park in Bowes village or take the Central 72 bus from Barnard Castle.

Why not 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

This might be a bit of a drive from most of the North East’s towns and cities but it’s well worth the journey. The 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 can head to the beautiful, rugged landscape of Teesdale to see the nationally-rare flowers that thrive in the area, like the rare arctic-alpine flora although visitors will have to wait until spring to see the famous Gentians. There are several car parks to try for different walks, such as Cow Green Reservoir and Hanging Shaws.

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Chronicle Live – Sunderland