A huge thanks to Sarah Sharp from www.familiesrecommend.co.uk for this comprehensive and rather fabulous guest post!
Here, at familiesrecommend.co.uk we receive lots of reviews and recommendations from parents about great things to do with your family. The largest number by far are the ones where it is free, cheap or simply great value for money.
I live in Tyne and Wear (which for the uninitiated is a former County area which encompasses the Cities of Newcastle upon Tyne and Sunderland and the major towns of South Shields, North Shields, Gateshead, Whitley Bay). We are lucky as having two major cities and a number of big towns, a beautiful award winning coastline as well lovely countryside to explore – there really is lots to do for families.
However, even though I have lived in Tyne and Wear all of my childhood and most of my adult life, it wasn’t until I had a child of my own that I realised there was so much great free or low cost things to do – and right on my doorstep. Perhaps the lack of cash focused the mind – but there is something for everyone here in Tyne and Wear.
I have tried to list some of my personal favourites along with favourites of the users of familiesrecommend.co.uk. Not all are free, but most are cheap. In Tyne and Wear you can purchase a Discover Pass for £2 (www.discoverpass.co.uk) and get lots of discounts at attractions. Most of the things I’ve listed where there is a charge, can be made cheaper through using a Discover Pass, so it is definitely worth investing in one if you think you can save more than £2. The pass lasts until March 2011- so you have lots of time to use it.
You can get your Discover Pass from Tourist Information Centres across Tyne and Wear and it can also be purchased online.
The Great Outdoors
For me personally, any chance I can get to get my little one outside and into the fresh air the better. In Tyne and Wear, we are lucky to have so many options to do this.
St. Mary’s Lighthouse, Whitley Bay One of our particular family favourites is St. Mary’s Lighthouse at Whitley Bay. My two year old son loves throwing stone and shells into the rock pools – he could spend hours just doing this. Older children will probably like to go across the causeway and visit the lighthouse itself (although there is charge to go up to the top – it’s not expensive (£2.30 adult, £1.20 child – with a Discover pass children go free with a full paying adult). Just make sure you check the tide times before you cross as the tide does come in very quickly!
Tynemouth Longsands Beach
We have a beautiful coastline with fantastic golden sandy blue flag beaches. One of my favourites is Tynemouth Longsands as it is such a big beach and close to amenities in Tynemouth / Cullercoats, as well as being well served by the Metro. We always headed here when I was a child and the delights of building sandcastles and paddling in the sea, still holds true today.
If the seaside or the beach really isn’t your thing, then we have lots of great parks to offer families.
Jesmond Dene Park, Newcastle
I really like Jesmond Dene in Newcastle because it is a large beautifully maintained park that offers something different whatever the season. There are lots of trails and paths to take the kids for a walk, pick conkers and leaves in the autumn and just admire the blossom and flowers in the spring. There are also lots of places to picnic. The real gem of this place is Pets Corner, a little place where children and get up close to farm animals (goats, sheep and pigs) as well as view rabbits, peacocks and hens. There are also aviaries where they can see parrots and other lovely birds. My little one really enjoys visiting here to see the farm animals. I also like Saltwell Park in Gateshead as this has a children’s play area as well as a boating lake (it costs to hire the boats) but the park itself is free.
Bill Quay Farm, Gateshead
If animals are your thing, then a visit to, Bill Quay Farm in Gateshead is a must. Personally I haven’t yet visited, but a number of people have suggested this as a favourite on our website and Facebook page, so it must be good. It has rare breeds of farm animals too and the best thing about it is it is free.
Washington Wetlands, Washington
A trip to Washington Wetlands is a must. Not free, but a really great day out. I loved visiting here when I was a child, because you can buy bags of grain and feed the various bird life as you wander around. Places to picnic around the site and there is a gift shop too.
Being realistic, it’s unlikely that everyday this summer is going to be dry, so having options to entertain the kids indoors is a good idea. There are a few places that have recently been reviewed on the families recommend website which have been rated very highly not only because they are free but also because they have lots of things to do and see whatever the age of your children.
The first one, the Discovery Museum, in Newcastle is always a crowd pleaser in our family and for one main reason – the Play Tyne room. It’s a room with a water feature in the shape of the river Tyne with bridges, boats and lots of water. Only children under the age of 7 can use this room and it is very popular. My son loves this so much, we have to take spare clothes with us every time we visit as he always gets so wet (even though they supply plastic aprons) and never wants to leave! Sometimes we just visit the Discovery Museum and only go to Play Tyne! The rest of the museum is just a good, lots of hands on stuff for kids – and when we recently took some friends and their children from out of town the displays with mirrors, shadows and electricity proved something of a hit with the 9 and 7 year olds! There’s lots of fun to be had here with a little bit of education added in for good measure.
Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle
In addition, the Great North Museum: Hancock also in Newcastle, only recently reopened a year ago after a multi million refurbishment. A review on the site and recent comments on our facebook page suggest that it is a favourite for many families and there are lots of interactive displays on natural history and animals that will entertain children whatever their age. I took my son there last year, but as it was half term and the museum had only recently reopened, it was very busy and so we probably didn’t get around as much as we would have liked. But it is definitely one I’ll be heading to this Summer.
Blue Reef Aquarium, Tynemouth
If your children like Finding Nemo or like sealife in general then a visit to the Blue Reef Aquarium, Tynemouth is an option. I recently took my son and we only spent about an hour inside having gone around all the displays. However, there are lots to see including lots of fish, seals, seahorses, lobsters, crabs, turtles and even monkeys! It’s not cheap and perhaps shouldn’t be included here, but is an option for a rainy afternoon. £7.95 adult £5.95 child (3-14). You do get a BOGOF with the Discover pass here.
Seven Stories: Centre for Children’s Books, Newcastle
This is a centre for Children’s books and helps bring the art of story telling to life. We’ve had several reviews on our site and is a favourite of mine, due to the family friendly design of the building (pram park, children’s toilets, good baby change, lockers). It’s a good half-day entertainment with lots of areas for you and the kids to sit and relax and read a book or for the little ones to dress up like the characters in a favourite story. My little one really like playing with the giant sized tiger and pretending to drink tea from the story when the Tiger Came to Tea! It’s not cheap £5.50 adult, £4.50 child, £16.00 family but children go free with a Discover Pass. I would also recommend the café there too.
Plus some dates for your diaries…. There are a number of festivals and events happening in Tyne and Wear this summer. They include: Whitley Bay Jazz Festival (9/10 July), Mouth of the Tyne Festival Tynemouth / South Shields (10/11 July), Sunderland International AirShow (24/25 July), Gateshead International Flower Show (31 July/01 August).
These are just a few of the great things you can do when living or visiting Tyne and Wear this Summer. All of the things I’ve noted above have been reviewed on the familiesrecommend website, so if you want to read about real family experiences then visit us at www.familiesrecommend.co.uk.
We’ve got lots of family reviews on our website for things to do across the whole of the UK, so if you need a little inspiration, pop by and take a look. If you have a personal favourite then please share it with others by posting your own review.
Sarah Sharp is the co-owner of www.familiesrecommend.co.uk, an online review and information site for discerning families. She is married to Lee and is mum to Thomas, who is almost three years old. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.