1. Penshaw Monument
In the popular imagination it’s the site of the ‘aaful’ Lambton Worm’s demise at the hands of brave, bold Sir John Lambton after it had terrorised the cows, sheep and children of Wearside. It’s an imposing sight in itself, but it was designed to look its best from a distance, lowering over the fields below – really, it’s the staggering views across Weardale which are your reward at the summit that are the big draw here. In the summer, you can go up a spiral staircase onto the roof, and nearby Penshaw Wood is great for a ramble with the family whatever the season.
2. Whitley Bay
There’s loads here for both parents and kids. After a day spent launching yourself around on the beach – sandcastles, bodyboarding, 99 flakes, the whole shebang – discover why Whitley Bay’s now the hub of a gastronomic renaissance at the coast. There’s Hinnies, run by the team behind Blackfriars in Newcastle, which does finely-wrought gourmet takes on Geordie classics like slow-roasted belly pork with pease pudding, cabbage and onions as well as pretty stonking fish; there’s The Roxburgh, run by Gary Dall who formerly plied his trade as a tour chef for some of the world’s biggest acts and who now turns out high-grade nose-to-tail cooking; and Papa Ganoush, they of the transcendent shawarmas and other Middle Eastern bits (we tried their halloumi fries recently, and we’ve not really been the same since) are setting up shop there soon too.
3. Millennium Bridge
This bridge has become as recognisable a symbol of Newcastle and Gateshead as the Monument or St James’ Park, and it’s a great focal point which brings both sides of the river together. After seeing it do its thing (you can check the bridge’s daily tilt times on Gateshead Council’s website), introduce the kids to some culture at BALTIC, then pop up the hill for burgers and a quick half at the Central pub. Then, cross back over the Tyne to Newcastle for the quayside food market on a Sunday, or wander downriver to Ouseburn and explore the Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books. Some of the city’s best pubs, like The Free Trade Inn, are down there too.
4. Tynemouth Priory and Castle
There’s a whole lot of history to digest here on the dramatic headland, so grab some food and chew it over. We recommend Lola Jeans for burgers and cocktails, Longsands Fish Kitchen for, well, great fish, and Marshall’s chippy will always have a place in generations of Tynesiders’ hearts as long as they keep working whatever voodoo they do do on those fillets of cod, haddock and lemon sole. Best of all is Riley’s Fish Shack, right down on the beach in the shadow of the Priory at St Edward’s Bay, which grills its fish over charcoals. If you consider fish to be friends rather than food, Blue Reef Aquarium is stuffed to the gills (if you’ll pardon the expression) with exotic examples which will keep everyone entertained. They’ve even got monkeys. Monkeys! Everyone likes monkeys.
5. Grey’s Monument
Grey’s Monument towers 40m above the streets of Newcastle (well, for most of its life it’s towered 40m above the streets of Newcastle; for a short time it towered 39m above the streets of Newcastle, when it got struck by lightning and the Earl’s head fell off) and it’s also open for tours one day a month through the summer, should you be itching to climb the 164 stairs to the top and get a sense of the sweep and groove of the city’s streets. Head back down and indulge in a little retail therapy or introduce the kids to what proper Sardinian food tastes like at Pani’s Café. It’ll blow their minds. The Discovery Museum is about 10 minutes’ walk away, and manages to achieve the improbable in making both science and history genuinely fun, too.
Best of all, you needn’t take the car with you and faff about with finding parking spaces and sitting in grinding jams when all you want to be doing is doing, you know, all the fun stuff: Day Rover tickets are £7 for adults and £3.90 for children between five and 15, and, critically, they’re flexible. Use them on the bus, Metro, train or ferry – no matter which operator is running the service, the Day Rover will take you pretty much anywhere you need to get to in the region with a minimum of fuss and expense.
Living North Promotion. For more information about travelling around the North East visit www.tyneandweardayrover.co.uk