Our Pick of the Best Days Out Across the North East
Make the most of the great outdoors
Under some of the darkest skies in the world, Kielder Observatory opened in 2008 with the aim of hosting a few dozen events a year. Now, with more than 700 events annually, booking is essential. The Sir Pat observatory (named after the observational astronomer and BBC Sky at Night presenter Sir Patrick Moore) is the larger of the two observing turrets. The smaller doesn’t yet have an official name, but goes by the nickname The 16 because it houses a 16 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain style telescope. The observing deck is the place for stunning views of the Milky Way and countless stars and the observatory’s latest addition, The Gillian Dickinson Astro-Imaging Academy, has two set-ups specifically used for astrophotography. This summer, don’t miss their special events including Introduction to Astronomy, The Secret Lives of Stars and Space Kids (perfect for little astronomers).
Black Fell, Off Shilling Pot, Kielder NE48 1EJ
0191 265 5510
For an outdoor adventure like no other, take the plunge at Tees Barrage White Water Centre. They offer everything from white water rafting to stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing and kayaking, and for those who would rather keep dry, there is also Air Trail, a climbing adventure course with swinging bridges, balance beams and cargo nets suitable for all ages. If you’re not feeling adventurous, Tees Barrage is also surrounded by great walks and there’s a nearby nature reserve too.
Tees Barrage Way, Stockton-on-Tees TS18 2QW
The Forbidden Corner
The Forbidden Corner is a weird and wonderful place, with a labyrinth of underground tunnels and chambers, strange statues, surprising follies and plenty of dead ends just to confuse you. At every turn there are decisions to make and tricks to avoid. Originally designed as a private garden and folly (but opened to the public due to popular demand), this is a day out with a difference which will keep everyone entertained. One of the newest additions to The Forbidden Corner is the castle tower, with a beautiful stained-glass window which was originally housed in the Carlton Church. When you want to take a break, check out The Corner Café or The Saddle Room Restaurant next door.
Tupgill Park Estate, Middleham, Leyburn DL8 4TJ
The Alnwick Garden
Whether you marvel at the magnificent Grand Cascade, stroll through the Rose Garden, wonder at the Poison Garden or get lost in the Bamboo Labyrinth, there’s so much to do at The Alnwick Garden. There’s also always a number of special activities going on such as shows in the brand new outdoor theatre space and tours around the garden. While you’re there you have to visit Lilidorei – the newly-opened magical, mysterious village full of play and imagination. As well as exploring the Clan Houses, joining in with activities and taking part in storytelling, here you’re able to venture onto the world’s largest play structure and test your bravery.
Denwick Lane NE66 1FJ
The National Centre for Children’s Books houses exciting exhibitions, comfy spaces for reading and is an all-round celebration of literature for little ones. With a huge collection of children’s books, exhibition spaces and events it’s easy for children to spend a full day here without even feeling the hours pass – plus on the third floor is an independent book shop and café to keep you fuelled all day long too. For summer, Seven Stories have also just revealed they’ll be doing Late Stories, in which they’ll stay open until late with a super programme of events. Ranging from creative writing to a bookbinding workshop, as well as a quiz night or bottomless afternoon tea, these after hours events are perfect for parents and teens.
30 Lime Street, Newcastle NE1 2PQ
0300 330 1095
This huge land sculpture in the shape of a reclining female is set in a 46-acre community park. Made of 1.5 million tonnes of rock, clay and soil, she’s 100 feet high, a quarter of a mile long, and is a living part of the countryside – maturing over time and changing with the seasons. There’s a visitor centre and café and a schedule of guided walks and family events here too.
Near Cramlington, just off the A1
High Force Waterfall
The majestic 70-foot drop makes High Force the highest uninterrupted drop of water in England – as you approach the site from the woodland trail, the muffled roar will get slowly louder until you emerge in front of the breathtaking falls. With space to sit and soak up the sight and sound of this natural wonder, it’s a great way to learn all about the area’s geology. A new exploratory trail of intricately carved woodland sculptures – everything from a moon-gazing hare and an observant owl to a beautiful fox and a giant caterpillar – has been introduced as part of the circular waterfall route for families to discover.
Forest-in-Teesdale, Barnard Castle DL12 0XH
Life Science Centre
A science village in the heart of the city, Life Science Centre is not only an award-winning attraction but also engages, educates and inspires visitors. Marvel at scientific wonders, with interactive exhibitions and games which will see you conducting experiments, gazing up at the planetarium’s starry sky, having fun in the Play Zone, and more. While you’re there make sure not to miss Gaia – a seven-metre-diameter recreation of the Earth. Created by UK artist Luke Jerram, the installation uses detailed NASA imagery of the Earth’s surface.
Times Square, Newcastle NE1 4EP
0191 243 8210
The ultimate theme park experience where children and adults alike can ride, drive and operate real diggers, dumpers and other full-size construction machinery. Get to grips with real JCBs and Komatsu excavators, take a head-reeling turn or two on Spindizzy, or rise to lofty heights and enjoy the views from 50 feet up on the Diggerland Skyshuttle. With your feet firmly back on the ground, enjoy an off-road ride on the Groundshuttle or have a go on the Dodgems and Go-Karts. Diggerland caters to young’uns too, with the Little Tikes Wheelz Play Zone where they can safely let off steam while you kick back with a coffee.
Langley Park, Durham DH7 9TT
One of England’s finest medieval castles, Raby has many stories to tell. Built by John Nevill, 3rd Baron Nevill de Raby, this castle has a fascinating history. Originally built as a palace fortress, it was home to Cecily Nevill, mother of two kings of England, played a prominent part in the Rising of the North and was a Parliamentary stronghold during the Civil War. Inside is a mix of medieval, Regency and Victorian interiors. Outside you can stroll in 200 acres of deer park and gardens, where you’ll meet herds of resident red and fallow deer. Children will love The Plotters’ Forest – an immersive outdoor playground with sky-high turrets and treetop tunnels located in a magical Christmas Tree Plantation. There’s a dedicated toddler area too. Tours, events and exhibitions take place at Raby throughout the year with this summer’s highlights including Adventure Cinema showings, open-air theatre performances, stargazing suppers and classic car shows. Staindrop DL2 3AH
The Valley Climbing Centre
Located in a large warehouse on Byker Bank in Ouseburn, The Valley is a dedicated indoor climbing centre for climbing across all grades. With bouldering, a competition wall, slab wall and ‘wave cave’, plus a range of coaching sessions for climbers of all ages and abilities, even kids can get involved in climbing by visiting The Valley’s sister venue at The Pool in Byker. Aimed at younger climbers, here they run Rock Stars sessions for children aged three to 13 years and Academy sessions for those between seven and 17.
Quality Row, Newcastle NE6 1LN
0191 265 5775
Washington Wetland Centre
Colourful Chilean flamingos, an adorable Asian short-clawed otter family, unmistakable red-breasted geese and quirky Eurasian cranes are just a few of the amazing creatures you can meet here. Stretching across 103 acres, there’s plenty to see and do – play in the adventure playground, go on a bug hunt, pump water in the recycled Water Lab, try your hand at pond dipping or take a tour of the ‘duckery’.
Pattinson, Washington NE38 8LE
0191 416 5454
Go Ape, Matfen
Push yourself to your limits at the Go Ape Tree Top Challenge. Climb 30 feet into the tree tops where swings, rope ladders, zip wires and a range of obstacles will have your heart racing – not to mention a replica Tyne Bridge and a few other local landmarks which await you between the branches. Once you’ve challenged yourself in the treetops and have your feet firmly back on the ground, why not channel your inner warrior with an hour of stress-busting axe throwing?
Matfen NE20 0RH
The Escape Key
This family-friendly real-life adventure has taken the UK by storm over the last few years and with many different puzzles and room adventures to explore, an escape room is the perfect day out whatever the weather. The Escape Key in central Newcastle offers six escape experiences (two outdoor escape games and four indoor escape rooms) with themes ranging from The Plague to Armageddon. You won’t find a series of repetitive ‘find the combination and open the box’ style puzzles here, but instead action-packed escape rooms with innovative puzzles that will thrill everyone, from first time challengers to veteran escapees!
60–62 St. Andrew’s Street, Newcastle NE1 5SF
0191 468 2068
Flight Sim Centre
The Flight Sim Centre in Brunswick is the first virtual reality centre of its kind in the North East. Find out what it’s like to be the captain of a classic WWII spitfire, try the ‘Top Gun’ experience in a full-size fighter jet cockpit, or immerse yourself in the three virtual reality games available, battling zombies with a VR gun or racing around a Formula One track.
Unit 5, Waterford Business Centre, Brunswick NE13 7GB
Farne Islands Boat Trip
Midway between the fishing village of Seahouses and the magnificent Bamburgh Castle, the rocky Farne Islands (there are 28) are now the most famous sea bird sanctuary in the British Isles. Divided into the Inner and Outer Farnes, they are home to a huge colony of adorable grey seals, and if you keep your eyes peeled, you might even catch sight of a dolphin or porpoise as you take one of the many boat trips from nearby Seahouses (weather permitting). Head out for the two-hour Billy Shiel’s Sunset Trip (you can take dogs on the boat) which takes you round the islands and then back along the shoreline to enjoy the scenic sunset over the iconic Bamburgh Castle.