Beamish open-air museum review

Our rating 
4.2 out of 5 star rating 4.2
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In a nutshell

A unique attraction, taking you back in time to the 1820s, 1900s and 1940s Britain. Educational and historic, a lovely experience for the whole family
Fun for kids
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Fun for parents
4.5 out of 5 rating 4.5
Worth the money
4.5 out of 5 rating 4.5
Facilities
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Family friendliness
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Pros: Original, historic, educational, entertaining, authentic
Cons: Buses and trams too busy; too much distance to cover, some eras are missing

When we visited:

On a hot day in August 2018

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What age and family is Beamish best for? 

Best for: those aged 7 plus, all the way to 100!

Still good fun for: ages 4-7

Avoid if: you find it hard to get around on foot. The trams and buses are busy during peak periods and have limited space for wheelchairs and buggies

How much does it cost in 2018?

A ticket for entry to Beamish is:

  • £19 for an adult
  • £11 for a child (aged 5 to 16)
  • £49.50 for a family ticket
  • Free for under 4s

All of these tickets allow you unlimited access for one whole year, so if you do fall in love with it and you want to visit again and again, it’s cheap.

Though do note that the unlimited tickets are not available for any special evening events; only daytime events.

How long will we spend at Beamish?

There is so much to see and so much mileage to cover on the site, you will need at least one full day just to skim through everything.

If you like to absorb information and see things in detail, a 2-day visit is highly recommended.

What’s it like for families?

Beamish is an open-air museum that takes visitors back to the 1820s, 1900s and 1940s Britain.

It is focused on the North East in particular (coal mining communities and steam trains) but of course you can imagine that the rest of Britain was very similar during those periods.

I visited with my three children – Tara, 4; Mili 7 and Arjun 11. I was concerned that Tara would find it boring but she didn’t.

There is so much to see and do – we didn’t have a moment of boredom, it was such an action-packed day.

There is a lot of ground to cover – because I had Tara in a pushchair most of the day, we ended up walking most of the day.

The trams and buses are not that frequent and get so busy. There is limited space for buggies and wheelchairs, so good walking shoes are a must.

Wellies would be a good idea in the wet months, a raincoat is also essential.

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What to bring:

Sun cream, sunhats and shades are essential for a sunny day as you spend most of the day outdoors. As mentioned, wellies and umbrellas if it’s rainy.

A pushchair is necessary for little kids as they won’t be able to walk the 3-4 miles you will end up doing.

There are plenty of places for refreshments and food, and it is not that expensive, so you don’t necessarily need to bring food unless you want to save the pennies.

What to watch out for:

  • Queues: if you don’t like walking, you can use the trams and buses to get around but you do have to queue for these and they get full fairly quickly during the busy summer period. I can imagine during the rest of the year it may be easy to hop on to them. But they take a limited number of buggies and wheelchairs so bear that in mind.
  • Poor weather: avoid going during wet and cold weather – it is mainly outdoors – everything is spread over a large plot of land so you have to get from one place to another and I can imagine it must be cold, wet and windy during the colder months
  • Extra costs: for the fairground by the railway station, you have to get tokens to go on the rides which I found a little annoying as I wasn’t prepared for the extra expense and found it detracted from the museum. I managed to avoid the rides by taking the kids to the sandpit area instead
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What are the food and drink facilities like at Beamish?

Upon entry you will find a quaint little café where we managed to get some packed lunches for the children and a cheese toastie for myself.

It’s not expensive, the children were able to pick from a selection of fruit/drinks/biscuits for their lunches so we were all happy.

There are lots of other different places to eat, for example:

  • Davy’s chippie (serving fish and chips made in coal-fired ranges using beef dripping and served in specially-printed newspaper)
  • Tea Rooms
  • British Kitchen in a 1940s farm which offers hot and cold snacks and drinks, including special “ration bags” for kids
  • The 1900s town even has a pub where you can pop in for a pint and a pie!

What are the toilets like?

There are plenty of toilets all over the site. Don’t expect plush – all the sinks, taps etc are designed to fit in with the era of the part you happen to be in.

But even with 3 children, I didn’t find it was a problem to get to toilets on time.

How well does it cater for pushchair access/disabled visitors?

For those with little ones under 5, I would definitely recommend a pushchair. Not only can it hold some belongings for you, your little one will need it.

The site is pretty wheelchair and pushchair-friendly. I found it a little difficult when we had to push over the cobbled streets in the Town Centre and I had to park it up when we visited the upstairs of the different houses, the dentist practice etc.

But all in all, Beamish is as accessible as can be without the use of lifts. The accessibility section on the website covers everything, including wheelchair hire, motorised scooters and accessible toilets, in great detail.  

What to do before you go to Beamish:

The website is all you need to do your research. All the areas – are featured on the website, including:

  • 1820s Pockerley
  • 1900s Town
  • 1900s Pit Village
  • 1900s Colliery
  • 1940s Farm
  • Rowley Station
  • Open Stores
  • Beamish Tramway

There is a lot to read about the future of Beamish too – how it is expanding using Lottery funding.

There are also special events throughout the year so read up to see if anything extra is happening when you visit.

When we went, there was a re-enactment of the suffragettes campaigning for the female vote. They were actually out in the town centre before they got ‘arrested’ by policemen and taken away. Very authentic! 

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Opening dates and times:

The museum is open between 10am and 5pm between March and October; other months 10am-4pm.

There are some other days during the months of Jan and Feb it is closed on Mondays and Fridays; please refer to the website.

Worth a long car journey? 

We travelled from London to Durham by train; I did wonder whether it would be worth it but we all loved it.

It was worth the effort because there is no other museum like it in the UK. There is a whole town centre in the style of 1900s Britain complete with the full range of shops, dentist, pub, bank, bakery and more.

You can visit an actual coal mine, see real steam trains, houses, schools and farms from bygone eras.

Even have your family photo taken dressed in 1900s costumes in the studio (extra cost). Many highlights.

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Tips for getting to Beamish:

Once you are in Durham or Newcastle, there are buses that take you to the museum.

However, we found these are few and far between so we ended up trying to get a taxi and endured a 45-minute wait! If you have a car, best to take it. 

Make sure to visit the website which has details on travelling by road, air, rail, bus and cycle, 

MFM verdict:

As a family, we had an amazing time. Beamish is unique, memorable, historic and educational.

I can’t wait to visit again when the 1950s town has been built. It would be amazing if every decade and era was covered on site.

The staff was so helpful and friendly too, a really lovely day out. It’s also such a one-off in that you’re visiting a whole town, across lots of different eras.

Plus it’s a great way to bring history to life for kids, and brilliant that they’ll be adding even more to it in the future.

We also love the fact that you pay once and can visit as many times in a year as you want with that one-off payment, make it very good value, especially if you can get there easily enough by car / not too long a train journey.

Visit the Beamish website

See more reviews of Beamish on TripAdvisor

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Intro to me:

I visited as the only adult with 3 children. Tara, 4; Mili, 7 and Arjun 11 at the end of a hot and busy August!