10 of the best family days out in the North East of England
What are the best family attractions in the North East? MadeforMums has rated a range of fun experiences, from petting farms and castles to museums and amusement parks
The summer holidays are looming – and you’ve yet to figure out how to entice your little treasures away from their tablets. Never fear; with its spectacular coastline and historic hinterland, the North East offers a wide range of amazing days out, with something to suit every family and every budget.
Head to a museum to see a life-size T-Rex; take to the water to see puffins, seals and hopefully more, or visit a 17-acre zoo to spot porcupines, tarantulas and snow leopards. It’s all right here in the North East.
So what are the best attractions for families with young children visiting the North East of England? Our top ten family days out should help different types of families plan a fun travel itinerary.
Looking for more days out inspiration across the UK? Check out MadeForMums' roundups of the best days out in the North West of England, and best family days out in Scotland. If you're heading south, look for the best family-friendly attractions in Cornwall, and best family days out in Devon too.
Best days out in the North East - at a glance
- Best for animal lovers: Hall Hill Farm - Hall Hill Farm tickets and TripAdvisor
- Best for adults and kids: Diggerland Durham - Diggerland Durham tickets and TripAdvisor
- Best for thrill seekers: Ocean Beach Pleasure Park - Ocean Beach Pleasure Park tickets and TripAdvisor
- Best for a free day out: Great North Museum Hancock - Great North Museum: Hancock tickets and TripAdvisor
- Best for stepping back in time: Beamish, The Living Museum of the North - Beamish tickets and TripAdvisor
- Best for TV and bookworms: Alnwick Castle - Alnwick Castle tickets and TripAdvisor
- Best for bird watching: Billy Shiel’s boat trips - Billy Shiel’s cruise tickets and TripAdvisor
- Best for active families: Northumberland Country Zoo - Northumberland Country Zoo tickets and TripAdvisor
- Best for a special treat for older kids: North East Falconry - North East Falconry tickets and TripAdvisor
- Best for rainy days: Alpamare UK - Alpamare tickets and TripAdvisor
1. Hall Hill Farm
— Best for animal lovers
Family ticket from £36 | Great for all ages | All-weather attraction | Free parking onsite | Durham station 11 miles | Pre-booking for special occasions advised
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County Durham’s Hall Hill Farm was crowned Farm Attraction of the Year at the 2022 National Farm Attraction Network Awards. With 75% of reviews rating it as excellent on TripAdvisor, it’s the perfect choice for kids young and old. View alpacas and cattle on a tractor ride, feed pigs, goats, sheep, donkeys and more, or hold rabbits and baby chicks – you can even bottle feed lambs and bet on a sheep race. Want the kids to burn off steam? There’s a 9-hole Wonkey Donkey Crazy Golf course included in your entry, as well as outdoor adventure play or an indoor soft play barn.
MadeForMums Top Testers Club member Catrina, who visited with her children, says, “It’s amazing. We have yearly passes and never get bored of the place. There are so many things to do and if it’s chucking down then the soft play is great for little ones.”
It’s worth noting it’s an extra £1 per person to ride the Barrel Train, and you need to pay for bags of animal food. Be sure to watch for the sign clearly marking Hall Hill Farm’s entry, as the neighbouring farm has the same postcode. Depending on your budget – and how many snacks your kids demand – it could be worth taking along your own food and drinks, as you could easily spend £25 on lunch for 2 adults and 2 kids.
Pros: Plenty to see, helpful staff, inside and outside attractions
Cons: Fees for some extras, café costs can add up
2. Diggerland Durham
— Best for adults and kids
Tickets £25.95 for those over 90cm tall, free if under 90cm | Carers go free | Best for 3+ | Free parking onsite | Durham station 5 miles | Car charging points available
Diggerland Durham is ideal for adults and kids alike – who doesn’t want to drive a digger? Here you can navigate a full-size JCB, scoop up buckets of soil in a giant digger, or race against each other on the Go-Karts. There are also mini Land Rovers to drive, 1-tonne dumpers to steer, a JCB carousel merry-go-round and more. It’s accessible for people with disabilities, with easy parking, free carer entry and tarmac or gravelled pathways for manoeuvrability. They’ve also added a Sensory Room for children with autism. Reviews on TripAdvisor agree it’s a great day out with minimal queuing times, paying particular attention to the staff who “couldn’t be more welcoming and child focused.”
Be aware, however, that even though kids who are taller than 90cm pay the same entry price as an adult, it doesn’t mean they can go on all the rides. For example, if your little one is over 90cm, it costs £25.95 for them to enter, but they still can’t enjoy the Spindizzy (100cm minimum height), Mini Tractors (100cm minimum height), Ground Shuttle (100cm minimum height), Stack Attack (140cm minimum height), or Crazy Carts (140cm minimum height) attractions. The dodgems, quad bikes and Superdigs also cost an extra £1 a ride.
The site isn’t huge, although MadeForMums tester Puneet, who visited in August with kids Tara, 4, Mili, 7, and Arjun, 11, saw this as a bonus. “I could keep an eye on my daughter while I went on another ride. I can’t imagine this happening at any other theme park. It felt safe and cosy.”
Pros: Unique rides, friendly staff, reasonably priced gift shop, good catering
Cons: Kids charged same fees as adults, small site, extra costs for some rides
Read the full MadeForMums Diggerland Durham review
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3. Ocean Beach Pleasure Park
— Best for thrill seekers
Free entry but paid rides | Best for 2+ | South Promenade North Car Park 0.4 mile | South Shields station 1 mile | Dog friendly
This waterfront funfair at South Shields is a great way to spend quality time together as a family. The fair’s rides are available on most days throughout the summer, before being limited to weekends in September, October and November. The special Winter Wonderland then opens in December and January. Free to enter, the Pleasure Park works on a token basis, whereby you purchase credits to use on the rides via a smartcard. Tokens start at 10 for £10, going up to 125 for £100. Credits for each ride vary, with 2 required for the Mini Swings and up to 4.5 needed for the Waterballs, for example. Other attractions need to be booked separately, like bowling and Quasar Laser Tag. Some of the rides also have height restrictions of 0.8m.
There are plenty of positive reviews about the park on TripAdvisor, with lots of people commenting on how clean and well maintained the park is, as well as on the friendliness of staff. A few people also commented on the food being pricey – but you could always head out of the park to one of the more affordable eateries nearby, then return to carry on with your day.
Pros: Free entry, you choose how much to spend, small enough to not be overwhelming
Cons: Credits for rides add up, hard to know which rides young children can go on until you get there
4. Great North Museum: Hancock
— Best for a free day out
Free | Great for all ages | All-weather attraction | Kings Road Car Park opposite | Haymarket Metro station 0.2 miles
The Great North Museum: Hancock is a free family destination in the heart of Newcastle with a huge programme of exhibitions and activities for children and adults. Pushchair friendly and with accessible toilets with baby-changing facilities, there are must-sees exhibits for all the family. Dinosaur fans can marvel at the full size T-rex skeleton and fossils; there’s an Ancient Egypt gallery displaying stone statues and coffins and the Living Planet Gallery takes you on a tour of the vast and varied animal kingdom.
MadeForMums tester Elizabeth, who visited with her child, particularly liked that “the exhibits and information plaques are not too high, so children can read and learn as well as look.” However, she warns parents of little ones who might be unsure of taxidermy to think before visiting, as there are a lot of stuffed animals on display.
MadeForMums Top Testers Club member Mel loves the museum for a rainy-day activity with her child. “It’s free and they sometimes run some great events for 2- to 4-year-olds,” she says.
The on-site café serves light snacks like toasties and cakes – you can view the café menu here – so if you’re after something heartier it might be worth factoring in a picnic (there are dedicated packed lunch spaces or you can sit outside on the front lawn when the sun is out) or eating before or after your visit.
Pros: Free entry, no need to book, perfect for a rainy day
Cons: Lack of parking, limited food choices
Read the full MadeForMums Great North Museum: Hancock review
5. Beamish, The Living Museum of the North
— Best for stepping back in time
Family ticket from £51 | Great for all ages | Best in good weather | Free onsite parking | Nearest station Durham
Beamish is an open-air museum which brings the history of North East England to life, thanks to recreations of 1820s Pockerley, a 1900s Town, 1900s Pit Village, 1940s Farm, 1950s Town and 1950s Spain’s Field Farm. All the staff are dressed in character, meaning it really does feel like you’re stepping back in time. Find out how families lived and worked during the First World War, visit a colliery, ride a tram and stroll through a 1900s pit village – there really is a lot to see and do here. The good news is if you live in the area your admission lasts for the year, so if your little one needs their afternoon nap you can go home and come back for free another time.
While reviews on both our MadeForMums site and TripAdvisor can’t recommend the living history aspect enough, the queues can be an issue, with one February visitor posting that it was a 90-minute wait for the 1950s town and an hour to see the Bakery. The trams can also get busy, with our tester Puneet, recommending avoiding them on peak periods, wearing comfortable walking shoes and taking a buggy for little ones who tire easily instead.
Rather than queue for food, we’d also recommend bringing a picnic, as there are a number of seats and picnic benches around the museum for you to use.
Pros: Ticket lasts for a year, actors recreating history, plenty to see
Cons: Queue times, can be tiring on foot
Read the full MadeForMums Beamish, The Living Museum of the North review
6. Alnwick Castle
— Best for TV and bookworms
Family ticket from £53 | Carers go free | Great for all ages | £3 onsite parking | Alnmouth station 4 miles | Pre-booking essential
Alnwick Castle dates back to the Norman period and has over 950 years of history to discover. The second largest inhabited castle in the UK, Alnwick has served as a military outpost, teaching college, refuge for evacuees and not least as a family home. Parents who loved Downton Abbey will enjoy seeing where the 2014 Christmas special was filmed, while Harry Potter wannabes will love the broomstick training sessions, which occur throughout the day and are included in the price. You can also try your hand at a spot of archery (charges apply), journey back in time to visit the 14th-century Artisan's Courtyard and check out the impressive staterooms.
Of the 3,230 'excellent' TripAdvisor reviews posted about Alnwick Castle, one says a visit in July was “the best day of the holidays”. However, a lot of people believed that the entry fee included admission to Alnwick Gardens, even though the castle’s website clearly states the gardens require a separate fee. Having said that, it’s quite simply a must for Hogwarts’ fans, as one July 2022 reviewer posted: “I decided to go last minute because I’m a big Harry Potter fan. I am so glad I did! I did both the history and movie tour, which were very informative. The movie tour guide in particular was incredible. He was so funny, and I loved all his personal experiences with the movies shot at the castle. I really can’t recommend this place enough.”
Pros: Ticket lasts for a year, packed with history, great for TV and book fans
Cons: Admission doesn’t include entry to the Gardens, additional charges apply
7. Billy Shiel’s 2 Hour Puffin Seabird Cruise with Seals
— Best for bird watching
£25 for over 15s, £18 per child, under-fives go free | Best for 3+ | Best in good weather | Paid parking on the harbour | Chathill station 5 miles | Not wheelchair friendly
If you have any nature fans in the family – or a vehicle-obsessed little one keen to get their sea legs – this is a day out with a difference. This amazing cruise sees you sailing around the Farne Islands for 2 hours, with ample opportunities to view the bird life which nests during the breeding season. It is possible to see puffins, guillemots, shags, cormorants, kittiwakes, Arctic terns, razorbills and eider ducks. The cruise also visits a grey seal colony, with large numbers basking on the rocks especially at low water when more of the Islands are exposed. The skipper takes you back in time to follow the route Grace Darling and her father took during their heroic rescue of shipwrecked survivors back in 1838.
Nearly 80% of 1,461 TripAdvisor reviews regarded the experience as excellent and wonderful. One woman took her son on board in June and was particularly pleased with how the staff looked after him. “You made my 6-year-old son’s day – thank you!” she wrote, saying that he had been given extra attention and was allowed to try steering the boat.
As you’d expect, sailing on the North Sea can be a cold experience, so make sure to wrap up warm, even in summer, and pack those waterproofs in case it rains – the seating area isn’t undercover. We’d recommend checking disability access before booking, as it’s been noted by a few that the boarding point is down a set of steep stone stairs.
Pros: Sealife in its most natural habitat, attentive staff
Cons: Disability access, can be a cold experience
8. Northumberland Country Zoo
— Best for active families
Family ticket from £52.50 | Great for all ages | All-weather attraction | Free onsite parking | Alnmouth station 12 miles | Baby food warming facilities | Pre-booking advised
Northumberland Country Zoo is an up-and-coming family-run, not-for-profit zoo. The park has 17 acres for visitors to explore, with over 100 species of animals. From wallabies and porcupines to tarantulas and snow leopards, there is lots to see, including animal displays in the Wild Theatre and daily keeper talks on otters and Scottish wildcats. Parents wanting to rest weary legs can head to the indoor Bear Falls Soft Play that’s included in the admission price.
A smaller zoo compared to others, it gives you the chance to see all of the animals, with a recent online review agreeing there was the right amount to see without it becoming overwhelming. Similarly, there’s a lot of praise about the staff and their knowledge of the animals, with one TripAdvisor saying, “the keeper talks were brilliant, and the staff were happy to answer all of our inquisitive son’s questions.”
If your children have visited larger zoos before, manage expectations with a peek at the list of animals here before you set out (no lions, chimpanzees and elephants here), and previous visitors recommend taking a picnic to save on pricey food costs.
Finally, bear in mind that the zoo’s website describes its entrance as difficult to access for wheelchairs and some buggies, while the River Walk is not currently wheelchair friendly due to its steep inclines.
Pros: Not so big that you miss out on animals, family-run, knowledgeable staff
Cons: Lack of access for wheelchairs, pricey food, no larger zoo animals
9. North East Falconry 1 Hr Hawkwalk and Bird Handling
— Best for a special treat for older kids
Experiences from £50 per person | Best for 5+ | Best in good weather | Free onsite parking | Blaydon station 2.5 miles
Are your school-age children fascinated by birds of prey? If so, prepare for a hands-on experience at Newcastle’s North East Falconry. Their one hour “Hawkwalk and Bird Handling experience” sees the handler taking you through the woodlands to let their hawks fly free. Afterwards, return to the starting point where you and your kids get to handle other birds of prey, such as falcons and owls. Little ones unsure of holding the birds? There’s also a cheaper option of just the 1-hour “Hawkwalk” at £50 per head, where you get to see them fly without handling.
While there are only 28 reviews on TripAdvisor at present, every single one of them classes the experiences as excellent. At least three reviews say it is perfect for both children and adults. One reviewer commented how her 11-year-old was lost for words after a visit. “What an amazing experience this was for our whole family,” posted another. “My 3- and 8-year-old daughters and my husband were amazed. Glenn, the handler, has a wealth of knowledge that made our day exciting and educational.”
Pros: Experience to remember, highly experienced handler
Cons: Pricey for a family of 4, must be aged over 5 to handle the birds
— Best for rainy days
Under-ones go free, peak prices £8 for 1 to 5-year-olds, £14 for 6 to 15, £18 aged 16 and over | Great for all ages | All-weather attraction | On-site pay and display parking | Scarborough station 1.6 miles
Rainy day and your kids have nothing to do? Swimming at Alpamare waterpark is the answer. Kids who are older than 6 and taller than 1.1m can race on mats down the Cresta Run slide; if over 1.2m they can whizz down the double-tube Olympic Run; while those who are at least 8 and taller than 1.2m can fly down the 4-man tube Snow Storm and the one-of-a-kind Black Run. There’s also an enormous wave pool, which erupts every 30 minutes with metre-high waves. Add to that a huge main pool, a Splash & Play for smaller ones, an outdoor garden and an infinity pool to relax in (but let’s face it, with kids and water slides you might not get a chance to).
An impressive 832 reviews on TripAdvisor found it to be good or excellent, highlighting the cleanliness of the venue and helpfulness of the staff. “Our 3-hour slot was enough to get the kids on the slides multiple times and to try every pool. Towards the end of the visit, we had lunch in the café. The food was nice and the service was fast, even though they were busy,” said another.
It’s worth keeping in mind that even if you don’t get in the water, you still have to pay £10 for a spectator ticket for visitors age 1 year and up.
The park offers a free carer’s ticket, if you provide relevant documentation such as a Blue Badge, PIP or carer’s allowance. They’ve also a RADAR key available for guests wishing to use the disabled changing facilities, as well as disabled access toilets.
Pros: Perfect for wet weather, plenty of attractions, clean
Cons: Queues for slides, have to pay to spectate
Pic: Alnwick Castle
How we tested
When testing these days out, we looked at age suitability, entertainment value, location and whether it’s good value for money.
Our 10 of the Best lists are compiled by qualified and experienced parenting journalists. They rely on a number of sources, including their own experience, independent reviews and feedback from friends and contacts.
Our list is not an ordered ranking from 1-10, instead it is a carefully selected group of tried and tested days out, each of which we believe is best for different weather and families. We don’t just tell you what is best, we help you discover what is best for your family.
About the author
Claire Muffett-Reece is mum to two sons aged 9 and 12. A freelance journalist and editor of a North East magazine, she is often joined by her many cousins and their families on days out in Darlington, Sunderland, Durham and beyond.
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