Wow. An guest writer on Familytrippers? Of course I said yes! And on one of my favourite cities to boot- Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
My family and I relocated for a year to Newcastle because my husband wanted to complete his last year of subspecialty training there. Being the home/worldschoolers that we aspire to be, following him was a no brainer.
We saved up for a year, researched places to stay, applied for our visa (which is another story altogether, I tell you), and we arrived there in January 2016. I was pregnant with my 4th by then, so a lot of the activities I’m going to talk about are relatively slow paced and to accommodate my then 2 year old, my 5 year old and my 7 year old, and my pregnant self/tiny baby.
So first things first, accommodation.
Since we had a home base in Heaton, accommodation was not an issue for us. But travelling around UK in general was centred around Travelodge (https://www.travelodge.co.uk). If you book early, you will get discounts, and it is a minimalistic, no frills hotel. Due to our family size, we always opted for a family room where you get one queen size bed and two single beds. In Newcastle there are 10(!) Travelodges. If you are renting a car, opt for those which have free parking (which is usually a bit out of the city) but if not, then being in the city would be convenient but it is usually more pricey.
Which then brings us to the next topic- transportation. As with anywhere else in the UK, there is not much issue to be had with public transport, and even more so in Newcastle where things are generally slower and people generally more helpful. So i was able to get around alone with 3 and then 4 kids on public transport with not much issues. There is the main Metro (https://www.nexus.org.uk/metro) that goes to most places in the city and the surrounding countryside, and if that is not possible, then the buses are very accessible friendly and the driver will go out of their way to ensure that either you get a space or help you fold up your stroller or advise you to wait for the next bus (which doesn’t take very long). The buses and trains accept cash as payment so you don’t have to go out of the way to buy a cashcard or anything like that. If you are taking public transport and bringing a stroller I would advise a lightweight easy to fold one, but if you are renting a car, then big bulky strollers are fine on most attractions. We used Hertz (https://www.hertz.co.uk/p/car-hire/uk/newcastle)for car rental.
So now on to the attractions (rubs hands in glee). I roped in my children for this to vote on which places they found most memorable. Needless to say, they voted ALL the playgrounds with ziplines (priorities!), but then I pressed them to choose attractions and this was what they came up with:
Great north museum, Hancock
Angel of the north
Jesmond Dene park
Which was too long for this article. So I further narrowed it down to 5, in the city itself because some of the things on the list, while very noteworthy, are out of the city centre.
1. Jesmond Dene park
After a long flight and then sleep, those with littles would want them to run around and play. Jesmond Dene is great because there’s a walking track, bicycle track, lots of open places to run around, soft grass to fall on, a petting zoo, a miniature train ride. It’s a good introduction to the UK for kids. There’s also ice cream vans in the summer, and cafes provide great snacks and coffee for the parents. To get there from the city (which is usually Haymarket bus station) take the bus 38A or 38 (depending on the time).
2. Newcastle Castle
No trip to the UK is complete without a visit to a castle, am I right? So right in the middle of the city there is an ancient castle which is was built in the 12th century. Tip though, this place is not stroller friendly unless you are just planning to walk the grounds. Better to use a carrier and be able to climb castle steps to enjoy breathtaking views of Newcastle city and the Quayside.
Speaking of which, a stones’ throw away is the Newcastle Quayside and the famed Millennium bridge. Apart from walking, there’s not that much to do per se, but worth a visit to soak up the feel of Newcastle especially at night when the bridge lights up. Plus on Sunday mornings there’s the Quayside Sunday Market which has a truck selling hot melt in your mouth churros. Yum.
3. Discovery Museum
It was a toss up between Discovery Museum and Centre for Life. But Discovery Museum won because it is free. I mean, I’m from Malaysia, where the exchange rate is not exactly that great (more so in the year we were there, and being mindful of the fact that my husband was technically there as a student) so I found myself googling “free things for kids to do in Newcastle” more than once.
Discovery Museum is located near the Newcastle Coach Station. It has four floors of discovery-history, science and technology and a space for exhibition of the season. But it is the second floor that is dear to my kids’ heart because there is a water play area. If you have wellies, it would be great, but they provide raincoats which provide adequate coverage too. This wet play area is £2 per child. Aimed at 3-5 year olds but i spotted my 7 year old having fun too. Do try the coffee and baked goods at the cafe upstairs. After wrestling with my 2 year old, it was a relief to be able to sit down and feed the baby while the other kids refueled.
4. Laing Art Gallery
My kids SAID they didn’t fancy this much, but from the way they were when we were there (making videos and all to upload on youtube) I think it’s worth a visit to for both parents and children. Focusing mainly on north eastern British artists, when we were there they were having an Alice in Wonderland exhibition which really blew me away and also provided activities for the kids. There is a children’s section on the ground floor for both activities and a play area for really littles. It is also a stone’s throw away from Northumberland Street, THE shopping street in Newcastle as well as Newcastle University, which is an open university with amazing architecture so after you are done with the gallery it would be a good idea to spend the rest of the day just strolling around a grabbing a bite to eat along the streets.
5. Leazes Park
Yes, another park. The thing about travelling with littles, well my littles at least, is that to preserve my sanity (because I’m usually alone with them while the husband does work related stuff) I need to let them loose every other day at least. They eat better, sleep better and are generally easier to deal with. It’s also a bonus that in the parks are well maintained and there’s always something for the kids to do. And a cafe tucked away somewhere for me to reward myself. So Leazes Park has 2 playgrounds, a pond full of ducks, geese and swans, and a bandstand. If you are a Newcastle United fan, you could drop by to see St James Park on the way. There is a cafe in the summer near the lake, but my friends and I prefer Les Petits Choux- a cafe with wonderful soups, sandwiches and baked goods, right in the corner of the park.
So that’s my top 5 in Newcastle, for the family traveller. There are many more things to see and do, if you look up sites like TripAdvisor, but for my family, these places are the ones that created memories for us. Newcastle is generally sleepier than most cities in the UK, and people don’t generally come to Newcastle just to visit it. We would recommend renting a car and visiting Edinburgh (heck take a week and drive around the whole of Scotland) as well as York (full of history for a history fan like me) and stopping to see the sights along the way.
Would you like suggestions for Scotland and York as well? I’d be happy to do it. Writing this has made me all nostalgic for all the travelling we did there!
Article contribution by Ai’sah Rahim / Home and world schooling mother of 4, wife and personal assistant to a surgeon, aspiring writer, ex psychiatrist and unofficial medical advisor to family and friends.