The 2018 Frugal summer holiday bucket list - 42 Free or Cheap Days out in the North East

Entertaining kids can be so expensive, especially in the six weeks holidays. Whilst I balk at the idea of spending more than £30 on an item of clothing for me, we will regularly end up spending that if we head out for the day with the kids. We are really lucky in the North East to have so many options for free days out, from out beautiful beaches to the fantastic parks in the area. But sometimes it's hard to think of them all, so I've had a brainstorm and put as many as I can think of in this list. I considered 'cheap' to be less than £7 in total for the cost of an activity for an adult and two kids. I've come up with 42 so thats one for every day of the school holidays. Hopefully this might be a page that you return to a few times over the summer holidays to get some ideas that won't leave you eating baked beans for dinner 6 nights a week. 

Most of the free/cheap ideas are available every day, but there are some which are specific events, so where that is the case I've highlighted the date. Right this post is a long one - so lets get to the ideas. 

Please check with the organiser before heading out for the day in case there have been any last minute changes. 

1.Paint the floor at gateshead quays (29/7/2018)

Messy play for the whole family. On Sunday 29th July 2018 join the team from Thought Foundation for their Big Family Painting Extravaganza. Totally FREE to take part, just drop in any time between 11-3pm. Bring your old clothes as you might get messy and take part in the huge collaborative painting. 

2. Get Crafting or wet at Discovery Museum

The discovery museum has always been a good shout for  a day out with kids, but they have recently upped their game. The Play and Invent space, open every day with FREE entry, is home to the Little Inventors North 2030 challenge for the summer. Earlier in the year kids across the North East were asked to design ingenious inventions to tackle the challenges of the future. The 15 best have actually been made and are on display. As well as viewing them, kids can get creative and design their own weird and wonderful invention using the recycled materials and build and construct whatever they fancy using K’nex and Lego. As usual kids can also access the brilliant Play Tyne area to get wet playing with the funnels, boats and ducks along a model river tyne. At £1.50 entry it's a real bargain. The rest of the museum is good for an explore, although some of it is badly in need of a refurb, my two particularly like the science maze. 

3. Go Plodging At Plessey Woods

Plessey Woods is a great place to visit for a walk out with the kids. Don't forget your wellies as it does get seriously muddy, but along the way the kids can look for things on the art trail, including a drum set made from tree stumps, fairy doors, and an ogres house. If you have a net handy then there are lots of areas with shallow streams perfect for plodging or 'fishing'. There is now a small charge for parking (boo), but there is also a small play park on site (yay). 

4. Join a sandcastle competition (29/7/18)

Don't forget the bucket and spade for the 11th annual Whitley Bay sandcastle building event on Sunday 29th July . Where hundreds of people gather to test their sandcastle building abilities in return for prizes. The event is FREE and starts at 10am with judging early afternoon. It all takes place on Whitley Bay beach in front of the Rendezvous Cafe. Don't forget your bucket, spade and grand designs! Whilst you are in Whitley Bay don't forget to check out the newly restored Spanish City and prom. The prom is perfect scooting surface so if you bring the kids' bikes or scooters its a lovely place for a walk along the seafront. 

5. Unlimited jumping at the Jungle Wipeout

How naff is inflation? Last year any kids could do this for £3.50 each, whereas this year it only meets the frugal criteria if your kids are 4 years and under! Open every day in the school holidays (although they'll close in rain or high winds so check with them before setting off) the jungle wipeout in Tynemouth Park is made up with bouncy castles and bouncy slides. With a Baby Wipeout and an area suited for older children this activity is available for children aged 14 and under. Coming in at £3.50 for ages 4 and under, and £5 for kids up to age 14 it's the most expensive activity on the list, but I wanted to include it as because you can stay as long as you like it feels like it's decent value in comparison to the bouncy castles or slides where you are paying per go or for a certain period of time. 

6. Join the Rock Hide and Seek game held across the whole of the North East

Rock painting, hiding and seeking took the North East by storm last summer. When you are out and about with the kids keep your eyes peeled, and you could be the lucky recipient of a Tyneside Rock, the painted rocks that are hidden around the North East. The idea came from the USA and the general gist is that you decorate and hide your own rocks, and hopefully spot some that others have made. The lovely idea hopefully promotes positivity and community spirit. If you fancy it, I would highly recommend heading to Facebook using this link where you can request to join the Tyneside Rock group. Here you'll find out what areas people are hiding rocks, and if yours are found people often post photos of the happy recipient. Such a simple concept, but my toddlers have been overjoyed when we have found some. Brilliant idea for the whole of the summer.

7. CYCLE a Lap of honour in st james' park (29/7/18)

Join the family friendly cycling festival on Sunday 29 July 2018. Newcastle  is closing the roads to traffic  hosting a street festival for anyone on a bike. They promise music, fun and games, demos, giveaways, activities, challenges and face painting.

The main event is the 5k route, which this year even takes you around the pitch in St James Park (details of that here). Its FREE to enter but you must register using this link. The event gives you the chance to to see Newcastle in a different way and it’s a fun, active, family-friendly day out. You don’t have to go the 5k distance – just as much or as little as you want. And you don’t need to be an experienced cyclist – there are no cars on the road, you can wobble, zig-zag and stop as much as you like. 

8. Splash about at Chester Le Street Riverside Park

Having visited most of the water features within parks in the North East, I think that the splash pad at Chester-le-Street is the best one out there. It's like something you'd find on holiday with loads of features and fountains. The park is absolutely massive, all really spread out and they have lots of areas for older kids, as well as big pre-school area. Cafe is a bit naff (it doesn't sell cake!) but you can't have everything. There are loads of walks to do around this park, and you can feed the ducks and swans if you take some seed with you. There are parking charges for this park - and there is often a bouncy castle too, so either take some change or try and distract the kids whilst you are passing it. 

9. Catch a film and some sunshine at the Screen on the Green

The schedule for Screen on the Green this year looks brilliant. 84 films, from family classics to new releases are planned across the summer. There is no cost to attend, just grab a deckchair set up on the Green outside Eldon Square or bring a picnic blanket in case it's busy, and settle down to watch the FREE films on show. The full schedule can be found here with the 12 noon films being perfect for kids. Our favourites are: Paddington 2 on Sunday 29th July at 12pm, The Greatest Showman on 25th August at 12pm, and Coco on Sunday 26th August 2018 at noon. 

10. Visit the animals at Bill Quay or Ouseburn Community Farms

Both Bill Quay Farm and Ouseburn Farm are pretty small but lovely. They are both FREE so make a great place to pop in to while away an hour or so. Both have are sheep, pigs, cows,  geese and chickens. At Bill Quay there are signs letting you know which of the animals you can touch and some of them are obviously used to visitors as they'll come right up to you. At Ouseburn you'll find snakes and tortoises in the inside room. Take cash as both have a cafe on site, and at Ouseburn you can buy vegetables from the garden too. It's FREE entry,  but the farms are registered charities so always appreciate donations.

Ouseburn farm have some brilliant FREE regular activities over the summer, including sow and grow and farmers club. Event info is here.

 Clockwise from top left - Chester Le Street Riverside Park, Plessey Woods, Richardson Dees Park, Discovery Museum

Clockwise from top left - Chester Le Street Riverside Park, Plessey Woods, Richardson Dees Park, Discovery Museum

11. See the Red Arrows at the Sunderland Airshow (27-29th July)

The huge and iconic Sunderland Airshow returns with performances held over three days. On Friday night (27th July) it kicks off with a night time show, featuring music and performances. Catch the Red Arrows on the Friday 27th at 7:15pm, or Saturday 28th July 2018 at 4pm. Full schedule of timings can be found here.

12. Eat ice cream made on site at Wheelbirks Parlour

The ice cream is lovely at Wheelbirks, but for us it isn't the main attraction. We love a little drive out to Stocksfield to see what animals we can find (usually cows, chickens and horses around) and for the kids to play in the indoor play area with a play house and other pre-schooler toys, and to stretch our legs out in the orchard, where there are loads of picnic benches along with a slide and swing. Entry is FREE for any customers of the cafe. It'll cost you the price of refreshments, but you get a lot more from Wheelbirks than most cafe trips. 

13. Discover dinosaurs, animals and the pontipines at great north museum

This will always be known as the Hancock to me. This museum is my little boy's favourite. He loves the dinosaur skeletons, stuffed animals to look at and having so much room to run around in. This summer a new exhibition should hopefully have something for everyone. Which Way North is a collection of (seemingly random) iconic items from the North East. These include Damian Hirst's shark, John Lennon's piano, and even some children's character models. You can see the Pontipines and the Wottingers from In the Night Garden, and Postman Pat. If you are hoping to make a day out of it, then 8th and 9th August 2018 looks good, as the museum are showing three Wallace and Grommit films throughout the day. This event, as with the rest of the museum is FREE to visit. If you have pre-schoolers then make sure to call into the Mouse House where there are books, dress up clothes and area for little ones to discover. 

14. Explore Exhibition Park and take a FREE ride on their mini train (5/8/18 and 2/9/18)

Exhibition is such a great park. It's huge with different areas to visit. Take some seeds to feed the swans and a bit of cash for the cafe. The cafe is in a great spot - right next to the kids play area so you can probably sit on the terrace and watch your kids play if they are a bit older than mine. As well as the two play parks (one for older and one for younger kids) you can also play tennis or have a visit on the small train which is on the first Sunday of the month and its FREE. Details of that and lots of pics on this post from North East Family Fun. Unfortunately their water play feature isn't working at the moment, but i'll update this post as soon as I hear it back up and running.  

15. Hunt out the animal sculptures at Thornley Woods

This is such a canny walk for little ones. The circular walk, with about 10 animal sculptures carved into the trees is only 1 mile long, so it's perfect for pre-schoolers, but if you head down the steps half way around the trail then you can extend the walk towards the River Derwant.  I have it on good authority from my readers that there are often ponies grazing down there. Couple of photos of the sculptures from our rainy day trip there a last year here. We are always just content to spot the wildlife carved into the trees as we go, but if you get there when the cafe in the car park is open you can get an activity trail too to mark off the animals as you see them. The car park is pretty small though, so on busy days it will be difficult to get a space. 

16. Take in the best views of the Tyne,  play and create in the baltic

The Baltic is great for exploring. My two love the Quay on the second floor, where there are lots of games and books for kids to play with. This year they opened a sensory room with lights and tactile toys to play with, so really good for babies and pre-schoolers. They have regular FREE activities on for kids - we love the look of the Big Create facilitated arts and craft sessions on every Wednesday during the hols, and the Wonder and Wander Tours for toddlers at 11:30am on Tuesdays where, lead by a BALTIC team member, you and your toddler can discover BALTIC's current exhibitions through sensory exploration using materials, movement and sound. Meet and Make craft sessions are held on Sundays too. 

17. Cool down at Ridley Park in Blyth

Another great park where they also have a splash pad which is mega popular with kids of all ages. I love the cafe here, they serve lovely food, and even have some ball games and toys outside for the kids to play with. The older kids play area is more memorable than the pre-schooler one. For older kids there are lots of big play equipment, and a giant slide that my toddlers loves even though they are probably too small for it. For lots of photos you can check out my first ever blog post which was about Ridley Park - proper cringeworthy though so promise to only look at the photos and ignore all of my chuntering on. 

18. Hale Bay Jumping, play castle and farm animals at Broom House Farm in County Durham

Broomhouse farm in County Durham is the best farm shop and cafe that I have visited in terms of kids activities. More farm animals than I would expect somewhere that is FREE to visit (If you are using the cafe). There are ride on tractor toys, loads of play equipment and the huge enclosed field is perfect for kids to explore. Check out our photos

19. be brave and try shiremoor adventure playground

Shiremoor Adventure Playground is like nowhere else I've ever been. A bit like a youth club (memories of Byker Grove came flooding back) and fair to say it is rough around the edges, it is a huge play park. More for older kids than toddlers, although there are lots of pre-school toys there too. There are scooters, roller skates and some terrifyingly huge play equipment. There was even a big paddling pool out when I visited last year. Its FREE to get in, but check the opening times before you go. There is a cafe, and the food is so cheap - less than £1 for a toastie. It's really hard to describe, so check out this post from last year as it's easier to imagine once you've seen the photos. 

20. Buckets and spades at the ready for a day at the beach

We are so lucky in the North East that we've got so many beautiful beaches to choose from. For a full day out then parking at Craster and walking to Embleton will take you past some stunning scenery including the beautiful Dunstanburgh Castle. The sand dunes at Druridge Bay are fab for rolling down, and it's usually far quieter than the more local beaches. Roker beach and pier has had a total makeover recently and whilst I haven't visited yet, this post from Out and About with the Baileys had definitely put it on my radar, the play park, miniature railway and  pier look like a great day out. 

 Clockwise from left - Broom House Farm - Durham, Moorhouse Farm - Morpeth, Bouncy castle at Saltwell Park, Gruffalo Spotting in Kielder Forest

Clockwise from left - Broom House Farm - Durham, Moorhouse Farm - Morpeth, Bouncy castle at Saltwell Park, Gruffalo Spotting in Kielder Forest

21. Soft play and a bouncy castle for all ages at Dunston Activity Centre

This is the only 'soft play' on the list, partly because lots of them max out frugal criteria budget, but also because this one is a little bit different. Every Saturday at Dunston Activity Centre they have a mix of floor soft play, bouncy castles and gymnastics equipment for kids of all ages to use. Hard to explain but follow this link for a video of what is available. Beware if you have toddlers that there are quite a few older kids, but we went last year and didn't find it too manic. £3 per child and there is a very cheap cafe on site too - think the teas were less than £1. I think this is a good shout for a rainy day activity and or if you have a range of kids' ages to entertain.

22. Explore Cheeseburn Sculpture Gardens on it's open weekends

I get really excited by Cheeseburn as its open so infrequently. We had such a lovely day when we visited earlier last year. Lots of sculptures amongst the grounds of a beautiful home. I'm no art buff and can't claim that I understood them all (or any) but they were all really interesting and my kids enjoyed spotting the different things along the route.  Even without kids its somewhere I would say to go. One my most recommended places as a real hidden gem in the North East. Open August 25th/26th/27th,  September 1st/2nd. 

21. Party in Saltwell Park with the Little Movers (6/8/18)

Saltwell Park is one of the best in the area. There are two large play areas, with a big (if a little tired looking) preschool area, and then a one for older kids where the equipment is much bigger. There are a few birds to spot in the avery, as well as a small maze for kids to get lost in too. There are a few days over the holidays where there are some fab free activities.  A brilliant FREE day for under sixes is Party in the Park which is hosted by Little Movers along with other pre-school activity classes. Because it is expected to be popular if you would like to attend Party in the Park you have to pick up a wristband in advance from the softplay in Mothercare in Team Valley. These are first come first served, so it's recommended that you call Eddy Catz soft play in advance of setting off to check they still have some available. 

22. Work out the clues at A Scarecrow Festival (25/8/18 (Penshaw) or 27/8/18(rennington))

Bit of a random suggestion here, but I love scarecrow festivals. Choose from Rennington Scarecrow Festival on Monday 27th August 2018 you can walk around the village guessing what each of the scarecrow scenes are showing. Stalls and refreshments are also available. Or Penshaw Scarecrow Festival where there are going to be over 40 scaregrow characters to guess. 

23. A Year full of fun at Preston Park Museum

We love Preston Park, we visited twice last year, its a bit of journey - about 50 minutes from Gateshead, but we loved it. Potentially the best bargain on the list, entry is £5 for a family and lasts a whole year. They have loads of different activities on during the summer including weekly rhymes, dancing and crafting sessions all included in the annual admission charge. The play park is fab, and the Victorian street has quite a Beamish vibe to it. Definitley worth a trip out if you haven't visited yet. 

24. Get your head around Exhibition of the North

Holding my hands up here as a terrible blogger and Geordie, but I am yet to go to any of the Exhibition of the North events. There seems to be shedloads to do for families, but I've been a bit daunted by the amount and the not so great website. I loved this post from North East Family Fun about the family activities she and her readers have tried, and what they thought of them. They are all FREE so using her tips, i'm definitely going to try and catch some. 

25. Waterfalls, walks and farm animals in Jesmond Dene

Jesmond Dene is always a go to for us when we are thinking of where to visit. Pets Corner has got animals like sheep, goats, chicken, rabbits and birds to look at. There are lots of areas to explore including a waterfall, and lots of green spaces. The play park is pretty small really, but it will entertain really small kids. There is a cafe and ice cream van for refreshments. 

 Clockwise from left, The Baltic, Thornley Woods, Broom House Farm - Durham, Chase Park - Whickham

Clockwise from left, The Baltic, Thornley Woods, Broom House Farm - Durham, Chase Park - Whickham

26. Find fairydoors and hidden treats on the new trails. 

North East Family Fun has had some great posts recently. Two FREE activities that I like the look of are the Stamfordham village arts trail and Beamish Hall woodland adventure. In Stamfordham village, you look for boxes which inside have got various art scenes in them. You download a free app to tick them off as you find them. Beamish Hall has got fairy doors to find and a mud kitchen at the end. 

27. Find the giant wicker Gruffalo at Hardwick Park

Another one that we'll be visiting for the first time this year. Hardwick Park offer a Gruffalo trail with clues to follow, ending up at the giant wicker Gruffalo. Parking is £3 for the day, and it's £1.50 for the trail. We’ve been a couple of times now but haven’t had a chance to buy the activity trail yet, even so it’s a lovely day out with a nice walk around the lake with lots of swans and nests, some Alice in Wonderland themed sculptures and a good sized play park. We haven’t had the chance to use it yet, but apparently there is a time trial area too that kids should enjoy, 

28. Take a sound journey down the tyne, then pull up a deckchair on the Quayside beach

We love popping to the quayside beach, particularly on a Sunday when we try our best to eat our way down the tyne (Our recommendation will ALWAYS be to go for the Gyros from the greek vans - delish). Whether you are stocking up on carbs or not, the quayside beach is a lovely free place to spend an hour or two. There are deckchairs, fake beach huts, a slide and some kids games. Tie it in with a visit to Ouseburn farm which is less than a 10 minute (or 60 minutes if you have toddlers) walk away. 

This year we'll be trying to tie a trip to the Quayside seaside with the Aeons sound journey. Aeons is FREE but ticketed, so you need to book in advance. Pick up your headphones from the quayside then let the river itself be your guide along the bank of the Tyne with music from triggered by sensors at each sound section, linking you and the music to what you see and feel all around you.

29. Giddy up for a pony ride

If you think your kids would like to try pony riding then there are a few stables where they can have a go without breaking the budget. Firtree Farm Riding school is frugal budget friendly on certain dates (26th July or 31st July for 10 minute rides between 1:30-2:30pm) when if you call in you can get a short pony ride for only £3.50 per go. Stepney Bank Stables in Ouseburn is even cheaper at £2 for a 10 min taster ride every Tuesday of the school holidays. 

30. Lets Go Fly a Kite at the Whitley Bay Kite Festival

The kite festival is part of the excellent North Tyneside's summer festival. On 4th and 5th August between 11am and 4pm at the Links in Whitley Bay, this festival is two days of spectacular kite displays in all shapes and sizes. 

31. Visit the new and improved Chase Park, Whickham

You can see some photos and videos from our trip to Chase Park here, we were so impressed with the rejuvenation. There are lots of play equipment to choose from, including quite a bit for older kids. There is also a small water feature for cooling down when it's hot outside. 

32. Watch the Gladiators combat at Segedunum (4/8/18)

Segedunum is meant to be a great day out for kids, and at £5.95 for adults with under 16s free, it's a bit of a bargain. Visit every day to see the excavated fort with exhibits, kids crafts and Roman role play, and small park. The big event this summer is a chance to see The Historical Combat company enter the arena as the Gladiators to undertake training. Visitors even get a chance to a go at archery or get involved in the hands-on craft activities all from historical tents. On 4th August and it is included in the admission price

33. Paddle at Carlisle Park in Morpeth

This park in Morpeth is great on a sunny day. The main draw is the paddling pool is huge, with a little island in the middle to jump off, and a fountain to stand under. The park itself is really big, with play equipment for pre-schoolers as well as older ones,  and some nice areas for picnics or a kick about. Parking in Morpeth is free, but you need to buy a parking disc for £1 - list of places that sell them is here. 

 Clockwise from left - Great North Museum, Chester le Street Riverside Park, Quayside Beach, Shiremoor Adventure Playground

Clockwise from left - Great North Museum, Chester le Street Riverside Park, Quayside Beach, Shiremoor Adventure Playground

34. TOy Tractors, water play and very good cake at MoorHouse Farm

Moorhouse Farm near Morpeth is such a great cafe and farm shop for families. It covers a relatively small space, but there is lots to keep little ones entertained whilst you enjoy a coffee. Check out a few pics from our last visit here.

35. Get active, wet or musical in Northumberland Park

I must be honest and say i'm disappointed with North Tyneside's summer festival this year, there are loads less pre-school events on than in previous year. But there is still fun to be had, particularly at Wallsend or Northumberland Park. Check out the whole program here. Pages 18 and 19 have the info on the events in Wallsend and Northumberland Park with choices from  FREE Get Active day, games days, musicians and even an organised water fight. 

36. Feed the deer at Whitworth Hall

Recently blogger New Girl in Toon visited Whitworth Hall, where there are loads of deer on the grounds. You can buy food for them for £1 or you get it FREE if you check in at Whitworth Hall on facebook. 

37. Go green at the Extraordinary Garden (1/9/18 and 2/9/18)

This event at Gateshead Quays looks AMAZING! Walk through giant vibrant inflatable plants, meet a few ladybirds, watch the flowers grow and take a peek inside a few crazy creations. Watch some garden themed street theatre promises to make you giggle in the garden. FREE, drop in on 1st and 2nd September 2018.

38. Cheer on your favourite at the herrington soapbox race (18/8/18)

This looks like a brilliant day out. On 18 August 2018 you can watch up to 70 home made soapboxes, which are home made vehicles, race around in Herrington Park. As well as the soapbox action, there will be live music, food and drink to buy, and funfair rides and attractions (you know these are going to be a couple of quid so factor in that if you are thinking of going). It's FREE to go as a spectator but there is a (pretty hefty) car parking charge of £8 per car if it is booked in advance through this link. More info is available through their Facebook event.

39. Burn off some energy at south tyneside play tots

This option is only for under 5s, but i've included it as I think its a bit of a bargain, and it's a bit of a bargain. On every weekday, 10am-11am or 2pm-3pm at South Tyneside Gymnastics & Wellbeing Centre which is just behind Temple Park Centre in South Shields. I haven't been to this session yet, but been to others like it, and they are excellent for toddlers. For only £2.40 per child, during the hour session they can use the gymnastics play equipment like the bouncy track and sponge pit, as well as more traditional toys such as ride on toys. Songs and dance are also said to be included. 

40. Do your best dad (or mam) dancing at the sage's parental guidance parties (26/8/18)

The whole family  are invited to Sage Gateshead for a children’s disco party, complete with a fantastic mix of the North’s best pop music, musical crafts, face-painting, glowsticks and much more. This event is totally FREE and with live music from Ross Millard (Futureheads) (26/8/19 10:30am-12:30pm) or Paul Smith (Maximo Park) (Sat 8/9/18 12pm-1pm), and apparently a spinning floorfillers, from the ’60s to the current day this might be the one kids party where the music has been picked for both the parents as well as the kids. No need for tickets, these FREE events are just drop in.

41. Stay Home

Well done for making it to the end of this monster post. I think we all deserve a lie down after that. Stick on a film for the kids and hide on the toilet with your phone. Seriously it's all well and good having a list of places to go, but sometimes the kids will be just as happy at home, and its one of the only ways to have a properly FREE day out. I've recently started following a great page on facebook called 46 Days of Summer, who post a different free or low cost idea for activities with the kids each day. It's a great page for tips.