The 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, but also added them to the calendar at the very bottom of this post. 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. Visit a SpielgeltenT at Q Festival

A brand new festival is coming to the Gateshead Quayside. The Q festival is held in a beautiful 1920s style tent, and described as a vibrant and eclectic programme activities, there are lots of family events to choose from. Only a couple meet our frugal criteria though. For the whole family try the FREE Meet me at the Spiegel (Sunday 23rd July) an afternoon of games and pingpong. For pre-schoolers then check out Toddle to the Spiegel (Thurs 3rd August) or Spiegel Storytime (Friday 4th August) both £3 per child, for songs, rhymes and stories all under the magical big tent.

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 within the science maze is an area where any aged children can use the reused and recycled materials to make whatever they fancy. Open every day with FREE entry, there is also the option of joining some of the frugal friendly facilitated workshops. Every Tuesday or Thursday during the summer holidays there will be a different theme (e.g. carousels, flying saucers) for the kids to work around,  facilitated by a member of staff, which costs £1.50 per child. As usual kids can also access the brilliant Play Tyne area to get seriously wet, and at £1.50 entry it's a real bargain. The rest of the museum is good for an explore, my two particularly like the science maze, and the new All the Fun of the Fair exhibition went down very well with us all, as the old fashioned machines were interesting to look at and we all had fun with the circus mirrors and hook a duck stand.

3. Be a little farmer at ouseburn farm

Ouseburn Farm is a small city farm which is FREE to enter, but donations are always appreciated. It's worthwhile taking some cash with you as they often sell vegetables which have been grown on the site. As well as the farm animals they have an indoor room with some smaller animals including tortoises. They have a free activity for children, like petting sessions or farmers club every weekday morning and afternoon in the summer holidays - check out the program here. There is a cafe upstairs which is really reasonably priced, and if you were looking to do something else whilst close by then we love a browse in the bookshop part of Seven Stories which is FREE to enter (have to pay for the rest of Seven Stories so although a great day it didn't make this list).

4. 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'. Parking is free and there is a small play park on site. 

5. Join a sandcastle competition

Don't forget the bucket and spade for the tenth annual Whitley Bay sandcastle building event (Sunday 23rd July) . Where hundreds of people gather to test their sandcastle building abilities in return for prizes.

6. Unlimited jumping at the Jungle Wipeout

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 per child it's the most expensive activity on the list, but we wanted to include it as because you can stay as long as you like we feel 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. 

7. Give climbing a try at newcastle climbing centre

A chance to see whether the family has a head for heights at Newcastle Climbing Centre. The FREE family fun day is on 23rd July starting at 10:30am, and on offer is climbing, competitions, crafts, face paints and a bouncy castle. Booking free tickets in advance is recommended as there is a limited number available - follow this link for info on where to get them. 

8. Model Train Spotting at the National Railway Museum (Shildon) 

This is one for our bucket list as we haven't been yet, but I have heard great things about it. We loved the railway museum in York, but as this one is much closer, it's one we'll be visiting this summer. Free admission and parking every day, there are trains to see and an outdoor play area for the kids. Date for the diary if you do fancy a trip is the Model Mania (Saturday 5th August) where there are miniature models from all eras of transport - entry is still FREE. 

9. 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.

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

The schedules haven't yet been released at the time of writing this post, but the Screen on the Green promises two films everyday, from family classics to new releases. 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. Schedules will be released here so keep checking for updates. 

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. 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. 

12. See the Red Arrows at the Sunderland Airshow

The huge and iconic Sunderland Airshow returns with performances held over three days. On Friday night (21st July) it kicks off with a night time show, featuring music and performances. Catch the Red Arrows on the Saturday (22nd July) or Sunday (23rd July)

13. Discover dinosaurs, animals and even a spot of Yoga at the Great North Museum

This will always be known as the Hancock to me. This museum has lots of things to see. Free entry and lots of activities on throughout the summer. Including free yoga for kids (bookable in advance). 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. 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 here. 

15. Explore Exhibition Park

Exhibition is such a great park. It's huge with different areas to visit. Take some seeds to feed the swans, a change of clothes for the water fountain play area, 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.

16. Visit the animals at Bill Quay Community Farm

Bill Quay Farm is pretty small but lovely. Somewhere we call in pretty often, but don't usually stay more than an hour. There are sheep, pigs, cows,  geese, goats, chickens in barns and fields outside. Some of them are obviously used to visitors as they'll come right up to you and there are signs up letting you know which of the animals you can touch in their pens. There is also a small animal room where you can see things like chinchillas and hamsters etc in cages. There is a cafe on site, it's FREE entry,  but the farm is a registered charity so always appreciate donations.

17. Cool down at Ridley Park in Blyth

Another great park where they also have a splash pad. 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 toddler loves even though he's 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. 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 from our rainy day trip there a few weeks ago here. 

19. Take in the best views of the Tyne and play to your hearts content 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. They have regular FREE  activities on for kids - try the explorers guides for children (available every day), or the meet and make craft sessions every Sunday. One day for the calendar is Wednesday 16 August for the Family Day. Baltic really go all out with the activities for family events, so this is a FREE day not to miss. 

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

20. Go Wild at Saltwell Park

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.  Every Monday between 11-4pm you can drop in to the FREE wildlife sessions, which are described (from the poster in the park - can't find any specifics online) as "From bug hunts to nature trails and wildlife spotting. This summer the RSPB will be delivering free nature activities for you and your family where we will explore wildlife and nature together. Find us by the play parks." Another day to note for preschoolers is 17th August where Little Movers are holding an activities day on the main field with events from Muddy Monsters, Artventurers and Hartbeeps.  

21. 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 a bit 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. 

22. 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. 

23. 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. 

24. Watch the Gruffalo characters come to life in front of you at Kielder or Hamsterly Forests

Both of these forests will take you about an hour or so to get to from Newcastle, so a proper day trip out. Excellent FREE days out (although you do have to take into consideration the fuel and parking costs). The forestry commission's Gruffalo app amazed both the kids and adults in our group. Download the augmented reality app before you go, and watch as the characters come to life on the screen - brilliant photo opportunities. If it's Kielder that you are heading to then don't forget to take a photo for the #wildatkielder competition where you could win tickets to Kielder Winter Wonderland. Full info about that competition and the wildlife you could see at Kielder here.

25. 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. 

26. Dino Spot at Sunderland Winter Gardens

Inside the Winter Garden in Sunderland city centre a whole series of amazing dinosaur models hidden amongst the vegetation are waiting to be discovered. You can see a baby T Rex hatching from a giant egg, spot a stegosaurus, a triceratops and even some flying pteranodons. Entry is completely FREE and one we'll definitely trying out this year as I've never taken the kids there before. 

27. 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 in the year. Lots of sculptures amongst the grounds of a beautiful home. There is loads for the kids to see, and one my most recommended places as a real hidden gem in the North East. Open August 26th/27th/28th,  September 2nd/3rd. 

28. A Year full of fun at Preston Park Museum

This list really is turning into my personal bucket list, as despite being told by pretty much everyone who has ever been how amazing Preston Park is, we still haven't visited. Potentially the best bargain on the list, entry is £5 for a family and lasts a whole year. They have lots of different activities on during the summer including the pop up 40ft beach where you can experience life on a deserted island complete with a shipwreck, beach shack and palm trees. Every Saturday, there will also be a chance to meet real-life pirates and mermaids from a performing arts group. You can also take part in a free trail to find the washed-up treasure that has found its way into the museum. Plus the usual Preston Park attractions such as the Victorian street and play park.

29. 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

30. Unearth the lost world of the Wonderfolk in the family trail at Woodhorn

Woodhorn museum is a mining museum with various exhibitions, but it's the events that really draw me there. The latest one for the summer is a family trail called The Lost World of the Wonderfolk, where little helpers are invited to meet the Professor,  create a blending in hat and pick up your magical lantern and track down and uncover the stories and secrets of the Wonderful. Everyone is welcome to join in this family activity, but it is particularly suitable for children over the age of five.  The entire experience is said to lasts about an hour-and-a-half, with the quest (lantern tour) lasting approx. 30-40 mins.  You can book online in advance to guarantee your space. It's £2 per person, with under 5s being free. Car parking is £3.50 which might take you over my £7.50 budget depending on the ages of your kids, but if so you can always park at the QEII Country Park for free, and walk the half a mile to the museum. If you are really looking for a day out with a difference then check out Invasion VIII (23rd July) for a chance to see all of the sci fi greats. 

31. 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. There isn't a play park, but it looks like it is a beautiful place, and that the kids should enjoy exploring the forest and lake areas.  

32. 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 see who can be the first one to stuff our faces with 10,000 delicious calories from the various food stalls (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 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. 

33. 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 a few weeks ago and even with the older ones we found it was fine. £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.

34. Pony rides at Firtree Farm Riding Stables in Forest Hall

If you think your kids would like to try pony riding then this stables is a great place to visit. Comes recommend from my sister who said the staff were all so canny with her pre-schooler. Only frugal budget friendly on certain dates (27th July, 10th or 24th August all 1:30-2:30pm) when if you call in you can get a short pony ride for only £3.50 per go. 

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

The kite festival is part of the excellent North Tyneside's summer festival check out the whole program here. On 19th and 20th 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. 

36. Watch the Romans Ride on Horseback at Segedunum

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 romans on horseback in Hadrian's Cavalry LIVE where you can see the riders of Hadrian's Cavalry demonstrate their skills as they set their horses through their paces with mounted and dismounted gymnastics. On 5 and 6th August and is included in the admission price.

37. Work out the clues at a Scarecrow Festival

Bit of a random suggestion here, but we have been to Shadforth Scarecrow festival a few times, and we've really enjoyed it. On between 31st August and 4th September, if you pick up a trail (for a small cost - it was less than £2 last year) then you can walk around the village guessing what each of the scarecrow scenes are showing, one year has been famous books, and another year it was sports. There are lots to see and if you head there on Sunday 3rd September you can also join the fun day on the village green. A similar festival is also held in Rennington in Northumberland on Monday 28th August.

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

38. Kids new releases and classics at Cineworld on Saturdays

Going to the cinema is normally sooooo expensive. Especially if I'm let loose near the pick and mix, but now that the cinema in the Gate has changed to a Cineworld there are a few times that you can catch a film within a budget. The Movies for Juniors shown on Saturday mornings are new and classic kids films at only £2.50 for adults or kids tickets. 

39. 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.

40. Get active or musical in Northumberland Park

North Tyneside's summer festival is excellent. Absolutely brilliant, there is so much going on and most of it is free. Check out the whole program here. Northumberland Park in North Shields has a couple of events which look good fun. The FREE Get Active day is described as games, music, challenges and family fitness. On between 11-2pm on 11 August. Or enjoy music in the park between 1pm-3pm on 30th July and 27th August. 

41. Celebrate 100 years at the Big Birthday Bash at Shipley Art Gallery

The Shipley Birthday party looks huge, with a Bubbleologist in the garden to entertain you with her fantastical, magical soap bubble shows.  Or use your craft skills to create your own bubble wands and strings and learn new ways of making bubbles. Have a go on a potter's wheeler learn how to spin your own piece of yarn, and then try out your weaving skills. Plus lots more crafty party fun and games, including bunting making and cake decorating. Its on 10am-2pm on 27th July and the cost for the day is £2.50 per child. 

42. 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. Still looking for things to do? Check out the calendar below with all of the one off events mentioned in this post listed by day.