Durham isn’t most likely the first place to spring to mind when thinking of a family holiday in the UK. And while more visitors head over the North Pennines to the neighbouring Lake District, County Durham has so much to offer, and I am hoping after reading this post I will convince you to visit this beautiful region and show you the best things to do with kids in Durham.
Things To Do With Kids in Durham
After spending a week in Durham (check out our accommodation in Durham here) during the school holidays we all left feeling utterly spellbound – and managed to explore the coast, the countryside, the city and the Pennines – no mean feat in just under a week. What we discovered was a wealth of breathtaking landscapes, welcoming people, delicious food and so many family-friendly activities. Here, I share all that we got up to during our busy Durham family trip and let you in on The Most Amazing Things To Do With Kids in Durham…
Spend the day at Beamish – The Living Museum of the North
As soon as we stepped onto the grounds of Beamish – The Living Museum of the North, Monkey started jumping up and down with excitement. “Look! Look!” he squealed as an open top tram came trundling down the road. It was the first of many fantastic trams and buses we would spot and ride throughout the day.
Take one section at a time…
Beamish isn’t a traditional museum and mostly all of it is outside. It’s also overwhelming. As first-time visitors, we were a little unsure as to where to begin to look in the 350-acre site, but after some helpful advice, we decided to make our way to the 1900s Town first – and work our way around to The Colliery, The Pit Village and then the 1940s Farm.
What to expect…
All staff and volunteers are dressed in traditional costumes (made on site) from the different eras ranging from 1820 to the 1940s – and it’s wonderful to see. They are all extremely knowledgeable about the region’s heritage, the history of the buildings as well as the objects from the time.
From the Ravensworth Terrace – where you can learn about the homes of professional workers from the 1900s – to the traditional fairground and train rides; and the farm animals and gruesome stories of murder – there is so much to uncover.
When someone told me that we could easily spend a day at Beamish and still not discover all there is to see, I was a little sceptical. But after leaving when the park closed some seven hours later… I had to concur. There really is much to see and learn at Beamish and it’s magical being able to see history come alive.
Beamish Museum tips
• If you want to grab some traditional fish and chips from Davy’s Fried Fish Shop in the Pit Village – go very early. Queues from 1.00pm were up to two hours long!
• The same can be said for the Jubilee Sweet Shop and Herron’s Bakers (for amazing treats) in the 1900s Town. Head to those early to avoid crowds.
• You can easily walk between most areas as the footpaths are all signposted. The trams and buses can get busy, but if you leave them until later in the day, it’s possible to ride the Tramway in one whole circuit.
• Do chat with staff and volunteers – they really are a font of knowledge about Beamish and the region.
beamish.org.uk Open daily from 10am-4pm; Tickets: Adults £19; Kids £11; Family Tickets £49.50
Wander the secret gardens at Raby Castle
We couldn’t believe it – we were the first visitors to pull up the driveway to the entrance of Raby – an impressive medieval castle set amongst unspoiled rolling landscape in the Durham Dales. With its history dating back nearly 1000 years, Raby was built as a fortress by the mighty Nevill family but since 1626 has been home to the family of the current owner, Lord Barnard.
Being the only people there for some time made it even more special to be able to wander Raby’s serene walled gardens without having to share it with anyone else…
Raby Castle’s walled gardens
Taking part in an activity trail, it was a great way for the family to really cover every inch of the gardens which had plenty of different nooks as well as water features, rose gardens, formal lawns and a heather and conifer garden. The kids really enjoyed having the freedom to run about. And what was rather spectacular was seeing the castle looming large in the distance from every angle.
Deer Watching at Raby
Unfortunately, Raby Castle itself was closed during our visit, however, we still walked around it and enjoyed the views over the two ponds. We stopped and sat down to watch a huge herd of Raby deer that were grazing in the Deer Park. Such magnificent creatures, this truly was a treat – and one you can experience, too, as there are several hundred Red and Fallow deer on the Raby estate.
Raby Castle tips
• Grab some food in the newly refurbished Tea Rooms. If you know you’d like to eat something then perhaps reserve a table in advance as it’s relatively small in size and can get busy.
• Head over to the Woodland Adventure Playground and let the kids expend more energy on the obstacle course and zip wire.
• There are lots of activities throughout the year including trails and sheets. Check ahead of your visit or ask at the gift shop on arrival.
• Bikes are available for hire
rabycastle.com Open daily from 10am-5pm; Tickets: Adults £4.50; Kids £2.50
Discover the skies with The North Pennines Stargazing Festival
The North Pennines Dark Skies Stargazing Festival in Durham has just completed its second stint and ran over two weeks with 30 different jam-packed events during 20 October – 4 November 2018. But why the North Pennines for stargazing?
For aspiring stargazers here in the UK, the best place is in the North Pennines, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, who has some of the darkest skies in England. And what is so fantastic is all the events are both educational and fun for the whole family.
We spent a day at Bowlees Visitor Centre (read more about our experience here) taking part in two different activities that are designed to ignite kids’ interest in the skies as well as learn about different species of animals that come out after dark.
Visit northpennines.org.uk for more information and a list of all the Dark Skies Discovery Sites across Durham.
Walk with Alpacas in Teesdale
Nestled in the picturesque Teesdale countryside near Barnard Castle, and off-the-beaten-track is an alpaca farm run by Doug and his wife Samantha. Yes, you did read that correctly – a working alpaca farm. Not only is Teesdale Alpacas producing a whole range of products from alpaca cloth such as pashminas and teddy bears, but they’re also running alpaca treks for small groups.
We loved listening to Doug and his passion for these wonderful creatures. He even admitted to us that his whole life took a different course after he Googled alpacas because he thought they are cute. He gave up his career, purchased the land in Durham and brought his first alpaca. They now have over 60 and each and everyone has a name that Doug remembers. Remarkable!
We went on a short stroll with a couple of alpacas who both had headcollars and were delighted by their calm temperaments. Doug also allowed us to feed a few them out of our hands and took us to see the alpaca babies – who even Monkey admitted, were extremely adorable. And next year – Doug is also going to be taking in some llamas! So watch this space.
Teesdale Alpacas tips
• Visiting Teesdale Alpacas is by appointment only
• Young children are most welcome – but one adult must accompany one child.
• The treks are completely weather dependent – so treks will not go ahead in the rain, snow or gale force winds
For more information, visit teesdale-alpacas.co.uk Alpaca trekking costs £20 per person for a one-hour session
Play Vikings and follow The Highway Rat Trail at Hamsterley Forest
If you’re an outdoors type of family – then you’ll love Hamsterley Forest as much we did. It is the ultimate paradise for all outdoor enthusiasts. And the best thing? You don’t even have to be hugely adventurous because there is plenty to do even with young children.
Hamsterley Forest play areas
Part of the Forestry Commission, Hamsterley Forest has biking and walking trails, horse riding routes, geocaching and plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife. But for the kids, it’s all about the Viking Wildplay trail, which is also pushchair friendly. The children loved clambering on all the different obstacles and there was so much to enjoy it was difficult getting them to leave.
The Highway Rat Trail
Hamsterley Forest has several Julia Donaldson-inspired trails including their lastest Gruffalo orienteering walk. However, because the path wasn’t suitable for the pushchair we opted to do The Highway Rat Activity Trail instead. With our sheet in hand, we spent a good hour walking the 2.5km through Hamsterley Forest to search for all the characters. It was a great way to be able to enjoy the autumnal ambience and colours of a splendid natural playground – and for Monkey to really engage with one of his favourite books.
Visit forestryengland.uk/hamsterley-forest for more information.
Find treasure on Seaham Beach
Seaham is a lively harbour town on the coast of Durham – and it’s well worth a visit if you fancy getting in on some seaside action, as well as visiting St Mary The Virgin, one of the oldest surviving churches in the whole of the UK. We went for a stroll around the marina, before heading to the beach for a spot of rock climbing and sea glass hunting – Seaham is a worldwide hotspot for collecting it.
Having never hunted for sea glass before, we set out on the beach with determination – after seeing a few people with their rich pickings. A quick glance down in the pebbles and the sea glass was quite hard to spot at first. But after looking more closely, the twinkle of shiny bright greens and yellows begun to sparkle in the sun. We found tons – and the kids really enjoyed collecting their treasure.
A short drive – or a spectacular walk along the coastal path – leads you to Nose Point, where on a bright day you will have clear views all the way to North Yorkshire. As the gateway to the Heritage Coast of Durham, it’s well worth the detour to take in the scenery. Meanwhile, if you’re up for a spot of hiking, there are trails that reflect the wildflower meadows, ponds, artwork and seating area to what was once the dumping ground of a former colliery.
• Whatever the weather, a pitstop at Lickety Split Icecream parlour is a must. Not only does the retro hangout have a vast choice of different flavours, but huge sundaes and other treats, too.
• If you are strolling along the seafront, don’t forget to pop over and look at Tommy the First World War soldier by artist Ray Lonsdale. It’s a poignant piece of work, which is only on the Terrace Green because the community of Seaham fought and raised money to buy it.
• If you’re feeling peckish then why not order some lunch from the newly refurbished Seaton Lane Inn. We loved our table close to the indoor water fountain and eating a delicious meal of fish and chips. Seaton Lane Inn is a traditional pub with a modern twist and we were all impressed.
* Disclosure: This post is a paid collaboration with This Is Durham. As always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.