The UK has plenty of amazing locations to add to your travel itinerary. There’s a lot to choose from in terms of cities, countryside and historical locations. In this post, I’ll be sharing some of my favourite secret spots and hidden gems in North East England. It’s an area packed with history and incredible coastal beauty.
The North East of England sometimes gets a bit of a raw deal, reputation-wise. As a native, this is kind of annoying, but not entirely unexpected. The North East is one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged areas of the UK and has been devastated by the last decade of austerity.
However, while we may have challenging cultural and political issues going on, there’s plenty of positivity to be found in the North East too. Sometimes, this is all too easily overlooked.
One of our greatest assets is our beautiful coastline and fascinating heritage. So, I think it’s time to uncover a few hidden gems here in my homeland.
Hidden gems in North East England
Today I’m sharing five secret spots in North East England that you really should visit at some point in your life. It’s not all brown ale and black and white stripes up here, you know?
Ok, a fair bit of it is brown ale and black and white stripes, but there’s so much more to the region than that!
Aside from being a dyed-in-the-wool product of the North East, I’ve lived in and travelled my home region fairly extensively for the last thirty-odd years. So I can share a bit of insight into some hidden gems in North East England. Despite living abroad at one point, I’ve always come home to my old stomping ground. Not just because of the affordable living costs either.
Here are a few parts of the region that are definitely worth a visit if you get the opportunity.
Five hidden gems in North East England
Seaham is a little harbour town on the East Durham coastline, not too far from Sunderland. With a rich history of coal mining and beautiful clifftop views, there’s a lot to love about this little place.
Seaham is home to one of the oldest churches in the UK and has an incredible spa in Seaham Hall. But it’s the Harbour Marina that’s worth checking out first.
As well as having a range of shops and cafes, the Harbour Marina now has an Activity Centre where you can try out a range of activities like paddle boarding, kayaking, climbing and cycling. You can also visit by boat and dock at the Marina all year round. If you’ve got a boat, I mean. Not many of us do. Still, it’s nice to have options!
Having been to Seaham many times, I can vouch for the natural beauty of the place. Plus, it has the most incredible ice cream shop on the seafront, which I’d recommend visiting purely to try out some of the sundaes.
The thing I love most about Seaham though is that it’s relatively unspoiled. Most visitors to the North East rarely venture outside of the known hotspots of Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland. The East Durham coastline is packed with beautiful beaches and they’re only about twenty to thirty minutes out of the cities.
High Force Waterfall
An incredible natural waterfall on the River Tees, High Force Waterfall is another one of the best hidden gems in the North East. It definitely deserves a bit more recognition. Due to our industrial heritage, the North East isn’t often that well-regarded when it comes to natural beauty. Still, there’s no denying that High Force is a breathtaking sight.
It has a twenty-two-metre drop, making it one of the highest waterfalls in England. High Force is accessible for free via the public footpath of the Pennine Way. You can also get to it via the Raby Estate which is near Staindrop in County Durham. However, you’ll have to pay to enter in that way, as it’s privately owned land.
High Force’s name is taken from its Nordic counterpart of ‘High Fosse’. That’s pretty impressive and speaks to our ancient Nordic roots. I’d recommend heading up there to check it out for yourself if you get the chance.
Hardwick Hall Country Park
Hardwick Hall Country Park is probably one of my favourite secret spots in the North East. It’s a fantastic way to spend an afternoon with the kids if you’re into exploring areas of natural beauty. According to the Register of Parks and Gardens, Hardwick Hall Country Park is an area of exceptional historical interest. So, if you like to discover the origins of this tranquil escape, it’s one of the most interesting hidden gems in North East England.
I often visit Hardwick Park with my kids, as they regularly put on activities for children and families. These include a variety of themed woodland walks, den-building workshops, wizard trails and Gruffalo hunts. Most of these are free of charge.
Again, this secret spot can be found in County Durham, near the town of Sedgefield. The park itself is naturally beautiful of course, but there are so many activities going on there too it’s difficult for the kids to get bored.
Hardwick Park is a gorgeous place to spend a sunny day out. It has a visitor centre, and exhibition space with lots of interesting local art and history inside. There’s also a classroom for large groups and educational visits. They also have provision for birthday parties, which are a great way to get the kids out and about and engaged with nature on their friends.
Hardwick Hall Park also houses Hardwick Hall, a truly gorgeous spa and hotel that I pine after each time I visit the park.
Tynemouth is probably one of the best hidden gems in North East England. I have a real soft spot for the place. It’s one of the most beautiful and unspoilt towns in the Newcastle area. Located right on the coast to the northeast of the city, Tynemouth sits on the mouth of the River Tyne as it flows out to sea. You can get there via the Tyne & Wear Metro if you’re staying in the city and don’t fancy the drive.
Tynemouth’s a real jewel in the crown of our region in my eyes. It has gorgeous beaches, beautiful houses and a thriving community of independent artists and businesses.
King Edward’s Bay is a small and beautifully unspoiled beach on the Tynemouth seafront, and you can see the ruins of the ancient Tynemouth Castle and Priory from it too.
I have really fond memories of visiting Tynemouth when I used to live in Newcastle. The proximity of the sea made it feel like a home from home for me. I always wanted to move there permanently one day. It also has a small but popular Aquarium, where I took my daughter on her first birthday. She was sick in the car on the way there, so I’ll definitely never forget it.
Anyway, Tynemouth is a fantastic place to visit if you are planning on a trip to the North East.
Durham University Botanic Garden
Some might think this is an odd choice, but right in the heart of Durham City is a secret spot I think everyone should visit at some point. Durham University Botanic Garden is open to the public and attracts around 80,000 visitors a year. Set in ten hectares of woodland, it’s a great place for people of all ages to spend some time with nature.
There’s a wide variety of gorgeous plants and flowers to explore at the Botanic Garden, as well as a rainforest section in their greenhouse. Its affiliation with the University means it places an emphasis on science, art and educational activities. Additionally, the centre provides opportunities for families to take part in crafts, storytelling and other workshops.
I visited the Botanic Garden a lot when I was studying in Durham. It’s a great way to experience the beauty of nature right from within the city’s historic setting. Definitely worth a visit if you are heading to the North East area.
Other hidden gems in North East England
These are only five of my favourite secret spots to visit in the North East. There are lots more fantastic hidden gems to uncover in the region, which I’ll write about in future. Most importantly, I hope that when the North East does get painted in a negative light, people will stop to consider the good parts alongside the bad.
What are your favourite places in the North East, if you’re local or have visited before? Let me know in the comments.