Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Top Tips for Visiting Newcastle for Covid-Nervous Families

This post has been published by Martha Lane on July 6 2021. 

It’s been a tough year (and then some) for everyone; parents across the globe have been balancing home life and careers, dealing with abrupt school closures, holidays have been cancelled (then rearranged and cancelled again), weddings disrupted, birthday parties ruined.

Not to mention batting away endless questions about when parks/soft play/museums/swimming pools/the arcade/the cinema are going to open. Now everything is opening back up again it feels strange (again). Those of us who had vulnerable family members in their bubble might be experiencing an extra level of anxiety now our worlds are growing larger again. 

Back in May 2020 (six weeks into shielding – literally told not to take the bins out or go into my garden unless I could guarantee I’d be further than three metres away from the fences – the idea of going into a bustling city centre was as alien to me as… well, flying a rocket into outer space. Inside? Queueing? People? What’s that then?

Pre-Covid, the kids and I were in Newcastle four or five times a week. Every week. I love Newcastle. I hate the fact I’ve only been in a few times since the pandemic hit. Twice for jabs and once for a cheeky civil partnership and some celebratory donuts outside the Civic Centre, in case you were wondering. So, one sunny Sunday I took my daughter into the city centre to see how easy it was to navigate with a little left-over anxiety. 

To put our nerves to the test we took the Metro. Everyone was masked and while it was busier than most places I have been in the last few months, it certainly wasn’t cramped, and it was easy to stay distanced from other day-trippers. Metro staff periodically get on to check people are wearing masks and carry spares with them. Announcements remind people to open windows and give each other space. Thinking carefully about when you travel can impact heavily on how busy it is when you travel as you can see by this snapshot of Haymarket.

The first thing I noticed was the one-way system set up on Northumberland Street. Big white arrows on the floor that about 80% of people were following. Whether you think that’s good enough might be mood-dependant. I certainly felt comfortable walking down the busy shopping street.

While it wasn’t the most exciting start to our day, if your child is anything like mine then they have grown almost a foot in lockdown, so we needed Primark to find some pyjamas that didn’t look like boob tubes.

I’d obviously seen the huge scrums of people waiting to get inside Primarks plastered over the news, but this was a breeze. The shop is huge, easy to move around without bumping into people and there are screens between till points to keep staff and customers a bit safer. And we got some pyjamas that were suitably baggy.

The day’s main event was The Hancock Museum. Oh, how we’ve missed stimulation! It was so good to be back. My daughter is now old enough that she actually wanted to stop and talk about what she was looking at, rather than race through and roar loudly in the face of the T-Rex. I felt completely safe here.

 You are advised to book tickets (which are free) so the museum can control numbers. It literally can’t get crowded. Though if you haven’t booked, it’s still worth checking at the gift shop in case they do have space. The staff were incredibly helpful.

Clear signage, barriers to stop people ‘just nipping through the wrong way’ and hand sanitising stations dotted around made it feel like a very controlled environment. Kidder was slightly disappointed that the interactive screens in the exhibitions were closed down temporarily, but that didn’t last long as she started imagining being a Roman soldier.

Now, tired legs were in need of an energy boost. I’d promised the girl cake, so cake the girl would have. My personal favourite Olive and Bean’s outside area was pretty busy, and Les Petits Choux (ideal for take away if you want to retreat to Leazes Park for a respite) is closed on Sundays. She wanted a level of fancy somewhere between Greggs and Fenwick so I ended up taking her into M&S food hall. 

To keep their baked treats safe from germs Marks have individually boxed up their cakes and pastries (all recyclable) and my girl was extremely happy to have something ‘soooooo posh.’ She was happy, it felt more special than popping into a supermarket and meant I didn’t have to sit in a crowd.

I suggested the Baltic next. Big airy galleries are so easy to spread out in. Again free, timed tickets are recommended but walk-ins are fine. The pandemic has not affected what you can expect from the Baltic’s exhibitions. Perfectly weird and wonderful.

Walking down Grey Street we encountered the little green, which I had forgotten about but came in extremely handy. It’s easy to forget how many green spaces Newcastle has. We plonked ourselves outside the Hancock to eat the ‘posh’ muffin but Leazes Park, Exhibition Park, the Green, and the Civic Centre all offer shady, outdoor (helpful to give your ears a rest from the mask!) spots to gather your breath. 

As you can see, we didn’t do much on our first venture out, but baby steps are fine. The world is huge now and if pyjamas, a muffin, and some canopic jars are all it takes to tucker you out that seems reasonable to me. 


The announcement on 5 July, suggested that the rules might change sooner than some of us were hoping; so, if the worry that no social distancing and no masks is going to keep you from the city centre maybe plan to visit before 19 July. I know I’m glad I went to see the old girl. 

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Top Tips for Visiting Newcastle for Covid-Nervous Families

Top Tips for Visiting Newcastle for Covid-Nervous Families


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