Great North Museum : Hancock - Visitors Guide

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Great North Museum : Hancock - Visitors Guide

This post is based on a visit to the Great North Museum, Newcastle in June 2021. Information may have changed since this post was published. Please always check for the most up-to-date information direct with the museum before making plans. 

Great North Museum | About 

The Great North Museum is managed by Tyne & Wear Archives on behalf of Newcastle University. The building was purpose built as a Natural History Museum way back in 1884 when trailblazing taxidermist John Hancock was instrumental in securing funds for the project. Many of Hancock's British Birds are still available to view inside of the museum today and upon his death, the museum changed its name to 'The Hancock Museum' which is what children of the 80s like myself (and before this) may still affectionately call the museum. 

In 2009, the museum received a multi-million pound redevelopment, merged with the Museum of Antiquities and Shefton Museum and again changed its name to 'Great North Museum : Hancock'. 

I always enjoy a trip to the Great North Museum. It is free to visit, they have a large exhibition space on the top floor and we have enjoyed numerous temporary and fascinating exhibitions here over the years (including visiting Dippy when he was on tour) and it is super easy to visit by public transport. In the school holidays, the museum usually organises special events which are usually free of charge/low cost. 

I also love visiting Great North Museum for a heady dose of nostalgia. I remember visiting the museum on a school trip in around 1990 and can still vividly remember the day in my head. I actually think it may have been the first time I had stepped foot in a museum and seeing Irtyru, the varnished Egyptian Mummy, absolutely blew my mind. I remember that my Grandma had given my 50p to spend at the gift shop and I bought some real (fools) gold after being enamoured by the museum's gem collection. I felt like the richest girl on the planet that day and even this memory alone, makes me realise how important our local museum's are. 

Great North Museum | Location & Tickets 

Great North Museum : Hancock - Visitors Guide Map

The Great North Museum is located in the heart of Newcastle Upon Tyne (Barras Bridge, Newcastle Upon Tyne. NE2 4PT). There is no dedicated car park as such (although there are spaces for Blue Badge Holders - please see further down this post and click on the accessibility guide for info).

When visiting this area of Newcastle, parking is convenient in Sandyford Square, Eldon Square Multi Story or Claremont Road. To be honest though, we usually catch the bus when visiting Newcastle as it is so much more convenient, generally cheaper, less stressful for me and better for the environment too. Great North Museum is just a short walk from Haymarket Bus Station / Metro Station. 

The museum is free to visit (donations welcome) and at time of publishing, it is strongly recommended that you pre-book a time slot online. If you are passing, on-the-day entry may be available but there may be a wait / this is not guaranteed. You can book your time slot online here. 

The way the museum works with bookings is brilliant. You are provided with a 2 hour time slot which is the perfect length of time to enjoy the museum at a leisurely pace. The museum closes for 30 minutes between time slots for cleaning. This does mean if you arrive early for your time slot, there may be a bit of a queue to wait for the doors to open after cleaning so if you or your kids aren't fans of queues, I would definitely recommend arriving either on time or 10-15 minutes after your time slot begins. 

Great North Museum | Summer Holiday Events 

Please note these are subject to change/cancellation. Please always check details direct with venue before making plans and setting off to avoid disappointment.  To find out more about any of these events / check details, please visit the 'what's on' section of the Great North Museum website here. 

All events are FREE with no booking required unless stated otherwise. Depending on current guidance/restrictions, you may be required to book a free time slot to visit the museum ahead of your visit but please check with GNM for up to date info regarding this. 

  • 24 & 25 July | Wild Weekend at Gosforth Nature Reserve 

  • 27 & 28 July | Archaeology 3000 at Exhibition Hall, Great North Museum 

  • 29 July | Olympic Object Handling & Sports Day on the lawn, Great North Museum 

  • 2-8 August | The Bug Draw with Atomhawk at Exhibition Hall, Great North Museum 

  • 7 August | Fix It Cafe at Clore Learning Suite, Great North Museum 

  • 11 & 12 August | Timbuktu Afrikan Heritage Kitchen & Library at the Street Cafe / Clore Learning Suite, Great North Museum 

  • 17 August | Where did all the Animals Go? Drawing Workshop at the Living Planet Gallery, Great North Museum 

  • 17 & 19 August | Ouseburn Farm Pop Up on the lawn, Great North Museum 

  • 25 & 26 August | Hear My Voice Sign Making at Exhibition Hall, Great North Museum 

  • 28 & 29 August | Pop Up Poison Garden & Gnome Trail on the lawn, Great North Museum

Great North Museum | Facilities & Access 

The museum is accessible and they really make an effort for it to be enjoyed by everyone. Tyne & Wear Museums provide excellent information re: accessibility and Great North Museum is no different. You can view their online accessibility guide here. 

If you are looking for a quiet time to visit, the museum recommends visiting during 10am-2:30pm on a weekday in term time and they host relaxed autism-friendly openings over school holidays (see their what's on page for announcements). 

The museum is suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs and has measures in place such as large braille orientation maps, several accessible toilets including one with a shower, seat and adult changing table, lifts with voice announcers and braille indicators, induction loops and more. 

In 'normal' times, there is plenty of seating throughout but most of this has been temporarily removed in order to comply with current social distancing measures. I would recommend bringing a portable stool / wheelchair if you are likely to need a seat during your visit at the moment. The Hancock Cafe is open and there are seats in there if required. It makes a nice stop for a coffee break around the museum. 

I love a museum gift shop and the Great North Museum's gift shop is packed with dinosaurs and pocket money toys. A reader recently posted in our Facebook group that their gem collection had been removed but I asked about this and they are available by the desk still (I know lots of people love to buy these as a reminder of their trip). If you can't see them, just ask a member of staff and they will be happy to help. 

Facilities in the museum include: 
  • Hancock Cafe on Level One 
  • Street Cafe (currently closed) 
  • Packed Lunch Area (School holidays only and subject to change - please check before making plans) 
  • A range of toilets including male, female, family, accessible and baby change 
  • Breastfeeding area (you are of course, welcome to breastfeed anywhere in the museum)
  • Lockers and buggy park (temporarily closed) 
During the pandemic, some of these facilities may not be available or may be a little different. Please call the museum on 0191 208 6765 if you need to ask about current facilities. 

Great North Museum | Permanent Exhibitions & Galleries

Please note, not all of these exhibitions may be open at this time. Please check here for up-to-date information.

Living Planet 

Living Planet is the first exhibition you will see as you walk inside the museum. It spans across two floors and is an impressive display showcasing some of the animals and wildlife that live on Planet Earth The gallery includes some of the museum's oldest exhibits which are over 100 years old.

This African Elephant below is HUGE and an exact replica from an elephant in a museum in Germany. 

Don't forget to look up - the wandering albatross suspended from the ceiling is one of the museum's oldest residents. You can also meet Sparkie Williams, a famous North East budgie who won a speaking bird contest in 1958 and often appeared on radio and TV. After his death, he was preserved and is a much-loved member of the museum. 

I love that the exhibition features animals from right across the globe and you can discover little titbits of information. Look out for the Great White Shark who isn't as scary as you may think. 

Mouse House 

Another popular area of the museum (temporarily closed), the Mouse House is an area of the museum dedicated to under 5s. Little ones can crawl through a mouse hole, dress up like an animal or historical character, enjoy books and storytime or take part in a special event with the Great North Mouse. 


The Great North Museum is home to a Planetarium. Although it is temporarily closed at the moment, it is definitely worth keeping in mind for future visits. There is normally a small additional charge to enjoy a show and there are usually a few options to choose from throughout the day. It is a relaxing space and a brilliant way to learn more about the Earth, Moon, Stars, Sun, Universe and beyond....... 

Hadrian's Wall 

We love a bit of Roman History in our house and Great North Museum offers a chance to explore this important part of the North East without having to travel for miles into the countryside. 

It is a brilliant, informative exhibition with a model of the wall as the centerpiece (always fun to spot where you live in relation). 

If you've ever visited Hadrian's Wall and wondered just how tall it was back in the day, this fun animation gives you some idea. Spoiler - it was tall! 

There are several artefacts on display with my favourite being a sculpture showing Mithras hatching out of a cosmic egg! We recently visited the Temple of Mithras and I like the way this tells more of the story. The cult of Mithras sounds very weird indeed! 

Fossil Stories, Crystals & Gems, Ice Age to Iron Age 

Jack is determined that he is going to be a Paleontologist when he is older and naturally, he loves this exhibition which is packed with fossils and realistic models. You are able to get fairly close to some and can really see the detail. 

Of course, the model Tyrannosaurus rex is the star attraction. It is a direct replica of one of the most complete T. rex skeletons ever found (excavated in Montana). Pretty cool! 

The crystals and gems section is temporarily closed but in 'normal' times is one of my favourite areas. I just love looking at all of the jewels and gems in their natural form and finding out more about them. It is an absolutely stunning display. 

Ice Age to Iron Age and the Anglo-Saxons 

Most children learn about the Iron Age/ Stone Age and Anglo-Saxons in Primary School and these exhibitions are a good one to bring them to as part of a wider learning experience. You can expect to see weapons, tools, ancient art work, jewellery and some important discoveries from the Ancient Kingdom of Northumbria. If your kids are anything like mine, they will happily explain to the grown ups about the objects in front of them and explain how they are used. 

Explore! & World Cultures 

These two galleries share a marvellous mix of items from around the world along with their stories. From Shark-toothed knives to Feather Headdresses and even a Toon Top, it is quite an ecclectic mix but I really like how thought provoking it is and a wander through these areas always makes me think about my own identity and culture (something I know is a big part of the school curriculum too). 

Natural Northumbria 

This is a cute little area upstairs sharing some of the native species we have living here in the North East. Despite being a relatively small area, we do have a big range of habitats here and it's nice to see the diverse range of wildlife on our doorstep and learn more about them. 

The below walk through area isn't part of Natural Northumbria but it is between that exhibition and the Ancient Egyptians. Always fun to walk through and play a real life game of the floor is lava!  

Roman Empire, Ancient Egyptians & Ancient Greeks 

Another fantastic area of the museum and a place you can marvel at entire coffins and items used in ancient burial rituals. Do not miss the 30 year old woman who was mummified, buried on the banks of the Nile and then examined by doctors in Newcastle (and varnished!) in 1830. She is fairly creepy but also very intriguing and interesting. A real museum highlight! 

You can also see a mummified crocodile. Why anyone would want to mummify a crocodile is beyond me! There is also the chance to see the hieroglyphics on the tombs up close which is fascinating. 

Great North Museum | Temporary Exhibitions 

Other Worlds : The Art of Atomhawk (until Sunday 5 September)

As mentioned earlier, one of the things I really love about Great North Museum is their temporary exhibition space on level one. It's a huge space and we have visited many fantastic exhibitions over the years. In the past few years alone, the gallery has been home to snakes, dinosaurs, hearts, bones, famous artwork and more.....

At the moment, the space has been taken over by Atomhawk, a design studio in Gateshead. I will be honest, the first I had heard about this studio was when I read they were going to exhibit here and I suspect many of us will be the same. 

Well they are firmly on my radar now, so much so that when the kids were streaming a gaming conference recently I immediately pointed out that the work on Halo Infinite had to have had some input from Atomhawk as it looked so familiar. I googled it, and I was right and filled with pride for the North East.  

You may not have heard of Atomhawk but you will most definitely have heard of their work. They have participated in some mega projects and worked on projects, films and video games including Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Empires, LEGO, Marvel, Fifa, Game of Thrones and Minecraft Earth to name but a few. As part of the exhibition (which is free to visit and included with your admission by the way), you can view their showreel and I defy anyone not to be impressed. 

So proud to see such brilliant work and North East talent. I honestly urge everyone to take their kids to see this as it's an inspiring gallery and I am sure will spark interest in many who visit. 

The exhibition focuses on the fantasy universe of The Realm, invites visitors to experience Tyneside in an alternative world and gives us the chance to delve into the world of a digital artist and the process involved. 

My three love gaming and films and Harry hopes to work in the film industry one day so I am really pleased that an exhibition of this type is available for us to visit and completely free too. Even if you're not interested in digital animation, it is interesting to see some of the pieces which have been created and a little piece of escapism. 

Great North Museum | Events 

You can find out what's on at Great North Museum here. At the moment, there are a couple of trails to complete and some crafts to try at home. 

There are also two 'Musical Museum' classes available in July (suitable for ages 2-4 years) with booking opening on 26 June. 

Great North Museum | Visiting During the Coronavirus Pandemic 

We last visited the museum in May Half Term 2021 and yes, things were a little different but it was so good to be back. I felt really confident that the museum has gone above and beyond current guidelines in order to keep visitors and staff as safe as possible. Measures in place on the day of our visit included: 

  • Limited numbers (with pre-bookings). We were never within 2m (and more) of another family/group and had plenty of space 
  • A one way system around the museum with clear arrows 
  • Contactless payments 
  • Protective screens for staff 
  • Track and Trace in operation 
  • Staff on hand at the entrance to explain new procedures 
  • Hand sanitiser available 
  • Museum closed to the public between sessions for extra cleaning 
  • Some areas where social distancing / a one way system is not possible have been temporarily closed 
  • The museum galleries are naturally large, airy and spacious 
  • Interactive areas temporarily closed (see here for information about what is / is not open at this time)

Do I think the museum is worth a visit at this time? 100%! Some areas may be closed but there is still plenty to see. If your kids love animals, they will really enjoy the Living Planet area and the Spider Crab is always a talking point for us. 

Equally, if your kids (or you) love dinosaurs, who wouldn't want to come face to face with a T-Rex? 

The museum is a familiar setting for many and the measures in place are fantastic so if you are nervous about venturing into Newcastle / an indoor venue with your children but feel ready to, I would say the Great North Museum is a fab place to start. The museum is suitable for pushchairs and it is a nice place to walk around / have a change of scenery / stop for a coffee. I also like that there is a beautiful lawn outside where you can enjoy a picnic afterwards if the sun is shining. It's a nice, quiet spot by the museum and along with the rest of the Newcastle University campus, the plants and flowers are gorgeous. 

If you have yet to see the Atomhawk exhibition, I would also recommend booking a visit before it leaves later this summer. Particularly for older kids/teens/adults interested in gaming, animation and digital design. Like I say, it's an inspiring gallery and something we can be proud of in the North East. 

Finally, visiting the Great North Museum is FREE so ideal if you are on a budget and looking for something to do. Every visit supports the museum. After the year we've all had, any support we can give our local attractions is going to be highly appreciated. 

Great North Museum | Top Tips For Visiting 

  • Sign up to be a  'Must-see Museums' member here. It's FREE and you will be the first to know about events, new exhibitions and receive priority booking.
  • Arrive 10-15 minutes after your time slot begins if you wish to avoid a queue
  • Exhibition Park is just behind the museum and a nice place to burn off some energy afterwards
  • The Hatton Gallery is a short walk from the museum and also free to visit. Find out more and book your visit here. 
  • At the moment, there is no pushchair store but you are able to take them around the museum with you 
  • There are lots of toilets and baby changing facilities available - Access is with one 'bubble' at a time
  • At the moment, due to the one way system you visit the gift shop first so if you would like to purchase something, make sure you do before visiting the rest of the museum 
  • The Hancock cafe on level one is open with light bites, snacks and drinks or bring a picnic to enjoy on the museum lawn or in Exhibition Park
We always enjoy a Great North Museum visit. It is somewhere to be enjoyed for all ages and there is always something interesting to discover. I feel like the exhibitions here have lots of links to the National Curriculum too and it is a place you can definitely extend your child's learning. 

Find out more and book here:

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