Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum | A Visitor's Guide

This is an advertisement for August 2021. Any edits / reshares beyond this date have not been asked or paid for. 

We visited Arbeia Roman Fort in August 2021 and I was kicking myself for not visiting earlier. It is FREE to visit and there is loads to see and do both inside and out. It is not part of Hadrian's Wall and offers an alternative insight into Roman life in North East England which I found to be fascinating. Arbeia Roman Fort is a World Heritage Site. 

You can expect REAL Roman Artefacts which were discovered on the site (and learn about their stories), climb up to the top of the West Gate and imagine life as a Roman Gatekeeper / enjoy the magnificent views, walk around the Roman Medicine Garden, explore the ruins and visit the reconstructed Roman Barracks which really brings the era to life. 

Essential Information & Location 

Arbeia Roman Fort is located in South Shields' Town Centre. It is very easy to access by public transport and just a short 12 minute walk from South Shields Metro Station (remember, up to three kids aged 11 and under travel for free, all day everyday with a fare-paying adult now - see here for details). 

There is no on-site car park but there is plenty of free parking on the surrounding streets. We managed to find a space outside of the fort no bother on a sunny day in the holidays. Alternatively, you could park in one of the town centre car parks or on the sea front and walk along to the fort. 

Visit the Arbeia Roman Fort website for opening times, address and directions. At time of publishing, no booking is required. Just turn up during opening hours. 

Dogs are welcome in the grounds at Arbeia and water bowls are provided. If you ask, they may have some dog treats at reception too. There are toilets on site and Arbeia is partially accessible, you can read their accessibility information here.  On the day of our visit, a dad was there with his toddler in a pushchair and they seemed to manage ok. 

Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum | A Visitor's Guide  - location

I absolutely love visiting South Shields - there is so much to see and do here and if you can, I would recommend adding a trip to Arbeia Roman Fort with a few other attractions. 

It is a 15 minute walk to Ocean Beach Pleasure Beach, you have multiple fantastic playgrounds in North & South Marine Park, South Shields Museum iss a very short walk from the fort and also FREE to visit with no booking required and you have a fabulous swimming pool at Haven Point too. I could go on but will leave it there. Check out my '15+ ideas for things to do in South Shields' post for more ideas. 

Another idea is to visit Arbeia and then hop on the Metro to Segedunum which is next to Wallsend Metro Station and will give an alternative perspective to Roman life. 

Dotted across the site you will find these 'Revolting Britons and Ruling Romans' boards which share easy to digest and fun (sometimes gruesome) facts for kids which Jack enjoyed reading. Actually I found them interesting too. Look out for them. 

Museum & Exhibitions 

In the entrance hall, you will find two rooms featuring exhibitions. These are indoors and worth looking around. They are only small but they share some of history of Arbeia really well and give you a little background information before you head into the main fort. 

There are hands on activities for kids too - so please to have these back as they really do make the difference. 

I was fascinated to discover this ring-main which dates back almost 2000 years and was discovered right here in the fort. It is the actual shirt and not a replica. I had to double check with staff that what I was looking at was in fact the real deal because I am so used to seeing replicas in museums these days. I can assure you it is, you can get a closer look with a magnifying glass and learn how it was preserved too. 

There was a fire at the fort and you can read all about what they suspect happened in the museum. 

The museum also does a fantastic job of bringing archaeology to life. I was interested to learn how they could tell that Romans kept cats as pets through some of the animal bones found here. 

Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum | A Visitor's Guide  - museum

In the second part of the museum you can learn about burials in the fort and surrounding areas and some of the stones that were used / what they can tell us about Roman life. 

There is also a fun interactive quiz to discover whether you belong in Team Britain or Team Roman (Jack is Team Britain). 

Time Quest & Medicinal Garden / Picnic Area 

Time Quest was closed on the day of our visit. I believe this area is used for events / learning. The Roman Herb Garden is lovely to walk through though and you can discover some of the wild and wacky cures the Romans used for everyday complaints (I won't be following in their footsteps any time soon). 

The herb garden is of course, a sensory experience and it looks and smells lovely. There are picnic tables if you wish to bring a bite to eat. There isn't a cafe here but there are plenty nearby in the town centre / sea front. We opted for Fish and Chips at Colmans Seafood Temple when we visited (highly recommend). 

Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum | A Visitor's Guide - Picnic area

Roman Fort 

You are free to walk around the Roman Fort and there are lots of information boards explaining what exactly you are looking at. I loved the sensory boards so you can feel the various materials used too. Nice touch. 

Barrack Block & Commanding Officer's House Reconstruction 

One of the unexpected finds at Arbeia is the reconstructed Barrock Block and Commanding Officer's House. I had no idea this was hidden in South Shields. 

Visitors can walk freely around the reconstructions and you really can see the stark difference to how the everyday Soldiers lived and the Commanding Officer lived when they are side by side and in front of your eyes like this. 

The Barracks have been reconstructed behind the old ruins and you can still see where they would have been today. 

Below is an example of one the higher ranking soldier's room. Those in the lower ranks would fit around 10 in one room (it was too dark in that room to get a decent photo but it was basically a room filled with beds which multiple soldiers had to share). 

Of course, there had to be a section on Roman Loos........

Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum | A Visitor's Guide  - roman toilet

Then into the Commanding Officer's House. You can already see a huge difference. It is crazy to me that they lived next door to the Soldier Barracks. The contrast between lavish lifestyle and space vs cramped conditions is so apparent. 

There are models of the Commanding Officer's Living Quarters too. 

This room below was my favourite and it is where guests would be entertained. Apparently the Romans favoured lying around and draping themselves across daybeds when visiting others and this room really helps you to see this. Alright for some! You really can picture the scene. Again there are lots of info boards in these rooms sharing little nuggets of information with you. 

Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum | A Visitor's Guide  - commanding officer's house reconstruction

Re-constructed Gateway 

You can go inside and climb to the top of the re-constructed gateway. It is packed with even more history and the views from the top are brilliant too. 

Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum | A Visitor's Guide - model reconstruction

We loved this little game where you had to press the buttons and guess the Roman sounds. 

There are beautiful models of the whole fort and watchtowers in here which really bring the experience to life and help you imagine how the place you are standing might have looked in Roman times. 

Another real highlight was this 'Have a sniff' game where you can identify typical Roman smells. Lots of fun and yes, you can expect some not-so-nice smells too. 

Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum | A Visitor's Guide  - hands on activities

The views from the top of the tower are brilliant and we managed to spot Penshaw Monument and Tynemouth Priory in the distance. Both of which wouldn't have been around in Roman times. 

Events at Arbeia Roman Fort 

I am delighted to see that events are returning to Arbeia. I know in the past they have organised weapon demos, battles, Roman markets, Roman falconry and more. All usually FREE too. Check out the 'What's On' section of the Arbeia website to see what's coming up. 

I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Arbeia. I think we were there for close to 2 hours. It really captured our attention though and I read pretty much every info board. It is somewhere you could take a picnic and spend longer or just pop in for a quick look around. 

Please do double check these events are still going ahead on the Arbeia website as information may have changed since this post was published. 

Upcoming events include: 
  • 21 August - Ways To Play : A Roman Encounter | This FREE drop-in event allows you to meet a Roman Soldier, check out their weapons and armour displays and watch training techniques being demonstrated. Find out more here. 

  • 11 September - Heritage Open Day : Roman Soldier Meet & Greet | Meet a Roman Soldier who lived at the fort. 

  • 18 September - Heritage Open Day : Roman Soldier Meet & Greet | Meet a Roman Soldier who lived at the fort. 

  • 25 September - Ways To Play : A Roman Encounter | This FREE drop-in event allows you to meet a Roman Soldier, check out their weapons and armour displays and watch training techniques being demonstrated. Find out more here. 
I hope you can see that we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Arbeia. I really hope this post encourages some of you to visit too. 

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1 comment

  1. Those places are so beautiful and amazing. I would love to visit them one day. Thank you for sharing!


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