“I liked the silly baby robot!” – Jake
I have something shocking to admit: I have never been to the Centre for Life. I lived in and around Newcastle for several years after it was built, and have made many trips back to the city since, but I’ve never visited this hive of science and technology (I have spent quite a lot of time in the surrounding pubs…).
That changed recently, during a rainy half term trip up north, when the Hancock Museum (ahem, Great North Museum) was closed and we found ourselves at a friend’s offices around the corner from Centre for Life. Lucas was desperate to go, having seen that the Robots exhibition he so loved at Mosi was now in Newcastle. I was hesitant, due to the entry price, expected hordes of visitors, and tired kids. For lack of a better alternative, we headed there – this time as seven, joined by our friends (one adult and two children).
What we did at the Centre for Life
Upon arriving at the Centre for Life, we made our way to the cafe (no mean feat with four excited children – the fifth too little to understand!). The children dined on kids’ packs, which included a sandwich, drink, piece of fruit, and a custard pot. The adults chose from jacket potatoes, sandwiches, and quiches. It was a little overpriced for very standard fare, but we tend to expect that at museum cafes.
We had to queue for about 12 years (actual time: 5-10 minutes – seems like much longer with kids in tow) and the centre was really busy – unsurprising since it was both half term and raining. Entrance is again quite expensive – I think we are spoiled with free museums down in Manchester, plus paying for 4-5 entries is always a lot.
Lucas was really excited to see some of the small items from the Robots exhibition as soon as we entered, including a pneumatic setup using syringes and tubes. After playing with these for a few minutes, we moved on to the ‘Brain Zone’, which is full of hands-on exhibits. It was quite busy, and the kids quickly got frustrated with waiting (this is why I usually do museum trips in the morning…). A buildable model of the brain held their attention for a while, and the ‘toilet’ with a drinking fountain got some laughs!
We checked out the ‘Experiments’ section, but it was full to bursting. The suggested age was 7+ and since we had two six-year-olds, two three-year-olds, and an 11-month-old, we gave it a miss. Lucas was disappointed but I couldn’t see how it could go well as it was so busy.
I thought my children would have seen enough of the Robots exhibition (having seen it seven times between them) but they were tickled by the different setup and very interested in how it got there from Manchester.
The highlight of the visit was the ‘Space Robots’ show in the Planetarium (all shows are included in the entry price). Designed for younger children, this is a short film with animation, sounds, and narration. It talks about why we send robots into space, and Jake in particular really loved it!
The Young Explorers Zone is also really super. Housed in the upper floor of the centre, it is a play and exploration area for under-7s. There’s a tree house, construction area, reading nooks, play kitchen, train track, large-format games, colouring, and dressing up. If it had been a bit quieter it would have been the perfect place to run off steam. It even has seats for supervising grown-ups! It would be great to see a coffee cart here.
What we thought
The children really enjoyed exploring the Centre for Life, despite being tired and a little cranky. There was lots to see and do, and lots to catch their eyes, even with the age difference between them.
“I loved it. I liked the pneumatic robot and I liked the explorers bit,” said Lucas.
“It was brilliant and fantastic,” said Aurora.
We could have easily done the whole day at the Centre for Life. On this trip, the kids were tired and over-stimulated, and we spent about two hours here. There is so much to see, and it’s very open-plan, which means you’re always navigating crowds. That made me a little nervous with three small people to keep an eye on – I’d like to return when it’s less busy so they can roam and explore at their own speed.
- Going with a friend or partner? Save money by buying a family ticket.
- Take your own food and ‘picnic’ in the plaza in front of the centre.
- Go in term-time if you can, so you have more space to explore
Parking? pay-and-display at Times Square car park.
Refreshments? yes, two cafes within the centre serving kids’ packs and hot and cold food. Overpriced in our opinion.
Loos? yes, next to the entrance, next to the cafe, and in the Young Explorers Zone.