Whoever told you it was grim up north, was either clueless or frankly fibbing to keep the good stuff to themselves. There are miles of unspoilt (and fairly unpopulated!) golden sandy beaches, world class museums of art, history and pretty much anything else from bagpipes (Morpeth) to trains (there are a few of those!) to life (the Great North Museum and Centre for Life) and life in general (Beamish Open Air museum is practically next door: it's massive!).
Shopping til you drop in the Metrocentre, Newcastle, Durham or Sunderland, and the urban areas are minutes away from miles and miles of rolling countryside. Durham Dales and the nearby Lake District offer great walks and climbs, Northumberland is the least populated county in England, so ideal to get away from it all!
The industrial heritage of the north east has resulted in fantastic off-road cycle networks on what used to be railways across the region; there are many castles to explore, world heritage sites such as Hadrian's Wall and a whole heap of fun-packed excellent family days out to suit any budget at Country Parks, farm centres and leisure centres.
But shhh... don't tell everyone, or they'll all come!!!!!!!