Known for its nightlife, culture, architecture and friendly locals, Newcastle is a canny (very good) city to visit. The iconic Angel of the North sculpture welcomes you to this industrial city on the River Tyne even before you meet a Geordie. Here are just a few of the many reasons to visit the capital of the North East.
While there is always something happening in Newcastle, it is a surprisingly small city. You can cross the city centre in 15 minutes so it’s a great place for walking yet also has a really good bus and metro system. It’s easy to get to galleries, shops, nightlife and greenery in a day – The Town Moor is larger than Central Park in New York, plus there are cows grazing there for much of the year.
Newcastle natives, known as Geordies, have a well-deserved reputation for being friendly. Once you’ve tuned in to the accent it’s not difficult to get a conversation started and you’ll soon discover it’s harder to stop one as they love to talk. Geordies appear to have a natural confidence and if you look lost they may well approach you to ask if you need directions. You might be called ‘pet’ and ‘love’ in shops and bars and ‘whey aye man’ simply means they agree. Geordies have a brilliant sense of humour and know how to have fun. Hence the amount of nightlife here!
The Toon (Newcastle city centre) is famous for its vibrant nightlife with a huge range of bars and clubs. The Bigg Market is well-known for its pubs and bars including the Old George Inn – the oldest pub in Newcastle dating back to the 16th century. Head to The Quayside for more bars and restaurants to sit outside by the river. There’s even a microbrewery in a former art deco Palace of Arts by the water in Exhibition Park.
While Newcastle is a popular stag and hen party location it is also great for seeing live music. The Cluny in Ouseburn comes recommended as does Newcastle City Hall. Plus the huge Sage Gateshead concert hall is home to the Northern Sinfonia and Folk works, an organisation that promotes British and international traditional music.
Newcastle’s oldest and most-loved independent cinema, Tyneside Cinema, makes a night at the flicks more special. And there’s the historic Grade I listed Theatre Royal on Grey Street which has a brilliant annual pantomime and frequent visits from the RSC throughout the year. Northern Stage and Live Theatre are worth knowing about too.
Once a commercial dockside, The Quayside is now a wonderfully picturesque area for daytime strolls admiring the bridges over the Tyne and for enjoying dinner or drinks in the evening. It’s a popular neighbourhood with landmark buildings, laidback pubs, trendy bars and stylish restaurants. The Quayside Sunday Market is a great way to round off a weekend away – perfect for pottering after a big night out.
There are historic buildings along Sandhill including the 17th-century Guildhall and the lovingly restored Bessie Surtees House consisting of two merchant’s houses dating from the 16th and 17th centuries with a restored Jacobean facade.
The National Centre for Children’s Books, Seven Stories, is great for families, as is the Life Science Centre. And the 2.5-mile long Victoria Tunnel is an underground attraction connecting the Town Moor down to the Tyne. It was opened in 1842 as a wagonway to transport coal from the colliery to riverside jetties but you can now go on a guided tour. There’s even a Tipple in the Tunnel event with Hotel du Vin’s Head Sommelier once a month.
Geordies are passionate about ‘the Beautiful Game’. The 50,000-seater St James’ Park stadium is the city centre home ground of Newcastle United Football Club. You can’t miss it as the white cantilever roof, the largest in Europe, is visible across the city.
The stadium tour options are really good as there is one that includes a rooftop tour on a walkway 150 feet above the ground. Or come for a stadium tour and pub lunch in the stadium’s own NINE Sports Bar.
Much of the city centre dates from the 1830s and has beautifully preserved streets and buildings – especially the collection of streets around the Grey Monument. Sir John Betjeman preferred Newcastle’s Grey Street when compared to London’s Regent Street which gives you a good idea how lovely it is. The Georgian architecture in Grainger Town is magnificently preserved with around 40% of the buildings Grade II and Grade II* listed.
The redeveloped waterfront has more modern installations alongside the heritage buildings. Down at The Quayside, you can see the seven bridges across the River Tyne within a mile radius of the city. The oldest is the 1849 High Level Bridge and the Swing Bridge, opened in 1876, still swings open four times a week. The Tyne Bridge opened in 1928 with what was at that time the largest arch of any bridge in the world, and the newest is the fondly-dubbed “blinking eye” Gateshead Millennium Bridge. (Do check the website to see when the bridge is next tilting.)
The layers of history can be seen in the city centre back to the region’s Roman heritage as a section of Hadrian’s Wall is exposed on Westgate Road. In Roman times, Newcastle, then called Pons Aelius, was a fort on Hadrian’s Wall. Hadrian’s Wall Path can be followed across the countryside.
The Tyne Bridge is one of the most obvious landmarks in the city but there are many more. We’ve already mentioned the St James’ Park Stadium and Anthony Gormley’s iconic Angel of the North statue in Gateshead (a contemporary 20m sculpture of an angel with a 54m wingspan).
Standing on the site of the fortress from which the city takes its name, Newcastle Castle has one of the finest surviving medieval castle keeps in Britain. The 12th-century castle offers fantastic views from its rooftop. The Norman fort was built here by William the Conqueror’s son to show off their royal power in the north. Separated from the Castle Keep by a train line, the gatehouse (the Black Gate) was built in 1247 and is also worth exploring.
Built in the 14th and 15th centuries, St. Nicholas’ Cathedral is not especially large, having only been elevated from the status of a parish church to cathedral in 1882. It’s free to visit and the 15th-century lantern spire on the tower looks especially impressive when illuminated at night.
A popular meeting spot at the north end of Grey Street, the 135-foot-high Grey’s Monument was built in 1835. It commemorates the second Earl Grey and his role as Prime Minister and architect of the 1832 Reform Bill. The architect, Edward Hodges Bailey, also designed Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London.
As well as independent stores, Newcastle has two large shopping centres. intu Eldon Square is the place for High Street retailers in Newcastle city centre and intu Metrocentre is over in Gateshead. The Metrocentre is Europe’s largest covered shopping and leisure complex.
Grainger Market has over 100 stalls in a Grade I listed Victorian covered market hall. And Jesmond has the Antique Centre as well as many excellent fashion boutiques. Fenwicks started in Newcastle in 1882 and you can still shop at the Northumberland Street department store.
ART GALLERIES AND MUSEUMS
Housed in an old flour mill, Gateshead’s Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art on the banks of the River Tyne is one of the biggest contemporary arts venues in the world. They don’t have permanent collections so there is an ever-changing calendar of contemporary art exhibitions.
Founded in 1901, The Laing Art Gallery is the place to see British oil paintings, watercolours, silver and glassware. It has an extensive collection of paintings and sculptures including work by Gauguin, paintings by 20th-century British artists like Stanley Spencer and sculptures by Henry Moore, plus decorative arts from the 16th to 18th centuries.
Hatton Gallery at Newcastle University has works by European painters from the 14th to 18th centuries, as well as paintings by modern English artists. The Shipley Art Gallery features 16th and 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings. And The Biscuit Factory was once a Victorian warehouse and is now the largest art, craft and design gallery in the UK. They showcase and sell work by over 200 artists and makers.
Established in 1884, The Great North Museum: Hancock showcases the history and heritage of the city. There is everything from animals and natural history to Egyptian mummies, fossils and Hadrian’s Wall.
The area’s maritime, scientific and technological breakthroughs are the main focus at the free Discovery Museum. Exhibits include traditional windmills and early steam engines to ultra-modern jet turbines and vintage cars. Plus there are ship models including the first turbine-driven steamer in the world, Turbinia, designed by Charles Parsons and launched in 1914.
Known as the gateway to the north, Newcastle is perfect for combining city, coast and countryside. Northumberland National Park (perfect dark skies for stargazing) is to the north, The North Pennines are to the west, North York Moors National Park is to the south and the coastline is to the east.
Jesmond Dene is a lovely dell in the northeast of Newcastle. The park is free to explore and there are all kinds of beautiful plants and wildlife throughout the area.
The wilds of Northumberland has Hadrian’s Wall marching its ways across the landscape and the coast is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The beaches of the North East include family fun at South Shields, geological adventures at Cullercoats or spotting puffins at the Farne Islands. Druridge Bay has wonderful dunes and Bamburgh is overlooked by the castle. The mile-long stretch of Tynemouth Longsands is another favourite. The stunning landscape more than makes up for the unpredictable weather.
WHERE TO STAY
In a wonderful Quayside location next to the world-famous Gateshead Millennium Bridge, a former warehouse is now the coolest hotel in the city. Malmaison Newcastle has 122 luxurious rooms equipped with storm-force showers and plasma TVs. Choose spacious rooms overlooking the Tyne or even a suite with twin side-by-side deep baths. Be pampered with a Spa Night In and dine at Chez Mal Brasserie for British and French-inspired dishes with those amazing riverside views.
Or choose Hotel du Vin Newcastle also on the banks of the River Tyne in the former offices of the Tyne Tees Steam Ship Company. The building’s maritime heritage is remembered with ship rope in the courtyard and even some porthole windows. The understated luxury means the 42 rooms are unique and full of character. From exposed brick walls and roll-top baths to handsprung mattresses and colours intended to induce relaxation, a stay here is very special indeed. After you dine at the French-styled Bistro du Vin, sink into a sumptuous armchair in the Bar and let the resident Sommelier offer a wine recommendation for the evening.