Newcastle: The spirit of life

There’s a lot more to Newcastle than brown ale and football these days, as our brief city guide explains.

Here are the best things to see and do in Newcastle, the great places to grab some grub, the perfect places to pitch up for a pint and where to head for some retail therapy. Plus the secret spots you might never have heard of.

To wander the streets of Newcastle is to experience a vibrant, diverse city – one fizzing with life and an infectious character emboldened by the famed Geordie hospitality.

Be it the past or pubs, culture or clothes, bridges or brown ale, the ‘Toon’ is the place to be.

Here’s our guide to some of the best places to go, grab a drink, eat and shop, plus a rundown of those out-of-the-way places you might never have heard of.

Things to see and do in Newcastle

The soul of Newcastle is embodied by the Tyne Bridge, a stunning example of industrial architecture linking the city with neighbouring Gateshead.

A short hop from the train station is the Centre for Life, an award-winning science hub perfect for a family day out. There’s a planetarium, a 4D-motion ride and  – Gunther von Hagens' BODY WORLDS, the exhibition of real human bodies.

Why not take a trip to the dramatic and imposing Angel of the North? Antony Gormley’s 20-metre-tall public artwork dominates the skyline a few miles south by the side of the A1.

Shopping in Newcastle

Where to begin? A city as diverse as Newcastle leaves you positively spoilt for choice, with big-name retailers, independents and boutiques jostling for position. There’s late-night shopping all-year-round too.

If you’re looking for a one-stop shopping spot, Eldon Square Shopping Centre is your best bet – think Topshop, M&S and John Lewis. For bargains, oddities, cool clobber and tunes, make your way to High Bridge Quarter. We’re big fans of the clothes and furniture at Attica Vintage and the vintage and contemporary gear at Eric.

For a day shopping surrounded by phenomenal architecture, head to Grainger Town, the historic heart of the city, where 40% of buildings are listed as being of historical and architectural importance.

Food and drink in Newcastle

For something to eat you’re spoilt for choice. From salt-of-the-earth cafes and back-room boozers to buzzing bistros and cultivated cuisine, Newcastle is a culinary hotchpotch.

If you’re on a budget, check out Panis Cafe near the Theatre Royal. This buzzing, bustling little eatery was opened by two brothers from Sardinia in 1995 and is one of the city’s most popular restaurants. Head in to Panis to sample the unique Geordie-Italian accent and enjoy dishes like pan-fried artichokes, spicy Italian sausage and black tagliolini with whole tiger prawns.

On the Quayside we like Café 21, an award-winning restaurant offering fuss-free bistro dishes like smoked haddock with poached eggs, fresh halibut and braised shoulder of beef.

And why not enjoy a wander around the food hall at historic Newcastle department store Fenwick’s?

And, as you’ll no doubt be aware, Newcastle’s nightlife is legendary. Don’t let the naysayers put you off – it’s a cracking night out.

Hidden Newcastle

Here are three of Newcastle’s hidden gems…

Need a break from the hubbub of the city? Make your way to Summerhill Square, a splendid park, gardens and conservation area only a hop, skip and jump from the train station.

Experience the rich seam of history by going deep underground the city with a trip to the Victoria Tunnel, which was used in the 19th century to transport coal. It runs from Newcastle’s Town Moor to the River Tyne.

Need to grab a bit to eat? Quirky independent restaurant Coop serves up scrumptious chicken dishes, vegetarian options and classic puddings.

Over the Tyne to Gateshead

Gateshead is only 15-20 minutes’ walk from the train station so make sure you take some time to visit.

Top picks are the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (a must-see), a stunning art gallery and cultural centre on the south bank of the River Tyne. And there’s the Sage venue, a dedicated music hub.

Upcoming events in Newcastle

Sarah Millican (21 May-24 May) – the popular Geordie comic will be taking up a mini residency at the Mill Volvo Tyne Theatre in late May. Expect jokes, japes and jollity on her third national tour.

Virgin Money Cyclone Festival of Cycling (19 May-22 May) – now one of the most popular cycling events in the UK, this cycling fest will see 11 rides across skill levels. Alternatively you can simply turn up and cheer on the riders.

Magic Worlds (‘til 22 June) – this exhibition, designed by the Victoria and Albert Museum, has arrived in Newcastle as part of a tour of the UK. Head to the Great North Museum and immerse yourself in magic, witches, fairies and all manner of strange phenomena.

Enjoy your trip to Newcastle.