A city with a proud history and a thoroughly modern style, Newcastle upon Tyne (with its sister town Gateshead) is a great place for a weekend break whether you want fine art, good living or top nightlife.
This is our guide to the best things to see and do in Newcastle, from world-class shopping to simply excellent food and drink, the latest exhibitions and events, and even a few secrets the tourist guides rarely cover.
Things to see and do in Newcastle
If you’ve never been to Newcastle, you’ll be forgiven for not knowing how great a city it is. Its position on the banks of the wide Tyne and its seafaring heritage give it a very different feeling from inland towns, and its Geordie inhabitants’ hospitality and friendliness is unique.
You can’t miss the TyneBridge, a stunning example of industrial architecture linking the city with neighbouring Gateshead; it’s both a powerful local symbol and a striking structure in its own right.
Cross it and you’re in Gateshead, which boasts its own iconic, if more modern, buildings - the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (a must-see), a stunning art gallery and cultural centre on the south bank of the Tyne, Until October you can see the work of Daniel Buren - regarded as the finest living artist in France.
Also along the river is the Sage - a dedicated music hub. Upcoming gigs at the venue include:
- Pet Shop Boys (3 September): The 1980s sythpop heroes arrive in the North East as part of their 2014 Electric tour
- Gruff Rhys (6 September): The former Super Furry Animals man brings his solo work - and his beard - to Gateshead
Back in the city, meanwhile, you can continue your cultural pilgrimage at The Biscuit Factory, the UK’s largest commercial art, craft and design gallery, which hosts major exhibitions four times a year, as well as offering an excellent shop and a very cool new restaurant.
Shopping in Newcastle
For an amazing day’s shopping head to Grey Street and Grainger Town, where some of the city’s finest historic buildings house some of the country’s finest shops. Grey Street, named the country’s finest street in 2002 by listeners of the BBC Today programme, is at the centre of the High Bridge Quarter area with an amazing range of shops selling anything from Bagnall & Kirkwood’s high-quality fishing gear to Attica’s vintage clothing.
There are also several fascinating markets such as Grainger Market, with its unique ‘Marks and Spencer Original Penny Bazaar’, the world’s smallest M&S, or the Edwardian delight that is Central Arcade. The food hall at historic Newcastle department store Fenwick is rightly renowned too, and well worth a visit to marvel at its selection.
If you’re looking for a more modern one-stop shopping experience, try Eldon Square Shopping Centre for big high-street names like Topshop, M&S and John Lewis.
Food and drink in Newcastle
Newcastle has a dizzying range of restaurants at all price levels and, thanks to its cosmopolitan flavour, offering all types of cuisine.
One of the best-situated is Blackfriars Restaurant, which is sited in an ex-Dominican friary established in 1939. We’re not quite sure what the abstemious friars would have made of Chocolate Week, but the locally-sourced ingredients and hearty British menus would definitely have answered a few prayers.
On the Quayside is Café 21, an award-winning restaurant offering fuss-free bistro dishes like smoked haddock with poached eggs, fresh halibut and braised shoulder of beef.
If it’s just a pint you fancy, albeit a very good, locally-brewed one, try The Bridge Tavern, tucked just under the TyneBridge – it brews its own craft beer on the premises and serves a good selection of food too.
And once you’ve eaten your fill, you really ought to sample Newcastle’s legendary nightlife. From chic cocktail bars to world-beating superclubs, its reputation as a party town is well-deserved. Just try to avoid the stag and hen parties if at all possible…
Newcastle is full of surprises. Like kingfishers and red squirrels in the city centre, for instance. Jesmond Dene park is a wooded valley which follows the River Ouseburn through the city, giving a surprising array of wildlife a home, and bringing a breath of the countryside into the urban sprawl.
Or how about surfing? Yes, a short Metro ride from central Newcastle is Tynemouth, with boasts a ruined castle, a fine selection of delis, pubs, cafés and shops, and a rather lovely beach popular with surfers. You can rent all the gear (try Tynemouth Surf Co.), have a great afternoon’s surfing, then be back in the city half an hour later for a sophisticated evening out.
If you’re feeling less outdoorsy, you could always go underground into the Victoria Tunnel, a preserved 19th century waggonway which runs right underneath the city. Built to transport coal, and also once used as an (unsuccessful) mushroom farm and a wartime air raid shelter, it has now reopened as a rather quirky tourist attraction.
Upcoming events in Newcastle
Tyneside Irish Festival (16 October – 26 October) Prepare to be entertained as the very best in Irish Culture returns to Tyneside for the Tyneside Irish Festival.
Enjoy your trip to Newcastle.