I'd been wanting to visit Newcastle, the ‘great north' city in the UK for a while and so when I was invited there as part of a conference I spoke at, I gladly said yes.
The Newcastle Tourism Board sent me a list of fun things to do in Newcastle and I added some other things after doing a bit of research. Below, you can find everything I did while I was there and then some.
- Activities for a fun weekend getaway – Day 1
- Best things to do for a fun weekend getaway – Day 2
- Newcastle nightlife
- Day trips from Newcastle
- How to get to Newcastle
- Getting around in Newcastle
- Where to stay in Newcastle
- Don't forget travel insurance
- Pin for later
Activities for a fun weekend getaway – Day 1
1. Stroll along the Newcastle Quayside and spot the bridges
The 7 Bridges
Newcastle is separated from Gateshead by the River Tyne, but connected with it again by seven bridges:
- Tyne Bridge
- Swing Bridge
- Gateshead Millennium Bridge
- High Level Bridge
- King Edward VII Bridge
- Queen Elizabeth II Metro Bridge
- Redheugh Bridge
If you go for a stroll along the Quayside from Newcastle's city center, it's impossible to miss them. The Gateshead Millennium Bridge is the most modern one, but I found Tyne Bridge to be the most impressive, especially when you're standing almost right underneath it.
These bridges might just be the biggest Newcastle attractions and when lit up at night, a treat for photographers.
Tip: Walk onto Lombard Street from Quayside to see how Tyne Bridge runs right above an apartment building. It's such a cool sight and something straight out of the movies.
Newcastle Quayside Market
If you're wondering what to do in Newcastle on a Sunday, head down to the Quayside. From 9.30 a.m. until 4 p.m. the Quayside Market is on the stretch between the Swing Bridge and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.
Right by Swing Bridge is the food plaza with all kinds of food trucks where you can eat for pretty cheap. The rest of the market is made up of stalls selling things like clothes, jewelry, photos, foods, ceramics, leather goods, and more.
Tip from local blogger Rachel:
Near the end of the market, there's a guy selling small leather purses and he's made up a story about each of the different types he sells. Like how one is the queen's favorite. He's written them out on signs that he puts in each of the boxes that hold a type of purse. It's fun to read them.
Tea at Violets
Right off the Quayside lies Violets, a cute tea room that serves sweets and light meals. Being by myself, I grabbed a seat at the window bar so I could watch the people outside stroll by.
The teapot I got which was given a little jacket made bypassers look in just as much as I was looking out. The tea was lovely but my cake was a little dry.
5-7 Side, Newcastle
2. Visit BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
When you cross the Gateshead Millennium Bridge to the Gateshead quays, you reach the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. The BALTIC gallery was actually built and completed as the Baltic Flour Mill in 1950 and functioned as the Baltic mill until 1981. In the mid-1990s it was decided to turn the building into an arts center and in 2002, the BALTIC gallery opened its doors to the public.
As is the case with most museums and art galleries in Newcastle (aside from a few temporary exhibitions), visiting the BALTIC contemporary art gallery is free so you can just pop in to see if there's something to your taste.
What I thought was really cool was a little book full of assignments I was given related to their exhibitions that make you think about your visit in particular and life in general.
And even if you're not into contemporary art, it's worth the visit because of the outdoor viewing platform on level 4 and the inside viewing box at level 5. Both are surrounded by glass so not ideal for photos but the view is quite spectacular.
If you truly want to enjoy the view, consider booking a table at Six, BALTIC's rooftop restaurant. The Baltic Restaurant serves modern British-inspired cooking and can be rented for events.
Make sure to pop in the BALTIC gift shop on the ground floor on your way out. It's not your typical museum store and they have some really cool things.
And lastly, don't forget to look to your left when leaving the building. Outside, across the street a bit higher up from the BALTIC museum, you can see the words “Go with the flow / Swim against the tide”. This work of art by Tim Etchells was commissioned for the Great Exhibition of the North and lights up in the dark.
The contradiction in the phrase relates to the eb and flow of the Tyne river below.
South Shore Road, Gateshead
3. Head up to the Ouseburn Valley
The Ouseburn Valley lies east of Newcastle's city center. It's a decent walk from Grey Street, but if you're already by The Baltic, it's a doable 20 minutes or so.
If you'd rather not walk, you can take bus 22 from Newcastle Central Station but I'd only do that if you're close as it won't cut down your travel time that much, depending on what you want to do in Ouseburn.
Once at the origin of the industrial revolution on Tyneside, the former warehouses and manufacturing buildings of Ouseburn now house creative spaces and laidback coffee bars.
Kiln is a Mediterranean bar and kitchen that serves freshly prepared meals and a wide selection of drinks. The cafe has an on-site pottery called 1265 Degrees North which supplies it with ceramics.
4 Hume St, Newcastle
Northern Print is both a gallery and a printmaking studio. Check the opening times before you go because for once I hadn't and when I got there at 4 p.m., they'd just closed.
Stepney Bank, Newcastle
With its simple wooden furniture, Ernest is an unpretentious bar serving light bites and comfort food made from locally sourced produce. They're located near Ouseburn “attractions” such as Northern Print, Seven Stories, and The Biscuit Factory.
1 Boyd St, Newcastle
The Ouseburn Farm is run by a non-profit charity, you don't have to pay to visit but donations are appreciated (this is the case for all the free galleries and museums, by the way). At the farm, you can spot animals or have a drink at the cafe.
For locals, there's even more to do as the farm has a workshop where it upcycles unwanted furniture. It organizes training sessions for vulnerable adults as well as activities for families and schools.
Ouseburn Farm welcomes volunteers but if you're not from nearby and still want to support this project, you can do so by purchasing something from AMAZON VERDER UILEGGEN.
Ouseburn Rd, Newcastle
The Biscuit Factory
The Biscuit Factory was probably one of the best things to do in Ouseburn and no, not because it makes biscuits! The Biscuit Factory is actually the UK's largest independent art, craft, and design gallery.
The Biscuit Factory art gallery displays jewelry, sculptures, ceramics, original prints, and more across two floors and has a cafe.
Biscuit Factory, 16 Stoddart St, Newcastle
Seven Stories is the National Centre for Children Books. It derives its name from the seven levels or stories of the renovated Victorian mill it is housed in and dedicates itself to the preservation of children's literature.
It's not just a museum but also where kids and their families can come to write, read, craft, and dress up.
30 Lime St, Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle
Victoria Tunnel Tours
I didn't do this, but Ouseburn is where you'll find the meeting point for the Victoria Tunnel Tours (55 Lime Street, Ouseburn Valley). The Victoria Tunnel was built as a subterranean wagonway near the mid-19th century to transport coal and converted into an air-raid shelter in 1939 to protect the citizens of Newcastle during World War II.
You can visit a part of the tunnel on a guided tour all-year-round but you need to book beforehand.
If you're looking for some pubs around Useburn, The Cluny, The Free Trade Inn, and The Cumberland Arms come recommended.
4. Have coffee at Flat Caps Coffee
On my way back to the city center from the Ouseburn Valley, I stopped at Flat Caps Coffee for some tea. As it was late in the day, they'd unfortunately already run out of sweets. Flat Caps Coffee is a large cafe where you can try different kinds of brews and get light snacks. Locals seemed to like it to come and get some work done as well.
9-11 Carliol Square, Newcastle
5. Visit Newcastle Castle
Newcastle Castle once gave the city its name and its history dates back all the way to the second century when the Romans built a fort at what would later become Newcastle Castle. That alone makes it one of the things to do when in the North East of England!
Unfortunately, nothing remains of that original fortress but it is still possible to visit the later added Castle Keep and Black Gate. You need to buy a ticket to get into Newcastle Castle but you can wander the grounds and walk through the gate without paying.
6. Have dinner at Träkol
My first night in Newcastle, I had dinner at Träkol. Träkol is located on the Gateshead side of the River Tyne and part of the brand new independent container community By The River Brew Co. It has an open fire kitchen presenting nose to tail cooking for which it uses only British rare and heritage breeds.
The meat comes straight from the farmers and is prepared using fuel and different kinds of wood coming from the Oxford Charcoal Company.
Here's a glimpse of the menu:
You can order a combination of small bites or have something small, then add on a main. For the main course, you have the choice between meat, fish or vegetarian and a bunch of optional sides. I chose the complete mackerel and a side of potatoes.
There were three dessert options and I chose a sundae with caramel, whipped cream, and chocolate.
The food was good, the staff friendly and the ambiance lively. As Träkol is housed in a container, the ceiling is pretty low and as it is quite big, it did get a bit noisy in there so I'd say it's perfect for a dinner among friends or family but maybe not when you're planning a romantic date.
Although… You could ask for a window seat and then you have a lovely view of the river Tyne.
Do make a reservation because when I was there on a Thursday night, it was packed.
Hillgate Quays, Gateshead
Best things to do for a fun weekend getaway – Day 2
On day 1, you ventured along the water and east of the city center. Today, we're exploring the heart of Newcastle.
1. Side Gallery
Side Gallery is tucked away in a little alley of Side Street and if you're looking for free things to do while in Newcastle, visiting Side Gallery should be on that list. On the ground floor are the gallery's offices so take the stairs up to the galleries on the first and second floor. These are dedicated to humanist documentary photography.
Side Gallery is run by Amber, a film and photography collective that also organizes educational projects and runs Side Cinema.
5-9 Side, Newcatle upon Tyne
2. Grey Street
As a tea lover and fan of Earl Grey tea, I was happy to learn that this Street is named after the one and only former Prime Minister Earl grey. You'll find plenty of pubs and restaurants here, as well as the Theatre Royal and, at the top of the street, Grey's Monument.
If you want to learn more about Newcastle's history, consider this historical walking tour.
3. Grainger Market Newcastle
Grainger Market lies close to Grey Street and is an indoor market hall where you find everything from clothing to gifts and food. It even has – brace yourself – the smallest Marks & Spencer in the world.
I visited some of the Grainger Market shops with local blogger Rachel from Life in Geordieland (people from Newcastle are called “Geordies”) and discovered the following gems thanks to her.
For pizza, Slice is the place. I went there for lunch and there was quite the queue but the service is fast and the pizza good. You pay £1.8 or £2 for a big slice.
Another good cafe for a cheap lunch is Nan Bei Dumpling and Tea Bar where they make your dumplings fresh to go.
If you're looking for something sweet, head to Pet Lamb Patisserie. All the cakes you'll find here are made fresh by hand. They also serve coffee and tea and have a little seating area.
There's a crêperie at Grainger Market and while it has apparently gotten lots of great reviews, I was less than impressed by my Nutella pancake. It was crispy and crunchy, something a pancake really shouldn't be.
To their credit, I think the girl behind the counter was a bit flabbergasted when I asked for a receipt and simply let the pancake bake for too long. but still.
But the coolest place at Grainger Market is without a doubt the Weigh House. It used to be where people had meats for sale weighed and I guess not much has changed as you can now go there to have yourself weighed.
It used to be 20p to get weighed and when we visited they just announced a price increase to 50p, which is still a steal, don't you think?
This isn't some quirky tourist attraction either. Rachel told me that there are always people walking in and out and indeed, when we were there, people were also getting weighed. When they were done, they got a little ticket with their weight on it so they can keep track of their weekly progress.
What's also cool, is that Newcastle is trying to get its citizens to be more active and so it has this “Newcastle can” campaign, which includes a bunch of different activities, one of which is that people leave little post-its at the Weigh House publicly announcing their motivation to lose weight.
I think Grainger Market is one of the places to visit in Newcastle just because it's still where locals go to do their groceries.
Grainger Market opening times: Monday – Saturday from 6.30 a.m. until 5.30 p.m.
4. Stroll through the beautiful Central Arcade
In Brussels, we have the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a beautiful arcade with shops inside. Newcastle has something similar but the weird thing here is that you can only access the shops from outside the Central Arcade. You can walk through the gallery though and so that's what we did.
I hope you can tell from the photo that it's worth a visit for the architectural details alone. The original was built in 1837 but later destroyed by a fire and rebuilt in 1906.
5. Go shopping
The whole area around Grainger Market and Grey's Monument is great for shopping at well-known chain stores. Check out Clayton Street, Grainger Street, and the INTU Eldon Square which also hosts a lot of casual restaurants.
A special mention goes to the food court of the Fenwick warehouse where you'll be lured by all kinds of food in the most beautiful packages and small on-site eateries. Be sure to look up at the wooden spoon chandeliers!
Good to know:
Stores are open on Sundays in Newcastle. Also, not far from Grey's Monument is St James' Park, the home of Newcastle United Premier League football team.
6. Pop into the Tyneside Cinema for some well-preserved architecture
Right by Grey's Monument, is the Tyneside Cinema; dating back to 1937, this cinema showcases mostly specialized and alternative movies. Aside from four movie halls, it also has three cafes, an exhibition space, and a workshop/meeting area.
But even if you're not looking for any of those, it's worth it to pop in for the architecture, which has been beautifully restored between November 2006 and May 2008. Plus, there's a small exhibition on the history of the cinema.
10 Pilgrim St, Newcastle
7. Get your art on at Laing Gallery
A 2-minute walk from Tyneside Cinema lies Laing Gallery. This Newcastle arts center hosts both permanent and temporary exhibitions. The focus here lies on British paintings, ceramics, silver, and glassware.
The permanent collection is free to visit but a fee applies for temporary exhibitions. Photos aren't allowed here. I got mine from them to use in this post.
New Bridge Street, Newcastle upon Tyne
8. Go for a stroll at Exhibition Park and visit Wylam Brewery
North of the city center lies Exhibition Park where a lot of Newcastle events are held. Striking about this park is that it's home to a brewery, the Wylam Brewery, which resides in a Palace of Arts. I couldn't go in, though, as there was a wedding happening.
The Town Moor right behind Exhibition Park is where to go in Newcastle to see the sunset as it lies higher than the rest of the city, offering a great view of it.
Palace of Arts Exhibition Park, Claremont Rd, Newcastle upon Tyne
9. Have proper tea near the University of Newcastle
When you're walking toward Exhibition Park, you'll most likely take the Great Northern Road past Newcastle University and the Quilliam Brothers Teahouse. Feel free to wander around the university grounds for a while as there are some quite impressive buildings and then drop in at Quillam Brothers for a nice pot of tea. With cake, obviously.
When I asked the Newcastle Tourist Information where to have tea, Quilliam Bro's was where they recommended and I could see why. The interior is warm and wooden with fun elements added to it. They have a massive tea selection (I'm not exaggerating) and the cake I had was lovely too.
It's popular though so you might have to wait a bit for a table. We had to wait about 15 minutes on a Friday morning.
Claremont Buildings, 1 Eldon Place, Newcastle upon Tyne
Just so you know: the Great North Museum: Hancock is just around the corner from Quilliam Brothers. I didn't visit but if you're into (natural) history, you might want to check it out.
10. Go for dinner and some live music at STACK
STACK is a shop and food plaza made up entirely out of containers where starting businesses can rent a unit at lower prices than they'd normally pay in the area to set up shop so they can test the waters. The offer here is super diverse, from yoga wear over a nail studio to a gift store, a phone accessories shop, a souvenir store, and a clothes shop.
There's often live music from the afternoon on the weekends and in the evenings on weekdays so it's fun to go if you're not into the whole pub-and-club thing or prefer to spend the evening outside.
Bubble tea at Manhua Cha!
There's this bubble tea place called Manhua Cha! where I had my very first bubble tea ever. I know, I know, it's been around for ages but it always seemed a bit weird to me. So when I was at STACK and Jen, who works there, told me the bubble tea from Manhua Cha! was delicious, I just had to try it.
How it works is that you choose your tea (either green without milk or black with milk) with a flavor and then you add on a flavor of bubbles, which come in a popping or a more chewy version.
I had a mixed berry green tea with strawberry bubbles and came back the next day for a chocolaty black tea with raspberry bubbles as I'd liked my first tea so much.
What's fun at Manhua Cha! is that each bubble flavor corresponds to a superpower it supposedly gives you and that you can buy a box of bubbles to take home and create your own bubble tea. I got some raspberry bubbles so Boyfriend can taste them too :-)
The shop even has its own magazine, which I think is pretty cool.
Other eateries I tried were Los Cocos and Sushi-Me-Rollin, a Mexican and a sushi place. Fun fact: they use ceramics from 1265 Degrees North here.
Los Cocos simply serves easy and filling Mexican takeaway while Sushi-Me-Rollin lets you put together your own sushi combination which you then get served on a beautiful ceramic plate made by the local 1265 Degrees North I mentioned earlier.
Other cafes I tried
Two other cafes in Newcastle I tried were Laneway & Co and Blakes.
Laneway & Co is a minimalistic coffee bar that offers a bit of a quiet hideaway at 17-19 High Bridge. I liked their loose tea but wasn't a big fan of the pots they served the tea in as you couldn't take the tea out, meaning it would get too strong after a while.
Blakes is a much more lively and traditional-looking cafe on the corner of Grey Street (n° 53) and High Bridge where you order your drinks, sandwiches and light meals at the counter. You get a big wooden spoon with your order number to take with you and when it's ready, they'll come and bring your food to you.
Although it was a bit noisy in here, I quite liked the ambiance as it didn't really feel like a cafe but more like a big living room.
One thing Newcastle is quite known for that I didn't participate in, is its nightlife. You can find plenty of bars on and around Grey Street that turn up the music quite early on the weekends. As I don't drink beer and was by myself, I didn't really check out any Newcastle pubs and clubs.
But if you'd rather keep it a bit calmer, there are still plenty of things to do at night. Go see a band at one of the music venues, catch some stand-up comedy at The Stand or go see a play at the Live Theatre like I did.
Day trips from Newcastle
As I was only in Newcastle for a few days, I didn't have the opportunity yet to venture out into the larger Newcastle area except for a short trip to Tynemouth by the coast. You can read about that here.
Some other options for day trips in the North East from Newcastle are the city of Durham, a walk along Hadrian's Wall, and visiting Alnwick Castle, now known as Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movies.
How to get to Newcastle
Newcastle Airport is small but it is an international airport and I was lucky that it has direct flights to Brussels. To see if there are direct flights to Newcastle from your departure airport, check Skyscanner.
There's a metro station at Newcastle Airport that takes you directly into the city center in less than half an hour. The Tyne and Wear metro system has three different zones and day tickets cost less than two singles, so that's something to take into consideration when you plan on using the Newcastle metro more than once.
For more information on public transportation in and around Newcastle, look here.
Getting around in Newcastle
Newcastle's city center and the Ouseburn Valley are very walkable. If you do want to save your feet or venture further out, have a look at the public transportation site I shared above.
Alternatively, book a ticket for the hop-on/hop-off to do some Newcastle sightseeing from an open-top double-decker bus while listening to an audio-guide.
Where to stay in Newcastle
There's a wide choice of hotels in Newcastle city center. Below you can find a selection for different tastes and budgets based on research and guest reviews. All of these are located right in the city center, receive a review score of at least 8/10 and offer free WiFi.
1. Budget: Motel One Newcastle
I stayed at Motel One Newcastle during my trip and it was the third time for me at a Motel One property so I knew what to expect. Motel One has design hotels at reasonable prices, offering a large breakfast buffet in the morning as well as free WiFi. The rooms have a rain shower, a big flat screen tv, and a kettle.
I do have to stay that I was a bit disappointed in Motel One Newcastle as the cleaning team didn't do as good a job as in the other properties I stayed at. Certain things weren't as they should have been when I checked in and while the staff at the reception was great in trying to sort them out, cleaning could've been done more properly.
I'm still mentioning the Motel One here as all the reviews I've read were positive and I feel like I might have gotten a bit unlucky. Overall, this chain offers good value and its location in Grainger Town, the historic heart of Newcastle, can't be beaten.
2. Mid-range: Hotel Hampton by Hilton Newcastle
The three-star Hampton by Hilton Newcastle lies opposite Newcastle Central Station. It offers rooms with air conditioning, workspaces, a flatscreen tv, and a kettle.
The on-site fitness center, reception, and bar are all open 24/7 with the bar offering panoramic views of the city on top of that. Another plus is that breakfast is included in the price.
3. Luxury: Crowne Plaza Newcastle – Stephenson Quarter
The four-star Crowne Plaza Newcastle – Stephenson Quarter is one of the best hotels in Newcastle. It boasts an indoor swimming pool, a spa, a fitness center, and a wellness area. All the rooms are equipped with a television, minibar, air conditioning, kettle, and safety deposit box.
The on-site restaurant serves British cuisine cooked with fresh and locally-sourced produce while The Gin Bar specializes in creating delicious cocktails.
If you'd rather stay at a rental apartment, check out Airbnb. While I use Booking for hotels, I always check Airbnb for apartments as they have such a large selection.
If you'd like to try Airbnb but don't have an account yet, I can give you a discount on your first booking if you book through my link. This doesn't cost you anything.
If you already have an account and found this post helpful, please consider booking your next Airbnb through my link. I'll earn a small commission while the price for you stays exactly the same. Income like this helps me travel independently and create new content.
Don't forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan your trip to Newcastle, there's always something that can happen that's beyond your control. A reservation can get canceled, you can get sick or you can drop and break that new camera. In all of these cases, good travel insurance has you covered.
I've had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I'm covered for every trip I go on but if you travel just a few times a year, you can get insured for each trip separately too.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out World Nomads. They cover a wide range of activities for people from 140 countries.
And that's it! I hope this post helped you decide what to see in Newcastle, England. If you have any questions about the above itinerary, let me know in the comments.
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I was invited to visit Newcastle as part of my speaking and attendance at the Social Travel Summit in Belfast by the Newcastle-Gateshead Tourism Board. As always when I travel in collaboration with a destination, what you find here are solely my own thoughts about the place.