I'd wanted to visit Newcastle, the city in the north of England 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 activities after doing a bit of research. There were so many highlights, including Newcastle Castle, Town Moor, and Seven Stories. I also got to enjoy some delicious food and drink from local businesses.
Below, you can find everything I did while I was there and some of the other best places to go in Newcastle.
- Fun Newcastle activities for a weekend getaway – Day 1
- Best things to do in Newcastle for a weekend getaway – Day 2
- 1. Side Gallery
- 2. Grey Street
- 3. Grainger Market Newcastle
- 4. Stroll through the beautiful Central Arcade
- 5. Go shopping
- 6. Pop into the Tyneside Cinema for some well-preserved architecture
- 7. Get your art on at Laing Gallery
- 8. Go for a stroll at Exhibition Park and visit Wylam Brewery and Town Moor
- 9. Have proper tea near the University of Newcastle
- 10. Go for dinner and some live music at STACK
- Bubble tea at Manhua Cha!
- 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
- Fun activities in Newcastle for a weekend away
Fun Newcastle activities for a 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 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 be the biggest Newcastle attractions and a treat for photographers when lit up at night.
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 feels like it’s straight out of the movies.
Newcastle Quayside Market
If you're looking for fun things 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 plaza with all kinds of food trucks where you can eat for pretty cheap. You'll also find a great selection of hot and cold drinks. 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.
Tea at Violets
Right off the Quayside lies Violets, a cute tea room that serves sweets and light meals. It's the perfect spot for a rainy day. Being by myself, I grabbed a seat at the window bar to 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. One of the best things to do in Newcastle, the award-winning BALTIC gallery was 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 Centre for Contemporary Art opened its doors to the public.
There are several free things to do in Newcastle. As is the case with most museums and art galleries in Newcastle (aside from a few temporary exhibitions), you don't have to pay to visit the BALTIC contemporary art gallery, so you can just pop in to see if there's anything to your taste or just admire the pieces from local and international artists.
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. It is one of the best things to do in Newcastle.
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 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 ebb 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.
You can take bus 22 from Newcastle Central Station if you'd rather not walk. 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, Ouseburn's former warehouses and manufacturing buildings 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 local pub 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. The farm has a workshop that 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 from AMAZON VERDER UILEGGEN.
Ouseburn Rd, Newcastle
The Biscuit Factory
The Biscuit Factory was probably one of the best things to do in Newcastle, 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, British oil paintings, and more across two floors and has a cafe.
Biscuit Factory, 16 Stoddart St, Newcastle
Seven Stories is the National Centre for Children's Books. It derives its name from the seven stories of the renovated Victorian mill it is housed in and dedicates itself to preserving children's literature.
The National Centre is 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 if you're interested in learning about Newcastle's history, 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, 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 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 in the North East of England!
Unfortunately, nothing remains of that original fortress at Newcastle Castle, but visiting the later added Castle Keep and Black Gate is still possible. 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
On 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 from the Oxford Charcoal Company.
Here's a glimpse of the menu:
You can order a combination of small bites or have something light, then add on a main. For the main course, you can choose 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 quite 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 it was packed when I was there on a Thursday night.
Hillgate Quays, Gateshead
Best things to do in Newcastle for a weekend getaway – Day 2
On day one, 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 floors. 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, Newcastle 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 and the Theatre Royal and Grey's Monument at the top of the street.
If you want to learn more about Newcastle's history, consider this historical walking tour. You'll find out more about historical landmarks such as Newcastle Castle, Theatre Royal, Grainger Town, and more.
3. Grainger Market Newcastle
The 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 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 a queue, but the service was fast, and the pizza was good.
Another good cafe for a cheap lunch is Nan Bei Dumpling and Tea Bar, where they make your dumplings fresh to go.
If you fancy 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 the 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 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 could keep track of their weekly progress.
What's also cool is that Newcastle is trying to get its citizens to be more active. So it has this “Newcastle Can” campaign, which includes a bunch of different fun activities. One 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, the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is a beautiful arcade with shops inside. Newcastle has something similar, but the weird thing is that you can only access the shops 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 was 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 INTU Eldon Square, which also hosts many casual restaurants.
A special mention goes to the food court of the Fenwick warehouse, where all kinds of deliciousness lure you into the smallest 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 the Newcastle United Premier League football team. St James' Park is one of the most famous football grounds in the area and a must-see if you’re a Newcastle United fan.
6. Pop into the Tyneside Cinema for some well-preserved architecture
Right by Grey's Monument is the Tyneside Cinema; dating back to 1937, it's the region's leading independent cinema. Aside from four movie halls, it has three cafes, an exhibition space, and a workshop/meeting area.
But even if you're not after any of those, it's worth popping in for the architecture, which was 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.
You don't have to pay for the permanent collection, 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 and Town Moor
North of the city center lies Exhibition Park, where many Newcastle events are held. What’s striking about this park is its home to the Wylam Brewery, which resides in a Palace of Arts. I couldn't go in, though, as a wedding was 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.
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. You may also like 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 Visitor Centre where to have tea, Quilliam Bro's was where they recommended it, and I could see why. The interior is warm and wooden, with quirky elements added to it. They have a massive tea selection (I'm not exaggerating), and my cake 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 Great North Museum, 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 of containers. 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 in the afternoon on the weekends and evenings on weekdays. So it's great 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, then add 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 returned 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. You can even buy a box of bubbles to take home and create your own bubble tea. I got some raspberry bubbles :-)
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 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 receive on a beautiful ceramic plate made by the local 1265 Degrees North I mentioned earlier.
Other cafes I tried
I tried two other cafes in Newcastle upon Tyne: 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 it in as you couldn't take it 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 bring the 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 alone, I didn't check out any local pubs, clubs, or establishments, such as Tyne Bank Brewery.
But if you'd rather keep it a bit calmer, there are still plenty of things to do in Newcastle at night. Go see a band at one of the music venues, catch some stand-up comedy at The Stand, or 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 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. You may also like to visit the famous Angel of the North, which is a short drive from the city center.
How to get to Newcastle
Newcastle Airport is small, but it is an international airport. To see if there are direct flights to Newcastle from your departure airport, check Skyscanner.
A metro station at Newcastle Airport 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 consider 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 want to save your feet or venture further out, 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 and the Newcastle upon Tyne area. Below is a selection for different tastes and budgets based on research and guest reviews. These are located 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 and free WiFi. The rooms have a rain shower, a big flat-screen tv, and a kettle.
I have to say that I was a bit disappointed in Motel One Newcastle as the cleaning team didn't do as well as the other properties I stayed at. Certain things weren't as they should have been when I checked in, and while the reception staff was excellent in sorting them out, cleaning could've been done more adequately.
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 flat-screen 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 have 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 delicious cocktails.
Don't forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan your trip to Newcastle, something can always happen 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 SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great, and I can personally recommend them.
Fun activities in Newcastle for a weekend away
And that's it! I hope this post helped you decide on things to see in Newcastle, England. If you have any questions about the above itinerary or know of other great places in Newcastle, let me know in the comments.
PIN FOR LATER
I was visiting 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.