I’m a big fan of Newcastle. I’m not sure whether it’s the Geordie accent, the funky bridges, or the fact that every drink order at the bar is met with the words “is that a single or a double?”, but every time the train passes through on the way from Edinburgh to London I get a wee affectionate buzz. More often than not, as of late, I’ve been hopping off that very train and spending some time in The Toon. Each time I discover more and more things to love about the city, and I’m beginning to realise what a great gem of a travel destination I’ve got sitting less than two hours away from my flat.
Sandwiched nicely in the heart of Britain, Newcastle is the perfect place to escape for a weekend break. Nightlife? It’s got it. Music? Tick. Cracking galleries and museums? Double tick. History? You betcha!
Here’s my guide to making the most out of a weekend in the city.
Get yourself up bright and early for a tour of the Victoria Tunnel
During the 1800s, Newcastle was at the heart of the British Industrial Revolution. What better way to delve into the city’s industrious path than going right into the belly of the city itself? The Victoria Tunnel is a wagonway which runs from the Town Moor to the River Tyne. It was originally used to transport coal, but also found use as an air raid shelter during the second world war. The Ouseburn Trust run fantastic volunteer-led tours, where you can find out about the history of the tunnel and the people whose stories echo through its chambers. Bag yourself a place on the 10am tour and you’ll have got your weekend off to a winning start.
Treat yourself to Afternoon Tea at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
Housed in a former mill, The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art is one of Newcastle’s best-loved galleries, with an ever-changing range of exhibitions and events throughout the year. It’s a great place to visit, and will also offer you a scenic trip across the river and its many iconic bridges. Better still, when you’ve had your art fix, you can head straight up to the fabulous rooftop restaurant, Six, and enjoy some afternoon tea whilst taking in the panoramic views of the city. It’s a hard life, after all.
Find out how the city got its name
It sounds obvious now that I write it, but it took me years to realise that Newcastle takes its name from an actual castle! In fact, I went years missing the fact that the East Coast train zips right past the impressive structure.
Steeped in history, the imposing Norman fortress is a rugged reminder of northern England’s turbulent history. This was no baron’s stately home. Newcastle Castle is a grim reminder of royal authority where armies gathered, and criminals were imprisoned and executed. It is where the story of Newcastle began, the reason the city got its name and has the most commanding views over the city and the River Tyne.
Today, you can visit the Castle Keep and the Black Gate, and whether you prefer to imagine yourself swanning around the elegant ballroom or as a captive rogue (see below), it’s hard not to lose yourself in the fun of the place.
Grab a bite to eat at The Alchemist
Nicely placed in Greys Quarter at Eldon Square, The Alchemist bar bills itself as “masters in the dark arts of molecular mixology and demons in the kitchen” so cocktail-lovers can expect creations which demonstrate an eye for detail, served up in range of vessels which promise to “add a devilish dash of theatre: they bedazzle, bewitch and set the scene for everything we do”. It’s hip and quirky in all the right ways, and serves up a mean burger. What’s not to love about that?
Catch a show
Newcastle is home to some seriously great venues, so whether you’re after a bit of musical theatre, some innovative drama or a thumping loud gig, the city’s entertainment set list is one which knows no bounds.
For music, it doesn’t get better than the Gateshead Sage. The armadillo-shaped venue is iconic to the city’s skyline, and over the years has played host to countless bands, soloists and orchestras – from James Brown and Nick Cave to Sting and Mumford and Sons. For something on a smaller scale, you might want to check out The Cluny, an intimate venue much-loved by locals for its music nights and folk sessions.
If theatre’s more your thing you can’t go wrong with a night at the Theatre Royal. The grand building alone will knock your socks off. Or, to support some innovative new writing, check out Live Theatre, a young independent theatre company and performance space producing in-house shows.
Grab some brekkie at Quay Ingredient
A wee place tucked away beneath a big bridge, Quay Ingredient is a great city-centre pitstop designed to have you fuelled and ready for a busy day ahead. They specialize in deliberately unpretentious but ridiculously tasty breakfasts, so this is the place to go if you’re wanting to experience a proper full English. It’s also just quite pretty.
Step back in time with a visit to the Tyneside Cinema
Built in 1937, Tyneside Cinema is the only purpose-built newsreel theatre in the UK still operating as a theatre. It’s widely respected as one of the leading independent cinemas in England, with an expansive and varying collection of arthouse, as well as mainstream, films shown throughout the year. Despite its modern facade, the interior has changed little over the years, and it’s well worth a visit if you’re interested in the history of cinema. Tyneside offer free daily tours every morning from 11, and from 11.15 you can also pop in and watch an original newsreel as it plays.
Take a trip out to the Angle of the North
Since its construction in 1998, The Angel of the North has become one of the most recognisable symbols of Northern England. Designed by Antony Gormley, the sculpture stands at 20 metres tall, with wings spanning 54 metres across. While some argue that the sculpture stands as a nod to England’s contribution to the Industrial age, others argue that its embracing pose symbolizes the need for peace and human connection. However you choose to interpret it, The Angel is an impressive sight and is just a short bus ride away from the centre of Newcastle. Well worth it, if you have the time.
Browse the Quayside markets
Every Sunday, from 9am to 4pm, the area spanninf from Swing Bridge and Gateshead Millenium Bridge becomes home to the Quayside markets, selling more handcrafted goods and local produce than you can shake a stick at. Expect to find artists, designers, jewellers, food producers, photographers, ceramic artists and fashionistas as well as street artists and buskers. With the Tyne flowing quietly by, it’s hard to imagine a nicer setting to pick up a few souvenirs from your city break.
Go boutique bowling at Lane 7
Take a trip to 1950s America with this snazzy themed bowling alley/bar/restaurant. Think proper hot dogs along side vintage bowling lanes. Think ping pong. Think karaoke. Think all round good times.
Hone your mixing skills with a cocktail masterclass at The Botanist
Not quite content with a quiet night in? Well, a night in Newcastle wouldn’t be complete without a few cocktails thrown in for good measure! If you fancy a more hands-on approach then you might be happy to know that The Botanist offer cocktail-making masterclasses. Not sure if you’re a shaken or stirred kinda person? You probably won’t either by the end, but it’ll be fun finding out!
Where to stay
Motel One on High Bridge Street is hard to beat in terms of location, comfort and cost. Double rooms will only set you back £59.00 and come with super-squishy beds, Sky TV and excellent wifi coverage.
The Royal Station Hotel, on the other hand, with its grand sweeping staircase, is packed full of character and delightfully plush if you’re looking to treat yourself.
If you’re travelling in a group you might want to consider Hunters Apartments on Sunderland Road, which are only a short taxi ride from the centre and offer affordable, but surprisingly pleasant, shared accommodation.