When I moved to Scotland almost two years ago, I swore to myself that I would explore every last corner of the UK. I would get to know my new home like my home country. Let’s be honest, the plan was to see more of the UK than I had ever seen of Austria. Well, you might have guessed it: little has happened to make this plan a reality. I did manage to squeeze in quite a few weekend trips around Scotland, but I hardly made it across the southern border…
That all was to change, when my flatmate and I got in the car a few weeks ago, typed “Newcastle-upon-Tyne” into Google Maps and hit the M74 southbound. We planned to do a 24-hour spree through The Toon and then have two days of adventures in Northumberland, just north of the city. Little did I know about Newcastle, apart from friends who predicted I’d surely like it. Well, they were right. Newcastle-Gateshead (basically the two cities on either side of the river Tyne belong together) was as I expected: urban-industrial-chic, full of students and young people, and so lovely I barely wanted to leave. The Geordie accent might be a little tough to understand but it sounds oh so sweet!
Like most other Northern English cities, Newcastle played a crucial role in making Britain’s industry what it is today. Yet nowadays, it is often overlooked by travelers, who tend to focus on London and the South. Let me tell you, the trip up north is definitely worth it. More on the beautiful countryside later, but here are fifteen cool things to do in Newcastle for now.
1) Do a guided city tour with Newcastle City Guides
The Newcastle City Guides are a group of volunteers who share everything they know about the city on their daily walking tours. We met our guide Tony Stephenson at our hotel for a private tour, where he showed us cool shops and pubs in the city centre, walked us along the Quayside and finally dropped us smack bang in the middle of Newcastle’s coolest neighbourhood, the Ouseburn Valley. It wasn’t anything like a boring lecture of historical facts, but a fab way to get an overview and to take some notes as to where to spend the rest of our time in the city.
2) Climb the Earl Grey Monument
Newcastle City Guides also offer walking tours up the Earl Grey Monument in the city centre. As you have to book at least two days in advance and we rocked up rather unprepared, we had to give it a miss, but it’s surely one for next time. By the way, yes, that’s the Earl Grey you know from your morning tea. From up there you get a great view over the city and the river. An guaranteed stunner on a sunny day!
3) Spend a lazy day at the library of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle
The library of the Literary and Philosophical Society is open to everyone, the glass roof lets in plenty of daylight and there are lounge chairs to sit and read – the ideal place to go on a rainy afternoon. And let’s face it – it will rain at some point; it’s Northern England after all…
4) Stroll through Grainger Town
The city centre of Newcastle is anything but what you’d expect from an industrial town: beautiful Gregorian and Victorian buildings, 450 in total of which over 240 are listed. They were all built by Richard Grainger, who thought the city could use a makeover. It’s a delight to wander through Grey Street and Grainger Street, pass the Theatre Royal and other impressive pieces of architecture from a different time. There are many cafes and bars where you can sit outside if it’s sunny, to soak it all in.
5) Explore on High Bridge
One of the neatest little streets in the city centre is called High Bridge. It’s a wee lane at most really, but there are many vintage shops, art galleries and pubs and bars waiting to be explored. One of the oldest pubs of Newcastle is situated here – The Duke of Wellington. The museum of contemporary art also has a sidekick gallery here, the Baltic 39 – the place for all your modern art needs.
6) Walk through Central Arcade
Central Arcade is one of those places you could easily walk past without even knowing what you are missing out on. But it’s a total must if you are into bright architecture, beautiful shop fronts and street music.
7) Shop at Grainger Market
My favourite place in Grainger Town was Grainger Market, an old market hall with shops selling vintage fashion, music, flowers, baked goods and all sorts of regional foods. The best place was The Yesterday Society vintage shop, which is tiny, but full of hand-selected items from the past. The owner runs it herself and is happy to share stories of the clothes she’s selling – pop by and say hi!
8) Have cocktails and desserts at The Botanist
We opted for a very early dinner at The Botanist, one of Newcastle’s most popular restaurants in the city centre. They have several restaurants all over the UK, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a chain. You go up with an elevator (or two flights of stairs) and enter a large bar area with high ceilings, plenty of daylight through the glass roof and – the name says it all – plants everywhere. We munched away happily on our plate of starters and sipped on yummy cocktails (gin mojito, yes please), but the real highlights were the desserts – definitely come here if you are a sweet tooth, and order a hanging banana kebab or a creamy sundae.
9) Walk along the Quayside
There’s hardly another place that manages to squeeze in so many big bridges on so little space than Newcastle-Gateshead. Tthe tall, iconic Tyne Bridge is the world’s first bridge on two levels, the world’s first tilting bridge is Gateshead Millennium Bridge. On most days you can watch the bridge tilt forwards to give way to the in- and out coming boats. Take a look at this video if you can’t imagine what I’m talking about.
A walk along the Quayside also brings you past some fancy restaurants, more cool pubs and eventually from the city centre to Ouseburn Valley.
10) See contemporary art at the BALTIC
While you’re at it, walk over one of the bridges to Gateshead and make your way to the riverfront BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. It’s a converted flour mill, and while we didn’t have the time to check it out ourselves, we were told the views from the sun deck are amazing, as well as their modern art exhibitions.
11) Explore Ouseburn Valley neighbourhood
Back on the other side, river Ouseburn meets river Tyne and opens up the Ouseburn Valley. Here, old-fashioned car workshops, abandoned factories, storage halls, cool nightlife venues and artists’ studios lie side by side. The area is the epitome of ‘up-and-coming’ and the mix of new and old, industrial and creative makes for a great atmosphere – as well as the graffiti!
12) Pet a bunny at the Ouseburn Valley Farm
Ouseburn Valley Farm was a bit of an unexpected find as we were still in the middle of town, but there is was. Home to a bunch of goats, sheep, pigs, bunnies and guinea pigs, it’s a little piece of green heaven beneath the crossing of three big bridges. There are meadows and shelters for the animals, but also a vegetable garden, a farm shop for fresh produce and seedlings and a visitor centre where you can learn about urban farming and sustainability. But even if you only come for the bunnies and guinea pigs, the cuddles are totally worth it!
13) Flatbread and craft beer at Ernest
When Tony ended his tour with us, we were starving and went to the first place he recommended: Ernest. It’s a cute little eatery, serving up delicious flatbread and tasty craft beer brewed in the area – an absolute must if you are into ales. You might also be excited to hear that the guys serving these yummy goods are just as yummy themselves, hooray! Whoa, that was smooth.
14) Sundowner at Free Trade Inn
The Free Trade Inn is a pub sitting high above the spot where the Ouseburn meets the Tyne. Well, not that high, but high enough to be the perfect spot for a sundowner. It faces west – so really, you don’t have any excuse not to go there. Unless of course you do number 15 during summer when the sun sets rather late.
15) See a gig at The Cluny
If your ears long for live music rather than bouncing electro beats in town, The Cluny in Ouseburn Vallet (wedged in between the farm and a suite of artist studios), is THE place to go. We were lucky as on the same night, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band rocked the stage. In case you haven’t heard of them yet, take a listen to the new crème de la crème of Americana. Rev. Peyton is simply unbelievable on the guitar (playing melody and baseline at the same time) and his wife plays the washboard (!) like no one else. The venue has a bar area, two intimate concert halls and a pretty outdoor area – no neighbours around means lots of good (and long!) vibes on the street on a warm summer night.
You see, one day was barely enough to see half of what Newcastle has to offer, but these fifteen things to do might be a good start an inspiration to plan a trip to the Toon of the North quite soon! Have you been to Newcastle and have anything to add to my list? Let us know in the comments!
We visited Newcastle on courtesy of Visit Britain and the Newcastle-Gateshead Initiative, and stayed at Hotel Indigo in the city centre.Tweet