Newcastle — "The Toon" — is known for its football, mighty bridges, mightier accent, and a certain brown ale (which isn't even brewed there any more). But get beyond the stereotypes and you'll find a vibrant hub of arts, food and culture around the banks of the magnificent river Tyne. If you're looking for fun things to do in Newcastle, you've come to the right place.
Getting to Newcastle
Hourly trains operated by LNER run from King's Cross to Newcastle Central station. The journey takes approximately three hours. As always with longer haul, it's well worth booking your tickets in advance; on the day you could easily fork out £80+ for a single. For those on a budget, Megabus and National Express both operate coaches to and from Newcastle.
Newcastle need to know
- Getting around Newcastle: The city is reasonably compact, and most attractions are within walking distance. Although the streets are for the most part accessible, there are uneven narrow streets dotted about, as well as some big hills. The latter are largely unavoidable, but you could always opt for the Metro instead. This extending out to the coast — even Sunderland — so there's really no need for a car. The Metro is also proudly fully accessible. Also worth noting: Newcastle's current e-scooter trial.
- Bridges: Arriving into Newcastle by train, you'll notice its glut of bridges over the Tyne. Seven to be precise, on a tiny two kilometre stretch of the river. The arched Tyne Bridge is Newcastle's great icon — and does not disappoint. The double decker High Level Bridge is an architectural masterpiece. And the Millennium Bridge — the most recent — is a beautiful piece of engineering that tilts to allow river vessels underneath. Although the latter actually belongs to Gateshead (more on that next).
- The river divide: Newcastle is north of the river Tyne, Gateshead is to the south…..don't get them mixed up!
- What is a Geordie? Geordie commonly refers to someone who lives in Tyneside, and is also the dialect of English spoken in this region. Local writer Jack Common once said that "Geordie goes beyond mere geography and is a quality of heart".
- Shifted weekends It's very common for a lot of restaurants, museums and attractions to be closed on a Monday and Tuesday. Always check the opening times.
Where to stay in Newcastle
If you're looking for somewhere extra special to lay your head, Jesmond Dene House is a glorious Arts and Craft pile which feels like it's in the middle of the countryside, but is a breezy Metro ride into the centre. If you want to wake up in the heart of it all, Hilton Newcastle Gateshead has a cracking view of the Tyne Bridge (if you book the right room). As seems to be the case nationally right now, many hotels and Airbnbs aren't as thrifty as they once were, but you can find frugal sleeping options at the likes of YHA Newcastle Central, where private ensuite rooms start out at less than £30 a night at the weekend.
Getting your bearings
The Grade 2 listed Tyne Bridge is possibly the most pictured landmark in Newcastle, instantly recognisable and a great point to start your North Eastern adventures. The bridge is home to around 1,000 nesting pairs of kittiwake birds, so it shouldn’t be hard to spot one, but take care to avoid some of the less pleasant aspects of thousands of birds nesting in one place! Keep your eyes peeled, and you may even see a seal in the river too. Heading up into the city centre, you will come across Newcastle Castle, a medieval fortress used during its life to house and punish criminals, but now demonstrating impressive views across the quayside. The city centre itself is a real cornucopia of architectural styles from the 1960s Civic Centre to the beautiful art deco buildings on Newgate Street to Newcastle Central station's Victorian Grandeur. Aimless wandering in the city centre is a treat.
Museums in Newcastle
The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts, in its imposing 1950s flour mill façade, sits on the banks of the Tyne in Gateshead next to the Millennium Bridge. It's an art gallery with ever changing, often interactive, exhibitions, set over multiple floors with a panoramic viewing gallery, offering some of the best views over Newcastle and Gateshead. Exhibitions are constantly changing, but it is a constant haven for families with kids due to an entire floor dedicated to children and play. On your way out, pop into the gift shop, packed with unique items from independent makers. These could make handy stocking fillers come December.
The Life Science Centre has impressive credentials as pioneers in genetics and IVF research, currently housing research groups from the NHS and Newcastle University. It also contains a fully interactive science museum, which truly has something for everyone. Want to pop on a lab coat and run an experiment? Play in Nasa's mission control? Visit a Planetarium? Understand your brain? The Life Centre has you covered.
For something more traditional, the Discovery Museum is round the corner from Life, depicting the history of the North East with walkthrough streetscapes and a mini cinema. The Great North Museum is a must for any dinosaur or animal lover, with its vast taxidermy collection, while the Laing Art gallery houses more traditional artworks compared to the Baltic (including some wonderful paintings of the local area by the likes of J. Pearson).
Eating in Newcastle
Newcastle is the proud owner of the first ever branch of the high street bakery Greggs (thanks to local John Gregg), and currently sports over 30 branches, the highest number in any UK city. But fear not, the breadth of food choices across the city go far beyond a steak bake.
For breakfast or brunch, try the pancakes at Aiden's Kitchen or the food waste creations from The Magic Hat Café (they use surplus food saved from landfill). Alternatively head over to Heaton and Fork in The Rose – a café offering both house plants and brunch in abundance (the eggs royale with avocado and pea smash is a delight).
For lunch, go for fresh pasta from Zucchini or traditional pie and mash at Redhouse. Feeling indecisive? Then peruse the goodies at "Britain's Favourite Market 2020" Grainger Market (a traditional ham and pease pudding "stottie" is a revelation), or Tyne Bridge-adjacent HWKR Food market (offering a trendy choice of tacos, bao, souvlaki and the like). Honourable mention to Dot Bagel in Heaton and Jesmond, which gives Brick Lane's Beigel Bake a run for its money.
For those with a sweet tooth, Proven goods company have a monthly menu of doughnuts that is essential tasting, Northern Rye's cruffins are thing of legend, and Cake Stories have every flavoured cake you could ever imagine. The Di Meo's family run ice cream parlour is the perfect accompaniment to any summer (or winter) day, and if coffee is your thing then Flat Caps Coffee has your back.
The area of Heaton to the north east of the city centre is a strong player in the Newcastle food scene, for dinner; hop on the Metro to the Chillingham Road and hit up Flint Pizza or Bao Bar. Both often sport a healthy queue. Or stay central, and go for the butter chicken at Sachins (exceptional curry, and packed on a Tuesday night, which tells you all you need to know).
Beer, Breweries and Pubs
As the home of Newcastle Brown Ale, the city has a long heritage of beer making (and drinking), with plenty of pubs and breweries building on the legacy that "Newkie Brown" cemented almost 100 years ago.
Call in at the Crown Posada is a Grade 2 listed traditional Victorian pub with glorious stained glass windows, quirky interior, and a fine selection of ales right on the Quayside. The Ship in Ouseburn offers a chilled out vibe with extensive vegan menu. Live music is on tap round the corner, at The Tyne Bar which also has outdoor space on the banks of the Ouseburn. Supporters of local brewers, The Free Trade Inn, provide beautiful views over the Tyne to accompany your pint of Verdant or Thornbridge.
Newcastle is also crammed craft brewers, and it would be easy to dedicate a whole article on beer alone. However Wylam brewery, on the town moor, is stunning; Full Circle Brewery in Hoults Yard does an impeccable ranger of IPAs, stouts, fruit gose etc; while By The River Brew Co — pretty much underneath Tyne Bridge — is a cracking spot for a waterside pint.
It's easy to forget that Newcastle is packed with green spaces, perfect for a second, more chilled, day of exploration.
Heaton Park is to the north east of the city centre, with a glorious Victorian pavilion (which now houses an Italian restaurant) at its heart. It has a network of accessible paths, and multiple kids play areas. Wander underneath Armstrong Bridge, and you find yourself at Jesmond Dene, an ancient and historic woodland filled with winding paths, manmade waterfalls and wildlife galore. Pets Corner, a free petting zoo, is also in the Dene, conveniently right next to a children's play park. Finally, head over to the town moors which cover 1,000 acres (that's bigger than Hyde Park and Hampstead heath combined) where you might see cows grazing on this vast area of common land.
Exploring Ouseburn Valley
The mellow surroundings of the Ouseburn Valley are also a great place for a relaxing stroll. Just 15 minutes' walk from central Newcastle, here is tranquil hub of activity set on the banks of the river Ouseburn, a tributary of the Tyne. A riverside walk here is a feast for the eyes, offering up striking warehouse architecture, wildlife, and a boat called the Sea Song Sang, which legend has it, drifts off in the night to collect the dreams of children (Creepy or cute? You decide!). Other notable Ouseburn attractions include:
- Delve into the history of children's literature at Seven Stories, the national centre for children's books, and marvel at the original Gruffalo drawings.
- Visit the Ouseburn Farm where you can pet some of the smaller animals, or maybe even take a goat for a walk.
- Book a riding lesson at Stepney Bank Stables.
A green space of a different kind...
Newcastle's most famous park isn't a park at all — but a football ground. St James's Park is home to Newcastle United — and while it might prove tricky to bag tickets now they're a high-flying Prem team, the stadium tour makes for a fascinating couple of hours, in which you get to peek into the kits rooms and go pitch side. Young football fans will certainly appreciate the experience.
Day trips from Newcastle
Still got some spare time? Here are some notable day trips, accessible by public transport from Newcastle:
- Head to South Shields, and enjoy a traditional seaside town with a vast sandy beach, 2p machines, and lashings of ice cream. Haddock and chips from Colemans is a must, as is a ride on the mini railway that whisks you around South Marine Park.
- A swankier fish and chips alternative is Riley's Fish Shack — a hidden gem, nestled down the bottom of the cliffs in King Edward's Bay. Eat exquisitely cooked lobster, monkfish and the like on deckchairs on the beach — and afterwards take a walk towards Whitley Bay, seeing if you can spot dolphins.
- Beamish, the living museum of the North is an entire day out in itself and is accessible by bus or train. Travel back in time to the 1820s, and then leap through the centuries, ending up in the 1950s.
- The Angel of the North, designed by Anthony Gormley looks over Gateshead, and stands proudly next to the road as you enter the area. A day trip is possible via bus, and worth it for the Instagram shots recreating the iconic statue!