If I could describe Newcastle, England in only one word it would most definitely be surprising. While I did some basic background research on the city before I visited, I mostly only had stereotypes and bad reality shows to draw from. I knew to expect incomprehensible accents, scantily clad drunken ladies, and a bit rougher scene than I was used to in lovely Kent. I found all of that. What I didn’t expect was to meet some of the friendliest people in England I have ever come across, history everywhere, and a river that was so beautiful I sat for a solid thirty minutes just to gaze at it in appreciation.
Newcastle is a diamond in the rough, and I have no doubt that more and more people are going to be heading North to experience the city’s charm in the coming years. On your next visit to England, why not get out of London and the Cotswolds and check out a city that will surprise you. These are my top ten things to do in Newcastle, as well as one very important DO NOT DO to top it off.
1. The Tyne Bridges
Newcastle’s famous seven bridges are truly spectacular in person. They connect Newcastle to neighboring Gateshead and are Newcastle’s most famous landmarks. The Tyne Bridge is magnificent and I loved walking back and forth across it taking in the river and other bridges. The Gateshead Millenium Bridge has become an icon of the city. At night it lights up in a kaleidoscope of colors, casting a rainbow shadow onto the waters below. Walk along the Tyne and appreciate these marvels, you can’t visit Newcastle and not have the river on your itinerary.
2. The Castle Keep & Black Gate
These two attractions are an easy walk from the train station and free to look around. (If you want to go inside the Castle it will cost you £4.) The Castle Keep was built by Henry II between 1168-1178, although the site has been used for fortification purposes since Roman times. The Black Gate was added by Henry III in 1247 where it housed a guardroom and was attached to a drawbridge. Wonderful bit of Newcastle history, and can easily be added into a day around the city.
3. Grey’s Monument
Grey’s Monument towers over the centre of Newcastle, and is right by a large shopping mall if that is your kind of thing. It is a Grade I listed monument, and built to honor Charles Grey- former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Mr. Grey was famous for passing the Reform Act in 1832 which prevented abuse in the House of Commons and abolished slavery. The statue is 130 feet and bears the following inscription.
THIS COLUMN WAS ERECTED IN 1838
THE SERVICES RENDERED TO HIS COUNTRY BY
CHARLES EARL GREY K.G.
WHO, DURING AN ACTIVE POLITICAL CAREER OF
NEARLY HALF A CENTURY
WAS THE CONSTANT ADVOCATE OF PEACE
AND THE FEARLESS AND CONSISTENT CHAMPION OF
CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY.
HE FIRST DIRECTED HIS EFFORTS TO THE AMENDMENT
OF THE REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE IN 1792,
AND WAS THE MINISTER
BY WHOSE ADVICE, AND UNDER WHOSE GUIDANCE,
THE GREAT MEASURE OF PARLIAMENTARY REFORM
WAS AFTER AN ARDUOUS AND PROTRACTED STRUGGLE
SAFELY AND TRIUMPHANTLY ACHIEVED
IN THE YEAR 1832.
Newcastle’s Chinatown is small, but as a lover of Chinatowns everywhere I can’t not recommend it. The food in the area is incredibly cheap, I even saw hot pot for less than £7! On the main street all of the street lights have been replaced by Chinese lanterns, and there is a nice Chinese gate with two guardian lions at St. Andrews Street. Short, sweet, Asian love.
5. The Angel of the North
I didn’t actually make it to the Angel of the North, but everyone I know who did couldn’t stop gushing about how beautiful it was. The sculpture is 66ft tall and 177 ft across, and sits atop a hill outside Newcastle. There are bus services daily that will take you there from Eldon Square bus station.
6. Bessie Surtees House
I already wrote about my love for the Bessie Surtees House, so obviously had to include it here as well. This English Heritage property is Grade I listed and is a wonderful example of a typical Jacobean era merchant house. The property’s former occupant, Bessie Surtees, is famous amongst locals for sneaking out of the window and eloping with John Scott who became Lord Chancellor of England.
7. The Sage Gateshead
I was lucky to attend a conference in this magnificent building, which is as stunning from the inside as it is across the river. There is nothing like watching the sun bounce off the 250 glass panels, glistening like a ginormous jewel. Used for musical education, conferences, and performances, this is one of the most stunning venues I have seen. There is a coffee shop inside, so go in and have a cup of Joe while you look out at the gorgeous riverfront.
8. Baltic Gallery
The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art is on the south bank of the River Tyne. It was a flour mill until it was converted in 2002 at a cost of £70 million. BALTIC is the biggest gallery of it’s kind in the world. Be sure to check out Six Rooftop Restaurant that provides panoramic views over Newcastle.
9. St. Andrews Church
St. Andrews Church may not be Newcastle’s most impressive house of worship- but it is the oldest. I happened upon this gem on accident and it ended up being one of my favorite places I saw. The church dates back to the 12th century and is still surrounded by a lovely ancient graveyard. I was happy to be shown around by the caretaker of St. Andrews who even let me ring the church bells!
10. Newcastle Town Wall
Newcastle’s Town Wall was built in the 13th and 14th centuries to keep out Scottish invaders. It was once two miles long, 25ft high, and 6.5 feet thick. Today there are only small sections that survive, and you can see them on the Western side of town nearby Chinatown.
What NOT To Do
Newcastle was also the very lucky city to receive my ‘worst hostel stay ever’ distinction. I normally don’t mind saving a few bucks and staying at a hostel instead of hotel, but unless you are planning a Bachelorette/Hen Party, do yourself the favor and splash out the extra cash. I am not a difficult to please traveler, but my stay at The Albatross was difficult to get through.
The majority of the guests are there to go clubbing, so if that is your intention- by all means book a room. If, however, you are hoping to have a bathroom on the same floor as your bed and sleep through the night without girls stumbling in watching videos of themselves at 5am, your stay in Newcastle is better spent in a private room under lock and key.
Have you been to Newcastle? Where would you recommend people visit?