Separated by the river Tyne, the two cities of Newcastle and Gateshead have something for everyone, whether you’re a party goer, culture cat or avid shopper. Local blogger Rachel Kershaw shares her tips for a crazy weekend away…
With a worldwide reputation as party city it should come as no surprise that NewcastleGateshead attracts its fair share of night crawlers. The nightlife – recently ranked third in the world behind only London and Berlin – really is electrifying, but don’t sleep in too long because there’s so much to discover on Tyneside during the day as well.
Iconic landmarks like the Sage Gateshead, the BALTIC centre, the castle and the nearby Angel of the North offer year-round reasons to visit, whilst an eclectic year-round programme of events means there’s always something extra going on, from craft beer festivals to Shakespeare’s finest dramas.
It’s true what they say about the people too, Geordies are some of friendliest folk on the planet, bursting with pride about their local heritage and culture and keen to show off all the different sides of their city. So pack your dancing shoes but remember to bring your camera too so you can capture all the amazing moments you’re sure to have in this thriving corner of North East England.
Best of the Beaten Track
When most people think of Geordieland they probably picture one of the seven iconic bridges across the River Tyne like Gateshead Millennium Bridge (the world’s first and only tilting bridge) or the world famous Tyne Bridge. I’m lucky enough to see these architectural marvels nearly everyday and never bore of wandering along the quayside to soak up the atmosphere in this beautiful part of the city. Every Sunday there’s a food and craft market here where you can pick up anything from a framed photo of the local landscape to some of the region’s tastiest food.
Stroll across the Gateshead Millennium Bridge from the Newcastle side and you’ll come to BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art; housed in a former flour mill and with stunning views from the top floor, BALTIC is a great place to spend a few hours, immersing yourself in acclaimed modern art. Also on this side of the river is the magnificent Sage Gateshead, a truly unique music venue and one of my favourite places to hear live music. It’s easy to spot the building as it stands proudly on the banks of the River Tyne like a giant silver armadillo. Even if you don’t have tickets for a gig it’s worth popping in as the building itself is spectacular.
Less than four miles from the Quayside is the impressive Angel of the North. This contemporary steel sculpture designed by Sir Anthony Gormley is one of the most talked about pieces of public art ever produced. The Angel’s 54 metre wings dominate the skyline and can be seen for miles around but you really have to get up close to fully appreciate its grandeur.
No visit to Newcastle is complete without a visit to the landmark from which the city takes it name. Newcastle Castle is made up of the Black Gate, where you can walk in the footsteps of the vagrants and vagabonds who have been imprisoned here over the centuries, and The Keep which is one of the UK’s finest medieval stone castle donjon’s still open to the public and boasts breathtaking views of the cityscape from its rooftop.
A few years ago Lonely Planet named NewcastleGateshead ‘the hipster capital of the North East’ but to be honest, I was a bit baffled by that as even the trendiest bars and coffee shops have an unpretentious vibe and welcome a really mixed crowd. In fact one of Newcastle’s most popular nightclubs, World Headquarters, actually has the words ‘uniting all communities’ on its logo.
That club just so happens to be one of best places to dance the night away in Newcastle city centre but for local bands, great banter and real ales in friendly, down to earth pubs I recommend you head to Ouseburn Valley, a quirky and creative corner of the city where there’s never a dull moment, I especially love The Cluny for live music and the Free Trade for regular beer festivals.
The leafy suburb of Jesmond also has a vibrant nightlife, the area is popular with students and the main street, Osborne Road, is lined with cool cocktail bars and stylish restaurants like Jam Jar, Sohe and 97 & Social.
If you visit NewcastleGateshead during the first weekend of the month keep an eye out for the Boiler Shop Steamer, this regular event brings together some of the region’s finest food and drink as well as chefs, mixologists and DJ’s from across the country under one very cool roof. The Boiler Shop was the birthplace of Robert Stephenson’s Rocket; I have often wondered what he would make of his workshop being takeover by culture vultures.
Experience & Events
One of thing’s I love most about living in NewcastleGateshead is that there’s never an excuse to be bored thanks to a jam packed calendar of cultural events. From ‘Juice Festival’ – a festival specifically for families and under 25s, to the magical line up of events like Enchanted Parks that take place during the magical NewcastleGateshead Winter Festival – there really is always something going on!
Theatre-goers are spoilt for choice in Newcastle, There’s the Grade I listed Theatre Royal (regional home of the Royal Shakespeare Company), the intimate Live Theatre, the impressive Northern Stage and the world’s oldest working Victorian theatre, The Tyne Theatre all within the city centre. A few miles down the road there’s also, Sunderland Empire which showcases West End shows direct from London and the PLAYHOUSE Whitley Bay which is great for family shows.
A day at the races is always guaranteed to get the adrenalin pumping and Newcastle Racecourse is one the country’s finest so it’s well worth checking out their events programme. If you want to shop till you drop then you’ll be pleased to hear that Gateshead is home to intu Metrocentre, the largest indoor shopping centre in Europe. In these parts, we’re also rather proud of the Tyneside Cinema, a hidden gem of an independent cinema in the heart of Newcastle with a beautiful art-deco interior and free guided tours every Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at 11:00am. A tour will help you imagine what life was like for locals when the cinema first opened in the 1930s, before the Internet and TV dominated our lives.
To escape the hustle and bustle of the city it’s very easy to get to the coast or countryside by public transport. Tynemouth is a bustling seaside village that’s just a short metro ride from Newcastle and as well unspoilt beaches and beautiful bays overlooked by ancient monuments like Tynemouth Priory, it also has a vibrant cafe culture and lots of independent shops to discover. The Northumberland National Park is also on Newcastle’s doorstep; its dramatic landscape is simply stunning and the area feels very tranquil. It’s especially magical to visit at night, when Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is the perfect place for star gazing. The lack of light pollution means you can see the sky twinkle and sparkle like nowhere else in England.
Like any cosmopolitan city, NewcastleGateshead offers a varied mix of hotels, B&B, apartments and hostels with something to suit all budgets. If you’d rather spend your cash on going out than where you lay your head then check out Euro Hostel, Motel 1 or Sleeperz. You’ll be surprised at the quality you get for your money with these funky budget options that all have great locations in the heart of the city centre. For a more luxurious stay you could head for the newly built Crowne Plaza Newcastle, which offers excellent spa facilities to relax in after exploring the city. It also has its very own Gin Bar. The Vermont Hotel is one of Newcastle’s oldest and most sophisticated hotels and boasts Newcastle Castle as its next door neighbour. Hotel du Vin is also a popular choice; it offers elegant, contemporary rooms in an Edwardian building filled with character. It originally belonged to the Tyne Tees Shipping Company so expect a subtle nod to a nautical theme. If a cosy home from home is more your style, there’s a great selection of locally owned guesthouses and hotels in nearby Jesmond where a friendly Geordie welcome awaits you.
Newcastle has the highest ratio of restaurants per resident of any city in Northern England so you certainly won’t go hungry. Eating out on a budget is a doddle as loads of restaurants have happy hour in the early evening; this is especially popular in the plethora of Italian eateries across the city. For food on the go you can’t beat the tasty and filling burritos from Zapatista. You can also eat very cheaply if you head for the Grainger Market, a Victorian covered market in the heart of the city which offers everything from pizza by the slice to locally sourced oysters. The abundance of high quality local produce is something the city’s most revered chefs take advantage of and you’ll find sensational seasonal menus at the likes of SIX (located on the top floor of BALTIC), Artisan, Jesmond Dene House and Newcastle’s Michelin star restaurant, House of Tides, who’s chef is none other than Kenny Atkinson.
Just a couple of years ago NewcastleGateshead was voted 3rd place in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards for European nightlife destinations, behind only London and Berlin. And with two universities in town nightlife isn’t just for weekends – the bars and clubs are jumping most nights. The area between Central Station and the bottom of Grey Street is known as the Diamond Strip, the bars here attract a well-heeled crowd who aren’t afraid to splash out on their drinks. Most of them will end their night in clubs such as Livello or Tup Tup Palace or perhaps the new and rather trendy Aveika – a Japanese Restaurant and late night bar near the Quayside. Newcastle Quayside has an eclectic choice of bars and restaurants and due to quite a few new places opening up recently, it’s seeing a bit of a resurgence. The Bridge Tavern is probably the jewel in the Quayside’s crown. It has its own on site micro-brewery and a secret roof terrace where you can enjoy your pint under the canopy of the Tyne Bridge. For a much more cheesy night out you could head for the infamous Bigg Market complex of bars and clubs and dance to classic pop in Flares (be warned though, this is hen and stag party territory!), or check out the gay friendly bars in the ‘pink triangle’ located around the Life Science Centre. I’ve enjoyed nights out in all three spots over the years but these days I prefer the more laid back (read grown up) bars such as Alvinos, Lady Grey’s, dAt bAr, Lola Jeans and Pleased to Meet You which are located close together in the city centre. Head for Pilgrim Street or Grey Street and be sure to check out the side streets in between and you won’t go far wrong.
Getting There & Around
The very handy Tyne and Wear Metro is a great way to get around the North East, there’s even a stop at Newcastle International Airport so if you’re jetting in for your visit you can get to the city centre with ease. Newcastle is also very easy to get to from London by direct train, it takes less than three hours and the scenery along the way isn’t half bad! Being so close to the coast means you can even reach NewcastleGateshead by boat. DFDS Seaways sail in to the nearby port of North Shields from Amsterdam every morning.
It’s well worth following @altweet_pet on twitter for top tips about how to make the most of your visit. There’s also a friendly community of local bloggers who would be more than happy to answer your travel questions, just use #nebloggers. When you arrive in the city look out for local listings magazines The Crack (monthly) and NE1 (fortnightly) which will tell you what’s going on during your stay. The local tourist board, NewcastleGateshead Initiative, also produce a brilliant Pocket Guide and map, these are free and you’ll probably be able to pick them up at your hotel.
Newcastle has changed a lot in 50 years to say the least, but if you want a glimpse of a tougher era The Day of the Sardine will take you back to the early 1960s and the life of disaffected working class youth.
Michael Caine stars as the London gangster Jack Carter who returns to his hometown to investigate the death of his brother in the classic crime thriller Get Carter (considered by some the best British film of all time!). The film features plenty of shots from the region as it looked at the time, including from such iconic locations as the Newcastle Racecourse. For something more contemporary and light hearted try The One and Only.
Soundtrack to the City
Feature photo by Dommylive.