The best things to do in Newcastle-upon-Tyne are centred around its industrial heritage and a rich cultural scene. It’s all interwoven with a celebrated nightlife, urban sophistication and a hefty helping of exceptional food.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, usually known simply as Newcastle, is considered the unofficial capital of North East England. This lively city makes for a fabulous weekend break packed with loads of activities and sightseeing. Newcastle and Gateshead promises to keep you entertained, captivated and incredibly well-fed.
My visit to the city was hosted by the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, however, all views and opinions are entirely my own. This article contains affiliate links which means I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Newcastle and Gateshead sit across from one another on the River Tyne linked by some iconic bridges. The Quayside is where much of the city’s regeneration has taken place.
20 Best Newcastle Activities
Here are my top twenty Newcastle activities that’ll make your visit unforgettable and have you heading back for more. You might like to make your visit a two-centre trip with a visit to County Durham which is just down the road.
Explore the Quayside
On my first morning in the city I was up at dawn for a walk along the quayside which turned out to be one of my favourite Newcastle activities. I had fabulous views of the bridges and river from my hotel room at the Melia Innside and after taking a glimpse I knew I needed to get out there with my camera.
My early start was rewarded with a stunning winter sunrise which bathed the River Tyne, and some top Newcastle landmarks, in soft golden light. On your wander, see if you can spot all seven of the bridges that Newcastle is known for.
A series of brass plaques featuring the city’s stars and celebrities can be found on the river walk along with plenty of outdoor art installations. There are cafes, coffee shops, restaurants and even a small beach along the quayside.
Take a guided walking tour including Grainger Market and Quayside.
Take in the Tyne Bridge – an iconic symbol of Newcastle
If you’ve watched the Great North Run on TV you’ll recognise the iconic Tyne Bridge which has now become a symbol of Newcastle and a key part of the city’s identity. King George V officially opened the Tyne Bridge in October 1928 which was built by the same company that built Sydney Harbour Bridge, another of the world’s iconic sights. Make sure to take a walk across this most well-known of Newcastle bridges to check out some epic city views.
Along the Quayside, you can see the seven bridges that cross the River Tyne all within a one-mile radius of the city.
Visit Newcastle castle
This Norman fortress was used as a starting point for invasions of Scotland and as stopping points for armies en-route to battle. Criminals and traitors were imprisoned, tortured and executed in the castle.
Newcastle’s castle isn’t that new anymore. In 1168, Henry II commissioned the old wooden castle to be rebuilt in sturdier stone and the new castle is still standing over 900 years later. It gave Newcastle its name and you’ll find it standing proud on Grey Street. It’s one of the most popular places to visit in Newcastle.
The castle may look small but it’s a bit of a Tardis with narrow passageways, winding staircases, chambers, dungeons and prison pits. The castle is great for kids, especially at weekends when actors in medieval costume tell grim tales of dastardly deeds that took place in the castle.
Be sure to head up to the top of the keep for panoramic 360-degree views across Newcastle and the Tyne, you’ll see most of Newcastle’s landmarks from here.
Say hello to the Angel of the North
You’ll get a warm welcome in Gateshead. Antony Gormley’s iconic Angel of the North greets visitors to the area with outstretched arms as it guards the valley below. The sculpture measures 20 metres in height and the wings span 54 metres tip to tip.
Gormley wanted to fulfil three aims with the sculpture:
- To recognise the sacrifice of the miners who had worked for 200 years beneath the site of the statue
- To represent the transition from an industrial to an informational age
- To serve as a focus for the evolving hopes and fears of the people
The huge piece of public art is made from steel to reflect the area’s ship building heritage and is a nod to another Newcastle iconic structure – the Tyne Bridge.
The Angel was erected in February 1998 and is the largest sculpture in Britain and the largest Angel sculpture in the world.
To visit the Angel of the North
To visit take the bus ‘Angel 21’ from Newcastle‘s Eldon Square Bus Station or from Gateshead Interchange. The bus runs every 8 minutes and takes around 20 minutes from Newcastle and 10 minutes from Gateshead to get to the Angel of the North stop.
Catch at concert at Sage Gateshead
Often referred to as the “symbol of Newcastle’s regeneration”, Sage Gateshead is a super shiny piece of modern architecture located on the south bank of the River Tyne in Gateshead.
A visit to Sage is top of the list of Newcastle things to do for music lovers – it’s very photogenic too.
The glass music venue, established in 2004, is home to the Royal Northern Sinfonia and has three performance auditoriums. If you’re looking for live music you’ll find it at Sage Gateshead with over 400 gigs, performances and concerts taking place at the venue each year (Covid regulations permitting).
Relax at Newcastle City Baths
Newcastle is home to one of only eleven operational Turkish Baths in the country. The ornate baths in Northumberland Road have been enjoyed by generations of Geordies since 1928. The historic baths recently re-opened after being beautifully restored.
The unisex baths feature art deco inspired relaxation rooms, original wooden booths, a glass domed roof, heated chambers and invigorating plunge showers. There’s also a hamman and steam room. A visit to Newcastle City Baths offers an authentic Turkish Baths experience right in the heart of the city.
Upstairs there’s a swimming pool, large gym and a new luxury spa which offers treatments from signature facials to full body massages. I spent a couple of hours chilling, or should I say warming up, and enjoying a wonderful foot massage in one of the new treatment rooms. Just what I needed after a day of Newcastle sightseeing.
Take a Newcastle walking tour
Newcastle is a compact city and pretty easy to see on foot. If you’re short on time book a walking tour with an expert guide to see all the best bits and get the low down on the city from its Roman roots and history right through to the present day.
Visit BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
Overlooking the River Tyne, this is Baltic Flour Mill, known simply nowadays as BALTIC. The building was designed in the late 1930s and opened as a flour mill in 1950 milling flour for Rank Hovis until it closed in 1981.
In 2002 the mill underwent a conversion and reopened as the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, one of the biggest contemporary art venues in the world. This cool Newcastle attraction gives the Tate Modern in London a good run for its money with an ever-changing rotation of exhibitions and installations of contemporary art.
As well as the arts centre there’s a cinema, bar and two restaurants. With an outdoor platform on the fourth floor and viewing box on the floor above it’s a good spot for stunning views over the River Tyne. One of the best things to do in Newcastle – entry to the gallery is free.
Go Underground at Victoria Tunnel
Head underground for this top Newcastle attraction. A fascinating tour of part of the 2.4 mile Victoria Tunnel will give an insight into Newcastle’s industrial powerhouse days and how the tunnel protected the city’s population during World War II.
The tunnels, which lie up to 85 feet (26 m) below the streets of Newcastle, were built between 1839-42. They were constructed as a coal-wagon route to transport coal downhill from Leazes Main Colliery to the Tyne River.
The tunnel closed in the 1860s but was re-opened in 1939 and converted into an air-raid shelter. Thousands of Newcastle people sheltered nightly in the narrow tunnel during WWII.
We took a fascinating tour with Ouseburn Trust, exploring a 700-metre section of the tunnel. Our guide vividly brought to life the conditions that the people sheltering from the bombing would have endured and told tales of incidents and accidents that took place when the tunnels were used for transporting coal. Definitely one of the more unusual things to do when you visit Newcastle.
The tours start either in Ouse Street behind the Hotel du Vin at the only remaining entrance to the tunnel or at the Lime Street visitor centre. Check ticket prices and opening times for Victoria Tunnel.
Cross the Gateshead Millennium Bridge
The newest of Newcastle’s seven bridges is the sleek Gateshead Millennium Bridge which opened in 2001. The tilting bridge is for pedestrians and cyclists and crosses the Tyne right next to the BALTIC.
The bridge stretches 126 metres across the River Tyne and takes 4.5 minutes to tilt. At night the 50 metre high bridge is lit with changing coloured LED lights which make for beautiful reflections on the river.
Check out the Quayside Sunday Market
Head to the Quayside for Newcastle’s Sunday market. It’s a great place to pick up some local crafts, a street food brunch from one of the food trucks or absolutely anything else you might need.
The road is closed to traffic and there’s a nice buzzy atmosphere and heaps of stalls to browse. The Quayside market opens from 9.30 a.m. until 4 p.m. on the Newcastle side of the river between the Swing Bridge and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.
Meet at the Earl Grey Monument
A popular meeting spot at the north end of Grey Street is Grey’s Monument. You can’t miss the 135-foot column from which the second Earl Grey gazes down Grey Street. I really think he should be holding a cuppa because Earl Grey tea was named after him.
The monument commemorates the Earl and his role as Prime Minister during which time he was architect of the 1832 Reform Bill which revolutionised Britain’s electoral system. His government also brought about the abolition of slavery in much of the British Empire.
In summer there’s an opportunity to climb the 164 steps to the top of this Newcastle monument. Head to the top of the column with Grey Monument tours for fabulous bird’s eye views across the city and one of the most unusual things to do in Newcastle.
Grey Street and Grainger Town
Grainger Town is Newcastle’s historic heart and includes Grainger Street, Clayton Street and Grey Street which is looked down on by Earl Grey atop his monument.
Grey Street is lined with classical architecture designed in the 1830s by the renowned Richard Grainger. Many of the buildings are listed as being of architectural and historical importance including the beautiful Theatre Royal.
Weigh in at Grainger Market
Grainger indoor market opened in 1835 and is the oldest Newcastle food market. Known as the city’s first supermarket you can pick up most things from everyday staples to luxury foods like Farne Island oysters. The original weighing room is still in use today and people go in to get weighed for a 50p fee.
Seventeen different food stalls offer foods from around the world so you’re guaranteed to find something you like. The market is home to the original Marks and Spencer Penny Bazaar which also happens to be the smallest M&S in the world.
Cut through Central Arcade
Central Arcade is an Edwardian shopping arcade where you’ll discover mosaic flooring, stained glass, ornate lighting and dark wood fittings all under a glass barrel-vaulted roof.
The original arcade was built in 1837 but was destroyed by a fire and rebuilt in 1906 to create a cut-through from Grey Street to Market Street and Grainger Street. Ironically you can’t enter any of the shops from inside the arcade – you’ll need to go back outside to do that.
Eat your fill on a Newcastle Food Tour
A food tour is a great way to get under the skin of a city and discover a few hidden gems at the same time. I devoured two Triple A Food Tours; ‘A Taste of Newcastle’ and the Ouseburn Tour – my favourite activities in Newcastle.
Both gave a fascinating insight into the Newcastle food scene with tastings from local north east fare to Spain, France and India.
These Newcastle walking tours last around three hours and I recommend you arrive with an empty stomach. Read my review of the Triple A Newcastle food tour.
Check out the Swing Bridge
The colourful Swing Bridge, opened in 1876, and swings open four times a week. It’s next to the Tyne Bridge and spans the point where the Romans built their first bridge over 2,000 years ago.
The low-lying bridge, along with all of Newcastle’s bridges, is a good option for walking over to Gateshead. Looking back to the Newcastle side of the river you’ll get good views of the castle and, at night time, views of the riverscape all lit up.
Explore vibrant Ouseburn Valley
If you’re looking for cool Newcastle things to do then head to the Ouseburn Valley. Ouseburn is at the heart of the industrial revolution on Tyneside. It’s an area of old warehouses and factories that have been converted into a range of cool cafes, laid-back bars, micro-breweries and creative spaces. It’s relaxed and informal with a buzzy vibe and live music venues – the perfect place to while away a Saturday afternoon. I guarantee you’ll stay for the evening too.
The Ouseburn Valley is a fair walk from the town centre but well worth the effort. If you’re walking the Quayside then keep going and turn left when you reach the BALTIC. It’s around 20 minutes from there and Victoria Tunnel is en-route.
Level up – on the High Level Bridge
The High Level Bridge is the oldest of Newcastle’s bridges and opened in 1850. It’s the world’s first combined railway and road bridge and was originally used for transporting coal.
The double-decker bridge carries trains on the top deck – we arrived into Newcastle this way from London. The lower deck is for traffic heading to Gateshead. The bridge was designed by Robert Stephenson.
Newcastle Nightlife – do it the Geordie way
Geordies love a night out and this reflects in Newcastle’s legendary nightlife with heaps of ways to enjoy a night out in the Toon. Highly influenced by the city’s student population and the creative arts scene, Newcastle’s nightlife is full on and then some.
From pubs and bars with every kind of live music to cocktail bars, restaurants and riverside venues you’ll find somewhere spot on to kick off your night out. Afterwards there are casinos, comedy venues and clubs where you can dance til the sun comes up.
Where to stay in Newcastle
We stayed at Melia Innside, a new riverside hotel with fantastic views over the Tyne and a Gino de Campo restaurant. It’s in a fabulous location and meant that everywhere we visited in Newcastle and Gateshead was within easy walking distance.
Newcastle is a compact city and it’s easy to explore on foot. All the attractions above are walkable except for the Angel of the North.
Places to eat in Newcastle
There’s an absolutely fabulous gastronomic arena in Newcastle. In fact it’s so good that I wrote a Newcastle food guide all about the city’s restaurants and remarkable food scene.
Fenwick’s Food Hall was one of my favourite places to eat in Newcastle. There are markets, high end restaurants, food tours, street food and a lot of foodie fun to be had in NewcastleGateshead. Don’t forget to pack your stretchy pants.
How to get to Newcastle
We travelled to Newcastle from London by train with LNER. If you leave London before breakfast you’ll be in Newcastle in time for lunch. The journey is around 4 hours.
Many of the UK’s larger cities are connected to Newcastle by train including Edinburgh, Leeds and London. Check the Trainline for timetables and costs.
Newcastle Central Station is in the centre of the city. It’s ten-minutes on foot from Grey’s Memorial or a five-minute walk from the castle so your Newcastle city break starts as soon as you arrive.
For a two-city trip, a visit to Durham takes less than 20 minutes by train. Check out my guide to visiting County Durham for tips on what to see and do.
Ready to book your trip to Newcastle?
- Plan your trip with a Newcastle map and guidebook
- Find the perfect place to stay on Booking.com
- For car hire we like to compare prices at RentalCars Connect
- And, finally, please don’t forget to protect you and your trip with travel insurance
I hope this travel guide to the best Newcastle activities has inspired you to visit. This is just a taster of the some of the things I got up to on my visit. I’m already planning to go back and visit some of the things I didn’t have time for. If you have any questions ask away in the comments.