Newcastle-upon-Tyne is, in both an economic as well as a cultural sense, the capital of the northeast of England. This industrial city stands on the River Tyne, with its center possessing many noteworthy Victorian buildings and streets, as well as three large shopping centers.
It’s also popular for its many interesting museums and entertainment facilities, including the prestigious Theatre Royal and City Hall, a popular venue for rock and pop concerts.
Once an important coal port, the harbor area is now a busy passenger terminus for ferries and cruise ships to Europe, as well as for boat trips around the city. In Roman times, Newcastle-then called Pons Aelius-was a fort on Hadrian’s Wall, and during the Saxon period, it was known as Monk Chester on account of its many religious houses.
The city owes its present name to William the Conqueror who, like Hadrian before him, recognized its strategic importance. In 1080, he gave his son the order to erect a “New Castle” on the site of the old Roman fort, in addition to the building of St. Nicholas’ Cathedral. Today, these two buildings are among the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
One of the top things to do in Newcastle is to tackle at least partially off the 84-mile-long Hadrian’s Wall Path, which passes through the city center and follows Hadrian’s Wall across some lovely countryside. For other fun sightseeing ideas, be sure to review our list of the top-rated tourist attractions in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
1. The Tyne Bridges
The oldest is the High-Level Bridge, a two-level steel structure almost 165 feet high and built to plans drawn up in 1849 by Robert Stephenson and opened by Queen Victoria. The Swing Bridge, designed by Sir W. G. Armstrong and opened in 1876, stands on the same site as the “Pons Aelius” fort built by the Romans.
However, the bridge that most symbolizes the city’s identity is the Tyne Bridge, begun in 1925 and opened by King George V in 1928, with what was at that time the largest arch of any bridge in the world.
Also worth mentioning: Crossing the spectacular Gateshead Millennium Bridge on foot (or on the bike) is one of the top things for visitors to do when visiting the Newcastle area.
2. Historic Quayside
The Quayside district around the Tyne and High-Level Bridges has been redeveloped, and many of the old houses are now hotels, shops, and restaurants. On Sandhill, a number of historic buildings can be seen, including the Guildhall, built-in 1658, and the Merchants’ Court. The lovingly restored Bessie Surtees House consists of two merchant houses dating from the 16th and 17th centuries with a restored Jacobean facade.
A fascinating underground tourist attraction is the 2.5-mile-long Victoria Tunnel, running beneath the city from the Town Moor down to the Tyne. The tunnel opened in 1842 as a wagonway to transport coal from the colliery to riverside jetties, and a large section can be seen by guided tour (be sure to book in advance).
If traveling with youngsters visits the inspirational Seven Stories, a center for original manuscripts and illustrations from some of Britain’s best-loved children’s authors. Another nearby attraction for kids is the Life Science Centre, with its thrilling planetarium, live theater, and hands-on displays.
3. Newcastle Castle
North of Newcastle’s High-Level Bridge on St. Nicholas Street, the well-preserved Norman fortified tower bears testimony to the “New Castle” begun in 1080 and completed in 1172. The late Norman Chapel and the King’s Chamber can be visited as you explore the castle’s many old passages and medieval chambers. Along the way, you’ll find fascinating displays of archaeological artifacts, while the tower offers excellent views over the city.
Although separated from Castle Keep by a train line, the gatehouse (the Black Gate) was built in 1247 and is also worth exploring. Guided tours, including a chance to visit both structures, are available (if possible, try to plan your visit to coincide with one of the castle’s many fun themed seasonal events).
4. Newcastle Cathedral
Built-in the 14th and 15th centuries, Newcastle Cathedral-The Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas-is not especially large, having only been elevated from the status of the parish church to cathedral in 1882. Its most striking feature, though, is its lantern tower. Standing almost 197 feet tall, it was built in 1435 and is topped by a lovely crenelated Scottish Crown. At night, the spire is floodlit to impressive effect.
Interior highlights include the canopied font and lectern (both dating from 1500), the organ (1676), and numerous fine statues dating from 15th to 20th centuries. A pleasant café is also located on-site. Outside, the statue of Queen Victoria in St. Nicholas Square was the work of Sir Alfred Gilbert (1900). Admission to the cathedral is free, making it one of the top things to do for free in Newcastle.
5. The Old City Chares
To the east of the Tyne Bridge is one of the oldest parts of Newcastle, the Chares. This series of well-preserved, narrow medieval alleyways and lanes, with their stepped pathways, are endless fun to explore, including Breakneck Stairs, Long Stairs, and Castle Stairs, the latter leading to Castle Keep and the Black Gate.
Along the way, you’ll find newer (yet still historic) architectural delights, including the Custom House (1766) and Trinity House (1721). A number fo great restaurants and shopping opportunities have also spring up in the area, adding even more reasons to linger here.
Also of interest is the splendid All Saints Church. Built-in Neoclassical style by David Stephenson in the 18th century above the tomb of Roger Thornton (d. 1429) and his wife (d. 1411), this catholic church possesses a great deal of elaborate mahogany woodwork along with what is believed to be the largest brass in England.
6. Grainger Town and Grey’s Monument
At the north end of Grey Street stands the 135-foot-high Grey’s Monument, a favorite meeting place in the heart of the city. Built in 1835 in memory of the second Earl Grey, it commemorates his role as Prime Minister and architect of the 1832 Reform Bill. The column’s viewing platform-a 164-step climb and only occasionally open to the public – boasts superb views of the city.
Grainger Street, which ends at Grey’s Monument, is one of Newcastle’s most attractive shopping streets. The thoroughfare and the area around it, Grainger Town, are named after Richard Grainger, the architect behind the rebuilding of the city center between 1824 and 1841.
Here, you’ll also find excellent shopping in Grainger Market, established in 1835 and still bustling with over 100 vendors selling food and other goods.
7. intu Eldon Square
An enormous shopping complex has developed around Eldon Square, comprising the shopping center of the same name, in Eldon Garden, and the Central Arcade. The area has numerous passageways lined with shops, elegant arcades, exclusive designer boutiques, restaurants, and cafés, as well as a number of fine antique stores on Vine Lane. All are ideal for exploring when a little retail therapy is needed.
A short distance to the west of Eldon Square is a Chinese district around Stowell Street that is famous for its excellent restaurants. While there, visit Newcastle’s old medieval Town Walls, now restored, as well as 13th-century Blackfriars in Monk Street, which houses craft workshops and a restaurant.
8. Laing Art Gallery
The Laing Art Gallery was built in 1901 and contains an extensive collection of paintings and sculptures, including work by Gauguin, landscapes by John Martin, and paintings by 20th-century British artists like Stanley Spencer.
It’s also home to sculptures by Henry Moore and decorative arts from the 16th to 18th centuries, including silver, glassware, and ceramics. The gallery also hosts a continuous program of temporary exhibitions and educational activities. A great café is located on site (cream teas!), and guided tours are available.
Another gallery of note is the Hatton Gallery at Newcastle University, which has works by European painters from the 14th to 18th centuries, as well as paintings by modern English artists. A little north from the Laing Art Gallery is the Newcastle Civic Centre, noteworthy for its chimes (based on local tunes) and its statue depicting the Tyne river-god.
The Biscuit Factory, the UK’s largest commercial art, craft, and design gallery, is housed in a former Victorian warehouse and includes collections of contemporary fine art, sculpture, and original print. It has also become a popular dining spot thanks to its two restaurants.
9. Great North Museum: Hancock
Established in 1884, the Great North Museum: Hancock is located in a splendidly restored Victorian-era building and houses excellent natural history and ethnology sections.
Among its many exhibits are artifacts from ancient Egypt and Greece, the Romans and Hadrian’s Wall, as well as a digital planetarium. For the kids, a fun interactive study zone, an “under-fives” space, and a garden are all available to explore. The nearby Exhibition Park is also worth wandering and makes for a great picnic spot after visiting the museum.
Fans of Roman Britain should pay a visit to the Segedunum Roman Fort & Museum. Here, you can explore excavated remains of an original Roman fort along with reconstructions including a bathhouse, plus related displays in the museum.
Although a little outside of the city, the Arbeia, South Shields Roman Fort is worth a visit. Consisting of a mix of ruins and some reconstructions, the fort offers the chance to experience a little of life during Roman times, along with viewing a large collection of well-preserved artifacts.
10. Discovery Museum
Among the many exhibits in the excellent Discovery Museum are machines ranging from traditional windmills and early steam engines to ultra-modern jet turbines.
Highlights include a number of WW2-era vehicles and vintage cars. Also on show is the locomotive built by George Stephenson in 1830 for the coal mines of Killingworth and a model recreating the River Tyne in 1929.
Various ship models include the first turbine-driven steamer in the world, Turbinia, designed by Charles Parsons and launched in 1914. The museum also boasts a fine collection of artwork, including paintings and sculptures, as well as an extensive research library. A café is also located on the premises.
Also fun for kids, the Stephenson Railway Museum is just a short distance away in Wallsend. This fascinating tourist attraction offers a variety of fun things to do, including the chance to ride aboard a number of still-operational vintage steam- and diesel locomotives. A variety of hands-on displays are available, along with fun workshops.
11. Jesmond Dene
Jesmond Dene, a lovely dell in the northeast of Newcastle linked to Armstrong Park, is undoubtedly one of the most attractive city parks in England. A nature trail has been laid out in the park and takes visitors past the Old Mill, in operation since the mid-1700s. Near the entrance of the park is Millfield House, which provides a range of activities and information.
Also worth exploring is Gibside in Burnopfield, a forest garden considered one of the North’s finest landscapes. Gibside also features a Palladian chapel, the Column of Liberty, and numerous easy walking paths.
Another nearby National Trust property to explore is Derwentcote Steel Furnace, a fully operational 18th-century steel-making furnace.
12. Gateshead & the Millennium Bridge
Connected to Newcastle by seven bridges, including the Gateshead Millennium Bridge-a spectacularly designed pedestrian bridge that actually tilts to allow boat traffic through-Gateshead is well worth adding to your itinerary.
The town is well known for its iconic architecture, which includes the spectacular Sage Gateshead, a center for musical education, performance, and conferences; the famous Angel of the North, a huge steel sculpture of an angel designed by Antony Gormley that stands 66 feet tall with wings measuring 177 feet across; and the lovely 55-acre Saltwell Park, popular for its pleasant walks through gardens and woods, along with its boating lake and visitor center.
Also of interest to art enthusiasts is the Shipley Art Gallery, featuring a number of works from the old masters, contemporary crafts, silverware, glass, and pieces of local history.
Another must-visit Gateshead tourist attraction is the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Sitting just steps away from the Millennium Bridge, the “Baltic,” as it’s known locally, is located within a refurbished old flour mill and features a variety of visiting exhibits from across the UK and internationally