A city break guide to Newcastle

Newcastle was once the beating heart of the British industrial revolution. It had it all. From coal mines to mills, large manufacturing plants to busy, cramped markets. A rapidly increasing population and everything that goes with it. It was a real boom town for so long and epitomised the stereotype of the hard-working Northerner. In the most recent decades things have changed dramatically. From the closure of the coal mines in the 70s and 80s to the massive transformation of business and culture in the city centre.

There’s a surprising amount of great things to do in Newcastle at any time of year. Indeed the surrounding area has a great number of great places to go. Here’s out guide to a short break in Newcastle.

Walking tour of city centre

The city centre of Newcastle is both accessible and historic. With grand Victorian and Edwardian buildings to castles, keeps and bridges. The centre is fairly compact and easy to walk. With the train station as your starting point there are numerous roads you can venture down, A walk along the Tyne riverside is well worth it and you’ll find Castle Keep otherwise known as the Castle of Newcastle. Built in 1168 by Henry II and also the Black Gate, the most continuously inhabited castle relic in Britain. There’s also numerous statues to check out include the impressive Stephenson monument on the corner of Westgate Road and Neville Street.

Discovery centre

To get the full story of Newcastle there is no better place to go than the Discovery Centre. Newcastle’s premier museum for all aspects of life and culture in city. It has numerous sections to explore, the greatest of which is the “Newcastle Story” which goes right back to the earliest settlers in the area. It walks you through time, comparing dates with other historical events around the world. The interactive displays are a little old and worn but the level of detail and flow of the museum area is great. You can learn as much as you like on different periods of history including the Romans, Vikings, Normans right up to Victorian, industrial revolution, etc. There’s also the last few decades from the 2nd world war onwards. It could do with a little updating as the 2000s features just a small display with a few objects. Still its a great way to understand how and why Newcastle came to be, best of all its totally free.

Bridges galore

If you take a walk down to the Tyne in the centre of the city you can’t help but notice all the bridges spanning the river! There are lots of them including one that looks suspiciously like the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Tyne Bridge was actually designed by the same men that built the famous Australian landmark but was completed 2 years earlier. The jury is still out on which one copied which.

You can do a loop of some of the bridges too. First walking past the High Level Bridge that has a level for trains and another for cars, designed by Stephenson himself. Then on to the brightly painted swing bridge built in 1850. From there you can cross over and check out the giant green Tyne bridge walk further along and you’ll come to one of the latest bridges in town. The Gateshead Millennium Bridge opened in 2000 and is probably the most striking design of them all. A strictly pedestrian bridge, its archway supports steel cables that suspend the semi-circular walkway over the river. Its an impressive modern design, if a little bouncy at times. From there you can cross back over and walk along the river-side, stopping at a cafe or bar along the way. A perfect way to enjoy the urban view.

South Shields

A visit to Newcastle can also be a visit to the sea-side! South Shields is just a few miles away to the East and its sand dune beach known as Sandhaven stretches on for miles. Its a great place to go in summer with amusements and fair ground to entertain. There’s also numerous points along the coast worth checking out thanks to the National Trust protected areas. Souter Lighthouse is a particular favourite. This bright white and red lighthouse is easily accessible and thanks to the National Trust is open to all. You not only get to look around the lighthouse-keeper’s buildings and cottage next door but you can also climb up to the top of the lighthouse and admire the grand glass prisms of the light. Its quite a sight and the views out of the windows up there are quite a sight too. You may even spot some sea life or birds along the coast.

Getting about

While there are of course a lot of hotels and hostels in the centre of Newcastle you can expect to pay a premium for the location. What few people know is that Newcastle is a surprisingly easy city to get in and out of. There’s a good public bus service and if you’re driving you can get in and out of the city fairly quickly especially to the West. Renting a car for a long weekend in Newcastle is a cost -effective way of getting about to everything you’d want to see including the coast.

Where to stay

We highly recommend a stay at Hadrian’s Barn, a small family run Bed and breakfast with a difference. In the little town of Heddon-on-the-wall up a secluded driveway you’ll find a pretty country house just 2 rooms available. Rather than a room in the house they have converted their stables in to very well presented holiday cottages. At just £39 per person you get you own private house for the night and they can easily sleep up to 4 people. Breakfast is included and the quiet countryside makes you feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Amazing value for money and very friendly owners too. Its a little hard to find but well worth it, follow the directions on their website.