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The best things to do in Newcastle Gateshead

The riverside

With its museums, art galleries, parks, stunning architecture, 2,000 years of history, and some of the UK’s finest beaches and countryside on its doorstep, Newcastle-Gateshead offers so much more than just a party lifestyle. Time to put your best foot forward to experience and explore this most captivating of cities. Newcastle-Gateshead is a bit like Doctor Who’s Tardis. Look at it from the outside, and it appears to be a compact city divided by the mighty River Tyne. But step into the heart of what is probably one of Britain’s most iconic and historical conurbations, and you’ll be amazed by just how much there is to see and do. It would be fair to say that there are few other places not just in the UK, but probably Europe too, that pack so much into what is a relatively small space.

But just as Doctor Who’s Tardis whisks its occupants off for adventures galore, so there are plenty of exciting discoveries and surprises to be found across Newcastle-Gateshead when you step outside the door, touching on everything from the area’s two millennia of history to wildlife, art, music, innovation, science, literature and sport. Even better, most of the attractions are within easy walking distance or just a short bus or Metro hop away. A good place to start is the Quayside flanking both sides of the River Tyne, at the point where it begins the last part of its now languid journey to the North Sea eight miles or so downstream.

The Baltic

The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art boasts fantastic panoramic views of the Quayside

Once a rundown area of empty industrial buildings, long abandoned wharfs and wastelands, both the Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides have been transformed beyond recognition in the past four decades. In fact, if one area sums up the regeneration of Tyneside, it is the Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides facing each other in friendly rivalry across the now clean and salmon rich waters of what is still one of the world’s most famous rivers. But where once it was coal, flour, glass, silver bullion, cast and wrought iron, soap, wines and spirits, lead, tobacco, timber and cotton that made their way in and out of the river through both Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides, now it is the leisure and hospitality industry that drives what is still the area’s beating heart. Landmark industrial edifices have been renovated and turned into art galleries, hotels, pubs and restaurants. Concrete wastelands have been converted into pleasant riverside walks and squares. And visually striking new buildings and monuments connect the past with the present.

No trip to Tyneside – however fleeting – is complete without a visit to the riverside, whether it’s just a quick stroll taking in the seven magnificent and justifiably famous bridges that draw Newcastle-Gateshead together, or the luxury of being able to explore and dig deeper beneath the surface. On the Gateshead side, what was the Baltic flour mill has been gloriously reinvented as an art gallery. Opened in 2002, the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art dominates the skyline and is the biggest gallery of its kind in the world.

Showing a dynamic, diverse and international programme of contemporary visual art and exhibitions over four vast gallery spaces, it’s a place to relax, have fun, learn, discover fresh ideas and be challenged. BALTIC also offers unrivalled panoramic views across the Newcastle-Gateshead cityscape from its fifth floor viewing box and the fourth floor outdoor terrace. From the latter, you can get up close to what is the UK’s most inland nesting colony of Kittiwakes that have made their home on the north face of BALTIC, and take in the spectacular vista along both the north and south banks of the river spanned by the arched Tyne Bridge, the Swing Bridge, and the gently curving Millennium Bridge.

Once a rundown area of empty industrial buildings, both the Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides have been transformed beyond recognition in the past four decades

Iconic venues and family days

BALTIC’s neighbour is the fantastic Sage Gateshead, a ground-breaking live music venue with its unique curving steel and glass roof that wraps around two concert halls and public areas. Then you can cross the iconic Millennium Bridge – the world’s first and only tilting bridge – that links Newcastle and Gateshead for pedestrians and cyclists. Between March and October you can grab the chance to go on a one hour River Escapes cruise taking in Newcastle-Gateshead’s famous landmarks and the Tyne Gorge, including all seven bridges. Sightseeing cruises can also be taken upstream to the Ryton Willows Nature Reserve and the Newburn Country Park, or downstream to the coast at Tynemouth with its ruined priory and castle standing tall above the North Sea.

Sandhill, just a stone’s throw from the Tyne, was once the bustling commercial hub of Newcastle. It is here you will find one of the city’s historic gems – Bessie Surtees House. Actually the name of two timber clad merchants’ buildings dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, the house is best known as the site of a romantic elopement. It is from here in 1772 that the aforementioned Bessie is said to have climbed down from a first floor window and eloped to Scotland with her young lover, John Scott. It’s fair to say her family was probably not amused. But any ill feeling was undoubtedly quashed in later years when Scott went on to become Lord Eldon, the Lord Chancellor.

Just a few minutes’ walk downstream from the hustle and bustle of the central Quayside and you come to an area known as Ouseburn, named after a small river which flows through a steeply sided valley into the Tyne. The valley was once known as the cradle of Newcastle’s Industrial Revolution, but it is now a creative and artistic hub. Here you will find the aptly-named Valley Climbing Centre, a state-of-the-art bouldering gym with extensive facilities for climbers of all abilities. Ouseburn is also home to Seven Stories, a visitor and repository of Britain’s most influential children’s literature. You can explore the amazing world of children’s books, with words and pictures brought to life through regular exhibitions, activities and special events.

Ouseburn Farm is a gem of a visitor attraction just a mile from Newcastle city centre with pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, lizards, tortoises, ponds and woodland. The valley is also home to one of Newcastle’s must-see hidden attractions: the Victoria Tunnel. Built in 1842 to transport coal underground from the centre of Newcastle to riverside jetties, the 2.5 mile long tunnel was converted for use as an air raid shelter during World War II. Now repaired and open to the public, you can take an atmospheric and informative two-hour long volunteer-led tours on which you’ll discover more about the tunnel’s history as a colliery waggonway and experience the sounds of a wartime air raid, all while listening to the rumble of Newcastle’s modern day traffic overhead. Tours take place every week, but due to the tunnel’s popularity must be booked in advance.

Ouseburn Farm is a gem of a visitor attraction just a mile from Newcastle city centre with pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, lizards, tortoises, ponds and woodland

Museums, galleries and St James’ Park

Going underground isn’t everyone’s idea of a fun day out. So it’s just as well Newcastle-Gateshead has so much more to offer above ground. Head back into Newcastle city centre and glory in the architectural wonder that is Grey Street. With its graceful curve and fine Georgian buildings, it’s easy to see why it’s been voted Britain’s finest street. A short walk away is the Laing Art Gallery, which focuses on British oil paintings, watercolours, ceramics and glass and silverware. Highlights include pieces by Paul Gaugin, John Martin and the Tyneside born engraver and natural history author, Thomas Bewick.

The Hatton Gallery within Newcastle University houses important works from the 14th century through to present day, including key pieces from Francis Bacon and Eduardo Paolozzi, as well as Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn Wall collage. The impressive Great North Museum: Hancock is packed with fascinating exhibits guaranteed to enthral young and old alike, from a menagerie of stuffed animals to archaeological and geological specimens, fossils, a planetarium, exhibitions, special events and a life size T-Rex skeleton. He will be joined in 2019 by Dippy. The Natural History Museum’s famous Diplodocus will be taking up residence in the museum between May 18-October 6, as part of his round Britain tour. The Discovery Museum is where you can find out about the region’s maritime, scientific and technological firsts, including Charles Parsons’ famous steam-powered ship Turbinia, which is on permanent display.

A few minutes’ walk from the Discovery is the Centre for Life. Here, science is brought vividly to life. You can learn more about the brain, try out experiments, take part in workshops, wonder at the beauty of our solar system, sit-in on fun talks in the science theatre, and take an exciting journey on a 4D motion ride. Then you can turn the clock back a few centuries at the Newcastle Black Gate and Castle, which charts the city’s history from the Romans, who first bridged the River Tyne. The first fortification that gave Newcastle its name was built by William the Conqueror’s son in 1080. But it was Henry II who built the stone Castle Keep between 1172 and 1177, with the Black Gate added in the 13th century. If you’re into sport, then a tour of the home of Newcastle United – St James’ Park – is not to be missed.

One of the few top-flight football clubs still located in a city centre, St James’ Park dominates the skyline. Tours include the changing rooms, the media centre and a pitch side visit to the dugouts. If you’re brave enough, you can even climb to a walkway 150ft above the ground for a visually stunning view not just of the famous sporting arena, but Newcastle-Gateshead too. Gateshead has much to offer beyond the Quayside. Saltwell Park with its own Gothic mansion, boating lake, ornamental gardens and walking trails, is a short bus ride away. Covering 55 acres, it has been restored to its Victorian splendour, while the fairy tale Saltwell Towers is now home to a visitor centre and cafe. The Shipley Art Gallery on Prince Consort Road has five gallery spaces dedicated to craft and design.

A few minutes’ walk from the Discovery is the Centre for Life. Here, science is brought vividly to life. You can learn more about the brain, try out experiments, take part in workshops and much more

Historic venues and a trip to the coast

The Bowes Railway provides a unique opportunity to delve into an important part of the area’s industrial psty. Originally a colliery railway, you can tour the pit yard, cabins and wagon shop, and take a trip on a steam train. Another important legacy of Newcastle-Gateshead’s industrial past is Dunston Staiths on the south bank of the Tyne. Believed to be the largest timber structure in Europe, the staiths’ was built in 1893 to load coal from the Durham coalfields onto waiting colliers on the Tyne. Now a visitor attraction that between May-September hosts a monthly Saturday food market, the area surrounding the structure is an important saltmarsh garden, while lapwings, red shanks and grey herons roost on the timbers.

The National Trust property of Gibside at Rowlands Gill on the outskirts of Gateshead, offers acres of woodland, an 18th-century landscape garden, tree-lined avenues, outdoor activities, wildlife and architectural gems. While the mansion that was the home of the Bowes family – relatives of the Queen Mother – is now in ruins, there is a grand Palladian chapel and a 140ft high Column of Liberty. Probably the one thing that has done more than anything else to put Gateshead on the map is the Angel of the North. Created by Antony Gormley, it first spread its wings in February 1998 and has become every bit as famous as its fellow North East landmarks the Tyne Bridge, Durham Cathedral and Hadrian’s Wall. Made from 200 tonnes of steel, standing 20m tall, and with a wingspan of 54m, the chance to get up close to this modern day cultural icon is not one to be missed.

South Shields

South Shields is another picturesque coastal area worth a visit

If you fancy blowing the cobwebs away on a trip to the coast, both Tynemouth and South Shields are within easy reach of Newcastle-Gateshead. The best way to reach both locations is to hop on the Metro (look out for the big yellow signs bearing a black ‘M’), Tyneside’s reliable and cheap rapid transit system. Both Tynemouth and South Shields stand opposite each other at the mouth of the River Tyne. South Shields is everyone’s idea of a traditional seaside town with sandy beaches, a funfair, amusement arcades, a miniature railway, twinkly lights, candy floss, two beautiful seafront parks, clifftop walks and award-winning fish and chips. There’s also the iconic red and white hooped Souter Lighthouse – the first to be powered by electricity – and Arbeia Roman Fort, part of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site.

Across the water, the more genteel Tynemouth with its mix of attractive Georgian and Victorian buildings, offers a mile-long stretch of golden sand, picturesque bays, a ruined priory and castle, water sports and, at the weekend, a renowned market held under the glass canopy of the village’s Grade 2-listed Metro Station. The Metro line passes through Segedunum – otherwise known as Wallsend – where you can hop off and explore the Roman Fort, Baths and Museum. Segedunum, which translates as ‘strong fort’, stood at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall, and today you can walk around the excavated site, enjoy the view from a viewing tower and discover original artefacts. Who said Newcastle and Gateshead was too small to be of interest?

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Image credits: ©BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art; Bessie Surtees House/Historic England; Centre for Life; Gibside; Jack Cameron Media; NUFC

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