It’s astonishing news that my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne has been voted top travel city in the UK by readers of The Guardian and Observer newspapers.
Many people were shocked that Newcastle beat better known cities like Edinburgh, London and Bath but it’s no surprise to locals who know that our city is a great destination.
Newcastle’s reputation as a ‘party city’ is well-known with its boisterous stag and hen parties, famous club nights and the Geordie obsession with having fun ‘out on the toon’.
The friendliness and humour of the Geordie ‘nation’ also go a long way to explaining why this is one of Britain’s best cities to visit if you’re a stranger.
You’re bound to get a warm welcome as the city parties the night away… and there’s always some amusing and crazy revellers to raise a smile!
So what’s on offer in Newcastle to justify it topping the city travel charts? Here’s a few of my personal favourite places to explore if you’re on a city break or weekend trip.
Style and fun
Drinking is one of our big hobbies in the North East of England. But despite its image, Newcastle isn’t all ‘Geordie Shore’ raucous and drunken behaviour.
I also love the historic Crown Posada pub, an old style drinking establishment with striking stained-glass windows, whilst the small but cosy Soho and Ernest bistro bars are quieter, cosy retreats.
Down on the Quayside there are still plenty of noisy bars for party lovers but I prefer to hop into the Red House or The Bridge Tavern for a more authentic experience.
The Quayside is a great spot for people watching. At weekends don’t be afraid to rub shoulders with the gaggles of young women wearing matching pink T-shirts and cowboy hats, tottering around in vertiginous heels yelping and partying!
Up the hill there’s a couple of older pubs if you’re looking for a more sedate experience – The Bridge (opposite the Castle Keep) and the Bacchus (on High Bridge) are recommended.
For a chilled experience, don’t forget to walk along the waterfront to the stunning Millennium Bridge, a good starting point for first time visitors to the city with bars like The Pitcher and Piano overlooking the river.
When I first came to Tyneside, the waterfront was full of old warehouses and there was little access to the river front, but the transformation over the last couple of decades has been staggering. Today you’re more likely to see performance art and festivals on the river banks than industry and shipping. There’s still a few smaller ships moored along the Quayside too.
Walk along the riverfront to the Ouseburn area and check out the shabby but cool Tyne Bar, Cumberland Arms and Free Trade Inn, alternative pubs for a discerning crowd. The Free Trade’s beer and quiz are legendary with locals.
Despite its distance from London, or perhaps because of it, Newcastle boasts a surprisingly good cultural scene with music, the visual arts and film being high on people’s entertainment hit list.
Music fans are in for a treat at The Cluny, The Sage in Gateshead (on the opposite side of the River Tyne) and The Academy which are great for touring bands and spotting emerging talent. The Jumpin’ Hot Club – which moves between The Cluny and other venues like Live Theatre – is a must for lovers of roots, reggae and alt country.
Those with a passion for art will enjoy a trip over the water to the BALTIC, a gallery housed in a converted flour mill, on the Gateshead side of the River Tyne. In spring you can see the nesting kittiwakes from the gallery’s top floor platform which also has fantastic views down the river.
The BALTIC’s roof top restaurant offers stunning views down the River Tyne during the day and night.
The Live Theatre is another of Tyneside’s best-kept secrets although word has been getting out of late. Their ‘Pitmen Painters’ play was hailed in London and on Broadway when it toured. It also has a brilliant and civilised bar where you can relax on squishy leather sofas, away from the Quayside’s crowds.
At the Theatre Royal the main focus is on touring shows but highlights include some London transfers and the RSC’s season of Shakespeare ‘up north’. Northern Stage also has a lively programme of theatre including some home-grown productions.
One of my favourite cultural venues in Newcastle is the Tyneside Cinema on Pilgrim Street with its independent attitude and interesting film screenings and cinematic events.
Buy a seat to the Classic Cinema’s circle which boasts giant leather armchairs where you can relax with a bottle of wine whilst enjoying your film.
I love the Tyneside’s wonderful Art Deco interior from the late 1920s which was influenced by Persian palaces. The original golds, greens and purples can still be seen, thanks to a recent restoration project.
The original News Theatre, now the Classic, still shows free newsreels every day.
Don’t miss the new gallery space which has intriguing art shows and film screenings, free of charge.
The cinema’s street-level cafe and bar is a great pre-show hang-out which also hosts film quizzes, cult movies and DJs.
For something completely different, go along to Steve Drayton’s Record Player – a musical vinyl extravaganza – or drop in on the Good Yarn Knitting Club whilst they crochet whilst watching a movie!
What I love about Newcastle is the recent upsurge in great restaurants.
Propelled by Terry Laybourne’s growing empire of eateries from the high-end Jesmond Dene House to the bistro- style Caffe Vivo and Number 21, the choice of restaurants has improved dramatically since I arrived in the city 30 years ago.
One of my personal favourites is David Kennedy’s Artisan at the Biscuit Factory in Shieldfield which offers contemporary cuisine using locally sourced ingredients, some from the owner’s excellent Vallum Farm.
During the day pop into the Biscuit Factory (next door), a stylish contemporary gallery selling paintings, sculpture, ceramics, glassware and jewellery. Shop for art or simply browse. For eclectic style you can’t beat the great, new gastro-pub The Earl of Pitt Street near the football ground.
Over in nearby Jesmond, Peace and Loaf is a top foodies’ choice. Fronted by former Masterchef finalist, Dave Coulson, it’s great value when you consider the quality of the food which is essentially ‘European contemporary meets Northumbrian’.
The ‘deconstructed’ turkey pie is one of the restaurant’s star turns with its gorgeous presentation and yummy fusion of ingredients.
The free amuse bouche and in-between courses are also a great touch, guaranteed to get those taste buds singing!
On the luxury end of the dining spectrum, The House of Tides on Newcastle’s Quayside has a fabulous tasting menu at around £65 per head which includes nine courses of culinary magic.
Owner Kenny Atkinson is aiming for the stars – of the Michelin variety. It’s not cheap but it is a showstopping culinary experience for a special occasion.
My favourite dish is their signature appetizer – line caught mackerel in filo pastry with gooseberries, lemon and mustard. Unusual ingredients but a brilliant blending of flavours.
The presentation is also breathtaking. My Lindisfarne oysters with ginger and lime were served in a glass bowl with pebbles and sea shells accompanied by dry ice and a seaside odour, conjuring up the sights and smells of the beach on Holy Island. A shellfish delight in 3-D and smell-o-vision!
Alternatively, take a trip to the fabulous Electric East near the Central Station, a stylish pan-Asian restaurant which does everything from Vietnamese tapas (great value at £12 for three) to posh dinners.
There’s also a lively eating scene along Stowell Street, Newcastle’s very own Chinatown which is the place to be on Chinese New Year.
Go back in time to Newcastle’s Victorian heyday at the Literary and Philosophical Society and Miners’ Institute, close to the Central Station.
The Lit & Phil is a library where you can also wander in and lounge around in a leather armchair, drinking tea and gazing at the ornate wood interiors.
The Miners’ Insitute (next door) is another hidden gem from the city’s industrial age. This intriguing building hosts events and open days so check their website if you want to peek inside.
Nearby is the Discovery Museum with relics from Tyneside’s industrial past. Although not my favourite museum in the UK (it could do with modernisation), there’s enough to entertain families with kids.
The Turbinia boat, the first vessel to be powered by steam turbine, and Joseph Swan’s historic lightbulbs are the star turns.
If you’re looking for medieval history, Newcastle’s Castle Keep is worth a look but it’s not one of the North East’s best. Squashed by Victorian developers between the railway and the High Level Bridge, it’s a slightly underwhelming experience. But I can strongly recommend the fantastic panoramic views from the top of the tower.
In the evening, head to the Boiler Shop Steamer behind the Central Station, which hosts DJs, food & drink events and festivals.
Astonishingly, this was the place where Robert Stephenson built his world-famous steam trains including The Rocket. Just being inside the shed is a spine-tingling experience because of its history.
For heritage walks, put on your walking shoes and get yourself down to the Quayside which boasts a variety of old buildings from the medieval to the modern.
With its steep banks and chares (stairs) cascading down to the river, there are plenty of hidden places to explore. Don’t miss All Saints Church, an 18th century elliptical church, at the top of Dog Bank stairs. Its graveyard is destined to bring out the Gothic dark side in visitors.
Back in the city centre, head to the Grainger Town with its grand Georgian buildings radiating from Grey Street, dubbed by critics as the finest street in Britain. Look out for small specialist shops along its many side streets including High Bridge.
Pride of place
One of the things that makes Newcastle so special is its strong identity. Although I was born in Liverpool, I’ve become an adopted Geordie and love the city’s unique character.
I haven’t been converted to supporting its football team though. Football is a huge passion in the city so a trip to ‘the toon’ wouldn’t be complete without seeing Newcastle United at St James’ Park.
The roar of the Newcastle crowd is one of the loudest in the Premiership, whether they’re playing well or not. Don’t miss a trip to the Strawberry (opposite the ground) before the game to soak up the pre-match atmosphere. Here’s my long-suffering partner Tony hoping for a rare Magpies win.
So what’s not to like about Newcastle? It’s fun and fabulous – a true party city. It’s also compact and easy to get around if you’re looking for an action-packed weekend break.
And it’s a great base for exploring the beautiful Northumberland coast and countryside with its castles, superb beaches and country houses.
I love living here – and hope you’ll pay a visit soon. Number one city? Why aye man!
Geordie dictionary – Why aye man = Yes, that’s cool!
Tammy’s travel tips – Newcastle upon Tyne
Newcastle upon Tyne is located in North East England, a three-hour train journey from London and two hours from Edinburgh. Newcastle Airport has direct flights to London and key European airports.
Read the The Guardian article about Newcastle upon Tyne being voted the best city destination in the UK. For a full range of information about Newcastle and where to stay, check out the Visit Newcastle website
Discover Newcastle’s best pubs and bars in this article. If you’ve looking for something on the non-alcoholic side here are Tammy’s top tips for coffee and tea shops with a bit of character and quality beverages.
Here’s Tammy’s guide to some of the best places to go for a night out in Newcastle upon Tyne…
My top tip is to start off near the Monument (you can’t miss Earl Grey on top of his column) and work your way down Grey Street to the Quayside and Ouseburn.
Those with a passion for castles should head to the Northumberland coast which boasts Alnwick Castle (home to Harry Potter movies) and Bamburgh (dramatically perched on the beach) as well as Dunstanburgh’s coastal ruins. Pop into Craster for lunchtime kippers or crab sandwiches at the Jolly Fisherman pub or the Smoke House.
Don’t miss a quick trip to Gateshead where Antony Gormley’s impressive Angel of the North, one of my favourite iconic landmarks, dominates the A1 into Newcastle.