Rolling into Newcastle Central Station by train, passengers panic to pull out their smartphone cameras in time for the magnificent view over the River Tyne, where the old coal and shipbuilding industries once thrived. Despite being one of the best-connected cities in the U.K. (the railways were invented here), Newcastle is not on the beaten path. Trains glide through between Edinburgh to London, with few tourists ever disembarking.
Those tourists are missing out on a lot, from ancient ruins, cozy pubs, world-famous contemporary art, and an infamous nightlife scene to beautiful beaches where you can learn how to surf, and an old fishing village and, of course, some of the best fish and chips in the country.
Parkour Through Newcastle's Ancient Ruins
In the heart of Newcastle, there’s an old castle—or, rather, a ‘Frankenstein’ castle. Since it was created in the 12th century, it has been built up and added to over the years and was refurbished as recently as 2015. To reach the castle keep, either cross the replica wooden bridge over the motte or brave the ghosts of invaders, who fell into the ditch below many years ago, and enter for a tour of the well-preserved interiors.
Beyond the castle, Newcastle is peppered with old fortifications. Follow the tumbling Castle Steps, through the stone tunnel and jump off course towards the Castle Well, where you’ll find more crumbling fortifications shrouded by creeping ivy. From here, you can also discover a cool view of the bridges over the River Tyne.
Eat at Blackfriars, the Oldest Dining Room in the U.K.
The oldest part of Newcastle survives, and it’s even older than the old castle. In the middle of a peaceful courtyard, with the tips of old gravestones protruding through a blanket of soft grass, discover a crumbling medieval enclave, where locals and travelers have been dining since 1236.
Step inside and watch the tall stone walls flicker by candlelight and feel the knights' armor around the room almost come to life. Occasionally, the waiting staff invokes this ancient dining room's spirit by wearing the armor while serving traditional English dishes that have barely changed since Blackfriars was founded.
In parallel to its meaty, medieval microculture, Blackfriars also serves up delicious vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes.
Explore Newcastle’s Up-and-Coming Indoor Market
The Grainger Market is a beautiful, Victorian-style market, home to over 100 local traders. The eclectic aisles provide a glimpse into Newcastle’s bygone high street while seamlessly blending into modernity with eclectic food stalls representing cuisines from afar.
You can find everything from a traditional English breakfast at Café one2one and Turkish street food at Fez, to shops selling workers’ uniforms and butchers that have been there for three generations. The first Marks and Spencer’s is still going strong in the Grainger Market's central aisle, with its original signage and personable customer service.
See What’s on at Newcastle’s Progressive Cinema
Don’t expect to find Hollywood’s latest blockbusters here. This cult cinema screens a very niche selection of British and international films and is a self-titled window on the world.
Built as a news-reel theatre in the 1930s, Tyneside Cinema has maintained its informative, unbiased essence. Through contemplative film, this Newcastle institution fosters audience appreciation for harder-hitting issues playing out in the world today.
Also, check out the cinema’s many beautiful bars, interspersed through several stories, where post-film discussions run on.
Dive into Newcastle's Famously Infamous Nightlife Scene
Newcastle is renowned for its unapologetically hardcore nightlife and is one of the most popular destinations for stag and hen dos. People from Newcastle (Geordies) work hard and play hard. You can either let this mishmash of local, hardcore spirit combined with the excitement of tourists unfold before your eyes, or you can join in.
If you enjoy creative cocktails, like to dress to impress, and can dance the night away in 5-inch heels, you’ll feel at home in Floritas, Bijoux, and Revolution Bar. More into retro music? Check out Flares. If you’re bold enough to enter Newcastle’s most hardcore scene, pick from any of the clubs on the Bigg Market, or head down to the Quayside area. But, be warned: weekend nights are a little on the wild side.
Go to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
Cross the Millennium Bridge towards the six-story, converted flour mill on the edge of the River Tyne. Modern and contemporary art exhibitions often make a stop at the Baltic art gallery for a few weeks or months, making this Victorian edifice a world-famous pilgrimage site for artists and art lovers alike.
The fifth floor also hosts Newcastle’s most impressive viewpoint. From here, admire the quaint sandstone buildings straddling Newcastle’s Tyne bank and a riverside promenade, and the seven bridges that weave together the cities of Newcastle and Gateshead.
Get Lost and Eat Pie Inside Newcastle’s Coziest Pub
Mind your head walking into the RedHouse (this old pub was built for folk who were much shorter than we are today), then head straight towards the beautiful mahogany bar. Put your order in for a pint and a delicious pie, then explore the maze-like rooms, nooks, and courtyards that comprise the coziest pub in Newcastle.
Ride the Metro Along the Riverbanks
Take the metro from any of the central metro stations and head towards Tynemouth, enjoying a scenic 20-minute ride through Newcastle’s shipbuilding heyday. Being 10 miles inland, Newcastle may appear to have its back to the sea, but its wide river has been arterial to its historic industrial success. In fact, the rail line you’re riding on is a living museum of this period. Originally built to supply the riverside industry, steam engines hauling miles of coal mined from the local area have now been replaced with light metros carrying passengers between the city and the coast.
While aboard, use your imagination to visualize the riverscape once studded with hundreds of cranes, and imagine shipyard workers piling into pubs en mass for elevenses. At dawn, if you listen carefully, you might hear the shipyard’s horn echoing over the riverside towns. Haunting as it sounds, this portal to the past lives on.
Hunt for Treasure in Tynemouth Market
Every Saturday and Sunday, Tynemouth metro station transforms into a huge flea market, where you can buy absolutely anything old and new: from antique furniture and vintage knitwear to delicate jewelry made from washed-up glass collected from the shores and watercolors of Newcastle’s rich history painted by the very artists manning the stalls. Enjoy all this to the soundtrack of the metro rumbling in the near distance.
Discover Newcastle's Fishing Heritage
After lunch, go for a stroll around the Fish Quay's dockyards and check out the old fishing boats. This small, wooden port used to host 70 trawlers but, today, only around 20 boats regularly dock here.
Be careful not to fall into the water while admiring another spectacular view of the River Tyne. If you’re lucky, you might catch a ferry, cargo ship, or cruise ship being led up the river by little tugboats, like a metal giant being carried by ants.
Surf Along Tynemouth Longsands Beach
Book a surfing lesson for just with Longsands Surf School or, if you already know how to surf, simply rent all the equipment you need. In a few hours, learn how to stand up and surf the North Sea, putting your new knowledge to the test on the shallow but turbid waves rolling in from Norway in the distance.