Sara Turner meanders her way through the vibrant northern city, starting with art and ending with ale
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
Newcastle has had something of an artistic revolution in recent years, transforming itself from a city of past industrial glories into a cultural capital of the north. A symbol of this regeneration is the modern art gallery Baltic, housed in an old flour mill on the Gateshead side of the River Tyne, once one of the busiest waterways in the UK.
Open since 2002, Baltic hosts temporary exhibitions over four floors. Until October 24, Tomas Saraceno’s spider-web inspired work will fill Gallery 2, while in Gallery 4, Cornelia Parker’s Doubtful Sound installation explores the nature and meaning of everyday objects until September 19. Visit the viewing deck on the same level for stunning views over the river. From October 8 to January 16, Baltic will present works by German artist Anselm Kiefer, known for exploring the post-war identity of his nation. Open daily 10am-6pm (from 10.30am Tues). Entry is free. Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road; tel +44 (0)191 478 1810; balticmill.com
Bridges over the Tyne
Outside the gallery is Millennium Bridge. To allow boats to pass underneath, it tilts and seems to wink at passers by. Often lit up by night, it’s become something of a landmark in a city known for its bridges. From here you can see the six other bridges linking Newcastle to Gateshead – if you’ve ever tried the former’s most famous ale export, Newcastle Brown, you’ll recognise the view from the label.
Historically, Gateshead has been the poorer side of Newcastle, but in recent years it has seen plenty of development – other than Baltic, the Norman Foster-designed concert hall Sage Gateshead, resembling a billowing sheet, was added in 2004. Nowadays, the city marketing bureau promotes the two together as “Newcastle Gateshead”, marking a closer collaboration between them. Stroll left down Quayside, on the Newcastle side, to your next stop on your tour.
The Castle Keep, on the site of the one-time New Castle Upon Tyne, which gave the city its name, is on St Nicholas Street. You won’t miss it – the 12th-century structure is one of Newcastle’s oldest buildings, founded by Henry II. Climb up the huge stone steps to the roof for a panoramic view. Adjacent to the Castle Keep is the Black Gate, which was added in the mid-13th century. Walk through and ponder the ill-fated prisoners who were once held in the deep pits on either side – with no steps down, they probably broke a bone or two as they were thrown in. Entry is £4. Open 10am-5pm (12pm Sun); castlekeep-newcastle.org.uk; tel +44 (0)191 2327 938.
After all that climbing and sightseeing, it’s probably time for a rest, so what better excuse to nip into the Bridge hotel, directly in front of the castle, for some Newcastle Brown Ale and more city vistas? Visit sjf.co.uk
Continue up St Nicholas Street and then right on to Mosley Street to explore Grainger Town, the historic heart of the city. It is named after Richard Grainger, who built the streets in the 1830s and 1840s. Head up the gently curving Grey Street, flanked by Georgian limestone buildings, to Grey’s Monument. At the top of the plinth is Charles Grey, second Earl Grey – the prime minister who gave his name to the tea.
This is your chance to hit the shops, of which Newcastle has plenty. The Fenwick store here is the original branch of the department store chain, selling everything from beer and sweets to make-up and clothing. Find the Central Arcade, an elegant covered walkway flanked with upmarket shops, and for an old-school shopping experience, walk down Market Street to Grainger market. This has the world’s oldest Marks and Spencer store – the Penny Bazaar opened in 1895 and sells goods such as toiletries and crockery.
If you’ve got time, visit the Tyneside Cinema at 10 Pilgrim Street, one of the few remaining newsreel theatres in the UK. Now showing general release movies, it also has an exhibition on its history and a nice café. A self-guided tour (10am-10pm) includes viewing an archive newsreel. There are also guided tours at 11.15am Tues, Wed, Fri and Sat. Tel +44 (0)845 2179 909; tynesidecinema.co.uk
Great North Museum
Incorporating collections from a number of sources, including the natural history of the Hancock Museum and the treasures of Newcastle University’s Museum of Antiquities, the new Great North Museum is a must-see. It opened in a big hulk of a building to the north of the city centre last November, after a £26 million refurbishment. From the cinema, head up Pilgrim Street, then straight on to Northumberland Street and you will meet Barras Bridge. Turn right and you’ll see the museum, in the middle of a fork in the road.
There’s an insightful exhibition on Hadrian’s Wall, and an Egyptian section that includes two mummies – one wrapped up tight, the other unravelled, revealing a gory glimpse of a preserved corpse. Another collection explores life in ancient Greece and how the great civilisation was forced into many city states by its extreme mountainous terrain. A Roman silver denari of Anthony and Cleopatra – one of the most famous coins in the world – and a life-size T-rex dinosaur are also on display. Great North Museum, Barras Bridge; tel +44 (0)191 2226 765; greatnorthmuseum.org
Housed in the refectory of an old monastery, Blackfriars claims to have the oldest dining room in the UK – while the restaurant dates to 2001, the structure was built in the 13th century. It’s a 15-minute walk from the museum to Friars Street, where Blackfriars is located. This is the final destination on your whistlestop tour, so sit back and enjoy locally brewed beers and home-grown produce. The food is traditional English and varies according to the season. I had smoked haddock and sticky toffee pudding, which were both delicious.
A great way of trying out the local beer is to match it with your food. The restaurant manager puts together the menu so can recommend pairings – for example, a light citrus ale with fish, or a hearty stout with steak. My favourite was Rivet Catcher, from the Jarrow Brewery. If beer isn’t your thing there is also a good wine menu, and for afters you could try mead – the eatery’s honey-infused spirit. Tel +44 (0)191 2615 945; blackfriarsrestaurant.co.uk
- There are a number of Blue Badge tour guides based in Newcastle who are extremely knowledgeable – well worth it if you want to learn more about the city’s history. Visit blue-badge-guides.com
- A short bus or taxi ride from the city centre is Antony Gormley’s majestic Angel of the North sculpture, which welcomes drivers to the north of England. Take the trip out for a close-up look at the iconic structure.
Go to newcastlegateshead.com