When it comes to a city break in England, London is not the only option.
Vibrant Newcastle upon Tyne, the jewel of the northeast, is a perfect destination for a fun-packed weekend city break or UK staycation. It’s compact, is served by an excellent transport infrastructure and has a historic Georgian core. The city is also home to a thriving cultural and a foodie scene and boasts a rejuvenated quayside punctuated by a series of elegant bridges.
If that’s not enough, Newcastle is within easy reach of a number of outstanding beaches and the wild Northumberland countryside, and makes an excellent base for day trips to the historic city of Durham or the vestiges of Hadrian’s Wall.
The main challenge of spending a weekend in Newcastle is deciding what to do.
To help you make the most of your time in the so-called hipster capital of the north, here is my 3-day Newcastle itinerary, which takes in the best of the city’s landmarks whilst making the most of the coastline on its doorstep. In this guide, you will also find tips on how to get to Newcastle, how to get around and where to stay.
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Where is Newcastle?
Newcastle sits on the north-west bank of the mighty River Tyne on the north-eastern coast of England, 46 miles from the Scottish border. Seven iconic bridges link it to Gateshead on the opposite bank of the Tyne.
How to get to Newcastle
You can reach Newcastle by train, bus, car or plane.
Newcastle upon Tyne is served by LNER trains which have frequent direct train services between London King’s Cross and Newcastle Station leaving every half hour. The journey takes around 3 ½ hours. Book tickets in advance for the best fares.
If you are short on time, Newcastle is one of the easiest day trips from Edinburgh by train.
Newcastle railway station is centrally located, five minutes’ walk from the castle from which the city derives its name, and a ten-minute walk from Grey’s Monument in the heart of the city centre. The quayside is also around ten minutes on foot.
The National Express bus service between London Victoria Coach Station and Newcastle upon Tyne Coach Station is a cheaper option, but at 6 ½ to 8 hours takes considerably longer.
Newcastle upon Tyne also has a regional airport, located just over six miles north-west of the city centre.
If you are driving, the A1 motorway will take you to Newcastle by road.
Getting Around Newcastle and Beyond
As Newcastle city centre is compact, it is easy to explore on foot. However, if you need to venture further afield, it is easy to get around, thanks to an excellent public transport system.
In addition to buses connecting Newcastle to surrounding destinations, the city has a Metro service. This two-line light rail system links central Newcastle with the airport, beach towns and Sunderland.
Single tickets are available from machines at the Metro stations. Price is dependent on how many zones you are travelling through.
Alternatively, day tickets are available which may be cheaper and more convenient.
- Metro day ticket – allows unlimited travel on Metro, Shields Ferry and local rail services (Newcastle to Sunderland).
- Day Rover ticket – allows unlimited travel on most public transport within the Tyne & Wear region.
The Best Things to Do in Newcastle in a Weekend
Structure your weekend in Newcastle with this tried and tested itinerary. This will help you explore the city’s landmarks, make the most of the glorious coastline on its doorstep and to take a day trip to Durham.
Newcastle Weekend Itinerary: Day 1
The first day of your weekend in Newcastle starts with a self-guided walking tour of the city. In the afternoon, take a short train journey to Tynemouth for an easy walk along Northumberland’s spectacular coastline.
Your day will end with a well-deserved supper at the best fish & chips restaurant in the UK.
MORNING: TAKE A SELF-GUIDED WALKING TOUR OF NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
For me, there is no better way to quickly get to know a city than to pound its pavements. I’ve done this across the globe, from walking along Krakow’s Royal Road to strolling the vibrant streets of vibrant La Boca, Buenos Aires.
Where possible, I prefer to seek out a guided city walking tour.
But as I visited Newcastle in the era of Covid-19, these were not an option, so self-guided it was.
This Newcastle self-guided walking tour is 4km, starting at Newcastle railway station and finishing at the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Although you can complete this walk in one hour, I recommend a more leisurely pace, stopping to see Newcastle’s landmarks along the way.
Here’s a map with directions to help you along your way.
Start at Newcastle’s railway station.
Opened in 1850, the award-winning, neo-classical grandeur of the station building reflects Newcastle’s status as an industrial powerhouse.
In the 19th Century, shipbuilding and the wool trade were thriving and the River Tyne was a major trade artery. Add to this the vast quantities of coal mined in pits in the surrounding area, much of which passed through Newcastle Station.
Across the road from the train station is the imposing St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Designed by Augustus Welby Pugin, better known as the architect responsible for the Palace of Westminster, this Catholic cathedral was completed in 1844 and features remarkable stained glass in its east window.
The cathedral’s somewhat unloved garden is dedicated to Cardinal Basil Hume who was born and grew up in Newcastle.
Five minutes’ walk from St. Mary’s Cathedral is Stowell Street, the centre of Newcastle’s Chinatown. Founded in 1972, Newcastle’s Chinatown is relatively young, but the city is now home to the sixth-largest Chinese community in Britain.
If you are a football fan, why not take the opportunity to take a peek at the St. James’ Park, home to Newcastle United Football Club, and immediately north of Chinatown? Otherwise, walk a few minutes’ west to Grey’s Monument, at the heart of Grainger Town, Newcastle’s historic heart.
Rising 135 feet above the northern end of Grainger Street like a giant exclamation mark, this is a monument to Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, who was Prime Minister between 1830 – 1844.
Although he is perhaps better known for lending his name to the fragrant Earl Grey tea, he was instrumental in passing the Great Reform Act of 1832, which indirectly led to the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire a year later.
Grey Street, stretching south from Grey’s Monument, is said to be one of the finest streets in Britain. Shaped by neo-classical design, Grey Street features a sweeping curve of Georgians buildings and includes the Theatre Royal.
Your next stop is Newcastle Cathedral.
One of the oldest buildings in Newcastle, St. Nicholas Cathedral’s striking lantern tower and spire was used for many centuries as a navigation point for ships using the River Tyne.
Outside the cathedral is a bronze statue of Queen Victoria in her full regalia as Empress of India.
A few minutes’ south of the cathedral is Newcastle Castle.
Novum Castellum or ‘new castle’ was built in the 11th Century on the site of a Roman fort overlooking the river. However, this wooden Norman castle has not survived and the stone castle we see today was built in the late 12th Century by Henry II.
The Black Gate, comprising two towers and a connecting passage, was a later addition.
Continue walking toward the river and the High Level Bridge.
Opened in 1850, this was the world’s first combined railway and road bridge and was used for transporting coal. Designed by the famed railway engineer Robert Stephenson, also responsible for the Royal Border Bridge in Berwick Upon Tweed, the High Level Bridge carried trains between London and Edinburgh until 1906.
Today, it is now used by trains going towards Sunderland and Middlesbrough.
Crossing the High Level Bridge to Gateshead on the opposite riverbank gives you one of the best views along the River Tyne.
Immediately to your left is the low-lying, colourful Swing Bridge, spanning the point in the river where the Romans built their first bridge 2,000 years ago.
Next up is the Tyne Bridge. Opened in 1928, this iconic arch bridge was built by the same company who built another of the world’s iconic sights, Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Finally, in the near distance is the newest of Newcastle’s bridges, Gateshead Millennium Bridge. In a move from the functional to recreational, this striking structure, echoing the shape of the Tyne Bridge, is a bridge of its time, transporting not coal but people on a night out.
Once you reach Gateshead, helpful signs will guide you west towards the Sage Gateshead, a state of the art cultural centre, housed within a graceful curved glass and stainless steel shell.
Continue along South Shore Road and you will reach the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. Formally one of several four mills that lined the River Tyne, the building now houses a changing programme of art exhibition and events.
You are now at the end of your Newcastle self-guided walking tour. All that remains is to cross the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and grab lunch at one of the cafes and restaurants that line the lively Quayside.
AFTERNOON: WALK FROM TYNEMOUTH TO WHITLEY BAY
Time for a change of scenery.
The Northumberland coast is blessed with beautiful beaches and punctuated with historic castles. And the good news is that you don’t have to travel far outside Newcastle to visit these.
One of the best things to do during a weekend in Newcastle is to walk from Tynemouth to Whitley Bay. This is an easy three-mile coastal walk which starts with a ruined castle and priory and ends with (officially) the best fish and chips in the UK.
A warning though; at some points, you may feel like you’ve stepped into the lyrics of Dire Straits’ Tunnel of Love. If you are a Dire Straits fan, it could be a dream come true.
Exit Tynemouth’s lovingly restored Victorian Metro station and make your way through the charming town to the seafront.
This is the British seaside at its best, with a powder-soft golden sandy beach and a range of attractions to suit all.
Once one of the largest fortified areas in England and with a sensational position overlooking the North Sea and the Tyne, Tynemouth Priory and Castle is well worth visiting.
The headland at Tynemouth was home to a community of monks, and Tynemouth Priory is what remains of a Benedictine monastery which was founded in the 11th Century.
After Henry VIII shut down the monastery in 1539, the site continued to be occupied and Tynemouth was a major fort defending the mouth of the River Tyne.
After you have finished exploring Tynemouth Priory and Castle, follow the coast north. As you leave town, there’s a great view back towards the priory and castle with King Edward’s Bay in the background.
As this is a coastal heritage trail, frequent information boards highlight the culture and history of the area.
Passing by Tynemouth Park & Boating Lake and St. Georges’ Church, you’ll reach Cullercoats.
With its small, sandy crescent-shaped beach backed by small cliffs and its artistic vibe – the town has been a popular place for artists – Cullercoats is somewhere you might be tempted to linger for a coffee or a cold beer. Try the “Sea You There” café and restaurant on the seafront.
Continue along the coastal road until you reach Whitley Bay.
Although I found Whitley Bay the least attractive of the three towns on this walk, it is home to Spanish City, straight out of the lyrics to Tunnel of Love.
A plate of fish and chips is one of England’s iconic meals, and here you will find Trenchers, voted the Best Fish & Chips Restaurant in the UK in 2020.
Isn’t this the perfect end to your first day in Newcastle upon Tyne?
Newcastle Weekend Itinerary: Day 2
Day two of your weekend in Newcastle will take you on a day trip to the historic university city of Durham via Antony Gormley’s iconic Angel of the North.
THE ANGEL OF THE NORTH
No Newcastle itinerary would be complete without paying your respects to the Angel of the North. With its monumental outstretched wings guarding the valley below, the Angel of the North is an unforgettable sight.
Let’s take a look at the facts and figures.
This piece of public art is 20 meters in heights and those wings stretch for 54 meters tip to tip. Erected in 1998, it is the largest sculpture in Britain.
But it is more than just an imposing sculpture; it’s an angel with a meaning. The demise of the shipbuilding industry and closure of coal mines led to a decline in the fortunes in this part of England, with power and relevance shifting to the south of England and to London in particular.
Antony Gormley had three intentions for his statue:
- To recognise the sacrifice of the miners who had worked beneath the site of its construction for 200 years
- To represent the transition from an industrial to an information age
- To serve as a focus for our evolving hopes and fears
A SELF-GUIDED WALKING TOUR OF DURHAM
Named by The Independent as one of the best cities in the world to visit, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Durham has an immediate charm. Situated on the banks of the picturesque River Wear, home to an imposing castle and an impressive Romanesque cathedral, and laced with cobbled streets, it has it all.
The best way to see the best of Durham in one day is to take a self-guided walking tour.
This Durham self-guided walking tour is just 2km in length, starting at the city’s bus station and finishing at Durham Market Place. Although you can complete this walk in as little as 30 minutes, I recommend a more leisurely pace, stopping to see the sights along the way.
Here’s a map with directions to help you along your way.
The 21 Angel Bus from Newcastle and the Angel of the North terminates at Durham’s bus station, from where it’s a 3-minute walk to the River Wear.
Take the steps down to the riverfront at Framwellgate Bridge, an arch bridge dating from the 1400s and walk south along the river.
From the riverbank, there are the best views of Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral. Expect multiple photostops!
Cross the river at Prebends Bridge, and make your way past St. Oswald’s Church and university buildings – Durham is one of the top universities in the UK – to Durham Cathedral.
Durham Cathedral is a monumental structure, considered by many to be the finest example of Norman church architecture in England,
It is also the final resting place of St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede, the 8th-century Northumbrian monk responsible for writing Ecclesiastical History of the English People, chronicling the development of early Christian Britain
As you exit the cathedral, stop to take a look at the Sanctuary Knocker, perhaps the most photographed door knocker in Britain.
In The Middle Ages, those who has ‘committed a great crime’ could touch the knocker to be granted 37 days’ asylum within the cathedral. At the end of that time, they had to choose between standing trial or voluntary exile.
Although the knocker on Durham Cathedral’s North Door is a replica – the original is on display in the Cathedral’s museum – it’s still pretty cool.
Durham Castle has been occupied continuously since the 11th Century and is now home to Durham University students.
As of February 2021, you can only view Durham Castle from the outside. In normal times, it is possible to visit the castle on a guided tour. However, the coronavirus pandemic has put paid to that, and Durham Castle tours are paused until further notice.
Make your way now to Durham Market Place. Once the medieval core of Durham City, its market place is dominated by the Town Hall, Guildhall and the city church of St. Nicholas.
Newcastle Weekend Itinerary: Day 3
It’s the final day of your weekend in Newcastle and time to give your legs a good stretch.
Considered to be on the best walks in Northumberland, the walk from Alnmouth to Warkworth featuring broad, sandy beaches, a castle, rolling countryside and attractive villages.
This is an easy six-mile walk that will take you three hours upwards to complete. Leave enough time to stop in both Warkworth and Alnmouth, and to explore Warkworth Castle.
A WALK FROM WARKWORTH TO ALNMOUTH
Warkworth is a picturesque Northumbrian village on the River Coquet, which is largely untouched by tourism. The Parish Church of St. Lawrence sits on the banks of the river and Warkworth Castle towers over the top of the village’s gently sloping main street.
Once the home of the Percy Family, who now live in neighbouring Alnwick Castle, Warkworth Castle, Warkworth Castle is thought to date from around 1200 and is one of the largest, strongest and most impressive fortresses in Northumberland. On the nearby riverbank are the remains of a chapel carved directly out of the cliff rock, known as The Hermitage, accessible only by boat.
Once a busy local port and shipbuilding centre, Alnmouth’s estuary is today used by small fishing and pleasure boats.
If truth be told, there’s not a lot to see and do here, but Alnmouth is a pretty village, has a large sandy beach and a handful of decent pubs. And what’s better than a cold beer at the end of your walk?
Where to stay in Newcastle
Newcastle is blessed with a good selection of places to stay. My choice would be to pick a place near the quayside.
I stayed at this aparthotel, one block from the quayside, which is part of the IHG Group. Keenly priced, squeaky clean, a well-equipped kitchenette, free in-house laundry and super-friendly staff make this my top choice of places to stay in Newcastle.
Complimentary breakfast and tea and coffee too.
Here are a few other places to stay in Newcastle that have been recommended to me:
Alternative mid-range hotels
Close to Staybridge Suites, friends have highly rated this Premier Inn.
Another recommended hotel, right on the quayside
Solo Travel in England
From dynamic cities to seaside towns and rolling hills, England offers a vast variety of places to visit. Like bees to honey, most visitors head to London, but the country is so much more than its capital.
It is an English speaking country, making it an easy destination for visitors from Australia, the US and many European countries.
Public transport is well developed with extensive and frequent rail links across much of the country. Coaches or local buses usually serve places that don’t have a train station nearby.
English people are generally friendly, especially in the north of the country and outside of the main cities. Although Londoners have a reputation for being standoffish, in my experience this is overstated and people will usually try to help you.
As a popular solo travel destination, it’s relatively easy to meet other travellers in England, particularly in the main cities.
If you have more than 3 days in Newcastle …
The only downside of spending 3 days in Newcastle is that a weekend is unlikely to be enough time to cover everything that you want to see.
Alnwick Castle is another good day trip from Newcastle and if you have a car, visiting the Holy Island of Lindisfarne would be one of my top choices. Alternative, why not spend a day in the historic town of Berwick, just south of the Scottish border.
However you spend your weekend in Newcastle, I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time in one of the friendliest and most vibrant cities in England.