Fresh from a £1.67 million, 2015-completed restoration project, Newcastle Castle is the stronghold that put both the 'new' and 'castle' into Newcastle. Originally the site of a Roman fortress, in 1080 William the Conqueror's eldest son built a wooden motte and bailey here. Henry II added the stone castle keep between 1172 and 1177. The newly reopened Black Gate was built between 1247 and 1250 by King Henry III. Inside the keep exhibits chart the castle's inhabitants (including prisoners) throughout the centuries. The 360-degree city views from the rooftop are the best in town.
One of Newcastle's most atmospheric experiences lies underground. The 4km-long Victoria Tunnel was carved out between 1839 and 1842 as a coal wagon thoroughfare and used as an air raid shelter during WWII. Book ahead for a two-hour tour taking you through a level 700m section. The tunnel entrance is in Newcastle's 19th-century industrial heartland, Ouseburn Valley, which now has an increasing number of potteries, glass-blowing studios and other creative workspaces, along with pubs, bars and entertainment venues (more on those later).
Learn about the city's origins, starting from Pons Aelius (Roman Newcastle), its inhabitants (known as 'Geordies') and its industrial and maritime heritage at the fascinating Discovery Museum. Inside the former Co-operative Wholesale Society building, chronological exhibits fan out around the 30m-long Turbinia, the fastest ship in the world in 1897 and the first to be powered by steam turbine.
Works by Gainsborough, Gauguin and other masters are displayed at the free Laing Art Gallery. Top family favourites include dinosaurs, mummies and more at the Great North Museum; interactive discoveries at the Life Science Centre; and manuscripts and artwork from the 1930s onwards, along with a changing program of kid-oriented exhibitions, activities and events at the wonderful Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children's Books.
South of the river, across the 2002-built Millennium Bridge (aka Blinking Bridge), which opens like an eyelid to let ships pass, is the 'town' (really, neighbourhood) of Gateshead. A huge mustard-coloured grain store here now contains BALTIC – Centre for Contemporary Art, which mounts blockbuster work and installations by big-name contemporary artists. The fourth-floor outdoor platform and fifth-floor viewing box offer fabulous panoramas. From here you can see the Norman Foster-designed chrome-and-glass horizontal bottle housing Sage Gateshead, where performers include the resident Northern Sinfonia orchestra. Behind the concert hall you'll see the 1920s Tyne Bridge. Its resemblance to Australia's Sydney Harbour Bridge is no coincidence: both were built around the same time by Dorman Long.
Foodies will fall hard for Newcastle's culinary scene. Gems include the hole-in-the wall cafe Quay Ingredient (especially brilliant for breakfasts like Craster kippers with pickled beetroot). British gastropub grub (washed down with cask ales) doesn't get better than at Broad Chare. Or try 'modern medieval' cuisine using ingredients like ox tongue and rare-breed pork in 12th-century friary Blackfriars.
Legendary Drinking & Nightlife
Newcastle's nightlife is famed throughout Britain and beyond, thanks in no small part to its spirited student population. You'll find everything from boisterous bars around Bigg Market to old-world beauties like Central Station's former first-class waiting room, the 1893, floor-to-ceiling-tiled Centurion Bar; a cutting-edge cocktail scene at the nexus of Grey and Collingwood Sts, fuelled by gin specialists such as Dacantus (dacantus.com) and Pleased to Meet You (ptmy-newcastle.co.uk); pumping clubs like Digital, with a phenomenal sound system; gigs at local secrets like the waterside Tyne Bar; and quiet pints at time-worn treasures like Ouseburn Valley's Ship Inn and Cumberland Arms, just for starters.
Newcastle United Football Club (NUFC)
Even if you don't score match tickets for a NUFC football (soccer) game, you can tour the hallowed ground of this collective expression of Geordie hope and pride, St James Park, on a stadium tour, which includes the dugout and changing rooms.
Angel of the North
Newcastle's number-one photo opp, the Angel of the North, looms over the A1 (M) motorway. Weighing in at a hefty 200 tonnes, the rust-coloured, outstretched-winged human frame sculpture, designed by Sir Antony Gormley, is a whopping 20m high and has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 767. Buses run here from the city centre, or you can pull up at the free car park.
Surf's up! An easy drive or metro ride from central Newcastle, the mouth of the Tyne is one of the best surf spots in England, with great all-year breaks off the immense, crescent-shaped Blue Flag beach, which occasionally hosts the National Surfing Championships. Tynemouth Surf Company rents boards (and all-important wetsuits) and gives lessons. If you'd prefer to stay dry, you can explore the ruins of Tynemouth Priory, on a bluff above the river mouth, or hang out at hip pubs and restaurants along Front St like Barca Art Cafe.
Most of Hadrian's Wall lies further afield of Newcastle, but its last strong post, the fort of Segedunum at the 'wall's end' (now the Newcastle suburb of Wallsend) is just a short hop by car or metro from the city centre. After climbing its 35m-high tower, you can explore a reconstructed Roman bathhouse with steaming pools and frescoes, and a museum delving into day to day Roman life.