Newcastle is a UK city that will always have a place in my heart, as it is where I went to University. In partnership with the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, I recently returned for a Newcastle city break with my best friend Fi, who I met many years ago in Fresher’s week. 13 years later, we had so much fun retracing old steps, as well as discovering new places in this vibrant Northern city. Based on our recent experience, I’m sharing my top 10 unique things to do in Newcastle, all of which would fit perfectly into a weekend away. Included in the round up is some old favourites from my Uni days, as well as my new discoveries.
Many of the options are child-friendly, so whether you’re visiting with family, friends or a loved one, there’s something for everyone in my top 10 fun things to do in Newcastle.
This blog post has been sponsored by the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative as part of their Escape the Everyday campaign. All words and recommendations are my own.
10 Unique Things to do in Newcastle for 2023
1.Walk along the Quayside
A walk along the iconic Quayside is the perfect (re)introduction to Newcastle. One side of the Tyne is Newcastle, the other is Gateshead. The centre piece of the Quayside is the spectacular Millennium Bridge, which sits between The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art on the Gateshead side and the commanding Malmaison hotel on the Newcastle side.
Take a leisurely stroll, stop for a coffee or enjoy some food at one of the Quayside restaurants. I recommend Gusto or for special occasions check out SIX, a sophisticated rooftop restaurant on top of the BALTIC.
2. Visit Francesca’s pizzeria in Jesmond for the legendary ‘half pizza half pasta’
Anyone who was ever a student in Newcastle will know about the totally unique Francescas’s. This rustic Italian restaurant is Newcastle institution. It’s best known for it’s ‘half pizza half pasta’ dish where you can choose any pizza and pasta off the menu and have half of each. The place is also incredibly affordable which is why it’s popular with students and locals alike (where else can you pay £3.95 for a glass of prosecco?)
When we returned recently I was glad to discover that the decor, the menu and the staff were exactly the same as I remembered them. That’s all part of the fun and charm of this amazing place!
Francesca’s is an easy 10 minute taxi ride from Newcastle city centre. I’d recommend going to explore the nearby Jesmond Dene before or after. Address: 134-136 Manor House Rd, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 2NA.
3. Climb the 164 steps to the top of Grey’s Monument
This is definitely one of the more quirky things to do in Newcastle. Not many people know that you can actually climb to the top of Newcastle’s tallest monument, but you’ve got to be organised and in-the-know. Tours are available to pre-book on the first Saturday of the month for £5 per person. Tickets are sold in half hour slots throughout the day.
The monument itself is dedicated to the 2nd Earl Grey, Charles Grey, who also has a well-known tea blend named after him. Charles Grey hailed from the North East and was also the British Prime Minister in the 1830’s. From the top you can expect to see Newcastle from an entirely different perspective, with epic views over the city centre’s stunning Georgian architecture.
Tip: Before or after climbing Grey’s Monument, check out Banyan Bar & Kitchen which is located directly opposite at 3 Monument Mall. It’s a great, causal place to go for drinks, lunch or dinner.
4. Visiting the historical Grainger Market
Wherever I am in the world, I absolutely love visiting the local markets to really get to the heart of a place. A trip to Newcastle’s historical Grainger Market will do exactly that. The market has been open since 1835 and is now a fantastic mix of traditional stalls, unique vendors and contemporary street food outlets, all in one big melting pot.
You’ll find everything here from vintage boutiques to butchers and traditional sweet shops to street food kitchens. It’s also a great place to pick up fun souvenirs that are local to the area, like those on display at Geordie Gifts. Like many places in Newcastle, everything within the market is also very reasonably priced. A browse around Grainger Market is so much fun at any age, I can’t recommend it enough!
5. Discovering the up and coming area of Ouseburn
Ouseburn is an industrial area of Newcastle that is going through a huge regeneration process and is now known as the city’s cultural quarter. Ouseburn is brimming with art galleries, creative businesses, printers, street art and independent foodie spots. The area is best explored by foot, with the commanding Ouseburn Valley at the heart of it.
Read on to points 6, 7 and 8 for some great suggestions on what to do whilst in Ouseburn.
10 Fun Unique Things to do in Newcastle
6. Brunch at Kiln, a unique ceramic cafe
Visiting Kiln was a highlight of my time in Ouseburn. Kiln is a unique ceramic cafe with it’s own ceramic studio which produces stylish ceramics for high end restaurants across the UK. The glass walls of the studio mean all the creations are on show, and also available to buy.
Beyond the ceramics, Kiln is a stylish and ambient restaurant with cool, low lit industrial interiors and a laid-back outdoor terrace. I visited for brunch and both the coffee and food were excellent. I opted for their French toast with berry compote and yoghurt which really hit the spot. This is a fun little find that is tucked away on an unassuming street in Ouseburn, so its definitely only for people in the know.
7. Browse the Biscuit Factory
Not what it says on the tin. This place is the UK’s largest independent art, craft and design gallery which is also located in the cultural quarter of Ouseburn. The building itself is a former Victorian warehouse which spreads over two spacious and characterful floors. You can expect to find lots of unique and locally made treasures here from jewellery to art, prints, ceramics, homeware and sculptures.
The Biscuit Factory also hosts different exhibitions which change on a quarterly basis. There’s also a great cafe with rooftop terrace serving a brilliant brunch menu, coffees and homemade cakes.
8. Visit the Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books
If you’re visiting Newcastle with the kids in tow, this place is perfect for you. Also located in creative Ouseburn, The National Centre for Children’s Books spreads over 6 floors and brings children’s literature to life with engaging and interactive exhibitions.
Entry is free and no pre-booking is required. There’s also a bookshop, with a beautiful collection of children’s books, on the ground floor as well as a cafe.
During my visit there was an exhibition of The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson which featured the original illustrations by Axel Scheffler. My son is a big fan of all the Julia Donaldson books and I know he would have absolutely loved this exhibition. I loved seeing the original illustrations too.
9. Take an open top bus tour around Newcastle City Centre
A great crash-course for any city is to take an open top bus tour, and Newcastle is no exception. You can hop on a Toon Tour open top bus from Newcastle Central Station and various other stops around the city. This is the first thing we did when arriving in Newcastle to get re-aquainted with our university city.
Buses run every 30 minutes with 17 stops around the city. The bus route takes you past St James’s Park (the football stadium for Newcastle United), through the campus of Newcastle University, through the city centre and down to The Quayside.
Adult tickets cost £12.50 per day and children under 16 cost £6. Tickets also allow unlimited travel on all Go North East buses the same day and 20% off entry to attractions including Newcastle Castle and Newcastle United’s stadium tour.
Get organised: Book Toon Tour tickets in advance.
10. Sip cocktails in a converted Victorian public toilet
Far from your average bar! W.C Newcastle was once a Victorian public toilet located in the heart of the vibrant Bigg Market. Today it has been transformed into a quirky and intimate cocktail bar in a unique ‘in the round’ space. The bar is underground but lit by the original glass roof.
The friendly staff in here are very passionate about making cool and classic cocktails and will happily create things off menu too. We ordered a classic and a spicy margarita off menu, both of which were made to perfection.
Where to stay
During our recent visit we stayed at the Crowne Plaze Newcastle which couldn’t have been more comfortable or convenient. The hotel is light, bright and spacious, just like the hotel rooms. We received a warm Geordie welcome on the front desk and nothing seemed too much trouble.
We enjoyed an incredible massage down at the Mineral House spa and the afternoon tea was also excellent. It’s an approximate 5-10 minute walk from Newcastle Central Station so it’s also in a brilliant location, especially if you are arriving into the city by train.
Read reviews of the Crowne Plaza Newcastle on Trip Advisor.
My weekend in Newcastle was a glorious mix of nostalgia and discovery. It was amazing to find new parts of the city as well as revisit the places that hold such happy memories for me. Newcastle is such a special city that still has my heart. So much of the city is still full of creative and independent businesses which provide amazing value for money and plenty of Geordie charm.
Now, I urge you to get out there and experience it for yourself! Start to plan your own weekend in Newcastle with local tips and recommendations from the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative.
What did you think of my top 10 unique things to do in Newcastle? Which things on my list are up your street? Is there anything you think I have missed out? Be sure to leave a comment below and share additional recommendations. Jess x
Want to read more blogs about the North East? Check out my 3 day itinerary for a family friendly mini break in Durham.