Newcastle’s history is one of darkness – or blackness, really. That’s because the city owes much of its development to the export of coal. The coal trade here was so intense that the phrase “taking coals to Newcastle” was coined in the mid-1500s – reflecting the pointlessness of sending something like coal to a place where it is already present in abundance. Later, in the 19th century, this city in the northeast of England became an important center for shipbuilding and engineering.
While chances are that the image of Newcastle as a center for heavy industry lingers on, nothing could in fact be farther from the truth. The city is nowadays at the forefront of technical innovations, tourism and culture, making it one of the most exciting and contemporary destinations in Britain.
Although highly important, maybe one could even argue that the era of coal and industry was really a parenthesis in the history of Newcastle. This is a city that has really been at the front of development since Roman times.
Built in the second century A.D., Hadrian’s Wall is still visible in parts of Newcastle, which at the time was known as Pons Aelius. With the departure of the Romans from Britain, the town changed name to Monkchester. At the same time, it continued to be an important military center. Destroyed in 1080, the town then rose from the ashes after Robert Curthose, son of William the Conqueror, erected a wooden castle later the same year. The name, logically, became Novum Castellum: Latin for New Castle.
That’s a very brief run-through of the events leading up to the city that modern-day visitors experience. What’s interesting is that you will find traces of the city’s rich history wherever you go in Newcastle, including Roman ruins, Victorian buildings and more modern constructions such as the Tyne Bridge and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. All interspersed by world-class shopping, a hectic nightlife and the big city flair that comes with being a part of the Tyneside conurbation – the sixth most populous in the U.K. (population: 880,000).
What’s more, Newcastle also has the vision to become “the first carbon neutral city.” Clearly, the future of this city is brighter than its past.
The International Passenger Terminal has three berths. The newly refurbished passenger terminal has covered walkways, airport style check-in facilities and automated baggage handling. A courtesy bus is also offered to the shopping outlet and nearest Metro station. Visitors are welcomed by knowledgeable staff manning Tourism Information kiosks. Smaller vessels can berth on Newcastle Quayside in the heart of the city.
- The seven bridges that connect Newcastle on the north side of the river Tyne with Gateshead on the south side. The bridges play an important role in connecting the two cities, which together are referred to as NewcastleGateshead. One of the most famous bridges is the Tyne Bridge, opened in 1928 by King George V and modelled on the Sydney Harbor Bridge. A more recent addition bridging the two sides of the Tyne is the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, in operation since 2004. Sometimes referred to as the “winking eye,” it is the world’s first tilting bridge.
- The Seven Stories center for children’s books is an Eldorado for children of all ages. Opened in 2005, it is the only archive and gallery in the UK dedicated to the art of children’s literature.
- Perhaps aiming for a slightly different audience, nearby The Cluny is one of Newcastle’s coolest watering holes. On the menu: live music.
- For the more art-interested visitor, the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art is worth exploring. Housed in a converted grain warehouse from the 1950s on the south bank of the River Tyne, in Gateshead, the exhibitions of the BALTIC change over time.
- For musical experiences, the Sage Gateshead is the place to visit: It’s an international home for music and musical discovery.
- The Castle Keep is all that remains of Newcastle’s Norman castle, much of which was torn down in order to give way for railway tracks in the 19th century. The keep was built by Henry II between 1168 and 1178.
- For a good overview of available museums in and around Newcastle, visit the website of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. A major regional museum and art gallery, Tyne & Wear is responsible for twelve museums, galleries and heritage sites. A couple of highlights: the Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum, a reconstructed Roman fort featuring jewels, weapons and armor; the Discovery Museum, where you will be able to learn everything about the region’s industrial heritage; and The Shipley Art Gallery, considered the leading gallery of design and contemporary art in North East England.
For shopping, it’s hard to beat Newcastle. Head for Eldon Square, where you will find one of Britain’s largest shopping centers, or take aim at Eldon Garden for designer goods. Central Exchange is the place for luxury goods. Northumberland Street is Newcastle’s main shopping street.
A number of different shore excursions can be on offer in and around Newcastle. Examples include:
- A taste of Northumberland, the northernmost county in England. The Heritage Coast, north of Newcastle, features both beaches and impressive castles reflecting the turbulent history of this region of the U.K. Two of the most well-known castles are Bamburgh Castle and Alnwick castle.
- Following the River Tyne upstream (westward), you will eventually arrive at Chesters Roman Fort – one of the best-preserved sites along Hadrian’s Wall (included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list). Built by the Romans in 122 A.D., the intention behind the wall was to stop barbarian hordes attacking from the north.
- Tours of Newcastle, on foot or by coach, can take in many of the highlights mentioned above, under Do Not Miss.
- Newcastle can be the point of departure for excursions to York, considered one of the most fascinating cities in England. As King George VI once put it: “The history of York is the history of England.”
It’s 281 miles/450 kilometers to London, the capital of the U.K.
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