Opposite Newcastle, Gateshead is a mining and industrial town that has redefined itself early in the 21st century.
The Tyne riverside has become a cultural quarter home to Sage Gateshead, a dynamic concert venue, and the capacious Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in a old flour mill.
Combine this with the Shipley Art Gallery and you can fill a weekend with nothing but great art and music.
For sightseeing you’ve got the Quayside and the bridges on the Tyne, from the dependable Tyne Bridge to its younger neighbour, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.
Naturally you can hop across the river to get the best of Newcastle, or meet the Angel of the North, splurge at the immense MetroCentre mall and go back to the industrial days at Beamish, the world-class open-air museum.
1. Gateshead Millennium Bridge
Between Gateshead’s Baltic Square and Quayside in Newcastle is the world’s first tilting bridge.
The 126-metre Gateshead Millennium Bridge opened to universal acclaim in 2001 and has a pioneering design by Wilkinson Eyre.
Because of the shape of its arch, and impression caused by the tilt, the monument has earned the affectionate title, “Winking Eye Bridge”. Make sure to come by in the evening to see the bridge in lights, while you have to watch the tilt in action.
It takes 4.5 minutes for the bridge to open, although this can depend on the wind.
Details of booked tilts are published on the Gateshead Council website, and generally take place on weekends.
More than 35,000 people stood on the banks of the Tyne in 2001 to watch the first ever tilt.
2. Tyne Bridge
An enduring symbol for Tyneside is the through arch bridge crossing the Tyne just upriver.
The Tyne Bridge was designed by the civil engineering firm, Mott, Hay and Anderson, and bears obvious similarities to their Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The Tyne Bridge was completed four years earlier than the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in 1928, and at 389 metres was a smaller first test for the firm’s design.
The four Neoclassical and Art Deco towers either side of the arch are built from Cornish granite, while the bridge has recently become home to a colony of some 700 pairs of black-legged kittiwakes.
This is the furthest inland colony in the world for this seabird, and though it was viewed as a nuisance is now another feather in Tyneside’s cap.
3. The Angel of the North
For more than two decades, Antony Gormley’s now iconic sculpture has greeted drivers coming into Gateshead on the A1, and passengers on the East Coast Main Line.
Standing at 20 metres, and with a span of 54 metres, the Angel of the North is on the site of the former Team Colliery.
The body of the angel is based on a cast of Gormley’s body, while the wings are titled inwards at 3.5° to create a sense of embrace.
The sculpture is anchored with 600 tons of concrete descending more than 20 metres into the ground to help it resist high winds, and is made from weather resistant steel that has a rusty patina, recognising northern England’s industrial history.
4. Sage Gateshead
Also from the Gateshead Quays development is this swish concert venue that opened in 2004. Sage Gateshead is wrapped in a curving glass and stainless steel shell, and was developed by Foster and Partners after a design competition was announced in 1997. There are two concert halls inside, seating 1,640 (Sage One) and 600 (Sage Two). On completion the venue gave a permanent home to the acclaimed Royal Northern Sinfonia chamber orchestra, founded in 1958 and gaining its “royal” title in 2013. Sage’s calendar is designed to appeal to everybody, and there’s loads going on, especially on weekends.
You can come for a feast of classical music, concerts by critically acclaimed recording artists, spoken word performances and talks by cultural figures, sport stars politicians and thinkers.
Sage is also engaged locally, hosting classes and workshops for everything from steelpans to madrigals, saxophones and ukuleles.
5. Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
In 2002 the massive Baltic Flour Mill on the south bank of the Tyne reopened as a contemporary art centre following an eleven-year hiatus.
Designed in the late-1930s the mill was completed in 1950 for Rank Hovis and closed in 1981. On opening, the Baltic Centre (or just BALTIC) became the largest contemporary art gallery in the world.
The centre has no permanent exhibition, and instead there’s a constantly changing programme of bold exhibitions by international, UK and local artists, as well as lots of fun activities aimed at younger members of the family.
There are up to five shows at any one time, and in early 2019 one of the high points was Heather Phillipson’s installation in the immense Level 4 Gallery, titled The Age of Love, turning the gallery into “Spatio-temporal field” with functioning farm equipment and augmented reality bird droppings!
6. Shipley Art Gallery
When the local solicitor Joseph Ainsley Davidson Shipley passed away in 1909 he left his sizeable art collection as well as £30,000 to the city of Newcastle.
Within a decade a Neoclassical gallery had been constructed for this collection, which has expanded over time and shines for its Dutch and Flemish painting from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Some of the artists represented from this period are Jan van der Heyden, Benjamin Cuyp, Jacob Grimmer, Abraham Janssens and the German artist Hans Leonhard Schäufelein.
The Shipley, as it’s known, also boasts The Henry Rothschild Collection of Studio Ceramics, with pieces by all of the main ceramicists and studios in the UK in the 20th century.
The gallery is a vital local resource, putting on all sorts of classes, for painting, lace-making, patchwork, weaving and flower arrangement, as well as a regular pop-up play space for babies.
7. Saltwell Park
Up to the 2000s this 55-acre Victorian park was in a state of disrepair before a long-term, £9.6 million restoration project turned it into one of the best urban parks in the country.
Laid out by the famed landscape architect Edward Kemp, Saltwell Park opened in 1876 on the Saltwellgate Estate, just five years after the owner William Wales’ eclectic mansion was completed.
Saltwell Towers is still a focal point for the park, but is one of eleven listed monuments, including the original stable block, now used as an education centre for schools.
Since its makeover, Saltwell Park has won a coveted Green Flag every year, and has loads of facilities that will appeal to families.
There’s a visitor centre, a yew tree maze, a “pet’s corner” with a small collection of domestic animals, as well as a four-acre boating lake.
8. Tanfield Railway
The northern terminus for this three-mile heritage railway is in Sunniside in Gateshead, running to the former mining village of Tanfield in Durham.
The Tanfield Railway claims to be the oldest railway in the world, as it uses the course of an old colliery wagonway, dating back to 1720, which used horses to pull coal on wooden rails.
This was converted into a railway at the end of the 1830s, still relying on horse power, as well as stationary steam engines.
The Tanfield Railway opened as a heritage line in the 1970s and has four operating locomotives, dating from between 1891 and 1943. Along with these there’s a small fleet of other engines that you can see in storage or undergoing restoration in the Marley Hill Engine Shed at Sunniside.
As a rule of thumb, there are services on Sundays year round, as well as on Thursdays and Saturdays during the summer school holidays.
Owned by the National Trust, Gibside is a historic estate in the Derwent Valley, an easy drive from Gateshead.
The main house, built around the beginning of the 17th century, has been a ruin since it was stripped and partially demolished in the 20th century.
And while the main house that property is picturesque, the main reason to come to Gibside is for the regal 18th-century landscaping and some of the monuments in the grounds.
Lined by trees, the Grand Walk begins at the Column of Liberty and deposits you at the grand Gibside Chapel, which was built in the last decades of the 18th century.
Slightly older is the Banqueting House, from 1746, in a Gothic Revival style and at the highest part of the estate with distant vistas over the Derwent Valley.
Like the main house this was left derelict in the 1920s, but had been fully restored by the Landmark Trust by 1981.
10. Dunston Staiths
No landmark encapsulates Gateshead’s industrial heritage like Dunston Staiths on the Tyne.
Completed in 1893 by the North East Railway Company, this mammoth pier (thought to be the largest timber structure in Europe), allowed huge amounts of coal arriving from the Durham Coalfields to be loaded from trains straight onto coal ships on the river, bound for London or overseas.
In full flow, 5.5 million tons of coal were shipped each year with this method.
Dunston Staiths decayed in the 20th century as the coal industry in the North East dwindled.
The monument was restored for the 1990 National Garden Festival, but has since suffered fires in 2003, 2010 and February 2019, and a campaign has been launched to fund repairs.
11. Watergate Forest Park
It may come as a surprise to some but this park with a lake, woodland, wetlands and wildflower meadows used to be the a colliery.
The landscape was regenerated in the 1990s and the park opened in 2000. You can take in the scenery on two main trails: There’s a 1.4-mile circular trail around the lake, enhanced with sculptures that hark back to the former mine and designed with the help of local children.
The park also incorporates older natural areas like Bucks Hill and the woodlands at Washingwell, and has a friendly cafe by the smaller of the two car parks.
For a family day out to remember, the best outdoor museum in the country is only a few miles south of Gateshead.
In 300 acres, with countryside, recreated town and a colliery, Beamish throws you into daily and working life in the North East in the 19th and early 20th century.
The 1913 Edwardian town area is like a time warp for its mind-boggling attention to detail and a working 1.5-mile tramway.
You can browse local amenities like a pub, bakery, stables, bank, sweet shop and chemist/photographer, run by staff dressed in costume from the time.
Almost everything you see at Beamish is an original building, relocated to this site piece by piece.
You can sample life in the North East’s mining communities at the Pit Village, which has a schoolroom, band hall, stables and chapel.
Then go underground at the Mahogany Drift Mine, where there’s a working steam winding engine from 1855 and an array of colliery locomotives in the Engine Shed.
Being this close to the largest city in the North East, there’s nothing to stop you crossing the Tyne on the Millennium Bridge and taking in the sights.
The revitalised Quayside on the north bank is a fine place to start, granting views of Sage and BALTIC.
Newcastle’s most dignified architecture awaits in Grainger Town, especially on Grey Street, laid out in a Neoclassical style in the 1830s and headed by Grey’s Monument (1838) to Prime Minister Charles Grey, commemorating the Reform Act of 1832. Kids will be besotted with the Discovery Museum, one of the largest free museums in the region, and featuring the groundbreaking Turbinia, the fastest ship in the world when it was launched in 1894.
14. Path Head Water Mill
A bit further upriver on the south bank of the Tyne there’s a museum at a restored water-powered woodworking mill.
Path Head Water Mill, dating to the 18th century, is embedded in an idyllic wooded valley, which you can savour at a garden area and benches for picnics.
The current waterwheel was brought here from a different mill in 1994, and turns a wrought iron drive shaft connecting to a series of three colour-coded gears powering a wood-turning lathe, surface planer and bandsaw.
There’s a balcony giving you a handy vantage point for these complicated inner-workings, while the keeper will be happy to explain everything.
A lot of the restoration elsewhere is ongoing, but you can check out a Victorian patent derrick crane, a water turbine, hydraulic ram pump and a pole barn with racks saw bench.
15. Intu MetroCentre
Opening its doors in 1986, the Intu MetroCentre has been refined and enlarged over time, and today is the second largest shopping centre in the UK.
Over two floors there are more than 370 retailers, anchored by the large department stores, House of Fraser, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer.
These are accompanied by every brand you would hope to find on a UK high street.
Just to summarise, there’s Zara, Primark, Next, H&M, JD Sport, TK Maxx, Argos, WHSmith and Apple Store.
If you get peckish the choice is just as big, counting town centre favourites like Five Guys, Nando’s, Pret a Manger, Pizza Express, Subway, TGI Fridays, Yo! Sushi and Wagamama.
You could also make a day of it and catch a new release at the multi-screen Odeon cinema.