Stuart Forster outlines the best places to enjoy art in Newcastle and Gateshead plus elsewhere in North East England.
There’s much in Newcastle upon Tyne and neighbouring Gateshead to entertain art aficionados during a city break in northeast England. Highlights include The Biscuit Factory, Laing Art Gallery and Side Gallery in Newcastle. Over in Gateshead, on the south bank of the River Tyne, visitors will find the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, the Sage Gateshead centre for performing arts and the Shipley Art Gallery. And contrary to the widespread misconception among people who’ve never visited the region, Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North sculpture is also in Gateshead rather than Newcastle.
Thanks to the city’s many pubs and celebrated nightlife, Newcastle has long been regarded as one of Europe’s party capitals. Many a hen and stag party veteran will recall — perhaps in some cases hazily — moments in the pubs and bars of the Quayside, Diamond Strip and Bigg Market. The city’s Ouseburn and Jesmond districts also offer their share of cracking destinations for a few drinks. Yet it’s not just the artists with glasses in their hands that people now associate with Newcastle and Gateshead.
The arts scene in North East England has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. This post outlines some of the best places to visit in Newcastle and Gateshead for art lovers.
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Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, in Gateshead, is an impressive space hosting temporary exhibitions. The riverside gallery occupies a building formerly used as a flour mill. In 2011 the Baltic became the first non-Tate venue outside of London to host the Turner Prize awards ceremony. The centre’s shop is a good place to visit to pick up arty souvenirs and gifts or to browse for art-related books.
Contemporary art often polarises responses. Even people who make claims along the lines of ‘my six-year-old nephew can produce better art than some of these so-called contemporary artists’ are likely to acknowledge that the opening of the Baltic, in 2002, was a key point in the evolution of the art scene in north-east England.
Six Restaurant, serves stylish contemporary cuisine in a pleasant environment up on the sixth floor of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. The restaurant opens for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday and serves afternoon teas on Sundays. Ask for a seat by a window for impressive views over the River Tyne and Newcastle’s skyline.
The Sage Gateshead
From the Baltic, it’s a short walk to the Sage Gateshead performing arts and conference centre. Designed by Sir Norman Foster, the exterior of the building reminds me of a giant cocoon shining by the riverside. The terraces by the Sage’s doors present some of the best possible opportunities for photos and panoramic views of the River Tyne and Newcastle’s Quayside. Inside the Sage’s spacious lobby, The Sir Michael Straker Café is a good spot to enjoy a coffee while taking in the view.
The Sage hosts performances across a range of musical genres, including jazz and operas, and is the home of the Royal Northern Sinfonia. The frequently changing street art, painted under the arches of the viaduct a matter of paces from the Sage Gateshead, is often impressive.
Shipley Art Gallery
Gateshead’s Shipley Art Gallery (Prince Consort Road) is a 25-minute walk from the riverside. The gallery opened back in 1917 to display artworks collected by solicitor Joseph Shipley, including paintings by Dutch and Flemish artists. Contemporary works count among those added in recent decades, including the Henry Rothschild collection of ceramics.
The pride of the artworks on display at the Shipley is Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet, painted by Jacopo Tintoretto during the 16th century to hang in Venice’s San Marcuolo church. The Blaydon Races, by William C. Irving, is displayed just a few paces from Tintoretto’s work.
Dunston Staiths and The Staiths Cafe
Looking for a stroll between viewing artworks? It’s been decades since Dunston Staiths was last used to load coal on specially adapted boats, known as keels, for transport to London and elsewhere. The vast wooden structure, a landmark that commemorates the industrial heritage of northeast England, is one-and-a-half miles upriver from the Baltic Centre of Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead. The 30-minute walk along the Keelman’s Way riverside footpath offers fine views of the bridges spanning the River Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead.
The Staiths Cafe (1 Autumn Drive, Gateshead) is a lovely spot to enjoy a drink or bite to eat before heading back into town. For more insights into the region’s industrial heritage, it’s worth looking inside The Discovery Museum (Blandford Square) in Newcastle.
Laing Art Gallery Newcastle
The Laing Art Gallery, in central Newcastle, also provides insights into the region’s industrial heritage and Newcastle’s growth as a city through the applied art and paintings on display. Works by Paul Gaughin and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema count among those shown in the Laing.
Side Gallery for photography
Newcastle’s Side Gallery opened in 1977 as England’s only venue dedicated solely to exhibiting documentary photography. It has exhibited works by some of the great names in documentary photography, including Chris Steele-Perkins, Simon Norfolk and Tim Hetherington.
The gallery sells books of Sirkka-Liisa Kontinnen’s work, which documents life among the terraced houses of the city’s Byker district in the 1960s and 1970s. Her multilayered work is a reminder of how times have changed since the shutter opened on the scenes depicted.
The Hatton Gallery
Newcastle’s Hatton Gallery reopened in 2017 following a £3.8 million redevelopment.
Based in a Grade II listed building on Newcastle University’s campus, the gallery displays Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn Wall. The Hatton’s collection spans six centuries.
The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle
“The arts scene here has become increasingly vibrant since the Angel of the North was erected. One example of this is The Biscuit Factory, the UK’s largest commercial gallery, a spacious two-storey venue which is open seven days a week. I see it as a great example of the region’s regeneration following widespread industrial closures,” says Vanessa Clayton, a fine arts graduate who settled in the northeast of England.
Reminiscent of a loft gallery, with exposed brick walls and wooden floors, The Biscuit Factory (Stoddard Street) is worth visiting to browse and buy works by up-and-coming artists or search for original gifts.
The Angel of the North
There’s a widespread misconception that the Angel of the North is located in Newcastle. Antony Gormley’s iconic rust-red sculpture is actually in Gateshead and well worth a trip to view up close.
The sculpture was erected in 1998 and, at first, met with mixed reviews and some disapproval. Locals have been won over. Gormley’s work has come to be respected and can be interpreted as a symbol of the local metamorphosis. It often features on souvenirs from the region.
Interested in visiting the Angel of the North? The iconic sculpture is about four miles from the Sage Gateshead. The number 21 bus, from Newcastle’s Eldon Square or Gateshead Interchange, stops close to the landmark.
Other art museums in North East England
After visiting the art galleries in Newcastle and Gateshead why not travel to other leading art museums in north-east England?
Sunderland is a 30-minute ride from central Newcastle on the Tyne and Wear Metro. Disembark the Metro at St Peter’s to visit the United Kingdom’s National Glass Centre which features glassware exhibitions and hosts glass-making demonstrations. The building by the north bank of the River Wear also hosts the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art. Works by L.S. Lowry are displayed at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens which in 2019 hosted a major Leonardo da Vinci exhibition.
Middlesbrough, an 80-minute train journey from Newcastle Central Station, hosts the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. The institution is usually refered to by its acronym, the MIMA. Anish Kapoor’s sculpture Temenos stands close to the mouth of the River Tees.
Travel to Newcastle
Newcastle Central Station is on the UK’s East Coast Main Line. Rail journeys from London’s King’s Cross Station can take as little as two hours and 37 minutes. Newcastle is about 90 minutes’ rail journey from Edinburgh.
Book seats for travel on trains to Newcastle via the Trainline website.
Newcastle International Airport is about 25 minutes from the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne using the Tyne and Wear Metro.
DFDS Ferries sail between Amsterdam and the Port of Tyne near Newcastle.
Hotels in Newcastle and Gateshead
Newcastle and Gateshead offer much for a colourful city break with an art focus. Search for accommodation in Newcastle and the surrounding region via Booking.com:
Map of Newcastle and Gateshead
Zoom in or out on this Google Map of Newcastle and Gateshead to find museums and art galleries:
Books about North East England
Interested in British art and planning on visiting North East England? You can buy the following books from Amazon by clicking on the links or cover photos:
Find out more about things to do and see in Newcastle and Gateshead on the NewcastleGateshead website.
Thank you for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about art in Newcastle and Gateshead. Planning on visiting North East England? You’ll find travel tips for visiting Newcastle and Gateshead in my post on sightseeing while walking in Newcastle.
Stuart Forster is an award-winning travel writer based in North East England. Born and raised in the region, Stuart is available for freelance commissions and sponsored posts.
Illustrating photos are by Why Eye Photography.
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A version of this post was originally posted on Go Eat Do on 30 July 2020.