England

15 Best Places to Visit in Tyne and Wear

A metropolitan county in the far northeast of England, Tyne and Wear is named for the rivers that run through its two main cities, Newcastle and Sunderland.

Coal mining and ship-building were ways of life in this region for centuries, but in recent decades Newcastle and Sunderland have found new identities for high-tech manufacturing, research and culture.

OK, the North Sea waters might be on the chilly side, but you can’t ignore the many glorious sandy beaches all along the coast.

And with heavy industry drying up, they are cleaner than ever.

Some are fringed by links golf courses , but all are superb for brooding walks in winter and seaside activities in summer.

Lets explore the best places to visit in Tyne and Wear:

1. Newcastle

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St Mary’s Cathedral, Newcastle upon Tyne

Like many industrial cities in the north of England Newcastle had to find its feet once more following the sudden decline of heavy industry.

The city had been a hub for coal mining, manufacturing and shipping, but has repositioned itself as both a centre for scientific research and a carefree place for nights out.

Standing proud since 1928 is the arch of the Tyne Bridge, one of those universally-recognised landmarks and an enduring symbol for Tyneside.

There’s no shortage of museums, art galleries, theatres and live music venues, as well as a sleeping giant of a football team, Newcastle United at the cathedral-like St James’ Park.

And right in the centre is the medieval Castle keep where the city began, first built by William the Conqueror’s son.

2. Quayside

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Quayside

Newcastle (north bank)and Gateshead (south) share the Tyne River, and at the Quayside you’ll get a handle on Tyneside in the 21st-century.

Until the last decades of the 20th-century this section of riverside, east of the Tyne Bridge, was an industrial nerve centre, with warehouses and busy wharfs by the water.

Later the area became derelict but has been revitalised and has now become a destination for nights out and culture, and a nice spot for a waterfront walk.

A symbol for this rebirth is the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, completed in 2001. It provides a crossing for cyclists and pedestrians and then tilts on an axis at set times to allow river traffic to pass.

3. Grainger Town

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Grainger Town

Named after the 19th-century city planner Richard Grainger, this imposing central district of Newcastle was entirely redeveloped in the neoclassical style between 1824 and 1849. There are 29 Grade I buildings in the space of just a few streets, all now encompassed by a conservation area.

Grey Street is surely the grandest of them all, possessing the Theatre Royal and its spectacular portico, as well as the elegant Edwardian shopping gallery, the Central Arcade.

Grainger Market meanwhile is shopping heaven, with family-run stalls, eateries and high street shops under a wrought iron and glass roof.

4. Sunderland

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Hylton Castle, Sunderland

A few miles down the road Sunderland shares a (usually) friendly rivalry with Newcastle.

Sunderland has also had to find a new direction after shining as one of England’s great shipyards from the 14th century onwards.

This industry went the way of glassmaking and coal mining, but hi-tech industry and services took their place from the 90s onwards.

You can delve into the old glassmaking trade at the National Glass Centre, see more than 2,000 plant species at the Winter Gardens and catch a Premier League game at the Stadium of Light.

At any time of year, get down to the seafront where the once grim beaches at Roker and Seaburn now earn the Blue Flag for their cleanliness.

5. Gateshead

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Angel of the North, Gateshead

The last 20 years have given Gateshead some breathtaking monuments.

The headliner has to be the emblematic and much-loved Angel of the North, a 20-metre high steel sculpture created by Antony Gormley and installed on a hall over Birtley a few minutes south of Gateshead.

On the Tyne is the Norman Foster-designed Sage Gateshead, a thrilling concert venue added in 2004 the place to watch touring rock and pop artists.

The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art is a converted flour mill; art-wise the museum’s temporary exhibitions are great, and the view of Newcastle from the platform at the top should put it firmly on your itinerary.

6. Tynemouth

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Tynemouth

This handsome town is on the northern bank of the Tyne as it enters the north sea.

In Georgian and Victorian times it was a home for wealthy ship-owners, merchants and industrialists, so there’s a lot of lovely property from the 1700s and 1800s.

The maritime scenery is wonderfully moody in winter, while on warmer days visitors from Newcastle flock to King Edward’s Bay and Tynemouth Longsands for some seaside R&R. Tynemouth Pier is a breakwater at the mouth of the river, pushing out to the North Sea for more than 800 metres.

You can walk the length to get a better sight of the lighthouse, which was built in 1864. Pop into the still-thriving Tynemouth Market and explore Tynemouth Priory, which was founded in the 600s.

7. South Shields

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Arbeia Roman Fort

Opposite Tynemouth, on the south bank of the Tyne, South Shields is a coastal town with bracing North Sea beaches, landscaped parkland on its foreshore and thrilling pieces of history here and there.

Arbeia is a Roman Fort that received supplies for Hadrian’s Wall, and the gatehouse, house of the commanding officer and barracks have all been faithfully rebuilt on the original foundations.

Marsden Beach a little down the way is stunning, with limitless sands and powerful cliffs.

And Souter Lighthouse, constructed in 1871, was the first AC-powered lighthouse in the world and is now open to the public as a National Trust monument.

8. Wallsend

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Wallsend

East of Newcastle, Wallsend was one of England’s ship-building capitals in the steam age, launching RMS Mauretania, which broke the record for the quickest eastbound Atlantic crossing in 1907. Although no vessels are now built at the massive Swan Hunter, the yard is still used to service North Sea oil and gas rigs.

The name “Wallsend” tells you that it was the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall in Roman Times.

For the uninitiated, this wall spanned northern England and sealed off the border to the unconquered territories in what is now mostly Scotland.

The foundations of the fort constructed to protect the east side of the wall can be viewed from a raised platform at Segedunum, and there’s a museum with some Roman military artefacts discovered in excavations in the 1990s.

9. Jarrow

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St. Paul’s, Jarrow

Also boasting shipyards, Jarrow launched warships for the Royal Navy in the Victorian era and early-20th century.

In front of the town hall there’s a statue of Charles Palmer, a 19th-century shipbuilder and later an MP for Jarrow.

Also in the town centre is a monument for the Jarrow March, which took place in 1936 during the Great Depression when 200 laid-off workers from the shut-down Palmer’s Shipyard walked from Jarrow to London to deliver a petition to parliament.

But Jarrow’s most influential resident has to be the Venerable Bede,  an 8th-century monk at St Paul’s Abbey (also visitable) who translated Christian Latin and Greek texts into Anglo-Saxon and so had a lasting impact on the English language.

There’s a museum dedicated to Bede in the grounds of Jarrow Hall, featuring a reconstructed Anglo-Saxon farm.

10. Washington

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Washington Hall

Did you know that George Washington’s ancestral home is on Wearside? Washington Hall is a beautiful historic manor house run by the National Trust.

Entry times are restricted, but if you’re in the area there’s a relic of the region’s mining history to see.

The Washington F Pit has a Victorian engine house and an impressive horizontal winding engine that used to run on steam.

It’s all part of the Washington ‘F’ Pit Museum, which normally opens on Saturdays.

Washington used to have an RAF Base at Usworth, which has been taken over by the North East Aircraft Museum, featuring 30 de Havilland, Avro, Hawker and Westland Aircraft, together with a cool range of Rolls-Royce propeller and jet engines.

11. North Shields

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High Lights & Low Lights North Shields

Facing its southern counterpart, North Shields is right on the mouth of the River Tyne and in old times had an important job to keep ships out of trouble.

At high tide the rocks, the Black Middens are submerged and for centuries they caused innumerable shipwrecks.

To try to remedy this problem “High and Low Lights” were built nearby above Fish Quay in the 16th-century and navigators could use these beacons to enter the Tyne safely.

The High Light and Low Light we see now date to the 1700s and are both listed buildings.

Long after the beacons have been removed boats still use these whitewashed towers as daymarks to get into the Tyne.

12. Whitley Bay

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St Mary’s Lighthouse – Whitley Bay

Only ten miles from Newcastle, Whitley Bay is an old-school seaside resort that came to the fore in the 19th century.

You have a long and broad sandy beach to wander past, backed by a promenade with lovely vistas up to St Mary’s Lighthouse to the north.

At the upper end is an excellent links golf course, and if you keep going along the seafront you’ll come to the lighthouse, which is linked to the mainland via a concrete causeway you can cross at low tide.

St Mary’s Lighthouse is now out of action, but has been kept as a museum and there’s also a cafe on the tidal island here.

13. Whitburn

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Whitburn

Between South Shields and Sunderland, Whitburn is a village that may catch you off-guard with its rural character, even though it’s at the centre of a huge conurbation.

There are no big landmarks demanding your attention; instead you can just soak up the peace on the tree-lined lanes which have gorgeous 18th-century townhouses and timber cottages.

There’s a local cricket club if you’d like to while away a sunny afternoon watching a match, or you could saunter up to the Whitburn Windmill, which is on pasture facing the North Sea and dates to the 1700s.

14. Houghton-le-Spring

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Houghton-le-Spring – Penshaw Monument

Much like the Angel of the North the hilltop Penshaw Monument is visible from a great distance and is a valued fixture on the landscape.

This folly on Penshaw Hill was built in 1844 in honour of John Lambton, who was the 1st Early of Durham and MP for County Durham, which also included all of Tyne and Wear until the 20th century.

Another excuse to come down to Houghton-le-Spring is for the local parkland: Herrington Country Park is great for families and dog-walkers, and you could also sneak in a round at the 18-hole Houghton-le-Spring Golf Club.

15. Monkwearmouth

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Church of St Peter, Monkwearmouth

In the time of the Venerable Bede, St Paul’s Abbey in Jarrow and St Peter’s Abbey in Monkwearmouth were part of the same monastery despite being in locations several miles apart.

Monkwearmouth was one of the first three settlements on the River Wear, and like most places on the English coast was terrorised by Viking raids all through the 8th and 9th centuries.

The main thing to see is St Peter’s Church, which belonged to the abbey and is one of the oldest churches in the country, integrating the  original 7th century porch but with later Norman additions.

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