I divided my English soccer guidebook into regions and suggested a base city for each region. For the North and Northeast, that base will be Newcastle.
Travel Guide: Newcastle
Why You Should Stay There: It’s a great hub for accessing six clubs, five of them in the Football League, and a wonderful, compact city that is interesting for architecture and history. It is blessed with good dining and hotel options, and it is kept young and fresh by some 80,000 university students in town.
Note that it almost always works out that Sunderland and Newcastle don’t play at home on the same weekend. This is to preserve the public peace!
Clubs to Visit from Newcastle:
- Carlisle United (League Two), about 90 minutes by train.
- Gateshead (National League North), 20 minutes by bus.
- Hartlepool United (National League), 45 minutes by train
- Middlesbrough (Championship), 80 minutes by train
- Newcastle United (Premier League), 15 minutes’ walk.
- Sunderland (League One), 20 minutes by train or 40 minutes by Metro.
Getting There: From London, it’s about three hours by train from Kings Cross Station. An advance ticket was 51 pounds in 2016. From Manchester it’s just over two hours and about 24 pounds. You can also get there by National Express bus service and Megabus.
Getting Around: They have a Metro train service and good bus lines, but the whole city center, and everything you’re likely interested in such as St. James Park, is all within about a 15-minute walk from the station. A daily transit pass is £7 (currently about $10) and covers an adult for bus, ferry, metro and regional rail.
Where to Stay: There are plenty of hotels within easy walking distance of the central train station. There are many independents I haven’t stayed in. (Note: Prices are from 2016)
- Super Budget: Check out Euro Hostel, where I had a private room in 2016 for £20 a night (they offer laundry service, breakfast, and a bean bag room — I’m serious.). I was also, at age 50, the oldest person in the building.
- Up to about 60 pounds or so, chains in the central city include Travelodge, Ibis, Premier Inn, and Novotel.
- For mid-range options, up to about 80 quid, there’s a Best Western, a couple of nicer Premier Inns, Jurys, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express.
- Beyond that, all the major chains are represented (Marriott, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, etc.) and many boutique or fancy hotels I couldn’t afford to check out. Definitely the best-located is the Hilton, just across the river from the famous Quayside neighborhood with a spectacular view and spectacular prices, like 100 to 120 pounds on weekends – although I’ve seen rates more like 80 quid during the week. Worth a look.
Where to Eat: There are plenty of good options in the middle of town, including a small Chinatown near St. James Park, lots of Indian and Middle Eastern places, popular pubs with traditional food, and cheaper places geared toward all the college students. My favorite chippy is Town Fry on Market Street. I also really enjoyed Sapori Café, an affordable little Italian gem on Starbeck Street, a mile east of the center. It’s cash-only.
- For a good introduction, check out a 90-minute, volunteer-led walking tour every day at 10:30 a.m. (£4 newcastlegateshead.com.) There is plenty of info on other guides and tours on the same website.
- There’s a standard hop-on, hop-off bus tour that hits 17 stops in an hour and runs every half hour through October, then hourly through April (£8 – city-sightseeing.com)
- Boat tours on the Tyne include a one-hour city tour and three-hour tours out to the sea or up the river to the countryside. 5 to 15 pounds, days vary by season – riverescapes.co.uk.
- There are themed, self-guided walking tour maps at seenewcastle.com.
- A tour of St. James’ Park is 15 quid and available just about every day they aren’t playing at home. On weekends they offer rooftop tours for 20 pounds! Sunderland has stadiums tours, as well.
- Private, customized tours — including Hadrian’s Wall and a Harry Potter castle — are available from newcastlecitytours.co.uk.
Other Sites in Town and Nearby:
- The Gateshead Visitors Center is in the St. Mary’s Heritage Center (a former church) on a hill just across town; the tour bus stops there, but it’s also an easy walk. Lovely just for a visit.
- Sage Gateshead is an ultra-modern, multi-facility music venue in Gateshead right on the river. The tour bus stops there, too.
- A must-see soccer stop is the Back Page Bookshop, which is 100% footy, with books and memorabilia.
- Blackfriars is a former priory now filled with artisan shops and a restaurant.
- The Millennium Bridge is an amazing pedestrian/bike bridge which tilts (not lifts!) daily at noon, May to September, to let boats pass. It takes four minutes (and costs 4 pounds worth of electricity, they say). Has to be seen to be believed. It’s also lit up at night, and I’m told you can pay to choose the colors. For other lift times and more info, see gateshead.gov.uk
- The Swing Bridge lets boats pass by, yes, swinging open. It generally opens only a few times a week, with no schedule.
- The Life Science Center is an interactive science museum.
- The Theatre Royal is a beautiful 19th century place, recently restored, and has popular shows like (in 2016) Mary Poppins.
- Here’s an article about 10 castles near town, including Alnwick, which has appeared in Harry Potter and Downtown Abbey.
- South Shields is the local beach town and features a lighthouse, Roman fort, and dozens of restaurants along Ocean Road and King Street. It’s particularly known for its many Indian restaurants and Colman’s, a famous seafood place.
- The ancient and gorgeous town of Durham is just minutes south by train; the cathedral there is among the most beautiful in England.
- Northumberland National Park is about 400 square miles along the Scottish border and Hadrian’s Wall. It’s under an hour’s drive, and you can also get there by train or bus.