Every Christmas I head back to my hometown of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne to spend the festive season with my family. Seeing the Tyne Bridge all lit up as my train pulls in to Newcastle Central Station, after a few hectic weeks of parties, crowds and tying up all those loose ends, always makes me excited to be home.
This year is a huge change, as I’m spending my first Christmas Day in London with Steven. Following our recent engagement and new work commitments, it seemed like the right time to shake things up. Of course, we’ll still be visiting Newcastle during the festive period to soak up some of the merriment and legendary North East crack (PG humour, if you didn’t already know).
Christmas is one of my favourite times to be back in Geordieland, as there’s always a buzz in the air and so much happening around town. Here are some of my top picks for a canny Christmas in Newcastle…
Fenwick Christmas Window
The Fenwick Christmas window is a real institution in Newcastle and as soon as it’s unveiled, you know Christmas is here. The first Fenwick department store was founded in 1882 by John James Fenwick in Newcastle and every year brings a new creative display. Over the past decade, we’ve been treated to The Snowman, Gulliver’s Travels, Peter Rabbit and even aliens in Santa’s Workshop.
In the run up to Christmas, Newcastle’s elegant Grey Street becomes an outdoor marketplace with stalls offering artisan food and drink products. Warm up with mulled wine and mince pies while picking up gifts made by local producers including microbrewery beer, home-made jams, cakes and hand-made chocolates. The Christmas Markets are perfect for finding unique treats that can’t be found on the high street.
Live music at Sage Gateshead
Concert venues don’t come much better than Sage Gateshead. This striking part of the Quayside landscape is world renowned for its cutting-edge design and superior acoustics, as well as being a prestigious music education centre. This Christmas, Sage Gateshead has really pushed the boat out with a programme of live music from St Etienne, he Overtones, Music of Motown and local heroes Smoove & Turrell, as well as The Snowman accompanied by a live orchestra.
Art on the Tyne
I always like to make time to see the latest exhibitions at BALTIC, another vital cultural institution on the Quayside. Not only does it feature world-class exhibitions from international contemporary artists, but it’s a prime spot for dining, shopping and viewing the city from high above. Brian Griffiths’ must-see exhibition Bill Murray: a story of distance, size and sincerity runs throughout the festive period until the end of February.
Christmas Flicks & Fizz
One of my regular haunts in Newcastle is the Tyneside Cinema, a beautifully-restored theatre on Pilgrim Street where you can see the best of independent and world cinema. I love its cosmopolitan Intermezzo Coffee Bar for a pre or post film cocktail or coffee and cake. The cinema’s festive screenings of It’s a Wonderland Life are sure to make you feel all warm and fuzzy for Christmas!
Newcastle is a real treat for foodies, whether it’s fine dining at Jesmond Dene House and Six at BALTIC, creative cuisine at House of Tides and Peace & Loaf or high end pub grub at The Broad Chare and Pleased To Meet You.
My Christmas Eve ritual with my mum is to dash around Eldon Square to pick up last-minute Christmas gifts and then reward ourselves with the most delicious Eggs Benedict and Omelette with French fries at my favourite Cafe 21 by acclaimed chef and restaurateur Terry Laybourne.
Street food has really taken off in Newcastle, so be sure to look out for the best vendors including Riley’s Fish Bar, Papaganoush, The Fat Hippo, Patty Smith’s, Pizzette and Dabbawal.
If you’re visiting Newcastle for Christmas or New Year, send me a postcard and share your favourite spots to eat, drink and be merry!