Bookshops, General book stuff, Literary North East, Out and about, Travel

A reader’s guide to Newcastle

The Tyne Bridge. Newcastle United. Byker Grove. Ant and Dec. Hen and stag dos. Greggs. These are all things you associate with Newcastle, right? Well, did you know my fair city also has a buzzing literary scene just waiting to be explored?

I spend a lot of time wandering through Newcastle’s streets buying books, meeting authors and hiding in a cosy corner of a comfy cafe to devour my latest read. It’s the perfect city for a bookworm to reside.

Whether you’re a local bookworm or a visiting reader, you can use this itinerary to visit the best literary hotspots of Newcastle. And, a few of its best coffee shops on the way.

Start your journey

We’ll start at the top of the city around Haymarket Metro station.

Hop off the Metro and head over the road to Blackwell’s bookshop. This place caters for students at Newcastle and Northumbria universities but also boasts a terrific fiction collection. There’s a great range of books to explore and the team of booksellers go the extra mile with the in-store decorations – there’s always bookish bunting on show.

Blackwell's, Newcastle

If you’re already parched, Blackwell’s comes complete with a Costa within its walls. Or, if you want something a bit more unique, head to Quilliam Brothers, self-proclaimed purveyors of fine tea. (And cake. Definitely, try their cake.)

The Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts is located just up the street from Blackwell’s. It regularly hosts some of the best and brightest creative minds, and is a great place to hear poets, novelists and non-fiction writers talk about their works. Subscribe to its newsletter for the latest event listings.

Library, Laing and stories

OK, now we’ll head into the centre of the city.

We have a magnificent library in Newcastle and you must visit it. Please.

The City Library is a glorious glass structure that towers over the city centre. It offers six floors of literary goodness that includes a gift shop, cafe and dedicated local studies section. It really is a fantastic example of what modern libraries should offer and you could easily spend a hour or two browsing through the borrowing collections.

The library hosts regular events for burgeoning writers plus meet the author sessions so check its online listings for the lastest schedule.

Newcastle City Library
The glass-paned glory of Newcastle City Library (Photo credit: Chroniclelive).

Opposite the library is the Laing Art Gallery. This beautiful building hosts a stunning collection of British paintings but regularly displays works by renown writers and illustrators. It’s had wonderful exhibitions about Alice in Wonderland and outstanding showcases of Quentin Blake’s illustrations.

Now for a bit of a detour. If you’re interested in children’s literature then you must visit Seven Stories. It’s the national centre for children’s books and is based just a 20-minute walk from the city centre in Ouseburn. It’s worth the walk to see the colourful displays and unique exhibitions.

Seven Stories
The national centre for children’s books

As you head back into town, take a quick pit stop at The Biscuit Factory to explore Forum Books’ book hus. This gorgeous wooden book shed might look dainty from the outside but it’s packed with books – arts, culture, fiction, non-fiction and more.

Forum Books' book haus
A book hus in a biscuit factory.

Book browsing and brews

Back to the city centre now and to our biggest bookshop.

Waterstones sits proudly in the centre of Newcastle, overlooking Grey’s Monument and the exquisite architecture of Grainger Town. The bookshop itself is one of the grandest you’ll ever visit, encased in classic sandstone and wrapped in ornate brickwork. It really is beautiful.

Waterstones, Newcastle
Waterstones’ beautiful Newcastle brand (Photo credit: decastell.com)

The bookshop has four floors – starting with children’s books in the basement and working up to non-fiction on the top floor. There’s a cafe in the middle and comfy chairs throughout so you can sample books before you buy. The stock of literary gifts is always top-notch, and the events listings are frequent and high calibre.

Are we ready for another brew? I know I am. Let’s head to Tyneside Cinema. This independent cinema has three drink stops to choose from – its ground-floor bar, the 20s-styled Tyneside Coffee Rooms (this is where book club meets every month) and Vicolo, an Italian cafe in the alleyway next to the cinema. You’ll be spoilt for choice with the hot drinks and sweet treats menus.

Charity and philosophy

So, let’s head to another of Newcastle’s bookshops. Books for Amnesty is a well-stocked charity bookshop that allows you to bag bargain books while doing some good.

The bookshop has shelves of fiction, reference and non-fiction books, and often has sales where you can pick up titles for around 50p. What’s not to love?

Books for Amnesty
Newcastle’s best charity bookshop

Next for something more high-brow. The Literary and Philosophical Society – or Lit & Phil to its friends – is the largest independent library outside of London. It houses over 160,000 books and you can be in the presence of them all. There are free guided tours on the first Saturday and Wednesday of the month – and this is a great chance to see the library up close and learn more about the famous authors who’ve written there (there are quite a few).

The Lit &Phil is another venue bringing some fantastic authors to Newcastle, and its also the location for the annual crime literature festival Newcastle Noir.

The Lit & Phil (Photo credit: philosopherstable.org)
The Lit & Phil (Photo credit: philosopherstable.org)

If you need a break after exploring the Lit & Phil, head to nearby Pink Lane Coffee. Its coffee is delicious and its reading nooks sublime.

So, have I convinced you that Newcastle is a city of literature? I hope so because it certainly is.

Enjoy exploring my beautiful city and let me know if I’m missed any of Newcastle’s bookish hangouts.

8 thoughts on “A reader’s guide to Newcastle

  1. I love this post! I’m a north-easterner in now in Cumbria and well over due a visit, I’ll be sure to check some of the places you mention out!

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