The Highs & Lows of the Great Exhibition of the North so far....

The Highs & Lows of the Great Exhibition of the North so far....

The Great Exhibition of the North is in full swing now, yet it seems like a huge proportion of us still don't know what on earth is going on. Basically, NewcastleGateshead has been chosen as the city to showcase Northern innovation, design, art, music, culture and engineering and there are hundreds of events, exhibits and workshops across 80 days celebrating just what the North can do (in this case, North seems to mean anything above Sheffield).
Most of the exhibition is free to visit and I really want to try and see as much of what's on offer as possible - to me, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to experience something like this and show off our wonderful city. I still have LOADS to see but I thought I'd share some of my highs and lows from the exhibition so far. Starting with the lows.....

The Opening Ceremony 

Unfortunately, the opening ceremony was a real low for me. I, along with the rest of the crowd had high hopes for the event. Held on the Quayside on a Friday night, we were chuffed to get our hands on some highly coveted tickets. Unfortunately for us though, if you didn't get there for the gates opening and grab a front row spot, there was no chance of seeing the fountains, Maximo Park or even the big screens which seemed to be too low down (at least that was the case in our zone). The entertainment was good,  but the same street theatre entertained each zone for a few hours rather than switching zones. I like Granny Turismo as much as the next person but when they whizz past you for the 50th time that evening, it kind of gets a bit boring. There was a real lack of food and drink too and it just wasn't the party atmosphere we expected. Oh and plenty of people managed to sneak glass bottles in which were being smashed right by us where kids were playing. Not good at all! I'm so pleased the event wasn't a sign of things to come.......

The Tyne Fountains 

Unfortunately, the water fountains on the Tyne are just not as spectacular as the media images portray. Bellagio fountains they are not. I personally wouldn't make a special trip to see them.

The App and Website 

The app and website are so difficult to navigate! It's really tricky to try and find out exactly whats on and I've heard numerous stories of the app sending people around in circles so they've had to give up. I've been using the Facebook page events as a guide to see what's on and I also picked up a hard copy of the brochure which was easier to navigate.

The Trails 

There are three trails running across NewcastleGateshead to follow - (an art, design and innovation trail). I haven't really heard of any locals joining these trails and again, they seem to be fairly badly advertised. We don't have any plans to try one but let me know if you have and your thoughts.....

Now onto the highs....

Monument and Blackett Street 

Grey's Monument has been transformed into a worker's maypole and I think it looks fabulous! I think Monument has to be a contender for the most-photographed part of the Great Exhibition of the North so far.

I think Blackett Street's weekend transformation may just be a fringe event by Newcastle NE1 but I don't think it would have happened if it wasn't for the exhibition so I'm including it in this roundup. Every weekend, the area between Grey's Monument and Jamie's Italian plus the space between Old Eldon Square and the new Grey's Quarter will be completely pedestrianised. Sometimes there will be different themes and events (eg to link in with the popular NE1 Motor Show). We popped by last weekend and absolutely loved it! There is a real family-friendly and carnival atmosphere with lots of bright picnic tables, bean bag seating, artificial grass, giant outdoor Jenga and chess, fairground rides, crazy golf and music. It's free to visit and grab a seat (weekends only) and has to be the absolutely perfect spot for people watching.

Fenwick Food Events 

One of the GetNorth2018 trails runs right past Fenwick on Northumberland Street so they've decided to put together a couple of fringe events. Fenwick events are always very well organised and well worth a visit. I could happily book onto any of these. Drinking Hepple Gin inside of Fenwick's Window last week is one of my exhibition highlights so far and something I will probably remember forever. The Fenwick night market on 13 & 14 July looks fantastic. Most of the Fenwick events need to be pre-booked.

Glenn Brown at Laing Art Gallery

I only found out about this exhibit after watching a BBC TV show all about the exhibition. I'm so pleased I did otherwise I doubt I would have popped in. The exhibition is FREE to visit and you simply drop-in. It's really thought-provoking and showcases Hexham-born Glenn Brown's work alongside his own arrangement of older works from the Laing and private collections. It really is a fantastic mix of old and new and the paintings are a real talking point and a way to make art more accessible to all I think. Definitely, one to check out! Find out more here. 

Which Way North at Great North Museum Hancock

The Great North Museum closed for a whole month in May/June in order to prepare for this exhibition which has taken over the whole museum. There are over 200 items on display which all have some kind of significance to the North. This exhibition is FREE to visit - you simply need to drop-in. There are several events and talks running alongside the main exhibition over the summer too.

This is an exhibition where there really is something for everyone, from props from In the Night Garden, Postman Pat and the Twwirlywoos to Wallace and Gromit figures, Doctor Who's Screwdriver, Damien Hirst's Shark, the last Piano played by John Lennon and the spacesuit worn by Britain's first astronaut. I loved the exhibition so much that I'm going to visit again over the summer.

Robots at Life

We loved visiting the Robots at Life and it's something my older children really enjoyed. It's honestly fascinating and amazing to see how far technology has progressed! You do need to pay to see Robots (as part of regular admission) but you can come and go as you please throughout the day. A visit is perfect to team with the Discovery Museum across the road. Take a peek at our video below to get an idea of what to expect.

Gateshead Quays

Gateshead Quays is the place to be across weekends during the Great Exhibition of the North. Not only has the fabulous By the River Brew opened now - Hawker Market will take place in these shipping containers every single weekend showcasing the very best of our region's independent and local produce. Have a peek at all the photos at this location on Instagram and I bet you won't be able to resist popping down.

As well as the Hawker Market, if you head to the squares between the Baltic and Sage, there is a fab range of FREE family theatre popping up every weekend. These events are all drop-in but there are sometimes set performance times. Check out my guide here. 

1 Up North 

1 Up North only runs until 15 July so if you fancy it, book your tickets pronto. It's FREE to visit but you do need to pre-book online .You'll find this gaming expo in the Ellison building at Northumbria Uni and I'd recommend to children aged 6+, teens and grown-ups interested in gaming. There's a free-play area where you can play on old-school games, the chance to try VR technology, the opportunity to take part in tournaments, you can chat to start-ups and try out their new games/provide feedback, chat with game designers and learn about a career/degrees in game design plus there's a chill out area for grown-ups with tennis on the TV and coffee for sale. My three absolutely loved 1 Up North and if you're looking for something to do with the kids after school this week or next weekend, I'd 100% recommend.

Still to come.....


I've heard good things about Aeons - a sound journey around Newcastle where you take a self-guided walking tour wearing headphones. It's FREE to take part and it's recommended you pre-book online. I've booked this for me and the kids in August and can't wait to try something a little different.

Fifty Northern Icons

Chloe from New Girl in Toon loves Fifty Northern Icons at Northern Design Centre so much that she's already visited twice! This exhibition is FREE to visit and you don't need to pre-book, simply drop-in. Sunderland based artist Frank Styles has created a stunning mural montage across a 150m stretch of wall at the Northern Design Centre. You'll find 50 Northern Icons in mural form ranging from the Angel of the North to a Greggs Sausage Roll! I'm hoping to visit with Steve next week and then with the kids later in the summer.

UPDATE 20/7/18 - we visited the Northern Design Centre this week. It's fairly out of the way (behind the Baltic and next to Gateshead College) but worth a trip if you're in the area. I loved the wall of 50 murals showcasing Northern talent and its a fab place for selfies and Insta photos but personally, I preferred the Great North Museum where you can actually physically see the objects. I was a little disappointed to see the exhibition accompanied by cheap laminated signs - some were missing and hanging off! It looked really cheap and spoiled the final look I think. The info could have been stencilled onto the murals for a better effect. It is worth seeing but for me, didn't fully live up to the hype. Free to visit and drop-in.

LEGO Timeline of Northern Innovation at Mining Institute

I've heard so many good things about this exhibition at the Mining Institute (you'll find it by Central Station so perfect to combine with either the Discovery Museum or Robots at Life). It's FREE to visit and you simply need to drop-in. Local LEGO artist Steve Mayes has put together 40 models all showcasing Northern innovation - I can't wait to see Riley's Fish Shack and the Millennium Bridge. I love that there's a call-out for LEGO fans to build their own Northern buildings and have the chance to showcase their designs too. We're going to visit in August and as the kids have loved Steves' previous work, I know the kids are going to love this exhibition too.

Discovery Museum

We've already seen Stephenson's Rocket at the Science Museum in London but I still want to take the kids to see the rocket at home in the North East. If you'd like to get up close, you need to pre-book a free ticket online before you visit. There's also the chance to try a VR Stephenson Rocket experience for teens and grown-ups. We're excited to try this later in the school holidays.


Finally, I've heard nothing about the Baltic and their GetNorth2018 exhibitions so I have no idea if they're good or not! I will pop in at some point though and let you know.

Update 20/7/18 - we visited the Baltic! Some of the exhibitions were a little too alternative for me but art is subjective so who am I to say if its good or not? Our Kisses are Petals on the ground floor and Having You On on Level 3 was too abstract for my taste. I absolutely LOVED the Women by Women exhibition as part of Idea of the North on Level 4 - I could have looked at these photos for hours (find this exhibition in a small space towards the back of the room). This exhibition features women in Newcastle from the 70s to now and is very thought-provoking. Loved it! Then on Level 2 we really enjoyed Ceremony by Phil Collins (not that Phil Collins). It's a short film about the Russian Revolution and its links to Manchester. It lasts for an hour and we didn't watch it all as we ran out of time but I'll definitely return to watch the full thing before the end of the exhibition. The Baltic is open until 9pm this summer. The Baltic is FREE to visit - just drop in.

I would love to give a special shout-out to the volunteers - they've been fantastic at every place we've visited and really made the exhibition for us. Thank you!

What do other local parents think? 

Obviously, the above are just my personal opinions, for a more balanced article I have asked some local parents for their highs and lows of the exhibition so far...... 

Let me know if you've checked any of the Great Exhibition of the North out yet and if you have any highs and lows you'd like to share.



  1. It's such a big talking point at the moment - I feel that the "every day Joe" - ie my friends who have nothing to do with culture, media or blogging in the North East know literally nothing about it and it is such a shame! It's a HUGE opportunity for us all to celebrate the amazing north in our amazing city, there are so many things to see yet people can't get the best out of it because in some ways it's been so badly organised!

    I've barely been on the website, I've been basing all of my adventures on the recommendations of others. I've had a really good time making up my own trails and using local blogs, friends recommendations and Instagram to plan what I'm going to do and I think that's honestly the best way to get anything out of it.

    I've heard the fountains are better in the evening when they are all lit up (agreed - during the day they really don't look that impressive) I'm hoping to get the chance to get to the Quayside at night to see them.

    We LOVE the 50 Icons exhibit and the lego is fantastic, we also really enjoyed our trip to The Discovery. I'm planning on going to the Sage next to see the North in 100 Songs exhibition and I really fancy the Hancock now that you've mentioned it so may pop there on Friday!

    One of my highlights has been the volunteers working at the events - they have to be some of the friendliest people in Newcastle! At the weekend one lady seemed to be working at every venue we went to - she was brilliant - just as smily at the start of the day as she was at the end! She thought it was hilarious that we kept appearing!

    1. Ah that's so lovely to hear about the volunteers - I completely agree, they've been fab and very helpful. Actually next time I spot one I'm going to ask them for their personal recommendations I think x

  2. This is such a useful post - I've been hearing about the exhibition for so long, and it sounds such an amazing event, such a fabulous celebration so it's a shame not all of it has lived up to the billing, or that it's not being shouted about quite as much now. But there's obviously so much to discover if you do look, and this has some great tips on where to start and some of the highlights to kick off. Hopefully with the summer holidays starting (and the football finishing!), there'll be even more people investigating it over the summer. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

  3. Really interesting to read such a detailed round up of someone else's experiences as so far mine have been quite different to yours. I personally really enjoyed the opening ceremony and I'm surprised you don't mention the amazing fireworks and drone display? The only frustration for me was that you couldn't re-enter if you left the ticketed area which meant people were unable to take advantage of the fantastic bars and restaurants around the quayside once they had arrived in their ticketed zone.

    Have you tried creating your own trail on the app? It's a good way of finding events and exhibits that suit your interests and I think my niece and nephew are going to love the feature that allows you to collect crystals, they are big pokemon fans so I'm hoping this will be a good way to keep them interested.

    I have done the Aeons walk and it's definitely been my favourite experience so far.

    I am actually in the middle of writing blog post similar to yours so I will share more in that.

    I hope you enjoy the rest of the exhibition, I'm sure you'll love the Lego timeline, it's fab!

    1. The drones were FABULOUS but to be honest, I'd forgotten about them when writing this post so I guess they didn't leave a lasting impression.

      Thanks for the tip about creating your own trail - we're spending a day trying out different parts of the exhibition in the summer hols and I think the kids would love to collect crystals. I can't wait to try Aeons!

  4. I actually agree with Chloe that outside of us media types nobody knows anything about it. Especially where we are in Teesside .. feel like there's only us talking about it!

    We chatted before about the opening ceremony ... we had a press pass and so decided to spend the full launch day up there. We thought there was an inordinate amount of time between us having to be in the press area and the action ... over 3 hours which even with the street entertainment was pretty boring. For us we'd just been so long on our feet so maybe our own fault.

    We were glad we were there for something which is a pretty big deal to look back on.
    Although sure we'd have seen more on tv as usually is the case with these sorts of big events.

    We made it our mission to go to Hancock which has always been one of our favourite museums and it didn't disappoint.

    I love that there is so much to do over the summer and feel as if we'll be spending more time up there then usual.

    It didn't feel very 'Northern' though ... very Newcastle centric as much as I love the place! Poor Teesside always gets left out but it is good to celebrate something this far North for a change!

  5. I've been lisening to some of the celebration coverage on Radio 4. It sounds as though Newcastle's buzzing with it! The maypole looks beautiful, but what a shame about the opening event. An opportunity missed, by hte sounds of things.

  6. It looks and sounds a wonderful celebration in the city, and a brilliant post Sam for people thinking of visiting. Shame about the opening evening though, and the app x

  7. I've only heard about this because I've seen some of your comments on Facebook. I went down to the quayside market today and see saw the banners but had no idea what we could do as part of it. I've shared this to spread the word.

  8. I must admit I’m one of those who had no idea about this amazing exhibition! What a plethora of events there are to do! I’m glad the opening ceremony wasn’t a sign of things to come and no doubt this will be very busy over the coming summer months. Thanks for linking #citytripping

  9. I completely agree with the website/app being difficult to navigate, we've been stumbling across bits and pieces of the exhibition but haven't yet done any of the trails. The highlight for me so far has definitely been the Aeons walk, only 30-40 mins but it was so nice to take a moment to be a tourist in my own city and enjoy a stroll along our beautiful river x


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