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Great Exhibition of the North – My Experience So Far

What Is Great Exhibition of the North?

This is a question I’ve been asked so many times over the last few months as word has spread about the unique and exciting activities taking place across NewcastleGateshead. It hasn’t got any easier to answer because Great Exhibition of the North is not one thing, it’s a shed load of different cultural events celebrating Northern England’s pioneering spirit. It’s taking place over an 80 day period from 22 June until Sunday 09 September.

baltic square newcastle

The free, summer long celebration has something for everyone, the programme is packed with amazing exhibits, live performances and hands on experiences.

Northern England has given so much to the world and continues to shape our future, so as a proud Northerner, I think it’s great that we are shining a spotlight on this.

Now that Great Exhibition of the North is well under way I thought I would share some of my experiences so far, I hope it encourages you to get involved and appreciate what’s on offer!

The Opening Ceremony

The Great Exhibition of the North launched in spectacular style on the evening of Friday the 22 June. The Quayside became a restricted area, open only to those lucky enough to get their hands on the coveted free tickets. James and I got down there nice and early and were fortunate to secure a spot very close to a giant glitter ball/DJ pod that created a fun-filled carnival atmosphere.

This quirky sight wasn’t the only surprise of the evening, there was street entertainment passing us regularly, warming up the crowds in anticipation for the main event. Local indie chart toppers Maximo Park headlined the opening ceremony, performing live from a stage that floated down the River Tyne as confetti cannons exploded along the way. Not everyone had a great view but the music was brilliant and the buzz on the banks of the Tyne made for a great night out.

The highlight of the evening was an impressive firework and synchronised drone display which no one could grumble about the view of. Never having seen a drone display before, I couldn’t help but be blown away by the sights in the sky. I was so glad the weather stayed mild enough for this to happen as it really was a sight to behold!


One feature of the launch which will continue throughout The Exhibition is the water sculpture on the River Tyne in front of Sage Gateshead. It happens on the hour, every hour from 10am till 11pm. I think it looks best at night when the performances are beautifully lit by colourful lights.

sage gateshead water sculpture

The City as a Stage

From the makeover of Grey’s Monument to the hourly water sculpture display, you can’t fail to notice that NewcastleGateshead is proudly putting on a spectacle as it hosts the Exhibition. Other cities were shortlisted to be the main hub for Great Exhibition of the North (including Blackpool and Sheffield) but I’m so glad that my adopted  home was given the privilege, as every time I walk through the city centre I beam with pride and smile with delight at the stunning sights I encounter.

The Worker’s Maypole has to be the most Instragrammed landmark of The Exhibition so far but there’s surprises around every corner, I urge you to get out there and see what else you can discover!

The Trails

One of the best ways to explore Great Exhibition of the North and take in lots of enthralling sights, sounds and experiences is to check out the trails, of which there are three! Grab a programme or download the app and choose from the Art, Design or Innovation trails. You can start your route at any of the venues along the way and if you’re using the app to guide you then keep an eye out for games and activities to join in with. The trails will take you to iconic local landmarks but also hidden gems and important local venues that you might not have otherwise encountered.

whats on in newcastle summer 2018

Using the app also allows you to create a personalised trail based on your individual interests, so you can experience a bit of everything or narrow down your options to the events that appeal to you the most .

Lego Timeline at the Mining Institute

One of the first exhibits I made a bee-line for was the Lego Timeline created by Steve Mayes who has the rather enviable job title of ‘Lego artist’. I’ve actually been to see it twice now and noticed different things with each visit. Steve hasn’t chosen the predictable or ‘most important’ things about the North, he wanted to show that although we are immensely proud of all our region’s success there is more to Northern England than the industrial revolution and football. I couldn’t help but smile at the inclusion of a Gregg’s sausage roll!

The venue is beautiful and it’s well worth exploring the other areas of the Mining Institute to see what else is on offer, like ‘The Great North Engineering Experience’ which is an ‘inspired by’ event taking place on the top floor.

Aeons: A sound Journey for Newcastle

One sunny afternoon a few weeks ago my Mum and I decided to take a leisurely walk along Newcastle Quayside. A chance encounter with the friendly and helpful volunteers at Gateshead Millennium Bridge led to us grabbing the last couple of headsets available for the Aeons walk which made our wander even more wonderful.

Let me explain… Opera North have teamed up with folk music visionaries to create a spine-tingling soundscape that you can hear through special headsets as you walk along the banks of the River Tyne. As soon as you set off you’re immersed in to a musical adventure that evolves when you pass hidden ‘triggers’ along the way. This means you can take the walk past the seven bridges at your own pace and pause in places that interest you to soak up the atmosphere created by clever sound effects and beautiful music within the soundscape (it took my Mum and I about half an hour).

Definitely my favourite experience so far, I actually found it quite moving!

Which Way North

The Great North Museum (aka The Hancock) is one of Newcastle’s biggest and best museums and following a temporary closure to prepare for Great Exhibition of the North it has now re-opened with a brand new exhibition for summer.

helen sharman

Which Way North invites visitors to discover the heart and soul of the revolutionary North and learn how its inventors, scientists and artists have shaped our world. It features hundreds of fascinating items including the last piano ever played by John Lennon, a space suit worn by Britain’s first astronaut Helen Sharman and Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde ‘Heaven’. I had great fun wandering around and seeing these fascinating objects up close.

Winged Tales of the North

Venture in to Ouseburn Valley this summer and you’ll discover marvellous murals, striking street art and intriguing installations. It’s all part of Winged Tales of the North, a visual and literary treat presented by Seven Stories (the National Centre for Children’s Books which is also located in Ouseburn).

You can download a map to follow the street art trail from their website and it will lead you through this quirky and creative corner of Newcastle where there are also lots of independent bars and cafes to grab a drink or bite to eat in the summer sun.

And Loads More…

I realise this blog post is already very long but as I mentioned earlier, there is just so much going on during Great Exhibition of the North! Other events I’ve enjoyed so far include a soul-tastic gig at Sage Gateshead celebrating 25 years of World Headquarters (my favourite local nightclub). The Voices of Virtue choir performed a high-energy set that had me singing and dancing along all night long.

get north 2018

I’ve also loved the Multiverse Arcade, a thought provoking experience that made me question my impact on the planet. I checked it out at The Mining Institute but you can visit it at several venues, visit the Get North website for details.

I still have a long list of things I want to experience including The Rocket Re-imagined, Remake a Take, the Pop up Choir weekender and The Hexagon Experiment so I’ll probably write another round-up once I’ve checked those out. I’m also writing posts for the official Get North Blog which has tons of ideas to help you make the most of this spectacular summer on Tyneside!

For thoughts and opinions from other local bloggers take a look at North East Family Fun and Rock and Roll Pussycat and share your Great Exhibition of the North highlights by leaving me a comment below, they always make my day!

About Author

Rachel Kershaw

I'm a proud ambassador for all that's great about Geordieland and love sharing the best of what NewcastleGateshead has to offer. I may not be a Geordie born and bred but I've lived here for a over a decade and am proud to call this fabulous region my home!

3 Comments

  1. newgirlintoon Reply

    You’ve done quite a lot of the same things that I have! Gutted I haven’t had a chance to do Aeons though, I tried to book in for Friday but all the tickets had gone and I think all the weekend tickets have been allocated. Just wasn’t quick enough!

    My favourite thing to do is just wander around on my own enjoying the exhibitions – i’ve done two full days now solo and I have seen so many amazing things and met some wonderful people! I honestly wish we could host this every year!

    • It’s fab isn’t it? I think you’re right, it’s really nice to just wander round and discover stuff spontaneously. I’ve heard there’s a lot of people not turning up for their booked timeslots on the Aeons walks which is a real shame when others are missing out. I’d say it’s always worth popping your head in to see if there any spare places.

  2. We’re off to do Aeons on Thursday, hopefully it’s sunny. We loved the Ouseburn Winged Tales of the North trail too.

Hi there, I'd love to read your comments!