Newark is one of England’s traditional old trading towns, perched on the River Trent and centred around its quaint cobbled market square. It also happens to be the place where I grew up, so it holds a very special place in my heart, and still feels like a home away from home. Just a 30-minute journey from Lincoln by road or train, this picturesque town makes for a compelling day trip to learn its stories, absorb its quirks or simply enjoy some good food and drink. To help you make the most of your day out, these are our top tips on things to do in Newark.
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Things to do in Newark: attractions and activities
1. See the remains of Newark Castle
Newark has witnessed more than its fair share of history, much of which is attached to its historic castle. Built in the 12th century, Newark Castle was the final destination of King John; he died within its walls in 1216 of dysentery, or perhaps by poisoning if some theories are to be believed.
Newark Castle was damaged in 1648 during the English Civil War and left in ruins; you can still see craters left by the gunpowder. Two centuries later the riverside curtain wall was restored, and today you can visit the remains and wander freely around its gardens.
2. Spot the fabled cannonball hole
A distinctive mark of history in Newark can be spotted on another of the town’s historic buildings: the Church of St Mary Magdalene, situated just a short walk from the north side of market square (you can’t miss it). The church’s spire has been a defining feature of the town since it was built in the early 13th century, and today it is the fifth-tallest church spire in the UK.
The impressive building still bears the scars left by the Civil War. You will need to look carefully to see a hole on the church’s spire, left by a cannonball strike in 1644. Walk to the left of the front entrance and around into the gardens. If you look up from here to the spire, you will see the hole just beneath the window panels on the left.
3. Visit the National Civil War Centre
To really get under the skin of what went on during the Civil War, pay a visit to the National Civil War Centre on Appleton Gate. The museum reopened with new safety measures after Covid-19 closure, including timed entry slots and a socially distanced one-way route. It costs £8 to enter (£7 for concessions / £3.50 for children).
Inside the museum you will learn the drama and impact of the devastating conflict that tore Britain apart from 1642 to 1651, through memorabilia exhibitions and HD cinema displays. With a special spotlight on Newark, you will also find insights into life during the three sieges the town suffered during the period.
4. Check out the Town Hall Museum and Art Gallery
Newark’s Town Hall is one of the most recognisable on the perimeter of the market square. Originally built in 1776, it is now a Grade I listed building, and for the last two decades part of its interior has been opened up as a museum and art gallery.
The displays inside the museum feature artefacts of the town’s civic history, while the galleries combine a mixture of historic paintings and temporary exhibitions by local artists and community groups.
5. See more artwork at Newark Art Gallery & Studio
If you are an art lover you can continue your exploration at the Newark Art Gallery & Studio over on Kirk Gate, just two minutes’ walk from the Town Hall. This independent gallery was opened in summer 2019 by Lincolnshire artist David Moore, who recently returned to the UK after 38 years in South Africa.
While the gallery is a new addition to the town, it is set inside one of its oldest buildings, a beautiful 15th-century house with black beams and bricked floors. David exhibits and sells his own work in the gallery as well as a range of pieces by local artists.
6. Take a stroll down the river
The River Trent courses through Newark, running beneath the castle walls and splicing the town from north-east to south-west. On good weather days the riverside path is a pleasant and gentle walk, beginning in the Riverside Park across the water from the castle and trundling north-east past the Barge pub (more on that below) and beyond the Kings Waterside and Marina.
7. Have a picnic in Newark’s green outdoor spaces
Newark has an abundance of parks, gardens and other pleasant outdoor spaces for a picnic (when the weather is behaving, of course). Three have already been mentioned in this article: the gardens inside Newark Castle, the Riverside Park opposite the castle, and the gardens to the north side of St Mary Magdalene’s Church.
Another nice spot that fewer people know about – and so it’s typically quieter – is Friary Gardens, about ten minutes’ walk from the town centre between Appleton Gate and Friary Road.
8. Watch this space: new development at the Corn Exchange?
People of my generation who grew up in Newark will remember the old Corn Exchange building as the home of legendary (I do not use that word lightly) nightclub, Caesar’s Palace, which had other guises over the years, including Time and Diva. It was one of those classic, tacky, sticky-floored, alcopop-drenched clubs that most English towns had in the nineties and naughties.
The building has been closed for years, and until recently there was no sign this would change. In 2020, popular YouTuber Ste G – who explores abandoned places in the UK – shot a documentary inside the 1848 building, showing the remnants of its nightclub days left in dereliction.
But in a new turn of events, proposals for a regeneration bringing “entertainment, experience and escapism” to the venue have been progressing. If the new plans gain the required approvals, then one of the town’s favourite old buildings will be brought to life once more. Although there was a setback when the local council refused a 4:30am license, the people behind the project are still pursuing the development idea – so watch this space.
Things to do in Newark: shopping
9. Visit the town’s famous market
The centrepiece of Newark is without doubt its old cobbled market square, which is still a thriving trading place on five days of the week, albeit a little quieter than it used to be. The general retail market takes place on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and an antique market is held on Mondays and Thursdays. Special markets are also occasionally held, such as a farmers’ market on the first Saturday of each month.
On busy market days you can pick up hot snacks and drinks at pop-up street food stalls.
10. Buy a record in Vinyl Attraction
As a vinyl enthusiast myself I had to include this gem in the list. Vinyl Attraction on Stodman Street in Newark is one of those great little vinyl shops, independently run and with a wonderfully crafted collection of new and used records.
Although it’s a small place, you could spend hours sifting through the collection and walk away with some great deals. The records are in good condition and very reasonably priced.
11. Shop at a local butcher
Maybe it’s the proximity to Lincolnshire… county border town Newark has an abundance of freshly farmed produce, including a fantastic selection of local butchers. So, if you’re in town for the day and you don’t have too far to drive to get to a fridge, stop by and grab some proper sausages to take away with you.
Kevin Porter Butchers is one of the best in town, while other reputed local butchers include GH Porter (no relation), Sibleys and Richard’s Quality Meats.
Things to do in Newark: food and drink
12. Sip a drink at the Barge, Newark’s floating pub
For the novelty value alone, you can’t leave Newark without having at least one drink at the Castle Barge, the famous floating pub on the River Trent. This vessel used to carry grain between Gainsborough and Hull, but has been moored in Newark and used as a pub for the last four decades.
I spent my 18th birthday in this place back in the day when they did a promotion called ‘Toss the Boss’. Nothing dodgy… when buying a round, you rolled some dice, and if you beat the barkeep’s score then you got the drinks for free. No such promotions exist these days, but you can still get a good pub meal and a pint, and there’s a pub quiz on Wednesdays if that’s your thing.
13. Have a pint in a 500-year-old building
If you’re looking for a truly excellent, gimmick-free boozer, then the Prince Rupert is where you should head. In my humble opinion this is the best pub Newark has to offer. Situated in a timber-beamed old building dating from 1452, the Rupert is crammed with nooks, crannies and caverns, and has a secluded beer garden out the back.
The Prince Rupert has one of the best selections of real ale in town – second only to the next pub on this list in that regard – and serves great food too.
14. Try Just Beer, Newark’s characterful micropub
This may be the smallest pub in town, but it’s one of the best. Just Beer is a micropub in Swan and Salmon Yard – between Castlegate and the river – that has made waves with its extensive ale offering. In the decade it’s been open it has served thousands of beer varieties sourced from thousands of different breweries.
In 2017, the pub was a finalist in CAMRA’s hotly contested Pub of the Year competition, and it has won many accolades including Nottinghamshire Pub of the Year and East Midlands pub of the year. While you’re stopping by, accompany your beer with one of the great bar snacks on offer, such as local pork pies or proper pork scratchings.
15. Have a riverside meal at the Old Lock House
Just down the river from the castle, the Old Lock House is a great spot to sit outside on the river with a view. The beer garden is right by the water and in sight of the castle walls and Riverside Park. A perfect setting for a sunny day, and if the weather turns bad then it’s less than a minute’s walk around the corner into Just Beer.
16. Get an ice cream from Riverside Parlour
This is one of those places that you’ll probably miss unless you happen to park in the car park next to it. I only discovered it on one of my recent visits to town. The Riverside Ice Cream Parlour occupies part of the car park building across Tolney Lane from Riverside Park.
More than just an ice cream parlour, it’s also a café with outdoor seating that serves hot drinks, lunch food, snacks and cakes. A nice little stop-off when the sun is out.
17. Grab lunch in the Buttermarket
Located inside the Town Hall building, the Buttermarket has been a staple of Newark’s town centre activity for years. There was a time when it would have featured in the ‘shopping’ section of this article above, as it used to be populated with all sorts of quirky independent shops and stalls.
These days the Buttermarket is replete with empty shopping units and is mainly used as a thoroughfare between the market square and Middle Gate. But recently, the space has been livened up a little with the opening of Tambo Lounge, a café, bar and restaurant. Grab some lunch here after perusing the market, or drop by for a drink later in the evening.
The opening of Tambo Lounge has been heralded as the beginning of a new period of redevelopment for the Buttermarket, so, as with the Corn Exchange, watch this space – there may be more to come.
18. Play board games at LetsXcape Together
When I lived in London a few years ago, I remember what a big deal it was when the board games café Draughts opened. It was the first of its kind in the city, and seemed like a major novelty at the time. Now, board game cafés have sprung up all over the UK, and even Newark is in on the fun.
LetsXcape Together is located at the front of the Town Hall building, spilling out onto the market square, and also accessible from inside the Buttermarket entrance. Sit down for a drink and choose from the selection of house board games to play. It also serves tea and coffee from Lincoln’s own Stokes, so what’s not to love?
19. Have a delicious Indian meal at the Asha
Newark isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with top restaurants, but the Asha Tandoori has become an institution in town, lasting decades while other businesses have come and gone. Opened in 1986, it is still managed by the same family and has won awards for its top-notch Indian food.
I have so many fond memories of this place, from a big school leaving meal to countless family nights out over the years. And it’s run with the same friendly and attentive service now as it has always been.
20. Relax with a coffee in the old brewery building
Have you gone for that river walk yet? At the end of it, you could do a lot worse than popping into The Coffee Chain for a drink after wandering up the river path. Situated in the atmospheric old brewery building, this spacious joint is a relaxing place to round off your Newark afternoon with a coffee and tasty cake on a comfy sofa.
Where to stay in Newark
If you want to extend your trip to Newark and stop overnight, these are our top recommendations on places to stay:
- Beaumond Cross Inn, excellent value guest house close to the town centre
- The White Dove, quality B&B about 5k outside of town near Newark Showground
- Newark Lodge Guest House, luxury option in Balderton a few minutes’ drive from town
- Bridge House Bed & Breakfast, lodging in an Edwardian period house walking distance from town
- The Lions, boutique B&B ten minutes’ walk from the market square
Have you been to Newark recently? Let us know some of your inside tips in the comments below.
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