NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE


Newcastle QuaysideNewcastle-Upon-Tyne (pop. 189,900) is a canny city. It’s ‘canny’ in the sense that Newcastle’s own hardy and welcoming inhabitants, the 'Geordies', use the word: a good city: It’s an ancient city, dating back to the fort Pons Aelius that the Romans built to defend a bridge across the River Tyne; It’s a successful city, gradually becoming prominent through the wool trade before becoming so synonymous with coal mining in the 16th to 19th centuries that the phrase ‘taking coals to Newcastle’ came to refer to a foolishly superfluous action; and finally, it’s an innovative city, transforming itself beyond the usual industrial heritage tourism and building upon its elegant Georgian facade and its narrow medieval alleyways or ‘chares’ to become a hub for science, business, and the arts. 

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The city of Newcastle sits on the north bank of the Tyne while Gateshead occupies the south bank. Newcastle sprawls out into suburbia from the river and the city centre proper stretches from the Tyne to the Leezes and Exhibition Parks in the north. Newcastle International Airport [www.newcastleairport.com ] is situated around 10km north of the city and a Metro ticket to the centre of town will cost you £2.80 and around 25mins. The Metro system is a convenient and efficient way to get around the city [www.nexus.org.uk ] while local buses can be found at Eldon Square Bus Station and Haymarket Bus Station, adjacent to each other at Prudhoe Street and Prudhoe Place. Central (Train) Station is on Neville Street between the city centre and the river.

 


 

Tyne Bridge, NewcastleThe Tyne Bridge might be familiar to Australians (or indeed to New Yorkers) with its elegant green arches. (The Sydney Harbour Bridge was modeled on it.)  Nearby is the distinctive red and white of the Victorian Swing Bridge, which opens to allow taller boats through. However, the more recent Millennium Bridge is certainly a must see sight. Like a giant blinking eye it raises its pedestrian bridge to allow boats to pass. 

 The classically elegant Grainger Town, Newcastle’s city centre, is a nice place to stroll. The beautiful Georgian and Victorian listed buildings hold a variety of shops and there’s always a lot happening in the streets to catch your attention, with frequent markets and entertaining buskers. Wander up to the head of Grey Street, past Grey’s Monument, and you’ll come to Eldon Garden Shopping Centre: a mammoth place of torture for your credit cards. It is matched and even surpassed by Gateshead’s MetroCentre, the largest indoor shopping centre in Europe. Oddly enough, it was part-funded by the Church of England and has its own chapel.   

The Quayside is another attractive place to wander. It has great views of the city’s bridges and there are some nice heritage buildings. During the day, most of the lunch crowd is from the nearby offices and law courts but at night the area is transformed as half the ‘toon’ seems to descend the ancient stairs and pour into the waiting nightclubs, restaurants, and bars.

Castle Keep drawingIt might not seem so now but the site of the Castle Keep [Castle Garth, +44 191 2327938, Adults £4] is actually an important one in Newcastle’s history. Today, we can see the Norman Keep built by Henry II from 1168-78 but beneath this site there are also the remains of the ‘Novum Castellum’ that gave the city its name and the Roman fort Pons Aelius.
 
Bessie Surtees House [41-44 Sandhill, +44 191 2691200, free entry] is made up of two five storey 16th and 17th century merchants’ houses, which are rare remnants of Jacobean domestic architecture. Bessie Surtees was a local woman who raised eyebrows when she eloped with the future Lord Chancellor.

Keep the kids happy and head to the Centre for Life [Times Square, +44 191 2438210,  Adults £9.95] where there are loads of hands on activities and entertaining, interactive, and occasionally even informative exhibitions. There’s a planetarium with a huge domed screen and a motion simulator which mimics the action of a changing programme of films.

Seven Stories
[30 Lime Street, +44 845 2710777, Adults £6] is an innovative project which aims to build an archive of children’s literature. Its visitor centre and book shop, set in a seven storey converted mill, will please children and adults alike. There are lots of regular activities such as storytelling sessions and opportunities for kids to get creative themselves. 

Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums run a good range of free museums: The Great North Museum: Hancock [Barras Bridge, +44 191 2226765] covers range of fields - there’s the interactive Hadrian’s Wall model that snakes down the centre of the Roman Gallery, a good collection of Egyptian antiquities, and a variety of natural history displays too with a model elephant, great white shark, and even a t-rex; The Discovery Museum [Blandford Square, +44 191 2326789] is dedicated to the history of Tyneside and focuses largely on social history – see the Turbinia, once the fastest ship in the world, which was invented in Newcastle or find out about changing fashions in clothing and the working lives of Tyneside people; The Laing Art Gallery [New Bridge Street, +44 191 2327734] possesses a fine collection of past and present works including Northumberland artist John Martin’s Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Laus Veneris by Burne Jones. Their significant watercolour collection includes works by Turner and Sandby.

 Sage Gateshead buildingOver on the Gateshead side of the river, the Sage Gateshead [Gateshead Quays, St Mary’s Square, Ticket office +44 191 4434661], is a remarkable building, which looks like a futuristic wind tunnel or an intergalactic worm. Its strange and beautiful design is certainly worth a look but it also holds a varied programme of live music, workshops, and festivals.

Also on the riverside,   there’s the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art [Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road, +44 191 4781810, free entry], housed in a renovated Art Deco flour mill and now the home of all that is trendy in modern art. There are no permanent exhibitions. Instead, there is a changing programme of nationally and internationally important artists. The roof top and ground floor restaurants have excellent views across the river.


 




Roselodge House
[Benwell Lane, Benwell, +44 191 2747388, s.£24.50-32.50/d.£35-55] Whilst technically a hostel, this converted Gothic Church provides short and long term accommodation at unbeatable prices. The lounge has a giant screen TV. Note: it also calls itself Bluebird Hotel.

Grainger Hotel [1-3 Graingerville North, Westgate Road, +44 191 2983800, from £20 per person] Grainger Hotel is not too far from the centre of town and buses are easily found to get you into the thick of things but it is fairly basic accommodation.

Royal Station Hotel [Neville Street, +44 191 2220786, £58-95] The Royal Station is centrally located and it is a decent mid range option. Some rooms are better than others but then, the hotel was opened in 1858 by Queen Victoria.   

Rosebery Hotel
[2-4 Rosebery Crescent, Jesmond, +44 191 2813363, £60-65] A comfy and welcoming little place that is outside the town centre but might be worth it for the attractive rooms and the peace and quiet.

Jesmond Dene House
[Jesmond Dene Road, +44 191 2123000, £175-250] A short distance outside the centre of town, but this luxurious and well designed hotel more than makes up for it. The restaurant is good value and the food is delicious.

 



Angel of the NorthContemporary sculptor Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North stretches out its arms in a welcoming embrace. Standing 20 metres tall and with wings spanning 54 metres across, the angel, which the locals refer to as the Gateshead Flasher, has fast become an icon of the North East.

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The Angel of the North stands on Low Fell at the southern outskirts of Gateshead. It may be reached by the A1 but if you need public transport from Newcastle, jump on the 723 or 724 from Eldon Square or 21, 21A, or 21B from Pilgrim Street. If you’re short of time - or just not that fussed - remember to keep a sharp eye out the window, because the statue is visible from the train when you’re travelling south from Newcastle.