THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY -- TRAVEL

A SHORT STAY IN NEWCASTLE, 2 August 1998

WHY GO THERE

Newcastle? Well, it might not be everyone's idea of a glamour city, on a par with Milan, Barcelona or Bordeaux, but with its football team now competing on level pegging with these cities for European glory, Geordie s would have us believe the city can compete off the pitch too. Millions of pounds have been ploughed into development schemes over the last decade, restoring elegant Victorian sandstone facades along with civic pride. Projects for the next five years include an International Centre for Life and an International Centre of Contemporary Art, along with a new 1,600-seat North of England music centre to complement an already thriving arts scene. Newcastle's history of innovation and invention seems to be repeating itself. Soon it won't be coals to Newcastle anymore, but culture.

Newcastle's reputation as a party city, home of Brown Ale and the shortest skirts this side of Rio is well-known. Partying in the Toon, lercles boast, is the best night out in the country. The rejuvenated Quayside area might not be the Left Bank or the Rambla yet, but with a host of cultural attractions, five star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants, Newcastle isn't all black and white.

WHEN TO GO

The locals seem impervious to the cold temperatures and walk around in T-shirts come hell or high icebergs. Lesser mortals would do well to visit the city during more clement months, autumn being the best time on the arts scene. September hails the new cultural season with the Northern Sinfonia and the Royal Shakespeare Company performing new productions. The city hosts for to the Radio 1 Sound City extravaganza for the second time in the last week of October, which is sure to get the party going (tel: 0191 211 4820), while the Newcastle Comedy Festival starts on the 5th (tel: 0191 230 4406).

GETTING THERE

By rail GNER and Virgin run trains to Newcastle. Journey times are : London 2.5 hours, Edinburgh 1.5, Birmingham 3h10, Manchester 3h05. Fares from London start at $41.50 seven days in advance, Manchester $34.90. GNER information (tel: 0345 225225), National Rail Enquiries (tel: 0345 484950). .
By Road Most journeys from the south go via Leeds on the M1, then M18 and A1. It takes five hours approximately from London. From Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford and Leeds, the M62 connects the M6 w ith the A1. From the West Coast the A69 Carlisle-Newcastle road takes you through the Tyne Valley.
By Air Newcastle's airport is only a twenty minute ride from the city centre by car and is easily accessible on the Metro. British Airways flies from Lond on Heathrow and Gatwick, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff, while Gill Airways flies from Aberdeen and Manchester. Newcastle Airport information (tel: 0191 214 3334). London to Newcastle takes 1hr10 and costs from $59 return. .
By Coach National Express operates 12 coaches a day from London Victoria to Newcastle Gallowgate. Returns start from $27 and take about 6 hours. National Express (tel: 0990 808080).

WHERE TO STAY

Copthorne Hotel, The Close, Quayside (tel: 0191 222 0333) Luxurious five star hotel in the rejuvenated Quayside area with many facilities and extras. All rooms have riverside views of the Tyne. Weekend deals for two with breakfast $198, $228 with breakfast and dinner. For the superior Connoisseur add 350. Double rooms from \'a3135 midweek. .
Malmaison Hotel, Quayside (tel: 0191 245 5000) The Malmaison is the latest in the chain's city centre hotels, and the Newcastle's hippest new hotel on the Quayside. It lives up to its boast of "daring to be different", with lavish, if sometimes OTT, décor. Weekend doubles from $75 for one night to $195 for three. .
Vermont Hotel, Castle Garth (tel: 0191 233 1010) Centrally located next to the Castle in a listed building with views of the Tyne from many bedrooms. Rooms start from $100 for a double weekdays, $79 at weekends. .
Brandling Guest House, 4 Brandling Park, Jesmond (tel: 0191281 3175) Good value 9 bedroom guesthouse with two RAC crowns within two minutes drive of the city centre. Doubles from $35.

GETTING AROUND

Everything you' ll want to see in Newcastle is contained within the old Medieval city walls. Traversing the town takes less than half an hour at a healthy pace. Good walking shoes are therefore recommended. Buses are bountiful, but as with most cities, confusing unless you know where you want to get on and off. Venturing further afield is easy to do on the impressive Metro system which links the city centre with Gateshead, the airport, the coast and ferries . One day Metro Traveller passes cost $32.50. Tyne and Wear Metro (tel: 0191 232 5325), disabled information (tel: 0191 203 3333).

WHAT TO SEE

Quayside The pride of Nineties Newcastle, the Quayside area is a model for the regeneration of ex-industrial city centres. With the imposing arc of the Tyne Bridge dominating the landscape, various warehouses, depots and old markets have been taken over by businesses, hotels and eateries, along with newer constructions. The Quayside also boasts \'a31 million worth of sculpture, making an evening stroll along the banks of the Tyne unexpectedly pleasant. At weekends, the bars flood the banks with revellers..
Castle Keep, St Nicholas' (tel: 0191 232 7938) Thought to be the original starting point of Hadrian's Wall, the castle dates back to the 12th and provides an interesting introduction to Newcastle's history. Climb to the top for great views of the Tyne and the city. Two minutes away is the Black Gate, the medieval gate house, now surmounted by a 17th century house..
Grey Street Described as one of the architectural jewels of the Victorian era, the gently inclined curve of Grey Street, linking Quayside to the monument to Earl Grey -- Newcastle's answer to Nelson's column -- is a joy to explore . Several new restaurants and cafes have opened up on the street, leading up to the colonnaded facade of the Theatre Royal. .
City Centre From the Monument, the heart of Newcastle's shopping district extends to the north on Northumberland Street, the Oxford Street of the North, recently revamped and pedestrianised with helpful computer tourist information booths. Beyond Northumberland Street you'll find the Newcastle Playhouse and the University with its museums. To the west lies the charming tiled Central Arcade, more shopping, St Andrews Church, Chinatown and parts of the old City Walls, while heading east leads to the Laing Art Gallery..
St James's Park For followers of the Beautiful Game, no trip to Newcastle would be complete without a tour of the city's pride and joy, St James'. Disappointingly, the tour isn't conducted by a gregarious Geordie but by an Acoustiguide, which feels like you're walking around with your television's remote control. However, the tour of St James', set to become the second largest stadium in the country, does take you behind the scenes and even allows you to tread the hallowed turf of the Toon Army itself. Tours cost for adults and $3 for concessions and take about an hour. St James'Park Ground Tours (tel: 0191 201 8549). .
Museums It may not be Barcelona quite yet, but in five years time, Geordies will be the proud owners of an International Centre for Life and an impressive $100 million International Centre for Contemporary Art on the Gatesh ead bank of the Tyne, as well as a host of other cultural projects. Meanwhile, the city is by no means a backwater, with a fine permanent collection in the recently revamped Laing Art Gallery, Higham Place (tel: 0191 232 7734) which includes a Children 's Gallery and temporary exhibitions. The Discovery Museum, Blandford Square (tel: 0191 232 6789) explores the region' s contribution to the world of science and engineering, including a hands-on exhibit of the first steam boat, the Turbina. For the modernists, the Zone Gallery offers a programme of photography and multimedia, while those heading to Hadrian's Wall would do well to visit the Museum of Antiquities, The Quadrangle (tel: 0191 222 7849) up by the University, which houses a model and artefacts of the monument. The small Side Gallery, 5 Side (tel: 0191 232 2208) is interesting for local history.

FOOD AND DRINK

Although more feted for its liquid rather than culinary establishments, Newcastle can still offer meals to suit all wallets. .
21 Queen Street, 21 Queen Street (tel: 0191 222 0755) Tucked under the shadow of the Tyne Bridge, Terence Laybourne's French restaurant enjoys an excellent reputation to match its Michelin star. Two courses for lunch are $14.50, three $17.50, while dinner is $33 a head for three courses without wine. Extensive winelist. .
The Magpie Room, St James\rquote Park Stadium (tel: 0191 201 8439) Still the only place to eat within the expanded St. James\rquote Park stadium, the Magpie Room boasts two AA rosettes and extensive views of the pitch. Their two course lunchtime menu starts from $15, dinner from $20. They offer a Sunday Lunch special, which includes a tour of the stadium afterwards, for $15.95. .
Metropolitan, 35 Grey Street (tel: 0191 230 2306) Polished steel meets Miami South Beach in this modern English (with hints of the Mediterranean) brasserie-cum-restaurant. A light-meal menu is served all day until 7pm, while a la carte and prix fi xe lunch and dinner menus start from $8.95 for two courses. .
Cut, 10-15 Sandhill, Quayside (tel: 0191 245 0000) Situated under the ultra-trendy Chase bar-lounge on the Quayside, Cut's decor is Conran on LSD. Purple walls contrast with Captain Nemo green lighting, striated marquetry tables and zinc bar tops. They serve modern Italian dishes at around $12 a head. Special offer on pasta dishes at $1.90 for the next month. .
Cafe Churchill, corner of Mosley and Dean Street (tel: 0191 233 2349) Extravagantly tiled from top to bottom, this friendly eatery housed in the old premises of a bank offers an Italianate menu from hot sandwiches in ciabatta to daily specials from \'a38.00. Closing times are surprisingly early on early weekdays.

NIGHT LIFE

Loony Toon fittingly describes the surreal scale of Newcastle nightlife, with over a hundred and twenty pubs, eighty venues and 16 night clubs in the city centre alone. The area around the Bigg Market and the up-and-coming Quayside are transformed at the weekends into a seething mass of Tom and Jerry proportions. In the last week of October, Newcastle plays host to the Radio 1 Sound City extravaganza which, if humanly possible, will make the city even livelier than usual.

After the pubs in the Bigg Market, places to check off your list on the Quayside are Chase, Jimmyz and the Pitcher and Piano, refuelling at La Tasca in true Spanish style, where tapas dishes are served. Also worthy of a designer bottle or two is the new three-floored Cafe Pacific off Northumberland Street. Try and make it for the happy hours, when the prices for doubles leave Londoners with the feeling they live in the wrong city. For the late night beat, Nice hosted nights at Rock Shots and Shindig on Saturdays at the Riverside are local favourites, while you could always live the ultimate 80s disco experience on the revolving dancefloor of Tuxedo Royale, the ship berthed beneath the Tyne Bridge. For those of mellower temperaments, try the Jazz Cafe, Pink Lane (tel: 0191 232 6505) which manages to stay open until 1am by serving food along with the $4 entrance fee after 8.30pm. For Sunday chilled jazz and funk, Blu Honey at the Pit Ba r under the Tyne Theatrem is the place to be.

Newcastle's nightlife however, isn't just about short skirts and designer shirts. There are now two comedy clubs, Hyena Cafe, Leazes Lane (tel: 0191 232 6030) where the up-and-coming local comedian Dave Johns comperes on August 21st, The Comedy Club, Westgate Road (tel: 0191 232 0899). Large concert venues include the Riverside, Melbourne Street (tel: 0191 261 4386) and the Newcastle Arena (tel: 0191 401 8000). The Toon is also home to the English Shakespeare Company at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House, Westgate Road (tel: 0191 232 0899), and the second home of the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Theatre Royal, Grey Street (tel: 0191 232 2061) which begins its new season towards the end of September. The acclaimed Northern Stage Ensemble\rquote s new production of A Clockwork Orange at the Newcastle Playhouse, Barras Bridge (tel: 0191 230 5151) begins 3}{\super rd}{ September. The Northern Sinfonia, which tours throughout the Northeast, starts its Autumn season on the 23super rd September at Newcastle City Hall, Northumberland Road (tel: 0191 261 2606).

OUT OF TOWN

Northumbria offers a wealth of attractions for heritage and nature lovers alike, from the ancient to the modern. Following is a brief description of some of these: .
Hadrian's Wall The World Heritage listed monument draws thousands of visitors every year, stretching across the neck of England through the Tyne Valley all the way to Carlisle and beyond. From Newcastle, the best place to start exploring the Wall's many sites is Hexham. From there, both Chesters Roman Fort and Corbridge Roman Site museums are easily accessible. Both include various artefacts, sculptures and displays capturing life in Roman Britain. English Heritage (tel: 01434 605088) or Hexham Tourist Information Centre (tel: 01434 605225). The Hadrian's Wall Bus which takes passengers to various sites with a guide on the route to Carlisle starts here in the summer . Contact Northumberland Public Transport Helpline (tel: 01670 533128). The Tyne Valley Line also provides an agreeable means of visiting sites by rail. National Rail Enquiries (tel: 0191 484950). .
Northumberland National Park Venturing further west takes you to Northumberland National Park, which includes part of the Wall on its southern border. The National Trust organises a year-round guided walks programme throughout the park (tel: 01434 605555). .
Northumbria boasts more castles and strongholds than any other English region. These include Bamburgh and Alnwick to the north, and Raby to the south, all of which are within reach of Newcastle. Contact English Heritage (tel: 0191 261 1585). .
Durham Cathedral and Castle A short drive away, Durham's historic city centre offers plenty of interesting sights. Durham Tourist Information Centre (tel: 0191 384 3721). Angel of the North From the Roman and Medieval to the ultra-modern, Anthony Gormley's colossal 65 foot high structure has already attracted over a hundred thousand visitors this year. T he turn off to get close up to the sculpture is fifteen minutes south of Newcastle on the A1, marked A167 Gateshead South. Car parking is provided. For more information, call Portcullis Information (tel: 0191 460 6345).

INFORMATION

Newcastle has three information centres: Central Station (tel: 0191 230 0030) open Mon-Sun in the summer, City Library, Princes Square (tel: 0191 261 0610), open Mon-Sat, and at the Airport (tel: 0191 286 0966), open Mon-Sun. Tours of Newcastle by coach or on foot are available from May to October, and all year round for groups. Contact the above numbers. For what\rquote s on in entertainment, pick up a copy of The Crack from the Tourist Information Centres or The Northern Review \endash both are free. The Evening Chronicle also has good listings of events as well as reviews. For information on the Internet, try http://www.newcastle.gov.uk . For an alternative Geordie view, try http://www.cus.umist.ac.uk/%7Emosh/newcastle.html.