Things to do in Newcastle, England: A three minute guide

Newcastle, England has emerged as a 21st century cultural dynamo. Steve McKenna has a guide for things to do and see in this former hub of steel and coal industries.

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Why

In surveys for the 'friendliest' city in England, Newcastle regularly comes out on top. Even the dire fortunes of their beloved soccer team – Newcastle United, or the 'Toon' – can't dent the unfailing affability of Geordies (as the city's residents are known). Once a hub of coal and steel industries, Newcastle has re-emerged as a 21st century cultural dynamo, boosted by high-profile new galleries and revamped heritage sites. Complementing its urban offerings – which include some outrageously vibrant nightlife – there's terrific day-tripping potential, with the scenic Tynemouth coast, the quaint cathedral city of Durham and Hadrian's Wall all on the doorstep.

Visit

The Sage (sagegateshead.com) – a glossy Norman Foster-designed concert hall – and the BALTIC (balticmill.com) – an acclaimed contemporary art centre set in a renovated flour mill – are just some of the notable landmarks that edge, or arch over, the River Tyne, which divides Newcastle and neighbouring city, Gateshead. Cracking panoramas can be enjoyed from the BALTIC's fourth floor outdoor terrace. Your eyes will be drawn to the Tyne Bridge, which looks like a mini Sydney Harbour Bridge and was actually built by the same company, Dorman Long of Middlesbrough.

Eat

Tucked under the stanchions of the Tyne Bridge, the Bridge Tavern (thebridgetavern.com) serves upmarket pub grub and bespoke real ales from its on-site microbrewery. Some of Newcastle's most innovative dishes are conjured in the Ouseburn Valley, a regenerated old industrial district where new studios, bars, eateries and creative workspaces flourish (ouseburntrust.org.uk). For lunch, try Artisan, which is tucked inside arts and crafts mecca, the Biscuit Factory (artisannewcastle.com). Menus change daily, inspired by what's fresh and available from local producers, but you'll find stuff like loin of wild venison (with cauliflower, blackberry and smoked bacon) and fillet of sea bream (with caramelised fennel and brown shrimps).

Look

Established in 1835, Grainger Market (graingermarket.org.uk) is still going strong, with over 100 stalls trading beneath its striking iron-and-glass roof. Awash with Geordie banter, cosmopolitan 'street' food, and everything from meat, fish, fruit and vegetables to clothes, flowers and haberdashery supplies, the market also houses the quirky 'Marks and Spencer Original Penny Bazaar' – reputedly the smallest M&S store in the world.

Must

A source of local pride – as well as one of Britain's most striking pieces of contemporary art – Angel of the North blesses a grassy hilltop on the outskirts of Gateshead. Masterminded by Sir Antony Gormley, this steel sculpture is 20m high and its wingspan is similar to that of a jumbo jet.

Sleep

Blending Georgian period detail with contemporary trimmings, Grey Street Hotel (greystreethotel.co.uk) has a prime location at affordable rates, with rooms from £80 ($156). Prefer to stay riverside? The plush Malmaison (malmaison.com/locations/newcastle) occupies an imposing former Co-Op building (rooms from £95 ($186)). In the ex-headquarters of the Tyne Tees Steam Shipping Company, where the Tyne meets the River Ouseburn, Hotel du Vin & Bistro has rooms from £94 ($184) (hotelduvin.com/locations/newcastle).

Tip

Newcastle is a good place to break up a trip between England and Scotland. By train, it's three hours from London and 90 minutes to Edinburgh. Book online in advance and travelling the two legs will cost £27 ($53) in total, one way (virgintrainseastcoast.com).

Steve McKenna was a guest of NewcastleGateshead tourism (newcastlegateshead.com) and Visit Britain (visitbritain.com). This article brought to you by Visit Britain.