The insiders guide to Newcastle

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This is Newcastle from the inside out – the lowdown on the hidden gems that you won’t find in every guide book, including the best places to stay, eat, meet and visit, whether you’re on a budget or a blow-out.

The best bits

First, the places you can’t miss. Head down to the Quayside and the iconic ‘blinking eye’ of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, the seventh bridge built across the Tyne. Designed by Wilkinson & Eyre Architects, it has won numerous awards since it arrived, including the prestigious RIBA Stirling prize. It leads across the river to the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, one of the landmarks of NewcastleGateshead’s renaissance. It’s an inspired space that’s free to enter. Take the kids the first Saturday of the month when there are family days. The bookshop’s worth a look, for its diverse range of art books and quirky one-off gifts.

Don’t overlook the Laing Art Gallery in town, though, for masterpieces by artists such as Burne-Jones, Holman-Hunt, Gauguin and local boy, Romantic painter John Martin. Book ahead at The Sage Gateshead to see anything from classical orchestras such as the world famous Northern Sinfonia to rock, pop and folk musicians – or don your best shoes for a tea dance. Inside, glass art by Kate Watkinson brightens the curving walls of the Richard Rodgers-designed building.

In up-and-coming Ouseburn Valley, the award-winning Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books not only has inspiring exhibitions and imaginative activities for children, but also one of the finest independent children’s bookshops in the country. In Gateshead, Saltwell Park has recently undergone a multi-million pound restoration, and it shows. As well as a boating lake and excellent children’s play area, complete with sandpit, it has a maze, a favourite with the kids. The city’s excellent arthouse cinema, The Tyneside Cinema, has an original 1930s Art Deco cafe tucked away upstairs. Geordies claim their city has three cathedrals, one Anglican, one Roman Catholic, and St James’ Park. You can’t miss the giant stadium that towers over the city – but what’s less known is that you can go behind the scenes: tours of the giant stadium run seven days a week (except match days and bank holidays: around £10, £7 concs.).

Where to stay

The best budget option is the new Albatross Backpackers In! hostel. It has an excellent central location on Grainger Street yet prices start from just £16.50 (in a room sleeping ten); from £22.50 for rooms sleeping two. There’s free tea and coffee, wine cellar, cyber cafe and, best of all, no curfew or lockout. Book in advance. You’ll find other affordable options along Osborne Road in Jesmond, with prices from £35; only the best people stay here – Paul McCartney and John Lennon composed ‘She Loves You’ in the nearby Imperial Hotel! For a real treat, head for Jesmond Dene House. It’s just ten minutes from the centre of town, yet is set on the edges of the leafy Dene, with a sunny terrace, stylish bedrooms and probably the best food in town; doubles from £150.

For eating

Our favourite budget eaterie is the petite and brilliant vegetarian Sky Apple Cafe in Heaton, which serves evening meals on Thursday-Sunday nights; the menu changes every six weeks and you need to book as it’s very popular. With starters like sweetcorn fritters and avocado nachos, and mains from £7.50, it’s both good quality and good value. Bring your own wine here and to Khan’s Indian next door, which is equally first-class and relaxed, serving curries and bhunas brimming with fresh herbs and spices. Cafe Live, just off the Quayside in the Live Theatre, is a good hidden spot for lunch and is actually run by Terry Laybourne, the award-winning chef behind the acclaimed Cafe 21 (also nearby). It has a good early evening deal at around £10.50 for two courses (Mon-Sat 6-6.30pm). Your blow the budget option is the award-winning, flamboyant Secco for tasty Puglian specialities – and fabulous cocktails.

For coffee / meeting
You’ll find the best cup of coffee in town at Intermezzo, the narrow Italian bar on the ground floor of the Tyneside Cinema; take your mocchachino along to keep you going during that long arthouse movie upstairs. Hidden away in the Biscuit Factory art gallery is the Byker Vista Cafe, a good choice for coffee and light lunches after browing the art, jewellery and ceramics on sale. Luccia in Jesmond is a friendly, popular spot for coffee, fresh panninis and the best homemade cakes and slices in town.

For socialising
Evenings in Newcastle are just about decisions – will it be a concert at The Sage Gateshead, some Shakespeare at the Theatre Royal, music at the Tyne pub, clubbing at Digital or just a few drinks by the river? For the latter, the bar at Malmaison has excellent views and does the best Kir in town, while Stereo is retro-cool, with sunny balconies and wildly popular music nights. Check out Tokyo, which has a pretty roof garden hidden away at the back – perfect for warm summer nights. Many people have heard of the Crown Posada, unquestionably one of the best pubs in the UK; not so many have found The Forth, a stone’s throw from the station.

For shopping
Gateshead’s famous for the giant MetroCentre, but if you’d rather hunt down quirky, one-off independents, a clutch of the best are in the High Bridge area, where you’ll find Skirt and superlative vintage store Attica, stocking everything from 1960s dresses to retro lamps. The best spot for jewellery is williamsonbrown in Jesmond, who stock interesting designers at a range of prices, including Dower & Hall. Just up the street, Ophelia lingerie in the Eden store has silky pieces by La Perla and Agent Provocateur. Also in Jesmond is theVV Rouleaux store, for gorgeous ribbons and trimmings, while Gosforth boasts one of the country’s best organic food shops, the award-winning Out of this World.

For relaxing
Best budget choice is Monadic in Sandyford – Gillian does the best massage in town, no question (from £12 for a back massage, a bargain). Drop in to Dance City for a lunchtime pilates or yoga session (£4), most weekdays. The City Pool in town has one of the country’s only original Turkish baths (price £6.95 including a swim). Pay an extra tenner for a massage. Malmaison’s Spa treatments are top-notch too; ask for Victoria, who does incredibly relaxing facials (£35 half an hour). Blow the budget at Seaham Hall, the hotel and spa that has won numerous awards, including Cond’ Nast Traveller’s Best UK Spa Destination.