An insider's guide to Newcastle

by Andrew

Newcastle has a reputation as a party town, but there's much more to it than that, with lush green spaces to explore, glorious food to eat and the bracing North Sea to surf

If you arrive in Newcastle by train, then your first view of ‘the toon’ will be special. As the train shuffles over one of the seven bridges that span the river, you will be able to catch a glimpse of the impressive Baltic flour mill and the Sage Opera House (home of the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra), both sat snugly next to the glittering Tyne. Walking through the John Dobson-designed 19th-century train station, you can use the underground system (the only one in England outside London) to head directly to the coast, to Sunderland, or to one of the more laidback and fashionable suburbs.

Jesmond, only 10 minutes' metro ride from the station, is an intriguing blend of laidback coffee shops, upbeat bars and boutique shops. The main thoroughfare, Osbourne Road, contains enough bars to keep Oliver Reed happy, but there are some real treats to be had if you know where to look.

For the best sandwiches north of Sheffield, try Nipoti on Brentwood Avenue. Run by an Italian chap and his Geordie wife, it serves genuine Italian sausage, a mouthwatering range of salami and cold meats, and the meanest espresso macchiato outside Italy. The home-made pizzas, at £1.50 for a large slice, cannot be beaten on taste or value for money. A few doors down is the ‘only butcher in Jesmond’, Stewart & Co. When the northeastern weather allows (more often than you think!), you can enjoy a green tea and pizziola on the outside tables, but be prepared to wait: the service can be slower than you may wish for.

Where to stay

Because of licensing laws, every bar on Osbourne Road is also a hotel. Whites Hotel, above Bar Blanc at the south end of the street, has 38 ensuite rooms starting at just £39 for a single and £59 for a double. The front of the hotel overlooks the bars, so a room at the back is advised if you’ll not be out after the sun sets.

A little further away is The Townhouse Hotel. A Victorian townhouse that was renovated in 2008, it offers 10 luxury ensuite rooms, starting at only £79 per night. All the rooms were decorated by Sheila and Cathy, the current owners, and revolve around enticing chocolate browns and smooth greys. Exquisite bathrooms with flat screens and huge bath tubs help you recover after a hard day.

If you want decadent luxury, Jesmond Dene House offers 40 beautifully designed rooms (starting at £175 for a double) in a sensational Grade II-listed Georgian building that was built by the mayor of Newcastle and bought by a local industrialist. Previous guests include Rudyard Kipling, Lord Baden-Powell and numerous foreign dignitaries. Once a month they run a legendary jazz night; booking a room on one of these nights entitles you to a room, supper, world-class jazz and breakfast in the morning for only £225.

Where to play

To relax, there is no finer green space in Newcastle than Jesmond Dene itself, designed to offer a rural setting in the heart of the city. There are waterfalls, lakes, crags and pools to explore, as well as the craft fair situated on Armstrong Bridge every Sunday. A petting zoo provides great entertainment for kids.

The Ouse Burn runs through the Dene all the way down to the Tyne; following the path of the river down will bring you to the cultural quarter. Next to the Cluny pub - which serves an amazing home-made burger (£5) that will definitely keep you going until tea - lies Seven Stories, a great interactive children's bookstore/museum that will keep kids entertained.

Newcastle has several excellent restaurants that cater for all tastes and budgets. At the inexpensive end, The Gospoda in Princess Square offers authentic Polish cuisine. When I say inexpensive, I really mean it: less than £6 for a main course like the Hunter's Stew is amazing value, but the Brigand’s Pancake, a crunchy potato pancake served with goulash, takes some beating at £5.30.

Adriano’s, on the high street in Gosforth, just a mile from Jesmond, is an Italian restaurant with a great wine list. Mains are between £7 and £20. The roast suckling pig, which was added to the menu after impressing as a special, is definitely worth trying.

For a restaurant with views as good as its food, Six Baltic is, as the name suggests, on the sixth floor of the converted Baltic flour mill on the south bank of the Tyne. The sea bass with crayfish risotto and asparagus is a stunning dish, but try to leave enough space for the Pimm's jelly knickerbocker glory.

If you need to burn off the inevitable calorific overload, surfing at Longsands beach in Tynemouth will leave a lasting impression. Rubber Soul has friendly, patient tutors catering for those who have never surfed before and those who need a quick refresher; Tynemouth Surf Co is based on the cliff overlooking the breaks; and Rise boasts a British big-wave surfing legend (Jesse Davies) as a tutor and charges £50 for two lessons or £90 for four.