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The Keep of the 'new castle' which gives the city its nameIn 2004 Newcastle lost out to Liverpool in its bid for nomination as European Capital of Culture for 2008. 

But, each side of the River Tyne, Newcastle and Gateshead still work together to put the joint city permanently on the map as a harbour of world-class culture. 

The two cities started on a ten-year Initiative in 2000, to make Newcastle and Gateshead the cultural HQ of the north. The aim is to deliver economic, employment and social benefits through culture-led tourism, and continue to stimulate regeneration.

Now halfway through the project, the Initiative has already proved to be a stunning success as a destination worth visiting. for leisure enjoyment.

All styles of music are presented throughout the year, in a wide range of venues. But many major performances are  based on the ultra-modern Sage Gateshead, which opened in December 2004.

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Getting there: GNER Trains go direct to Newcastle from London, Edinburgh or Glasgow, mostly following the route of the old Flying Scotsman. Consult  for low-cost offers like the Standard Off-Peak return from London.

By road, the M1/A1 goes around Gateshead/Newcastle with easy access into the centre.

Bright yellow QuayLink electric buses run about every ten minutes to connect the Quays with the main sightseeing highlights. 

We stayed at the Tulip Inn, just off the A1 at Team Valley near the Angel of the North and a few minutes from the Quaysides. Ask for the Weekend room-only rate.  Tel: 0191-491-3131.

More information:  Newcastle Tourist Information Centre, Central Exchange Buildings, 132 Grainger Street, Newcastle NE1 5AF. Tel: 0191-277-8000.

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This stunning music complex was designed by the world-famous architect Sir Norman Fowler. Not everyone likes the exterior design, which a soured TV commentator described as looking like a used condom. But the acoustics are superb. 

Several concert halls feature every music style including folk, pop, opera, jazz and classical. The Sage Gateshead has become the permanent home of Northern Sinfonia, one of the world's finest chamber orchestras. There are regular performances by the BBC with a series of Sunday morning concerts. 

Numerous other music events are spread through the year, with programmes of top-class performers from every continent. 

Rich in the arts, architecture and history with a great reputation for shopping and a thriving nightlife it is no wonder Newcastle-Gateshead is now rated high among England's best short break destinations. 

The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art overlooks the Millennium Bridge Walking across the pedestrian-only Gateshead Millennium Bridge is the highlight of any walking tour of the city. The tilting bridge has dazzled the world with its technology, and gives the city its new 21st-century look. 

The footbridge links Newcastle Quayside with the arts and leisure developments on Gateshead Quays, including the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

 Of course sport in Newcastle means Newcastle United. Its stadium was expanded to 52,000-capacity about 9 years ago. Because it's in a city-centre location they couldn't expand outwards, so they had to build upwards.

If you're sitting at the top, you need binoculars just to see the pitch, never mind the ball. 

September 30 marks the 2007 date for the Great North Run, the world's largest half marathon. 40,000 runners stream across Tyne Bridge which locals call the Coat Hanger Bridge.

The Tyne Bridge, known to the locals as The Coat Hanger BridgeOnly three miles from the city centre is Newcastle Racecourse. With 29 meetings held every year, it's one of the busiest in Britain. Among the other spectator sports are rugby, basketball and ice hockey.

Finally, art-lovers will find wide choice year-round.  For ever-changing exhibitions of contemporary art, the outstanding venue is the BALTIC. This controversial centre was converted from a grain warehouse into one of Europe's largest centres for modern art. 

Five galleries and panoramic views overlook the Millennium Bridge. Best views are from the ladies' toilets at the Rooftop Restaurant.

Inside the Laing Art Gallery Of course Newcastle offers plenty of art year-round. For the more traditional works, visit the Laing Art Gallery. There you'll find pre-Raphaelite paintings by Holman Hunt and Edward Burne-Jones, and sculptures by Epstein.

The public square outside has been re-laid as The Blue Carpet, created from 22,000 handmade tiles that sparkle with grains of crushed glass. It's part of a project to develop and improve an area which had been heavily scarred by 1960s town planning. 

If you're in art-buying mood, go to the Biscuit Factory, converted in 2002 from a Victorian industrial plant into the biggest commercial arts space in Europe. Paintings, sculpture, pottery and other craft items are priced from 20 to 20,000. You can even buy on instalments.

Another great renovation project has restored much of Newcastle's architectural heritage. It has given new life to the classical Georgian style of Grainger Town which has England's highest concentration of Grade 1 listed buildings outside of Bath. Buildings blackened by centuries of industrial smoke now reveal the colours of the original sandstone. 

At the top of Grey Street stands the Theatre Royal, which opened in 1837. Seasons are presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Opera North and Rambert Dance Company. Evening entertainment around town includes six more theatres, and numerous bars, night-spots and restaurants. Bigg Market is favoured by teenagers, with the Newcastle Quayside preferred by older revellers. 

Other popular night-time venues are Bar 55, and The Gate complex in Newgate Street with bars, eating places and a 12-screen multiplex.

Angel of the North Finally, when you see the famous Angel of the North from the A1 just outside Gateshead, make the short detour to experience the incredible 200-ton sculpture close-up. 

It's a key part of the local creative Initiative called 'culture to the power of ten', which has placed Newcastle Gateshead so visibly on the tourist map

Copyright: Reg Butler

Where else to visit in the North East

LEEDS - Soap trail around Emmerdale

NEWCASTLE - Down memory lane at Beamish open-air museum

NORTHUMBERLAND - Go furthest north in England, Alnwick to Berwick

TEES VALLEY - Exploring Captain Cook Country

WEARDALE - Explore Weardale and the North Pennines

YORK - follow the Vikings and the ghost

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links belo

Grainger Town: An Urban Renaissance  - an English Heritage publication describing the recent restoration of the classic Georgian style of the development in the 1830s.

Stephenson Power: The Story of George and Robert Stephenson  - An ideal purchase if you are interested in the industrial heritage that brought great prosperity to Newcastle.

Tyne and Tide: A Celebration of the River Tyne - the story of the river which became the focal point of the industrial revolution.

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