Voted this year's "Best UK City to Visit" by Conde Nast Traveler magazine's readers, Newcastle is a lively and upbeat kind of place. If you need a specific reason to visit, the 1999 Newcastle Comedy Festival runs until 21 November in venues across the city (call 0191-232 2660 for details) or, wait another six and a half weeks and go to join in the Millennium Eve celebrations on the banks of the Tyne (details on 0191-277 8011/8012 or at: www.newcastle.gov.uk/millennium).
The smoothest way to reach Newcastle is by train. GNER (0345 225225) has services from Glasgow (2hr30min, pounds 25) and London King's Cross (3hr or less, pounds 31). Virgin Trains (0345 222333) will get you there from Bristol in around five hours (lowest return fare pounds 41.50), Birmingham (3hr, pounds 22), Edinburgh (90min, pounds 16) and Leeds (90min, pounds 15). For other fares and timings, call National Rail Enquiries on 0345 484950.
National Express (0990 808080) runs coaches from many points in England and Scotland. By air, there are frequent flights to Newcastle from Aberdeen, Belfast, Bristol, Gatwick and Heathrow, mostly operated by British Airways (0345 222111).
Locally, the Tyne and Wear Metro service will get you to Newcastle International Airport in 20 minutes from the city centre - or out to places like Sunderland and Whitley Bay. For general information, contact the Tourist Information Centre at the Central Station (1), Neville Street, Newcastle (0191-230 0030).
ICING ON THE CAKE
Many people come to Newcastle just for the nightlife - and clubs such as Tuxedo Royale (the boat with the revolving dance floor), the Baja Beach Club (nowhere near Baja or the beach), Rockshots 2 (very gay friendly), World Headquarters (not too "beery", decent hip hop) and Legends (mainstream). For live music try the Bridge Hotel (Castle Square, 0191-232 6400) or the Newcastle Arts Centre (25) (0191-232 2401, evenings, or: www.newcastle- arts-centre.co.uk) or wait until 27 November when Visual Arts North East (VANE) '99 culminates in Subterfuge, an evening of experimental audio arts at the Waygood Gallery on High Bridge (details, 0191-221 1712).
A WALK IN THE PARK
Take the Metro to Jesmond (5) and walk up to Armstrong Bridge, for an overview of Jesmond Dene - a woody (and sometimes muddy) park that is also home to a well-known restaurant, the Fisherman's Lodge. Wander or cycle around or, on a sunny day, just loll on the grass. On the way home, stop off at the Armstrong Bridge arts and crafts market (Sundays between around 10am and 4pm).
TAKE A RIDE
... to a ride. The seven-minute train ride between Newcastle Central and the MetroCentre sweeps you regally across the Tyne, then swerves to the right (affording a glimpse of an angel) and trundles along to "Europe's biggest covered shopping and leisure complex". Inside you find a fully- fledged funfair. A ride on the rollercoaster costs pounds 1.80.
Head to Chinatown (23) for dim sum (served on Sundays from 12noon to 5pm for around pounds 2 each) at the Palace Garden Restaurant (45-51 Stowell Street, 0191 232 3117) and then carry on to St James' Park (24), the home ground of Newcastle United football club, if they're playing (details, 0191-201 8400). On your way to a match, stop off at the Chinese shops to pick up chicken feet, a karaoke machine, or get a feng shui consultation. For something less hectic, hang out in calm blue surroundings at Dispensary (25) (87 Westgate Road, 0191-233 1999) to scoff smoked salmon bagels (pounds 2.75) or salmon fishcakes with chips (pounds 4.50).
SUNDAY MORNING, GO TO...
...the Wesley Memorial (22) on the Quayside. This is apparently where John Wesley preached his first sermon in Newcastle, on Sunday 30 May 1742, but today there's a popular Sunday-morning market just a bit further along, selling everything from records and slippers to ironing board covers and bags of fruit.
Make your way to Grey's Monument
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Newcastle is compact and easy to get around on foot, and all the main attractions are clearly signposted. To the south of the city, flanked by the redeveloped Quayside, is the river Tyne. In the middle is the train station and, reached by a walk up grandiose Grey Street, Eldon Square shopping centre (2) and the commercial district. To the north, is the University of Northumbria and, further out, the Jesmond area. But the best way to orientate yourself is care of the city's grand civic architecture. Look out for the mammoth red brick E&F Turnbull factory; the ornate Cathedral Buildings on Dean Street; the striking North East Co-op store and, of course, the imposing bridges that straddle the Tyne.
The Malmaison Hotel (3) (Quayside, Newcastle 0191-245 5000) is the most glamourous place to sleep, and the facilities include a gym, a spa and a restaurant. If it's not sleep you're after, the hotel is also very handy for local nightlife. Double rooms start at pounds 99. Alternatively, try the Copthorne (4) (The Close, Quayside, 0191-222 0333). It's much less stylish but the location is quieter and there's a swimming pool (prices from pounds 42.25 per person). For cheaper options, head to Jesmond (5), just north of the city centre. Da Vinci's (73 Osborne Road, Jesmond, 0191-281 5284; doubles from pounds 45) has a bit of style and a decent restaurant - and there's a bus stop practically right outside - or there's the basic but clean Minerva Hotel (105 Osborne Road, Jesmond, 0191-281 0190; doubles from pounds 35) and the Youth Hostel (107 Jesmond Road, 0191-281 2570).
TAKE A HIKE
Get a sense of the city's history by following the walk marked out in the "Wall Trail" leaflet (35p from the Tourist Information Centre) or, if you prefer to wend your own way, start at the train station and walk up to the old Town Walls (6). Next pass by the Keep (7) (the remains of the New Castle that gave the town its name - and which was originally built in 1080 by the son of William the Conqueror), and the modern installations that decorate its Norman chapel, before strolling up through Grainger Market (8) to Grey's Monument (9). From there head back downhill along elegant Grey Street, sweep under The Side (10) and come to a halt by the banks and the bridges of the Tyne at the Quayside.
Sunday mornings at the Quayside
Newcastle is the ultimate shoppers' Nirvana - not because of the number of shops (there are masses, especially in the streets radiating out from Grey's Monument and in nearby Northumberland Street, Eldon Square, Eldon Gardens and Monument Mall) or even the city's proximity to the MetroCentre. but because you can't go more than about 50 metres without finding yourself at a cash machine.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Stotties (which are basically enormous white baps) are a Newcastle tradition. Buy them at any local baker for about pounds 1 stuffed with the usual sandwich fillings, or head off to Cafe Laing (11) to fill up on a bacon and Stilton stottie (pounds 2.20) in sedate surroundings before embarking on an afternoon of culture (see right).
The elegant curve of Grey street
21 Queen Street (17) is the most elegant place to eat. Starters, such as celeriac and truffle soup, cost from pounds 6.50 and mains, such as pot-roasted pheasant with choucroute and root vegetables, from pounds 16.50. The set dinner menu is good value at pounds 25 for three courses. Alternatively, try Metropolitan (18) (35 Grey Street, 0191-230 2306), 18 Dean street (19) (0191-261 4371) or Heartbreak Soup (20) (Quayside, 0191-222 1701). Or, go to Rupali Restaurant, at 6 Bigg Market (21) (0191-232 8629), where girls get a free rose and beered-up boys try the Curry Hell Contest. Conquer the menu's hottest curry, and you don't have to pay.
The Bigg Market (13) is the Sunset Strip of Newcastle, filled with tribes of near-naked, shivering girls and aftershave-smothered boys, all crawling their way around a collection of noisy pubs. The Quayside is probably a safer area to aim for, but don't expect a quiet evening there either. Casa (14) at 56-60 Sandhill, Quayside (0191-222 0164) and Chase (15) (13- 15 Sandhill, Quayside, 0191-245 0055) are two popular places, but if you prefer to drink without an accompaniment of ear-busting pop tunes, head up instead to the Crown Posada pub (16) at 31 The Side (0191-232 1269).
For a boy's perspective on Newcastle, visit the Discovery Museum (12) at Blandford Square (0191-232 6789, open Mon to Sat, 10am-5pm and on Sun from 2-5pm, free) for exhibits of boats, cars, engines - and a frock or two (upstairs, in the threadbare-looking fashion gallery). Then stroll over to the Laing Art Gallery (11) at New Bridge Street (0191-232 7734, open Mon to Sat 10am-5pm and Sun from 2-5pm, free). The city's main art gallery is looking a bit neglected, but among the artistic jumble there's a Holman Hunt and a Burne Jones. Magnetic North, an exhibition of British and Norwegian video artworks hosted by the Laing - and including works by Newcastle-born artists Jane and Louise Wilson - is fun and runs until 21 November.