Why go now?
To beat the cultured crowds set to flock to the "toon" as soon as the Baltic centre (1) opens. No firm date has been announced but Gateshead's answer to Tate Modern, an enormous contemporary art centre in a converted 1950s flour mill, with rooftop restaurant, is likely to open in late spring (0191-478 1810, www.balticmill.com). For more general information and details of other events taking place in the city, visit the Tourist Information Centre at Central Station (2) or call 0191-277 8000 ( www.newcastle.gov.uk).
If your confidence in rail services is still on track, there are services from Edinburgh (90 minutes, from £24), Birmingham (3hr, £20), Leeds (90 min, £15) and London King's Cross (3hr, £33). For other fares and timings, call National Rail Enquiries on 08457 484950 ( www.thetrainline.com). National Express (08705 808080, www.gobycoach.com) runs bus services from many points in the UK. By air, there are frequent flights to Newcastle from Aberdeen, Belfast, Bristol, Gatwick and Heathrow, mostly operated by British Airways (0845 77 333 77, www.ba.com). Go (0870 6076543, www.go-fly.com) flies from Stansted. The Tyne and Wear Metro service will get you into town from Newcastle International Airport in 20 minutes.
Get your bearings
The city is easy, and pleasant, to stroll 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, on grandiose Grey Street, you'll find Eldon Square shopping centre (3) and the commercial district. To the north is the university district and, further out, leafy Jesmond (4) . 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 Tyne-straddling bridges.
The Malmaison Hotel (5) (Quayside, 0191-245 5000, www.malmaison.com) remains the most stylish place to lay your head, and the facilities include a gym, a spa and a restaurant. Double rooms start at £120. For cheaper options, head to Jesmond, north of the centre. Da Vinci's (73 Osborne Road, Jesmond, 0191-281 5284; doubles from £49.95) has a bit of style and a decent restaurant – and a bus stop handily close by; or try the nearby Youth Hostel (107 Jesmond Road, 0191-281 2570) which has beds for £11.
Take a hike
To get a good sense of ancient and modern Newcastle, the mile or so long circuit that runs around the central Quayside is hard to beat. Start beneath the Tyne bridge (6) , head east to cross the water via the minimalist Millennium Bridge (7) , then make your way back past the Baltic centre and the under-construction Music Centre (scheduled for opening in 2003), stopping off at Gateshead Quays Visitor Centre (8) , housed in an old Norman church (0191-477 5380, www.gateshead-quays.com). Then head back across the river via the swing bridge (9) . If you want a longer walk, the Riverside Sculpture Park (10) is just beyond the swing bridge on the south side of the river, but you'll have to look closely to get a glimpse of any of the sculptures.
Lunch on the run
Stotties (enormous white bread buns) are a Newcastle tradition. Buy them at any local baker for about £1, with the usual sandwich fillings, or for more manageable-sized stotties, head to Barry's Home Bakery (11) on Pink Lane (0191-261 8074). If you can give them three days notice, you can even get them to create some contemporary art – a cake with your photo on it (£16).
A walk in the park
Take the Metro to Jesmond and walk up to Armstrong Bridge to plan your route around Jesmond Dene, a woody (and sometimes muddy) park underneath it. From around 10am on Sundays the bridge also hosts an arts and crafts market. If football's more your thing, tours are planned (but not yet running) at the newly revamped St James' Park stadium (21) (call 0191-201 8400 for more information).
The icing on the cake
Book early to celebrate Chinese New Year in Chinatown (22) . The event takes place midweek but on 17 February there's an arts festival around Stowell Street and Blackfriars. The revelry culminates at 3pm with a lion dance on Bath Lane ( www.chinesefestival.co.uk) and you can follow it by booking a table at the bustling Palace Garden restaurant (0191-232 3117)on Stowell Street.
Shopping is something that comes naturally in Newcastle – not because of the number of shops (there are masses, especially in the streets radiating out from Grey's Monument (12) , nearby Northumberland Street and Eldon Square) 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.
To check out the Baltic's competition, visit the Laing (13) , until now the city's main art gallery, on Higham Place (0191-232 7734, open Sat 10am-5pm and Sun from 2-5pm, free). However, culture of a more ancient kind is on offer 15 minutes and a £2.20 Metro ride away at Wallsend (14) . Segedunum Roman Fort (0191-295 5757, www.hadrians-wall.org), the most easterly outpost of Hadrian's Wall, has been spectacularly excavated and is open to visitors. As well as strolling around the fort's ruins you can find out more about Roman life at the excellent visitor centre, or sweat it out with the tour guides in a reconstructed bath house. Entrance costs a bargain £2.95 for adults and £1.95 for children.
The fashionable but friendly Blackfriars Café (Friar Street, 0191-261 5945) opens at 10am, serving up everything from pancakes with smoked bacon and maple syrup (£4), to Moroccan lamb patties with toasted pitta pockets (£3.50).
Sunday morning, go to...
Blackfriars (20) , a 13th-century monastery that now offers a corner of quiet in which to contemplate the city, several craft shops and an outdoor performance area. During weekdays you can visit the civic trust offices (0191-232 9279) here to find out more about its post-monastery days as a meeting place for Newcastle's craft guilds, but at the weekends it's just a pleasant place for a stroll and some brunch (see above).
Dinner with the locals
Queen Street (18) is the place to aim for. Café 21 (19-21 Queen St, 0191-222 0755) offers modern English dishes such as fishcakes with buttered spinach and chips for £9.50. Or, a few doors down, is upmarket Asha Raval (27 Queen Street, 0191-232 7799), for "creative Indian" nosh. If you're more into adventure than elegance, try nearby Heartbreak Soup (19) (77 Quayside, 0191-222 1701) for Colombian red snapper (£12.25) or Jamaican jerk pork (£9.95).
The Bigg Market (16) is Newcastle's answer to Sunset Strip, filled with near-naked girls, aftershave-smothered boys and noisy pubs. The Quayside is probably a safer area to aim for, but don't expect a quiet evening there either. Casa (0191-222 0164) and Chase (0191-245 0055) are popular. But the best place to drink is the Free Trade Inn (17) (St Lawrence Road, 0191-265 5764). Up on a hill overlooking the Tyne, don't be put off by the derelict-looking exterior; this is a pub to beat all pubs, cosy inside with a very hip crowd.
Take a ride
If you prefer more 21st-century thrills, make your way to Life Interactive (15) (0191-243 8210, www.lifeinteractiveworld.co.uk, £6.95 adults, £4.50 children), on Times Square. Based around the origins of life and the workings of the human body, most of the exhibits are very child-oriented but even grown-ups will enjoy the hourly Crazy Motion Ride. Moving seats help create the illusion that you're sweeping over mountains in a helicopter or tackling a bit of off-piste skiing. There are health – and height – restrictions.