In case you didn’t know, something major is happening in the North East this year. The cultural conurbation of NewcastleGateshead is gearing up to host the pioneering Great Exhibition of the North (more below) which means an 80-day frenzy of fantastic events, street performances, cutting edge exhibitions and live music, as well as the world’s biggest shipping container garden at Hillgate Quay. There’s simply nowhere else to be this summer, so get ready for a warm Geordie welcome.
But there’s plenty more to this vibrant destination, named by Rough Guides as the best place in the world for 2018. Facing each other across the River Tyne, Newcastle and Gateshead have emerged anew from their industrial past and are now firmly ensconced as one of northern England’s most dynamic locations. The legendary nightlife and football fanaticism are well documented, but for the culture-hungry traveller there’s a collection of top-notch galleries, museums and the Grade I-listed Theatre Royal, as well as handsome Victorian and Georgian architecture around Grainger Street, Leazes Terrace and Grey Street. A buzzing line-up of boutique hotels, stellar restaurants and friendly pubs completes the picture, and what’s more, it’s all under three hours from London with Virgin Trains East Coast. So what are you waiting for? Here’s five reasons to start planning your northern adventure today…
The Great Exhibition of the North
The countdown to 2018’s biggest event has begun. The Great Exhibition of the North is a summer-long celebration of the North of England as a place of industry and innovation, which harks back to the Great Exhibitions of yesteryear in ambition and scope. Inspired by the North’s visionary spirit, the exhibition will celebrate art, culture and design across three major venues, connected by three trails – arts, design and innovation – through Newcastle and Gateshead. Kicking off on 22 June and running until 9 September, the season is spearheaded by the Great North Museum’s Which Way North show, with other major events and performances at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead. From the Quayside, don’t miss the UK’s largest water sculpture erupt into action every hour. Reaching the height of the Tyne Bridge, the 80-metre work of art will dance to three specially commissioned soundtracks, with a dazzling light display after dark.
The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
The former Baltic Flour Mill is one of the most prominent buildings along the south bank of the Tyne in Gateshead, and was one of a series of mills that fell out of use in the 1970s and 80s. While others were demolished or turned into residential buildings, the Rank Hovis-owned Baltic was transformed into the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, scooping up a major architectural design prize along the way. It finally opened to great acclaim in 2002, and is now the UK’s largest gallery dedicated to contemporary art, with a calendar of rotating exhibitions to rival any gallery in London or other major capital. There’s no permanent exhibition – instead the centre focuses on bringing in the biggest names in the art world, including artists-in-residence. There’s also a performance space, a cinema and a bar, as well as a fantastic rooftop restaurant and a separate outdoor terrace and indoor viewing box with views of the city skyline. Best of all, entrance to BALTIC is free.
Likened to a delicate chrysalis by those in favour and a slimey slug by those against, the Norman Foster-designed Sage Gateshead music venue certainly divided opinion when it opened in 2004. But whether you’re a fan of this curvy glass structure or not, what’s in no doubt is its significance as a cultural hub in this once-neglected part of the North East. Alongside BALTIC, Sage has helped raise the profile of NewcastleGateshead on the world stage, and added enormously to the artistic and economic life of the region.
Also not in doubt is the quality of the performance spaces. The three separate venues include a 1,700-seater concert hall designed to be ‘acoustically perfect’ and a ten-sided auditorium for more intimate shows, including cabaret acts and in-the-round style theatre performances. Sage Gateshead is also home to the Royal Northern Sinfonia, an esteemed chamber orchestra known for its appearances at the BBC Proms, and collaborations with both popular and more avant-garde artists. Check the schedule for upcoming events, shows and festivals, or just come along to soak up the scene at the Michael Straker Cafe overlooking the quayside.
Angel of the North
Still a relative youngster, the Angel of the North turned 20 in February this year, but the Anthony Gormley sculpture has long felt like a timeless part of the landscape. Thanks to its prominent hilltop position next to the A1 and East Coast mainline, the 200-ton landmark welcomes more than 90,000 road and rail users to Gateshead every day, making it one of the most viewed pieces of public art in the world. But it’s hard to appreciate what is thought to be the largest angel sculpture in the world from a speeding vehicle. To really get a sense of its grandeur and scale you need to come and stand underneath its 54 metre wingspan – wider than a Boeing 757 – which you can do by catching the Angel 21 bus service between Newcastle and Chester-le-Street.
The Great North Run
The Great North Run is the biggest half marathon in the world, drawing hundreds of thousands of particpants and spectators to NewcastleGateshead each year. Kicking off in Newcastle, the 13.1 mile route sees 57,000 runners head through the city centre and over the Tyne Bridge into Gateshead, before branching out towards South Shields and the coast. The annual spectacular takes place on 9 September this year – which also marks the end of the Great Exhibition of the North – and is set to be the centrepiece of the final weekend.
Virgin Trains operates multiple daily rail services from London King’s Cross to Newcastle.