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Tooning into a tale of two cities

THE scene summed up Newcastle perfectly. A tour guide was showing us The Centurion, a historic bar in the city's train station that was converted from a first-class passengers' lounge.

Beautiful surroundings - and a classy clientele - and then we bumped into the kiss-me-quick hen-night crowd dressed as cartoon characters.

And that's the essence of the twin cities of Newcastle/ Gateshead - they're best known for their party atmosphere but they've also got a wealth of heritage and high-end temptations for every market.

We stayed in the newest addition to the twin cities' hotel scene, Jurys Inn, on the Gateshead bank of the river.

The rooms are very large, with the premium level ones offering great riverside views.

And the bar also has a fantastic al fresco drinking and dining area, looking out on the Tyne Bridge and its modern equivalent, the striking Millennium bridge.

Trendy

The location is superb - right in the heart of the trendy Quayside area, the local equivalent of Paris's Left Bank.

You're slap bang beside the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (www.balticmill. com), the biggest of its kind in the world. And if the exhibtions don't take your fancy, do try dinner here.

The food's superb and the views across Tyneside are the best in the area from the top-floor SIX@Baltic (www.sixbaltic.com).

Next door is the space age-looking The Sage Gateshead (like our Grand Canal Theatre, only a lot bigger) which plays host to every type of rock, trad, world or classical performance you can think of. To check the listings, see www.thesagegateshead.org

Across the river, the Geordie locals will tell you that Newcastle has three cathedrals - one Protestant, one Catholic and one at St James's Park.

Now called the Sports Direct Arena Park, it's an amazing shrine to football in one of the game's hotbeds of passion. Slap bang in the city (great for a pre- or post-match pint), they say shoppers can hear the roar after a goal from the nearby pedestrianised streets.

Match tickets, break packages or hospitality deals (it's been voted best in the Premiership) are available on www.nufc.co.uk

And the modern religion is side by side with the old - just down the road is Blackfriars, a 13th-century friary, which is a great courtyard place to chill from the bustle of the city, especially when the sun's shining, and it's also cheek-by-jowl with the city's famous Chinatown.

A few minutes' stroll will bring you to the Discovery Museum, with great insights into military and industrial history (www.twmuseums.org.uk/discovery) and the nearby Life Science Centre, with an enormous planetarium, motion ride and hands-on exhibits that will especially appeal to children. Check it out on www.life.org.uk

But you're still interested in the nightlife, right? And even if you've visited before, it's constantly changing. The hottest area now is "the Diamond Strip" on Collingwood Street.

Similar to the likes of Manchester's Deansgate Lock, it's packed with trendy bars such as Revolution, Madame Koo, Floritas and Perdu. My favourite along the strip was Baby Lynch's, a bustling bar (great smoking section at the back) with lively old-school music.

The Crown Posada is another must-stop for traditional pub-lovers. Almost underneath the world-famous Tyne Bridge, it's dubbed the coffin as it's long, narrow and dark. A great place to meet the locals over a quiet, but lively, drink.

And after a night on the tiles? Hit the quayside, right across from Jurys, and take in the Sunday open-air market, where the North meets the Continent. Just make sure not to forget that flight home, as it's a hard place to drag yourself away from.

For more information, go to www.NewcastleGateshead.co.uk


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