GREY Street in Newcastle’s enigmatic Georgian Quarter was once voted the finest street in Britain by Radio 4 listeners. As I try to capture its graceful arc of sandy Georgian townhouses for Instagram, I spy a pair of nanas sat outside Browns in their summer macs, giggling over porn star martinis in the Northumbrian sunshine (hashtag life goals).
This year, Rough Guides named Newcastle the number one place in the world to visit, not least because it is host to the biggest event on England’s dance card, The Great Exhibition Of The North (until Sep 9, getnorth2018.com), an 80-day celebration of art, design and innovation from the north of England that uses the whole city as a canvas.
Spread across 30 venues in Newcastle and Gateshead, highlights include the space suit from the first Brit in space Dr Helen Sharman, John Lennon’s Record Plant piano and Stephenson’s Rocket, one of the first steam locomotives, while the Baltic Centre For Contemporary Art, a former art deco flour mill, is showing the Our Kisses Are Petals exhibition by Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid. But one of the most spectacular exhibits is an 80-metre water sculpture on the Tyne, which performs an aquatic ballet every hour.
Of course, there’s plenty to do in Newcastle outside culture, so it would be a shame to not shrug off my coat (it’s compulsory up here) and sample some of the city’s epic nightlife. I’m staying at Hotel Indigo on Fenkle Street, a stylish boutique pad a five-minute walk from the station and well placed for Grainger Town, the Quayside, and the bars and clubs of Collingwood Street, aka the Diamond Strip, second home of the Geordie Shore lot.
However, if yards of schnapps and glitter bombs are not for you, take a 20-minute wander east along the Tyne to Ouseburn, a former industrial area and the trendiest part of town. I join the city’s creatives for a post-work sundowner at the Free Trade Inn (facebook.com/thefreetradeinn), a popular craft beer pub with a garden overlooking the river. While it’s tempting to stay here for the night, as part of my in-depth research I embark on a pub crawl.
Next up is The Tyne Bar (pints from £3.50, thetyne.com) by the Ouseburn River, which has a hip, studenty vibe, not least because of its Free Food Tuesdays (spend £5 at the bar and eat free). I follow the river around to Hume Street for a swift pint at Kiln (mains from £5.95, kiln.cafe), a relaxed bar and kitchen with an industrial-chic appeal.
From here, it’s a short wander over to The Cluny (pints from £4, thecluny.com), a former whisky bottling plant, now Newcastle’s premier live music venue. It also hosts the annual Cluny Rubber Duck Race down the Ouseburn River. Aside from great boozers, Ouseburn is home to the Biscuit Factory (free, thebiscuitfactory.com), Britain’s largest independent contemporary art, craft and design gallery, Victoria Tunnel, a subterranean coal tunnel, and even a city farm (ouseburnfarm.org.uk).
While there are plenty of spots to slay a thirst, what about the scran? Well, there’s more to Geordie cuisine than Greggs pasties and saveloy dips (a smoked sausage bap with stuffing, pease pudding and gravy). Chef Kenny Atkinson bears the city’s only Michelin star at his House Of Tides restaurant on the Quayside (tasting menu from £70, houseoftides.co.uk), while Cook House in Ouseburn (lunch from £5, cookhouse.org), set in a pair of shipping containers, knocks out delicious rustic lunches like ham, pease pudding and pickles on sourdough.
To soak up the evening’s abundant Geordie hospitality, I head west to St James’s Park and The Earl Of Pitt Street (from £15, earlofpittstreet.co.uk), a gastropub with an ‘Alfred Hitchcock meets Vivienne Westwood’ interior. Famous for its Sunday roasts, midweek it serves a more pan-global menu. I leave with a full belly and a fondness for this creative and unfailingly friendly city, one that’s also rather partial to a crafty afternoon cocktail.