The metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear is relatively new. Formed in 1974, it consists of five metropolitan boroughs, three (Gateshead, South Tyneside and The City of Sunderland) of which are on the south side of the River Tyne, and two (Newcastle upon Tyne and North Tyneside) on the north side. Originally, the River Tyne formed the boundary between Northumberland and County Durham. Although controversial at the time (many people would have preferred to stay as residents of County Durham or Northumberland) it has fostered a spirit of cooperation between the boroughs (if not between the fans of the famous football teams of Newcastle United and Sunderland!).
The two boroughs of Newcastle and Gateshead have recently become a single entity, ‘NewcastleGateshead’, again fostering a sense of cohesion, making it attractive to visitors, who want to see as many as possible of this wonderful place’s attractions. This is made so much easier by the fantastic transport system. The Metro system (trains which travel both under and overground) can take visitors almost anywhere in the county. The buses are good too, and there is a ferry between North and South Shields (carrying passengers between North and South Tyneside) which is a great experience for adults and children alike. For those who prefer to get around by car, there is the Tyne Tunnel.
There is so much to see and do here that it’s difficult to know where to start. If you’re right in the centre for example, perhaps standing on the Quayside, you can see immediately many very new innovations. The Gateshead Millennium Bridge stands out, taking its place among the other famous bridges, which include the iconic Tyne Bridge, the High Level Bridge and the Swing Bridge. If you’re fortunate, you may be there as it opens and closes like an eye. Take a walk across the Millennium Bridge, and you aren’t far from the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. This art gallery is in a transformed flour mill, which was a landmark itself for many years. Nearby is the Sage Gateshead music centre, with its awe inspiring curves of steel and glass, designed by Sir Norman Foster. You can also see, if you’re there in the evening, the Queen Elizabeth ll Metro Bridge lit up by a 360 metre long artwork, ‘Nocturne’. Travel south of Gateshead to see Anthony Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’, which has become a symbol of the area for residents and ’ex-pats’ alike. Most visitors will see it from a distance when travelling from the south.
On the north side of the river can be seen the city walls and Castle Keep. Newcastle got its name, not from this castle but the one before it. For more history, visit Blackfriars, a restored Dominican Friary. There is a restaurant, and an exhibition about the history of the site. It’s a real haven of peace right in the middle of the busy city. It’s near Chinatown too, so you have a great choice of eating places. In fact the whole area is a real gastronomic mix, from the lively bars and restaurants on the Quayside, to the traditional pubs in both centres.
NewcastleGateshead is a real shopper’s favourite too, with Eldon Square in Newcastle, and the Metro Centre just a short journey from Gateshead, as well as the many open air and covered markets.
Sunderland is a place well on the way to becoming a desirable place for a short break. Set on the beautiful coastline, it is the choice for those who like to combine their holiday experiences. There’s such a lot to do, from visiting the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, which features not only a museum, but an art gallery too, with works by LS Lowry, one of the country’s most famous and well loved artists. Sunderland used to be a glassmaking centre, so why not visit the National Glass Centre? Try walking on the glass roof to look at the museum below. Other attractions are the Stadium of Light (the home of Sunderland football club), and the Sunderland Empire, which often hosts West End productions and puts on a traditional pantomime at Christmas.
Another Geordie bairns’ favourite(‘Geordie’ – nickname for a resident of the area. ‘Bairn’ – dialect name for a child)! South Shields remains a real seaside attraction, with miles of lovely beaches (and a funfair), but there are plenty of other attractions too. It has a very long pier, where you can stand and watch boats and sea going vessels entering and leaving the Tyne, and the attractive South Marine Park, with its boating lake and miniature railway.
There is so much else to do; viviting the Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum, the Public Observatory and Planetarium, and the South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, located in the old Free Library and Reading Room. On a different note; there is also a Wet ’n’ Wild tropical indoor water park (handy in inclement weather) where everyone can let off steam!
As far as eating is concerned, South Shields has plenty of choice, especially in the truly amazing array of Indian restaurants. There are also many pubs serving traditional pub food.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, so why not visit Tyne and Wear to discover more?