One of the most vibrant cities in the north of England, Newcastle gained a whole new lease on life in the mid-1990s following the rebirth of the derelict downtown Quayside area. Spiffed up along the river banks with a host of trendy bars, restaurants and nightclubs, all set against a spectacular backdrop of several different, very eclectic bridges, the city has an unmistakable stance that renders it almost unique on mainland Britain.
It retains a mixture of ancient and modern that brings visitors back time and again. The old castle keep, dating from the 11th century, still looms over a cityscape of classical Georgian architecture and vast thoroughfares such as Grey Street, topped by the soaring monument of the same name.
Yet the same city offers up such cutting-edge buildings as the mesmerising, shell-backed Sage Gateshead theater, with its echoes of Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum, and the famous BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, acclaimed as the finest in the north of the country. Nearby, the country's first bio-technology "village" can be seen at the astounding Centre for Life.
At the heart of it all is the extraordinary "Geordie" passion for football (Geordie being the famous nickname for people from this region). Premiership team Newcastle United plays out their home fixtures at St. James' Park, venerated almost as a cathedral by the soccer mad locals. The local Newcastle Brown Ale is world famous but, alas, no longer brewed there.
The main cruise season for Newcastle departures tends to be between May and September, with companies such as Fred. Olsen and Cruise & Maritime Voyages using the port on a regular basis.
Cruise ships dock at the port of North Shields, some 8 miles from Newcastle's city center. (Don't confuse this with the nearby Port of Tyne, which is a shipping port used for cargo.) Taxis run to and from the city center, and there is a light rail service called the Metro that connects North Shields to the city center. Best stops for alighting in Newcastle are Haymarket and the Central Station. Please note that the Metro usually stops running at midnight.
The cruise terminal only has a couple of shops and a cafe-bar area, with no reliable Wi-Fi. The adjacent Royal Quays shopping outlet features a variety of shops, plus cash point (ATM) facilities. This is within easy walking distance of the terminal itself.
There's plenty to do in the actual port area of North Shields. Stroll the area around the Quayside, or visit the nearby beach for a spot of local style relaxation. Check out the massive Tynemouth Priory (open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) on the headland, once one of the largest fortified castles in the United Kingdom. It contains a sedate, cloistered chapel dating from the 13th century and impressive views from the looming battlements out over the beaches and the North Sea itself. An exhibition, entitled "Life in the Stronghold," highlights the Priory's role as a castle, church and artillery fort through the ages.
The Royal Quays shopping outlet is just a 5-minute walk from the terminal and offers shopping, dining venues and bars.
Pickpockets can be a problem along busy thoroughfares such as Clayton Street, Grey Street and the Bigg Market area. If using a card to obtain cash from an ATM, make sure your pin number is always shielded.
On Foot: There are shops, bars and restaurants all within walking distance of the port, but reaching the city's main attractions will require public transportation or a taxi.
By Taxi: Taxis are always available and metered, unless you agree to a day rate with your driver. Drivers are honest and will be happy to provide you with information on the city during your journey.
Public Transport: The city has many public transport links, including the Metro and a bus service. Stops for both are within walking distance of the port. The main Metro stop for Port of Tyne is Percy Main and the main bus stop for services into the city is outside of the Royal Quays shopping center.
Renting a Car: Although you can rent a car to explore the city, it is not recommended. There are no facilities at the port to leave the car and no collection/drop-off points within a short distance. As most of the city center is pedestrian only, it is best to use a taxi or public transport.
The pound sterling is the official currency. Check www.xe.com for current exchange rates. The city has plentiful ATM machines -- "cash points" in the local slang-- available 24 hours a day.
English, but often spoken with a very strong dialect that is somewhere between Irish and Scottish.
Because of Newcastle's temperamental climate, local fare tends toward hot, wholesome and filling food. Try minced beef with mashed potato, bangers and mash, or fish and chips (best enjoyed with lashings of malt vinegar) for an authentic regional treat. If in town on a Sunday, try the traditional Sunday roast, consisting of either beef, lamb or pork served with mashed potato, several types of vegetables and the world-famous Yorkshire pudding.
The Herb Garden: One of Newcastle's hidden gems, this quirky restaurant can be found just a short walk from Central Station. They specialize in stone-baked pizzas, Italian salads and sharing plates. All the restaurant's herbs are grown in their very own herb garden and they offer daily specials that include steaks, pitas, burgers and more. A private dining experience for groups of up to 14 is available every day, but must be pre-arranged. (Arch 8 Westgate Road; 0191 222 0491; Monday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to close)
Sachins: This is one of the city's finest Punjabi Indian restaurants and is an absolute must if you are a fan of spicy food. Family-owned, Sachins serves creative dishes that are all prepared using the freshest and finest ingredients. It is a small restaurant, so be sure to make a booking in advance of your visit. Otherwise, you can just turn up and wait. (Forth Banks; 0191 261 9035; Monday to Saturday, noon to 1:30 p.m. and then 5:45 to 11 p.m.; closed Sunday)
Pani's Cafe: This is a good choice for noshing with the natives of Newcastle, with a varied menu running from hot toasties (toasted sandwiches with a variety of fillings) to a sit-down lunch such as the char-grilled lamb with white wine sauce and mint. The cafe offers reasonable prices in a very homely setting to provide an enjoyable all-around experience. (61-69 High Bridge St.; 0191 232 4366; Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday)
Blackfriars Restaurant: This restaurant claims to be the oldest dining venue in the entire country, having served up food continuously since 1239. The original building was a hostel run by monks, and was once host to King Henry III. Set in a horseshoe-shaped nest of buildings, the highlight is a beautiful medieval courtyard used for alfresco dining during the summer months. (Friars Street; 0191 261 5945; Monday to Saturday, noon to 2:30 p.m. and then 5:30 to 10 p.m.; lunch only on a Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.)
Many would say that a Newcastle United Football Club team shirt, with its distinctive black and white stripes, is one of the most evocative symbols of the city. For shopping opportunities, head to the large, mall-type shopping complex in Eldon Square, but don't miss the many side lanes with more quirky, eclectic shopping venues selling everything from herbs and spices to facsimiles of the famous Tyne Bridge.
A Geordie phrasebook is also a great souvenir option and these can be found in most book shops within the city.