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NEWCASTLE CONNECTS EVENT PLANNERS' GOALS WITH GREAT MEMORIES
Newcastle is a rare city. Taxi drivers will greet you with the warmth and enthusiasm of a personal tour guide. Where else can you explore Roman history at Hadrian's Wall by day and be playing Space Golf by night?
United by seven bridges presenting a dramatic riverscape, Newcastle sits on the north bank of the Tyne with Gateshead on the south bank. A Grade 1 listed monument to Earl Grey looms large in the centre - reminding us that history and heritage are visibly present here whether Roman, medieval (in narrow riverside alleys called 'chares') or in Victorian elegance. In Gateshead, Antony Gormley's Angel of the North sculpture looms both large and wide, reminding us that this is an inspired place, embracing the arts, music, creativity and university learning.
Conference delegates and events guests will find the city compact and easy to navigate by foot, from the diverse university district down to the vibrant and developed Quayside area by the river. The city also boasts one of the UK's most efficient rapid transport systems in the Metro which connects the city centre with Gateshead, the rest of Tyne and Wear, the international airport and coast.
Following are a few suggestions for how delegates might fill down time between sessions and some ideas that can be orchestrated into the overall programme experience by an imaginative planner.
Guide Them to the Coast
As discussed above, thanks to the Metro system, the coast can be reached under half an hour from the centre - a surprise to me on my first visit. Guests can be whisked to the coast for a tour of either Whitley Bay - with its landmark lighthouse - or Tynemouth with its castle, priory, lighthouse and Blue Reef Aquarium. There's nothing like a promenade along the sweeping sands to blow away the cobwebs ready to re-focus.
Fortify The Team With Some History
Hadrian's Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its country sprawls across the north from Cumbria in the west over to Newcastle. In Tyne and Wear you can visit parts of the wall at Segedunum Visitor Centre, Wallsend and Arbeia Roman Fort, South Shields or Corbridge Roman Town around 16 miles from the city.
Newcastle Castle explains how the city came by its name, how its story began and reflects The North's turbulent history. As well as being open for visits 7-days per week, the castle can be hired for private gatherings.
Durham, just a 15-minute journey from the centre by train, boasts a castle too (the 'old castle') with behind the scenes tours, a cathedral, cobbled streets, riverside walks and a maze of historic university architecture; delightful!
Beamish, renowned as one of the best open air museums in the world, was the brainchild of Dr Frank Atkinson and tells the story of the North East of England during the 1820s, 1900s and 1940s. History is reborn in a myriad of interesting ways from steam roller and tram experience to costumes, candle making and basket weaving as you become a time-travelling villager for the day. Visitors can reach Beamish comfortably under an hour through regular train and bus services via Chester-le-Street.
There are several museums to visit within Newcastle centre, but to be honest, the whole city feels like an open air museum itself as you wander the blend of splendid Victorian and Georgian era architecture.
Theatre, Music and Art To Bank On
Here are some cultural suggestions - on both the north and south banks of The Tyne.
Theatre Royal is an imposing city spectacle and is often regarded as the finest theatre building in the country. The programme here is diverse and constantly captivating. For those enticed by the biggest names in dance, drama, music and comedy - this is where they will be showcased.
Northern Stage is a smaller theatre and producing company which is surrounded by Newcastle University's campus. This is where to find curious, less mainstream offerings, alongside well-known national and international productions. It also features a welcoming bar and restaurant space, McKenna's.
Sage Gateshead will most likely already be familiar to you with its eye-catching curving steel roof, but you may be surprised to find it so close to Newcastle centre - proud and swaggering across the river, inviting you over. The biggest names in live music perform here, but there are many more intimate creative experiences to be discovered in the array of different state-of-the-art halls.
BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art is housed in an old printing warehouse and is a new public art gallery for the city, alongside restaurant, cafe and library, within a vibrant hub; it fits the bill for those seeking a more alternative experience.
A Night With Earl Grey or Mr Mulligan?
The city is as famous for its thumping nightlife as it is for the Geordie spirit. Dining opportunities are endless and varied, from House of Tides - the first restaurant opened by double Michelin-starred chef and Geordie son Kenny Atkinson - to its very own Chinatown district, one of only five other such districts in England.
Amidst the upbeat bar, gin joint and cafe scene there are some quirky finds to be unearthed, such as Quilliam Brothers, the Budapest-style tea house with flavours from all corners of the globe (I can recommend the Battenberg tea and, of course, the Earl Grey) or Lola Jeans for food and cocktails, both welcoming and original with floor-to-ceiling murals and commissioned walls.
The Stand Comedy Club echoes the success of sister venues in Edinburgh and Glasgow and offers shows seven nights per week. Here you might just be lucky enough to chance upon one of your favourite TV performers trying out their new material as well as witness debuting local talent.
Mr Mulligan's Space Golf - how about a team bonding session over adventure golf, food, cocktails and Prosecco in this luminous emporium from another dimension? Corporate events and party nights can be negotiated here.
A Premier Venue Suggestion
Through Calder partner Sodexo Prestige Venues and Events, our clients enjoy access to one of the largest conference facilities in the North East - St James' Park - home to Newcastle United Football Club. Thanks to the size and scope of major sporting venues, an array of versatile function suites are offered for any corporate event, conference or party with a maximum capacity for 1,000 delegates. Within walking distance to the rail station and next door to a Metro station, this venue is perfectly placed for travellers, including those arriving at the airport. It enjoys a central city position and visitors will be favoured with magnificent views across the city skyline.
Oh, and one more fact about Newcastle: the mother of notorious American outlaw Butch Cassidy lived as a young woman in the city's Jesmond district. I know this because my taxi driver tour guide told me.