Bridging the Gap

Newcastle has cast off its gritty northern image and emerged as one of the U.K.'s most hip, happening, and cultured cities.

BY Brian Johnston

July 06 2009 12:00 AM ET

GATESHEAD MILLENIUM BRIDGE X555 (ROD EDWARDS) | ADVOCATE.COM

Newcastle is a city of bridges. The renowned Victorian railway engineer Robert Stephenson built High Level Bridge in 1849. Another, the Tyne Bridge of 1928, is a scaled-down version of the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, with its distinctive humpbacked arch, and was once the symbol of this former industrial hub of the British Empire.

Then in 2000 a new pedestrian bridge was opened and became an instant icon. The curved span of Gateshead Millennium Bridge (Gateshead-Quays.com) elegantly pivots upward to form a soaring arch under which ships can pass. It's a very sexy piece of architectural design.

The bridges, old and new, are handy metaphors for the transformation in this onetime workhorse city now elbowing its way onto the world stage. The sight of the Millennium Bridge opening at night, like a giant cyclops eye over a trendy waterfront of art galleries and bars, is one of Europe's most heartening urban scenes. The Millennium Bridge was merely the overture in a decade of operatic-scale projects to regenerate a city that had seen the worst of post-industrial decline. These projects have just been completed with the May opening of the Great North Museum (TWMuseums.org.uk).

Move over, London; Newcastle aspires to be England's center of hip and happening, ready to debunk the notion that U.K. culture begins and ends with the capital. The city has scrubbed off the last of its coal dust and re-created itself as a chic urban center, oozing reinvented Victorian elegance, luxury boutique hotels, and impressive cultural attractions. Newcastle is vigorously making its way into the national limelight by developing smart shopping boutiques, a lively bar scene, some of northern England's best restaurants, and, most visibly, remarkable architecture.

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