Bridging the Gap
BY Brian Johnston
July 06 2009 12:00 AM ET
The Tyne River-forever central to a city officially known as Newcastle Upon Tyne-was the major locus of change and is now lined with chic apartment buildings and vibrant bars. An extraordinary building of glass, steel, and aluminum dominates: the Sage Gateshead concert hall (TheSageGateshead.org), where acoustic perfection combines with beautiful river views from its lobby. Just downriver, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (BalticMill.com), housed in a converted flour mill, has become a rival to London's Tate and features constantly changing exhibits by modern art's biggest names, from the work of English conceptual artist Sam Taylor-Wood to the large-scale sculptures of Chinese artist Wang Du.
Away from the river, Laing Art Gallery (TWMuseums.org.uk) is the region's premier art collection, including works by Joshua Reynolds, Edward Coley Burne-Jones, and Henry Moore. Blue Carpet, a public art installation, steals attention in the square outside the museum, with its tiles folded to resemble fabric turned up at the edges, and glass benches illuminated in different colors. And if you care to take some culture home, Newcastle now boasts the largest commercial art space in the U.K. at Biscuit Factory (TheBiscuitFactory.com), which offers the pick of drawings, sculpture, furniture, and glassware from all over the world.
For all its aspirations, Newcastle hasn't yet surrendered its cheerful manner. Perhaps it's the city's working-class roots that make its scene a fun alternative to London's and provide another good reason to visit. Geordies (the nickname for people from this area) are a friendly lot and renowned for their drinking prowess. An energetic nightlife sees late evenings get loud and a bit uninhibited-though safe.