London Olympics: Newcastle kicks off the action!

Olympics Newcastle

Olympics Newcastle – it has a ring to it!

The Olympics are coming to Newcastle – strange but true!

Newcastle is one of only five places outside London where you’ll be able to see the Olympic football – the others being Cardiff, Manchester, Coventry and Glasgow.

It’s also just one of nine places outside London where you watch any kind of Olympic sport during the 2012 Games.

Olympic football

Newcastle’s football action kicks off today, Thursday 26 July, with a Group B men’s game between Mexico and South Korea at St James’ Park. Let’s hope they can find the right Korean flag after yesterday’s gaffe in Scotland. 

Olympic rings

Olympic rings

Tonight’s programme has Gabon versus Switzerland, perhaps not the most exciting game but the whole tournament is something of a lottery so you could be lucky!

Most footy fans are more hopeful of a good contest in the Group C match between Brazil and  New Zealand on 1 August. 

After the dire England v Brazil friendly at Middlesbrough’s Riverside last week, who knows how good or bad that game will be.

Sadly (or perhaps not on current form) the Great Britain football team won’t be playing in Newcastle as they’re in Group A – which is being played elsewhere.

There’s no David Beckham and no Wayne Rooney so nobody really cares anyway.

Newcastle’s Olympic role set me thinking about what attractions I would recommend to visitors coming to see the football in my own city.

So here is Tammy’s guide to spending time in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Tammy’s top tips

1> Go out ‘on the Toon’

For non-Geordies, the city centre is known as ‘the toon’ which has a reputation for its night-life and party scene.

Soho bar

Newcastle’s Soho

For women, I recommend wearing a micro-mini skirt or super-short shorts and killer heels plus plenty of make-up, false eyelashes and fake tan. Think Cheryl Cole or Geordie Shore… Coats and umbrellas should be left at home despite the chilly northern weather.

The uniform for boys is a shirt or T-shirt with jeans and smart shoes… or a fancy dress chicken outfit to blend in with the stag parties. 

If you’re  a shy, retiring type, avoid the main bar trawl and head to the traditional pubs listed below!

Seriously, there are many decent wine bars and clubs for those with more discerning tastes.

The best bars are on Newcastle’s Quayside or along Collingwood Street near the station. I’d recommend the Town Wall & The Forth on Pink Lane, five minutes walk from the football ground – both serve great beer and pub food. There’s also Tokyo near the station (a good pre-clubbing choice), The Apartment and its next-door Cuban cousin Florita, and Perdu on Collingwood Street.

Closer to the station area, try the foodie delights of Electric East which specialises in Asian cuisine with a tilt towards Vietnam and Cambodia.  

This lovely restaurant with its Vietnamese-themed decor manages to be super-cool as well as being welcoming and affordable. One of the most affordable eateries in the city for a quality meal.

It’s no secret that the Quayside has a wide range of drinking places and restaurants. There’s posh nosh at Cafe 21, Caffe Vivo and Pan Haggerty plus great pub grub at the Broad Chare bar and restaurant.  Take your pick of the pubs. The Crown Posada on Dean Street is old school with great hand-pumped ales & stylish stained-glass windows whilst the Pitcher and Piano, with great views of the riverfront, veers towards a wine bar audience.

Directly outside the football ground there’s The Strawberry (bloke-ish), Soho (wine bar) and Shearers’ Bar (sports bar) plus the swanky Shark club.

Further down the river, catch a yellow bus along the Quayside and get off at the Ouseburn where you’ll find the Cluny music venues, the upmarket Hotel du Vin bar and restaurant and traditional pubs – The Free Trade, The Cumberland Arms and The Tyne. Over the road from the Cumberland in Byker is Al Baike, a Lebanese restaurant which is fantastic value for money (but take your own beer or wine).

2> Get cultured

Newcastle has undergone a cultural renaissance over the last 10 years with shiny, new temples to the arts springing up – so take your pick of those listed below.

The Sage

The Sage – architectural armadillo or ‘slug’?

Don’t miss The Sage (or ‘giant slug’)  on the Gateshead side of the river for concerts and gigs (classical to alternative) as well as a stunning view of the river and Millennium Bridge opposite.

Its next-door neighbour The Baltic is a contemporary art gallery in a converted flour mill which hosts changing exhibitions.  

With free entry, this ‘Tate of the north’ is worth a trip to see art ranging from the innovative and inspiring to the outrageous and simply awful. Its rooftop restaurant – called Six – boasts loos with views of the River Tyne.

Film lovers are in for a treat at Britain’s oldest surviving news reel theatre, the Tyneside Cinema, which has a brilliant programme of indie films as well as the latest blockbusters. There’s an authentic Art Deco restaurant/cafe , a chill-out bar and a coffee shop.  The ambience in the cinema is simply great and you can even drink your wine, beer or champagne in the comfy seats whilst watching a movie.

Down at the Ouseburn, you might be lucky to catch an arty film or event at the small but perfectly formed Star & Shadow Cinema, which is run by a co-operative.

The Stand Comedy Club on High Bridge Street is well worth a visit for its bar, food and comedy nights. Around the corner is the newly-restored and rather splendid Theatre Royal.

3> Dig deeper!

Newcastle has a rich history dating back to the Romans when it was called Pons Aelius. Although there’s not much left in the way of Roman ruins, you can see a lot of the city’s later history. Look out for the city walls especially in the Blackfriars area near the football ground. Walk down Grey Street from the Monument through the Grainger Town to see one of the UK’s best-preserved neo-classical streets.

Newcastle's Grey Street

Newcastle’s Grey Street

Take a yellow bus to the Quayside and trace the narrow medieval streets of the city through a maze of alleyways and stairways.  Stroll down to Newcastle’s Castle Keep, climb to the top and imagine the early history of the city – and gasp as a train shoots by (the Victorian rail barons built the rail line right through the castle buildings).  

Better still, catch a train to Durham from Newcastle Central Station (a 15 minute journey) to see its spectacular cathedral, castle and historic medieval streets.

4> Explore Chinatown…

The football ground is next door to Newcastle’s lively Chinatown based around Stowell Street. The area is packed with Chinese restaurants and shops – and there’s also a Japanese sushi house. If you cut through one of the side streets you’ll find yourself in Blackfriars where thre’s an old monastery (now a restaurant) and you can glimpse the old city walls.  At the top of Stowell Street is Rosie’s Bar, another popular pre-match meeting place.

5> Shopping

Newcastle Utd shop

Newcastle Utd shop

No trip to the World Cup football in Newcastle would be complete without visiting the Newcastle United shop (at the stadium).

Treat yourself to a replica kit, striped black and white pyjamas and slippers (in the Magpies’ team colours, naturally) and a souvenir mug or two.

There’s also the Newcastle Utd Museum although I’m sorry to say that there’s little to see in the way of trophies. 

If you’ve visited the Nou Camp and have seen Barcelona’s silverware, you may be disappointed by the Geordie version of the same.

The toon haven’t won much of late but there’s some nice photos of former Geordie football legends like Alan Shearer and Malcolm McDonald.

For other shops, walk round the corner to Eldon Square shopping centre or catch a bus from the Monument to Gateshead Metro Centre (12 minutes journey) to bag some bargains. 

Things to avoid in Newcastle

* The Bigg Market – largely grotty pubs and horrendously loud ‘vertical bars’.

* Don’t confuse Geordies with Mackems – the latter come from Sunderland down the road – never the twain shall meet.

* Avoid some of the city’s boorish old fogey bars around the Grainger Market!

Enjoy your trip to the ‘Newcastle Olympics’!

Newcastle Quayside

Newcastle Quayside and the Tyne

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