The UK’s best city: in praise of Newcastle upon Tyne

That their friendly, fun-loving ‘toon’ is Guardian readers’ top city was no surprise to Geordies. Tynesider Harry Pearson looks afresh at its ancient institutions and new bars and galleries

One February night a few years ago I found myself standing on the bank of a wide, dark river. Pastel-coloured lights melted across the glossy surface of the water. The rainbow arch of one great bridge was echoed downstream by the blue-green span of another. The glass of great buildings glimmered and a cool wind blew from the east. I felt as I had in other great cities at night – as if I was in a timeless and magical place. It took me some while to reconcile this with the knowledge that I was in Newcastle.

I say this not from lofty metropolitan disdain. Newcastle is the nearest city to where I was born, the nearest city to where I live now. I have been visiting it for long enough to remember when it looked like it does in the film Get Carter – all brick, slate and smoke. I have come here to watch football and see bands, to eat and drink, and to shop for goods from Airfix kits years ago to prams and pushchairs more recently. But until that winter evening I had never really noticed Newcastle. Familiarity had bred indifference. It was like that moment in a corny Hollywood movie when the frumpy girl next door takes off her glasses and – aw, gee! – it’s Grace Kelly!

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