A warm welcome from the cold North East

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LESS than a two hour drive from Calderdale, Newcastle-upon-Tyne offers a host of attractions for people of all ages.

And at this time of year, the northern city and its neighbour Gateshead both offer a touch of wintry sparkle to a family day out or weekend away.

Wrap up warm against the cold weather and you’re well armed to stroll around the stunning sights of the twin cities.

Despite losing its 2008 bid to be named European Capital of Culture to Liverpool, Newcastle and Gateshead has undergone a whopping £250m cultural transformation over the past ten years.

Before you even reach your destination, the drive up the A1 allows a perfect view of the outspread wings of Anthony Gormley’s iconic Angel of the North.

You can’t fail to be impressed with the striking piece of public art - and our two teenage children whipped out their mobiles to snap pictures of it, open-mouthed, as we drove past.

Angel of the North

Angel of the North

Once we arrived, we checked straight into our hotel - the Thistle County - which had its own parking and was situated right in the centre of town, opposite the station.

The Grade II-listed building has been sympathetically restored and is a lovely mix of old and new.

It has 114 standard an executive rooms as well as a junior suite with roof top views of the city.

All rooms are ensuite and feature wireless broadband.

View from the Quayside towards the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, The Sage Gateshead and The Tyne Bridge.

View from the Quayside towards the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, The Sage Gateshead and The Tyne Bridge.

The breakfasts are stunning too - a spread of both full English and Continental cuisine.

The hotel proved a perfect base for our explorations of the city, which began with a walk down to Newcastle’s Quayside.

With its recent regeneration, the banks of the Tyne showcase dynamic, modern structures as well as the historical beginnings of the city.

Cross the Millennium Bridge to reach Gateshead - the south bank of the Tyne. The bridge has become an iconic symbol of the area’s cultural development and opens and closes like a giant eyelid to let ships pass along the river.

Guston restaurant, Newcastle

Guston restaurant, Newcastle

It is also worth a look at night when it glows with spectacularly coloured lights.

The fantastic BALTIC, Gateshead’s centre for contemporary art, opened in 2002 in the last surviving building of the old Baltic Flour Mills on the banks of the Tyne.

To many it had been a symbol of industrial decline but has now attracted more than three million people and exhibited more than 200 artists from 24 countries.

Admission is free and those who aren’t art fans, and young children, will at the very least be impressed by the building’s jaw-dropping viewing platform of Newcastle and Gateshead on the fifth floor.

The Gateshead side of the river also houses The Sage, a sweeping silver structure which hosts concerts across a variety of music genres.

With hungry children in tow - and a thirsty dad - we headed back to Newcastle’s Quayside for a spot of lunch and cold pint in one of its many pubs before the walk back up the hill into town.

Newcastle’s city centre is buzzing on a Saturday, with shops to suit however deep your pockets.

Designer boutiques are mingled with high street shops as you stroll around Grey’s Monument or up to Eldon Square shopping centre.

Heading back towards our hotel, we took in a couple of hours of interactive fun at the Life Science Centre on Times Square.

The children loved the centre’s virtual games arcades and incredible films as they explored the story of human life and took a look at the challenges we could face in the future.

After a brief rest of the legs in our hotel we headed back down to the Quayside for a family meal at Gusto Restaurant and Bar.

We feasted on incredible Italian food, which was very reasonably priced considering its high quality.

The fritto misto with deep fried calamari, sardines, prawns and zucchini melted in your mouth and the parmesan dough petals with garlic butter were a popular choice with the children.

Pizzas were large and delicious and at £8-9, excellent value for money, and my pan-fried sea bass with polenta chips was nicely washed down with a glass or two of Picpoul.

It was a sumptuous end to an amazing day.

There’s so much to see and do in Newcastle and Gateshead - especially with a family - that you’re spoilt for choice.

We only ticked a few of the attractions off the list - but we won’t be leaving it long before we return to explore some more.

FACT BOX

*Joanna Wardill and her family stayed at the Thistle County Hotel, Neville Street, Newcastle.

It is currently offering a two-night Discover Newcastle package from £147 per room per night, including breakfast, a three-course dinner, £10 shopping voucher, unlimited travel on the Metro/Quaylink bus and much more.

Offer ends December 31 2011.

Call 0871 3769029 quoting PPP95.

A winter sale at the Thistle County, with rooms from £49 per night, ends February 27. Visit www.thistle.com to find out more.

*We ate at Gusto Bar and Restaurant, on the Quayside, Newcastle. Phone 0191 260 2291 or visit www.gustorestaurants.co.uk

*Pick up a Discover Pass to gain great savings at top attractions across Tyne and Wear. Visit www.discoverpass.co.uk

*Life Science Centre, is at Times Square. Family tickets (two adults, two children) £24.10. Use the discover pass and children go free with full paying adult. Visit www.life.org.uk

Other attractions include:

*Great North Museum, Barras Bridge, Newcastle. Free entry. Visit www.twmuseums.org.uk/greatnorth museum

*Discovery Museum, Blandford Square, Newcastle. Free entry. visit www.twmuseums.org.uk/discovery

*Metrocentre, Gateshead. Open weekdays 10am-9am, Saturdays 9am-7pm and Sundays 11am-5pm

Further afield:

*National Glass Centre, Liberty Way, Sunderland. Free entry, open 10am-5pm

* Tynemouth - 20 minutes away on the Metro, with stunning blue flag beaches and Tynemouth Prior and Castle.