Travel writer Tommy Walker has spent the last six years travelling the world. In the first edition of a new monthly feature for The Northern Echo, he writes about a city a bit closer to home

OUT of all the worldly destinations I could have chosen for my first travel article, it’s fair to say deciding on a city from the North-East may not be have been the most obvious of selections.

But credit where credit’s due. Newcastle is gaining some international limelight this year and it deserves an extra insight from a travel perspective.

For years Newcastle has undeniably had a pulsating reputation for a good night out. Nationwide, from the wanderers of the North West to the Southerners from London and beyond – Newcastle has always been a top place to come and party. Yet culturally the city has often been ignored, especially internationally – until now.

On the back of the glowing forecast by British travel publication Rough Guides, Newcastle is the number one place to visit in 2018. I was intrigued by this and like most people from the North-East, pleasantly shocked. Especially when the destinations that came below Newcastle were the calibre of Cuba, Chile and South Africa. But Newcastle has always had potential of being a major international city that caters to all kinds of visitors and travellers. So it seems like this recognition maybe just the start of what’s to come.

Whilst I was home in December visiting family, I decided to pursue a trip into the city for a couple of days, almost as an everyday tourist.

Organised through the official tourism board the NewcastleGateshead Initiative I managed to visit some heritage-rich attractions and experiences I never knew existed. The first thing I did was I took my Canon camera out for a play and took a few epic shots of the iconic bridges that connect Newcastle’s paths and roads, non more so than Tyne Bridge itself.

Wandering around the old steep pathways it was a pleasure just to see the old fashioned structure of the English way. Small doors and tight windows were charming to glance at as I made my way past the remains of the medieval fort from which Newcastle took its name; The Castle. I felt if Newcastle were a place for swarming international tourists this gaff would be a real hotspot, the original piece of history about Newcastle right bang in the centre of the city.

Grey Street is another piece of the historic Newcastle puzzle situated in the centre. Previously voted as ‘the most beautiful street in England’ walking down here felt like I was in a gigantic library with the rows of buildings acting as stack of marble books. Or maybe that was just me. Still Grey Street is a bit of a treasure you have to appreciate.

EMBARKING on TripAdvisor’s top attraction in Newcastle, Victoria Tunnel was next. Once used as an air-raid shelter during the Second World War, the tunnel has many stories behind it – some crude and some beautiful. Reminding me of the Qui Chi Tunnels that are famous in Vietnam, Victoria Tunnel evoked the spirit of the past. People lived here; coal was transported here under umpteen miles of the city. Memories of life in those days are visually epitomised by marks stained on the brick walls from the souls that once occupied these narrow parts.

Nearby, venturing to Ouseburn Valley and getting a glance of the colourful canal boats was a delight – something you wouldn’t normally know about in your everyday trip.

Back into the city, the Tyneside Cinema is one of the oldest of its kind in the UK and still actually has showreels playing. One of their theatre rooms is still to this day decked out as if was in the late 1930s when the place was built. Did you know the uncle of famous Hollywood Director; Dixon Scott was the owner of this place? I didn’t either until I visited.

Grainger Market is a simple indoor market place with tons of bargain buys – from local produce and delights to foods from far-flung worlds. Roam as you will, but I personally recommend the Turkish Street Food Cafe for the setting, the hospitality and traditional Turkish coffee.

The BALTIC situated at the Old Flour Mill was next – a contemporary art museum bursting with creativity. This adds the flair to Newcastle’s persona, one that many outsiders thought the city was lacking in. Throw in the Great Exhibition of the North that commences in June this year and has gained international attention, it really does add Newcastle to the list for the cultural cats.

IT’S funny what we can explore on our doorstep. Newcastle is only a stone’s throw away and could be your micro-adventure for today. You just might have to ward off the surge of potential incoming tourists along the way though.

*Tommy Walker, The Wandering Walker, is a freelance travel writer and journalist. Originally from Stockton, he left in 2012 to travel the world, and is currently living in Hong Kong.