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Travel: Feeling in mint condition after trip to the Toon

© Shutterstock / Graham McAndrewBridges across the river Tyne
Bridges across the river Tyne

The Geordie Shore gang will be sulking into their Jagerbombs. There’s another TV juggernaut in town and it’s the toned-and-tanned lads and lasses of WWE rather than MTV who are hogging the limelight.

Wrestling fans are queuing up for a glimpse of their heroes. WWE superstars are in town for a live arena show and their home is here, at the Innside Hotel on Newcastle’s Quayside: among them, Sasha Banks, star of Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian, hard-hitting Bobby Lashley, and Ayrshire-born muscleman Drew McIntyre.

Once you squeeze past the selfie hunters and WWE security guards, the lobby of the hotel, opened last year by Spanish chain Melia, is surprisingly bereft of muscly VIPs but first impressions are overwhelmingly positive.

Stylish touches in the light, airy open-plan lobby, bar, and restaurant – headed up by TV chef Gino D’Acampo – include a cluster of suspended filament lamps, spiral staircase, and scene-setting Geordie mural. Sunlight pours in from floor-to-ceiling windows.

Gino’s restaurant

My studio room boasts a ringside view of the iconic line of bridges linking Newcastle on the north bank of the Tyne with Gateshead on the south. Trains trundle along the High Level Bridge while also within view are the red-and-white Swing Bridge, the 94-year-old Tyne Bridge and the much younger Millennium crossing.

A message scrawled on a mirror wishes guests a “mint” time. The king-size bed is wide enough to sleep an entire wrestling tag team. Rather than en suite, the rain shower is in a glass box, meaning you can savour the Quayside view from there, too.

The Gino D’Acampo Quayside restaurant is already buzzing for the weekend. The Italian waiter is polite and friendly and, he admits, a childhood wrestling fan so a little star-struck by the big-name guests.

It’s great to kick back at a window table with a chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc and a river view. The menu includes snippets written by D’Acampo about each dish. I opt for tomato bruschettas, then lamb stew pugliese with red wine, leccino olives, peas and toasted ciabatta. It’s instantly satisfying comfort food but the best is yet to come, on the dessert menu: the nutella calzone – folded pizza with caramelised banana and toasted hazelnuts (why choose savoury or sweet when you can have both?). My friend Helen enjoys the asparagus with melted butter and pecorino, followed by tortellini, and chocolate fondant.

Tyne Bar

Innside Newcastle is smack-bang in the midst of Quayside nightlife, with the Baltic art gallery and Sage concert hall both within easy reach. The following morning I pop into the Baltic, a converted flour mill, to see the first solo UK exhibition by Ad Minoliti, called Biosphere Plush. It’s all bold, psychedelic colours and bright murals, while figures with animal heads, dubbed “furries” by the Argentinian artist, stand sentry.

From the Baltic’s viewing box, you can look right across the city skyline, dominated by the cantilevered roof of St James’ Park football stadium. Speaking of which…

It’s 24 hours before Newcastle United take on title challengers Liverpool. With the sort of meticulous preparation befitting an elite team chasing silverware on four fronts, the Reds’ kitmen have already commandeered the away changing rooms, so they’re off limits to today’s stadium tour.

Our guide, Carol, a United employee for 24 years, takes us into the home changing rooms, down the tunnel to pitchside, and leads us to the top of the two-tiered stands which house thousands of fans every match day. A rooftop tour is also available for Toon Army members with a head for heights.

Paul at St James’ Park

The evening is spent in Ouseburn, long one of the UK’s hippest neighbourhoods. The Free Trade Inn, on a hill on the banks of the Tyne, has amazing river views, either from inside the pub – aim for a window seat – or one of its two beer gardens. The neighbouring Tyne Bar is an indie pub serving craft beers, with live music on an outdoor stage, and beer garden nestled under the Glasshouse Bridge. From there it’s a five-minute walk along the burn to the Cluny music venue, and the beloved Cumberland Arms.

Bridges, beer, scran, sport, culture, and wrestlers: Newcastle upon Tyne has it all. In short, it’s “mint”. Fight me if you don’t agree!


P.S. Whitley Bay’s Spanish City, immortalised in the Dire Straits song Tunnel Of Love, was restored to its former grandeur in 2018. Enjoy fish and chips under its domed roof in Trenchers, or visit Valerie’s Tearoom for coffee and cake.