Christmas Tyne is special in the Toon: Preparations already under way for city's festive season
Christmas in Newcastle-upon-Tyne is getting bigger and better, so this festive season is the perfect time to visit.
With the Metro Centre in Gateshead just outside the city being one of the largest shopping centres in Europe with more than 370 stores, including Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and House of Fraser, you can pick up all your pressies during your break.
If 370 shops don't work as an antidote to your shopaholicism, there are a further 150 shops at Eldon Square in the city centre.
If your other half prefers shopping and you not so much, there are plenty of bars and restaurants at the Metro Centre to spend time in or a whole rage of leisure activities.
There is an Odeon cinema and Namco Funscape, a family entertainment centre housing 18 bowling lanes, over 150 video and arcade games, Europe's fastest dodgems, an American pool hall and a newly refurbished bar and lounge area with large-screen sports. An Angry Birds-themed adventure golf centre will also shortly open.
When you make it back to the city this winter, the revamped Christmas markets will now take over a much bigger area of the city centre with a mix of traditional stalls and festive attractions and entertainment.
Organisers have promised currywurst from Germany, waffles from Holland, paella from Spain and sweet and savoury crepes from France. There will also be beers from local microbreweries, home-made jams, cakes and handmade chocolates.
The perfect base for your winter holiday should be the fantastic Hotel du Vin Newcastle, a magnificently refurbished Edwardian building on the banks of the famous River Tyne within walking distance of the city centre. This wonderful building was originally home to the Tyne Tees Steam Ship Company, so expect to see nods to its maritime past from ship ropes in the courtyard to porthole windows in some of the rooms.
You will find it hard to leave your timelessly styled bedroom as many offer fantastic views of the city's quayside and bridges.
We stayed in an amazing open-plan suite named Mouton Rothschild after one of the world's most famous wine estates, which can be found in the Medoc region of France. Our room had an extremely comfortable bed with fine Egyptian linen to ensure the most relaxing of sleeps.
Upstairs (yes several of the rooms do have an upstairs level) there was a free-standing bath and monsoon shower in the bathroom. You can soak in the bath while overlooking the River Tyne, ideally with a glass of your favourite tipple in hand.
Downstairs a large seating area allows you to chill out and watch the large plasma TV or the world going by outside.
While Newcastle has a an array of great places to eat, you can't go wrong with the French-styled Bistro du Vin in the hotel. The bistro theme is clear throughout with reclaimed floorboards, renewed fireplaces, art and gentle lighting.
If you like wine, they have a fantastic selection. Your sommelier will be on hand to advise or recommend a suitable wine for whatever you are eating.
The menu is filled with French-influenced classics such as snails in garlic butter or French onion soup and British favourites including burgers and fish and chips.
I chose a superb 28-day dry-aged ribeye steak, which was cooked perfectly pink, as requested, and served with crispy chips and a peppercorn sauce on the side. The food was all faultless.
It is worth noting that the bistro offers some great-value deals with two courses for £19.95 or three for £24.95.
You can walk off your meal by visiting nearby attractions or by taking a 10-minute trek or so into the city centre.
Closer to the hotel there is The Sage Gateshead music and arts centre, which has been named one of the top five concert halls on the planet, and the striking Millennium Bridge, which has been nicknamed the Blinking Eye Bridge or the Winking Eye Bridge due to its shape and its tilting method.
You can also find the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Located inside a re-purposed flour mill, it is the biggest of its kind in the world, so there's plenty to see there for culture vultures.
In the city centre you have an endless choice of things to do as well as shopping. If you like football there is St James' Park, which is the home of Newcastle United, or why not visit Chinatown for a variety of Chinese restaurants or the Life Science Centre with fun family activities, including a 4D motion simulator ride, live science shows and north-east England's biggest planetarium.
Half an hour's drive from the city brings you to the iconic Angel of the North. It is made from 200 tonnes of steel with a wingspan of 54 metres and draws a huge number of tourists to the region.
With so much festive fun planned in the coming months, there is no better time to visit the Toon (as the locals refer to their homeland).
Hotel Du Vin Newcastle, Allan House, City Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne
- Tel: 01913898628 or check out www.hotelduvin.com/locations/newcastle
- Prices at the Hotel du vin start at £79 per night. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hotel du Vin, guests can get up to 25% off dinner bed and breakfast, exclusively when they book direct.
EasyJet flies from Belfast to Newcastle with prices starting from £19.16 per person (return, including taxes and based on two people on the same booking). All flights can be booked at www.easyjet.com.
For more information on what to see and do in the area, visit www.newcastlegateshead.com