Newest Review: ... only a walkway. This part of the metro centre used to have my favourite two shops in but now they have both closed down, old fizzywigs, se... more
Fancy a spot of retail therapy
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Advantages: Mostly under one roof - great for shopping in wet weather
Disadvantages: Gets very busy, poor selection of independent shops
The Metrocentre was the brainchild of wealthy, local businessman and property developer, Sir John Hall (also chairman of Newcastle United Football Club. It was built on reclaimed land close to the River Tyne which had been disused for some time following the decline of the river-based industries. The Metrocentre was able to firmly put itself on the map with the help of the large numbers of visitors to the National Garden Festival, held in Gateshead in 1990, on a site only minutes from the Metrocentre.
The Metrocentre is, though, so much more than just a shopping centre. It has a ten screen cinema, an indoor funfair for children, a top class hotel, a bowling alley and loads more besides.
The main building houses the majority of the shops and consists of three main malls linked by "town squares". The town squares are often used for promotional events such as fashion shows, car displays or displays and promotional activities for local community groups. Around Christmas this is often the location for carol singers, school bands (I did this for two years!) and performances for children - usually the Metro-gnomes (more about them later).
The "town squares" are often mentioned on tannoy announcements as a place for people to meet up with any members who may have strayed from their party. There are information desks located in the squares and the staff there can point you in the right direction if you've lost your bearings. You can also pick up a map of the site from here.
The big names stores are found on the main malls. British Home Stores, Littlewoods, Top Shop/Top Man, Miss Selfridge, Next, Gap, Dorothy Perkins, HMV, Music Zone, WH Smith, Waterstones, Holland and Barrett and many others. There is a large branch of Marks and Spencer with an excellent food hall: this branch sells mens', ladies' and childrens clothes, as well as gifts -(books, toiletries, toys, etc). There is a separate homeware store over in the Retail Park.
In particular I like the House of Fraser store: it has recently revamped the ladieswear section and this is now bright and modern and has added more up-to-date names to it's collection of concessions and now features designers such as French Connection and Suzy Smith. Elsewhere in the store there are departments for furniture, homewares, haberdashery, perfume and cosmetics and electrical goods.
A recent extension houses a Debenhams department store which is now one of the Metrocentre's most visited stores.
The larger stores are over two floors and can be accessed from ground floor or first floor level. On the first floor there are smaller shops - some still well-known chain names, others are independent stores or branches of local chains. These include fashion stores (usually the lower end of the market, toy stores and decorating/DIY stores.
Leading off the main malls there are a couple of smaller malls. These are given the rather twee names of the Forum, the Mediterranean Village and the Antiques Village.
The Forum is decorated with large light colour tiles and pillars and is distinctly more light and airy than the main malls which can be a bit gloomy and oppressive. Since it contains smaller, independent shops which are more exclusive and have prices which reflect that, it is more pleasant to amble here rather than in the main malls which can be very crowded at peak times.
In the Forum you can find designer baby/infant wear shops and shops selling apparently upmarket ladies fashions - however, I think some of these are a bit vulgar and cheap-looking. There are several shops selling designer shoes and handbags here too and a really good little store which sells any colour or pattern of tights imaginable.
As you pass through the Forum you reach the Antiques Village. When the Metrocentre first opened there were several little antiques shops here but the number has gradually dwindled with different types of shop taking up the units instead. This area has been built to look like an old cobbled street and the shops look like the fronts of a Victorian shops. A rather naff little hump-backed bridge crosses the square and beside it stands a model of a Victorian gentleman who now and again tells you that you're in the Antiques Village in an exaggerated Geordie accent. The face is modelled on Little Billy Fane, a local poet and comedian, better known nationally for his role as the youth leader in the BBC childrens' television series Byker Grove.
There are a couple of second hand jewellery stores which have some beautiful pieces for sale but they tend to be on the pricey side on the whole. There are a couple more shops which specialise in collectors items like china dolls, porcelain figures and teapots, etc and items such as Beanie toys. A couple of arty friends tell me that the two craft shops are very good and usually stock everything they need for a variety of handicrafts. My favourite store in this section is a tiny unit which manages to cram inside it all kinds of relishes and sauces, locally made Lindisfarne mead, handmade sweets and a variety of speciality spirits and beers. They often have a trestle table outside the store from where you can sample some of the products.
The Mediterranean Village houses both shop and restaurants. This is, again, a bit twee but it's quite pleasant to take a break from shopping to have a bite to eat here. Sadly my favourite place, Albertos (great Mexican food) has recently closed down but there is a good Spanish/tapas restaurant, a lively and popular Italian which is always busy, a place that serves Chinese food and Big Lukes (one of two branches in the Metrocentre) - a very popular Tex-Mex buffet restaurant. You can choose to sit in or outside any of these restaurants - each one has a low level wall marking it off from the next eatery and the main walkway. For some this may not appeal, after all there are loads of shoppers trying to get a look at what you're eating as they hurry past but I don't mind too much as I enjoy people watching as I eat.
Further down away from the restaurants, there are a couple of retail units including one selling reasonably priced leather goods. Here you'll also find a Tourist Information centre where you can pick up leaflets on other local attractions and get information on accommodation. The centre also displays paintings, photographs and ceramics by local artists, all of which are for sale.
If you prefer to eat more informally or you have a party who prefer not to be tied down to one style of food, try the Food Court. Close to the Mediterranean Village it offers has around ten food concessions covering everything from sandwiches and fish and chips to pancakes and curry. The benefit of eating here is that the seating area is not specific to any one unit so you can all choose different things but still sit together.
Just behind the Food Court is Metroland - the indoor funfair. The rides are specifically for children and you should check the height restrictions for each ride. A day or evening pass can be bought which allows unlimited rides or the rides can be paid for individually. Trained supervisors are there to ensure safety and if parents feel happy to, they can leave the children and go off to do some shopping or get something to eat. For the very young children there is a supervised play area which is staffed by qualified childcare workers. There are a dozen major rides including a rollercoaster, a waltzer and the "Wonderful Waveswinger".
(For full details of opening times and prices log on to www.metroland.co.uk ).
Older children may prefer ten pin bowling or Quasar instead and there are opportunities for both of these activities at the Megabowl Centre situated beneath the Food Court. As well as a diner inside the Megabowl, there are a few fast food outlets close by.
The ten screen UCI cinema shows the latest blockbuster movies as well as occasional late night showings of cult classics and horror films. Keep a look out in the local press for tickets for free previews of forthcoming releases.
Around the cinema there are various eateries including Pizza Hut (always big queues outside), Chiquitos - a Tex-Mex place with a separate bar area if you just fancy a drink (the cocktails are very good) and Shenanigans, an Irish themed pub.
Just above the cinema there is a Wetherspoons pub which seems to be busy throughout the day and serves a good variety of hot meals and sandwiches and often has deals such as tow mels for the price of one or combination deals offering a discount on a meal and a drink. Just across the way is a trendier cafe-bar which also serves meals.
Elswhere in the main building there are various coffee shops dotted around the malls where you can also buy sandwiches, cakes and other desserts. Massarellas is extremely popular and is well known for its ice cream sundaes.
Elswhere on the Metrocentre site there is an IKEA store situated on a small retail park with a pet supplies store and a few furniture shops. Close by there is an enormous ASDA store and nearby is the new Marks and Spencer homewares store. A minibus service takes you from the main building to this retail park for just 15pence, although there are lots of parking spaces if you are driving.
There are, infact, over twelve thousand free parking spaces at the Metrocentre. They are referred to by colour so take notice when you park of the colour you have parked in, otherwise you may spend all day looking for your car.
There is a Gala Bingo centre and nearby there is a branch of the well known Harry Ramsdens' Fish and Chips restaurants.
Just past IKEA there is a Marriott Hotel which has around 150 rooms. It has its own restaurant and excellent leisure facilities including swimming pool and gym. On the very western edge of the Metrocentre there is an Express by Holiday Inn hotel which is somewhat cheaper than the Marriott. This is situated beside The Skiff, a pleasant pub serving very good meals.
Another small retail park is home to an electronics store and a shop which specialises in ceramic tiles. There is also an area which has a few furniture stores and a store which sells end of line and slightly imperfect Littlewoods clothing, accessories and furniture. Next door is Matalan. If you aren't already a member of Matalan, bring something with proof of your name and address to get your membership card (costs one pound to join). Matalan sell homewares and clothing at discount prices.
The Metrocentre is open as follows
MON, TUES, WED, FRI 10.00am - 8.00pm
THURS 10.00am - 9.00pm
SAT 9.00am - 7.00pm
SUN 11 - 5.00pm.
These are the retail opening hours. On Sundays some stores (such as Woolworth) open half an hour before for browsing but cannot sell goods during this time. The food outlets in the Food Court, Mediterranean Village and around the leisure attractions open till around 11.00pm.
If you have never been to the Metrocentre I would recommend a visit. It is especially popular with coach parties from Cumbria, North Yorkshire and the Scottish borders who are not well served by major shopping centres and it also gets many visitors from Scandinavia who come across the North Sea by ferry to take advantage of the cheaper prices, particularly at Christmas.
However I prefer to shop in town even if the weather is bad and you get wet walking between the shops. When you're stuck inside a mall there is no interesting architecture to see and there are none of the charity or second hand shops I enjoy browsing in at the Metrocentre. I can't buy tickets for concerts there and there's nowhere to sit outside in the sun in summer.
If you enjoy shopping you'll love the Metrocentre but if you're after a little more you'll soon tire of it.
The Metrocentre is situated off the A1M Western Bypass. It can be reached by shuttle bus from Gateshead and Newcastle or by trin on the Carlisle-Newcastle route.
Summary: Shopping heaven for chain store fans