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Newcastle - the big draw

Lonely Planet Asia Pacific travel editor, Shawn Low discusses why Newcastle was chosen as one of the top 10 places to visit in the world.

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Lonely Planet has drawn on the knowledge, passion and kilometres travelled by its staff, authors and online community to present the Top 10 Cities to visit in 2011.

From the new book, Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011 – the best trends, destinations, journeys and experiences for the upcoming year.

1. NEW YORK CITY

Bright lights, big city ... Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Bright lights, big city ... Radio City Music Hall in New York. Photo: Corey Wise/Lonely Planet

Since 9/11, the site of the World Trade Center's twin towers has stood out as a closed-off, out-of-view, painful gaping void. This year that changes, as the former WTC site finally reopens to the public with the National September 11 Memorial, a 6-acre, tree-filled plaza with 30ft-deep waterfalls at the footprint of the former towers, rimmed by the name of each victim and illuminated at night (its museum will follow in 2012). For the city, this will be more momentous than if the Yankees, Knicks, Rangers and Giants won simultaneous championships while the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year's Eve. For all of New York, 11 September 2011 will be a defining moment.

2. TANGIER, MOROCCO

From its extraordinary position perched on the north-westernmost tip of Africa, Tangier looks in two directions: one face towards Spain and Europe, and the other into Africa. The 'white city' announces a culture excitingly different from that of its close cousins across the water. Tangier has always been of strategic relevance, but until recently it was considered sleazy, decayed and depraved. With the recent arrival of a new city governor, the town beach now sparkles, the hustlers are off the streets and even the taxi drivers are polite. A stylish new Tangier is being created with a dynamic arts community, renovated buildings, great shopping and chic new restaurants.

Rock the Kasbah in Tangier.

Rock the Kasbah in Tangier. Photo: Christopher Wood/Lonely Planet

3. TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

Tel Aviv is the total flipside of Jerusalem, a modern Sin City on the sea rather than an ancient Holy City on a hill. Hedonism is the one religion that unites its inhabitants. There are more bars than synagogues, God is a DJ and everyone's body is a temple. Yet, scratch underneath the surface and Tel Aviv, or TLV, reveals itself as a truly diverse 21st-century Mediterranean hub. By far the most international city in Israel, Tel Aviv is also home to a large gay community, a kind of San Francisco in the Middle East. Thanks to its university and museums, it is also the greenhouse for Israel's growing art, film and music scenes.

4. WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

For those who like to get in early ... Castlepoint, near Wellington, is one of the first places in the world to see the sunrise

For those who like to get in early ... Castlepoint, near Wellington, is one of the first places in the world to see the sunrise Photo: Paul Kennedy/Lonely Planet

Despite (or maybe because of ) its impetuous weather, Wellington is Cool-with-a- capital-C, crammed with more bars, cafes and restaurants per capita than New York, and a slew of gourmet producers including some 10 independent coffee roasteries. (Wellingtonians are modest-as; they just figure if you're going to do something, why not do it well?) Year-round you'll find arts and cultural events in abundance. Likewise, its film industry, 'Wellywood', centred on the Miramar Peninsula, is booming thanks in large part to the success of Wellingtonian Sir Peter Jackson. Locals love their city – jokingly likening it to a cult – and get a kick out of helping visitors fall in love with it too.

5. VALENCIA, SPAIN

While retaining its provincial charm, Spain's third city now mixes with the international crowd. Host of a couple of America's Cup yachting jamborees and an annual street circuit Formula 1 motor race, it's also European Capital of Sport for 2011 and a favourite destination for conferences and congresses. The sweeping lines of La Lonja, a Unesco World Heritage Site and once the meeting place of the merchant classes, recall the 15th century, when Valencia ruled all the Mediterranean. Half a millennium later, the soaring structures of the City of Arts and Sciences, designed in the main by Santiago Calatrava, Valencia's own son, speak of a new era of splendour.

Vision of the future ... Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences.

Vision of the future ... Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences. Photo: Greg Elms/Lonely Planet

6. IQUITOS, PERU

Pulsating with life, Iquitos' latest boom is tourism: visitors may flock to reconnoitre the rainforest but taking time to imbibe Iquitos itself is imperative too. This is a sultry slice of Amazon life: Brazilian, Colombian, indigenous and expat. Clubs bounce to salsa and rock until the early hours with the vigour you'd expect of Peru's jungle capital, but Iquitos is also a cultural hub: expect works by Peru's top artists, opulent rubber-boom mansions and a museum on Amazon ethnography for starters. As a trading post for rainforest tribes, market mayhem and riverboat bustle are part of the package, all conspiring to fill the city with an addictive, round-the-clock energy.

7. GHENT, BELGIUM

Many layers of attraction along Ghent's Leie River.

Many layers of attraction along Ghent's Leie River. Photo: Wayne Walton/Lonely Planet

Here's a secret within a secret: Ghent might just be the best European city you've never thought of visiting, in a country that continues to be criminally overlooked. Ghent hides away in the middle of Belgium's big three – Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp. Most Belgium-bound visitors rushing between these see nothing more than the stately fortifications of Ghent's St Pieter's Station. Those who do hop off the train and stroll along the Leie River to the historic centre will have their eyes out on stalks. Here hides one of Europe's finest panoramas of water, spires and centuries-old grand houses. And it seems the Belgians forgot to tell anyone.

8. DELHI, INDIA

The great metropolis of Delhi, encompassing Old and New Delhi and sprawling out for miles, has not looked this smart and sparkling in centuries. Huge preparations for the Commonwealth Games, which took place in October 2010, improved the city's infrastructure, cleaned up its streets and added to its accommodation options. Aside from, of course, a bounty of new or improved sporting facilities, there's the marvellous artery of the Metro – an underground transport system that's a futuristic, egalitarian world away from the sometimes chaotic, class-ridden situation above ground.

Take a load off at the sacred Jama Masjid in Delhi.

Take a load off at the sacred Jama Masjid in Delhi. Photo: Krzysztof Dydynski/Lonely Planet

9. NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA

For the best part of a century, Newcastle was dominated by its billowing steelworks until their closure in 1999 dealt a massive economic blow. But Novocastrians are a resilient bunch, and the dozen intervening years have seen an explosion of artists taking advantage of the cheap living costs. Newcastle now has the most artists per capita nationwide, and the most galleries – from acclaimed regional centres to independent, artist-run spaces and dozens of disused city-centre buildings occupied by photographers, fashion designers, digital artists and more as part of the inner-city regeneration scheme, Renew Newcastle. Today's 'new' Newcastle is a unique blend of imagination, sophistication and laidback surf culture.

10. CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

If Chiang Mai were a person, it would be Bob Dylan. With a history dating back further than anyone can remember, its influence remains enormous. And despite its great age, there's still a bohemian chic that makes it as relevant and hip as ever. Culture capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai was once the heart of the Lanna kingdom. Today those wanting to flee the bustle of Bangkok visit to lounge in coffee shops and drink in the city's artisanal atmosphere. With a friendly, cosmopolitan feel, this is one easy, safe and pleasant place to explore. There are dozens of well-preserved temples here, too.

This is an edited extract from Best in Travel 2011 © Lonely Planet. 2010. RRP: $24.99. lonely-planet.com