An Insider's Guide to Newcastle NSW

It’s been a very long time since smoke spewed from chimneys at BHP, but people still don’t seem to realise what a beautiful weekend destination the city has become.

As a former Novocastrian, I constantly marvel at how much it has transformed. The regenerated city offers the most amazing mix of modern and historical architecture: new developments such as the striking University of Newcastle NewSpace campus and New Courthouse sit alongside buildings from the convict era through to Federation and Art Deco.

But my favourite parts of my home town are its relaxed vibe, gorgeous beaches and cool bar scene.

What more could you want in a weekend away? Especially when all three things combine at a location such as Merewether Surfhouse, which features the most dazzling ocean views and a great wine list. Put it at the top of your must-visit list.

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Take in the scenery while sipping on some coffee at Juicy Beans on Merewether Beach (Image: The City of Newcastle/Newcastle City Council)

Newcastle’s bar scene is also wonderfully diverse – both in terms of patrons and venues. Unlike inner-city Sydney, you don’t feel like a middle-aged pariah walking into any of the hot spots.

I like to kick off with a lazy drink in the afternoon sun at the aforementioned Surfhouse or Five Sawyers on Darby Street, Cooks Hill.

As dusk descends, I love the exclusive vibe of Coal & Cedar, hidden in a nondescript office block on Hunter Street. You rock up to a nondescript office block that looks a bit abandoned and look for a little note stuck to the door telling patrons to text a special password and voila, you enter a prohibition-era-style speakeasy that stocks 65 different sorts of whiskey.

Further up Hunter Street is one of my favourite old haunts as a twentysomething, The Lucky Hotel. In my day, it was SUCH a dodgy pub, but it’s had a glamorous makeover and is absolutely pumping most nights. Definitely worth checking out, plus it offers reasonably priced accommodation upstairs too.

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The stunning dining area at The Lucky Hotel

Reserve Wine Bar and Bar Petit are also worth a visit, and all in the inner city within walking distance of each other.

It’s not all about the booze. One of my “happy places” are the rock pools in front of the Merewether Surfhouse. Clambering on the rocks and searching for pretty shells at low tide is the most lovely, peaceful experience. Your kids – or grandkids – will love it too. There’s also a fabulous ocean pool right beside it for paddling or laps.

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Merewether Baths (Image: The City of Newcastle/Newcastle City Council)

A wander along Nobby’s Beach to the Lighthouse is also rather special. Towering above the beach is Historic Fort Scratchley, famous for opening fire on a Japanese sub when it attacked Newcastle in 1942. You can take a self-guided tour, or visit the underground tunnels with a guide.

And don’t miss the beautiful Bogey Hole, mid-way between Nobby’s and Merewether. It’s a beautiful ocean pool, carved from the rocks by convicts.

When it’s time for a caffeine fix, explore Newcastle’s amazing emerging coffee culture. Bank Corner Espresso down the edgy West end – where tattoo parlours and art galleries rub shoulders on the street – is excellent.

There’s also the famed One Penny Black in Newcastle Mall. The Mall was once the thriving heart of the city but had become a dead zone by 2008. It’s been revived through the Renew Newcastle project and is filled with quirky shops and restaurants. The old David Jones department store at its entrance has been converted into The Emporium - home to a dozen maker-based artisanal businesses. Well worth an amble.

Other hot coffee spots in the city are Estabar – for a great brew with an incredible view of Newcastle Beach - and Juicy Beans Café in the harbourside Honeysuckle precinct.

When it’s time for dinner, there’s also a great restaurant strip on the water at Honeysuckle Drive, with a fascinating view of the sea port while you dine or have a drink at The Honeysuckle Hotel.

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Newcastle is home to many scenic pubs (Image: The City of Newcastle/Newcastle City Council)

Among Newcastle’s best places to eat out are Subo, in Newcastle West, which has two hats in the Good Food Guide; Napoli Centrale, in King Street, which serves Newcastle's best pizza; while Rustica offers sweeping views of Newcastle Beach and fantastic Mediterranean food.

Steel yourself!

Have you been to Newcastle? Where’s your favourite spot?

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