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Newcastle Newbies: A first timer’s guide to visiting Australia’s second oldest city

You may only know Newcastle for steel, Silverchair and Jen Hawkins but just you wait: it’s much, much more than that.

Pack your swimmers, your best thongs and leave behind any preconceived ideas. Here’s what you should know when visiting Australia’s coolest coastal city for the first time:

Life revolves around the beach

Rain, hail or shine swimmers crawl through the water at Newcastle Ocean Baths with its distinctive art deco façade or at Merewether Baths, the largest in the southern hemisphere. Surfers meanwhile live for Newcastle’s renowned surf breaks; feverishly checking the Surfline app like brokers check the stock market. Don’t be surprised to see surfers jogging through the CBD after a morning wave or dashing out the office door in their lunch break.

Locals are called Novocastrians

Locals are called Novocastrians; proud Novocastrians even. The term is used whether you hail from Newcastle NSW or Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK which Newcastle is named after.

Newy’s coffee culture is incredible

It’s like a slice of Melbourne by the sea but with better weather. In the CBD Xtraction fuels office workers (look for the queue), New Slang dishes up single origin beans roasted by Alaric Daley of Union Coffee Roasters while the coffee is consistently good at pooch friendly Dark Horse Espresso in Wickham. Opposite Newcastle University’s city campus the welcome is as warm as the $4 refills by Melbourne-based roaster Gridlock’d at the eclectic Press House. Grab a $2 standup espresso and exit through the hidden rear door to see colourful street art along Civic Lane.

There’s good coffee further afield (i.e. outside the CBD), but that’s a whole other story.

Newcastle has more artists per capita than anywhere in Australia

It’s a city bursting with creativity. A good place to see local, handcrafted jewellery, homewares and clothing by the talented local Foong sisters from High Tea with Mrs Woo is Studio Melt. The Station Newcastle is home to Make Space, an artist run collective for pottery, ceramics, photography, jewellery and more. Just off Newy’s happening Darby Street strip you’ll find the Newcastle Art Gallery (look for the giant Brett Whiteley egg in a bird nest sculpture) while nearby Blackbird Corner showcases the work of local designers. The Newcastle Visitor Information Centre meanwhile stocks locally made and sourced products including the quirky works depicting Newcastle landmarks by local artist Trevor Dickinson.

Newcastle was built on the back of convicts

A small plaque outside apartments overlooking Newcastle Beach commemorates the fact it was once the site of Newcastle Gaol. Ironically residents pay millions for the view convicts once “enjoyed” for free.  Newcastle was renowned as a “hell hole” where the most dangerous convicts were sent to work in the coal mines as punishment for their crimes. Conditions improved somewhat, and convicts later helped build the fledgling town’s first church, the breakwater to Newcastle Harbour and Newcastle’s first school (Australia’s oldest school where both Miranda Otto and Ben Lexcen of America’s Cup winged keel fame attended). The iconic Bogey Hole, Australia’s first sea baths, was also hand carved by convicts. It’s one of Newy’s most Instagrammable landmarks.

It punches above its weight when it comes to great food and small bars

Lauded eateries include Subo, Restaurant Mason and Flotilla to name but a few. There’s also offers a burgeoning small bar scene. Highlights include Saints Gin Bar, Tiki inspired rum bar Blue Kahunas, Coal and Cedar, the Rum Diaries and The Koutetsu, a dimly lit Japanese speakeasy. Bar hop by light rail. It’s a thing.

Top image credit: Destination NSW

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