Soak up the history of one of Australia’s oldest cities, hit the beach, or head out into the countryside to spot local wildlife or explore wineries.

Newcastle has been a port city for over two hundred years. It exports huge amounts of coal, and was once a leading industrial centre. Today its economy is diverse and its arts scene, on the rise. The central city is home to heritage buildings and museums. There are miles of superb uncrowded surf beaches on its doorstep, and to the west is the Hunter Valley, one of Australia's premier wine-growing and gourmet food regions.

History buffs will enjoy gazing at Newcastle's heritage factories and colonial buildings. Check out Newcastle Cathedral for a look at one of its oldest and most significant. Climb the stairs to the top to get a great view of the city. To learn about the convict-miners who fist occupied the area, visit the Newcastle Museum. The convict heritage of the city may be responsible for the irreverent, fun-loving attitude of the locals.

Visit the Lock-Up Cultural Centre to explore a 19th-century jail complete with padded cell and exercise yard. Inside you’ll see exhibitions by local artists. For more art, drop by the Newcastle Gallery. There are some excellent Australian works as well as regular exhibitions.

Spend a few hours by the ocean at Foreshore Park. There are playgrounds for kids and also picnic areas. Walk the breakwater and climb Nobby’s Head for excellent views of the city and coastline. When it’s time to cool off, take a swim at one of the many beaches. Try Nobby’s Beach for calmer surf or Dudley Beach for an uncrowded stretch with good waves. Visit the Newcastle or Merewether Ocean Baths for a saltwater fix without the waves.

Drive 8 kilometres (5 miles) from town to Blackbutt Reserve. It’s a 182 hectare (450-acre) bush reserve with hiking trails of varying difficulty, and animal exhibits including wallabies, koalas and native birds.

Foodies and wine lovers should take the time to explore the charming towns and grape-growing areas of the Hunter Valley. There are dozens of wineries with cellar-door tastings, and plenty of superb local cafés and restaurants serving up gourmet treats to go with the local wines.