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The former steel city of Newcastle is a relaxed destination blessed with gorgeous wide beaches, lovely parks, great cafes and eclectic shopping. It's got so much to offer that Lonely Planet voted it one of their top ten cities for 2011. When it comes to the festive season in Newcastle, Christmas decorations, carols and magical light displays are just a few options to get you in the holiday mood. Christmas is about family and friends, giving and sharing, and there's no better way to do it then to get along to some of these festive happenings.

If you're looking to start the Christmas shopping, you'll need some inspiration. In Newcastle, Christmas decorations always look a treat at some of the bigger shopping areas. There's the Hunter St Mall, Charleston Square and the Westfield Kotara Shopping Centre. Here you'll find majestic Christmas trees and striking displays of lights, tinsel and beautiful decorations. David Jones has stores in the Mall and Kotara Shopping Centre, and Myer is located at Charlestown Square.

These department stores always know how to throw a Christmas party. Bring the children in to explore their in-store Christmas wonderlands and visit the man in red himself. And don't leave without viewing all of the Christmas windows. Both stores put a lot of planning and hours into creating wonderful window displays, often based on a theme. They are admired by adults and always a hit with the kids.

If you're looking for more unusual or one-off gifts, Darby Street in Cooks Hill and The Junction both have a fabulous range of gift stores and boutiques, or you might try one of the local markets. The Newcastle City Farmers and Craft Market is held every Sunday at Newcastle Showground and The Olive Tree Markets in The Junction have a twilight market in December.

And don't forget Christmas is about giving and especially to those less fortunate than us. One fabulous charity is Oxfam, who raise money to fight poverty all over the world. Oxfam have a range of stores, including one at Kotara where you can purchase gifts, cards, Fairtrade coffee and chocolate, homewares and jewellery. It's the perfect place to do your shopping, or simply drop in to make a donation.

When the shopping's done, why not grab the family and head off in search of the best Christmas lights? The redeveloping foreshore area in town put on a fabulous display last year that was so popular it's likely to be repeated. Or you might try some local neighbourhoods. Suburban homes have traditionally put on some fantastic displays in Newcastle. Christmas decorations, lights and Christmas characters being placed in, on and around houses and gardens always make a spectacular sight. Last year Lawson Street in Hamilton, Herbides Street in Fletcher and Panorama Parade in Warners Bay were just a few locations that outdid themselves.

And for a day out - or weekend away - the kids will love, head to the Christmas Lights Spectacular in the Hunter Valley Gardens at Pokolbin. This fabulous event will be open from 6.30pm to 8pm every evening between 10 November and 14 January. Newcastle Christmas lights take on a whole new dimension here, with over one million lights on show throughout designated areas of the Gardens. There will be new light and music displays, live entertainment, and a visit from Santa.

One of the most popular events of the festive season is the longstanding Carols by Candlelight, now an institution all over Australia. In the Newcastle region there are two major carols events. The inner city Carols by Candlelight is organised by the Council and held at King Edward Park. This beautiful undulating park is situated between the centre of town and the ocean. Families gather around the historic rotunda to share a great day with a wide range of performers, free carnival rides and a spectacular display of fireworks to mark the end of the concert. Another popular option is the Carols by Candlelight held at Speers Point Park on the edge of Lake Macquarie. This is another gorgeous location that offers plenty of space. Bring a picnic rug and make a day of it.