It’s two decades since BHP closed in Newcastle, but there are elements of the “old town” which prove it has not lost its steely resolve. For a city built on steel, Newcastle has re-invented itself as a genuine holiday centre on the NSW north coast, a two-hour drive north of Sydney. If you’re looking for things to do in Newcastle NSW, there’s plenty to keep you busy.
While locals refer to the state’s second-largest city as merely a “town” (Newcastle is Australia’s 7th largest city), business travellers and leisure seekers see Newcastle as a more sophisticated city through its array of chic NSW restaurants and bars, established theatres, inviting boutiques and art galleries, and other general tourist attractions.
Then there are the natural treasures – the beaches, parks and scenic paths – on which the city prides itself. Here’s what to do in Newcastle NSW.
- Newcastle, NSW
- 15 Things to do in Newcastle
- 1- Watch the racing cars at the Newcastle 500
- 2- Hang out on Newcastle’s beaches
- 3- See Newcastle’s Bogey Hole
- 4- Explore Fort Scratchley
- 5- Take a walk around the city
- 6- Go on a helicopter flight
- 7- Go wine tasting in the Hunter Valley
- 8- Visit Port Stephens
- 9- Shop In Local Markets
- 10- Visit Art Galleries
- 11- Trek the Anzac Memorial Walk
- 12- Explore Beaumont Street
- 13- Check Out The Local Nightlife
- 14- Visit Beautiful Lake Macquarie
- 15- Go Skydiving
- Restaurants in Newcastle NSW
- Best Newcastle Accommodation
- 15 Things to do in Newcastle
15 Things to do in Newcastle
1- Watch the racing cars at the Newcastle 500
Although coal continues to be trained into the centre for waiting cargo ships, today’s visitors see Newcastle in a different light, some using it as a base for drives to the nearby Hunter winegrowing region, the waters of Lake Macquarie and the blue water paradise of Port Stephens.
The 2017 staging of the first-ever Newcastle 500 V8 race meeting, while inconvenient to some protesting locals, played a key role in beaming through the TV screens images of a scenic city worth considering for that next coastal holiday.
2- Hang out on Newcastle’s beaches
Dig your toes into the sands of Newcastle and Merewether beaches and you follow in the footsteps of such notable locals as former world surfing champion Mark Richards.
Considered a favourite for surfers chasing the perfect wave, Newcastle Beach is also popular with families, the ocean baths and the heritage-listed Art Deco pavilion a haven for toddlers.
Today’s home to the annual Surfest Competition Challenging for the title of best beach Newcastle is Merewether to the south, where Richards perfected his art of surfing.
A two-minute stroll between Merewether Beach and Merewether Ocean Baths is the historic Ladies Rock Pool and the heritage listed Surf House.
3- See Newcastle’s Bogey Hole
Cut into ocean rocks by convict labour in 1819, is Newcastle’s Bogey Hole which remains a popular spot so many years later.
It doesn’t take much to admire the workmanship achieved by the convicts who were commanded by Commandant Morisset to build the pool for his own use.
It was known, originally as the “Commandants Baths”.
However, the name “Bogey Hole” was applied afterwards and is derived from the indigenous word meaning “to bathe”.
4- Explore Fort Scratchley
In 1801, Australia’s first coal mine was established in Newcastle under the present site of Fort Scratchley.
Built using convict labour, Fort Scratchley is one of the city’s leading attractions, and there’s no better way to visit than on a leisurely walk.
Here, you will learn of the fort’s history, the 6-inch guns the first and only fired in Australia on an enemy vessel during battle – a Japanese submarine during World War II.
To wander around the site is among many things to do in Newcastle NSW.
5- Take a walk around the city
Newcastle is crisscrossed with walking paths and trails, from one which hugs the harbour’s waterfront to a city walk and a much sought-after coastal trail that weaves through leafy King Edward Park.
For a panoramic look of the city and coast, take the short climb to the Obelisk – you won’t be disappointed with the result.
And, yes, don’t forget the camera.
6- Go on a helicopter flight
Taking off from suburban it is easy to see why the seagulls and various other birdlife love Newcastle.
And it’s not because of the hot chips accidentally dropped along the paths lining the beaches and harbour.
Book a flight from suburban Mayfield through Aerologistics Helicopters and you will soon find yourself up with the birds looking down on the many landmarks, beaches, parks, harbour and sprawling suburbs of a city with 500,000 population.
A highlight is the 20-minute Sygna and Stockton Beach flight which passes over Nobbys Beach and focuses not only on the famous undulating sand dunes but the rusting, partially submerged remains of a shipwreck, the Sygna, a 30,000-tonne Norwegian bulk carrier which ran aground during a fierce storm in 1974.
Depending on the season, chances of spotting humpback whales on their migration to and from Antarctica are extremely good.
7- Go wine tasting in the Hunter Valley
As a holiday centre, Newcastle has its many attractions within a one-hour drive of the Custom House (now a hotel) clock tower.
Head west, and you could find yourself in the famous Hunter Valley wine region sampling such labels as McGuigan and Tyrrells and the lesser-known Mistletoe and De Iuliis, to name a few, between meals, a round of golf and a visit to Hunter Valley Gardens.
Then there’s the steam capital of Maitland and the nearby historic town of Morpeth with its array of shops and cafes.
8- Visit Port Stephens
Head north of Newcastle and there are the Stockton dunes, farther north the blue-water paradise Port Stephens.
Here are some things to do in Port Stephens.
Drive south, and the vast waters and beaches of Lake Macquarie draw your interest to water skiing, fishing or merely paddling a kayak.
And, of course, there are such popular ocean beaches as Caves Beach, a short drive from Swansea and the entrance to Lake Macquarie.
9- Shop In Local Markets
A bustling city with so much to see and do, there’s a lot to love about Newcastle.
In particular, the Newcastle markets are one of the top attractions for both tourists and locals.
Each weekend, Newcastle plays host to several markets that offer everything from fresh produce to vintage clothing and handmade goods.
There is something for everyone.
Located at the Broadmeadow Showgrounds the Newcastle City Farmers Market gives visitors the unique opportunity to buy direct from NSW farmers.
Spend your day sampling the delicious local produce and enjoy getting to know the local farmers as they talk you through their growing processes.
The Olive Tree Markets are held once a month and sells the best vintage clothing in Newcastle.
Browse through the unique stalls and find some incredible one-of-a-kind clothing and accessories.
Located on King St, the Olive Tree markets are popular with travellers of all ages.
A fantastic place to visit on your Newcastle holiday, there’s also a vast range of local gourmet food and lively entertainment.
10- Visit Art Galleries
With a thriving art scene and talented pool of local artists, Newcastle is one of the best places to check out some fantastic art galleries.
Home to world-class exhibitions featuring modern, fine and traditional art, many of Newcastle’s galleries are free to visit, and you won’t break the bank with this holiday activity.
Newcastle has so many excellent galleries and museums that also host regular art classes and workshops.
So, if you want to learn some new skills, or perfect your drawing techniques, be sure to sign up to one of these classes.
11- Trek the Anzac Memorial Walk
Sprawling along the coastal cliffs of Bar Beach, the Anzac Memorial Walk is a fantastic thing to do while visiting Newcastle.
Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing during WWI, the memorial walk is an elevated platform that displays the names of 11,000 men and women who fought in the war.
This special memorial is a fantastic place to pay your respects to the soldiers and also enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean and coastline.
It’s also one of the best places in Newcastle to watch the sunset.
At just 450 metres, the memorial walk is relatively short, but you can continue walking along the coastline towards the city for a more challenging hike.
12- Explore Beaumont Street
A trendy little street in the heart of Newcastle’s suburb of Hamilton, Beaumont Street is a must-visit destination on your next holiday adventure.
Renowned for its incredible coffee and food scene, this area of Newcastle was home to the city’s early Italian and Greek migrants whose culture and heritage is still evident today.
Mediterranean restaurants fill the streets and offer some of the best food in all of Newcastle.
Additionally, Beaumont Street offers a unique selection of health and wellness stores as well as quirky bookshops and vintage shops.
Or, if you’re a history buff, we recommend taking part in the Hamilton Walking Tour where you will learn how the 19th-century coal miners transformed Hamilton into what it is today.
The tour offers some fascinating insights into the history of Newcastle.
13- Check Out The Local Nightlife
With its abundance of pubs, waterfront venues and casual speakeasies, Newcastle is renowned for its vibrant, yet casual nightlife.
Dance the night away or share a few quiet drinks with friends.
There’s a Newcastle nightlife venue to suit your style and taste, from sports clubs to rooftop bars, there are plenty of options when it comes to Newcastle’s nightlife.
For a relaxing evening, what better way to experience it than on a Newcastle pub crawl?
Spend your night hopping from one venue to the next, check out the secret bars and local favourites such as the Merewether Surf House.
End your night at Finnegan’s and put on your dancing shoes to boogie to some awesome live music.
14- Visit Beautiful Lake Macquarie
A spectacular saltwater lake twice the size as Sydney Harbour, Lake Macquarie is the perfect spot for outdoor enthusiasts.
This beautiful destination is ideal for a day trip and is just 30 minutes from Newcastle.
During the Australian summer, Lake Macquarie is bursting with sail enthusiasts and holidaymakers who come to soak up the sunshine and laidback lifestyle.
Whether you want to get out on the open water or soak up the tropical sunshine, Lake Macquarie is sure to impress.
With sparkling blue water and fantastic natural scenery, there is so much to discover in this gorgeous part of the world.
Spend your time in this beautiful region exploring the lake, sailing or kayaking and be sure to check out the surrounding local area’s trendy cafes and beaches.
15- Go Skydiving
If you’re chasing the ultimate adrenaline rush, skydiving over Newcastle is the perfect holiday activity for you.
Experience the thrill of jumping out of a plane from 15,000 ft (4.5 km) and free-falling at over 200 km/hr for an insane 60 seconds!
Glide over the golden beaches and gorgeous Lake Macquarie taking in the panoramic views of the coastline and surrounding city.
After the skydive, relive the thrill over and over again with your very own skydiving video.
Restaurants in Newcastle NSW
Customs House Hotel
Whether it’s around lunchtime or early evening, the harbour waterfront can be a hive of activity, particularly on weekends, the Customs House Hotel is an ideal spot serving casual snack food and Mediterranean-inspired a la carte meals – outdoors or indoors.
Here, you can sit back and enjoy the cuisine by marvelling over a heritage-listed building which was designed in the Italianate Renaissance Revival Style by NSW Colonial Architect James Barnet in 1877.
Queen Street Wharf Hotel
Stroll further to the Queen Street Wharf Hotel and you are met with all kinds of dining specials, where Monday-to-Friday happy hour last three hours between 3 pm and 6 pm and live music is the rage every second Thursday evening.
Dine and wine as you watch the Stockton ferry cross the harbour to the north side.
Scratchleys on the Wharf
The Newcastle harbourfront is also popular for its Scratchleys on the Wharf and its exquisite mouth-watering menu of seafood dishes, the seafood chowder and chargrilled seafood antipasto popular choices.
As for Italian restaurants, Cielo Italiano is a popular choice for its rustic and authentic fare, seafood almost mandatory.
Among the popular Newcastle Thai restaurants is Al-Oi Thai, a few blocks back from the waterfront in Hunter Street, while the number of Newcastle Indian restaurants has grown, Surtaj another choice of dining experience along Hunter Street.
Best Newcastle Accommodation
Novotel Newcastle Beach
Location, location, location . . . the Novotel Newcastle Beach is perfectly positioned for more reasons than one.
A few strides away are the sands of Newcastle Beach.
A slightly longer walk away is the harbour front and the historic Fort Scratchley, which guards Nobbys Beach Newcastle.
And there’s there the very shopping hub of a city which has its share of inviting cafes, art galleries, bars and entertainment precincts.
As for this beach hotel, the commanding address only tells half the story.
To complement its modern design are 88 attractive and well-appointed guest rooms, the ground floor is a drawcard for hungry locals as well as guests for the modern Australian cuisine served inside or al fresco style at Bistro Dalby.
In capitalising on seasonal produce, accomplished chef Clinton Doggett creates dishes that more than tempt the taste buds – they have a wow factor,
from the seared scallops and roasted eggplant puree appetiser to the barramundi with roast fennel and sea blite as a main course.
In between the shopping, dining and walks, there’s the hotel’s spa and fitness centre which receives a good work out from the guests.
Things to do in Newcastle was written by Michael Smith (1 to 8) and Brittany Balcomb (9 to 15).
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