Newcastle guide - Top things to do in Newcastle

Aerial view of the Newcastle

Blanche Clark

Posted August 31, 2022

Want a holiday with golden beaches, spectacular costal walks, fascinating historical sites, and world-class restaurants? Try Newcastle, a bustling beachside city that’s like Sydney but smaller and more laidback.

It’s often overlooked in favour of Sydney, but Newcastle is a fabulous place for a family holiday or mini break in New South Wales. It has a relaxed vibe, and it’s easy to get around, with beaches and major attractions all within proximity.

Once known as a “hellhole” in convict times because of its treacherous coast and dangerous coalmines, Newcastle has shrugged off its gloomy history and emerged as a vibrant, thriving city. 

One of the best ways to see Newcastle is to walk or hop aboard the light rail that runs from Newcastle Interchange to Newcastle Beach. You can also discover the magic of Newcastle from above with a Tandem Skydive. If you stay at Crystalbrook Kingsley, you’ll have beaches, cafes and shopping at your doorstep. You can spend two or three days exploring the city or kick back and spend every day at a different beach.

Fly to Newcastle directly from Melbourne or hire a car for a two-hour drive north of Sydney. Newcastle is included in many group tours, such as the Sydney to Cairns Adventure with Intrepid Travel. The port city is also the gateway to one of Australia’s best wine regions, and there is a wine-tasting tour that departs from Newcastle.

Aerial view of Newcastle

The Newcastle Ocean Baths are close to the CBD and Hunter River. Photo: Getty


9 things to do in Newcastle, New South Wales

Start with a beautiful coastal walk

The Newcastle Memorial Walk offers a fabulous introduction to the city. Here you can appreciate the vastness of the wild coast, glimpse the CBD, and learn about Newcastle’s military history. 

The walk opened in 2015 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing in Gallipoli, and it is adorned with steel silhouettes of soldiers and the names of Hunter Valley residents who served during World War I. 

The walk is also made with 64 tonnes of stainless steel to mark the commencement of steelmaking in Newcastle. A stairway connects the memorial walk to Bathers Way, a 6km coastal walk from Nobbys Beach to Merewether Beach. 

Get coffee and shop in Darby Street

Like Brunswick Street in Melbourne or Enmore Road in Sydney, Darby Street in Newcastle is your go-to place for a dose of caffeine, with an abundance of cafes for a leisurely breakfast or, alternatively, a local brew in the late afternoon in a historic pub. 

You’ll also find several independent clothing and lifestyle stores, as well as Cooks Hill Books, a labyrinthine second-hand bookshop with a vast selection. Admire the street art or wander along Bull Road to Cooks Hill Galleries, where you’ll find a range of artworks by Australian artists for sale.


Have a seafood feast at Bar Beach

You can’t go past fish and chips – or a prawn and avocado roll – at Bar Beach. Swell Kiosk dishes up delicious fare that suits the relaxed vibe. Sit down at a table or on the beach. 

If you visit between April and November, you might spy a pod of humpback whales migrating north. If there’s no action on the horizon, watch the hang gliders take off from Strzelecki Lookout. Bar Beach is great for families, with a patrolled swimming area, calmer waters than much of this coastline, and a sheltered rock pool for children. 


Catch a ferry to a maritime past

It’s a short ferry ride from Queens Wharf to Stockton, where you can walk to Stockton Beach for a swim and admire the distant Stockton Sand Dunes, apparently the largest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere. 

Stop for lunch at a popular hang-out, Lexies on the Beach, before walking along Shipwreck Walk to the mouth of the Hunter River. More than 100 ships have been wrecked on these shores, and you can see some along the way. Stockton is also popular for scenic cycling.

Ocean baths

See the waves crash over Mereweather Ocean Baths. Photo: Supplied


Follow the urban gin trail

The nation’s love affair with craft gin production has extended to Newcastle, and the city boasts three distilleries. Hidden away in the suburb of Carrington you’ll find Earp Distilling Co, which is producing top-notch gins. 

Try a Pear Me the Details cocktail with Just Juniper Gin, Earp elderflower liqueur, pear nectar, yuzu and lime soda, and pair it with chimichurri baby octopus with lime dressing or wild mushroom puffs with sticky tomato jam. 

Founded by brothers Michael and Richard Earp in late 2019, Earp Distilling offers guided tastings of their house-made spirits or behind-the-scenes tours of their modern distillery, which utilises the latest technology. Make sure you book, as these experiences aren’t available during peak periods. 

Get the best view in town

Shepherds Hill is one of the best lookout points in Newcastle, and part of King Edward Park. Here you’ll find heritage-listed fortifications, including Shepherds Hill Cottage, the battery observation post, and the remains of the gun emplacement. It’s an atmospheric place and great for picturesque social media posts. 

The fortifications were originally used to defend Newcastle’s burgeoning coal port from possible attacks, then to coordinate various coastal defences during World War II. 

You can wander around the recently restored cottage, and then take the path to the base of the cliffs, where you’ll find the Bogey Hole (pictured top of page), a sea bath built for the Commandant of Newcastle by convicts in 1820. It’s dramatic viewing when there’s a big swell, creating huge water sprays above the concrete structure.

Nobbys Breakwall

Macquaire Pier at Nobbys Breakwall offers great views of huge ships entering and leaving Newcastle Harbour. Photo: Pexels


Take the plunge in an ocean bath

Ocean baths are a distinctive part of the Novocastrian landscape, and include the Newcastle Ocean Baths, which is undergoing restoration, and Merewether Beach Ocean Baths about 5km south. 

The lap pool at the far end of Merewether Beach provides protection against the surf, but the waves still crash over the pool’s edge when the tide is coming in, which is part of the novelty of swimming here. The ocean baths are popular with locals and visitors alike - even in winter, when water temperatures hover around 17-18°C, which is still much warmer than Victorian waters.

Join the ship watchers out past the lighthouse

The historic Nobby’s Lighthouse marks the entrance to Australia’s oldest export port. More than 2000 trade vessels enter the harbour each year, and it’s mesmerising to watch them come and go from Macquarie Pier at Nobbys Breakwall, which extends past the Lighthouse. 

Also notable is the bright red sculpture by artist John Petrie, entitled Grounded. It signifies the area where the coal ship Pasha Bulker ran aground in 2007 at Nobby’s Beach. Part of the 76,000-tonne bulk carrier’s rudder has been incorporated into the sculpture. Plenty of photo opportunities here.

Dine along the waterfront precinct

Hop into a taxi and it won’t be long before the driver tells you about Honeysuckle Precinct, a major waterfront rejuvenation project that has transformed the former industrial landscape into a cosmopolitan playground, with stylish cafes, bars and restaurants. 

If you love seafood, you can feast on oysters Kilpatrick, lobster mornay, cured kingfish, Moreton Bay bug or chilli black live mussels at The Kingfish. Honeysuckle Precinct is also home to Newcastle Museum, which offers further insight into the local history and people, with contemporary exhibitions such as Shralp, which explores Newcastle’s skateboarding culture.

RACV Members save more on amazing travel experiences.
Discover more →