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Top 10 Things to Do in Newcastle, NSW

The reinvention of Newcastle in recent decades from industrial heartland to cultural hub is just one of the many reasons to plan a visit to New South Wales' second city. Tick off these ten must-sees and dos.
Ten of the best things to do in Newcastle
Ten of the best things to do in Newcastle. Image: Visit Newcastle

It’s Australia’s eighth-largest urban centre, but Newcastle is still a big country town at heart.

That’s what makes it such an appealing place to visit — especially as a short break destination from Sydney (drive time: 2.5 hours). Great walkability, breathtaking coastline and beaches, intriguing historical attractions, a plethora of waterfront cafes and restaurants, and a thriving contemporary arts scene all add up to a fabulous few-days-away. Base yourself on the harbourfront or over at Newcastle Beach.

Here are ten of the best things to do in Newcastle.


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New South Wales Tours, Activities & Attractions


1. Visit Newcastle Art Gallery

The saying goes that crisis is another word for opportunity. The economic downturn that followed BHP’s departure from Newcastle at the turn of the millennium was the catalyst for the city’s cultural renewal — and today, Novocastrians are justly proud of their city’s new standing as an artistic centre. Swing by Newcastle Art Gallery to see a superb collection of 20th century art from the likes of Brett Whiteley, Margaret Preston, and William Dobell. The Gallery also has an impressive holding of contemporary works.

Ten of the best things to do in Newcastle
Image: Newcastle Art Gallery

Downtown, a 19th-century sandstone police station and holding cells have been turned into The Lock-Up Art Space, which showcases experimental contemporary art.

Both galleries are featured on Visit Newcastle’s self-guided Artist’s City Way walking tour. It will take you around three hours to complete and covers a number of large scale murals and public sculptures.

2. Get to a gig or see a show

Plays, ballet, and concerts are performed at the historic Civic Theatre and the equally charming City Hall, which are situated side by side in the downtown Newcastle Cultural Precinct. The city’s venerable live music tradition lives on at venues like The Small Ballroom, The Cambridge, Lizotte’s, 48 Watt Street, and Bar on the Hill. Check the Newcastle Gig Guide or Newcastle Live for details of who’s playing where during your stay.

3. Step back in time to the convict era

Convicts shaped Newcastle — literally. Their labour built the causeway between the mainland and Nobbys Head, resculpting the mouth of the Hunter River estuary and the topography of the city centre. Designed to make entry into Newcastle Harbour safer for ships, the causeway also led to the creation, through natural sand deposits, of Nobbys Beach. To learn more about the convicts’ endeavours, do Visit Newcastle’s self-guided Convict and Industry Walk by day or a guided ghost tour by night. You’ll hear tales of the darker side of life in what was a notoriously harsh penal settlement.

Ten of the best things to do in Newcastle
Get spooked on a Newcastle ghost tour. Image: Visit Newcastle

4. Hear the BHP backstory at Newcastle Museum

For most of the 20th century, Newcastle’s fortunes were tied to those of BHP — at the time, Australia’s largest company. From 1915 to 1999, the BHP steelworks dominated life in the city — both economically and socially. Newcastle Museum’s Fire and Earth exhibition tells the story of the BHP era and includes a theatrical multimedia presentation on the steelmaking process. Despite the loss of the steelworks, Newcastle remains the largest working port on Australia’s east coast.

5. Tour Fort Scratchley and pay your respects

History buffs will love a visit to Fort Scratchley — a cliff-top battery overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which was built in 1882 to defend the port against possible enemy attacks. It came into its own in June 1942 when its guns returned fire during a Japanese submarine strike. Book a guided tour of the site to see its network of underground tunnels.

Ten of the best things to do in Newcastle
Newcastle Memorial Walk. Image: Bigstock

Further down the coast past Newcastle Beach, the Newcastle Memorial Walk was constructed to mark the ANZAC centenary in 2015. It honours the men and women of the Hunter region who served in World War I. The elevated 450-metre-long walkway offers incomparable 360-degree views and displays the names of thousands of soldiers and the battles in which they fought.

6. Dine by the water

Waterside dining is one of the great pleasures of a visit to Newcastle, so be sure to sit down to a meal or three by the beach, harbour, or river. First up, head for Honeysuckle — a redeveloped industrial port precinct that now houses around 30 restaurants, bars, and cafes. You’ll enjoy a wide choice of cuisines and uninterrupted views of Newcastle’s working waterway.

Ten of the best things to do in Newcastle
Honeysuckle, Newcastle. Image: Destination NSW

Sandwiched between the Convict Lumber Yards and historic Customs House in Newcastle East is the delightfully atmospheric Paymaster’s Restaurant. Set back a little from the water, it nevertheless has a lovely outlook across Foreshore Park to the mouth of the Hunter River. With an extensive menu of meat, seafood, and vegetarian options, there’s something to suit every taste at this gem of a restaurant.

For casual coastal eats, Swell Kiosks offer a range of breakfast dishes, fish and chips, burgers, tacos and great coffee. Check out both their Nobby and Bar Beach locations.

7. Enjoy the cafe culture

Is coffee the new coal? You’d be forgiven for thinking so, based on the number of cafes across Newcastle! The top picks for serious coffee drinkers are Welsh Blacks and One Penny Black. If you’re exploring further west, try Baked Uprising at Maryville or Dark Horse in Wickham.

8. Hit the beach or picnic in the park

Newcastle is home to four of the finest city beaches in Australia — Nobbys, Newcastle, Bar, and Merewether — and they all draw crowds of locals and holidaymakers alike. Surf, swim, stroll, or just wiggle your toes in the sand and breathe in the salty air.

Ten of the best things to do in Newcastle
Newcastle Beach. Image: Destination NSW

Two lovely spots to enjoy a picnic with ocean views are Foreshore Park in Newcastle East (adjacent to a popular promenade for cyclists and walkers) and King Edward Park, which sits on high ground to the south of Newcastle Beach.

9. Do a sightseeing cruise

It’s a five-minute ferry ride from Queens Wharf across the harbour to the suburb of Stockton — seemingly, another world! Idyllic fishing spots, seafront parks and cycleways, and the 32 kilometre-long Stockton Beach make this an ideal day trip for those in search of some quality ‘me-time’.

Ten of the best things to do in Newcastle
Ten of the best things to do in Newcastle: Get out on the water. Image: Coast XP

To spend longer on the water, consider booking a sightseeing cruise. Coast XP offers a 2.5-hour coastal trip, where you’re likely to spot dolphins, turtles, and other marine life. Whale watching cruises operate from early June through to mid November.

10. Meet furry and feathered locals

For close encounters with landlubbing native animals, pay a visit to popular Blackbutt Reserve in the suburb of Kotara. Kids of all ages will enjoy this experience and entry to the wildlife exhibits is free of charge.

Nature lovers should also check out the Hunter Wetlands Centre — a once polluted swamp/now stunning bird sanctuary, situated just 10 minutes’ drive from the CBD.

For more travel inspiration, visit www.visitnewcastle.com.au.

Browse our range of Newcastle tours and experiences here.

Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Newcastle? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Cover image: Destination NSW. Additional images: Bigstock

Roslyn Jolly

About the writer

Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Escape (News Limited), Mindful Puzzles, Vacations and Travel, and Mindfood. In her former career as an English Literature academic, she studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed Roslyn to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.

 

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    1. Hi Ava. Thanks for the comment. It’s great to hear that you found the story interesting. Regards, Adam Ford (Editor)

    1. Hi Kristina. You’re welcome! We hope you found it useful. Regards, Adam Ford (Editor)

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