I know Newcastle well. Or at least I thought I did.
When we took our road trip around Australia, and landed in Australia’s 7th biggest city, we realized there were so many things to do in Newcastle as a family that we hadn’t seen before.
I soon discovered there was more to Newcastle beyond the riverfront walk, Nobby’s Beach and a lot of pubs.
Newie (as it’s called by the locals) was the place to go out when I was younger. It was a 90 minute train journey away from where I grew up and I used to come here a lot to enjoy the nightlife. It was always saved for special occasions and memorable moments.
But, a city is more than its nightlife. Now as a family, we had dipped into Newcastle a few times over the past couple of years, and we have discovered that Newcastle has had quite the resurgence over the past few years. There are so many more attractions now than there used to be.
To help you plan your trip, I’ve listed all the best attractions in Newcastle and things to do, so you and your family can make the most out of your trip.
- Is Newcastle Worth Visiting
- Newcastle History
- Things to Do in Newcastle
- 1. Visit Fort Scratchley
- 2. Check Out The Lock Up
- 3. Check Out Newcastle’s Coffee Culture
- 4. Check Out the Newcastle City and Farmer’s Market
- 5. Check Out the Stunning Newcastle Beaches
- 6. Go Sand Boarding in Port Stephens
- 7. Check Out The Vineyards and Wineries of Hunter Valley
- 8. Visit The Hunter Wetlands
- 9. Relax at the Christ Church Cathedral
- 10. Take the Kids to Oakvale Wildlife Park
- 11. Walk the Anzac Memorial Walk (Newcastle Memorial Walk)
- 12. Visit Glenrock State Conservation Area
- Where to stay in Newcastle?
- Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Newcastle
- Other Places near Newcastle
Planning a Last Minute trip to Newcastle?
Don’t leave your planning to the day before! See our favorite tours, attractions and hotels for your trip to Newcastle here.
Top Experiences and Tours in Newcastle
- Sandboarding in Port Stephens (for the adventurous traveler!)
- Hunter Valley Wine Tour (best attraction for adults)
- Whale Watching Cruise (From June to November)
Top Accommodation and Hotels in Newcastle
- Quest Serviced Apartments (Great for families, where we stayed)
- Terminus Apartment Hotel (4* Apartments with great location near the beach)
- Rydges Newcastle (4.5* Hotel near the Harbour)
Is Newcastle Worth Visiting
Newcastle was always known as a party city but that perception is changing. It’s implemented a few creative programs to bring back the culture and arts to the city.
Artists have been invited on special programs to work and showcase their pieces in the city centre and there has been a huge growth in the cafe and restaurant scene.
It’s also becoming quite the coffee and foodie haven, and you’re never short of quirky places to eat in Newcastle.
It’s not just about pubs and industry anymore. Newcastle is a city of rich history, quirky culture and amazing scenery. It’s also a city of superlatives and a deepening soul.
For that reason, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Before I show you the best things to do in Newcastle, here are a few interesting facts we discovered about Newcastle:
- It is the second oldest city in Australia. There is argument with Hobart, but the truth is Newcastle was settled first in 1797, but colony didn’t work. Hobart began in 1804, Newcastle returned after that and successfully re-settled.
- Newcastle recorded the first Australian export of coal in 1799 when 50 tonnes was shipped to Bengal via Sydney.
- It’s a convict city and place of the first convict industrial activity in Australia.
- In 1801 Australia’s first coal mine was established in Newcastle under the present site of Fort Scratchley using convict labour.
- Fort Scratchley’s 6-inch guns fired on a Japanese submarine during World War II. This is the first and only time that Australian Guns have fired on an enemy vessel during war.
- Set at the foot of Newcastle’s Shepherds Hill and King Edward Park, The Bogey Hole is one of Australia’s oldest ocean baths. The Bogey Hole was carved out of the cliffs by convicts by order of Commandant Morisset in about 1820.
You can learn more about the history of Newcastle at the Newcastle Museum, if you’re interested.
Things to Do in Newcastle
Now you know a little bit more about the city, it’s time to introduce you to the top attractions in Newcastle…
1. Visit Fort Scratchley
I was pleasantly surprised by Fort Scratchley. I’m embarrassed to say after all my years of coming to Newcastle, I did not know of its existence! No pubs in it I guess.
Apart from some of the best views in Newcastle looking out to the ocean for some whale watching (from June to November), across the harbour to Stockton beach, and back over to a pretty cityscape, Fort Scratchley has immense value in its history.
This fort was well positioned to protect the city of Newcastle with guns on top of the fort and in the tunnels below that all aim upon the ocean, harbour entrance, and river.
On our visit to Fort Scratchely, we learned that Nobbys lighthouse on the top of the hill at the northern end of Nobby’s Beach was once an island.
A break wall was built to protect the harbour and so created one of Newcastle’s most popular beaches and, as it is a south facing beach, helped to create some of Newcastle’s best surfing breaks.
It was unlikely an enemy vessel would make it through the harbour into the city. During WWII the Fort fired upon a Japanese submarine that bombarded Newcastle with shells.
The six inch guns are still used today during special ceremonies such as Anzac and Australia Day services. And yes, they fire blanks. (I did check).
The girls really loved running around the tunnels and I highly recommend you pay the fee to see this part of the Fort. I don’t think you would appreciate the Fort as much without doing it.
- Fort Scratchley is opened Weds- Mon from 10-4pm.
- Tunnel tours are $12 adult, $6 for kids, $30 family
2. Check Out The Lock Up
The Lock-Up was Newcastle’s Police Station from 1861 until its closure in 1982.
The heritage listed cells, once held offenders who were drunk and disorderly, insulting police officers, attempted suicide, swearing in public or who were involved in historical events such as the Coal Strike of 1909, the Clara Street Eviction riots during the Great Depression and the 1979 Star Hotel riot (which is sung about in the Cold Chisel song, Star Hotel).
The building now includes six cells – both men’s and women’s – a very rare example of a padded cell, and two exercise yards separated for men and women.
There’s also the foyer, which was also the charge room—the place where the riff raff were measured, photographed and charged.
It was only a matter of time. That’s what you get for not wanting to sleep!
- The Lock up is opened Wednesday – Sunday, 10am to 4pm
- Tours General Tour (20mins) $3 per person, Detailed Tour (45mins) $5 per person
- Located 90 Hunter Street Newcastle.
Lock Up Centre Art
Newcastle is a University town which brings a lot of culture, innovation and arts unto itself. We were impressed to hear of the Artists in Residents program at the Lock Up Centre.
It’s inside the old city prison, and artists can now take up residence in an apartment on the first floor for up to three weeks at a time, in order to research and study for their latest masterpieces.
Inside the historic building is also curated exhibitions by Lock-Up staff and local artists.
Newcastle Art Gallery holds the second largest collection of art in NSW and there are plenty of smaller private art galleries to peruse.
There’s also a few famous names to have come from Newcastle: Jennifer Hawkins, Silverchair, Andrew Johns, Clive Churchill, Yahoo Serious.
3. Check Out Newcastle’s Coffee Culture
For quirky culture, boutique shopping and seriously good cafes Darby Street is the place to wander of an afternoon. The only stressful thing is trying to choose which of the 20 cafes to chillax in.
I recommend Frankie’s Place.
I was really pleased to see how a once drab and boring city centre is now offering a wide variety of eclectic and funky cafes, restaurants, and shops.
It’s all thanks to the Renew Newcastle project. Renew Newcastle was founded to help solve the problem of Newcastle’s empty CBD.
It aims to find artists, cultural projects and community groups to use and maintain these buildings until they become commercially viable or are redeveloped.
I only wish we had more time to explore. Renew Newcastle was finding uses that are often so interesting they are becoming tourist attractions
4. Check Out the Newcastle City and Farmer’s Market
Let’s talk about the food in Newcastle. Well I was impressed.
From Spanish tapas, to fancy French cuisine, and German prosting fun, Newcastle is bringing on the culture. Check out Sprocket Roasters, and Estabar for some great food.
But arguable the best place to find food in Newcastle is at the farmer’s market. Every Sunday the city holds a Newcastle City and Farmer’s Market out at the Entertainment Centre. It’s a great place to pick up fresh and cheap produce.
There are a few stalls that sell other traditional market wares like wind chimes, crafts, and hand-woven bags.
5. Check Out the Stunning Newcastle Beaches
Novacastarians are seriously spoilt for natural beauty.
The coastline beckons surfers, day trippers, health nuts and those wishing to sit in peaceful silence. We stood and watched the surf for some time – beautiful breaks, with little competition for them.
Newcastle has three distinctly different sandy beaches, and they’re interlinked by one great coastal walk called Bathers Way which features rugged cliffs and reefs, rock pools, huge salt water ocean baths, heritage sites and parklands.
Merewether Beach is one of the most famous beaches because it has an ocean pool, and it’s also where international surfing competitions are held.
Not only does Newcastle have an endless pick of oceans to enjoy, the Hunter River also meanders through. Newcastle is a port town so you can sit and watch freighters, small fishing vessels or cruise boats sail in and out.
There are plenty of picnic areas or restaurants to enjoy the view.
6. Go Sand Boarding in Port Stephens
To the North, just a short ferry ride from Newcastle lies the Stockton sand dunes in Port Stephens, the largest moving coastal sand mass in the southern hemisphere.
The sand dunes have formed the background of many films, including the popular Australian ‘Mad Max’ films. It’s also a popular spot for four wheel driving, quad bike riding, and sandboarding tours. It’s wild, remote and unpopulated.
7. Check Out The Vineyards and Wineries of Hunter Valley
To the west are the vineyards of the Hunter Valley, an extremely popular and well-known Australian winery area.
But it’s not only known for having the best wine in Australia, you can also sample cheese and chocolate, as well as other alcoholic beverages such as beers and spirits in Hunter Valley.
Visit local boutique wineries and distilleries and ignite your taste buds!
8. Visit The Hunter Wetlands
Then there was the Hunter Wetlands Centre.
I’d never heard of it, which is a shame because it has more bird species than Kakadu National Park. Kakadu!!!
It is a very peaceful and special place that can be appreciated via its walking trails or by Segway.
9. Relax at the Christ Church Cathedral
The Christ Church Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral Church of Christ the King, is a stunning building in Newcastle that has a huge lawn and grounds that you can sit on and relax.
Photographers will love photographing the intricate architecture of the building, whereas history lovers will enjoy exploring the pews and corridors inside the church.
You will find Newcastle’s principal War Memorial and Memorabilia artifacts inside the church, as well as beautiful religious artwork and stained glass windows.
As beautiful as the building is, remember it’s still a house of worship, and to be quiet and respectful when visiting.
10. Take the Kids to Oakvale Wildlife Park
See some of Aussie’s native wildlife from koalas, wombats, kangaroos, emus and more at the Oakvale Wildlife Park.
The park is 25 acres big and has only native Australian animals, from domestic farm animals to exotic animals.
You can walk around the park and see the animals, or take part in wildlife encounters where you get to meet the animals up close.
This is one of the top things to do in Newcastle with kids.
If you enjoyed the experience at Oakvale, then you can also see more native animals at Blackbutt Reserve, but I only recommend visiting one wildlife park if you’re short on time.
11. Walk the Anzac Memorial Walk (Newcastle Memorial Walk)
If you’re looking for outdoorsy things to do in Newcastle, then a gentle stroll along the 450 meter Newcastle Memorial Walk is the ideal way to spend a few hours soaking up the sun and taking in the views.
The walk takes you to Strzelecki Lookout (between Bogey Hole, King Edward Park and Bar Beach).
It was created in 2015 to mark the 100th Anniversary of the WWI ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) landing at Gallipoli.
Along the walk, you will pass steel sculptures of soldiers on the path, which are to commemorate those who lost their lives during the war.
12. Visit Glenrock State Conservation Area
Located just 5km outside of Newcastle is the Glenrock State Conservation Area in the Lake Macquarie local government area. It’s known for its rugged forest and excellent hiking and mountain biking trails.
It has many beaches, bush walks through the rainforest and waterfalls, and is also home to the iconic Glenrock Lagoon.
The Glenrock Lagoon is a small fresh water creek that sits behind Glenrock Beach. It’s the perfect place to go for a swim if the waves on the beach are too strong.
Where to stay in Newcastle?
Newcastle does have quite the shortage of accommodation options, which is on their long-term plans to improve upon.
We stayed at the Quest serviced apartments. It was very comfortable, clean and centrally located. We love apartment stays and this one checked off everything on the list.
We loved the Winter Warmer’s package which included a Quest DVD Pack – popcorn, marshmallows, hot chocolate mix tin and unlimited DVD hire and a complimentary bottle of Hunter Valley Wine on arrival.
I immensely enjoyed watching a movie from the bed, which was like lying on a fluffy white cloud (a much different Newcastle night time experience from when I was 21).
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Newcastle
I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in Newcastle.
I thought I knew it so well and it ended up being an experience where I felt as if I was exploring a new city for the first time. Newcastle offers so much more than fun bars and dance floors.
There is richness, as well as beauty, and a relaxed vibe.
I think it’s a place you could use a base for several weeks to have a relaxing and enjoyable travel experience. Slow travel at its best. I understand why Lonely Planet listed in its Top 10 Best in the world List for 2011.
I am excited to see where Newcastle goes because I think it is only beginning in its transformation and will have an incredible amount to offer travellers.
Disclaimer: Our trip to Newcastle was hosted by Visit Newcastle, though all the thoughts, ideas and opinions in this guide are our own.
Other Places near Newcastle
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Have you enjoyed a visit to Newcastle before? What did you enjoy most? Let us know in the comments!