The second-oldest city in Australia, Newcastle is located two hours’ drive north of Sydney along the coast of New South Wales. Although often overlooked, it certainly has a lot going for it with attractive architecture, interesting historic tourist attractions, beautiful beaches, nature reserves and superb surf spots.
An important mining center, Newcastle still ships the largest amount of coal of any city in the world out of its busy port. While industrial sites are dotted about its sprawling suburbs, there are plenty of fun things to do in Newcastle. There is a thriving arts and culture scene for visitors with fantastic restaurants and trendy bars also on offer. Add its laid back vibe, spectacular coastal scenery and proximity to the Hunter Valley wineries, and Newcastle is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.
12. Bogey Hole
South of the city center and Newcastle Beach is Bogey Hole, which is an ideal place to take a relaxing dip. Popular with locals and tourists alike, the iconic ocean pool offers phenomenal views out over the South Pacific.
Also known as the ‘Commandant’s Baths’, it was remarkably hewn out of a rock shelf by convicts in 1820. Set at the base of craggy cliffs, the sea bath is now recognized as a state heritage site due to its historical importance and stunning natural setting.
At Bogey Hole visitors can swim and splash about or sit and enjoy a picnic at the top of the cliffs. Bask in the breathtaking panoramas over the ocean and the atmospheric pool down below.
11. Lake Macquarie
The largest saltwater lake in Australia, Lake Macquarie lies half an hour’s drive southwest from the center of town. Besides boasting stupendous scenery, its vast waters and scenic shores also have excellent outdoor activities to enjoy.
Separated from the Tasman Sea by a narrow strip of land, the humongous lake is lined by peaceful waterfront communities with pristine beaches, nature reserves and yacht-filled marinas. Aside from stopping by lakeside towns such as Swansea and the City of Lake Macquarie itself, the main attraction is understandably its wealth of watersports.
As well as swimming, sailing and water skiing, visitors can go kayaking and paddleboarding with excellent hiking and biking also to be had along its more than 170 kilometres of shoreline.
10. Fernleigh Track
A great way to see as much of the city and its surroundings as possible, and get some exercise at the same time, is to walk, run or cycle along the fantastic Fernleigh Track. Meandering from the southern suburb of Adamstown, the paved path takes you to Belmont on the shores of Lake Macquarie.
Stretching just over fifteen kilometers in length, the multi-use trail follows in the tracks of the now abandoned Belmont railway line; built between 1880 and 1916. On the way, it passes picturesque nature spots and interesting historic sites that highlight the city’s industrial heritage.
While walking or cycling along the route you’ll come across various cafes and communities to stop off at, with other parts being more rural in nature.
9. Christ Church Cathedral
One of the most important and impressive buildings in the city, Christ Church Cathedral dominates and defines Newcastle’s skyline. As well as incredible architecture and artworks, it also has a divine view over the city and sea from atop its lofty belltower.
Built in 1902, it exhibits gorgeous Gothic Revival style architecture with its tall tower, fine facade and flying buttresses made out of ruddy, red bricks. Its interior is just as arresting with striking stained glass windows, finely woven tapestries, religious artworks, elegant apses and an imposing altar.
After having explored the cathedral’s various chapels, it is well worth venturing up to the top of its bell tower as the views over the ocean and city are spectacular.
8. Port Stephens
If you’re after exciting adventure activities, beautiful beaches and awe-inspiring nature and wildlife, look no further than Port Stephens. Located just an hour’s drive north of Newcastle, it makes for a popular day-trip destination or weekend getaway. The idyllic area really does have something for everyone to enjoy.
Dotted alongside the Pacific Ocean you’ll find towns, such as Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay, to stay at with dozens of picture-perfect beaches scattered along the shoreline. Besides enjoying the sun, sea, sand and surf, visitors can go whale and dolphin watching with superb scuba diving also on offer.
On top of all of this, you can explore the coastal region’s untouched and unspoilt nature in Tomaree National Park, sandboard down the enormous Stock Bright sand dunes or simply sit back and relax at one of its resorts.
7. Blackbutt Reserve
Home to all kinds of amazing animals and interesting wildlife exhibits, the ever-popular Blackbutt Reserve can be found fifteen minutes’ drive southwest of the center. As well as seeing classic Australian critters up close, there are also playgrounds, picnic areas and bushwalking trails on offer.
Since the 1960s, the reserve and its residents have delighted locals and tourists alike. Its lush tract of rainforest and bush offer up a welcome respite from the city and suburbs. In total, it now has over sixty species on show with flying foxes, wombats, koalas, emus and kangaroos.
Besides learning all there is to know about these incredible creatures, you can also meet, feed and stroke some of them at one of the reserve’s unforgettable animal encounters. In addition to watching educational shows and demonstrations, you can explore the bush yourself and enjoy resplendent nature all around you.
6. Merewether Beach
Just a few minutes’ drive south from the centre you’ll find the gorgeous golden sands of Merewether Beach. A popular place to swim and surf, it stretches over a kilometer in length and lies a short, scenic stroll from both Bogey Hole and the Newcastle Memorial Walk.
Besides lounging on its sun-kissed sands or taking a refreshing dip in the sea, visitors can stroll peacefully along its boardwalk or stop off at any one of the small cafes and restaurants that line the route. Bordering either end of the beach are craggy coastal cliffs, while the magnificent Merewether Ocean Bath on its southern side boasts fabulous views over the Pacific.
One of the best times to head to Merewether Beach is in February when the annual Surfest takes place. Held over twelve days, it is impressively the largest surfing contest and festival in the whole of Australia.
5. Newcastle Museum
Set right in the center of town is the excellent Newcastle Museum, which offers fascinating insight into the history, culture and heritage of the city. Packed with interesting artifacts and interactive exhibits, it is well worth visiting. The site also hosts the hands-on Supernova science center.
Founded in 1988, it now occupies the historic Honeysuckle Point Railway Workshops, which exhibit some attractive architecture and are also listed as a state heritage site. Inside the brick buildings you can find educational exhibitions on everything, from early Aboriginal life in the area to the convicts, coal miners and steelworkers who so shaped the history of the city.
After having perused the museum’s extensive collection, stop off for a coffee at its cafe, shop for gifts in its store or enjoy one of its superb science shows.
4. Hunter Valley
An absolute treat to travel around and explore, picturesque Hunter Valley and its wonderful wineries lie right on Newcastle’s doorstep. Within an hour’s drive, you can visit countless charming towns, vineyards and gourmet restaurants.
A popular getaway with Sydneysiders, the vast valley has long been renowned for its delicious local produce. Both farms and restaurants alike ply guests with artisanal cheeses, fresh fruit platters and, of course, sparkling wines. At the last count, over 150 wineries were found in the valley with most of them offering terrific tasting sessions and tours around the vineyards.
Besides sampling some refreshing shiraz and chardonnay, visitors can stay at quaint B&Bs or in lovely little towns, like Cessnock. Horseback riding and hot air balloon rides are also popular things to do in the valley.
3. Nobbys Beach
You don’t have to travel far, however, if you are after stunning scenery and views. Nobbys Beach is located just a leisurely stroll from the center. Bordered at either end by Nobbys Lighthouse and Fort Scratchley, its expansive swathe of sand is perfect for kicking back and relaxing on.
Stretching almost a kilometer in length, it gently curves its way alongside the sea. Its glittering golden sands are backed by dunes, a breakwall and pier. Aside from sitting on the beach, visitors can swim and surf offshore or go fishing along the pier.
In addition, you can enjoy fantastic views over the city and ocean from atop Nobbys Head or visit the interesting Fort Scratchley. Playgrounds, picnic areas and ocean baths are also found near the beach.
2. Fort Scratchley
Set next to Nobbys Beach is one of Newcastle’s top tourist attractions: Fort Scratchley. Protected as part of a museum, its sturdy fortifications are interesting to explore and offer commanding views over both the center of town and the Pacific Ocean.
Perched atop Flagstaff Hill, the fort and all its underground tunnels were built in 1882 during the Crimean War, as local fears grew about a potential Russian attack. Nowadays, visitors can take tours around the historic site and see all its old cannons, batteries and barracks.
As well as exploring its parade grounds, and seeing its sizeable collection of artifacts and exhibits on the fort’s history, there are magnificent panoramas on show from its walls. Whales can sometimes be spied spouting in the distance.
1. Newcastle Memorial Walk
Newcastle Memorial Walk winds its way along the top of craggy coastal cliffs, not too far south of the center. Besides offering stupendous views over the Pacific, it also teaches you a bit of local history.
Built in 2015, the walkway commemorates the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli during World War I and also acts as a memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives serving overseas. Lining the 450 meter-long stainless steel path are informative panels on the conflict. The striking silhouettes of soldiers are inscribed with the names of 4,000 men and women who bravely enlisted during the Great War.
Aside from taking in the divine views, visitors can stop off for a dip at Bogey Hole at the northern end of the route or enjoy sand, sea and surf at both Bar and Merewether beaches to its south.