There are an endless list of attractions to keep you busy on a cheeky long weekend in Newcastle. Check in to hip hotels, check out stellar restaurants and bars, visit galleries and museums, indulge in a little retail therapy… then repeat. You’re welcome.
- Relax at great restaurants with dazzling water views
- Get acquainted with up-and-coming inner-city suburbs
- Dive in to some of NSW’s best beaches and ocean pools
- Discover the city’s rich history and cultural scene
- Spot whales while exploring the jaw-dropping coast
DAY ONE: Sydney to Newcastle
Among Newcastle’s greatest assets is its stunning coastal setting, and this should be your first point of call when arriving in the city – plus, you’ll want to stretch your legs after the drive north. Park at Nobbys Beach and check out the 19th-century beacon that is the Nobbys Lighthouse.
Then enjoy a 6km stroll along the Bathers Way, which ends at Merewether Beach. It’s a popular route, but thanks to the wideness of the trail, there’s plenty of room for walkers and runners of all speeds to navigate and still enjoy the experience.
There are excellent views to be had all year round – of the city and harbour from the ANZAC Bridge, with massive coal loaders and cruise ships navigating the port. But things can get pretty spectacular over the cooler months (May through November), when the Pacific becomes the ‘Humpback Highway’ – more than 30,000 whales cruise up and down the east coast during this migration period, often with dolphins in their wake.
Be sure to wear your swimsuit, because there are plenty of places to cool off en route, including Newcastle Beach (with its epic surf waves), the Art Deco Newcastle Ocean Baths and Bogey Hole, a 200-year-old ocean pool hand-carved by convicts.
You’ll also pass the Strzelecki Lookout on the Memorial Walk – a cliff top walkway that was constructed here on the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing in Gallipoli in 1915. Apart from acting as a memorial to pay homage to those who served during the war, it’s a glorious place to soak up vast North Coast vistas.
Your reward for the hike isn’t just great scenery, but finishing at Merewether Surfhouse, one of the social drawcards of Newcastle beach life. The striking glass building has dazzling views and houses an Italian restaurant, cafe, pizza kiosk and cocktail bar. Tuck into sardines with fennel and orange, slow-cooked duck or pasta with lamb ragu – and save room for Sicilian pistachio cake.
While you’re in the neighbourhood, you can also get a taste for craft beer at Modus Merewether, an eco-friendly brewery where 36 taps offer a rotation of the Modus core beers, including their non-alcoholic NORT range and limited-edition sour, lager and dark beers.
A great way to discover more of the city’s food scene (and history) is on an amble with Newcastle Afoot Walking Tours. You’ll not only eat and drink your way around town, but also take a deep dive into regional heritage.
For a sustainable stay with a side of luxe, check in to the Crystalbrook Kingsley, the first five-star hotel to open in Newcastle. The property sits pretty within Newcastle’s legendary (and historic) Roundhouse building, which means that rooms enjoy a unique shape and perspective of the city. Head to the rooftop for a cocktail with a view at Romberg’s, then pull up a chair at the hotel’s restaurant Roundhouse, where you can feast on spanner crab lasagne, grilled Yamba prawns, pan-roasted free-range duck and miso-glazed pork.
Still have energy? Coal & Cedar is an award-winning speakeasy with a huge selection of whiskies on offer – you need a code to enter the underground space.
DAY TWO: Crystalbrook Kingsley to The Autumn Rooms
Leave your car parked at the hotel and spend the morning exploring the oh-so-cool Cooks Hill district. Make your first stop The Autumn Rooms, where you can begin the day with excellent coffee by Single O alongside breakfast staples including fried custard bread and a chilli-and-tofu scramble.
Later this year, your next stop will be the Newcastle Art Gallery, packed with the second-largest collection of art in the state. Among the more than 7,000 works on permanent display include pieces by Brett Whiteley, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and John Olsen. It’s currently closed for a major expansion project; until then, you can get your art fix at , which has been hosting exhibitions and events on these streets since 1975.
The main Cooks Hill thoroughfare is leafy Darby Street, along which you’ll discover grand Victorian terraces and heritage timber cottages now home to achingly cool restaurants, boutiques and design stores. Like Abicus, which is stocked with a covetable range of fashion and footwear as well as hard-to-find vinyl and music books. Or pick up handmade stationery, framed art and obscure curios at Blackbird Corner, which represents a number of exclusive makers, then drop in to Willow’s Home Traders for the type of furniture and homewares you’d expect to see in a glossy interiors magazine. Papa Sven is likewise a shrine to design, but with a distinct Scandinavian twist, from limited-edition Nedre Foss ceramics to eye-popping Marimekko fabrics.
Newcastle today has a zippy lipstick-red light rail network, but wind back the clock to the late 1800s and the city was serviced by rickety trams. By the 1920s they came with gleaming maroon carriages and polished wooden seats, as you’ll experience when you step aboard Newcastle’s Famous Tram – an exact replica of one that rambled around town in 1923, except on wheels. Jump aboard – it’s a great way to get an overview of the city. Your chariot departs from Queen’s Wharf, taking you around town to discover beaches, parks and historic sites, including Fort Scratchley, Newcastle’s first line of defence for almost 100 years. Make note to come back here after your tour ends – it’s now home to a fascinating museum where you can explore a network of underground tunnels and grab a photo with the fort’s cannons, still standing guard.
This East End of the city has numerous bars and restaurants, so as the sun sinks, head to Grain Store Newcastle for a great range of Australian boutique beers (21 of which are on tap), or to Saints Bar for its menu of 50-plus gins and great cocktails. FogHorn Brewhouse serves classic American-style wings and burgers to accompany its impressive range of tap beers brewed onsite, while Market St Basement has an extensive wine and cocktail list and moreish antipasti plates.
It's a short commute to the inner suburb of Wickham, where Flotilla remains one of the city’s hottest restaurants, showcasing an artistic and thoughtful menu that brings out the best in Australian fresh produce. The dishes change with the seasons, and you can watch chefs prepare your meal in the open kitchen.
Back in the centre of the city is the heritage-listed Civic Theatre, which offers a regular program of concerts, theatre and comedy shows. Catch a gig, then head over to Earp Distilling Co. for a nightcap. Sit down to a flight of gins at the bar, or enjoy a cocktail made according to your tastes.
DAY THREE: Crystalbrook Kingsley to Newcastle Museum
More than 50 hectares of disused industrial land are now prime real estate along Newcastle’s waterfront – Honeysuckle proves a sweet spot for everyone from art and culture lovers to outdoor enthusiasts and gourmands.
For the former, Newcastle Museum hosts dozens of eye-catching exhibitions (many of them interactive) including a gallery dedicated to the history of the city, from early Aboriginal life to times of war and recent pioneers who have gone on to make their mark around the world.
Outside, a long foreshore promenade links the neighbourhood’s attractions and parkland, with plenty of public art along the way; be sure to check out the Matthew Harding sculpture outside the (now closed) Maritime Centre when it’s set aglow at dusk, as well as a larger-than life interactive mural by Trevor Dickinson.
Peckish? Scottie’s is a Newcastle institution that champions sustainable seafood, sourced locally where possible. Indulge in everything from mud-crab dumplings to sea urchin carbonara, as well as takeaway staples like classic fish burgers, king dory fish and chips, and salt and vinegar battered mussels.
Before you begin the commute back to Sydney, make a slight detour north to the Stockton Dunes, the largest mobile sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere – they flank a 32-kilometre beach, cover 4,200 hectares and can reach 40 metres high. This is Worimi land, and you can enjoy exclusive access when you sign up for an Aboriginal-guided quad-bike tour with Sand Dune Adventures. Thrills are guaranteed as you tackle the towering dunes, cresting sand hills on the four-wheeled bikes; while there’s plenty of action, there’s also bush tucker and storytelling, and guides will point out huge middens (mountainous piles of shells and animal bones) half-buried by the sands that move between one and four metres every year. All proceeds go back into the local community.
After an adrenaline-fuelled afternoon, make one last stop on your way home: Caves Coastal Bar and Bungalows, just south of Newcastle, is wedged between Lake Macquarie and Caves Beach. The venue’s restaurant comes with an enormous patio looking out to the sea, and is the perfect setting for a lazy early dinner. And hey, if you can’t bear to leave, the property also comes with a series of luxe bungalows, villas and townhouses.