Newcastle

As the busiest sea port in NSW, Newcastle revolves around the water, whether you’re swimming in gem-like ocean pools, surfing reliably good waves, or just gazing out over the harbour from a scenic waterside perch. But this is also Australia’s second-oldest colonial city, with bountiful cultural attractions taking you from the cosmopolitan heart of town – with its atmospheric neighbourhoods and historic sites – to buzzing new precincts distinguished by cutting-edge architecture and blazing street art.  

Highlights

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8 - 24 March 2024
Great Southern Nights
300+ gigs across 17 nights in Sydney & NSW

History & heritage 

In the 1790s, colonists from Sydney arrived in this part of NSW in search of escaped convicts. Instead, they discovered a place of abundant natural resources, including a deep harbour. Dive into this heritage at the Newcastle Museum, where you can learn about the city’s European settlement as well as its industrial past and the 1989 Newcastle earthquake.  

Family enjoying a visit to Newcastle Museum in Newcastle

Newcastle Museum, Newcastle

Originally a penal colony, Newcastle’s convict origins can be observed at the heritage-listed Bogey Hole, a rock pool carved out by convicts in 1819 for the personal use of Major James Morisset. Today it’s one of the dreamiest places to swim in NSW.  You can also step back in time at the Convict Lumberyard and witness a snapshot of pre-1950s life at Miss Porter's House Museum.

For military history and spectacular views over the harbour, Fort Scratchley Historic Site is a must-see. It’s the only fort in Australia to have engaged the enemy in a maritime attack, having returned fire on Japanese submarines during WWII in June 1942. You can explore the fort’s intricate tunnel system on a tour. 

Group enjoying a guided tour with a Fort Scratchley Historical Society volunteer at Fort Scratchley in Newcastle

Fort Scratchley Historical Society - Credit: Eluminate Media

Indigenous experiences 

Learn about the local Aboriginal people’s rich culture and deep connections with the land on an Indigenous heritage tour. Participate in traditional Aboriginal dance and hear Dreamtime stories on a bush tucker walk with the Yamuloong Centre, or join Sand Dune Adventures for a cultural quad bike tour to ancient Aboriginal campsites in the Worimi Conservation Lands, a place of Aboriginal significance. These are the largest moving sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, and the only way to see them is with an Aboriginal guide.  

Tour with Sand Dune Adventures in Port Stephens

Tour with Sand Dune Adventures in Port Stephens

Getting around 

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 1920 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.  

Light rail in Newcastle

Light-rail in Newcastle

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. There’s a pause in the commentary when you reach Strzelecki Lookout – here, the Newcastle Memorial Walk connects with the Bathers Way, a scenic 6km walk from historic Nobbys Lighthouse to Merewether Ocean Baths, near Glenrock State Conservation Area.  

It 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, not to mention spot migrating humpback and southern right whales frolicking offshore during the season (May through November). Stop for a swim at the Art Deco Newcastle Ocean Baths

Outdoor activities 

For more outdoor adventure, soar with the birds at TreeTops Adventure Park, replete with 100 elevated obstacles including rope ladders, wobbly bridges and ziplines. Or learn to surf with the Newcastle Surfest Surf School, teaching you how to navigate the region’s epic waves. Gorgeous beaches abound pretty much everywhere you turn in Newcastle.

Unforgettable wildlife experiences include meeting koalas at Blackbutt Reserve, and whale watching is a highlight with CoastXP or Nova Cruises during the annual migration of these gentle giants between May and November. Pick up speed on your mountain bike exploring 34km of trails through Glenrock State Conservation Area. There are rides to suit all levels.  

CoastXP Tours, Newcastle

CoastXP Tours, Newcastle

Arts & culture 

The Newcastle Art Gallery is another great attraction, spotlighting creative talent from the NSW region and further afield. A long foreshore promenade links the attraction through parkland along the Honeysuckle harbourside precinct, 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, just begging you to snap a selfie in front of it. Find more ways to get an arts and culture hit in Newcastle here.

Eat & drink 

Foodies are in for a treat in Newcastle. In Honeysuckle, you’ll find a delicious range of waterside bars, cafes and restaurants. Or have lunch by the ocean at the chic Merewether Surfhouse (Modus Brewing is not far away, and you can walk to the epic Merewether Baths). There are oodles of other restaurants scattered throughout the city, particularly on Darby Street. Or pick up fresh local produce at the weekly Newcastle City Farmers Market on Sundays. 

Events & festivals 

Newcastle’s events calendar is jam-packed. For sports fans, there’s the biggest surfing festival in Australia, Surfest, in February and the Newcastle 500 supercars in December. Music lovers can enjoy regular concerts and the Newcastle Jazz Festival in August. There’s also art and culture exhibitions, theatre and markets.

Surfest Newcastle

Pro surfer Darvy De Clouett at Surfest Newcastle - Credit: Surfest

Newcastle locals are a creative bunch, and on the first Saturday of every month they take the opportunity to showcase their talents at the epic Olive Tree Market. This is not your usual community gathering of stalls – no lavender pouches and white-bread sausage-sizzles here. Everything has been carefully curated to highlight the city’s (and country’s) standout makers, whether emerging and established artists, designers, ceramicists or artisan producers.  

If you’re visiting in March, be sure to sip your way through the Newcastle Beer Fest, or channel your inner gourmand during Newcastle Food Month every April. 

Where to stay 

There are accommodation options for all budgets, from backpacker hostels and self-catering apartments to luxury hotels and resorts, and Newcastle’s first five-star hotel, Crystalbrook Kingsley. Families will love NRMA Stockton Beach Holiday Park, where they can pitch a tent right next to Stockton Beach

Getting there 

Newcastle is a two-hour drive north from Sydney along the Pacific Highway. Newcastle Airport is a 30-minute drive from the city centre. Jetstar flies direct to and from Melbourne, the Gold Coast, and Brisbane. QantasLink operates direct flights to and from Brisbane. Virgin Australia flies direct to and from Brisbane and Melbourne. Link Airways operates direct flights between Canberra and Newcastle three days a week. FlyPelican operates direct flights to and from Adelaide, Dubbo, Mudgee, Ballina-Byron Bay, Canberra and Sydney. Regional Express also flies to and from Sydney 

You can also catch a train or bus direct from Sydney’s Central Station to Newcastle and the journey takes just under three hours. 

Plan your trip

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