Must do experiences
A top ten city in Lonely Planet's 'Best in Travel 2011' guide, Newcastle is a city of rich history, quirky culture and amazing scenery. We've got it all; beaches, countryside, bushland and cityscape.
Below we have outlined a few quintessential Novocastrian experiences. Give them a try and discover for yourself why Newcastle is a world class city.
Blow out the cobwebs on our number one coastal walk
Newcastle has three distinctly different sandy beaches, and they’re interlinked by one great coastal walk called Bathers Way. The total walking time from Nobbys in the north to Merewether in the south is three hours at a medium pace. You can walk back or check the bus timetable to bus back to the city centre.
Bathers Way highlights Newcastle beaches that have generated some of the World’s best surfers, but also features rugged cliffs and reefs, rock pools, huge salt water ocean baths, heritage sites and parklands. Information signs along the route highlight some of the natural and cultural features. Bathers Way is a sealed pathway and though there are some slopes, most families manage just fine. It’s also the local’s favourite walking and jogging route. At the end of the walk is Merewether beach, one of Australia’s surfing reserves, home to the international Surfest surfing competition, and location of the largest ocean baths in the southern hemisphere.
See the Bathers Way map
Walk our number one heritage route via cafes
The Newcastle East Heritage Walk links spectacular coastal views and industrial heritage that is the essence of Newcastle. A comfortable 1 ½ to 2 hour self-guided tour has been mapped out to highlight the critical role that Newcastle East played in establishing Newcastle and the Hunter Region as the second busiest economy in the State. This local area has been intensively used and adapted by different types of industry, transport, and residential living. There are layers on layers that in many cities would have been lost by ‘progress’. Highlights include The Lock Up, Customs House, the Convict Lumber Yard, Fort Scratchley Historic Site, Newcastle Ocean Baths and Beach, Christ Church Cathedral, and several historic convict-era buildings.
See the Newcastle East Heritage Walk map
Breakfast and boutique shopping on Darby Street
If you have a passion for good food and shopping, then Darby Street is an absolute must. Grab a friend, do breakfast and catch up at one of the 20 cafes. When you’ve had your fill, turn your attention to the boutique shopping on offer. Darby Street is renowned for its quirky outlets only found in Newcastle. Take your time to look around – the shops here are treasure troves of trinkets.
Add a splash of imaginative colour to your day
Newcastle Art Gallery has the second largest collection of art in NSW. Between our regional Gallery and a host of private galleries, you can immerse yourself in art in Newcastle, all day. Start with Newcastle Art Galleries impressive range of Indigenous bark paintings, 20th century Australian and Japanese ceramics, and contemporary Australian art. Look out for Grace Cossington Smith’s ‘Trees’ (circa1927) and Brett Whiteley’s ‘Summer at Carcoar’ (circa 1977). If you’re visiting on the weekend, start with an introductory one hour tour at 11am with a volunteer gallery guide and get the introductory skills to understand contemporary and historical art practice. When leaving the Newcastle Art Gallery and heading for various private art galleries, lunch at one of the many cafes and restaurants along Darby Street or The Junction. Most of the private galleries presenting and selling their wares are within walking distance of The Junction or Darby Street.
Newcastle Art Gallery website
Dinner and close up music at Lizottes
Lizotte’s has been labelled a “life-changing experience” in Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel 2011’ guide. The owner, Brian Lizotte is loved by the music industry and oh boy does he have has connections…Brian continuously pulls house hold names from the 70’s, 80’s and 90s and puts them on stage close enough to touch or at least see how graciously they’ve aged. What’s more, Brian’s fine taste for food and wine makes for a perfectly rounded night for Gen X and Boomers. Regular performers include Mark Seymour from Hunters and Collectors, Chris Bailey and Ed Kueper from The Saints, Ross Wilson from Daddy Cool / Mondo Rock, Mental as Anything, Richard Clapton and Doug Parkinson. There’s also plenty of local up and coming talent. Lizotte’s calls the striking 1910 built King’s Theatre home, and has a very intimate capacity of 200 guests.
Get beached by the city
There are few cities in the world beyond Newcastle that can say their city centre is surrounded by eight beaches. Ride the wave of surfing culture that characterises the city and spend some time splashing about in the water and taking in the city sights from multiple angles and cultures. In its ‘Best in Travel 2011’ guide Lonely Planet, never to be argued with, recommends paddling out past the breakers of one of Newcastle’s surf beaches at sunrise for a life changing experience.
Get up close and personal with a 300m freighter
One of Newcastle’s defining features is its busy harbour port. This city is the biggest exporter of coal in the world. Take a moment to sit and watch the port in action and be amazed as giant 300m freight ships, close enough to touch, are guided into the Harbour by comparatively tiny tugs and a pilot flown out to each ship by helicopter. Sharing the harbour with coal ships are freight ships, fishing boats, ferries and private vessels, making for a chaotic but exciting scene. By night the harbour glitters and stealth freight ships suddenly appear out of the darkness, occasionally catching you out with their unexpected horns that can be heard from as far away as Merewether. Dine at one of the restaurants at Honeysuckle and enjoy front row views of all the action.
NOVA Cruises website
Moonshadow Cruises website
Amokura Charters website
Newcastle Buses and Ferries website
Tunnel into 200 years of history
Fort Scratchley Historic Site is perhaps Newcastle’s most significant historical landmarks and one of the best vantage points for a duel view of the harbour and beaches. Look in the direction of the water and you will see surfers navigating the waves, families playing on the beach, and freight ships bobbing on the horizon. Turn your focus inland and to see far reaching views of the city and the mouth of the port with freight ships tagging each other as they take their turn to be unloaded and reloaded. Hard to miss atop the hill is the magnificent Christ Church Cathedral, which is spectacularly lit at night to highlight its exquisite features.
Originally a site for coal mining, Fort Scratchley was built atop Flagstaff Hill in 1882 to defend Newcastle from possible attack. On June 8, 1942 during WWII Fort Scratchley came under fire by a Japanese submarine and returned four shells; making it the only coastal fortification in Australia to have returned fire at an enemy Naval vessel during a time of war. Today Fort Scratchley is a significant Newcastle landmark and museum run by members of the Fort Scratchley Historic Society. Entry into the fort is free and for a small cost visitors can take a guided tour through the underground tunnels to learn more about the Fort’s history and involvement in WWII. The final tour leaves at 2.30pm so get in early to ensure you don’t miss out.
See the Fort Scratchley brochure
Fort Scratchley website
Fish and chips at oceanside pools and baths for kids
Newcastle Canoe Pool is the perfect place to take young children for a dip away from rough surf, runaway surf boards and summer north eastern winds. The Canoe Pool is a shallow man-made beach adjacent to Newcastle Beach. Of a weekend you will find dozens of Novocastrian families taking advantage of the calmer conditions without having to sacrifice the ocean views and laid back atmosphere. Mum and dad can set up camp in a beach tent and relax as their children paddle in safety a short distance away.
Right next to the Canoe Pool is the Newcastle Ocean Baths. The baths are a favoured place for those wishing to walk and exercise in the water in a picturesque environment close to the city. With its art deco pavilion, Newcastle Ocean Baths is one of the city’s most outstanding historic landmarks and is a popular open air studio for amateur photographers.
Now the only missing ingredient is fish and chips, Novocastrian style. Perhaps the most loved fish and chip shop in Newcastle, Scottie’s is located in Newcastle East just a short walk from Nobbys and Newcastle Beach. Pick up a take away, head down to the beach and unravel your goodies as the salty sea breeze passes over you.
Picnic with the King
With an elegant rotunda, playground for kids, tranquil rose garden and breathtaking views of the ocean there is no better place to picnic in Newcastle than King Edward Park. On weekends the Park resembles a patched up quilt with randomly thrown picnic blankets covering the grassy expanse. Stitched together by families criss-crossing the park with frisbees, weaving in and out of the trees and climbing through the rotunda, King Edward Park is a versatile venue and a great place to interact with the locals.
Park features and useful tips
Futuristic travel through a restored wetland
For an out of the ordinary way to explore nature, hire a segway and zip around the RAMSAR listed Hunter Wetlands Centre. A segway is a two wheeled self balancing electronic transportation device, and with 45 hectares to see there is no better way to cover ground.
Other activities on offer to help you discover the magic of wetlands include: dip netting; wildlife watching; self-guided walks and guided ecotours; feeding talks; canoeing; picnics and barbecues.
Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia is recognised as a leader in wetlands conservation, nature tourism and education. Until the mid 1980s this vibrant wetland refuge was a dump in every sense of the word. Over the previous century, the massive Hunter estuary wetland system known as Hexham Swamp had been progressively filled for rubbish, railways and recreation, leaving only fragmented patches of remnant wetlands across the estuary. A significant patch of wetland in Shortland was converted to football fields and a clubhouse. Today, Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia is a vibrant wetland ecosystem bursting with life. The site is regarded as a wetland of national and international importance and the centre enjoys a growing reputation for excellence in wetland conservation, education and ecotourism.
Hunter Wetlands Centre website
Lazy Sunday arvo drinks and music
Of a Sunday afternoon Novocastrians are on the hunt for a watering hole to wind down and prepare for the week ahead.
Queens Wharf Brewery, or “The Brewery” as it is locally known, pulls out all stops of a Sunday afternoon with local live music on the edge of Newcastle Harbour. Imagine music, sunshine and huge ships passing by behind the performers – you can park yourself here until close and want for nothing more. The Brewery used to brew and sell the extraordinarily good Bolton’s alcoholic ginger beer, and still brews and sells Bluetongue alcoholic ginger beer. The bar is stocked with local and imported beverages, and lunch or dinner covers all the pub favourites.
For lazy Sunday afternoon drinks away from the hustle and bustle of the CBD make your way to the Prince of Wales Hotel in Merewether. Every Sunday from 6pm you can enjoy live music, $10 schnitzels and $4 coronas and cruisers in the afternoon breeze on the hotel’s wrap around verandah. Or watch the latest sporting game from one of the 3 separate bars with Fox Sports, TAB and Sports Bet terminals. At the back of the hotel is a drive-thru bottle shop which is home to the only Fromagerie (walk-in cheese room) and gourmet deli in the Newcastle area.
Queens Wharf Brewery website
Prince of Wales Hotel website
Avante garde galleries and cafes
You might have noticed that in our city centre we have a few buildings that are vacant, disused, or awaiting redevelopment. This creates a short term opportunity to find short and medium term uses for these buildings until they become commercially viable or are redeveloped. The local organisation Renew Newcastle is finding uses that are often so interesting they are becoming tourist attractions. Take a Saturday morning to experience some of our creative opportunities and try a few matching cafes along the way.
Useful tips and suggested shops
Renew Newcastle website
Art deco and retro browsing
Our inner city areas of Newcastle West and Islington have a blend of retro music, bric and brac and antique stores, with a range of cool eateries and cafes in between. Sort through shelf after shelf of old worldly gadgets and collectibles, and pick up a piece of retro clothing or antique jewellery. Take out your treasures over coffee in one of the many quirky cafes and swap stories about your finds. For some you may have to venture outside the city centre for an extra 10 minutes or so it will take you to get there by bus.
Useful tips and suggested shops
Newcastle's free bus route