Fun Things to do in Newcastle on a Weekend Getaway
We found so many things to do in Newcastle on our recent visit that we are already planning another northern getaway from Sydney. Our 48 hours exploring the city and its stunning beaches was a treat, and only two-and-a-half hours from home means we will do it again soon.
It had been a decade since we had visited Newcastle for more than a quick breakfast stop on our way further up north, so a longer stay was well overdue. We made the 2-hour 30-minute drive from our home in Sydney’s south for a couple of days last June and hit the jackpot with blue skies and perfect weather.
The earliest Aboriginal reference to the naming on Newcastle is Muloobinba (meaning place of edible sea fern)
2 days in Newcastle NSW- the must-see and do list
There are more things to do in Newcastle than you will have time to cover in 48 hours, so hone in on your interests. Surfing and swimming, art and history, hiking and wildlife spotting, pick your favourites, then choose the things that grab your eye from our list below.
For us, it went something like this: walk, eat, take in some art, eat, explore the gorgeous beaches, eat, and find some of the local wildlife, eat and take yet another walk!
Walks in Newcastle that should not be missed
If you love to walk as much as we do, then pack your comfy shoes and complete what we call the ABC walks of Newcastle. We covered about 15km a day without noticing it was so pretty.
Anzac Memorial Walk
This 450m walk that links Strzelecki Lookout with Bar Beach pays respect to the 11,000 local men and women from the area that served in World War One. From the top of the walk, you get 360-degree views of the coast and Newcastle city.
Steel silhouettes of servicemen and women placed along the bridge at the beginning of the walkway look stunning against the blue of the sea and sky. Engraved in the outlines are the family names of almost 4000 soldiers from the region who took part in the war effort.
The walk is accessible from Strzelecki Lookout until the end of the bridge about 160m, which is one of the most picturesque parts of the trail.
The Bathers Way is Newcastle’s answer to the Bondi to Coogee walk, and in our view, it’s every bit as good and maybe even better.
I have done the Bondi to Coogee walk at least 50 times so I might need to do this one a few more times before I make a final call 😉
The walk starts at Nobby’s Beach and follows the coast to Merewether Beach 6km south. The footpaths recently underwent a considerable upgrade, and most of the way is now accessible.
From Nobby’s Beach to Newcastle Baths and at the opposite end, the Merewether Baths to Dixon Park are now relatively flat with no stairs. Hopefully, accessibility changes to the middle section will be completed soon, allowing everyone to enjoy the full length of the walk.
Learn more about Newcastle’s beautiful beaches here
City Art and History Walk
Newcastle is perfect for exploring on foot, mostly flat with the hills providing views that makes the effort worthwhile. Well preserved colonial architecture, plenty of natural beauty, and a splattering of murals and sculptures to discover along the way.
The local tourism office has a bunch of maps you can download or collect from their centre in the old Civic train station.
I suggest you start your walk at Civic station so you can check out the Civic Theatre, an art deco beauty on the main street before you head to the Art Gallery.
From the gallery, make your way to Christ Church Cathedral, and if the timing is right, take the 165 steps to the top of the tower for incredible views of the city.
From here, make your way over to the Lock Up an exhibition and performance space. Once you have checked out the latest exhibitions, it’s on to the Convict Lumber yards, an important colonial site.
Finish up your walk at Fort Scratchley, where you can join a guided tour. Reward your efforts with some drinks at the Grain Store Craft Beer Cafe.
Local tip: The Visitor’s Centre at Civic Station has phone chargers if you flatten your battery, snapping all the pretty views.
Museums, Galleries and Historic Sites
Six thousand five hundred artworks, including pieces by two of my favourite Australian Artists, make a quick stop here essential. The gallery was the first purpose-built regional art gallery in Australia. Make sure you see John Olsen’s Sea Sun of 5 Bells it’s an iconic Aussie work.
Outside the gallery is one of only two Brett Whiteley large scale sculptures, Black Totem II- the other is at the Art Gallery of NSW.
Located down near Honeysuckle Wharf in the old railway workshops, be sure to drop into the free Newcastle Museum for at least a quick look.
Along with an exhibition on the city’s history is another, Coal and The BHP: Fire and Earth, which highlights the industries that were the lifeblood of the town for so long.
We missed visiting this time because of the quarantine shutdown but snapped this shot of the fun wall outside. Painted by local artist Trevor Dickinson, it encourages visitors to snap themselves as Newcastle’s most attractive couple. Sadly, Charlie was still sleeping when I discovered this on my early morning walk, so we missed our chance.
This working lighthouse opens its doors to the public every weekend. It was the third lighthouse built in NSW and features on the Newcastle City Coat of Arms. This site is sacred to the local Awabakal and Worimi First Nations people.
Our midweek visit meant we missed out on taking a tour.
Where: Nobby’s Head
Open: 10 am-4 pm weekends- Check the website for current opening hours
Built when Australia was fortifying itself against a feared Russian invasion, the Fort first fired its guns during a Japanese sub attack during World War 2.
Fort Scratchley is now an interactive military museum. You can tour the old fortress for free or pay a small fee for tunnel tours.
Other sites you might like to include
Queens Wharf and Stockton Ferry
The Stockton Ferry makes the 5 minute trip across the Hunter River to Stockton (Burrinbingon). Best known for the famous dunes that line the 32km beach. Adventure seekers will want to add sandboarding the dunes to their itineraries!
If you are looking for something less adrenaline-inducing, try the 2km Shipwreck Walk. Running the length of the boardwalk, it is a memorial of sorts to the many ships who came to grief here. Several of the hulls have been built into the walk, and plaques line the walkway.
Just a 15-minute drive from the centre of Newcastle Blackbutt Reserve offers 16km of walking tracks; beautiful rainforest surrounds, picnic grounds with covered seating areas, a playground and plenty of native animals.
There are koalas, wombats, wallabies and kangaroos, emus and lots of birds! There is an 11 am reptile show and a 2 pm Koala talk. Entry is free, but the parking is $12 a day.
Where: Carnley Avenue, Kotara
When: The park and walks are open 7 am-7 pm but the animal enclosures open 10 am-5 pm
Glenrock State Conservation Area
We had hoped to walk the Yuelarbah Walking Track we had discovered on the Australian Hiker website, but it was not to be.
Part of the Great North Walk, the view of the Glenrock Lagoon from Leichhardt Lookout caught our eye, but the rain came over before we managed it. We have this on the list for the next visit.
Related: Check out our guide to Jervis Bay for a southern beach break
Explore all the Newcastle Beaches you can
Ocean pools and long sandy beaches are a way of life here. We suggest spending at least one morning watching the day unfold from the waterfront. We enjoyed watching the locals, of all ages, jumping in for their morning swim or surf, never mind it’s the middle of June and freezing.
There are plenty of beachfront cafes where you can nurse a coffee while watching the beach come to life.
Nobby’s is the first beach you come to along the Bather’s Way. It’s the quietest of the beaches we visited, although perhaps that is because it’s winter.
You can stroll along Nobby’s to the lighthouse and then take the 3km return walk out to the end of the break wall. A great way to walk off a few of the meals you will no doubt enjoy while you are here.
At the southern end of the beach are the art déco change rooms and a sculpture remembering the Pasha Bulker, which ran aground here in June 2007.
Are you travelling with your four-legged friend? You will be pleased to hear dogs are welcome on Horseshoe Beach just the other side of the breakwater. You might also like to consider this pet-friendly hotel in Newcastle.
Newcastle Beach and Ocean Baths
One of two ocean baths with marked lanes in Newcastle, these swimming baths feature heavily on Instagram. It’s easy to see why, and on arrival, I immediately start snapping away.
The art déco facade is currently under renovation to restore it to its former glory, but the pools are fully operational and best of all completely free to use.
Just south of the baths is the Canoe Pools, a great option for kids, the pool was built during the depression and once featured a map at the base of the pool that was designed to teach young sailors about the world; the continents were raised with paddling space around them.
There was talk of trying to recreate them, but the council rejected the project based on the cost.
Afternoon shadows make Newcastle Beach a great spot to find some shade on a hot summer day. Just across the road is one of the city’s finest restaurants, Rustica. The Mediterranean menu and ocean views make a lovely way to spend a few hours.
The Bogey Hole
The wild weather along the coast made access to the convict-built Bogey Hole near impossible on this visit. Thought to be the first ocean pool constructed in Australia, it is still a popular place for a swim, but it can be quite dangerous, so please take care if you have a dip here.
Dixon Park Beach
A Newcastle local and friend, Dean from Roadtrips HQ, told us to make sure we checked out his favourite Newcastle Beach Dixon Park. We are so glad he did. It was our first stop on Sunday and the morning light and impressive surf made it pretty easy to see why it’s a top pick with the locals.
There was plenty of parking and excellent facilities. Dixon Park Beach sits between Bar Beach and Merewether Beaches with cafes at either end of the stretch.
Merewether Beach and Ocean Pool
The iconic ocean pool here was the drawcard for our visit, but the Blue Door Kiosk and Merewether Surf House locked it in.
Built in 1935, the Merewether Ocean Baths are the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The beach hosts an annual Surfest competition each February/March.
Related: Spend more time in the area – Explore nearby Maitland and Morpeth
The history trolley bus tour is a great way to get the lay of the land. The driver who is also your guide gives a fantastic commentary as you explore the city over 90 minutes.
A 10 minute stop at the Anzac Bridge allows plenty of time to take in the lookout and the sculpture.
Other tours on offer include some great walks with Newcastle Afoot, which we had hoped to sample, but they were not running during our visit. Among their offerings are a food and drink tour, an architecture walk, and a secret laneways tour.
If you fancy some adventure-based tours in Newcastle, check out one of these
Where to stay in Newcastle
There is a vast range of accommodation in Newcastle, and if you are only visiting for a short time, I suggest you choose one of the hotels near the beach or the city centre. The local YHA is also a great choice if you are visiting on a budget.
Below are four that we think work well location wise for weekend getaways. We have stayed in three of them and will hopefully try the Novotel next time we visit.
Spoil yourself at Rydges Newcastle
We spent our three days in a king Harbourview room (with spa) at Rydges, which is perfectly placed on the waterfront.
The room, well two rooms really, is large enough to stay comfortably for a few days with a separate sitting area and a dining table that doubles as a great working space off the bedroom.
The suite offers both sunrise and sunset views from the small Juliet balcony. It’s also ideally located for dining with dozens of choices along Honeysuckle Wharf.
We also really enjoyed taking morning walks to the lighthouse.
Nab a beach view at Noahs
If you prefer to watch the surf than the activity on the harbour, a room at Noah’s is probably more your style. Sitting directly opposite Newcastle Beach and just a stone’s throw from the art déco ocean baths, it’s hard to find a better ocean view.
The tram stop is nearby if you are coming from the train station.
Novotel Newcastle Beach
The Novotel does not offer the views of Noah’s or Rydges; however, it is well-positioned for both beach and dining/shopping action.
The family rooms sleep four, and if you are after an ocean view, there are harbour view rooms available that offer more of a glimpse than full water aspects.
Balance the budget at Newcastle Beach YHA
The YHA is a beautiful old dame, once a gentlemen’s club, the heritage-listed property has kept some of its original features including its grand ballroom. With its wood-panelled walls, exposed ceiling beams and leather sofas, the space now acts as a fabulously welcoming and well-used common room.
There are private rooms (without ensuite and a variety of dorms. All up, they can host 99 guests.
If you are staying longer than a few days, these apartments on Honeysuckle Wharf offer fabulous views and are close to nightlife.
Where to Eat in Newcastle
We visited quite a few of the restaurants’ friends had recommended, despite many places having only just reopened. I suggest you visit the HUNTERHunter website for the latest restaurant news.
We enjoyed and recommend the following spots:
- Surfhouse – Merewether Beach
- Signal Box – near Queenswharf
- Moor – Newcastle East
- Autumn Room – Darby Street
- Napoli Centrale – Hunter Street
- Three Blue Doors – Merewether and Civic
How to get to Newcastle
Drive: Newcastle is an easy 2-hour drive from Sydney along the M1.
Train: The train from Central Station takes about 2.5 hours. It stops just outside the city centre, but you can join the light rail to Civic or Newcastle East.
Fly: There are flights from Dubbo, Taree, Melbourne and Canberra (and Sydney, but why would you?)
Getting Around Newcastle
Newcastle is quite well serviced by public transport and uses the Opal card system that is in place in Sydney.
The light rail meets the train at the Newcastle Interchange and travels along the waterfront to Newcastle East – a short track, but it comes in handy when your feet are too tired to walk back from the beach to town.
Want to do more outings like this? Consider one of these: