How does one city get so lucky? Surrounded by stunningly diverse landscapes and inhabited by the most attractive specimens in the country all wrapped up in a perfectly casual attitude to life. This is as good as it gets. It may not seem like it at first, but there are plenty of things to do in Newcastle if you know where to look. You could easily spend 2 or 3 days going at a leisurely pace.

Newcastle is either a really large country town or a small city doing its best country town impression. At only 2 hours drive from Sydney (2.5 by train) it’s an easy day trip from Sydney, but an even easier weekend.

The Beaches

When someone asks “What is there to do in Newcastle?” going to the beach is undoubtedly the first thing to come out of my mouth.

I have been to beaches across Europe, USA, the Pacific and the Caribbean and I can honestly say that while each beach I’ve been too has exuded a certain charm, picturesqueness or propensity for fun (waves), none have been lucky enough to have all three. Newcastle beaches are that lucky.

Newcastle Beach. One of my favourite photos.
Newcastle Beach. One of my favourite photos.

The beaches look beautiful, are home to a world class surfing championship, Surfest, and they are far less crowded than beaches in Sydney and the Gold Coast. The beaches are also easy to get to, with free and usually abundant parking.

Soft yellow sand, waves, and lookouts. And if you select the right beach (Newcastle Beach or Nobbies), a 5 minute stroll will find you in the Newcastle CBD where cafes, bars and businessmen abound. Where else in the world is all this possible? Only Newcastle. Probably.

Go wine tasting in the Hunter Valley

Newcastle is at the doorstep of one of the country’s premier wine districts, an essential stop for the wine-lover. A 45 minute drive brings you to more wineries than you can imagine. My favourite is Tulloch Wines, and beer lovers should check out Potters Hotel and Brewery, home of Hunter Beer Co. Kynie and I were actually married at the Sebel just 5 minutes away.

It’s easy to drive to if you have a car, otherwise there are plenty of wine (and cheese) tasting bus tours that will save you from the awkward “soo… who’s going to drive us back to the hotel?” conversation.

Hell, if you pay me in good beer I’ll even drive you out there!

Getting some snacks at a vineyard in the Hunter Valley NSW
Getting some snacks at a vineyard in the Hunter Valley NSW

Fort Scratchley

Without doubt one of the best lookouts in Newcastle. Right in the city with unparalleled views over the coast, Nobbies Beach, and Newcastle Harbour. It was once our first line of defence during the World Wars, now it serves as a museum and memorial. Tours are run 6 days a week or it is free to just walk around and enjoy the view.

Walking up to Fort Scratchley is one of the best things to do in newcastle.
Incredible view of Nobbies from Fort Scratchley

Swim in the Bogey Hole

The Bogey Hole is a rock pool in the shade of a cliff. It is constantly pounded by waves, but is almost always safe to swim in. The pool was hand carved out of rock by convicts for Governor Morisset in 1819 but now that he’s well and truly dead it is open to the public. Walk down the road from King Edward Park and follow it right to find it.

Swimming in the Bogey Hole is one of the favourite things to do in Newcastle for locals
The Bogey Hole

Walk along the foreshore to the breakwall

This is a favourite of locals and on a sunny day there will be plenty of runners, kids on bikes, and dogs filling the pathway. To get a good walk in and feel like you’ve earned your lunch, eat somewhere at Honeysuckle, walk out to the breakwall and back.

It might take you an hour but it’s a great walk and you might even feel like doing it again (probably not). If you need to though, there are a few places to stop for a a drink along the way.

Playground along the Newcastle Foreshore
Playground along the Newcastle Foreshore

Anzac Memorial Walkway

Opened on Anzac Day (25 April) 2015, the Anzac Memorial Walkway is an elevated platform along the coastal cliffs of Newcastle connecting the Bar Beach carpark and Strzelecki lookout. The walkway gives 360 degree views over the Pacific Ocean and inland towards the city.

At only 450 metres it is not a long walk, but there are steps involved so leave the wheelchair at home. It’s just another easy way for visitors to appreciate the spectacular beauty of coastal Newcastle.

Anzac Memorial Walkway, Bar Beach, Newcastle
One of Newcastle’s most popular walking tracks

Visit one of Newcastle’s eclectic local markets

It seems like every other weekend another committee is holding another market day. That said there always seems to be good stuff on though, from fresh farmers’ markets to vintage clothes markets and classic church carpark markets.

The Olive Tree Markets are on once a month and are one of the more popular markets for people who like vintagey type stuff. The Newcastle City Farmer’s Markets are on every weekend at Newcastle Showground.

Enjoy many other stunning lookouts

We’ve looked at a couple already, but Newcastle is full of lookouts. They all give a different perspective and are generally very close to each other. And all of them are free. A few blocks north of the Anzac Memorial Walkway sits Newcastle’s highest point, the Obelisk, boasting more 360 degree views of the ocean, harbour, suburbs and the city beyond. Night and day both offer spectacular views.

If you like watching hang gliders glide off a cliff check out Hickson Street Lookout, Merewether Heights, which looks over Glenrock Conservation Area.

For a view that is a little different. Catch the ferry across the harbour to Stockton and watch the sun set over the city skyline.

The Obeslisk lookout Newcastle
The Obeslisk lookout Newcastle

Climb the Giant Penis

No, unfortunately that is not some sort of funny typo. The Giant Penis is an observation tower on the Newcastle foreshore that is open to the public.

I honestly don’t even know if it has a real name. This is just what it is known as by everyone. It is a semi-spherical viewing knob perched high on a cylindrical shaft. If you can see through the scratches and graffiti on the windows it is quite an impressive view of the harbour and the Stockton sand dunes. Ugly building it might be, but the view is definitely worth climbing the stairs for.

And it certainly does raise the question what the designer had in mind when he designed it. I can only imagine he had just spent the day at Nobbies Beach.

The Giant Penis, Newcastle foreshore
The Giant Penis

Hike through Glenrock Conservation Reserve

Newcastle is exceedingly blessed with an abundance of nature. Both within the city and a short drive out of the city. Most cities in the world have a big park full of runners, picnics, and tourists. While Newcastle is no exception, most cities don’t have large nature reserves with hiking trails and high views of the ocean.

A 10 minute drive from the city centre, and about a half hour’s walk from Merewether Beach is the Glenrock Trail, a beautiful and relatively easy walk through the bush down the to Glenrock Lagoon and the beach.

The brief moment the trees clear walking through Glenrock Conservation Reserve
The brief moment the trees clear, walking through Glenrock Conservation Reserve

Sand Boarding on the Stockton Dunes

Across Newcastle Harbour is the suburb of Stockton. Next to which are Stockton Sand Dunes, which stretch 32km up the coast to Anna Bay. Stockton is literally less than 200 metres from the Newcastle city centre. But if you want to drive there it might take you half an hour as there is no convenient bridge from the city.

You need a 4WD to do anything fun on the beach, like 4WDing, sand-boarding or camping, but there are plenty of tours that will take the hassle out of it. Try Stockton Sand Dune Safaris, as they have a wide variety of options and activities. I presume they are good, I literally just found them with a 2 second Google search.

Sandboarding on Stockton Beach
Sandboarding on Stockton Beach

Where to Eat in Newcastle?

Newcastle is full of amazing restaurants and cafes, and they often tend to cluster together. Darby Street is one of the main places you’ll find restaurants, followed closely by Hunter Street. Beaumont Street in Hamilton also offers plenty of great dining and nightlife options as well.

Some of my favourite places include The Edwards, Foghorn Brewhouse, and Bronx Pizza. But I recommend you give Hunter Hunter a look over, as they list and review every place and make it really easy to find something you’ll like.

Where’s the good coffee in Newcastle?

The Newcastle coffee scene has come a long way in the last few years. There is an abundance of unpretentious, casual coffee shops and cafes that even my Melbourne friends appreciate. Ok, well some are definitely pretentious but where there’s a market there’s an offering. Novocastrians love their coffee and they love loving their coffee.

While often a ‘good coffee spot’ is often synonymous with ‘teeming with hipsters’, most places seem to strike a good balance without alienating the non-hipsters. Suspension Espresso (Beaumont St, Islington) has a very cool vibe with good food options as well as coffee. And Ground Floor (Hunter St, Newcastle) is popular for people post-run or post-cycle.

My favourite place, though, is Baked Uprising, in Wickham. It is popular with neighbourhood locals and fairly off the beaten path.

Where to drink in Newcastle?

Craft beer fans will rejoice because Newcastle has a growing craft beer scene with more and more pubs offering a craft selection all the time. Local favourites in downtown Newcastle include The Grain Store and The Hop Factory, with an honourable mention to The Blind Monk in Hamilton, where I have previously enjoyed a delectable 10-round beer and beef jerky matching night.

Five Sawyers is a popular cocktail bar on Darby Street and for the wine lover you’ll want to hit either Reserve Wine Bar or Le Passe Temps on Hunter Street (or both, they are opposite).

Hop Factory Tasting Paddle

Where to Stay in Newcastle?

The Crown Plaza is centrally located and offers the most luxurious option…I would imagine.

The Chifley Apartments offer guests the serviced apartment lifestyle and are right on the beach.

Backpackers can stay at Backpackers by the beach for a cheap night, perfect for the early surfer.

Full disclosure, I live in Newcastle so I’ve never had the need to actually stay here, but these are a few that I know of. There are plenty of other options, and you search for them in the box below.

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Nobbies Beach, Newcastle, NSW. How to Spend a weekend in Newcastle, NSWNewcastle, NSW: Bar Beach from the Anzac memorial walkway.