The laidback beach culture of Newcastle brings the frenetic pace of one of Australia’s oldest cities down a notch to deliver the best of both worlds. Sandy stretches of coastline serve up a plentiful supply of uncrowded swimming spots and nature reserves to explore, while the city nurtures artistic expression in all its forms – often housed inside repurposed historical buildings – with a food and nightlife scene to take you from beachside brunching through to evening craft brews.
Newcastle is a 2-hour drive north of Sydney or a 50-minute drive from the Hunter Valley and Port Stephens. You can fly direct into Newcastle Airport (which is located 30 minutes from the CBD) from all of Australia’s eastern capital cities and the Gold Coast, Dubbo, Taree and Ballina. Newcastle is part of the CityRail train network with frequent daily return services on the Newcastle/ Central Coast train line that connects to Sydney and the Hunter train networks.
With 14 km of coastline to itself, Newcastle lays claim to several unspoiled beaches and ocean baths that each offer sun seekers something a little different.
Merewether Beach is arguably Newcastle’s most famous beach thanks to its annual international surfing competition, Surfest. But it is actually three beaches in one, with Dixon Park and Bar Beach also sharing the same strip of sand.
Cool off in the Merewether iconic ocean baths and refuel at one of the many beachfront cafes, wander up to Bar Beach, meander along the Anzac Memorial Walk (part of the Bathers Way walk that extends from Merewether to Nobbys Beach), or settle on the sand with the kids followed by a swim in Bar’s calmer waters.
Tucked just below Shortland Esplanade, out of sight and bordered by mounds of rocks intermittently covered by the rising tide, you’ll find the historic Newcastle Ocean Baths. Swimmers have flocked to the baths since 1922, basking in its art deco façade. Take a dip here in the baths, duck next door to the Canoe Pool or make your way around the bend to Newcastle Beach to take advantage of the cityscape it backs onto.
Follow the coast around to reach the crescent-shaped Nobbys Beach, which is patrolled year round. Its headland is home to the famous Nobby Lighthouse.
Swap the sand for bush trails through Blackbutt and the Hunter Wetlands. Tackle one of the many walks, set up a picnic or head to Glenrock State Conservation Area to experience the region’s best mountain biking trails, while the harbour beckons water-sport lovers to partake in a day of paddle boarding and kayaking.
Embrace a night of entertainment at the heritage-listed Newcastle Civic Centre. The historic building has played host to an rotating roster of dance, theatre, comedy and musical performances for nearly a century.
Meanwhile, you can get your art fix at the Lock-Up. The former goal, now a contemporary art space and creative hub, is located in the heart of Newcastle’s heritage precinct and showcases a diverse range of art exhibitions that are sure to pique your interest. Alternatively, the Newcastle Art Gallery has a collection of over 6700 works of art that are curated and exhibited not only here but also around the country.
Motorheads should plan their visit to coincide with the annual Newcastle 500 Supercars Finale, while the international surfing competition Surfest draws the crowds to Merewether Beach to watch the professionals charge the waves.
Spend the better part of a weekend hitting the market trail in Newcastle. The Olive Tree Art & Design Market draws a crowd to Civic Park on the first Saturday of each month. Treat yourself to a range of gourmet treats and pick up a handmade, one of a kind gift from the best emerging and established designers, artists, makers and producers in the region.
Sunday mornings are made for visiting the Newcastle City Farmers Market for the freshest local produce, meat and seafood bought direct from the farmers – which means you get to ask them not only where and how the produce is grown but also cooking tips and how to store it.
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Perched on the waterfront and nestled between the eateries, bars and boutique shops of the Honeysuckle precinct is the Rydges Newcastle. Stay in one of the 175 luxurious suites, take in the harbour views from the 25-metre outdoor pool and walk the short distance to the city’s main attractions.
Chifley Apartments are conveniently located in the centre of the city. Stay in the one or two-bedroom self-catering apartments with fully equipped kitchens, laundry facilities and Wi-Fi as well as a heated pool and gym in the complex.
Newcastle Beach YHA boasts the best budget accommodation in town. The beautifully restored heritage building offers private and shared hostel accommodation with access to surfboards, games, a reading room, and fireplace, TV, BBQ and free Wi-Fi.
NRMA Stockton Beach Caravan Park offers beachfront camping and caravan sites to book as well as villa accommodation for a relaxed beach getaway located on the outer fringes of Newcastle that is still only a short ferry trip from the CBD. The patrolled Stockton Beach is at your doorstep for a swim, surf or spot of fishing, while the park features a recreation room, enclosed camp kitchen, children’s playground and more.
Make your way to Beaumont Street, King Street, Darby Street or Newcastle East and you are guaranteed to find a standout feed next door to a top notch watering hole.
For a special night out, Subo is intimate fine dining at its best. The 35-seat restaurant focuses on plating up exquisite food with French and Japanese influences in a warm and inviting space.
You can taste the labour of love in every bite at Una Volta. The authentic Italian restaurant, birthed by a Newcastle local who spent years cooking her way across Italy, oozes romance and makes for the perfect date night location.
Chinese-born owners bring authentic Asian fare to Newcastle at Naka Noodle. Fill up on rich noodle soups, flavour-bomb dumplings and deboned fried pork chops. You will be back for seconds.
The nautical-themed Quill and Compass serve up a mouth-watering variety of tapas plates and hearty mains – plus an all-day breakfast menu for the brunch-goers to revel in.
Newcastle nightlife is as varied as it is good. Starting with the small bar line up, you’ll find the Basement on Market’s mixologists shaking up innovative cocktails, while Bar Petite – the city’s original tapas and lounge bar – fills their cosy space with live music and pleased patrons.
Moving on to the pub scene, the Honeysuckle Hotel tops the list for its iconic position on Newcastle Harbour, local gigs, fresh oysters and espresso martinis. For a lively atmosphere, a selection of award-winning craft beers and dinners paired to match the brew, head to The Foghorn Brewery.
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Let the professionals behind Surfest teach you to surf at Surfest Surf School on Nobbys Beach. Take a private or group lesson or enrol your kids in the summer holiday grom program.
Get your spine tingling on a True Crime Tour of Newcastle and deep dive into the city’s shadiest characters and notorious crimes as you journey the streets at night through its sinister past.
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