Steel yourself: the best things to do in Newcastle

From ocean baths and coastal walks to national parks and city galleries, our guide to Newcastle’s best.

Surfers in the water off Newcastle Beach. Image credit: Destination NSW
  • Jetstar
  • October 2021

Newcastle really packs a punch. This buzzing beach-side city is a happening mix of surfing, cafe culture, coastal walks, arts festivals, you name it. Then just beyond the city, there are wineries and luscious national parks. You think you can’t have it all, then Newcastle turns around and says you can. Spend your days in the galleries or ocean baths, and your nights in the theatres or on coastal walks. It’s all good with this cosmopolitan town. Now, let’s get to the best bits.

Hit the baths and beaches

Yes, Newcastle is a city buzzing with art and culture, but it’s first and foremost a beach town. One of those big, fresh-air places where surfers hit the morning waves and locals dive into scenic ocean baths. Check out Newcastle Ocean Baths, a spectacular Art Deco swimming palace, and Merewether Baths. Newcastle is surrounded by gorgeous beaches, including the popular Nobbys Beach, Newcastle Beach and the dog-friendly Horseshoe Beach. And don’t miss the stunning, historic Bogey Hole, an ocean pool hand-cut from wave rock by convicts.

Aerial view of Newcastle Ocean Baths and Canoe Pool with city skyline in background. Image credit: Destination NSW
Dive in! Newcastle Ocean Baths. Image credit: Destination NSW

Get out into the great outdoors

Newcastle may have major beachy drawcards, but it has even more outdoor wonders on its doorstep. Just 6km from the CBD, there’s Blackbutt Reserve, a sprawling landscape of nature trails, picnic spots, diverse habitats and wildlife exhibits. The nearby Hunter Wetlands National Park is an extravaganza of rainforest, mangroves and native birds. If you want to get out mountain biking, hit the tracks in the Glenrock State Conservation Area. This relaxing space includes the Glenrock Lagoon and Burwood Beach. Perfect unwinding territory.

Man riding a mountain bike through Glenrock State Conservation Area, near Newcastle. Image credit: Destination NSW
Hit the tracks in the Glenrock State Conservation Area. Image credit: Destination NSW

Go for a super-scenic walk

Go for a walk. Doesn’t sound like much but honestly, Newcastle knows how to do a knock-out stroll. The views will blow your mind. There are so many trails to walk or cycle that take in panoramic views of the coast, the city, and all around. The Bathers Way path is 6km of coastal track between Merewether and Nobbys Beach. Aim for sunrise or sunset but be warned – you’ll keep stopping at lookouts. There’s also the Memorial Walk, a portion of Bathers Way, adorned with steel cut-outs of soldiers, referencing the city’s steel and military history.

Two people descending the stairs on Newcastle Memorial Walk, with coastal and city skyline views in the background. Image credit: Destination NSW
Coastal views on the Newcastle Memorial Walk. Image credit: Destination NSW

Immerse yourself in culture

Newcastle loves its arts and culture. It has an energetic live music scene and there’s a different art, music or film festival on practically every month. The city has some fabulous art institutions to dive into. The Newcastle Art Gallery has one of the best public collections in the country, and hosts events and workshops for kids. The architecturally impressive Civic Theatre, opened in 1929, is one of the country’s great historic theatres, so make sure you catch a performance. Even the city’s first jail, now called The Lock Up, is a vibrant art space!

Signage outside The Civic Theatre, Newcastle. Image credit: Destination NSW
Catch a show at the Civic Theatre. Image credit: Destination NSW

Dip into the city’s history

Newcastle is actually one of Australia’s oldest cities, and you can feel the history running deep through the town. There’s incredible historic architecture at every turn, from the Art Deco ocean baths to the sombre red-brick Christ Church Cathedral, which is almost 200 years old. The city’s industrial history in mining coal and steel are showcased at the Newcastle Museum, while military history is found in the museum and underground tunnels at Fort Scratchley. Even the scenic Bogey Hole ocean pool is historically significant, having been cut out of wave rock by convicts!

Group enjoying a guided tour with a Fort Scratchley Historical Society volunteer at Fort Scratchley, Newcastle. Image credit: Destination NSW/Eluminate Media
Tour the tunnels at Fort Scratchley. Image credit: Destination NSW/Eluminate Media