A little over two hours north of Sydney, the coastal city of Newcastle has emerged as a cultural spot. Much more than a stop off on your way to the Hunter Valley, ‘Newy’ is an increasingly vibrant city with plenty of memorable food options, excellent shops, coastal sights and wide-open spaces to explore over a long weekend.
You sort out which weekend you’re going to make the trip, and our Newcastle local will get your itinerary started with some suggestions.
Merewether Surfhouse | Photograph: Destination NSW
Aside from the cuisine itself, there’s two main considerations when choosing where to eat in Newcastle: the vibe and the view. One of Newy’s most popular places for waterfront dining would have to be Scratchleys (200 Wharf Rd, Newcastle) for its harbour views, seasonal seafood feasts, takeaway fish and chips, and tapas at Battlesticks Bar. Water views meet lamp-laden, moody décor at local favourite Mediterannian restaurant, Rustica Newcastle Beach (1 King St, Newcastle). If you want to literally feel the ocean spray over your pre-dinner cocktails, Merewether Surfhouse (5 Henderson Pde, Newcastle) is wedged between the cliffs and the sand, and you won’t go hungry with a variety of pizzas and other Italian dishes on offer. The Signal Box (155 Wharf Rd, Newcastle) repurposes old railway architecture into an open-air courtyard and airy pavilion with lots of casual seating where everything from sauces, stocks and pickles through to fresh juices, chai and sodas are made in house. For cool-factor and multifunctionality, The Edwards (148 Parry St, Newcastle West) is packing steam – and we’re not only talking about its on-site coin-op laundrette, a nod to the building’s past life. Former Silverchair bassist Chris Joannou and Chris Johnston have transformed the site: the restaurant focuses on fresh, seasonal produce and top-quality meat cuts, and there’s also a bar, record store and motorbike workshop in the mix. The funky Ginger Meg’s (212 King St, Newcastle) draws on South-East Asian ingredients and flavours, and puts on a mean bottomless yum cha on the weekend. Carnivores can have cravings met at Meet (9 Darby St, Newcastle), where Brazilian and South American share-style menus are packed with varieties of meat seared over charcoal and ironbark wood.
Coal and Cedar | Photograph: Destination NSW
With a little planning, you can pull off a mean bar crawl in Newy. If you’re frothing to get on the beers, Foghorn Brewery (218 King St, Newcastle), Newcastle’s first craft brewery, fills a lively warehouse space in the CBD where you can sink 16 varieties of tank-to-glass brews on tap. Craft beer aficionados can also find character-filled beers at Styx Brewery (97 Wilson St, Carrington). If you’re a fan of spirits, Newcastle has specialty bars to suit all strokes. Gin is the main game at distillery and bar Earp Distilling Co. (41a Darling St, Carrington), where they’re focused on modern methods and fragrant botanicals. The bar within the boutique Newy Distillery (13-14/17 Aluminium Cl, Edgeworth) serves up cocktails with its out-of-the-box spirits like turquoise vodka. Where’s the rum gone? It’s at the Rum Diary Bar (529 Hunter St, Newcastle) where you’ll also find Carribean vibes, hidden rooms and a cigar lounge. If you fancy getting in on a local secret, seek out Coal and Cedar (380 Hunter St, Newcastle), a Prohibition-era inspired, hidden speakeasy with no signage and no doorbell.
The Press Bookhouse | Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
A coffee crawl in Newcastle should always involve Darby Street, and local brekkie institution Goldbergs Coffee House (137 Darby St, Newcastle) is the place to start, where the wooden chandelier, grungy design accents and dedication to a fine cup of joe haven’t changed much in 25 years. At Corner House Café (29 Union St, Cooks Hill) it’s not all about the looks (although the bright, soft interiors are a hipster daydream), there’s Single O coffee on the pour and featured filters from brands like Newy-based indie roaster Tapestry. At Cakeboi (48 Lindsay St, Hamilton) the new retail foray from local cake maker and MasterChef runner-up Reece Hignell, they take the coffee as seriously as the sweets, serving bean blends from local, ethical speciality roaster Floozy. If the lingering scent of old books is just as pleasing to you as the aroma of a freshly poured coffee, you ought to settle in for a cuppa among the communal tables and cosy vibes of The Press Bookhouse (462 Hunter St, Newcastle).
Blackbird Corner | Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Just like coffee crawls, the eclectic Darby Street strip is a homing zone for shopping crawls, with quirky shop fronts that can rival the selection on Newtown’s King Street. Speaking of eclectic, Ramjet Assortments (78 Darby St, Cooks Hill) offers a range of temptations, from vintage-inspired frocks to pre-loved cowboy boots and locally made acrylic earrings and brooches from the likes of Roseicapilla. Next door, Steel and Anchor (76 Darby Street, Cooks Hill) curates gifts and homewares with a masculine bent. Music and fashion store Abicus (103 Darby St, Cooks Hill) is where you can grab a new vinyl record along with a fresh set of Birkenstocks, a new outfit and a book. The gorgeous Blackbird Corner (74 Darby St, Cooks Hill) looks like it’s been ripped straight from the pages of Frankie magazine (you’ll find a few of those on the shelves too) – shop here for handmade clothing and accessories, totes, art prints and other cute things from Aussie designers. Another independently owned store, Scout Newcastle (124 Darby St, Cooks Hill) is all about soft colour palettes and practical, functional and sustainably produced apparel and items for the home. Away from the Darby drag, Soul Kollective (63 Railway St, Merewether) is a ‘collab store’ that brings together everlasting florals, children’s books, art, photography and a whole lot more. Started by a pair of local jewellers, Studio Melt (119 Hunter St, Newcastle) specialises in alternative engagement and wedding jewellery and also stocks carefully curated objects and art.
Newcastle Memorial Walk | Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan
Things to do
Getting a big dose of nature and salty ocean air should be a fixture of a visit to Newcastle. Stretch your legs on the Newcastle Memorial Walk (24 Memorial Dr, The Hill) or ANZAC Walk, 450-metre long cliff top walkway with ocean views that links Strzelecki Lookout to Bar Beach. The beaches are generally gorgeous, with Newcastle Beach (Shortland Esplanade, Newcastle) boasting one of the best surf breaks in Australia. For a more protected briny dip behind a vintage façade, check out Newcastle Ocean Baths (30 Shortland Esplanade, Newcastle) and Merewether Ocean Baths (3a Ocean St, Merewether). Another must-see on the coastline is the Bogey Hole (Shortland Esplanade, Newcastle) an ocean rock pool hand-carved by convicts – it’s a beautiful sight, but proceed with caution, it’s not patrolled. Above the Bogey Hole, King Edward Park (Reserve Rd, Newcastle) has Norfolk Island pines, a sunken garden, historical building remains and sweeping ocean views. There’s plenty of natural beauty aside from beaches – at Glenrock State Conservation Area five kilometres from town there are rainforest walks, waterfalls, mountain biking trails and Glenrock Lagoon.
Novotel Newcastle Beach | Photograph: Destination NSW
As far as prime waterfront locations go, Novotel Newcastle Beach (5 King St, Newcastle) commands the corner of a beachside city block on the doorstep of Newcastle Beach, and most rooms at Noah's on the Beach (29 Zaara St, Newcastle) offer expansive ocean or harbour views. The team from Papa Sven, a Swedish-influenced lifestyle store, have infused their love of Nordic design into Pappa Sven's Apartment and Pappa Sven's Summer Cabin in Cooks Hill. Newcastle is also getting two flash new accommodation offerings in 2021. Opening June 15, the city’s first five-star hotel, Kingsley (282 King St, Newcastle) from boutique chain Crystalbrook Hotels, transforms one of the CBD’s most recognisable buildings, the Council Administration Centre (a circular structure known as the ‘ice cream cone’ to locals) into a 130-room hotel with a rooftop restaurant and bar. The boutique art-and-design focused QT Hotels brand is breathing new life and art deco-laced flair into the former David Jones Building on Hunter Street – opening date to be confirmed.