Newcastle: Australia's Off-the-Radar Gem Just Outside Sydney

Only two hours north of Sydney, the hidden gems of sunny Newcastle are well worth the road trip.

Any time is the perfect time to hit the road and venture north of Sydney, to explore the beautifully underrated and often misunderstood port city of Newcastle.

Conveniently located in the heart of the Hunter Region, Newcastle is Australia’s seventh largest city, and the second most populated city in New South Wales—second only to its bustling sister city, Sydney. However, rewind to ten years ago and you wouldn’t think this would be the case, with more than 150 empty shopfronts lining the city centre creating a ghost town.

Merewether Beach and Merewether ocean baths
Choose between Merewether Beach and Merewether Ocean Baths (©Hayley Feenstra)

Today, cafés and restaurants spill out onto art covered streets alive with locals and visitors sharing arguably some of the best coffee blends, healthy brunch bowls and drinks into the night. Market-goers stroll through laneways with bags full of local homemade purchases, while surfers beeline barefoot to and from the expansive beaches.

This revitalisation began in 2008 with a non-profit initiative called Renew Newcastle, founded by Novocastrian, Marcus Westbury. A mere three years later Newcastle could be found on Lonely Planet’s list of the top 10 cities to visit in the world. Add to this a golden sandy coastline dotted with stunning beaches—Merewether Beach in Newcastle has taken out the title of ‘best city beach’ over Bondi Beach in 2018—and stunning walks to take it all in, and it’s not hard to see why Newcastle is climbing the ladder in popularity.

Hunt and Gather markets
Enjoy great food, music and design at the Hunt and Gather Markets. (©Hayley Feenstra)


Eat and Drink

The dining scene of Newcastle has boomed in the past few years, you can find everything from quick and easy takeaway for a day on the beach, to fine dining options overlooking one! Head to one of Newcastle’s main hubs, the ever-quaint Darby Street, to the many options on offer. Three Monkeys Café will spoil your taste buds with one of the longest and delicious smoothie menus in the area. The "Choccynanannut" is a particular favourite; with chocolate, peanut butter and banana, pair one with one of their generous and hearty breakfasts.

East End Hub
Delicious dining at East End Hub (©Hayley Feenstra)

To the east of the city sits East End Hub boasting alfresco dining and an impressive variety of gluten free options already on the menu. For lunch try the duck breast with hand-rolled gnocchi, spinach, beetroot, goats cheese and pine nuts.

To soak up the coastal views Newcastle is famous for, Merewether Surfhouse has you covered. Perched right on Merewether Beach, floor-to-ceiling windows give way to panoramic views right down the strip. Cocktails, drinks and an à la carte menu can be found upstairs, while downstairs the pizza kiosk is perfect for more casual catch ups over coffee or wood-fire pizza.

Merewether Beach from Bathers Way Walk
Merewether Beach from Bathers Way Walk (©Hayley Feenstra)

If you’re after a drink at the end of a long day, order a cocktail at 5 Sawyers. Sit back and relax while taking in the eclectic art that decorates the interior and pays perfect homage to the history of Newcastle.

See and Do

Unlike Sydney, checking out the sites and scenery that Newcastle has to offer needn’t be a war for parking through the battle of traffic. You won’t have to push through crowds and wait your turn to take a selfie. While the water is still warm following the end of summer, it would be a mistake not to head in for a dip.

Redhead Beach
Venture outside the city to Redhead Beach. (©Hayley Feenstra)

The Bogey Hole is a swimming hole in the city with an interesting story. Cut into the rock face by convicts in 1819, this heritage-listed pool is perfect for those wanting to keep the sand out of their pants. But be aware of the tides, at high tide the waves come crashing over the side into the pool, making for both a fun and sometimes dangerous swim. The crystal clear waters at Merewether Ocean Baths are popular with locals, or for a swim slightly outside the city, Redhead Beach is a must, nestled up against a beautiful red cliff face to one side and with an expansive dog beach on the other.

Fort Scratchley at sunset
Fort Scratchley at sunset (©Hayley Feenstra)

To get your history fix and take in a spectacular view at the same time, the headland known as Fort Scratchley is the place to visit. Built in 1882, Fort Scratchley is most popularly known for its role as a coastal defence installation against possible Russian attack, thanks to its strategic position overlooking the harbour. This positioning also gives the site one of the most unique and breathtaking views over the city.

Held on the first Saturday of the month is the Olive Tree Market, the leading contemporary handmade art and design market in Newcastle, wowing visitors with its festival atmosphere and high-quality work on offer. The Hunt and Gather Market, held on the third Saturday of the month, is another must-visit. More than just a market, you will find locals here socialising, indulging in great food and lazing around on blankets under the trees listening to live music. If you are in town over these dates the markets should be on your list.

ANZAC Memorial Walk
Expansive views over Newcastle from the ANZAC Memorial Walk (©Hayley Feenstra)

To get your blood flowing and tick some exercise off the list, one way to check out all of the above is Bathers Way, Newcastle’s scenic 6-kilometre walk that stretches all the way from the lighthouse at Nobbys Headland to the leafy wilderness of Glenrock Reserve. This walk includes the recently constructed ANZAC Memorial Walk, built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli in 1915, acting as a magnificent memorial, with spectacular sprawling views over the city and the coastline.

Newcastle is a two-hour drive from Sydney (hire a car with East Coast Car Rentals or Avis), or a 2.5 hour train journey from Sydney’s Central Station.