Newcastle, New South Wales – Everything You Must See And Do

Affectionately known as ‘Newy’ by the locals, this bustling port city is often overshadowed by its more famous counterparts, Sydney and Melbourne.

However, Newcastle is a hidden gem with its own unique history, culture, and natural beauty that is just waiting to be discovered.

Fun Fact: Did you know that Newcastle is Australia’s second oldest city after Sydney, founded in 1804.

Let’s look at everything you must see and do while visiting Newcastle.

Fort Scratchly

Fort Scratchly

Fort Scratchley was originally constructed in the 1880s to defend the city of Newcastle and its valuable coal shipping port from potential Russian naval attacks following escalated hostilities with the UK at the time.

While that threat never eventuated in Australia, during World War II, Fort Scratchley played a crucial role in protecting Newcastle and its harbour from Japanese attacks, as it holds the distinction as the only Australian fort to return enemy fire after a Japanese submarine attacked the harbour in the early hours of June 8, 1942.

The site continued to serve as a military base until 1972. After the site was left for many years, it re-opened as a museum in 2008.

Nowadays, Fort Scratchley showcases not only its military history but also offers insight into the history of the city. Visitors can explore the tunnels and cannons of this fortification and learn about the fort’s role in the defence of Newcastle.

The museum is open every day except for Tuesdays, operating organised tours through the site, including the tunnels and well worth a visit.

If you choose not to visit while you are in Newcastle, you’ll still hear Fort Scratchley’s guns fire, which happens every day (except Tuesdays) at 1pm.

The ceremonious firing of the cannons is part of a time-honoured seafaring practice that began in Newcastle in 1878 and was used in ports around the world in the nineteenth century to allow sea captains to adjust their navigation instruments.

Even if the military uses of Fort Scratchley don’t interest you, I would still recommend making the tip to the top of the hill. Part of what made the site such a strategic outpost was the panoramic views out over the harbour and the rest of the city, and those alone are well worth the effort.

Nobbys Head and Lighthouse

Newcastle, New South Wales – Everything You Must See And Do

Iconic landmarks of the Newcastle foreshore, Nobbys Head and Nobbys Lighthouse mark the entrance to Newcastle Harbour.

Constructed in 1854 to guide ships into the Hunter River, the lighthouse is still used to this day as a navigational marker for the busy harbour.

If you want to visit the Signal Master’s Cottage, access is limited as the grounds of Nobbys Headland are only open to the public on weekends and public holidays. That said, walking along Nobbys Breakwall (and taking photos) is a popular activity for tourists and locals alike, which you can do anytime.

Otherwise, Nobbys Beach is one of Newcastle’s most popular beaches, given its proximity and ease of access to the city. Its consistent swell also makes it one of the most favoured surfing beaches in the area.

If surfing isn’t your style, the beach is patrolled by professional lifeguards year-round, making it a good location for swimming (make sure you stay between the flags). There are also a couple of beach volleyball courts, while simply relaxing on the sand is also a very popular option.

Newcastle Beach and Merewether Beach nearby are also very good alternatives.

Newcastle Museum

Located in the heart of Newcastle’s Honeysuckle precinct in the former railway workshops, the Newcastle Museum showcases the city’s diverse heritage.

From the history and culture of the Aboriginal people of the Hunter Region to the city’s pivotal role in coal mining and steel production that shaped Newcastle into what we see today, the Newcastle Museum tells the entire story with a unique collection of artifacts and experiences.

Catering to kids, the interactive Supernova is a great, fun way for them to get hands-on to learn and discover different science concepts.

But for me, the highlight of the museum and what makes it stand out is the BHP Experience brings you into what it was like to work the steelworks. The hourly show alone makes the visit worthwhile. Just keep in mind that it is loud!

Newcastle Art Gallery

Originally opened in 1977 as Australia’s first purpose-built regional gallery, the Newcastle Art Galley has recently (August 2023) closed to be expanded and modernised.

I’ll revisit the galley towards the end of 2024 when the art gallery is due to reopen, and provide updated information.

Miss Porter’s House

Holding the distinction of being home to one family for more than 80 years, this freestanding Edwardian terrace in the heart of Newcastle showcases an intriguing insight into early to mid-twentieth-century inner-city life in Newcastle.

Now entrusted to the care of the National Trust, the house survives as a poignant insight into the homes of an era and the quiet and careful lives of the Porter family, who owned the house from its construction in 1909.

Open to the public, Miss Porter’s House is different from your typical museum and is more like stepping into a time capsule of what life has been like living in Newcastle over the last 100 years.

Newcastle Memorial Walk and King Edward Park

Newcastle Memorial Walk and King Edward Park

Extremely popular with Novacastrians (Newcastle locals), visitors also shouldn’t miss the Newcastle Memorial Walk and King Edward Park. These separate, but interlinked public spaces offer a unique blend of history and breathtaking views.

The Newcastle Memorial Walk (also occasionally referred to as the ANZAC Memorial Walk) is a relatively recent addition (2015) to the Newcastle coastline.

While the purpose of the walkway is to commemorate the centenary of ANZAC Day, most evident with the steel silhouettes of soldiers, it’s the sweeping vistas of Newcastle’s coastline and city skyline that steal the show.

The walk interlinks Bar Beach with the city through King Edward Park, a much more historic public space dating back to 1863.

What makes King Edward Park stand out is the beautifully landscaped gardens filled with vibrant flowers, making it a popular place for picnics and other family gatherings, especially on the weekends.

But King Edward Park also has other historical significance to Newcastle as it is also where you will find remains of the Shepherds Hill Battery and Gunner’s Cottage, another historic military fortification built to protect the harbour.

Additionally, The Obelisk, built as a navigational aid for ships approaching the harbour and a significant part of the city’s maritime history, can also be found in the park.

Be it for the views or the history, taking a stroll (or even a more spirited walk) along the Newcastle Memorial Walk and through King Edward Park is a great way to spend any nice day in Newcastle.

Bogey Hole

Bogey Hole

Located right next to King Edward Park, the Bogey Hole is another unique part of Newcastle’s history and a great place to cool off during the summer.

This ocean bath was carved into the natural rock formation by convicts in 1819 for the personal use of Major James Morisset, who went on to be the longest-serving Commandant of Newcastle. This is also why they were originally referred to as the Commandant’s Baths.

How and when the name changed to be Bogey Hole is up for debate, but the promoted story is that the name comes from the local indigenious Dharawal word meaning ‘to bathe’.

Regardless of how the site ended up being renamed, it’s been a popular attraction, despite being promoted as a secret swimming spot, of Newcastle ever since. During calm seas and low tide, it’s a nice, relaxing ocean-fed swimming spot. While during high-tide and rough seas, thrill seekers tend to flock to the Bogey Hole to see if they can hold on to the fencing while the waves crash over them.

While I don’t recommend the latter, on a hot summer day with calm seas, if you’re looking to swim in a state heritage-listed swimming spot and one of the earliest known examples in the whole of Australia of a purpose-built ocean swimming pool – a visit to the Bogey Hole is a must.

Alternatively, if you just want to swim without having to deal with the sand between your toes, Mereweather Ocean Baths and Newcastle Ocean Baths (due to re-open for the summer of 2023) are very good alternatives.

Stockton Beach

Stockton Beach

From shipwrecks to sand dunes, Stockton Beach is its own unique blend of natural beauty and historical intrigue on the opposite side of the Newcastle Harbour entrance (Hunter River) from the city.

Stockton is an instantly recognisable landmark, be it looking north from the city or flying into Newcastle. This huge stretch of sand is recognised as the largest moving coastal dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, making them one of the most iconic features of Newcastle’s coastline.

But beyond the endless stretches of sand (32km), there are a number of more subtle features to Stockton Beach that make it a popular attraction for visitors to the city.

For off-roading and four-wheel-drive enthusiasts, a large section of the dunes is accessible to drive through and explore. There are also a couple of designated camping areas.

If you don’t own a four-wheel drive, there are a couple of guided tours that will take you out to the main attractions. While quad-biking is another great to explore the dunes, and you’re able to rent one from a couple of tour operators.

That said, it’s not just traversing the dunes that is the key appeal of Stockton. There are a number of key historical sites scattered among the dunes.

Dating back to some of the earliest inhabitants of the area, the Worimi Conservation Lands, which in part includes Stockton Beach, is home to a number of Aboriginal cultural sites. The most obvious examples of these are the extensive shell deposits called middens. If you’d like to know more about this indigenous history, it’s best to do an organised tour.

More recently, Stockton is home to a number of shipwrecks. The easiest to find is the wreck of the French barque Adolphe, which ran aground alongside what is now the Stockton breakwater on September 30, 1904. Standing the test of time, it’s the most well-preserved shipwreck in the area, of which there have been many.

Another prominent shipwreck was the Norwegian bulk carrier MV Sygna, which beached in 1974. While a storm in 2016 finished off many of the prominent features of the wreck that were visible above the water from Stockton Beach, there are still plenty of remnants under the waterline, which you can still see from the beach during calm seas and low tide.

However, the most famous and unique attraction of Stockton Beach is Tin City. Featured in movies like Mad Max, this small encampment has a storied history.

Located roughly in the middle of Stockton Beach, what started out as supply sheds for shipwrecked sailors grew during the depression with makeshift huts occupied by squatters. During World War 2, many of the shacks were torn down to make room for a military camp. Now, just 11 shacks remain and are still occupied (mostly as holiday houses). But you can discover more about that when you check it out for yourself.

Fighter World

To this point, you’ve probably worked out that the military has had a significant impact on the evolution of Newcastle as a city, and it still does.

Newcastle Airport also serves as RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) Williamtown, one of a handful of airforce bases around the country that regularly operate modern fighter jets.

The best way to discover more about this part of Newcastle is to visit Fighter World. Dedicated to showcasing the history of RAAF operations in Newcastle and the Hunter Region, the museum sits adjacent to the entrance to RAAF Base Williamtown at Newcastle Airport and is home to a number of military aircraft that have been seen regularly over Newcastle. Some of which you can sit inside of.

But what makes Fighter World stand out from some of the other aviation museums you may have visited before is the observation deck. Overlooking Newcastle Airport’s runway, you can watch military and commercial aircraft take off and land, all while listening to all the action on the live audio feed direct from the Williamtown Control Tower.

Bonus: Hunter Valley Wine Region

The Hunter Valley is its own region north of Sydney and west of Newcastle. However, it is often collectively referred to when speaking about visiting the area.

Regardless, the Hunter Valley best known for its world-class wineries and picturesque vineyards, is an extremely popular day trip out of the city, as well as being a destination in its own right.

With so much to see and do, I’ll write a separate guide for the Hunter Valley. However, some highlights include the stops at the cellar doors of Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard, Ivanhoe Wines and Brokenwood Wines. At the same time, I’d also recommend visiting Hunter Valley Gardens and Hunter Valley Wildlife Park when you are in the region.

Save Money On New South Wales Attractions

With so much to see and do, not only in Newcastle but all of New South Wales, the admission to all these attractions can really add up. A great way to save money is to make sure you take advantage of the bundle ticket offers. 

Personally, I use the Sydney Klook Pass if I’m planning on visiting a few things while travelling through New South Wales, but you can also find good deals on individual attractions as well.

Alternatively, you can also check out Get Your Guide and Viator to see if you can get a better deal on individual attractions and tours.

Newcastle, New South Wales – Everything You Must See And Do

Make sure you also read my ultimate guide to Newcastle, covering everything else you need to know for your trip.

If you’d like more information to help plan your trip to and around Australia… Check out the rest of my blog posts.

Also, make sure you check out the travel tools I use most to help you save money when booking your next trip.

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About the author

Rhys Vandersyde

Traveller, Photographer, Content Creator - I've spent the last 20 years actively seeking out new destinations and new adventures. Find out more about me here:

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