20 fun (and mostly free) things to do in Newcastle, NSW
Two hours north of Sydney, this former steel town has reinvented itself. It’s now a thriving yet laidback city with amazing beaches, fun-filled parks, fantastic restaurants and unique shopping. And don’t worry about spending loads of money. There’s lots of free fun to be has with many attractions, activities and icons that won’t cost you a cent.
Stroll along Anzac Memorial Walk
Go for a walk along the Anzac Memorial Walk and remember World War 1 service personnel while you enjoy Newcastle views. This 450 meter cliff top walkway at Bar Beach is a stunning walk along the coastline. It features incredible 360 degree views of Newcastle from the coast to city. As it’s a tribute to the Anzacs, it features history panels with information about different aspects of the conflict, names of local servicemen and servicewomen as well as listing the geographic place names of various conflicts.
Visit Newcastle Museum
To learn more about the history of Newcastle, visit Newcastle Museum with it’s free admission. It contains many exhibits which chart the development of the city from convict beginnings to a modern vibrant city. Be sure to catch the 6 minute BHP Steelmaking show which features special effects. It runs every hour on the hour and provides a fascinating and entertaining history about the Newcastle’s steelmaking past.
Discover the past at Fort Scratchley
Visitors can take a self-guided tour around the fort viewing the cannons and other above ground defence structures. If you would prefer a full site tour and a chance to explore the underground tunnels, pay for a guided tour with one of the Fort Scratchley Historical Society volunteers. General admission to Fort Scratchley is free. Fort Scratchley is open six days a week, 10am to 4pm (closed Tuesdays).
Walk along Bathers Way
For a scenic city walk, stroll along Bathers Way from Nobbys Beach to Merewether Ocean Baths. This 6 kilometre route takes in some of Newcastle’s iconic beaches and often you’ll see dolphins frolicking in the waves.
Spot koalas and kangaroos at Blackbutt Reserve
See native Australian animals like koalas, kangaroos and emus up close at Blackbutt Reserve. This popular attraction covers 182 hectares in the middle of Newcastle’s suburbs and features native animals, walking trails, playgrounds and tranquil picnic areas. Admission is free but there’s a parking charge.
Walk out on Nobbys breakwall
Nobby’s Beach is a favourite with tourists and locals alike for its views of Nobbys Headland and Stockton Bight. Work up a sweat walking to the end of Nobbys breakwall and then cool off with a swim at Nobby’s Beach (patrolled year round). For sweeping views back to Newcastle, visit Nobbys Headland. The Lighthouse Grounds are open from 10am to 4pm every Sunday and entry to the site is free. It’s a 10 minute walk (550 metres) from Nobbys Beach carpark to the gate. From the gate, it’s a 5 minute (220 metres) uphill walk to get to the Signal Master’s Cottage.
Swim at Newcastle Beach
Go for a surf or swim at Newcastle Beach. If the waves are a bit rough, go for a swim at the nearby Newcastle Ocean Baths. With its historic Art Deco façade, it’s a great place to float and count the coal ships moored offshore. There’s plenty of room to swim laps or splash around and the sandy bottom of the pool feels great squished between your toes.
Visit the Bogey Hole, a creation of convict labour
If it’s a hot day, check out this popular bathing spot located in King Edward Park. The Bogey Hole is a favourite with tourists and locals alike. The Bogey Hole was built by convict labour by order of Commandant Morisset who served as Commandant of Newcastle from 1819 to 1822.
Swim at the famous Merewether Beach & Ocean Baths
Another popular Newcastle Beach is Merewether Beach. Home to the famous surfing competition Surfest, it’s popular with surfers and swimmers alike. Definitely worth a visit. Go for a swim at Merewether Baths, the largest ocean baths complex in the Southern Hemisphere. As well as being a massive pool, it’s extremely scenic with views out to the ocean.
Explore Newcastle Harbour
Swap ocean views for harbour views and walk along Newcastle’s working harbour. As one of the world’s largest coal export ports, this busy working harbour is full of coal ships gliding in and out of the harbour. They’re joined by an increasing number of cruise ships. If you’re lucky, you might spot a coal ship entering or leaving the harbour dwarfing the tugboats besides them.
Go “overseas” to Stockton
If you have time, take the ferry (it takes 5 minutes) over to to Stockton to see back to Newcastle. With ferries running every 15 minutes departing from Queen’s Wharf, you can check out Stockton by foot or by bike before returning on the ferry. From the wharf in Stockton, you can walk to Stockton Beach and out to the breakwater on the Shipwreck Walk. There you’ll see remnants of shipwrecks.
Find some quiet at Christ Church Cathedral
This imposing Anglican cathedral dominates Newcastle’s skyline. Visitors are welcome and you’re able to go inside and see beautiful stained glass art, religious artifacts and tapestries. During certain hours of the week, visitors are able to climb the cathedral tower for a $10 donation. From the top, they can see 360 degree views which extend up and down the coastline and across the entire city including the working harbour. Wander through the graves at the back of the cathedral. They date back to Newcastle’s early history as Australia’s second settlement outside Sydney.
Get arty at Newcastle Art Gallery
Get a dose of artwork at Newcastle Art Gallery. The gallery features a rotating display of exhibitions. In front of the gallery, get your photo taken with the Brett Whitely egg sculpture in front of Newcastle Art Gallery. From the right angle, the egg and nest sits right on your head.
Find wildife at Hunter Wetlands
Get out into nature at the Hunter Wetlands Centre. The wetlands are filled with a variety of biodiversity including 217 species of bird, including magpie geese, and several types of mammal, reptile, frog and fish. There’s reptile talks, bird feeding talks, guided walking tours as well as walking and cycling tracks.
Experience nature at Glenrock Lagoon
Enjoy a hike followed by a swim in Glenrock Lagoon. The Yuelarbah Walk at Glenrock State Conservation Area near the suburb of Kahibah is a 4.6km return walk through the bush that ends up at a secluded beach. Glenrock State Conservation Area is a 500 hectare area between Dudley and Merewether is a wonderful nature escape so close to the city and offers opportunity for fishing and mountain biking as well as hiking.
Spot the Shark Tower at Redhead Beach
Visit Redhead Beach and spot the iconic Redhead Shark Tower. Redhead is named for it’s red cliff headland. Go for a swim when the beach is patrolled. From here, you can also do the Awabakal Walk, a clifftop walk from Redhead to Dudley.
Discover outdoor art along the Sculpture Walk
The Warners Bay foreshore has been transformed. It now features an outdoor sculpture trail as well as exercise stations in the stretch between Eleebana and Warners Bay. The sculptures are created by nationally and internationally renowned artists. Among others, the works include a flying pig, an oversized Buddhist monk-child and a mauve bust of Charles Darwin. It’s a fun excursion combining culture with some physical exercise.
Explore Lake Macquarie
Lake Macquarie is Australia’s largest salt water lake and offers no shortage of water based activities. Enjoy fishing, kayaking, boating and sailing in this lake.
Explore sea caves at Caves Beach
Caves Beach located in neighbouring Lake Macquarie features a network of sea caves with weathered rocks and unusual formations. Visit at low tide and you’ll discover a variety of different sized caves to explore, some of them with narrow openings to crawl through.