Once known as the Steel City, today Newcastle is one of Australia’s hippest cities. It’s flanked by the Pacific Ocean and six beaches on its eastern side and a harbor on its west side. Gentrification began when the steel mills closed in 1999. Nowadays the old wharves and warehouses form part of the lively Honeysuckle precinct, which buzzes with hotels, cafés, and restaurants.
Meaning "rural" in Italian, this lushly decorated restaurant with stunning views over Newcastle Beach is a notable new entry in the city's expanding dining scene. The restaurant serves cuisine inspired by the Mediterranean, from the shores of northern Africa to the foothills of Tuscany. The seasonal menu has featured Moroccan vegetable and chickpea tagine with pistachio, pan-roasted pork medallions, and slow-roasted lamb shoulder, and desserts such as orange blossom pavlova and white-chocolate mousse. The rich, Spanish-inspired interior design includes a retro Mediterranean map on the wall, brass sculptures, and a tiled bar adorned with a bull's head, while the outdoor look is pure Australian beach culture.
Scratchleys on the Wharf
This swank establishment is as close as Newcastle comes to having an iconic restaurant. Enclosed on three sides by glass and perched over the harbor on the busy esplanade, Scratchley's opened not long after the Honeysuckle precinct transformed Newcastle into a hip and happening place more than a decade ago. The restaurant offers one of the best views in Newcastle and an extensive menu to please all-comers. Starters include seafood chowder, oysters, and prawn salad, while several dishes—king prawn linguine, and prawn satay with spicy peanut sauce—are available in either starter or main sizes. Non-seafood fans have steaks, lamb cutlets, and corn-fed chicken breast dishes to consider, and a range of vegetarian options and Hunter Valley cheeses to sustain them.
A bright, intimate star in Newcastle's dining scene, Subo has quickly become the hot spot in town. A stylish bistro in the central business district, Subo regulars favor the A$85 five-course tasting plate, which might feature prawn carpaccio and foie gras, confit of chicken wings with blackened corn, Wagyu beef with smoked leeks, and chocolate-orange mousse with rum–and–orange syrup cake.
Opened on the site of the Merewether Beach's original surfhouse (a lifeguard station), this stunning three-story venue has fantastic ocean views from all three of its eateries. The ground floor café, pizza bar, and kiosk—the latter serves takeout—are steps from the beach, while the top-level restaurant has expansive panoramas and is open for lunch and dinner. You might begin with the local Port Stephens oysters with shallot vinegar before moving on to pan-roasted trout or roast–butternut squash ravioli for main. Desserts include the mouthwatering gingerbread and rhubarb pudding. The café is open for breakfast and lunch daily, offering burgers, salads, and panini, while the takeout kiosk is weekends only.
Estabar Newcastle Beach
Perched right on Newcastle Beach, Estabar is known for its great coffee, organic foods, superb Spanish hot chocolate drinks, and wonderful gelatos. Open all day from breakfast until sundown, it's a small space with little tables and a short menu, but it draws a big local following. Breakfast favorites are the porridge with poached fruits and brown sugar on the side, and the homemade baked beans; lunchtime salads include lentil, walnut, and feta. The views over Newcastle Beach, the closest one to the downtown area, are also delectable at any time.
This was one of several forts built on headlands along Australia's shore in the mid- to late 19th century to defend the colony against a possible Russian attack. Built in 1882, its guns had never been fired in anger until June 8, 1942, when the fort returned fire from Japanese submarines in a little-known World War II confrontation called "the shelling of Newcastle"—the city sustained 34 shells but neither damage nor loss of life. The fort, situated on Flagstaff Hill in Newcastle's east end (not far from the railway station), was occupied by the Australian Army until 1972, after which it became a historic site.
In the former headquarters of the Great Northern Railway, right on Newcastle Harbour, this museum tells the story of the city's coal mining and steel production. Visitors can don a hard hat to witness the Fire and Earth exhibition, which re-creates life in a steel mill complete with furnaces, theatrical drama, and interactive displays that shed light on the workers' challenging lives. Newcastle's other faces are captured with exhibits on Aboriginal history, the gorgeous beaches, and the earthquake that struck the city in 1989. A popular draw for kids, the Supernova Hands-on Science Centre explains how a heavy car is lifted, a tornado occurs, and magnetic fields work.
A Newcastle landmark, Nobby's Lighthouse (on Nobby's
Headland) was the third to be built in New South Wales when it opened in 1854.
It's at the end of a long narrow spit (a longshore drift) and is accessed by a
nearly 1-km (½-mile) path. Before it was converted to electricity in 1935, the
original 20,000-candle light was tended by three keepers. The grounds of the
lighthouse, and one of the lightkeeper's cottages, are open Sundays 10–4. It's a
terrific vantage point for avid photographers.
The largest ocean baths (swimming pools) in the Southern Hemisphere, Mereweather Baths are a Newcastle icon perfect for swimming and splashing all year-round. Opened in 1935 at one of the city's six fabulous beaches, they comprise two pools, with one suitable for children. Complete with barbecues and picnic tables, the baths are the ideal place for a family outing. The baths are patrolled by lifeguards during the summer months only, from around late September to late April.