We love to get away on the weekend, but too much time in the car can limit how much of our destination we actually get to experience. That’s why Newcastle is the perfect weekend getaway. Less than two hours north of Sydney, the often-overlooked city boasts a rich history, outstanding heritage architecture and is a bubbling hub of creativity, with quirky arts and culture, not to mention, quite the shopping and dining adventure.

Did you know that Newcastle is Australia’s second oldest city? Not only that, we were surprised to find that eight beautiful beaches surround the city. Moreover, in 2011, Lonely Planet listed it as one of its Top 10 Cities to Visit and the Seattle Globalist recently listed it as one of five ‘Global hipster cities cooler than Seattle’ – keeping cool company with cities like Tokyo and Reykjavik.

Formerly known as ‘Steel City’, Newcastle has long been known for its industrial heritage. A mining hub, as well as a busy port city, it’s famous for its coal and is presently the largest coal export port in the Southern Hemisphere. While you dine at one of the many restaurants in Honeysuckle, take a moment to watch the port in chaotic action, as giant 300-metre freight ships are guided into the harbour by tiny tugboats.

Three years ago Marcus Westbury, a festival director and urbanist, launched his ambitious, industrious and hugely successful Renew Newcastle project, a not-for-profit company that saw the establishment of new businesses on the basis that they could ‘set-up-shop’ rent-free in vacant, disused buildings with the goal to turn a profit and in-turn, eventually, pay rent. He targeted artists, designers and fledging food cooperatives, giving them a chance to turn their dreams into lucrative business. The scheme has now brought Newcastle’s city centre back to life and has also been adopted nationally with similar plans for Sydney’s Oxford Street. Ultimately, Newcastle has affirmed itself as a destination rather than a rest stop.

To top it all off, Newcastle is less than an hour’s drive from the exquisite Hunter Valley wine region to the west, while the glorious Lake Macquarie is just to the south, where you can indulge in some sailing and various other water sports. North from Newcastle at Port Stephens, you can partake in some seriously amazing whale-watching and shark-feeding, and catch a five minute ferry across to Stockton Beach where you can try your feet at sand-boarding.

Cooks Hill Cottage
A boutique, self-contained two-bedroom house close to the popular, bustling Darby Street and plenty of galleries, Cooks Hill Cottage is perfect for an intimate getaway and is a short stroll to the beach. It also features a private backyard with a deck for entertaining and a spa.
102 Dawson Street, Cooks Hill, Newcastle

The one-hatted restaurant is a firm, fancy, foodie favourite located within a heritage-listed landmark building in the heart of Newcastle, with food that’s a modern take on French-inspired Australian cuisine.
141 King Street, Newcastle
(02) 4927 1332

Quite possibly the best fish and chips in Newy.
36 Scott Street, Newcastle
(02) 4926 3780

Merewether Surfhouse
Fine dining with the best views in town. The newly refurbished Merewether Surfhouse is perfect for a few cocktails or a long-remembered dining experience.
Henderson Parade, Merewether, Newcastle
(02) 4918 0000

Sophie’s Takeaway
Famous among Novocastrians for her delicious burgers, Sophie’s is really, really reasonably priced if you’re after a quick bite!
59B Stewart Avenue, Hamilton South, Newcastle
(02) 4969 3407

The Terrace Bar
A fairly new bar in Newcastle and a result of Renew Newcastle’s brilliant program, The Terrace Bar is a boutique beer, wine and cocktail bar and underground arts and music venue. Spread across two floors, it also features a spacious outdoor terrace beer garden.
529 Hunter Street, Newcastle

The Great Northern Hotel
‘The East End’s home of live original music’, the Great Northern is a Newcastle night-time institution. An art deco treasure, the establishment is 145 years old in name.
89 Scott Street, Newcastle
(02) 4927 5728

Queens Wharf Brewery
With over 40 craft beers, great harbour views, a legendary calendar of live bands and known for a good feed, the Brewery is perfect for any sort of night out or lazy Sunday.
150 Wharf Road, Newcastle
(02) 4929 6333

We thought this needed its own section (it could be a separate feature), as coffee culture is bursting at the seams in Newcastle. So much so that barista classes are being included in students’ hospitality courses. There’s a heap of great spots to get a good coffee, but here are just a few…

A Newcastle institution and quoted as serving the best coffee on Darby.
137 Darby Street, Cooks Hill, Newcastle
(02) 4929 3122

One Penny Black
A very successful product of Renew Newcastle, serving fantastic food and coffee and surrounded by Stu McDonald’s street art.
Corner Hunter & Morgan Street, Newcastle

Good Brother Espresso Shop
A diamond in the rough, Good Brother is a hipster’s delight. Wicked furnishing and tasty fare, it’s a perfect example of Newcastle’s rejuvenation.
40 King Street, Newcastle

Three Bean Espresso Bar
Using organic and biodynamic goods where possible, as well as supporting the local primary school by including produce grown on its grounds, Three Been in Hamilton could be Newcastle’s coffee hot-spot.
103 Tudor Street, Hamilton, Newcastle
(02) 4961 2020

If you’re from Melbourne, or St Kilda East to be exact, then you’ll be familiar with Las Chicas. Novocastrian Fiona Smart was formerly a partner in this Melbourne breakfast institution. Rolador oozes a Melbourne-style cafe experience.
1 Beaumont Street, Hamilton, Newcastle
(02) 4969 1786

Newcastle and Merewether Ocean Baths
The beautiful, art deco Newcastle Ocean Baths opened in 1922 and are perfect for an early morning dip with the rising sun. Catering for the little ones is the adjacent Canoe Pool, built in the 1930s for young swimmers. Merewether Ocean Baths are equally stunning and are the largest ocean baths in the Southern Hemisphere. Tuck into some fish and chips and look out for whales and dolphins off the coast. Or for a fine dining experience, pop in to Merewether Surfhouse.

Merewether, Nobbys, Newcastle and Bar Beaches
Just some of the eight beaches, all located within close proximity to the city centre. Surf to your heart’s content and finish up with a coffee or a juice from a nearby cafe, such as Estabar or Swell.

The Olive Tree Market
This phenomenally good market takes place on the first Saturday of every month, so time your trip accordingly. Selling contemporary art, craft, design, fashion and some scrumptious world food, the market has a wonderfully friendly atmosphere, features some great live, local music and boasts over 100 stalls each month.
The Junction Public School, Union Street, Merewether, Newcastle

Islington Markets
Taking place on the last Sunday of every month, Islington Markets is a fantastic trash and treasure hunt. If you like second-hand stuff, this car boot sale is for you.
Wickham Park, Albert Street, Islington, Newcastle

This Is Not Art Festival
For young writers, artists and music-makers, happening in September and established by the geniuses behind Renew Newcastle, the This Is Not Art Festival is all about exploring experimental and emerging arts and media concepts.

There’s a cluster of galleries in Cooks Hill and scattered throughout Newcastle. The few that we visited on this trip were Cooks Hill Gallery, The Lock Up Gallery and Curve Gallery. Be sure to check out Newcastle Art Gallery as well. One of Australia’s leading regional galleries, it features an impressive collection from local, national and international artists and a full schedule of travelling exhibitions.

Our little secret…
If you’re a treasure hunter after antiques, second-hand goods and furniture, then let us let you in on a little Newcastle secret. The hidden gem of the city lies in an unexpected part of town. Head over to Clyde Street in Georgetown and you will be surprised to find a strip of about five antique and second-hand stores the size of warehouses. Prices are certainly not comparative to Sydney either!
Clyde Street, Georgetown, Newcastle

This shop has ticked all boxes when it comes to keeping cool and creative. Abicus sells everything from the sweetest new threads for girls and guys such as Vanishing Elephant and Romance Was Born, to vinyl (tick!), cameras, jewellery and cool kicks.
124 Darby Street, Cooks Hill, Newcastle

Make Space (Renew Newcastle)
A not-for-profit artist-run collective, Make Space is a ‘riot of colour’, selling locally handcrafted homewares, womenswear, kids clothes and toys.
Shop 2, Hunter Street Mall, Newcastle

NOOK Store (Renew Newcastle)
This store set a Renew Newcastle record with a five-day opening turnaround. A retail space selling streetwear brands by Brodie Bannerman (One Undone), Bella Quinton and Oliver King (Ruby George) and Ethan and Jarred Kennedy (ATGSL Skateboards), all products are designed and printed in Newcastle.
Shop 12, 121-137 Hunter Street Mall, Newcastle

Studio Melt (Renew Newcastle)
A combined studio and retail space, Studio Melt exhibits the work of contemporary jewellery makers, Angela Hailey and Suzy Manning.
Shop 4a, 113-145 Hunter Street Mall, Newcastle

Don’t forget to check out Renew Newcastle’s full list of projects here.