Growing up in Newcastle, it took me a long time to truly appreciate my backyard. The older I got, the more I began to fall in love with its unique holding within Australian culture. It’s not small enough to feel bored, and it’s not large enough to feel overwhelmed. A top-tier beach is never more than 15 minutes away at the very most.
All that being said, Newcastle, for decades, was teeming with untapped potential. The 1989 earthquake devastated the city, and by the time its 30-year anniversary came around, remnants of its damage still stained what was supposed to be the city’s hub. Unkept buildings, screaming of a culture that once was, and an insistence on clinging to architectural relics that, while interesting, called for repurposing to bring Newcastle into the 2020s.
Come 2020, and work started to happen. The city put the light rail into place, and suddenly, the East End opened up. That small area of the city suddenly felt vast, stretching all the way to the horizon over the Pacific. While I’d spent most of 2020 and 2021 locked up inside, news of restaurants, bars, cafés, attractions and boutiques popping up felt ubiquitous. It was just a shame we couldn’t make use of them the way not only we, but Newcastle, needed us to.
I moved from Newcastle to Sydney at the beginning of 2022, and haven’t been back as frequently as I’d liked. Even when I was back, it was spent in people’s houses as opposed to exploring what was once home. But, with lockdowns behind us, it seems Newcastle has gone full steam ahead with its glow-up, and the amount of soon-to-be institutions that have popped up in the last 18 months alone speaks to that potential that many of us knew was always there.
Wotif’s 2024 trend report on travel in Australia cites a forthcoming spike in regional hubs levelling up and becoming must-see destinations in their own right, and Newcastle sits firmly atop that list. In case you need more proof, here are some of the best (and newest) places to fall in love with Newcastle for the first time, or all over again.
Nestled at the beginning of what is colloquially called ‘The Mall’, QT Newcastle imbues the historic reds and browns of the city’s traditional facade with vibrant colour. Following a strong lunar motif — note the giant moon suspended in the lobby — it feels like another world. With eclipse-inspired artwork donning the inside of the elevators, and that same pattern reflected on your room’s rug, you’d be shocked to think this lot stood vacant for years. The rooms feel modern yet rustic, with emerald tiling cascading the impossibly high bathroom walls. The rainfall shower makes you feel like you’re in nature and not the throes of Newcastle’s CBD.
Take the lift up to level 9 to experience QT Newcastle’s Rooftop bar, with countless lit-up moons hanging on the ceiling. But you step outside, and you’ve got an undisrupted view of what is arguably Australia’s most iconic wharf.
Jana Restaurant & Bar
It should come as no surprise that the QT building also houses one of Newcastle’s buzziest new restaurants — Jana. Headed by hatted chef Shayne Mansfield, Jana’s menu focuses on getting the most out of local produce. When we ate there, we were treated to oysters from Shoalhaven that were so refreshing we were transported to a dip at Bar Beach just up the road. Don’t overlook the Beef Fat Yamba King Prawns, though — you’ll never eat prawns the same way again.
What’s even more appealing about Jana’s menu is its drinks offering, specifically its non-alcoholic options. Wotif also foresees the rise of ‘dry-tripping’ — exactly what it sounds like — and Jana is more than prepared to cater to those sober outings. Using Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits, Jana has a menu sporting seven different 0% cocktails that don’t compromise on flavour. The Old Sober Cuban was a table favourite.
Baires is the newest cafe taking on Pacific St, right near the beach. That area can feel a bit like a restaurant revolving door, with new joints popping up all the time. But, if Baires’ menu is anything to go by, it’s not going anywhere any time soon. An Argentinian café focusing on putting a signature spin on the traditional Aussie breakfast, it is quaint (and very affordable!) while still overflowing with communal spirit.
In lieu of loyalty cards, Baires has an entire loyalty wall, with staff paying extra attention to the names of their patrons. Be sure to grab some of their medialunas to go (essentially Argentinian croissants) — it alone will have you back for more. It’s the perfect place to grab a cuppa before walking across the park to Newcastle Beach — the ultimate Saturday morning in Newy.
A longtime establishment of Nelson Bay, Two Bobs made its Newcastle debut earlier this year. Now, it’s giving the most rural charm one can have on Hunter St, Newcastle’s main strip. With ornate lighting fixtures and antique furniture, Two Bobs is a great place to just slow down. Seated right in between Darby St. and The Lucky, the place consumes you with aromas of cinnamon and fresh-baked bread. You can even get Two Bobs’ own brand of jams, jellies, pantry staples and more. It doesn’t get more local than that.
Any restaurant seated along the Honeysuckle waterfront is worth going to for views and atmosphere alone. Opening in September, Thermidor designed its menu for seaside consumption. Combining some of the world’s best coastal cuisines, Thermidor’s menu is all about sharing and taking fine dining outside. Open lunch and dinner, we definitely recommend you take advantage of daylight here. The sun beaming through the translucent roof opens the place up, facilitating a quintessentially Novocastrian alfresco experience.