Located just two hours drive from Sydney, this country town is full of art and history. Here are some things to do in Maitland, NSW – you won’t be bored!
There are plenty of places to visit in NSW besides Sydney.
Some are pretty well known (such as the Blue Mountains, Newcastle and Byron Bay), others give the opportunity for travellers to get off the beaten path.
The Hunter Valley is a popular destination. Many head there in search of wine and fine dining.
There’s also towns and villages around the Hunter that are worth checking out, or even making dedicated day or weekend trips to.
Maitland is such a place.
This large town (regional city, really) around two hours from Sydney and half an hour inland from Newcastle.
The town is also 30 minutes from the world-famous vineyards of the Hunter Valley.
It’s full of history and culture – think historic houses, art galleries, large and detailed murals, plenty of local festivals and museums.
Maitland is even home to two of Australia’s “Big Thing” statues – the Giant Kookaburra and the Big Ugg Boots!
The Best Things to do in Maitland
Maitland is known for its many historic buildings, the local arts scene, its close proximity to Polkolbin and the many festivals that take place around the year.
I spent a lot of time in this town as a teenager and definitely appreciate it now for its commitment to the arts and beautiful, heritage buildings.
So, if you’re planning a trip to the Lower Hunter and are looking for things to do in Maitland and Newcastle, I’ve got you covered.
If you’re a fan of art, culture, history and nature you’ll be quite happy indeed.
1. Visit the Maitland Regional Art Gallery
If you only have time in Maitland for one activity, please make it a visit to the Maitland Regional Art Gallery.
It really is a lovely place to visit and holds the most interesting exhibitions, featuring international and local artists.
The last time I visited, there was a showcase of photographs of JKF throughout his life. Fascinating stuff indeed.
The gift shop is also a lot of fun. Here you can purchase funky jewellery, home wares, reasonably priced art books and local Indigenous works and cards, some featuring icons of the local area.
MRAG really is one of the best attractions in Maitland, NSW.
2. Grab a bite to eat at the Seraphine Cafe
If you’re feeling a bit peckish after wandering around MRAG, definitely make a point of stopping at the adjoining Seraphine Cafe for a bite to eat.
It’s got one of the most varied menus of any establishment within the area and I’ve never had a bad meal or drink there.
It can get quite busy on weekends, so if you’re planning a trip then, it might be best to book to avoid disappointment.
3. Check out The Levee Art Gallery & Studios
This town has turned into such a hub for the arts!
The Levee Art Gallery is worth making a detour to.
It’s housed in a Victorian building in town, which used to be home to The Maitland Mail Newspaper (fun fact: Maitland’s surviving newspaper, The Mercury, is the third oldest regional newspaper in the country).
The Levee has three exhibition spaces, runs regular artistic workshops and has spaces to rent out to creatives looking for studio space.
4. Have a poke around The Museum of Clothing
Did you know that Maitland is home to Australia’s only clothing-dedicated museum?
The Museum of Clothing is run by a group of volunteers and houses a range of clothing from as far back as the 1860’s to today.
It’s open Saturdays and Sundays from 10.00am to 3.00pm and entry is a very affordable $2.
A truly unique thing to do in Maitland.
Located at: Brough House, 73 Church Street, Maitland
5. Visit Grossmann & Brough House
The Clothing Museum happens to reside in one of the two most historic houses in the area, Brough House.
The other is known as Grossmann House (originally Entcliffe) and the two adjoin each other, sharing a communal laundry.
They were designed by local architect William White to mirror each other and were each commissioned by business partners Samuel Owen and Isaac Beckett, who managed Maitland’s General Store in the 1830’s.
Built in the early 1870’s, the houses became the site for Maitland Girls’ High School in the 1890’s, then the home for the local art gallery.
They’re now managed by the National Trust.
Grossmann House is a museum which aims to reflect the lives of Victorian-residents of the area, through the showcasing of its rooms.
As aforementioned, Brough is home to the Museum of Clothing.
Grossmann is opened to the public on select dates.
Located 71-73 Church Street Maitland
6. Go ghost hunting at Maitland Gaol
This is one of the best things to do in Maitland, NSW.
Another important part of Maitland’s history is the local gaol, which closed as recently as 1998, due to it being an ‘1840’s gaol trying to meet 1990’s conditions’… a difficult feat, for sure.
The setting for 16 executions, the gaol housed some pretty notorious criminals, such as the Backpacker Killer Ivan Milat and gunman Raymond John Denning. Eek.
It now functions as a museum, where visitors can take a self-guided tour for $16, or participate in a number of other events, such as Ex-Warden tours, ghost-hunting and psychic tours.
Occasionally, the gaol opens itself up for laser tag and you can even spend the night… if you’re game!
7. Or take a Hunter Valley Ghost Tour
A town with this much history is sure to have a few ghosts floating around.
Local history buff and paranormal investigator Murray Byfield runs ghost tours around Paterson, Morpeth, Maitland and Raymond Terrace.
You’ll hear tales of murder, suicide, brutal treatment of convicts and public executions… a sliver of what life was like for residents who walked on the wrong side of the tracks during these hard times.
If you’re lucky (or unlucky!), an appearance may be made by a special spectre.
8. Explore the shops of Morpeth
Morpeth is a neighbourhood of Maitland, which is just as cute and historical as the town centre.
Head there to explore Morpeth Gallery, Morpeth Sourdough (which was once Arnott’s bakery, yes Arnott’s as in the now sadly American-owned biscuit brand), Miss Lily’s Lollies, as well as many antiques and boutique stores.
There was even once a store dedicated solely to cat-related paraphernalia.
Morpeth’s got everything, I tells ya.
9. Check out the Morpeth Museum
And while you’re in the area, do take the time to check out the Morpeth Courthouse, turned museum. It features permanent exhibitions that tell of the history of the area from the 1860’s to today.
The museum is open from 11am-2pm, Thursday to Sunday.
If you like a good, historical meander, there’s also a heritage walk that you can do within the area.
Morpeth Museum is located at 123 Swan Street, Morpeth.
10. Visit Walka Water Works
Walka Water Works was a pumping station in the 19th century, which supplied Newcastle and the Lower Hunter with water.
It’s now a historical site and wildlife reserve, popular among locals for picnics, walking and events such as weddings!
There’s a large lake near the station, which is home to over 140 species of birds, making it an ideal spot for birding as well.
If it’s a nice day and you fancy lazing around in the sun for a spell, Maitland Park is a beautiful place for a picnic, too.
11. Pose in front of the Big Ugg Boots at Mortels
Australia is full of weird monuments. ‘Big Things’ statues are situated throughout various towns.
Maitland is home to the giant Ugg Boots, also known as the Berro Boots.
They’re sat right out the front of Mortels Sheepskin Factory, a locally owned factory which makes the famous Australian boot.
Mortels make all sorts of other products, from hats, to wooly seat covers for your car.
There’s a very nice cafe on-site and you can visit the adjoining museum (which tells of the history of the boot and the company), or tour the factory itself.
Located at 1 Weakleys Dr, Thornton
12. Grab some blooms at the Heritage Gardens Nursery
If you fancy yourself to have a bit of a green thumb, it’s well worth checking out the Heritage Gardens Nursery.
The nursery itself is very pleasant to walk around in and you can stop for a meal, a snack or a cuppa or even partake in High Tea at their cafe.
13. Take High Tea at Mansfield House or Ducks in the Field
Due to it’s grand architecture, one of the best things to do in Maitland is to have a high tea.
My favourite experience in the area has been at Ducks in the Field, which is not far from Morpeth.
It’s run by local Ellen out of her granny flat and it is splendid. The menu is inspired by seasonal produce and I love the crockery used. The milk jugs are very cute. They’re shaped like animals and each have their own names!
The very grand Mansfield House in Maitland also holds High Teas every now and then. Check out their events page for more details.
14. Go for a photo walk through Maitland Town Centre
As you’ve most probably gathered by now, Maitland is full of history and heritage and most of it can be seen in its beautiful buildings.
If you’re an aspiring urban photographer (or just fancy a walk!), take a stroll along Maitland’s High Street, down through the Mall and up Church Street, camera in hand.
There are so many beautiful buildings (although some, like the Grand Junction Hotel are in varying states of decay) and if the light is right, you’ll get some very cool snaps indeed.
15. Catch a show at the Maitland Repertory Theatre
Support the local arts by grabbing a ticket to a show!
Maitland has its own community theatre and there’s usually a new show every couple of months.
You can buy tickets to individual shows, or a season pass, which is priced at $80.
The theatre also holds classes for aspiring actors aged 8-21, as well as workshops throughout the school holidays.
16. Take a cruise down the Hunter River
Eager to hear about more relaxing things to do in Maitland NSW?
Take a cruise down the Hunter River?
One cruise will take you to Raymond Terrace, stopping to have lunch at a local hotel.
Another leads to Morpeth, allowing you 1.5 hrs to explore and offering local wines, fudge and sourdough on board.
Both stop for the opening of Hexham’s lift span bridge, which is definitely something worth seeing.
17. Catch a flick at the drive-in in Heddon-Greta
This was a popular option when we were kids! Or rather teenagers who could drive but weren’t old enough to go to bars.
Heddon-Greta’s Drive-In is the only one in the Hunter Valley and I believe, one of two in the state (the other being in Blacktown in Sydney’s west).
The price is $30 for a car (ah, inflation – I remember when it was $20!) for a single movie. They usually show double-features and they cost $50 for a car.
Still incredibly cheap when you consider the cost of movie tickets in normal cinemas.
Also – best. Website. Ever.
18. Explore the murals of Kurri Kurri
Kurri, as it’s known amongst locals, is about a twenty minute drive from Maitland and worth stopping at on your way to the Hunter Valley wine region – or even for its own trip.
It’s a town of murals and pretty much every surface is adorned with some kind of public art, many dictating the history of the town and surrounding region.
It’s also home to the giant kookaburra and each mural features a kookaburra somewhere in the image!
One event worth timing your visit to the town for, is the Kurri Nostalgia Festival.
For one weekend of the year, the town steps back in time to the rockin’ 50’s and 60’s.
Hot-rod and classic cars fill the streets and over 150 retro market stalls set up shop in town. There’s rock and roll dance demonstrations, bands, 50’s fashion parades and much more. Entry is free, to boot!
The town has also gained popularity in recent years with its annual Mulletfest, a hair-raising festival, which honours the best Mullet cuts.
I’m kinda sorry this is the things but that’s the way it goes (or grows).
19. Learn about the Hunter’s rail history at the Richmond Vale Railway Museum
About 4km from Kurri is the Richmond Vale Railway Museum, which is dedicated to the history of rail in the Hunter region.
There are old trains and signally display to explore, as well as miniature trains for the kids to have a ride on.
The museum is open the first three Sundays of every month.
20. Go Op Shop shopping
If you fancy taking a little bit of Maitland’s heritage home with you, you can do so in one of the many antique shops that litter the town centre and surrounding suburbs.
Find a full list of antique shops here.
It’s a really fun thing to do in Maitland if you’re a fan of funky and retro home wares.
21. Explore historic Lorn
Lorn is another historic suburb of Maitland worth checking out for its beautiful heritage houses.
Stop for a cuppa in the main street or if you’re an architecture nut, set out on foot for a little exploration.
22. Time your visit with a festival
Maitland is the place to be if you’re a fan of festivals!
There are several events throughout the year, the most notable being the Hunter Valley Steamfest, where you can take a trip to the town of Paterson on an old steam train.
23. Get into fisticuffs with Les Darcy
Les Darcy was a boxer and folk hero, born in Stradbroke, not far from Maitland.
He quickly rose to prominence, achieving the Australian heavyweight title at the age of 21. Unfortunately, his life and career were cut short when he died at the tender age of 21, due to medical complications and septicaemia.
You can read more about Darcy’s life here.
Darcy has been commemorated in many ways throughout the town. He’s buried in East Maitland cemetery and his profile is painted on the art gallery’s walls.
Outside the front of East’s Bowling Club on the way to East Maitland, is a statue of Darcy, where people can pose with the great boxer, for a fun snap.
Keep in mind that he only lost four fights and was never knocked out, so do make sure you keep on your toes around him!
How to get to Maitland and where to stay
Have you visited Maitland? What are some of your favourite things to do there?