A look at all the best things to do in Maitland, a vibrant heritage town in New South Wales, rich in culture and with an emerging foodie scene.
Maitland is located in the Lower Hunter Valley, just a two hour drive from Sydney. The relaxed country vibe, rich heritage culture and emerging foodie scene make Maitland an easy weekend getaway for Sydneysiders.
As a family we found loads to keep us entertained here, from heritage walks to ten pin bowling, art activities at the gallery and visiting the infamous gaol. And did I mention the food?
Oh, the food! From taste testing artisanal homemade chocolates and locally produced honey, ginger beer and sourdough to chowing down in the local restaurants, we definitely left Maitland a little heavier than when we arrived.
Read on to read my pick of the top things to do in Maitland (with or without kids).
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Do a Heritage Walking Tour
Maitland is one of Australia’s most significant heritage cities. It began as a humble settlement in the early 1800s but by the mid-1850s had grown to become the second biggest town in New South Wales.
Many of the buildings date back to this time and have an interesting history to unearth. The best way to do this is to take a self-guided walking tour using the council’s Maitland Walks app that you can download to your phone.
Choose from two self-guided city centre walks: Maitland Poverty and Prosperity and Maitland Jewish Heritage.
Both take approximately 1 hour 30 minutes and guide you to uncover the spirit of Maitland through the lives of some of its most colourful characters.
There are also two other walks on the app: Morpeth Heritage Walk and the East Maitland Heritage Walk.
Take an Audio Tour of Maitland Gaol
The infamous Maitland Gaol was operational for 150 years between 1848 and 1998 and was renowned for housing some of Australia’s most hardened criminals.
Former inmates include notorious backpacker murderer Ivan Milat and infamous drug boss George Savvas, who was found hanging in his cell in 5-wing in 1997 after a thwarted escape plan.
Visiting the gaol and taking the excellent audio guided tour is a real insight into the lives of both the incarcerated and the prison wardens. There are three tours – two for adults and one more suitable for children.
Adults are treated to some fairly gruesome stories as told by former inmates and staff while the kids version sees Snitch the Rat and his ghostly animal friends taking a more light-hearted approach to the tour.
The self-guided tour takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes. You can download it to your phone before you go – don’t forget to take headphones with you.
Get Arty at Maitland Regional Art Gallery
The MRAG is an excellent little art gallery featuring a diverse collection of Australian Art from the 1850s to the present day. It hosts around 25 touring exhibitions annually so there is always something new to see here.
Even better – admission to the gallery is free!
Be sure to pick up the Code Breakers activity at reception for the kids. It leads them on a scavenger hunt around the gallery looking for number clues to crack the code and encourages them to explore all the different galleries and artworks.
Also ask at reception about any current activities for kids – they usually have a theme-based art activity linked to a visiting exhibition. Our task was to colour in, cut out, create and display fun little arty dogs as part of the Dog Days exhibition. I even joined in the fun 🙂
Additionally, every Sunday is Free Art Sunday at MRAG, where families can join in with free art activities and workshops – book ahead on their website.
Take in a Festival
Maitland has a year-round calendar of festivals and events. We were lucky to be visiting during Maitland Taste Festival, which saw food stalls, tastings, workshops, music and entertainment over its three days.
And yes we ate a lot of food! It’s a great opportunity to catch up with lots of local food producers in one place. We sampled local honey, cheese, wine, ginger beer, salami, craft beer, apple pie liqueur… and we gorged on paella, churros and crepes from the food trucks.
The kids also learned how to make orecchiette in a cooking workshop and all about beekeeping and honeymaking in the Bee Zone. What fun!
On top of this, there is always something going on – from walks to exhibitions to guided tours, markets and more. So check the My Maitland What’s On Guide to see what’s happening when you’re in town.
Pose for Photos with the Local Street Art
Bourke Street Link joins the Levee with Riverside Walk and it is here that you will find insta-worthy The New One mural.
The mural is the work of Dutch-born Maitland artist Patricia Van Lubeck. It took her and fellow artist Andrew Bennett two weeks to complete in 2018. It’s perfect for some arty holiday snaps.
Further up The Levee at the Riverlink Building you will find the Clouds Gathering sculpture by Newcastle sculptor Braddon Snape. It is said to symbolise The Levee’s relationship and history with the water.
Have some fun at Dullboy’s Rutherford
Dullboy’s had only been opened a few weeks when we visited but this entertainment emporium was already proving to be a popular hangout.
There’s 10-pin bowling, mini golf, virtual reality games and a whole selection of arcade games to choose from.
The virtual reality arcade games were definitely the biggest hit with my kids, although the family bowling competition also elicited a lot of laughs.
Add to this Charlie’s cafe and bar dishing up burgers, hot dogs, pizzas, pasta and more and you’ve got yourself a one-stop entertainment shop.
My kids had the best time here. They spent the next few days plotting when they were going to return and who they were going to go with.
Dullboy’s is a 10-15 minute drive from the centre of Maitland.
Explore Historic Morpeth
Originally known by its Aboriginal name Illalaung, meaning green hills, Morpeth lies on the banks of the Hunter River and is surrounded by rolling farmland. It is less than a 10-minute drive from the centre of Maitland.
During the early 19th Century, Morpeth was one of the most important river ports in New South Wales and was a major industrial and agricultural hub. It is also home to the famous bakehouse where the Arnott’s family biscuit dynasty began.
The former importance of the town is still evident in its beautifully preserved buildings, while the treasure trove of unique boutiques, cafes and artisanal food shops make it an interesting place to while away a few hours.
While you’re here, be sure to taste test some of the honey, ginger beer, fudge and more on offer. Also within Campbell’s Store you’ll find an excellent toy store, gourmet foods, gift store and art gallery.
There are loads of interesting boutiques to browse along Swan Street. Highlights for us included:
- Miss Lily’s Lollies for an awesome selection of lollies from through the years and around the world.
- Fairytale Lane for every little girl’s toy shop fantasyland dreams come true.
- Morpeth Sourdough for traditional artisan bread and pastries.
Grab a bite to eat at Savannah on Swan, housed within the historic Bond Store. We had a delicious breakfast here and the owner told us she had plans to start kids art workshops in the upstairs gallery. Common Grounds Morpeth is also a popular refuelling stop.
Taste Test the Local Produce
Maitland is emerging as a bit of a haven for artisanal and creative food producers. From traditional sourdough to handmade chocolates and decadent pastries, Maitland is a cornucopia of delights waiting to be tasted.
If you’re in town on the 1st or 3rd Thursday of the month, be sure to check out the Earth Markets at The Levee. Here you can pick up some fresh, locally grown and seasonal produce direct from the farm and meet the farmers growing it.
Here are some other highlights not to be missed:
- Artisanal chocolate from Donarch Fine Chocolate
- Pastries and bread from Morpeth Sourdough
- Honey, ginger beer and fudge tasting at Campbell’s Store
- Sweet treats from Icky Sticky Patisserie
- Gelato and thickshakes from Jubilo Gelato
- Local wine tasting at Tranquil Vale and Boydell’s Cellar Door
Keen to taste some of the best wine in New South Wales? Some of the best wineries in the Hunter Valley are just a short drive away!
Restaurants in Maitland
In addition to all the taste testing and local food shops and boutiques, there is also a good choice of family friendly restaurants in Maitland.
We tried out a fair few (in the name of research of course!)
Organic Feast is Newcastle’s and the Hunter Valley’s only certified Organic store, but what drew us here was the warm and welcoming cafe.
The cabinet is bursting with delicious looking superfood tarts, quiches and sandwiches, while the menu has an enticing selection of organic and biodynamic choices, from granola and açai bowls to vegan cheeseburgers and organic steak sandwiches.
All dietary needs, from paleo, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, wheat free and dairy free are catered for here.
Organic Feast is a locally owned family business and owner Brent Fairns’ passion for organic produce and wellness shone through during a short chat with him. He was in the process of installing a traditional flour mill to take their sourdough production to the next level. Watch this space.
This high street bar and restaurant has over 16 quality craft beers on tap, a wine and cocktail menu plus an extensive food menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The coffee window at the front was doing a roaring trade throughout the morning also.
We called in here right after visiting the Maitland Taste Festival so we were already rather over indulged.
However, we couldn’t resist ordering a few of their sharing plates, including some zesty Spicy Tamarind Chicken Wings, Chicken Pot Sticker Dumplings and cheesey Garlic Pita Bread seen below.
The burgers, wood fired pizzas and salads will have to wait for another day, as will the Oven Roasted Chicken, Roasted Salmon Fillet and Prosciutto Wrapped Scotch Fillet. Always good to save something til next time.
Across the road from The Whistler is Maitland’s favourite pizza restaurant, Ometto.
This little slice of northern Italy in central Maitland dishes up authentically delicious wood-fired pizzas under chef Giuseppe Maviglia.
There’s also a selection of gnocchi, antipasti, salad and desserts on the menu plus a separate kids menu. Warning: the pizzas are huge, so be ready to loosen your belt.
Savannah on Swan
Savannah on Swan boasts a fantastic location overlooking the Morpeth Bridge and is housed within the historic Bond Store, which dates back to 1847.
The restaurant was under new ownership when we visited but that didn’t stop them from delivering a slick, friendly service and a delicious breakfast.
We tried out everything from their thick healthy smoothies and açai bowls to their pancakes, breaky bruschetta, scrambled eggs and spicy beans and it was all delicious.
New owner Bridget has plans to renovate the outdoor patio area and open an art gallery upstairs, including workshops for both kids and adults.
There is a good choice of family friendly accommodation in and around Maitland. If you want to stay in the city to be close to shops, restaurants and events then Quest Maitland apartments are a good option.
However, I think the charm of somewhere like Maitland is the surrounding countryside and towns and if you’re escaping the city for a weekend, then these countryside cottages would be my choice.
Dating back to the late 1890s, this charming period cottage was our home for our 2-night stay in Maitland. The cottage is beautifully styled and the care and attention that goes into maintaining it is evident.
There is plenty of space here for the whole family (or two families, although bear in mind there is only one bathroom).
There are three large double bedrooms, one with additional bunk beds. The beds are super comfy with quality linen and cosy electric blankets, which were very welcome when we visited during a chilly May weekend.
There is a spacious open plan living/dining/kitchen area with a fully equipped kitchen and pantry supplies. It is an easy 5-minute walk to the shops and cafes of Morpeth and a 10-minute drive into Maitland.
The River Haus
Also in Morpeth, this recently renovated two bedroom cottage tucked behind a white picket fence is fit for a magazine spread with its stylish decor and lovingly curated antique and vintage treasures.
There’s two bedrooms with queen beds, a fully equipped farmhouse kitchen, and a cute outdoor entertaining deck.
Designed for a luxe country stay, it has every detail you would hope for in a quintessential country cottage: from the herringbone tiled floors, freestanding bath tub and butler’s sink to the smaller details such as vintage kitchen canisters and weighing scales.
Tranquil Vale Cottages
Tranquil Vale vineyard boasts an idyllic countryside location, within easy reach of both Maitland and Lovedale in the Hunter Valley.
Dotted around this 25-acre working vineyard are three two-bedroom holiday cottages perfect for a family weekend away. Each cottage features two spacious double bedrooms and an open plan kitchen, dining area and lounge room.
Within the grounds there is also a 15m outdoor swimming pool, a small gym, children’s playground, floodlit tennis court and BBQ facilities.
Disclaimer: We were guests of Maitland City Council while researching this article. As always, all opinions are honest and my own.
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