It’s easy to only see Tamworth for its incredible connections to country music, but it’s a town with much more than that. Here’s our Essential Guide to Tamworth, NSW.
Friday night in Tamworth is a usually lively affair. But on a particular Friday in 1888, the town’s streets were full of a different kind of energy.
It was Friday 9th November 1888 – at 8pm sharp to be exact. Mayor Elizabeth Piper (one of Australia’s first female mayors) turned a little golden key that brought electric light to the streets of Tamworth.
This was the first town in the southern hemisphere to have electric streetlights – way ahead of the Australian capitals and only a couple of years behind the thronged cities of Europe.
The people of Tamworth had electric streetlights before they even had telephones!
For a quick history summary of Tamworth’s streetlights, check out this fun animated cartoon from the ABC.
Beyond the Big Guitar – our Essential Guide to Tamworth, NSW
These days, this pretty town in the New England countryside is a shining light for live bands, with its annual country music festival drawing huge crowds from across Australia and the world.
But apart from that, what else is there to do in Tamworth, and is there anything else worth seeing here?
Where to stay
There are quite a few places to stay in Tamworth, but this is the best of the bunch and the only five-star accommodation in the region. This is a Rydges managed hotel, but owned by a local family.
You can read our full review of the Powerhouse Hotel Tamworth here, but basically it’s on the site of the old generator house that lit the streets back in the 1880s – hence the name.
It used to be an upmarket motel and the layout of this multi-million dollar refurb still pays homage to that. But the quality here is way beyond any mere motel.
Where to eat
The restaurant to the Powerhouse Hotel is probably home to the best chefs in the area including Executive Chef Graham Manvell. The menu’s excellent but you’ve got to focus on the steak.
They cook local Jacks Creek Beef here (awarded the best beef in the world numerous times) on ironbark wood and the result is truly sublime.
Breakfasts at the Workshop are also definitely worth looking into. You don’t need to be a guest of the hotel to eat here.
A beautiful friendly old country pub. Its classic menu also features the Jacks Creek beef but is no comparison to the Workshop Kitchen.
However, the value of these steaks is amazing and are cooked well. At time of writing, we paid $36 for a scotch fillet with one sauce and one (massive) side.
They also do a pulled beef brisket burger – a taste sensation and excellent value too. And that’s coming from us who find it hard not to compare the brisket sandwiches from KCMO.
Great local atmosphere and local bands playing ticketed events in the courtyard after dark.
This slick eatery does a kind of Asian-forward tapas style menu and pizzas, which also look excellent.
On Sundays, they have $12 spritzes and their Manly Spritz (Manly Distillery gin, triple sec, rose water and Prosecco) is excellent.
We ordered some tapas dishes – pâté first, which was almost fluffy it was so light, then Szechuan squid, some steamed bao (both karaagi chicken and pork belly) and steamed pork dumplings.
This is more of a cafe than a restaurant in truth and is next to the waterpark playground, so it’s perfect for the kids on a hot day.
The staff were a bit lacklustre but food was good. My sushi bowl was so fulling and Christina’s egg, bacon and corn beignets looked amazing.
She didn’t share.
Sharing a space with the Welder’s Dog (see below), this coffee counter does the best coffee in town. It also has a small counter of vegan snacks and classic pastries that look pretty good too.
Where to drink
This cosy, speakeasy-style bar doesn’t feel anything like a hotel lobby bar. In fact they’ve worked hard to make it feel separate from the Powerhouse Hotel.
They have excellent local beers on tap and a whisky cabinet to die for.
Commissioned by the owner and curated by the head barman, there are some superb drams in here, both international and Australian.
This basement cocktail bar is so hidden you buzz to be allowed in. The vibe is cool and reminiscent of Sydney’s Baxter Inn but without the finesse or charm.
Our drinks – an old fashioned with Woodford Reserve rye and an elderflower French 75 – were proficient and delicious. Just don’t break any rules – you get scolded like a child!
One of the best craft beer places we’ve been to. Really friendly staff, great atmosphere and the beers on tap, which are their own brews, are brilliantly crafted.
Meanwhile in the honesty fridge, the enormous range of domestic and international beers is as boggling as it is tempting.
These guys also have ticketed live music events, so keep your eye out for gigs here too.
What to see and do
The Big Golden Guitar
If you don’t go and get a photo in front of the Big Guitar, you haven’t been to Tamworth!
It’s as iconic as it is handy, with the visitor’s centre right next door. The people in here are super friendly and so helpful.
There’s also a guitar and music museum here that’s well worth a look. They have a few guitars on the wall of the visitor’s centre donated by famous musicians, but the museum really takes it to the next step.
If motorbikes are your thing, this is the place for you. Its rotating collection of 200+ bikes include some real rarities like the limited edition F4 MV Agusta Series ORO and a 1924 Harley Davidson postie bike.
For a bit of culture (and superior air conditioning!), this gallery above the town’s library offers some great exhibitions that change regularly.
We caught a sombre reflection on WWII with a range of harrowing yet meaningful paintings of the conflicts.
Telling the tale of how Tamworth became the City of Lights back in 1888, this museum leads you through those historic moments and beyond with machinery, photos and stories that bring history to life.
Named after explorer John Oxley (as is the main highway into town), this magnificent view out across the plains and over Tamworth is incredible.
It’s only a short drive south of town and gives you an amazing perspective of this part of the New England region.
Incredibly only costing a gold coin donation, this wildlife park has so much to see. Our friends told us we could see it all in a few minutes – I don’t know how fast they walk but we spent a couple of hours here!
The giant aviary is home to a good range of native parrots, ducks and other birds, there’s a short hike you can do through the bush and past wallabies and kangaroos, and there’s a pen for the emus that keeps their beaks away from your fingers.
This truly huge playground is what kids would dream of when I was growing up. In particular, the Splashpad is a big water park full of fountains and jets for the kids to play in a cool down.
This is right next to the Hopscotch cafe we mentioned above.
It wouldn’t be right not to mention the music festival, but we weren’t here at the right time for it when we visited. Suffice to say, it’s a massive music shindig that – if you’re into live bands – is not to be missed.
However, there are great local gigs going on all year round.
Tamworth bar hop
To get a real taste of the town, why not do a bar hop? We started at the Coal Bunker, then walked to The Press (the longest leg of the crawl), then the Welder’s Dog, the Tamworth Hotel and then the Courthouse Hotel – a big, lively pub with great smelling food (we’d already eaten but our stomachs still had a voice).
We also tried to stop in for a cocktail at the Pig & Tinder Box, but it was closing. After all it was 9.45pm on a Saturday. A lesson learnt – always call ahead as ‘open 12pm till late’ can mean anything outside the city.
We did go back to the Pig & Tinder Box and really enjoyed the food and drinks there. Well worth persevering.
Beyond Tamworth’s borders, there are plenty of places to visit and things to see in the beautiful New England countryside.
I was very pleased to find they’ve finally named a creek after me.
This little old gold-mining town is full of character and only about 40 minutes from Tamworth. On the short main street are homewares and clothes shops, and the fascinating dustball that is the antiques shop.
The Woollen Mill factory is quite interesting and does guided tours during the week.
For a feed, don’t miss the Peel Inn. This classic country pub has it all: well-kept beer, a bankable food menu, a good beer garden and quirky locals.
It’s amazing that you can’t see this award-winning building from the road, but the curving lane that takes you to the door dips down and hides you in a dell.
Enjoy a superb breakfast here, and probably even better lunch and dinner, just remember to book first. There is also villa accommodation here.
This little village is the home of the Jacks Beef Cattle Station, so it stands to reason that a steak restaurant here – at the source – is going to be good. We haven’t been, but a friend highly recommends Graze Restaurant for exactly that reason.
Best time of year to visit
If you’re not here for the music festival in January, Tamworth’s weather might influence your timing more than anything else. It does get hot here in summer. Really hot.
Between December to February, tops average at 31dC – it can get way hotter. We were there just before a baking heatwave of several days of 40dC+ weather. Phew!
In contrast, winter can be very cold, with lows down to zero and highs only at 15dC.
But the shoulder seasons – spring and autumn – are beautiful. March and April, October and November are warm in the day, cool at night and a good chance of dry skies.
If you enjoyed this Essential Guide and found it useful, you might also like other Essential Guides we’ve published:
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– Could Chicago Be the Best City in the States? Our Essential Guide to the Windy City
– Into the Wild – Our Essential Guide to Sabah, the Best of Borneo
If you have any tips onTamworth we’ve missed, feel free to tell us about them in the comments below!