Located between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Australia is the world’s largest island and its smallest continent. There’s room to move in the Land Down Under, and with so many sights to discover and enjoy, there’s a great incentive to go on a walkabout adventure. Whether exploring the traditional lifestyle of the nation’s Aboriginal people, relaxing on a sun-kissed beach or reveling the night away in a city hot spot, Australia has something special to offer every visitor.
With amazing national parks dotted around the country and some fantastic islands, visitors to Australia can be off exploring the delights of Tasmania one minute and Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Parks the next.
On top of this, the beautiful beaches and turquoise waters that line its shores are home to the jaw-dropping Great Barrier Reef; one of the miracles of the natural world and one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations. With loads of great things to see and do, you’ll have your job cut out trying to fit everything into your trip!
Having started life as a planned city back in 1913, Australia’s capital Canberra is slowly but surely growing into a lively and lovely place. Affectionately (and at times derisively) nicknamed the ‘bush capital’, the city lies amidst stunning nature reserves and low-lying mountain ranges in the north of the Australian Capital Territory.
Once the home solely of politicians and civil servants, the now thriving metropolis is home to world-class museums, art galleries, and national monuments. All kinds of shops, restaurants and bars abound, and its large student body means there’s a pounding nightlife scene. Despite its youth, the city has lots of interesting historical sights; many of these relate to its parliament and governmental institutions.
Due to its remote and rural setting, the city is also a fantastic place for exploring the great outdoors. Its nearby nature reserves are wonderful to hike and cycle around, as are Canberra’s numerous parks, gardens, and human-made lakes.
Located within Nambung National Park, The Pinnacles can be found not far from the small town of Cervantes in Western Australia. Due to their remote setting, the spectacular limestone formations largely remained unknown until 1967, when a reserve was formed to protect the prominent pillars.
Rising dramatically out of the desert floor, The Pinnacles resemble weathered tombstones and number in the thousands. Together, they make for an incredible sight as sand from the coastal dunes constantly blows through the otherworldly looking landscape.
While debates are ongoing as to how their distinctive shapes formed, it is generally agreed that they are made out of the limestone from seashells as the region used to be submerged millennia ago. Now, The Pinnacles make for a popular tourist attraction. Western grey kangaroos can often be spotted between them, as well as the occasional emu, dingo, and honey possum.
Blessed with year-round warm weather and sunny skies, Australia’s glimmering Gold Coast lies just to the south of Brisbane on Queensland’s southeastern coastline. The coastal city is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the country thanks to its lively yet laid-back vibe and alluring sun, sea, and surf.
Surfers Paradise is the area most people flock to. ‘The capital of the Gold Coast’ is home to large shopping malls and pounding nightclubs as well as countless restaurants, bars, and accommodation options. Glittering high rises tower above its expansive beach, which is great for sunbathing, swimming and watersports.
While it is often called a tacky tourist-trap, the Gold Coast has loads going for it, with beautiful beaches and stunning sunsets a given. In addition, it also boasts exhilarating amusement parks, water parks, and nature reserves, while its surf breaks are out of this world.
Located almost slap bang in the center of Australia, Alice Springs lies in the Northern Territory’s endless outback, more than 1,500 kilometers from the nearest city. While it certainly takes some getting to, the remote rural town is perfectly placed for exploring the Red Centre.
Although there is not much going on in the town itself, Alice Springs is a great place to visit if you want to delve into the Aborigines’ rich history, heritage, and culture. It is home to a number of superb museums and indigenous Australian art galleries, as well as a large Aboriginal population. In addition, it has plenty of restaurants, bars, and hotels for visitors to choose from.
Its main draw, however, are the awe-inspiring desert landscapes, rock formations, and gorges that lie all around it. While the iconic Uluru attracts the most visitors with its distinctive ruddy hue and hulking great landmass, the Kata Tjuta rock formations also make for a spectacular sight, as do the gaping chasms of Kings Canyon.
The second-largest national park in Western Australia, Karijini lies about a thousand kilometers to the north of the state’s capital, Perth. Centered around the Hamersley Ranges, it is very mountainous and known for the gorgeous gorges, slot canyons, and waterfalls that dot its confines.
Rising above the dark red hues of its rugged landscapes are the three highest peaks in the west of Australia. These make for some fantastic hiking, as do the narrow gorges and precipitous chasms snaking beneath them. Punctuating its semi-arid terrain are a series of hidden water holes and glittering waterfalls, which are amazingly refreshing to swim or bathe in after a dusty walk.
Besides the stunning scenery, Karijini National Park is home to more than 800 different plant species, as well as lots of incredible wildlife. While exploring the nature reserve, visitors may catch a glimpse of wallabies, echidnas, and red kangaroos.
Hugging the coastline of Australia’s Top End, the region encompassing the Northern Territory, Darwin has long been the most international of the country’s major cities. Its close proximity to other countries in the Indian Ocean has made the city a transportation hub since its earliest days. Devastated during World War II and again in 1974 when struck by Cyclone Tracy, Darwin is a resilient town with a spirit that can’t be defeated. Today, the city of around 75,000 people is a popular holiday destination.
Darwin’s main natural attraction is its wide sandy beach lined with open-air beer bars, seafood restaurants and multinational shops. Twice the size of Sydney Harbor, Darwin Harbor attracts visitors too.
Cruises lasting two to 12 hours are available for explorations of the region’s mangrove forest. In the evening, locals and visitors stroll down the city’s esplanade to enjoy films at the Deckchair Cinema, a large open-air theater located on the banks of harbor.
Darwin is also the hub for tours to famous Kakadu National Park as well as Litchfield National Park and Katherine Gorge. Whether watching crocodiles cavort in Crocodylus Park, cruising to the Aboriginal-owned Tiwi Islands or relaxing on the beach, there’s always something new to experience in tropical Darwin.
Lying on the northeast coast of Australia in a national park of the same name, Daintree is one of the world’s oldest and most diverse tropical rainforests. Located in the state of Queensland, its fantastic fauna and flora and ancient ecosystems are incredible to explore, and home to lots of wildlife.
Daintree doesn’t consist solely of lush and verdant rainforest, but also includes rugged mountains, teeming rivers, rich coral reef systems, and beautiful beaches. Of these, Cape Tribulation is considered to boast some of the best white sandy beaches in Australia.
Best accessed from Cairns, around a three-hour drive away, Daintree Rainforest is a nature lover’s delight and has lots of fun outdoor activities for visitors to try. Besides hiking amid the dense undergrowth and going bird or wildlife watching, popular pastimes include paddleboarding, ziplining through the canopy, and cruising along one of its rivers.
The easternmost point of Australia’s mainland, Byron Bay lies in the state of New South Wales, just off the Pacific Highway that connects Brisbane to Sydney. Famed for its idyllic beaches, fantastic surf spots, and lovely laid-back lifestyle, the beautiful beachside town is one of the nation’s most popular tourist destinations.
While the town itself hosts a number of arts and culture festivals throughout the year, as well as weekly farmers’ markets, most people visit for its scenic setting and wealth of outdoor activities. Besides lounging on any one of its wonderful beaches, visitors can enjoy scuba diving, surfing, and whale-watching offshore, with skydiving and yoga also popular.
Due to Byron Bay’s alternative vibe and rugged beauty, everyone from ageing hippies and artists to surfers, business people, and families have migrated to the town. As such, lots of trendy bars and restaurants have sprung up, as well as little art galleries and all types of accommodation options.
Separated from the mainland of Australia by the Great Sandy Strait, Fraser Island lies just off the Queensland’s southeast coast. Stretching for over a hundred kilometers, the world’s largest sand island is a popular place to visit due to its beautiful scenery and outstanding natural sights.
While idyllic white sandy beaches and crumbling sand cliffs line its shores, lush rainforests, dense mangroves, and epic coastal dune systems can be found dotted here and there. In addition, more than a hundred glittering freshwater lakes punctuate its picture-perfect landscapes, with Lake Wabby and Lake MacKenzie two of the most popular.
Much of the stunning scenery lies within Great Sandy National Park, which is home to all kinds of birds and mammals, such as dingoes, dolphins, wallabies, and whales. Besides wildlife watching, Fraser Island also has lots of great hiking, swimming, and watersports for visitors to enjoy, and camping beneath the stars is always a memorable experience.
Perched on a small peninsula that juts into the Indian Ocean, the small, scenic and secluded town of Broome is located on the northern coast of Western Australia. Lying more than 2,000 kilometers from both Darwin and Perth, the two nearest cities, the remote beach resort and pearling town acts as a gateway to the region’s riches.
The most popular place to relax and unwind in Broome is Cable Beach, which is widely thought to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Australia. Besides sunbathing on its white sands and bathing in its turquoise waters, visitors can enjoy cocktails and spa packages at its luxury resorts, as well as sunset camel rides along the beach.
More active holidaymakers can visit the fantastic rock formations at Entrance Point and the red cliffs and dinosaur footprints at Gantheaume Point; both of which lie nearby. Further afield are the breathtaking Horizontal Falls, with other wonderfully wild and untouched landscapes dotted about the Dampier Peninsula and the Kimberley Region.
For its tropical climate, easy-going ambiance and close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is one of Australia’s most popular vacation destinations. Located on the northwest corner of Australia, Cairns is a provincial but stylish city with a population of around 150,000 people.
The city is bordered by mountains and the Coral Sea and is surrounded by sugar cane plantations and rainforest. There are enough good bars, restaurants and shopping options to keep visitors entertained before they head off into the stunning nature nearby.
Instead of a beach, Cairns features a saltwater lagoon in the center of the city. The Cairns Esplanade along the shore is lined with trendy cafés, bars and boutiques. Numerous beaches are located just to the north of the city and are easily accessible by bus or car. The City Botanic Gardens features plants used by Aboriginal people. Opposite the gardens, a boardwalk leads visitors through the rainforest to the Centenary Lakes, a habitat for crocodiles.
Opportunities for adventure sports abound in Cairns and range from snorkeling and scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef to skydiving and whitewater rafting. The Daintree Rainforest to the north of Cairns is considered the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, and a hike along an aerial walkway over the forest is an experience that many visitors won’t want to miss.
Lying in Watarrka National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory, Kings Canyon is sure to impress with its staggering size, scale, and stunning scenery. One of the region’s main attractions, the gaping gorge was formed more than 400 million years ago as the ruddy-colored sandstone eroded.
Cutting through the desolate desert landscapes, the colossal canyon’s walls tower over a hundred meters in height, with a small creek and sparse vegetation down below. There are jagged cliffs, interesting rock formations, and beautiful scenery to spy, whether you’re strolling in the shade or hiking along its rim.
For the Luritja people, Kings Canyon has long been a source of water and a place of refuge and respite from the searing sun. It is still a sacred site to this day. Due to the infernal heat and cruel climate, it is well advised to bring lots of water with you when hiking or climbing around the canyon.
Situated on the eastern shores of Gulf St Vincent, Adelaide is the capital of South Australia. Adelaide is Australia’s fifth largest city, with a population of over 1.2 million. More than three quarters of South Australians live in the Adelaide metropolitan area.
The city is located on a plain between the rolling Adelaide Hills and the Gulf and is bordered by many of Australia’s famous wine regions. The Barossa Valley and Clare Valley regions lie to the north, the McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek regions to the south and the cooler Adelaide Hills region to the east.
Nicknamed ‘the city of churches’, the lofty spires dotted about here and there add to the picturesque nature of Adelaide and there are lots of nice parks and green spaces for locals and visitors alike to enjoy.
Proximity to premium wine and food growing regions, as well as waves of immigration from Europe and Asia have created a unique multicultural gourmet food and café culture in the city. This culture is supported by Adelaide’s arts festivals held in March including the Adelaide Festival and the Adelaide Fringe Festival.
One of the most accessible and awe-inspiring of Australia’s natural wonders, the Blue Mountains lie just to the west of Sydney in New South Wales. Sprawling over a vast area, its majestic mountains, plateaus, and escarpments are lovely to explore and make for a popular day trip or weekend away.
Named after the misty haze that the oil from its endless eucalyptus trees give off, the mountains are home to lots of unspoiled nature and spectacular scenery. A myriad of well-maintained hiking trails and mountain bike paths weave their way here and there, with stunning views to be enjoyed from Echo Point and Govett’s Leap.
As the mountains have long been the home of the Gundungurra and Darug peoples, they are also a great place to learn more about Aboriginal history and culture. In addition, lots of charming towns and villages dot the land. Springwood, for example, is known for its art galleries, while Leura boasts cosy craft shops and sophisticated restaurants.
Winding along the south coast of the state of Victoria, the 243 kilometer-long Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most scenic drives. Completed in 1932, the highway was built by soldiers returning from WWI and is dedicated to those who lost their lives.
Running from the seaside resort town of Torquay to the small and quiet Allansford, the road passes epic limestone sea stacks, secluded coves, and spectacular surf spots. At times, it meanders through pockets of rainforest, fertile winelands, and endless eucalyptus forests, with sleepy seaside towns dotted here and there.
Renowned for its incredible surfing, Bell’s Beach is one of the most popular attractions, along with Great Otway National Park, which is home to lots of spectacular natural beauty. The Twelve Apostles make for a stunning sight: the crumbling sea stacks are constantly pummeled by the rough and treacherous waters of the mighty Southern Ocean.
The capital of Western Australia, Perth is very isolated from the rest of the country, yet is routinely considered one of the most livable cities in the world thanks to its laidback vibe, fantastic cultural sites, and a wide range of things to do.
Many of Perth’s attractions are located near the water, whether it’s the beaches stretching along the Sunset Coast to the north or the parks, walks and picnic spots edging the Swan River. Fremantle, known as “Freo” by the locals, is the city’s port, a bustling marina that has recently gained a reputation as a haven for artists and students. Cottesloe Beach, just a few miles north of Fremantle, is Perth’s most popular beach.
One of the largest city parks in the world, the thousand-acre Kings Park encompasses Mount Eliza, a hill overlooking the city, and boasts a botanical garden with aerial walkways as well as the State War Memorial park. The Perth Zoo offers visitors up-close encounters with kangaroos and other animals native to Australia. Ferry service in Perth takes visitors to car-free Rottnest Island or the closer Penguin Island to watch daily feedings of the flightless birds.
Whether swimming with dolphins, firing up a barbie on the river’s shoreline or exploring the Aquarium of Western Australia, the country’s largest aquarium, aquatic adventures abound in sun-and-sea-loving Perth.
The third-largest island in the country, Kangaroo Island lies just off the coast of South Australia, around a 45-minute ferry ride from Cape Jarvis. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the state, its delightfully untouched landscapes are home to incredible scenery and an abundance of wildlife.
Everything from huge dunes and towering cliffs to large caves and remarkable rock formations can be found in its numerous nature reserves. These are home to echidnas, koalas, and kangaroos, while penguins, sea lions and dolphins can be spotted offshore. Its diverse landscapes lend themselves perfectly to all kinds of outdoor activities, with hiking, sandboarding and scuba diving popular.
Besides its ample natural riches, wildlife, and recreation opportunities, Kangaroo Island also boasts lots of delicious local produce and fine wines for visitors to try. These can be sampled at any one of its four main towns or at the small farms and wineries that dot the island.
A popular tourist destination, Brisbane is a lively, dynamic place that is bathed in beautiful sunshine year-round. It has a population of about 2 million people, making it the third-largest city in Australia, after Sydney and Melbourne. Located in the Sunshine State, many visitors stop by on their way to the fantastic resorts and beaches that lie to its north and south.
Set alongside the Brisbane River, the city’s fantastic climate means that outdoor activities are very popular here; you can take your pick from a huge catalog, with biking, climbing, and hiking featuring prominently. A fun and friendly city, Brisbane’s vibrant music scene has made it one of the music capitals of the world and there are lots of venues in town where you can enjoy a great show. With loads of brilliant restaurants and bars for you to choose from, Brisbane is not to be missed.
The island state of Tasmania may be isolated from the rest of the country but it still remains one of the best places to visit in Australia; almost half of its area is protected as the government looks to preserve the natural riches.
With desolate wilderness and alpine plateaus interspersed with stunning white beaches, waterfalls, and forests, exploring its terrain is simply mesmerizing. Taking a boat trip along its craggy coast is equally rewarding and you can even see dolphins, penguins, and seals along the way.
With lots of great local produce, eating and drinking in the capital city of Hobart is an absolute pleasure and the restaurants and bars are divine. The island also hosts an eclectic range of great festivals throughout the year, where you can enjoy local beer and wine or arts and music events.
One of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations, the Whitsunday Islands lie scattered off Queensland’s northeastern coast, surrounded by warm and inviting aquamarine waters. As it is part of the Great Barrier Reef, most of the archipelago lies within national parks, so stunning scenery and picture-perfect beaches abound.
Due to the abundance of underwater riches and colorful coral reefs, the Whitsundays are a great place to go snorkeling and scuba diving. Sailing around its 74 islands and islets is also very popular, as is lounging on its sun-kissed sands. In Whitehaven Beach, the archipelago boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
While the Whitsunday Islands are primarily known for their outstanding natural beauty, they are also remarkably home to some of the oldest Aboriginal archaeological sites in the country. As the idyllic islands are now mainly uninhabited and undeveloped with only a few resorts and campsites to be found here and there, it is best to arrange tours and activities in Airlie Beach on the mainland.
The capital of the state of Victoria, Melbourne is Australia’s second most populated city. Located near the southeastern tip of Australia on the large natural bay of Port Phillip, Melbourne is considered the nation’s cultural capital as well as an important port. Due to its high quality of life, citizens from around the world have flocked to the streets. Its multicultural population is reflected in the delicious cuisine and the unique neighborhoods that make it such a fascinating place to explore.
Melbourne’s City Center district boasts the most attractions, including the city’s most recognizable landmark, the Flinders Street Railway Station. The multiple clocks hanging over the Edwardian Era station’s entrance is a popular meeting spot. The skyscraper Eureka Tower features an 88th-floor observation platform, the highest in the southern hemisphere. Visitors can step out onto a glass-enclosed compartment for panoramic views of the bay and the green Dandenong mountain range beyond.
In the Carlton district, visitors can explore the southern hemisphere’s largest museum. The Melbourne Museum showcases the nation’s rich social history, from its indigenous cultures to its fascination with football and horse racing, and has extensive exhibits illustrating Australia’s natural history as well.
Visitors looking for outdoor activities can enjoy the city’s parklands, many of which are shaded by large, mature trees. For swimming and sunbathing, Melbourne’s bayside beaches are ideal. For a retro feel, Brighton Beach features colorful bathing huts. St. Kilda Beach is one of the most popular beaches, both for its swimming and for the clubs and restaurants that line the shore. From dawn to dusk, visitors to Melbourne will never run out of exciting things to see and do.
See also: Top Tourist Attractions in Melbourne
Occupied by Aboriginal people for over 40,000 years, Kakadu National Park has over five thousand ancient rock art sites which are fascinating to visit. It is a place of immense cultural and natural significance. The park is huge and contains some stunning natural sights which make it well worth a visit; the Kakadu Escarpment is particularly breathtaking.
With diverse ecosystems contained within the park’s boundaries, you can be hiking through deserted sandstone escarpments one minute and bathing in waterfalls and pools the next, before later on learning about some of the ancient rock paintings. While it can get very popular, Kakadu’s huge area means that you can easily enjoy all the park has to offer in peace and quiet if you step off the beaten path a little.
The largest coral reef system on the face of the earth, the Great Barrier Reef is simply colossal. Located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia’s state of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef encompasses a huge area of more than 2,900 coral reefs and hundreds of islands and cays. Formed by millions of living organisms over a period of millions of years, the Reef is now one of the world’s most diverse and complex ecosystems.
While always known and used by the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Australian peoples, the Reef today is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is home to a remarkable array of marine life including 1500 fish species and 360 corals in addition to various species of whales, dolphins, marine turtles, sea snakes and birds, which breed among the small islands.
The best way to explore the Reef is by one of the numerous boat cruises that run along the northern coast of Queensland. The town of Cairns is regarded as the main gateway to the Reef, but other towns such as Townsville, Port Douglas, Yeppoon, Mission Beach and Cooktown also offer cruise operations.
Ranging from single day trips to multiple day voyages, these boat cruises usually anchor at certain stops to allow for snorkeling and diving. Other options for experiencing the Reef include underwater observatories, glass-bottomed boat tours and helicopter flights.
World famous, spectacular Uluru is instantly recognizable due to its ruddy red hue; it is one of Australia’s most prominent landmarks. The immense rock is incredible to visit and the main reason the national park is such a popular destination. Its grandeur and uniqueness live long in the memory of those who gaze upon it. While Uluru is the main draw, the equally mesmerizing rock formations of Kata Tijuta are fantastic to wander around, and there are lots of activities for visitors to enjoy.
Owned by the Anangu Aboriginal people, the site is of great cultural and spiritual significance to them; you can learn more about their way of life at the brilliant cultural center. With lots of great walks, bike rides and tours, the astounding beauty of this national park really is awe-inspiring.
Almost picture perfect, Sydney is a fantastic city with a lot going for it. A modern city with a long history, Sydney is defined by its scenic harbor. The region’s first inhabitants lived along the harbor’s bank for thousands of years. The harbor was also the landing site for convicts sent to Australia during the 1780s. Today, ferries take visitors for cruises under the famed Sydney Harbor Bridge and past the iconic Sydney Opera House.
Adventurous travelers can take a ferry to Manly Wharf where they can rent kayaks to paddle the inlets of Sydney Harbor National Park or sign up for surf classes at Manly Beach. The Federation Cliff Walk is a 5-km (3-mile) long walkway that starts at the Raleigh Reserve Park, providing spectacular views of the sea, harbor and the Macquarie Lighthouse, Australia’s first and longest operating lighthouse.
Sydney’s beaches are the perfect place to spend a warm summer day, to swim or just relax on the sands. The most popular are Bondi Beach, Manly and Coogee, although many others have their own charms.
No visit to Sydney is complete without a tour of the Sydney Opera House. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and completed in 1973, the sailing ship-inspired performing arts complex is considered one of the world’s most distinctive architectural structures.
For adventurous visitors to Sydney, a heart-thumping climb on the harbor bridge is a must-do activity. For others, shopping at the historic Queen Victoria Building, hitting the clubs and restaurants the in Rocks district and visiting the world-class Taronga Zoo are can’t-miss activities. Visitors can count on cosmopolitan Sydney to accommodate every taste.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sydney
See also: Top Sydney Attractions