I was so lucky that during my 4 years living in Australia I had the chance to visit every state. This diverse, vast and downright beautiful sunburnt country has so much to offer travellers, but it can be hard to narrow down where exactly to go and what to do in Australia.
I’ve got lots of travel guides to some of Australia’s world-famous attractions, as well as lesser known beauty spots, dotted around this blog, but I haven’t before now pulled them together into Australia holiday itineraries. (Sorry about that.)
So, for anyone planning a holiday Down Under, these are some of the best places to visit in Australia, broken down by different interests.
How long do I need?
One of the first questions I always get asked about planning a trip to Australia is how long do you think I need? The honest answer is it depends how much you want to see. Considering that the whole of the UK fits into Australia 32 times over, if you want to cover more than 1 state, I personally think you need at least 2 weeks.
In my opinion, the ideal Australia holiday length is 3 weeks, just because it takes so long to get there.
With that in mind, all of the suggestions below are based on what I think you can realistically achieve on a 2 to 3 week visit.
Fly or drive?
Apart from when I travelled the east coast of Australia on a bus during my gap year, I’ve tended to fly to the different states and then hire a car, if necessary, when landing.
While you can see some incredible scenery on an Australia road trip, and save money on accommodation if you hire a campervan, it’s hard to compete with the fact you can fly between Sydney and Melbourne in 1 hr, compared to 8 hours to drive it, for example.
Virgin Australia, Qantas and JetStar offer domestic flights all over Australia multiple times a day. The earlier you book, the cheaper the price is, although I do recommend signing up for sales alerts if you want to bag a last-minute bargain.
What to see and what to do in Australia
With that preamble out the way, here are some of the best places to visit on an Aussie holiday, paired with the best things to do in each place.
These ideas can be mixed and matched, of course, if you’d like a bit of each!
Best places to visit in Australia
For Beach Lovers – Sydney, Jervis Bay and Whitsunday Islands
This first itinerary was the hardest to narrow down as the whole of Australia is arguably perfect for beach lovers. The Gold Coast, in particular, is renowned for having some of the world’s best beaches and, if you’re into surfing, places like Noosa are beautiful spots to have your first go in the surf.
If we’re talking about a 2 to 3 week holiday to Australia, however, you may not have time to reach a destination that is 2-hours’ drive north of Brisbane. So, here’s what I recommend instead.
Start in Sydney. If you land during the daytime you’ll get an idea of the beautiful bays that await you in Sydney as you fly over them. You’re going to want to head to Bondi, fill up on hotcakes at Harry’s, and then follow the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk to discover some of the beautiful secluded bays along this stretch of Eastern Sydney.
If you want somewhere a little less touristy to recline on, head to the likes of Milk Bay, Rose Bay, Balmoral or Collins Flat Beach, Manly, one of Sydney’s best hidden beaches.
Spend a few days checking out some of these cool things to do in Sydney and then hit the road to Jervis Bay to be blown away by some of the purest sand in the state at Hyams Beach. Treat yourself to an overnight stay at Paperbark Camp for a night of glamping next to kangaroos, or stay a little further down the coast in safari-style tents at South Coast Retreat at Greenwell Point for a stylish but less spendy option.
For the second half of your trip fly to Hamilton Island, an affordable luxury island resort in the heart of the Whitsunday Islands. Hamilton Island has a range of hotels and apartments to suit different budgets and boasts the enviable position of being a short boat ride away from one of the best beaches in the world, Whitehaven Beach.
Flop on (or fly over!) the pure white sand of Whitehaven and then snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s 7 natural wonders.
For Food & Wine Fans: Melbourne and Barossa Valley
Word on the street is that Melbourne is the foodie capital of Australia and I am inclined to agree. It’s street-art-strewn alleyways, pavement cafes and speak-easy style bars, just cry out for all day wining and dining – and don’t forget how good the Melburnians are at coffee to keep you going!
When you feel like you can’t possibly fit another brunch in, hire a car and discover some of these awesome places just a short drive away from Melbourne. Perhaps the penguins on Phillip Island, hot springs in Daylesford, rock formations on the Great Ocean Road, wineries in the Yarra Valley, or the one-of-a-kind Silo Art Trail will take your fancy?
If a shiraz is your kind of tipple, then head to South Australia’s world-famous wine region, The Barossa Valley. Situated just over an hour outside Adelaide, the Barossa is home to sprawling wineries, cosy homesteads and delectable food markets. Check out the Barossa Valley Farmers Market for a wheel or two of award-winning Barossa Valley Cheese, then dine at local legend Maggie Beer’s Farm Eatery for some quintessential South Australia cuisine.
For Culture Buffs: Canberra and Northern Territory
Canberra is not only the capital of Australia but its capital of culture (if you ask me!) This massively underrated city has some of Australia’s best museums and galleries (don’t miss The National Gallery and National Museum of Australia) as well Parliament House, which you can get a bird’s eye view of in a hot air balloon.
It’s possible to drive from Sydney to Canberra in approx. 3 hours but it’s not a particularly inspiring road trip, so consider flying from Sydney or Melbourne instead. (Both flights take approx. 1 hour.)
To understand the indigenous culture of Australia, you can’t miss a trip to the Northern Territory’s Red Centre. This incredible, burnt orange state, which extends from the centre of the Australia to the north-west corner, has a rich geological and cultural heritage that you just have to see for yourself.
Flying into Darwin, you can meet crocs on a Jumping Crocodile River Cruise and gigantic termite mounds at Litchfield National Park before flying or driving the 2000 kms to Uluru (Ayers Rock), one of the world’s most renowned natural landmarks and the spiritual heart of Australia.
This sensational-looking rock that juts out of the flat desert is sacred to the indigenous Anangu tribe who live in this region and you can learn all about why at the Cultural Centre found at the entrance to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
There are many amazing experiences you can plan in this area, including sunrise camel tours, walking trails around Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and visiting the out-of-this-world Field of Light art installation.
Choose from luxury hotels or basic tents within eyesight of Uluru at Yulara and the Ayers Rock Resort and be blown away by the stars at night when you join the Sounds of Silence dinner.
For Second Timers: Byron Bay and Tasmania
Planning a repeat visit to Australia? Why not give a couple of destinations you may have overlooked on your first trip a chance to wow you instead?
Byron Bay was once a mecca for backpackers and surfers who were bumming around the east coast but in recent years it has shaken off some of that backpacker vibe for a more boho one instead. Boasting beautiful beaches, incredible brunch spots, farm-to-table restaurants (like Three Blue Ducks and Harvest Cafe) and an entrepreneurial vibe from local businesses, you’ll end up wanting to live in Byron. (If you’re anything like me!)
Some of the most stand out scenery in Australia (second only to Uluru) can be found in Tasmania. Drive along the east coast to discover the likes of Freycinet National Park, Wineglass Bay, The Bay Of Fires and Cradle Mountain, stopping to sample local wine and cheese along the way.
Split your time between Coles Bay, perched on the entrance of Freycinet, and the capital Hobart, making sure a visit to MOMA and Port Arthur is on the itinerary.
For Slow Travellers: The Ghan
If you want to travel Australia in absolute luxury at a leisurely pace, then save up for the once in the lifetime opportunity of travelling on The Ghan. Traversing the 3000 kms between Darwin and Adelaide, via the scorched Red Centre and Alice Springs, The Ghan is one of the world’s most luxurious trains, where the scenery is a special as the meals they serve on it.
Choose between 3 to 4 day expeditions that include off train experiences, such as the Nitmiluk Gorge Cruise and Simpsons Gap Discover Walk.
For The Get There Quickers: Perth & Rottnest Island
The quickest way to get to Australia is on the non-stop Qantas flight from London to Perth. If you’d rather avoid the faff of changing planes, you can fly on the Qantas Dreamliner and be in Australia in 17 hours. (I know – that’s still a lot of hours!)
Qantas offer onward connections from Perth to all the destinations mentioned above (and more) but there are some gorgeous places to check out in Western Australia while you’re over this way. Be dumbstruck by the secluded beauty of Lucky Bay, swim with reef sharks in Ningaloo Reef and meet the quokkas, the happy inhabitants of Rottnest Island.
I hope that helps anyone planning a holiday to Australia, and gives some food for thought for those who weren’t!
Find more Australia travel tips here.
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