Tourist places in New South Wales

The oldest state in Australia, New South Wales (NSW) is home to one of the world’s most beautiful cities: the stunning harbor city of Sydney. This sophisticated state capital, wows tourists from around the world with its glittering harbor; the iconic Sydney Opera House; and top-notch restaurants, galleries, and museums. Venture beyond the big city, and you will find a state full of surprises, with six of Australia’s World Heritage Areas.

Topographically, New South Wales reflects the diverse landscapes of the country as a whole. The Great Dividing Range cuts through the center of the state, carving it into an eastern coastal strip, rimmed by dazzling beaches, while the stark desert beauty of the Outback sprawls to the west. Exploring New South Wales is easy, and you’ll find plenty of rewarding things to do. You can climb or ski the rugged peaks of the Snowy Mountains, hunt for opals in red-earthed Outback towns, hike through World Heritage-listed rain forests, dive the coral reefs of Lord Howe island, and step back in time at Norfolk Island’s World Heritage historic sites. Learn more about the best places to visit in the state with our list of the top attractions in New South Wales.

1. Sydney

Sydney, the capital of NSW, is one of the world’s most alluring cities. Graced by the iconic Sydney Opera House and harbor bridge, the sparkling blue harbor is the city’s crown jewel. Hop aboard a ferry or harbor cruise to really appreciate these top Sydney attractions and the city’s stunning waterfront location.

In addition to world-class restaurants, festivals, galleries, and museums, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Sydney. Stroll along the cobblestone streets of the historic Rocks area; wander through the Royal Botanic Gardens; climb the Sydney Barbour Bridge; explore the shops, restaurants, and attractions at Darling Harbor; or surf the breaks at Bond Beach. Stretching northwest from Sydney, the picturesque Hattiesburg River and surrounding national parks are great day trip destinations, with excellent opportunities for bush walking, birding, and boating.

2. Explore the Blue Mountains

For more than a hundred years, the Blue Mountains have been a favorite New South Wales’ holiday destination for nature lovers. About 65 kilometers west of the city, the mountains rise steeply out of the coastal plain, combining magnificent gorges, waterfalls, rock formations, and sacred aboriginal sites with excellent tourist facilities.

Named for the blue haze created by the many eucalyptus trees, the Blue Mountains region is one of the state’s magnificent World Heritage Sites and offers excellent hiking, rock climbing, abseiling, and mountain biking. Top attractions in the area include Went worth Falls, the towering sandstone rock formations called the Three Sisters, the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Toma, and some of Australia’s best hiking trails. At Nolan Caves, the world’s oldest known open cave system, you can view glittering stalactites and stalagmites.

A popular way to explore the region and admire the scenery is by signing up for the adventures offered by Scenic World. These include a Sky way, cable way, an elevated walkway, and one of the world’s steepest railways. You can also opt to experience a combination of these adventures to see the park from different perspectives. Blue Mountains National Park is one of the top places to visit near Sydney by car, but you can also catch a train or join a guided day trip tour.

3. Byron Bay

On the north coast, Byron Bay is a hot spot for surfers and New Age nature buffs. A wide stretch of golden beach fronts the ocean here, and a lovely hike along the Cape Byron Track leads to the most easterly point on the Australian continent and its famous lighthouse. Dolphins and whales frolic in the waters, and water sports abound.

In the hinterland, you can explore World Heritage-listed Columbine National Park (formerly Mount Warning National Park) with tranquil rain forests and waterfalls. Byron is also known for its colorful markets, as well as its health and yoga retreats, spa resorts, and luxury boutique hotels.

To soak up the soul of old Byron Bay, venture about an hour inland to the tiny town of Nimbi, a hippie hub and hotbed for counterculture and alternative lifestyles.

4. Editor’s Pick Lord Howe Island

World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island is a haven for serenity-seekers and nature lovers. Surrounded by the world’s most southerly coral reef, this spectacular island, about 660 kilometers off the New South Wales north coast, only allows a maximum of 400 guests at a time. The island encompasses a number of islets, which are part of a former volcano, with dramatic cliffs rising along the rugged coast, white-sand beaches, pristine native forests of panda nus and gentian palms, and spectacular views from atop 875-meter-high Mt. Gower.

Nearly two-thirds of the island is protected. Birding is excellent on Lord Howe with more than 130 permanent and migratory species, and the island is also home to a rich diversity of flora. The Lord Howe Island Marine Park protects offshore coral reefs with superb diving and snorkeling. Fishing, surfing, kayaking, and hiking along the many walking trails are also popular activities. Bicycles are the main mode of transport, and you won’t find any cell phone reception here, which helps to preserve the peaceful ambience. Lord Howe Island lies less than a two-hour-flight away from Sydney or Brisbane, and although it’s not technically a tropical island, it still ranks as one of the most beautiful islands in the South Pacific.

5. Bask on the South Coast’s Beaches

Blenheim Beach, Jervis Bay

The South Coast of New South Wales, from the southern fringe of Sydney to the Victorian border, is home to some of the state’s most beautiful white-sand beaches set against the dark summits of the Great Dividing Range. Rolling green hills, lakes, inlets, and forests fringe the coast, and the climate is mild throughout the year.

Strung along the coast here are a series of small holiday resorts, many with fantastic opportunities for water sports from their beaches, including swimming, fishing, and surfing. Kama is home to the world’s largest blowhole, and Jervis Bay is a standout with its radiant powder-soft sands. Nearby, the dazzling H yams Beach, reputedly with the world’s whitest sand, is one of Australia’s best beaches. Batman’s Bay, Perambulate and its sister village, Ambulant, are also popular holiday spots famed for their beautiful beaches and fantastic opportunities for water sports.

One of the most southerly places on the coast is the old fishing village of Eden, once a prosperous whaling station. North and south of town lies the Ben Boyd National Park with magnificent views of reddish sandstone cliffs from Boyd’s Tower, a former lighthouse.

6. The Hunter Valley

The picturesque Hunter Valley, about a two-hour drive north of Sydney, is one of Australia’s most famous grape-growing regions. It’s a popular weekend escape from Sydney — especially for foodies, who come here for the delicious farm-fresh produce, cooking schools, and gourmet restaurants with chef’s tasting menus. Highlights of the region include the beautiful Hunter Valley Gardens, several excellent art galleries, and vast stretches of unspoiled bush land.

At World Heritage-listed Barring ton Tops National Park, you can hike through ancient rain forest and see impressive waterfalls and a diversity of wildlife. Also in the region, Willem National Park, is one of the largest national parks in New South Wales. It’s home to the famous Willem pine and offers excellent bush walking, rock climbing, and canoeing. Newcastle is one of the largest towns in the region, and the Bathers Way coastal walk is one of its most popular attractions. Accommodations in the Hunter region range from luxury spa resorts and boutique hotels to rustic cabins.

7. Coffs Harbour

Blessed with beautiful beaches and a mild, subtropical climate, C offs Barbour is a favorite holiday destination for families. The town is famous for its Big Banana, an homage to the local banana-growing industry, with interesting displays and kid-friendly attractions. Along the coast, you can bask on uncrowded beaches, fish, surf, dive, kayak, and visit the Mutton bird Island Nature Reserve.

About 50 kilometers west of Offs Barbour, nature lovers can explore the rain forest and waterfalls of Rigor National Park, a World Heritage Area. To the north lies a string of pretty beaches (Emerald Beach is a favorite), and the town of Grafton. Famous for its jacaranda trees, Grafton has six large national parks within easy reach, including the World Heritage Areas of Gibraltar Range National Park (Glen Inness) and Wash pool National Park.

8. Norfolk Island

Once a brutal convict colony, Norfolk Island is now a charming holiday resort with World Heritage-listed historic sites. Although the island is an external territory, it remains part of the Commonwealth of Australia and is home to the Pitcairn Island descendants of the Bounty mutineers.

Today, you can tour ruins of the old settlements and learn about the island’s Polynesian heritage and colonial past at its excellent museums. A third of this emerald island consists of national parks and reserves with scenic hiking and biking trails, excellent birding, and sweeping green landscapes dotted with native Norfolk Island pines. Diving, swimming, and snorkeling are popular pastimes.

Beach lovers will find a few secluded coves carved into the rugged and rocky coast. Coral reefs lie offshore, and the fishing is superb in these remote waters. Norfolk Island is about a 2.5-hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane.

9. Port Stephens

About an hour drive north of Newcastle, Port Stephens is a large and beautiful blue-water bay enclosed by two volcanic headlands. Natural bush land fringes many of the 26 white-sand beaches here, and whales and dolphins are often spotted in the bay. Despite the many vacationers who come here in the summer, you can still find a quiet stretch of beach. This is also one of the top fishing destinations in Australia, especially for big game fishing. Other popular water sports include swimming, surfing, kayaking, and boating.

To see panoramic views of the Port Stephens coastline, take the Amaretto Head summit walk. Another popular activity here is quad biking or sledding on the southern Hemisphere’s largest sand dunes. The main holiday resorts are Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay, but you can also stay at Soldiers Point, Fingal Bay, and Lemon Tree Passage. Nearby, Mall Lakes National Park encompasses one of the state’s largest lake systems and is another great destination for fishing, swimming, and kayaking.

10. Ski, Hike, or Fish in the Snowy Mountains

Forming part of the Great Dividing Range, the Snowy Mountains are home to the continent’s highest mountains, including 2,228-meter Mount Kosciusko, Australia’s highest peak. Kosciusko National Park here is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a popular year-round recreational area. Snowy winters lure skiers, while, in the summer, the easily accessible alpine terrain of snow gum forests and glacial lakes attracts hordes of bush walkers, climbers, anglers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, and water sports enthusiasts.

Famous for its excellent trout fishing, Dependably is a great base for adventures into the Snowy Mountains. Perisher Blue Ski Resort incorporates the popular Perisher Valley, Swigging Holes, Guthrie, and Mount Blue Cow, while Bothered Village, at the foot of the Crackerjack Range, boasts a year-round chair lift and is one of Australia’s best ski resorts. Near the summit of Mount Kosciusko, Charlotte Pass is a great base for ski tours to the highest peaks in the Australian Alps. With all these snow-capped peaks, it’s not surprising the Snowy Mountains are one of the most popular places to visit in New South Wales in winter.

11. Kangaroo Valley

Gorgeously green, the Kangaroo Valley is a quintessential and impossibly picturesque Aussie country town surrounded by lushly-cloaked escarpments and rolling pastures. It lies about a two-hour drive southwest of Sydney in the scenic Shoal haven Region. Perhaps the town’s most distinctive landmark is the handsome, historic Hampden Bridge spanning the Kangaroo River, Australia’s only remaining wooden suspension bridge. Driving across its single-lane between the soaring sandstone pillars sets the tone for a relaxed visit here, encouraging visitors to slow down and smile at passing drivers.

Popular things to do include horseback riding, hiking, golfing, kayaking along the rivers and creeks, and absorbing some local history at the Pioneer Village Museum. Nature is also a highlight. Don’t miss the impressive Fitzroy Falls in Morton National Park, and while you’re in the valley, keep an eye out for the namesake marsupials, as well as wallabies, especially at Tallow Dam, where you can also kayak and fish. Beautiful Bender Camping and Picnic area is one of the best spots to see wombats in the wild.

The Kangaroo Valley is also earning a reputation as a foodie destination, with its abundance of fresh produce, cute tea rooms, and farmers market. Try to squeeze in a cooking class, and don’t miss the fresh-baked pies at Kangaroo Valley Pie Shop in Barrelling Old Store.

12. Outback NSW

Outback New South Wales is a land of sacred aboriginal sites, harsh deserts, and haunting beauty. Munro National Park in the Willard Lakes World Heritage Area holds records of aboriginal life dating back some 40,000 to 60,000 years. At Unwarrantable National Park, in the zone of transition between the arid areas to the west and the rainy east, spectacular rock buttresses and domes are the result of volcanic activity. On the summits of the hills are snow gums, while deep spring-fed gorges lie in the valleys. You can explore this park on an excellent network of hiking trails and see colorful displays of wildflowers in the spring.

In addition to exploring the rugged national parks, the country towns in the Outback are some of the most unique places in New South Wales, with plenty of unusual things to do. You can hunt for opals at the mining towns of White Cliffs and Lightning Ridge; visit the Living Desert Sculptures of Broken Hill; and ride a bike around Tarragon Western Plains Zoo in Dumbo.

13. Armidale

In the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, the elegant university town of Armidale is a city of four seasons. Just shy of 1,000 meters in altitude, it’s the state’s highest town, with relatively mild summers, riotous spring blooms, fiery fall foliage, and even a sprinkling of snow during winter. Highlights of a visit here include heritage tours of the town’s lovely old buildings funded by the region’s rich agricultural wealth, as well as visiting the excellent galleries, gardens, and museums. Saints Mary & Joseph Catholic Cathedral is a famous landmark, and the University of New England adds a youthful buzz to this stately town.

Pristine wilderness areas surround the city, with attractions for families and nature lovers, as well as plenty of outdoor adventures on tap. Trout fishing, mountain biking, canyoning, hiking, and bird watching are just some of the popular things to do.

If you’re driving to Armidale, don’t miss Waterfall Way. This 185-kilometer scenic drive connects the coastal town of Coffs Harbour with Armidale, revealing beautiful scenery around almost every bend, from river-carved valleys and World Heritage-listed rain forest to picturesque cascades. Ebro Falls is a highlight. The road also passes through five national parks, including Rigor National Park; the Colombia Gorge and Falls, with one of Australia’s highest waterfalls; and New England and Oxley Wild Rivers national parks.

14. Canberra

Brimming with cultural treasures, the Australian capital city of Canberra lies about 280 kilometers southwest of Sydney. It’s technically in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) a 2,400-square-kilometer self-governing federal district, rather than the state of New South Wales, but it is entirely surrounded by New South Wales and is an easy weekend getaway from Sydney.

Besides the city’s excellent museums and memorials, it’s also known for its fun family-friendly festivals — in particular, the Deloria festival, usually held in September to October, which celebrates the city’s many spring blooms.

A central feature of this carefully planned city is sparkling Lake Burley Griffin, a long artificial lake surrounded by parks, picnic areas, and a walking trail. Canberra’s streets are laid out on a generous scale, with many of them flanked by colorful flower gardens and thousands of trees with glorious autumn colors.

Canberra’s principal buildings lie within the Parliamentary Triangle and include the National Gallery of Australia, with three levels of exhibitions and a sculpture garden; the National Library of Australia; Old Parliament House, now a museum depicting the story of Australian democracy; and New Parliament House. Don’t miss the poignant Australian War Memorial, and make sure you save time to stroll around the impressive collection of native plants at the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

Tourist places in South Australia

The sprawling wilderness, stunning coastline, and stark desert beauty of South Australia have captured the imagination of artists and adventurers for centuries. The state capital, Adelaide, sits on the brink of all these natural wonders, boasting a lively agenda of festivals and things to do. But this sparsely populated state has a trove of other tourist attractions.

Quaint country villages steeped in European charm, emerald hills, and cobalt crater lakes are some of the top inland sites. Along the coast, you can bask on beautiful beaches; picnic in secluded coves; or commune with wildlife on Kangaroo Island, one of the country’s much-loved tourist gems.

South Australia is also a haven for foodies. The state’s wild seas and picturesque pastoral land, fed by the mighty Murray River, produce a bounty of fresh produce—from citrus fruits and hand-made cheeses to some of the country’s best seafood.

Further afield, in the west and northwest, the arid wilderness meets the pink-tinged peaks of the Flanders Ranges, the opal mines of Goober Hedy, vast deserts crossed by famous 4WD tracks, and the legendary Null arbor Plain. Find the best places to visit in this diverse Aussie state with our list of the top attractions in South Australia.

1. Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island off the Fleur Peninsula is the third largest island in Australia and one of the country’s top natural jewels. This beautiful island is a must-do on your South Australia itinerary.

Sparkling cerulean seas, pristine beaches, rugged coastal scenery, fascinating rock formations, caves, and close-up encounters with charismatic wildlife are the prime attractions. Besides its namesake marsupial, you can see koalas, seals, penguins, sea lions, and a diversity of birds in their natural habitat. Scuba divers frequently spot sea dragons in the crystal-clear temperate waters, and many wrecks lie sunken offshore.

In Flanders Chase National Park, the wind-sculpted boulders of the Remarkable Rocks and the eroded curve of Admiral’s Arch are striking geographical features. The island is also known for its bounty of fresh produce including fresh seafood, free-range eggs, and Silurian honey. To get here, you can fly direct to the island from Adelaide, or hop aboard a ferry from Cape Jervis on the Fleur Peninsula.

2. Adelaide

Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, is Australia’s fifth-largest city and one of its most charming. Parks and gardens punctuate the city, and venerable 19th-century buildings stand proud amid the burgeoning high-rises in the city center.

Popular Adelaide attractions include the cultural precinct of North Terrace with its museums, galleries, and carefully preserved historic gems; the Adelaide Central Market, a shopping institution; and the impressive line-up of performances and events at the Adelaide Festival Center.

If you have time during your visit, try to catch a cricket match or AFL game at Adelaide oval, which has played host to a wide range of Aussie sports since the late 1800s.

For a change of scenery, hop aboard the tram to Glenn from Victoria Square to swim, sail, and soak up the seaside ambience, or venture into the beautiful bush-covered hills of the Mount Lofty Ranges (Adelaide Hills).

3. Barbarossa Valley

The Barbarossa Valley, about an hour drive from Adelaide, is a favorite day trip from the capital. Blessed with fertile soils, this verdant valley is one of Australia’s oldest grape-growing regions and a haven for foodies, who are lured by the high-quality fresh produce and artisan foods. German and English immigrants originally settled the valley, and their history and culture is still palpable today in the historic buildings, heritage trails, museums, and European-style cuisine.

In addition to all the historic attractions, the region offers plenty of other diversions. You can shop at the popular farmers markets, attend cookery schools, feast at the fabulous restaurants, relax at the day spas, and browse the many gift shops and art galleries.

4. Clare Valley

Along with the Barbarossa Valley, the Clare Valley is another famous Australian grape-growing region, about 136 kilometers north of Adelaide. Picturesque pastoral landscapes provide a perfect setting for romantic weekend retreats, and the region is known for its flourishing gourmet food culture. Polish, English, and Irish immigrants originally settled the valley, and their culture and customs are still evident in the charming heritage towns and historic blue stone buildings.

In the main town of Clare, named after County Clare in Ireland, you can explore the region’s history in the town’s museum, housed in a mid-19th century courthouse, or visit nearby Seven hill, named for its rolling countryside reminiscent of the hills around Rome. From here, you can take the scenic drive to Polish Hills River Valley, explore the region’s history in the Polish Church Museum, or bike the old railway route.

From 1845 to 1877 copper mining brought prosperity to the area around Berra, which has preserved its rich history in mine buildings, stone dwellings, and museums along Burr’s Heritage Passport Trail. The English-style heritage town of Min taro is home to Martin dale Hall, a Neoclassical mansion that is now a hotel.

Popular things to do in the Clare Valley include exploring the beautiful Skelly Hills; dining at the excellent cafés and restaurants; and browsing the local markets, gift shops, and art galleries. Each year in May, foodies flock here for the annual Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend, a celebration of the region’s abundant fresh produce.

5. Flanders Ranges

Named for famous explorer Matthew Flanders, the Flanders Ranges are a delight for nature lovers, photographers, and artists. In the shifting light of day, the arid landscapes provide a striking play of colors—from pale pink and gold to burnt orange. Despite the dry conditions, the area is home to a surprising abundance of wildlife (emus, yellow-footed rock wallabies, and flocks of brilliantly colored parrots inhabit the region).

The mountains run from north to south through the eastern part of South Australia, stretching northward for 400 kilometers into the scorched Outback. In Flanders Ranges National Park, the most scenic area of the region, a rich growth of vegetation cloaks the sheltered valleys, and wild flowers carpet the parched earth in spring. Top attractions here include the natural amphitheater of Wilden Pound with St. Mary’s Peak at its highest point, Aboriginal art at Kangaroo Rock, fossils, and part of the long-distance Hey sen Trail named for the famous German-born Australian artist, Hans Hey sen.

6. Fleur Peninsula

The picturesque Fleur Peninsula, a spur of land projecting southwest from the Mount Lofty Ranges, is a playground for many activities such as fishing, boating, bush walking, whale watching, surfing, and swimming—just to name a few. Top tourist attractions include the beautiful scenery, wildlife reserves, and superb beaches like the sheltered sandy inlets in Gulf St. Vincent. Victor Harbor is one of the most popular beach resorts on the peninsula. Connected by a long causeway, Granite Island, protects it from the turbulent Southern Ocean and is a haven for kangaroos and penguins.

On the narrow channel at the outlet of Lake Alexandrina, into which the Murray River flows, the rapidly growing resort of Goolagong was known as the New Orleans of Australia in its heyday because of the numerous paddle steamers plying the river. Off Goolagong, Hind marsh Island is a favorite haunt of birdwatchers.

Other popular stops on the peninsula include the surfing hotpot of Port Elliot and the vine-draped hills of Clarence Vale, a prime grape-growing region. From Cape Jervis, at the tip of the peninsula, tourists can hop aboard a ferry service to Kangaroo Island.

7. Eyre Peninsula

Rimmed by a rugged and ravishing coastline of cliffs and sheltered beaches, the triangular-shaped Eyre Peninsula is one of Australia’s least crowded coastal stretches, and one of its most beautiful. It is located east of the Great Australian Bight, and cage diving with great white sharks scores top billing on the list of tourist adventures. You can also snorkel with giant cuttlefish near Wallah, or swim with balletic sea lions at Baird Bay. Whale watching is another popular activity during May through October, when southern right whales migrate along the Great Australian Bight Marine Park.

Coffin Bay is known for its superb seafood and stunning national park. Occupying the southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula, Lincoln National Park offers spectacular scenery with rugged cliffs and abundant birds, while Port Lincoln is becoming an increasingly popular holiday resort. Its fishing fleet, the largest in Australia, produces some of the country’s best seafood.

Inland, you can explore the bush land and wildlife of the Brawler Ranges or venture into the outback across the legendary Null arbor Plain for a serious 4WD adventure through the scorched desert.

8. Murray River

Australia’s longest river, the mighty Murray flows from its source in the New South Wales Alps to the Southern Ocean in South Australia. Sandstone cliffs and tall eucalyptus trees fringe the river, and its wetlands are important habitats for many water birds. Once home to the Gerrymandering and Orangutan people, today the river irrigates a vast citrus-growing industry and agricultural region and provides a wealth of water-based activities, from fishing, boating, water-skiing, and swimming to gliding along on a paddle steamer.

Peppered with colorful gardens and fragrant roses, the riverside town of Remark lies at the point where the states of South Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria meet and is home to huge plantations of citrus fruits. From here, you can tour the Olive wood Historic Homestead and Museum, organize a river cruise, or hire a houseboat.

Another popular place to visit is Lox ton, the “garden city” of the River land region, with galleries and historical sites. Here, on the banks of the river, the Historical Village takes visitors back in time with its faithfully recreated late-19th century buildings and artifacts. Northwest of Lox ton, the little town of Friederike is a popular spot for gliding and offers a pretty cliff-top walk.

9. Mount Gamier

Along the Limestone Coast, Mount Gamier is an extinct volcano with four beautiful crater lakes, as well as sinkholes and gardens. A curious natural phenomenon occurs on the Blue Lake annually in November, when the color of the lake transforms from dull gray to a brilliant cobalt blue. A scenic drive with spectacular views runs round the crater.

While you’re in the area, stop by the McPherson Sinkhole. Created when the roof of a cave collapsed, this popular tourist attraction was transformed into a beautiful “sunken garden” by James McPherson in the 1880s. Ferns, hot pink hydrangeas, and calla lilies flourish in the gardens, and lush plants cascade over the lip of the sinkhole, imbuing the space with a magical feel. In the evenings, lights illuminate the gardens, and friendly possums congregate here looking for a meal.

South of Mount Gamier, you can explore South Australia’s only World Heritage Site, Coordinate Caves, with fascinating fossils, colonies of bats, and haunting subterranean scenery. Other attractions on the Limestone Coast include the bird-rich lagoons and coastal dunes of the Coroner, a chain of lagoons and salt lakes between Lake Alexandrina and the sea; the grape-growing region of Cookware; pretty Beach port, a former whaling station; and the historic beach resort of Robe.

10. Inness National Park, Yorke Peninsula

Sitting at the tip of the spectacular Yorke Peninsula, about a three-hour drive from Adelaide, remote Inness National Park is an under-rated and refreshingly uncrowded raw slice of nature. If you look at a South Australia map, the Yorke Peninsula is the boot-shaped claw of land jutting out to the west of Adelaide, and it makes a wonderful weekend getaway from the capital.

Rugged seascapes, wildlife, and windswept white-sand beaches lapped by dazzling blue seas are the prime attractions. You can explore the park on hiking trails or by car, stopping at the empty beaches along the way. Popular things to do include surfing the remote breaks, camping, boating, fishing off the ravishing beaches, and scuba diving the many wrecks scattered along this tempestuous stretch of coast. To learn more about the region’s fascinating shipwreck history, visit the rusted hull of the Ethel, and follow the maritime interpretive trail along the coast.

Wildlife is abundant. Emus and kangaroos are among the most frequently spotted animals in the park, and you might also spot southern right whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions off the coast. The park is also home to more than 150 species of birds, including ospreys, malleable, and hooded plovers.

11. Coober Pedy

The opal-mining town of Cooper Hedy lies in the heart of the South Australian outback. The name of the town comes from an Aboriginal phrase meaning “white fellows in a hole,” since most of the inhabitants live in underground dwellings (dugouts) to escape the fierce heat of summer and the extreme cold of winter.

In 1911, gold miners found valuable white opals here. Since then, opal mining has converted the desolate countryside round Coober Pedy into a lunar-like landscape. You can still try your luck looking for these preadolescent beauties after obtaining a prospecting permit from the Mines Department in Cooper Hedy. The Old Timers Mine and Museum displays exhibits on the history of prospecting for precious stones. Sightseers can also tour underground homes and the subterranean Catacomb Church.

Tourist places in Queensland

Queensland, “the Sunshine State,” is Australia’s most popular vacation destination. Golden beaches, idyllic tropical islands, fantastic surf breaks, World Heritage-listed rain forests, rivers, reefs, and waterfalls are just some of the state’s natural jewels. And all of these sun-soaked settings offer exhilarating outdoor adventures. The dazzling Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef offer superb diving and snorkeling. Fraser Island is a favorite four-wheel-driving adventure, and the wilderness areas along the Queensland coast are excellent for hiking, biking, boating, and fishing.

For a change of pace, Queensland’s capital, Brisbane, delivers big-city attractions with a small-town feel. South of Brisbane lies the glitzy Gold Coast with its hedonism and high rises. Traveling north along the coast from the capital, you can explore a string of holiday resorts, from sleepy beach towns and rain forest villages, to picturesque Port Douglas, and the tropical tourist-magnet of Cairns. Find the best places to visit in this sunny state with our list of top attractions in Queensland.

1. Great Barrier Reef

It’s difficult to overstate the beauty and ecological importance of this World Heritage-listed natural wonder. This is the planet’s largest living structure, and it’s so vast, you can see it from space. Much of the reef lies within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which extends off the northern coast of Queensland, from McKay to the northeastern corner of Australia. The park itself is about half the size of Texas and protects more than 3,000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands, 300 coral cays, and a patchwork of mangrove islands.

The reef’s astounding diversity of marine life lures divers and snorkelers from around the world. More than 1,600 species of tropical fish inhabit the reef, as well as sharks, gongs, dolphins, turtles, giant clams, and kaleidoscopic soft and hard corals. Underwater viewing stations and glass bottom boats also offer a window into this underwater wonderland.

On the mainland, Cairns, Port Douglas, and Arlie Beach are the main launching points for tours. Alternatively, you can stay at one of the resort islands within the marine park. The Whitsunday Islands offer many popular attractions and accommodation options and make a great base to explore the reef. Remote Lizard Island, the park’s most northerly island, is famous for its exclusive resort, and Lady Elliot Island, the reef’s southernmost coral cay, is home to a popular Eco-resort.

2. Cairns

In a superb location, between the Great Barrier Reef and the dark hills of the Atherton Tableland, Cairns is one of the most popular tourist towns in Far North Queensland and makes a great base to explore the best of Queensland. It’s a friendly, laid-back town, with palm-fringed streets, large parks, and colorful gardens. Beautiful beaches radiate out along the coast from Trinity Bay and Palm Cove to Port Douglas, and the five-kilometer-long Cairns Esplanade runs along the bay, with a saltwater swimming lagoon and free water-themed playground for young children.

Cairns is an excellent base for day trips. It’s one of the most popular launching points for excursions to the Great Barrier Reef, as well as tropical islands such as Green Island and Fitzroy Island. The Atherton Tableland to the southwest is another popular day trip destination, where you can explore rain forest reserves, waterfalls, and the charming attractions in the mountain village of Randa. The Randa Scenic Railway or the Sky rail cable-way offers spectacular views over the surrounding countryside and the World Heritage-listed rain forests of Barron Gorge National Park.

Other top things to do in Cairns include visiting the Flecker Botanic Gardens, with more than 100 species of palms, and learning about the region’s history at Cairns Museum.

3. Take a Safari through Daintiness National Park and Cape Tribulation

A Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, Daintiness National Park is the planet’s oldest surviving rain forest and harbors one of the world’s highest concentrations of threatened and endangered species. Located in Far North Queensland, the two main sections of the park include the crystal-clear waters and lush forests of Moss man Gorge, as well as Cape Tribulation, where tropical rain forest fringes the reef-splotched shores of the Coral Sea. More than 18,000 plant species as well as a fascinating array of wildlife live within the park, including the flightless southern cassowaries (ostrich-sized birds); crocodiles; Boyd’s rain-forest dragons; brightly hued azure kingfishers; spotted caucuses; and musky rat-kangaroos.

The best way to explore this area is on a guided safari. Many companies offer tours on amphibious vehicles and include rain forest hikes and tropical fruit tastings. However, you can also take a self-drive tour. Other popular things to do include zip lining through the rain forest, horseback riding, swimming at Moss man Gorge, looking for cassowaries along the Malinda Boardwalk, and hiking the many other rain forest trails.

Just south of the park, the resort town of Port Douglas is a popular base for arranging rain forest wilderness safaris. This area is one of the best places to visit in Queensland in winter, during the dry season.

4. Go Four-Wheel-Driving on Fraser Island

Between Abundance and Brisbane, World Heritage-listed Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. Four-wheel drive adventures here explore wide windswept beaches, crystal-clear lakes and streams, dingoes, dense forests, sacred aboriginal sites, and multi-hued rock formations. Seventy Five Mile Beach is the island’s main thoroughfare and provides access to attractions such as the rusted hull of the Menorah shipwreck, the bubbling rock pools of Champagne Pools, Eli Creek, and the colored sandstone cliffs of The Pinnacles. Tiger sharks, dolphins, and whales swim in the wind-whipped waters, and the island’s fauna includes Australia’s purest strain of dingo and more than 300 species of birds.

Top things to do inland include swimming in the aquamarine Lake McKenzie; exploring the rain forest trails of Central Station; and visiting Lake Abby, backed by a towering sand dune.

The most popular access point for tours to Fraser Island is Hervey Bay, where car and passenger ferries, as well as organized 4WD Fraser Island Tours, depart daily. Hervey Bay is also one of Australia’s best fishing destinations, and it’s a fantastic place for whale watching cruises during the winter months, when humpback whales come here to give birth and nurse their young.

5. Whitsunday Islands

Off the coast of central Queensland, the Whitsunday group encompasses 74 stunning islands strung along the Great Barrier Reef. The Whitsundays are continental islands, the summits of a coastal range emerging from the sea. All but five of them have been declared national parks, and about eight are home to popular resorts.

The most famous resorts include luxurious Hyman Island; tiny Daydream Resort & Spa; Palm Bay Resort on beautiful Long Island, with access to 13 kilometers of walking tracks; and well-developed Hamilton, the largest of the island resorts. In 2019, both Daydream Resort and Hyman Island will re-open after massive renovations following Cyclone Debbie in 2017.

On uninhabited Whitsunday Island, White haven Beach, with its powdery white sands and turquoise water, is one of the most beautiful beaches in Australia. Arlie Beach and Chute Harbor are the main launching points for island excursions.

6. Editor’s Pick Port Douglas

Dotted with palms and mango trees, the once-sleepy village of Port Douglas is now a charming holiday resort and a popular base for wilderness safaris and reef trips. This picturesque town lies about an hour’s drive north of Cairns, along a scenic coastal road, which winds between beaches and rain-forest-cloaked hills. It’s the closest mainland town to the Great Barrier Reef.

Skirting the beautiful blond sweep of Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas has a relaxed tropical vibe, with cute cafes, shops, and art galleries. From the Flagstaff Hill Lookout enjoy breathtaking views of the palm-fringed beach merging with the turquoise Coral Sea.

Top tourist attractions include the Wildlife Habitat and the Bally Hooley Sugar Train, an old steam engine chugging through the cane fields to the sugar mill at Moss man. Other adventures on offer include safaris in all-terrain vehicles to Daintiness National Park and Cape Tribulation, fishing trips, northbound expeditions through the rugged landscape of the Cape York Peninsula, and boat trips to Cook town and the Great Barrier Reef.

7. Randa

A trip to Randa, a charming rain forest village on the Atherton Tableland, is as much about the journey as the destination. From just outside of Cairns, you can take the Sky rail Rain forest Cable way and fly over World Heritage-listed rain forests and the beautiful Barron River and Gorge. Alternatively, the Randa Scenic Railway chugs through the rain forest past rugged peaks and waterfalls. The journey ends in the little station at Randa, about 25 kilometers northwest of Cairns, which is almost hidden by tropical plants and palms.

Karaganda’s main attractions are its artsy shops and colorful market selling souvenirs and local crafts, as well as several nature parks and animal sanctuaries, including the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Bird world, Randa Koala Gardens, and Rain forestation Nature Park.

Walks can be arranged on request from Randa to the wildly romantic Barron Gorge National Park. At Japura Aboriginal Cultural Park by the Carnivora Lakes, you can learn about Aboriginal culture and enjoy frequent native dance performances. Travelers wishing to take the scenic self-drive route to Randa will also enjoy the journey.

8. Noose Heads and the Sunshine Coast

Stretching from Campground to Noose Heads, the Sunshine Coast is one of the most popular places to visit on vacation in Southeast Queensland. It’s also a popular holiday spot for Aussies, only about two hours north of the glittery Gold Coast but seemingly a world away. The scenery here ranges from peaceful, cliff-fringed bays and quiet coastal rivers to beautiful bush land laced with hiking trails.

Noose Heads is one of the most popular resort areas, with plenty of attractions for the whole family. Make sure you save time to bask on Main Beach and hike the trails of Noose National Park, where sleepy koalas slouch in the eucalyptus trees. Surfing is also one of the most popular things to do in Southeast Queensland, and almost all of the Sunshine Coast beach towns have their own excellent surf breaks.

A short drive from Noose, you can shop at the popular Saturday Edmund Markets, and south of Noose lie the smaller beach resorts of Cool um Beach, Peregrine Beach, and Sunshine Beach, all with fantastic swimming and surfing. In the hinterland, you can explore Glass House Mountains National Park, a cluster of volcanic plugs rising out of the coastal plain, as well as the charming mountain villages of Monticello and Manley. Hydrochloride is the region’s bustling commercial center and the location of the Sunshine Coast airport.

9. The Gold Coast

The Gold Coast is one of Australia’s best-known holiday regions. During the last few decades, a building boom transformed the coast into a kind of tropical Las Vegas, with skyscrapers and shopping malls stretching from South port in the north to Coolant in the south. Packed with attractions and high-rise hotels, Surfers Paradise — “Surfers” for short — is a tourist magnet, legendary for its alliterative assets: sun, surf, and sand. But it’s easy to escape the crowds in the surrounding wilderness areas or on the outlying beaches.

Despite Surfers Paradise’s reputation for hedonism, you’ll find plenty of Queensland attractions for families in the region. South of Surfers Paradise, kids love Curriculum Wildlife Sanctuary, and Movie World, where old film sets have been recreated by Warner Bros. To the north, in South port, you can see your favorite marine creatures at Sea World. Not surprisingly, swimming, sunbathing, and surfing are popular things to do on Queensland’s Gold Coast, and nature lovers will find plenty of attractions to explore.

Excellent networks of roads lead to scenic lookouts in the hinterland, where many wilderness areas are within easy reach, including popular Laming ton National Park. To visit the Gold Coast, you can fly into Coolant airport, near the Queensland-New South Wales border.

10. Laming ton National Park

About a two-hour drive south of Brisbane, Laming ton National Park is a World Heritage Area and one of the state’s most popular national parks. Located on the Laming ton Plateau of the McPherson Range, amid the remnants of an ancient volcano, the park contains spectacular scenery, with steep gorges, more than 500 waterfalls, tropical and subtropical rain-forests, and beech forests in the higher elevations.

Nature buffs will be in heaven here. More than 190 species of birds live in the park, including bower birds and colorful flocks of parrots. Red-necked watermelons, a small kangaroo-like marsupial, frolic at the rain forest fringes, and the shy platypus swims in the park’s river rock pools. Laming ton National Park is also a haven for hikers with more than 150 kilometers of walking trails.

11. Townsville and Magnetic Island

Brownsville, the largest tropical town in Australia, is an excellent base for excursions and tours, particularly to beautiful Magnetic Island and the Great Barrier Reef. The town lies on Cleveland Bay at the foot of Castle Hill, a 300-meter-high granite crag. Walking tracks lead to its peak with panoramic views over the town and sea. But perhaps the best place to start exploring the city is the Strand. Strolling along this scenic waterfront promenade, you can take a dip at one of the swimming areas, soak up some of the region’s history at Muezzin Barracks, enjoy a picnic in a park, or dine at a nearby cafe.

Apart from the picturesque waterfront, Brownsville owes much of its charm to its many parks and private gardens filled with luxuriant tropical flowers. While you’re here, be sure to take a stroll through the Queen’s Gardens, Brownsville’s oldest botanical garden, and Brownsville Palmetto, with the world’s largest collection of palms. Families will find plenty of kid-friendly attractions. Pack a picnic and head to River way, with its pretty riverfront parkland, walking and biking trails, art exhibits, and free swimming pools, and if you’re interested in the local aquatic life, Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium features an underwater tunnel where you can view the coral reef and marine life up close. Other popular things to do include visiting the Museum of Tropical Queensland and diving the SS Yon gala wreck.

12. Brisbane

Brisbane

Brisbane, Australia’s third largest city and the capital of Queensland, offers a more relaxed pace than the larger capitals in the country’s southeast and makes a great base to explore Queensland. The city straddles the Brisbane River and is bounded on the east by the sea and on the west by the Great Dividing Range. Visitors love the city’s sunny climate and its luxuriant parks and gardens. Top things to do in Brisbane include strolling around the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mt Coot-they, with more than 2,000 species of plants, and visiting Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, one of the few places where you can touch and feed koalas.

Family-friendly South Bank Park lands features riverside walking and biking trails, lush gardens, shops, and restaurants. River cruises are also popular. One of Brisbane’s best known tourist attractions is the Kookaburra Queen, an old paddle steamer, which cruises down the Brisbane River, and the River Life Adventure Center offers Adrenalin-fueled water sports on the river. Other things to see and do include shopping at the Queen Street Mall, climbing the Story Bridge, exploring the exhibits at the kid-friendly Queensland Museum, browsing the Gallery of Modern Art, and enjoying beautiful city views from Mt Coot-they Lookout.

Brisbane is also a great jumping-off point for a range of rewarding day trips that showcase the best of Queensland, from island getaways to wildlife-rich national parks, the famous Australia Zoo, and family-friendly theme parks.

13. Australia Zoo

Made famous by the late Steve Irwin, the charismatic crock-loving Aussie conservationist, Australia Zoo is one of Queensland’s best loved family attractions. An easy day trip from Brisbane, the zoo has a strong focus on education and conservation. As well as Aussie favorites like kangaroos, koalas, emus, dingoes, and, yes, crocus, you can also see exotic animal species, including Sumatran tigers, rhinos, marketeers, zebras, giraffes, cheetahs, and elephants.

Colosseum performances are a great way to learn more about some of the fascinating creatures that call the zoo home, including birds of prey, snakes, and the venue’s namesake crocodiles. You can also ride a camel, feed a kangaroo or red panda, and cuddle a koala. The zoo is spread out over 110 acres, so make sure you wear your walking shoes.

14. Explore the Cape York Peninsula & the Torres Strait Islands

Remote, rugged, and rich in aboriginal history, the “trip to the tip” of Cape York Peninsula is one of Australia’s epic road-trips. You can reach some of the top Cape York destinations on a day trip from Cairns, including the historic settlement of Cook town and the wildlife-rich wetlands of Lakefield National Park, but to hit the northernmost tip of Australia, excellent planning and an off-road vehicle are essential. River crossings are part of the adventure, and in the far north, wet season deluges wash out the rudimentary roads, so travel must be tackled during the dry season, from May to October. Along the way, you’ll see jingly rain forests, wild mangrove-fringed beaches, sprawling Savannah, pre-filled rivers, ancient rock art, and fascinating aboriginal communities. North of Wei pa, it’s usually necessary to camp, and satellite phones are highly recommended.

If you’re not up for the planning and logistics of a self-drive tour of this wild, relatively unspoiled region, you can always take an organized tour or fly directly into one of the 274 Torres Strait Islands north of Cape York’s tip. Thursday Island is the main administrative center and a great place to learn about the culture of the Torres Strait islanders, while Horn Island reveals a fascinating military history. Private Rocco Island offers a unique glamping experience, and you can tour a pearl farm here and on Friday Island. Fishing charters off Wei pa are another popular way to explore this untamed coast.