My husband and I lived in Australia for about four months. In that time, we traveled nearly every single weekend we had. We learned so much about history, culture, and traveling as well as experienced many once in a lifetime opportunities.
Australia is an incredible place. It has many similarities and differences to America. The similarities are what truly made it so easy to live and travel. The differences are what made it so fantastic to explore. Each city is so jam-packed with amazing things to do, sites to see, and culture to take in.
Our top tip for traveling Australia:
Before I get into our top places to see, I would like to take a minute to give you some advice I wish I knew before I left the United States.
When we first arrived in Australia, of course, we encountered some culture shock. The hardest part for me was living there without a car. Here in the United States, I drive my car nearly every day. To school, work, errands, hiking destinations… you name it! But when we arrived in Australia, the lack of a car was the number one cause of my anxiety. And on top of that, those Aussies drive on the wrong side! However, if I had done the proper research before arriving, this would not have been an issue whatsoever, and shouldn’t even be a thought to you either! You know why? TRAINS!
Australia has a quite impressive train system throughout the country! In fact, I can only think of three distinct instances where we used a car. In four months! AND the train system is fairly inexpensive with multiple free days! So, before you book your trip to Australia, do yourself a favor and research the amazing train system they have in the cities you wish to see. Try to do it at least a month in advance so you have plenty of time to receive your train card, such as the Opal Pass (which I HIGHLY recommend) if you choose that route.
Alright, now that that is over! Below, you will read about our top ten, must see locations!
1. Scuba Dive The Great Barrier Reef
This breathtaking wonder of the world is an absolute MUST SEE! You will be able to find numerous companies to take you out and see the beautiful reef. Many will also take you scuba diving (without a certification), we definitely took advantage of that!
Usually, companies will take you to multiple locations on the reef they know to be the least damaged. Be sure to go with a well-respected company to take care of you while you’re out on the water. We went with Passions of Paradise and were lucky enough to see three great reef areas: a shallow reef, deep reef, and reef island. This is one of many great companies that do tours, we had a fantastic time!
Tip: When you go, make sure to bring: sunscreen, sea sickness pills (even if you don’t get seasick, trust me…), an underwater camera (we used our Go Pro) and an extra change of clothes, just in case!
2. Explore the Streets of Sydney
There are so many things to see in Sydney! Sydney reminds me of a mix between Seattle and Manhattan. Museums, aquariums, trains, the Opera House, amusement parks, clubs, bustling streets, beautiful malls… Sydney has it all! You defiantly need more than one weekend to explore this great city! In fact, we traveled there four separate weekends!
Tip: If you have limited time, I would definitely recommend checking out: the Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Darling Harbour first! If you have more time, check out my top things to see in Sydney post!
3. Experience Culture in Cairns
Nestled on the coast of Queensland, Cairns is a gorgeous and lively city! Just outside of Cairns is a beautiful tropical jungle! This is another great place with numerous attractions: the Daintree National Park, AJ Hackett Bungy jump (what a rush!), the beach, many hot clubs and plenty of hiking areas!
Cairns is where we had the amazing opportunity to learn about the Australian Indigenous Culture at the Tjapukai Cultural Park. We learned how to throw a boomerang (MUCH harder than it looks), play the didgeridoo, and where we saw our first (but DEFINITELY not last) koalas and kangaroos.
Tip: Australia has a much higher risk of sunburns and skin cancer due to their thin ozone layer, even when it is cloudy be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen! And always use high SPF! When you’re at the beaches, lifeguards give it out for free if you are in need!
4. Examine Great Works of Art in Melbourne
Melbourne reminds me a lot of San Fransisco. This creative city is full of art and culture. We stayed in a small, boutique hotel just downtown near the train station and were able to explore quaint cafes each morning. There is so much to see you don’t even need transportation, most can just be done by foot!
Just outside of Melbourne is the Great Ocean Road, another famous destination (and rightly so)! This is a winding road that runs along the southern coast of Australia. We took the sunset tour and enjoyed every minute of it! We saw penguins on the sandy beaches and the marvelous twelve apostles. We went on a tour bus but you could definitely do the same trip with a car rental!
Tip: If you do anything in Melbourne, go see the Great Ocean Road! Depending on how far you want to drive, to see everything plan for a 6-10 hour trip.
5. Relax in the Quiet City of Hobart
Tasmania is an island state of Australia located just south of Melbourne. The climate is much colder than most of Australia and is filled with numerous hiking and adventuring hot spots.
In a southeastern bay of Tasmania in Hobart, a beautiful and quiet coastal town. Each Saturday you can venture to the Salamanca Market to find handcrafted gifts and treats to start your weekend right. You can also stroll by the waters to see the sailboats and beautiful architecture.
Tip: Try to stay in a hostel or hotel as close to the water as you can! At night, most of the shops and buildings light up with festivities and lights.
6. Attend a Ghost Tour of Port Arthur
Another amazing stop in Tasmania is Port Arthur. It is actually by a random chance that we visited Port Arthur and honestly, it was one of the best things that happened to us! We were walking around Hobart and landed in a small tour shop. We just glanced at the schedule and noticed their next tour was leaving within the hour. Without really knowing where the tour was going we quickly signed up, hopped on the bus, and left for the day!
Australia was originally colonized by the British to serve as a home for their criminals and prisoners back in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Port Arthur is home to one of those very first prisons.
The site itself has numerous buildings to explore. Much of the original infrastructure is still in place today! You can walk into old cells, the hospital, church, and numerous other interesting locations!
The specific guide that we went on (little did we know) was the ghost tour held at dusk. Definitely creepy, thrilling, and fun! We learned a lot about the original history of the place as well as haunting stories.
Tip: If you end up driving yourself to Port Arthur, be sure to stop by and see the Richmond Bridge on the way, it is the oldest stone bridge in Australia and lives up to its hype!
7. Explore the Caves and Amazing Hikes in the Blue Mountains
A quick hour and a half drive (or three-hour train ride) will take you straight into the Blue Mountains. There is so much to explore here! Our favorites were: the Three Sisters, Jenolan Caves, and the quiet streets of Katoomba.
The Three Sisters is possibly the most iconic location in the Blue Mountains. It is a rock formation of three weathered sandstone peaks. Near the three sisters is a plethora of hiking and viewpoint opportunities. There is also a wonderful information center.
Jenolan Caves is another amazing location to see. We learned about it from the locals and were definitely surprised by its beauty! This location is a series of underground caves with massive stalactite and stalagmite formations that you can walk through! As a geologist, I have gone through many caves and this is probably the largest and most beautiful cave system I have seen and been able to get so close to!
Tip: Got some extra cash on your trip? Check out Scenic World! Totally worth the money and quite the unique experience!
8. Go Wine Tasting in the Hunter Valley
The Hunter Valley is one of most gorgeous, historical, and popular winery locations… in the world! Many of the wineries in the valley have been established for over a hundred years!
You can find tours that will take you to numerous wineries for a pretty great price. As opposed to wine tastings in the states, here you will receive about a quarter of a wine glass for about ten different wines at each winery!
Our tour took us to about six different wineries, a cheese and chocolate shop, and a few other fun tourist stops along the way. We only paid for the tour itself and the price was incredibly reasonable.
Tip: Although there is no dress code, be sure to dress nicely, you will be in some very nice locations. Also, cell reception is not great but you can find WiFi at most places.
9. Gamble in Brisbane
Brisbane is an incredibly lively city with plenty to do! The most famous activity here is to either gamble or hit the beach.
There are plenty of beautiful casinos to visit here. But that is definitely not all! There are also beautiful malls and a fabulous beach nearby! We didn’t spend much time in the casinos but did explore the local shops, took a ride of the Ferris wheel, and watched some street performers.
Tip: Most of the casinos have strict dress codes, pack some fancy attire! We may or may not have been denied entry into multiple places…
10. Window Shop in Newcastle
Although Newcastle is last on this list, it is not last in my heart. Newcastle is where we lived while in Australia and there is defiantly a lot to see! The most famous and fun destinations include window shopping on Darby Street, Merewether Baths, Nobby’s Lighthouse, Newcastle Beach, Newcastle Ocean Baths, and the Newcastle Memorial Walk. And of course, I can’t forget the Hunter Wetlands Centre, seeing as that is where I worked!
Tip: Hop on a bike and ride along Bathers Way. This is a trail from Merewether Ocean Baths to Nobby’s Beach. Riding along this trail will let you see nearly all of the sites in one quick and easy ride! Also, Newcastle is just a quick hour train ride from Sydney Central Station!
Well, there you have it! My husband and I’s top Australian destinations! Of course, there are plenty of other destinations to check out in Australia, but from personal experience, these are the places we recommend the most. We had the absolute time of our lives traveling Australia and would do it again in a heartbeat! I hope that you have as much fun as we did!
Check out my favorite activities in Sydney!