Enormous, ancient and remote, Australia is a place like nowhere else in the world. This huge country-continent boasts mesmerising natural beauty, from the scorched red rocks of the Northern Territory to the unimaginably blue waters and snow white sands of the coast. It’s a country where old meets new, where the wildlife is exciting and exotic, and where modern cities burst with a vibrant yet laidback energy.
The sheer size of Australia – and the cost of travelling here – mean that it can be hard for visitors to decide where to go. There’s so much to see and do that narrowing it down can seem overwhelming.
So to help you out, here are some Australian travel tips and inspiration.
Unmissable places to go
Australia is so huge that you can spend months there and barely scratch the surface of what it has to offer – but here are some of the most unmissable tourist destinations.
It might not be the capital, but there’s no doubt that Sydney (located on the East Coast) is Australia’s first city. Sprawled across a series of beautiful beaches and harbours, Sydney is instantly appealing – and you need several days to even begin to discover everything that this modern metropolis has going for it.
As the city’s most famous landmark, the Sydney Opera House is a must-visit, and walking over the harbour bridge should also be on every traveller’s to-do list. In spite of the innovative buildings and soaring high-rises, there’s more history here than you may think, and the old stone walls and narrow lanes of the Rocks are reminders of Sydney’s colonial past.
In the daytime, Sydney’s beaches beckon. You can surf at Bondi, kick back at Manly, or escape the crowds at one of the eastern suburb beaches. If you fancy stretching your legs, you can make like a local and walk the popular coastal path that stretches from Bondi to Coogee, where you’ll be able to admire gorgeous sea views as you stroll.
When the sun sets, locals and visitors flock to the many bars and restaurants – and whether you’re into laidback beer gardens or trendy bars, you’re sure to find a watering hole to suit you. Sydney has become known for its excellent range of restaurants, and the city’s diverse communities ensure you can tuck into just about every imaginable cuisine.
But any visitor to Sydney needs to set time aside to see what’s outside of the city, too. If you’re looking for hiking and views, head to the stunning Blue Mountains, where you can marvel at the magnificent Three Sisters rock formation and thundering waterfalls. Alternatively, head to Ku-ring-gai Chase or Royal National Parks, where you can spot native wildlife.
To find out more about Sydney, head over to the official Australian travel website.
2. Fraser Island
If you’re drawn to beaches, you can’t visit Australia and not visit Fraser Island, which lies just off the East Coast. At over 75 miles long, Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island – and the only place where a rainforest has managed to grow right out of the powdery sand. The local Butchulla Aborigines call Fraser Island “K’gari” – “paradise” – and as soon as you lay eyes on it you’ll see why.
Carved by wind and surf, this is an island of impossibly white sand, crystalline turquoise waters, dense and ancient forests, dramatic sand dunes, and sparkling freshwater lakes. It’s wild and rugged, and utterly otherworldly – although it’s just a 50-minute ferry ride from Hervey Bay (which is the humpback whale-watching capital of the world).
Though you might be lucky enough to spot whales on the journey over, Fraser Island itself is home to bountiful wildlife. Its most famous residents are the dingoes, but there are all kinds of birds to spot here too. The water also teems with marine life including dugongs, dolphins, manta rays, sharks, and humpback whales.
While the azure seas here look tempting, the prevalence of sharks and jellyfish, as well as strong rip tides, mean that sea swimming is strongly advised against. Luckily, there are plenty of safer spots to swim on the island. You can cool off in bright blue Lake McKenzie, drift down Eli Creek, or splash in the Champagne Pools rock pools.
To find out more about visiting Fraser Island, head over to the official Australian travel website.
3. The Northern Territory
If you’re interested in learning more about Australia’s Aborigine heritage and exploring some of its most jaw-droppingly spectacular scenery, then you’ll want to head to the Northern Territory. Just the name conjures up images of wild bushland, and this bleakly beautiful part of the country certainly lives up to its remote reputation.
The Northern Territory is a self-governing territory that occupies the central and Northern regions of Australia. Though it covers a fifth of the continent, it’s home to just over 1% of the population. It’s in the Northern Territory that you can walk in the footsteps of the first people, and get a sense of the ancient history that pervades Australia. It’s also where you’ll find the true Outback.
Alice Springs is the gateway to the Northern Territory, and it’s from this town that most visitors explore the rest of the region…
The massive sandstone monolith Uluru is the main drawer for most travellers – and if you’re wondering whether it’s worth all the fuss, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Nothing can properly prepare you for the awe-inspiring size, grandeur, colour, and stillness of ‘the Rock’ – and gazing out at one of the world’s natural wonders is something you won’t ever forget.
Uluru (also known as Ayers rock) is located within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which is also home to Kata Tjuta – an equally mesmerising group of huge, rounded red rocks divided by narrow passages and valleys. Also in the Northern Territory is Litchfield National Park, where you can swim beneath waterfalls in the Tabletop Range plateau, hike in the bush, and spot local wildlife. Just keep an eye out for crocodiles!
If you’re into culture and history, head to the World Heritage-listed, Aboriginal-managed Kakadu National Park to visit ancient caves where the walls are covered in Aboriginal art dating back more than 20,000 years. And further south, you can explore a fascinating gorge complex in Nitmiluk National Park, and relax in thermal pools in Mataranka.
The outback is absolutely vast, and there are so many things to see and do in this region. To find out more about exploring the Northern Territory and outback, head over to the official tourism site.
Dynamic, cosmopolitan, and creative, Australia’s second city in the Southeastern region of the mainland is well worth a visit. Dubbed the most ‘European’ of all the Australian cities, Melbourne is known for its arts, sports, and style – and while it might lack the beautiful coastal setting that Sydney enjoys, there’s a good chance it might just become your favourite Australian city.
In the centre of the city, you’ll find the Central Business District (CBD) which is packed with art-deco skyscrapers and Victorian-era shops, restaurants, and bars. Melbourne is a city of culture, and no matter when you visit, there are all kinds of activities, art exhibitions, and music events happening.
While the city centre has its own appeal, Melbourne’s real charm lies in its suburbs – and the fact that they all feel so different is what makes the city so unique. From the quirky cafés and bars of the Northern suburbs like Fitzroy and Carlton to the sophisticated suburbs of South Yarra and Prahran, and the raw grittiness of Windsor and St Kilda, everyone will have their favourite.
Melbourne has one of the largest immigrant populations in the world, and the ethnic diversity is what makes the food here so special. You can tuck into exceptional international cuisine multiple times a day – from Greek to Italian and Lebanese to Vietnamese. The cafe culture here is part of Melbourne’s makeup, so be sure to stop off in the many artsy cafes throughout the city.
Ultimately, this is a city that’s made for leisurely wandering. You can look for treasures and trinkets at Queen Victoria Market, the largest open-air market in the southern hemisphere; immerse yourself in nature in the Royal Botanical Gardens; take a street art tour; or simply watch the sunset from the beach at St Kilda.
To find out more about exploring Melbourne, head over to the official Australian travel website.
5. The Great Barrier Reef
If you’re fascinated by the ocean, marine life, or you just enjoy swimming in warm blue waters and spotting colourful fish, then a visit to the Great Barrier Reef is a must. Stretching for almost 1,500 miles and comprising of 2,500 individual reefs, this underwater wonder is the biggest structure ever built by living creatures, and is so huge it’s visible from space.
For thousands of years, this mysterious underwater world has teemed with life and colour, providing shelter for small fish and marine animals while also creating feeding grounds for bigger predators. Beginning in Hervey Bay in Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef stretches all the way to the Southern tip of Papua New Guinea – but the city of Cairns is seen as the gateway to exploring this ecosystem.
There are many ways you can get up close to this living masterpiece – diving and snorkelling are just two of the most popular. You can take a seaplane over the natural wonder of Heart Reef, cruise along Agincourt Reef (which is home to 16 different dive sites), sail through the idyllic Whitsunday Islands or even sleep above the reef in a three-day boat tour.
If you’ve never been diving before, it’s not too late to learn – and there’s no better place in the world to discover the joys of scuba diving. You can get your PADI dive certification at dive schools all throughout Queensland, from Hervey Bay in the South and Cairns in the North.
To find out more about visiting the Great Barrier Reef, head over to the official website.
6. Western Australia
Though it covers an astounding one-third of the Australian continent, Western Australia manages to feel wonderfully remote. Hugely different from the touristy East Coast, this part of the country has its own unique identity – and its Aborigine culture is also far more visible than the rest of Australia. If you want to enjoy laidback living and intrepid exploration, there’s no better place.
The beating heart of Western Australia is its capital; Perth. Viewed as the world’s most isolated city, Perth boasts an easy-going ambience and near-permanent sunshine – and without the congestion and pollution that affects the Eastern cities, it’s a lovely place to kick back and relax. Home to a booming food and drink scene, it’s also got some pretty gorgeous beaches on its doorstep.
South of the city is the beautiful wine-growing region of Margaret River, and a little further afield is Pemberton, where you can hike through vast eucalyptus forests.
Then, at the Southern tip of Western Australia is the city of Albany, from where you can trek up the looming granite peaks of the Stirling Range mountains, which are some of the most botanically diverse environments in the world.
While it’s nowhere near as well known as the Great Barrier Reef, the Ningaloo Reef on the central coast is another world-class coral reef where you can enjoy exceptional diving and snorkelling. In the North, there’s Kimberly – a sparsely settled part of the country that’s viewed as Australia’s last frontier. If you’re dreaming of endless skies, vast red plains, glorious sunsets, and huge gorges, it’s unmissable.
To find out more about exploring Western Australia, head over to the Western Australia website.
Australia - some things to know before you go
So now you hopefully have an idea of where you want to go, here are some of the most useful travel tips to know before you go.
The wine regions are excellent
If you’re passionate about fine wine, you should definitely visit some wineries while on your travels. Australia is the fifth largest wine exporter in the world, and there are many excellent places in the country where you can go winery hopping.
In South Australia, you might want to head to Barossa Valley, about 40 miles north of Adelaide. Near Melbourne, there’s Yarra Valley, which is home to more than 80 wineries and is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Hunter Valley is northwest of Sydney and produces excellent Semillon and Shiraz. And finally, in Western Australia, Margaret River is home to over 200 wineries.
You should plan when you’ll visit
Australian weather has a reputation for always being hot and sunny, but it’s important to remember that because it’s such a huge country, it’s also very diverse. While the Northern parts of the country tend to be warm all year round, the South gets a lot colder, and the East can see its fair share of rain!
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Australia is from March to May or September to November; the weather is still pleasant then without being scorching, prices are lower, and tours, attractions and experiences aren’t as busy.
You’ll need a visa
No matter how long you’re planning to spend in the country, all visitors to Australia need to obtain a visa before travelling. Tourist visas can be applied for and paid for electronically, and usually take only a day or two to be processed. Fully vaccinated travellers can now apply for the eVisitor visa online.
There are no two ways around it – whether it’s accommodation, food, or activities – Australia is expensive. And that’s without factoring in the flights from the UK. Getting around the country isn’t cheap either, and unless you’re staying in one place, there will usually be long distances to cover.
While flying will save you lots of time, if you want to save the pennies, overland travel is much cheaper. Taking a coach from city to city is the cheapest way to see the country – although trains are a great way to get around too. While it’s more expensive than a coach, it’s greener, faster, and you’ll have the added benefit of seeing more of the country’s landscape on the way.
If you’re planning a long holiday, you might want to think about renting a campervan, which will get you from A to B while also giving you a cosy place to sleep.
In terms of accommodation, opt for B&Bs instead of hotels – or if you’re happy to cook your own meals, think about renting an Airbnb. Eating out in Australia isn’t cheap, so this is another great way to save money!
Take precautions in the sun
The sun is very strong in Australia, and it’s possible to get burned in mere minutes. You should always apply sunscreen before going out, even if it’s cloudy.
Due to Australia’s location and Earth’s orbit, the country is exposed to up to 15% more UV than Europe. Consequently, Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world – so it’s best to make like the locals and wear UV protection whenever you’re outside, and a hat when it’s sunny.
The sun and heat here make it even more important to stay properly hydrated, too, so make sure you pack plenty of water when you’re exploring.
Exotic, diverse, and almost unimaginably huge, the Land Down Under is like no other place in the world. Packed with fascinating wildlife, pristine beaches, cosmopolitan cities, and vast, remote stretches of wilderness, there’s so much to see and do.
Whether you want to walk beneath endless skies in the outback, marvel at the natural wonder of the Great Barrier Reef, unwind in Melbourne’s laidback cafes and bars, swim in the crystal clear waters of Fraser Island, or trek through gorgeous mountain ranges just outside Sydney, there’s something for everyone here. With so much going for it, Australia’s glorious sunshine is just an added bonus!