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Gold Coast travel guide, tours & things to do

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos.
Gold Coast travel guide
Gold Coast travel guide

The Gold Coast — better known by locals as ‘the Goldie’ — is considered by many to be the home of Australia’s best beaches.

The region is located an easy hour’s drive south of Brisbane in South East Queensland, and has long been known as a surfing hotspot. It offers a relaxed, laid-back vibe that attracts holidaymakers from across Australia and beyond. Some never leave! The Gold Coast is one of the fastest growing regions in the country, and welcomes around 12,000 new residents each year. It’s not hard to work out why given the great weather, spectacular coastline and endless attractions.

Enjoy this Gold Coast travel guide.

Gold Coast travel guide
Enjoy the Gold Coast’s fabulous theme parks. Image courtesy of Movie World

Need to know

  • Base yourself: Surfers Paradise, Broadbeach
  • Average hotel price per room/per night: AUD $130
  • Best breakfasts: Southport, Miami, Broadbeach
  • Great coffee: Marina Mirage, Broadbeach, Miami
  • Top spots for a beverage: Cavill Avenue, Broadbeach, Mermaid Beach
  • Must-dos: Beaches, theme parks, canal cruise, Lamington National Park tour, Mount Tamborine wine tour

Best times to visit the Gold Coast

The Gold Coast’s subtropical weather makes autumn a top time to visit. Dry days and low humidity are the norm. You can still enjoy a beach swim, as daytime temperatures average in the mid 20s.

From June to August ‘winter’ sets in. Enjoy cloud-free days with temperatures in the high teens to low 20s. You’ll need an extra layer in the evening.

During spring, temperatures gradually climb back into the mid 20s — cooled by gentle evening sea breezes. Summer is peak season. Prices and humidity spike as the mercury rises into the high 20s and low 30s. Beat the heat by escaping to the Hinterland.

Gold Coast travel guide
Gold Coast travel guide: Enjoy the region’s amazing beaches all year round. Image: Bigstock

Save on top Gold Coast attractions

Consider purchasing an Australia Multi-City Flexi Attractions Pass for your visit. You’ll save up to 40% on many of the top attractions and things to do listed in this Gold Coast travel guide. Choose a five or seven-attraction pass. Passes are valid for three months from the date of issue.

Gold Coast travel guide
Save up to 40% on Gold Coast attractions like Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary with an Australia Multi-City Flexi Attractions Pass.

Top cultural experiences on the Gold Coast

Every year around millions of tourists flock to the Goldie to enjoy some beach culture.

Start by taking a stroll along the Esplanade and beachfront at Surfers Paradise. You may meet some of the famous Meter Maids (and Meter Males!) along the way, who put money into expired parking meters rather than issuing infringement notices.

Surfers Paradise Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the coast. It’s a 3km sublime strip of golden sand that is patrolled by surf lifesavers 365 days a year. Remember to always swim between the red and yellow flags.

It’s quite a sight to look back from the beach towards the skyscrapers that line the Esplanade. The SkyPoint Observation Deck at Q1 Resort and Spa offers sweeping coastal vistas and a bird’s-eye view of the beach below.

Gold Coast travel guide
Gold Coast travel guide: Get a bird’s-eye view from the SkyPoint Observation Deck.

The options for how to spend the rest of your time on the Gold Coast are endless. Take a surfing lesson, go jet-boating, hold a koala at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, or experience the thrills at no less than four major theme parks: Sea World, Movie World, Wet’n’Wild and Dreamworld.

When the sun goes down, the fun continues. Enjoy an international stage show at The Star Gold Coast or perhaps saddle up for the Australian Outback Spectacular — which includes dinner and a fabulous show. For something a little different, Dracula’s Cabaret Restaurant has been spooking diners for decades. It’s a Gold Coast institution!

Gold Coast travel guide
Gold Coast travel guide: Sea World. Image: Bigstock

The Gold Coast for history lovers

Surfers Paradise was originally known as Elston.

What would later become the famous Surfers Paradise Hotel was opened by James Cavill in 1925, and from there, the region started to build a reputation as an entertainment hub. In the 30s the hotel began presenting a live cabaret show. It also opened the very famous Honeymoon Tower and the Bird Watchers Bar. There was even a small zoo.

The name Elston was officially changed to Surfers Paradise in 1933. However, it wasn’t until the late 50s that major development started to take hold along the Gold Coast strip. The Coast’s first ‘high-rise’ building — the ten-storey, now heritage-listed Kinkabool apartments — was built in 1959. It triggered a boom in the construction of holiday houses, motels and guesthouses. The St Tropez, Pink Poodle, Iluka and Apollo were some of the best-known buildings from that era, but the St Tropez on Orchid Avenue is the only one that remains.

Gold Coast travel guide
Pink Poodle. Image courtesy of Gold Coast Bulletin. Image: Mike Batterham

Over the decades, Surfers Paradise and neighbouring beachside suburbs gradually transformed into a major urban centre. Today the Gold Coast is Australia’s sixth largest city and home to more than 600,000 people.

Great places to eat on the Gold Coast

Vintage-style cafes are popping up all over the southern part of the Gold Coast.

Cottage-turned-cafe The Paddock Bakery in Miami serves arguably the best breaky on the Coast. You can enjoy your meal outside in the leafy garden, surrounded by a white picket fence.

Gold Coast travel guide
Gold Coast travel guide. Image courtesy of The Paddock Bakery

For lunch, why not visit Nobby Beach and try one of the many great cafes along the main strip.

Broadbeach has you spoilt for choice for dinner. Choose from modern Australian, Italian, Mexican and Indian to name a few. Koi Dining and Lounge Bar serves great modern Aussie and  fabulous cocktails. It will have you up and dancing on a Sunday afternoon to live music.

Broadbeach is also home to The Star Gold Coast, which has undergone a multi-million-dollar refurbishment in recent years. It’s now a world-class dining and entertainment precinct. The Darling luxury hotel opened in 2018, bringing a new level of opulence to the complex. Must-try dining experiences include hatted Japanese eatery Kiyomi — which offers an Izakaya-style menu and a wide list of beverages to match, and Cucina Vivo — which is setting a new standard on the Gold Coast for Italian cuisine. Enjoy al fresco dining and delicious menu options straight from the central wood-fired oven.

Gold Coast travel guide
Gold Coast travel guide: Kiyomi. Image courtesy of The Star Gold Coast

Located on The Star’s ground level, Garden Kitchen and Bar offers a quintessentially Queensland dining experience and another opportunity to eat outdoors. Enjoy fabulous local produce and seasonal specialities. Imperial at The Star serves up a delicious fusion of Cantonese and Mandarin culinary styles, while Food Quarter is a relaxed cafeteria.

Where to shop on the Gold Coast

There are lots of opportunities to shop up a storm on the Gold Coast.

The Coast’s main retail hub — Pacific Fair in Broadbeach — has recently been redeveloped and now bears the title of largest shopping centre in Queensland (and fourth largest in the country!). You’ll find all your favourite fashion brands under one roof.

If labels aren’t your thing, take a sunny stroll through The Village Markets in Burleigh Heads on a Sunday morning. You’re bound to find vintage and one-off pieces from local designers. It’s also a great spot for some people-watching.

Gold Coast travel guide
Gold Coast travel guide. Image courtesy of The Village Markets

Ways to relax on the Gold Coast

If you can drag yourself away from the beach, one of the most relaxing ways to explore the Gold Coast is by water.

Book a sightseeing cruise and enjoy a meander through the extensive network of canals. You’ll marvel at the multi-million dollar homes — some of which belong to some very famous Aussies!

If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the main tourist areas, make a break for the stunning hinterland. Mount Tamborine is getting quite a name for itself as a wine-producing region, and a wine tour takes away the hassle of driving.

O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park is another wonderful hinterland retreat. It’s located an hour’s drive from the coast. Take in the sweeping views from the large verandah at O’Reilly’s Mountain Cafe, while enjoying a coffee and freshly baked scone.

Alternatively, get right off the grid on a 4WD eco tour of the region.

Gold Coast travel guide
Gold Coast travel guide: Lamington National Park

Where to stay on the Gold Coast

Vibe Hotel Gold Coast

The buzz over the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games may have some to an end but the new-look Vibe Hotel Gold Coast (refurbished for the games) has only just begun providing chic and stylish accommodation in Surfers Paradise. The hotel is centrally located, and offers easy access to the Coast’s world-famous beaches, endless dining and shopping options, and vibrant nightlife.

Take a tour of the Vibe Hotel Gold Coast:

Take a sneak peek at the new-look Vibe Hotel Gold Coast – The Big Bus

We were thrilled recently to get a sneak peek at the new-look Vibe Hotel Gold Coast, and to put together this video preview. If you are looking for somewhere to stay on the ‘Goldie’, this centrally located Surfers Paradise accommodation option offers stylish rooms and suites, stunning views and a fabulous pool and recreation deck.

The wow factor kicks in the moment you walk into the foyer, and continues out onto the superb new recreation deck and swimming pool overlooking the Nerang River. Relax on stylish sun lounges or in a sun cabana, and order a drink from Curve Restaurant and Bar. The hotel has 199 rooms, and seven different room types. The Studio King and Sofa View offers some extra space and a kitchenette, while the Deluxe Suite King provides a top floor location with sweeping views and a full kitchen.

Do you have any tips to add to our Gold Coast travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Maxine Steinmetz

About the writer

Maxine Steinmetz was born and raised on the Gold Coast and now works as a radio journalist for Southern Cross Austereo on the Goldie. Maxine previously worked for Princess Cruise Lines, which took her far and wide — across Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. A true adventurer who loves to get off the beaten track, Maxine has also backpacked through Western Europe, and at the age of just 13, took the opportunity to study French as an exchange student in Tahiti. Wanderlust runs deep in her veins!


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