The sublime tranquility of the Blue Mountains is the perfect foil to the hustle and bustle of Sydney. Susan Hinchey checks in with an inspiring list of must-sees and dos in this magnificent part of Australia...
The Blue Mountains is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed region of outstanding natural beauty.
A two-hour drive west of Sydney will see you immersed in the mountains’ majestic world of towering eucalypt forests, dramatic gorges, mesmerising waterfalls and soaring sandstone escarpments. This ancient landscape is a microcosm of conservation and home to the Darug and Gundungurra First Peoples.
Discover charming mountain villages — each with its own style and character. Visit during autumn and spring and be amazed by the colours of the cool-climate gardens, while chilly winters give you the chance to curl up in front of log fires and enjoy Yulefest. At round 1,000 metres above sea-level, the cool mountain air is perfect for hiking in summer, and awesome outdoor adventures await!
Here are ten top things to do in the Blue Mountains.
1. Hike, hike and hike some more
From extreme climbs to gentle strolls, there are plenty of wonderful walking trails to choose from in the Blue Mountains. For easy 30-minute walks, visit the Three Sisters rock formation, Reid’s Plateau Circuit to view Katoomba Falls, and the Cathedral of Ferns circuit at Mount Wilson.
For the hardier soul, the Valley of the Waters 3.5-hour circuit at Wentworth Falls features a track cut into cliff faces, while the half-day Echo Point to Leura Cascades walk — via the Giant Stairway — is another memorable must-do.
2. Take in the views
If you’re not up for the energetic stuff, there are plenty of spots to simply stand and be inspired by the incredible beauty of the landscape before you. With its view of the Three Sisters, Echo Point is probably the most popular viewpoint. Go early or late to avoid the day trippers from Sydney.
You can escape the crowds completely by heading out to Sublime Point in Leura. This narrow rocky outcrop gives way to sheer cliffs on either side, and slipstreams of clouds throw dancing shadows across the vast valley in front of you.
View junkies will want to visit Scenic World in Katoomba. Climb aboard the Scenic Skyway cablecar that transports you between cliff tops, 270 metres above the bottom of the ravine. The Scenic Railway takes guests down into the Jamison Valley, and is the world’s steepest passenger rail service. It’s always a thrilling experience.
3. Go canyoning
Strap yourself in for canyoning tours where you’ll swim, jump, trek and abseil. A guided tour is the best way to get off the beaten track safely so check out companies that know the lay of the land, such as High n’ Wild Australian Adventures. Their Empress Canyon trip is a popular option.
4. Explore the Blue Mountains of yesteryear
It’s not hard to get a sense of what the Blue Mountains was like as a popular resort destination in the early 20th century. Take tea amidst the opulent surroundings of The Carrington Hotel in Katoomba or the old world-charm of Bygone Beautys in Leura, which also has a treasure trove of antiques, costume jewellery, and weird and wonderful curios for sale. The Victory Theatre Antique Centre at Blackheath offers yet more collectables from the era.
5. Get arty
Art lovers will find plenty to do in the mountains. Start by visiting the once highly controversial nudes at the Norman Lindsay Gallery at Faulconbridge, and the picturesque Falls Gallery set amongst an acre of stunning gardens at Wentworth Falls. Then discover the magic of metal at the unique Talisman Gallery at Hartley, which specialises in hand-crafted metal art and silver jewellery.
6. Enjoy the sound of music
There’s plenty for music lovers to do in the mountains. The historic Clarendon Guesthouse in Katoomba has a 100-seat theatre, and has staged performances by everyone from the Welsh Choir to Wendy Matthews. Check the website to see what’s on during your visit. The not-for-profit Blue Mountains Concert Society has been hosting musical events in Springwood for half a century and attracts high calibre classical performers.
7. Hit the mountain markets
Every weekend in the Blue Mountains is a market-goer’s nirvana. The first Sunday of the month hosts, appropriately, the Leura First Sunday Markets, as well as the Blackheath Community Market. Both attract up-cyclers and artisans. On the second Sunday of the month, meet candle makers and other creatives at the Winmalee Artisan Markets. You can treat your tastebuds to something special at the fresh and fantastic Blackheath Growers Market.
8. Savour some slow tastes
Cittaslow (pronounced ‘Chitta-slow’) is the Italian ‘slow-town’ movement, which recognises the unique culture, culinary scene and built environment of select small towns of less than 50,000 inhabitants. Katoomba has official Cittaslow status. Experience it by savouring every mouthful of the poached prunes with dark chocolate fudge at Darley’s Restaurant at the beautiful Lilianfels guesthouse, or the quail ragout and black-bean curry at Palette Dining. Both are located in Katoomba.
9. Meander through the region’s best gardens
The bold and the beautiful are celebrated at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mount Tomah. Wander over 30 hectares of accessible paths, past Wollemi Pines and 21,000 species of cool-climate plants.
If you time your visit for October, you’ll get to explore a number of private gardens that open their gates to visitors during the annual Leura Gardens Festival. Throughout spring, azaleas, lilacs and rhododendrons create a kaleidoscope of colour on every street.
10. Visit the glow-worm tunnel
The region has more than its fair share of mossy caves, disused mines and forgotten tunnels, and at Newnes Plateau north of Lithgow, you’ll find an abandoned railway tunnel that has become home to a ‘milky way’ of glow-worms. The 180-degree curve of the tunnel makes it pitch-dark. It’s the perfect residence for this curious creature, and the curious visitor is welcome to go and check it out.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten top things to do in the Blue Mountains? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Susan Hinchey is a freelance travel writer who, even as a teenager growing up in country New South Wales, knew she wanted to see the world. A couple of years out of high school Susan embarked on an eight-week European Contiki tour. Since then she has visited Alaska, Canada, Thailand, Vanuatu, Fiji, Greece, parts of North America, and Britain several times. Susan’s go-to getaway is a camping trip anywhere along the Australian coast. Her favourite travel moments have included sailing the Mediterranean and visiting Denali National Park in Alaska.