Townsville is the largest city in tropical Australia, and offers visitors access to a rich heritage of federation architecture, sophisticated restaurants, top accommodation options, an extensive calendar of events and superb shopping.
The city basks in more than 300 days of sunshine each year and is surrounded by myriad natural wonders, including the Great Barrier Reef, Magnetic Island, the lush Wet Tropics rainforest, and the rich colour palette of the Outback.
Enjoy this Townsville travel guide.
Need to know
Base yourself: City centre, The Strand, South Townsville
Average hotel price per room/per night: $140
Great breakfasts: Jam, The Ville Resort-Casino, Stone’s Throw cafe and Bar, Betty Blue & The Lemon Tart
Awesome coffee: Juliette’s The Strand & Gelateria, Specialty Coffee Trader
Top spots for a beverage: Crown on Palmer, The Taphouse, Townsville Brewery
Must-do tours: Great Barrier Reef day cruise, city tour, military history tour
Best times to visit
The tropical winter (April to November) is the best time to visit Townsville. Days are warm, nights are cool, and there is unlimited sunshine and very little rain.
December to March is hot and humid and there can be rain periods which last several days. The advantage of visiting at this time of the year is that accommodation prices are low.
Townsville tours & experiences
If museums, live theatre, local artisan and farmers’ markets, or visits to attractions are your style, then you’re spoilt for choice in Townsville.
Reef HQ allows you to explore the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet. The world’s largest coral reef aquarium is home to thousands of fish, sharks, and turtles and, of course, a wide range of living corals. A highlight for some will be a visit to the aquarium’s Turtle Hospital where sick and injured turtles are cared for.
Billabong Sanctuary encourages you to get in touch with your wild side. This picturesque area allows you to hold a koala, cuddle a wombat, smile at a crocodile or wrap a python around your neck. There are animal talks and feedings throughout the day.
There always seems to be a festival or event happening in and around Townsville. Some of the best are the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, Strand Ephemera: the North’s Sculpture Festival, the Townsville 400 Supercars, and Magnetic Island Race Week.
Castle Hill is the perfect place for visitors to orientate themselves. The hill is just metres from the CBD and there is vehicular access and a number of popular walking tracks. Lookouts at the top provide stunning panoramas of Townsville, Magnetic Island and the Coral Sea.
Townsville was founded in 1864 as a port, and is still a major import and export centre.
While education and research are seen as the major growth industries for the future, it’s not hard to get a sense of the city’s shipping and military past. Start by visiting the award-winning Museum of Tropical Queensland, where there’s a strong emphasis on maritime archaeology. The Maritime Museum of Townsville is another interesting option.
Next, head outdoors to the 15 hectare Jezzine Barracks precinct, which commemorates the military and Aboriginal heritage of the Kissing Point headland. The historic Quarantine Station is a highlight at Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park, while the Forts Walk on Magnetic Island leads to historic WWII fortifications and infrastructure. Lookouts along the way afford excellent views of the Palm Island Group and Bowling Green Bay National Park. Koalas are often seen in trees along the track. The walk culminates in 360 degree views from the top of the fortifications.
From award-winning fine dining to casual eats to suit every taste, Townsville offers an enviable range of cafes and restaurants.
You can enjoy Australia’s best breakfast at Jam on Palmer Street. That’s according to the Savour Australia Awards. Lunch and dinner are pretty amazing too, and this stylish eatery was awarded a 2018 Readers Choice Chef Hat by the Australian Good Food Guide (AGFG). While on Palmer Street, capture the essence of fine dining and international cuisine at Michels Restaurant or Ribs and Rumps.
Discover City Lane in the heart of the CBD. It’s a laneway bursting with dining options, New York-style flair, street art, funky decors and an atmosphere to match. Here you can travel the world without leaving town. Donna Bionda is an Italian restaurant, Sakana serves Japanese, Shaw and Co has burgers and more, while The Courtyard offers Americana-style street food. Also here is The Taphouse — North Queensland’s first self-pour craft beer bar.
For more chances to refresh with a locally brewed beverage or enjoy a great meal, head for the Townsville Brewery or the Cowboys Leagues Club in Flinders Street. Further east you’ll find an eclectic mix of restaurants, nightclubs, pubs and cocktail bars on Flinders Street East.
Over on The Strand, head to Rock Paper Scissors for some of the freshest fish and chips in town. Grab your order, take a seat and enjoy the stunning vista. Just watch out for the seagulls!
As North Queensland’s biggest urban centre, there’s no shortage of top things to do in Townsville that revolve around retail therapy.
Townsville is served by many of Australia’s popular department and chain stores but the real treats are in local boutique outlets. The Home Room in Gregory Street has locally crafted items like scented retro milk bottle candles or super cute sustainable bamboo tumblers for long-lasting memories of your Townsville visit.
The Strand Emporium on Flinders Street is a cool little coastal store with blue and white prints and seashell accents. Pop in for beach inspired decor, batik resort wear, accessories and homewares.
Stellar Moda on Palmer Street stocks edgy, bohemian and vintage styles from labels like Lucette, Kachel, Talulah and Mogil.
Magnetic Island, just 8km from Townsville, is a unique blend of national park, holiday paradise and small residential villages.
The island has some of the best beaches in Queensland, and the vibe is relaxed and friendly. Book a high speed catamaran transfer to and from the island. Once you’re there you can choose to jet ski, sail, skydive onto the beach, scuba dive, snorkel, fish, ride horses, play a round of golf or just relax in one of the many peaceful bays.
The Strand is Townsville’s thriving beach foreshore. There is a 2.5km walkway with spectacular views, restaurants and cafes, BBQs, the popular Water Park, the Rockpool and plenty of places to chill out under the palm trees.
Why not take advantage of the warm tropical waters and learn to scuba dive? There are several operators that can get you certified in just a few days. Experienced divers will also enjoy their time in Townsville. The Yongala wreck is considered Australia’s best dive site, and attracts seasoned divers from around the world.
Do you have any tips to add to our Townsville travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Len Rutledge has been travel writing for 40 years. During that time he has written thousands of newspaper articles, numerous magazine pieces, more than a thousand web reviews and around 35 travel guide books. He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others. He has lived in nine countries and currently resides in Townsville. Along the way Len started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV Guide and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award and other recognition. He is the author of the Experience Guides series of travel books — available as ebooks or paperbacks from amazon.com.
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