Townsville is the largest city in tropical Australia, and offers visitors access to a rich trove of federation architecture, sophisticated restaurants, top accommodation options, an extensive calendar of events and superb shopping.
This bustling Queensland 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: AUD $140
Great breakfasts: Jam, StreetFront Cafe & Bar, Betty Blue + The Lemon Tart
Awesome coffee: Juliette’s, Hoi Polloi, MJ & Co Espresso Bar
Top spots for a beverage: The Taphouse, Townsville Brewery
Must-dos: Magnetic Island visit, military history tour
Best times to visit Townsville
The tropical winter (April to November) is the best time to visit Townsville. Days are warm, nights are cool, and there is 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.
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Top cultural things to do in Townsville
If festivals, galleries, museums or live theatre are your style, Townsville offers plenty that will keep you occupied.
But first, get a taste of the city’s coastal culture by taking a stroll on the Strand — a thriving 2.2-kilometre-long beachfront promenade. It offers wonderful vistas and comes complete with lush gardens, restaurants and cafes, BBQ facilities, the popular Strand Water Park, and plenty of places to chill out under the swaying palm trees.
Next, head up to the peak of Castle Hill. The hill is right next to the CBD and there is vehicular access and a number of walking tracks to the top. Enjoy stunning panoramas of Townsville, Magnetic Island and the Coral Sea. This is the perfect way for visitors to the region to orientate themselves.
The Perc Tucker Regional Gallery is the city’s premier arts space. Housed in a former bank building dating back to 1885, the gallery offers a diverse programme of local and touring exhibitions. It’s located right in the heart of town on Flinders Street.
The Townsville Civic Theatre hosts music, comedy, dance and theatre productions. Many major Australian performing arts companies tour here, as do international performers. Check the What’s On Townsville website for current and upcoming shows.
There always seems to be a festival or major event happening in and around Townsville. Some of the major ones are the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, Strand Ephemera (a biennial outdoor sculpture exhibition), the Townsville 400 Supercars, and Magnetic Island Race Week.
Townsville for history lovers
Townsville was founded in 1864 as a shipping 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 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.
Townsville is home to Australia’s largest defence base and has long been of strategic military importance to the country’s north. The 15-hectare Jezzine Barracks precinct commemorates the military and Aboriginal heritage of the Kissing Point headland, 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.
Great places to eat in Townsville
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). Also on Palmer Street, what’s billed as Australia’s ‘ultimate ribs experience’ awaits you at Ribs and Rumps.
City Lane in the heart of the CBD is a laneway precinct bursting with dining options, New York-style flair, street art, funky decors and an atmosphere to match. Here you can eat your way around the world without leaving town. Donna Bionda offers Italian cuisine and Sakana serves Japanese. Harri Dumpling does delicious dumplings, and Syros specialises in traditional Greek street food. Also check out The Taphouse — North Queensland’s first self-pour craft beer bar.
For more opportunities to refresh with a locally brewed beverage or enjoy a great meal, head for the Townsville Brewery (housed in the old Townsville Post Office) 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.
When only fresh fish and chips will do, make your way to Rock Paper Scissors on the Strand. Just watch out for the seagulls while you’re enjoying your meal!
Where to shop in Townsville
As North Queensland’s biggest urban centre, there’s no shortage of top spots to shop in Townsville.
The city is served by Australia’s most popular department and chain stores but the real retail treats are its local boutiques. The Home Room in Gregory Street offers locally crafted items like scented retro milk bottle candles or super cute sustainable bamboo tumblers. They’ll guarantee long-lasting memories of your Townsville visit.
The Strand Emporium on Flinders Street is a cool little store that does coastal chic. Browse for resort wear, and beach-inspired accessories and homewares.
Stellar Moda on Palmer Street stocks edgy, bohemian and vintage fashion styles from labels like Lucette, Kachel, Talulah and Mogil.
Ways to relax in Townsville
Magnetic Island — located just eight kilometres off the coast of Townsville — is a unique blend of national park, holiday paradise and residential community.
The island has some of the best beaches in Queensland, and the vibe is relaxed and friendly. Book a 20-minute ferry transfer to and from the island. Once you’re there, you can choose to jet ski, sail, scuba dive, snorkel, fish, ride horses, play a round of golf or just relax in one of the many peaceful coves.
For a taste of the magic of the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet, visit Townsville’s Reef HQ — the largest coral reef aquarium in the world. It’s home to thousands of fish, sharks and turtles, and of course, a wide variety of living corals. The aquarium’s Turtle Hospital cares for sick and injured animals.
To meet land-loving local wildlife, head out to Billabong Sanctuary. This fabulous wildlife park will see you holding a koala, cuddling a wombat, smiling at the odd crocodile and draping a python around your neck. There are animal presentations and feeding sessions throughout the day.
Finally, while you’re in Townsville, 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 leave a comment below.
Cover image courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland. Image: Ellie Bullen. 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. Len has lived in nine countries and currently resides in Townsville. 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.