Australia has countless cities and towns that offer visitors something special, and any list of twenty top destinations will only omit twenty more that are just as deserving of inclusion. But needs must! Start your research with this list of fabulous urbs.
Think of Australia’s first city and many iconic landmarks spring to mind: the magnificent harbour, Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, The Rocks historic precinct, Sydney Tower and a plethora of golden, soft-sand beaches. Cosmopolitan yet chilled, endlessly popular yet lacking pretension, the New South Wales capital attracts over 30 million visitors annually. There’s so much to see and do here, and whether you’re a culture vulture, a sand-surf-and-sun seeker, a foodie or fashionista, you’ll find a wealth of experiences on offer.
Chic, sophisticated and always on trend, Melbourne is a mecca for city slickers and is renowned as the country’s cultural capital. Browse the vast collections of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), The Ian Potter Centre (for contemporary art), Melbourne Museum, and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). Enjoy the Victorian capital’s thriving live music scene and packed calendar of festivals and elite sporting events. Shop ’til you drop, party at a plethora of trendy rooftop bars, then revive with the best damn coffee you’re likely to find anywhere on the planet. That’s Melbourne.
Nominated by Lonely Planet as one of the ten must-visit cities in the world in 2018, Canberra has stepped up to take its place among Australia’s top travel destinations. The purpose-built federal capital has changed beyond all recognition over the past three decades. What was once largely a bureaucratic enclave occupied by a transitory workforce, is now a dignified, refined and leafy city — home to 420,000 people and packed with world-class cultural institutions and monuments that reflect the country’s national pride.
Brisbane enjoys glorious sunshine for most of the year, but it’s not just the great weather that makes the Queensland capital such a fabulous place to visit. From an amazing arts scene and evolving laneway culture, to slick and sophisticated eateries, vibrant nightlife and world-class shopping — the River City has become one of Australia’s most dynamic travel destinations. Urban renewal projects like the South Bank Parklands and Howard Smith Wharves have revolutionised how the city engages with its eponymous river.
During the annual Adelaide Festival and Fringe, the South Australian capital fills with people and pop-ups. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking that Adelaide is only fun during festival season. There’s a huge amount to see and do throughout the year. A vibrant street art and street food scene has breathed new life into the urban landscape in recent years, while a small-bar revolution is enlivening the city’s nightlife. Add to that the sensational beaches, vineyards and wildlife viewing opportunities that are within easy reach, and you have all the makings of a top holiday.
Basking by the silky indigo waters of the Swan River, and blessed with an idyllic turquoise coastline, the natural beauty of Perth is unquestionable. However, the capital of vast Western Australia isn’t simply resting on its sun, surf and sand laurels. There’s been a strong push in recent years to bring quality entertainment, top notch dining, and cultural kudos to the city. The result is a captivating mix of innovative urban experiences and a revitalised CBD that has oodles to offer visitors. The state-of the-art WA Museum — Boola Bardip — has reopened after a four-year redevelopment process.
Tried booking a hotel in Hobart recently? Rooms are as rare as a hen’s dentures on weekends, so our first piece of advice is book early.It seems everyone wants a piece of the Tasmanian capital these days — and with good reason. A rich history to explore, revitalised cultural agenda, robust festival calendar, and sensational food and wine scene are just some of the many attractions. The city also makes a great base for exploring further afield, including stunning natural landscapes like Bruny Island and the Tasman Peninsula.
There are two things that hit you as you arrive at Darwin’s bustling airport — the heat and the relaxed vibe. Welcome to the Aussie city that’s closer to Bali than it is to any of Australia’s other key urban centres. As such, you’ll find things are done a little differently in the Northern Territory capital. P.S. The dress code is strictly boardies, Havianas and Akubra-style hats!
Sitting pretty in Tropical North Queensland, Cairns has undergone an extraordinary transformation in recent decades. What was once the last stop on an all-points east coast tour of Australia for visiting backpackers, is now a must-visit destination in its own right for a broad cross section of travellers — thanks in part to the city’s unique location on the edge of two of the world’s most iconic natural landscapes — the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree rainforest. It may be hot, but Cairns is one of the most chilled-out urban centres in the country and a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude imbues the lifestyle. However, with a raft of world-class attractions, eateries and shopping options on offer, the once-sleepy outpost is all grown up and impressively cosmopolitan.
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 and for its theme parks. 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 it’s not hard to work out why given the great weather, spectacular coastline and endless attractions.
South East Queensland’s Sunshine Coast lives up to its name with ease. Fringed with golden beaches and pristine coastline, and bathed in glorious sunshine for most of the year, the somewhat ‘quieter’ of the coasts either side of Brisbane attracts flocks of contented holiday makers. From family-friendly Coolum Beach and Mooloolaba, to up-and-coming dining destination Maroochydore and the tourist mecca that is Noosa, you’ll find a holiday option here to suit every taste and budget.
Fremantle is Western Australia’s colourful port city, where old meets new, the vibe is relaxed and easygoing, and you’re invited to come as you are and join the party! ‘Freo’ — as the locals call it — is often done as a day trip from Perth but it deserves a much more thorough visit. The city offers an incredibly rich colonial and maritime history to explore, along with a world-class culinary scene and an eclectic range of cultural experiences.
The sheer ancientness of the Kimberley in Western Australia’s far northwest becomes abundantly clear when you visit Broome. A climb down the red sandstone cliffs at Gantheaume Point at the lowest of tides reveals fossilised dinosaur tracks, believed to be well over 100 million years old. And that’s just one tiny piece of the vast Kimberley region. Broome is well known as the gateway to the Kimberley, but equally it’s a popular holiday destination in its own right. Amazing beaches, great food, an eclectic mix of local characters and a relaxed vibe are all part of this remote town’s charm.
Australia’s eighth-largest city is still a big country town at heart. That’s why Newcastle is such an appealing place to visit — especially as a short break destination from Sydney (driving time between the two cities is just 2.5 hours). Short distances, great walkability and a free public transport zone make Newcastle so easy to explore. Add in breathtaking beaches, intriguing history, a plethora of great cafes and restaurants, and a thriving contemporary arts scene, and you have all the makings of a fabulous holiday.
Alice Springs in the Northern Territory will forever occupy a special place in the hearts of all who visit. The city may look fairly low key at first glance, but be warned: it’s addictive. You’re likely to hear tales from ‘locals’ time and time again of how they arrived in Alice Springs on holiday and never left. Immortalised in Nevil Shute’s novel A Town Like Alice and the cult Aussie film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the unofficial capital and spiritual heart of the Red Centre will delight, challenge and amaze as you chart your way around an endearingly rough and cheerfully ready piece of Oz.
Laidback Launceston (pronounced Lon-seston) is Tasmania’s second largest city and answers to ‘Lonnie’ or even just ‘Lon’ if you’re embracing your inner millennial. Sitting at the confluence of three rivers in the idyllic Tamar Valley, and with an extraordinary wealth of gloriously well-preserved Victorian-era architecture, there’s a whole lot to love about this destination. Fine food, fabulous cool climate wines, a rich history and fast-evolving cultural scene to explore, and access to world-famous natural landscapes like Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park are all on offer.
While Victoria’s better known tourist hotspots tend to attract most of the accolades, Geelong’s star is on the rise. With an enviable position on Corio Bay in Port Phillip (just an hour by road or train from Melbourne), a beautiful foreshore precinct, and a revamped civic centre, there’s plenty happening inside the state’s second city. Outside, Geelong is the gateway to the magnificent Bellarine Peninsula — home to charming holiday towns, stunning beaches, and a quickly evolving gourmet food scene. Cool climate wines do well here, and several craft brewers have set up shop. There’s never been a better time to get a taste of this amazing region.
The bustling Queensland city of Townsville revels in more than 300 days of sunshine each year and is surrounded by myriad natural wonders, including Magnetic Island, the Great Barrier Reef, the lush Wet Tropics rainforest, and the rich colour palette of the outback. 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. You’ll need four or five days to do the region justice.
In 1851, two women washing clothes in a creek in regional Victoria came across a large nugget of gold. They took their precious find to a banker in Castlemaine — a town already heavily afflicted by gold fever. Within 48 hours more than 400 would-be miners had flocked to the spot and Bendigo was born. Today, this elegant city of 100,000 people is packed with period architecture and draws visitors to its galleries, gorgeous gardens, fashionable eateries and cool cafes. You’ll be amazed at the variety of experiences on offer in the unofficial capital of the Victorian Goldfields.
Broken Hill in Outback New South Wales was founded in the 1880s and is best known for its mining heritage. In 2015 it was the first Australian city to be added — in its entirety — to the National Heritage List, and as you walk along the wide streets you’ll be in awe of the many stunning period buildings. In recent decades, the arid setting has provided a backdrop for many Australian and international movies (earning the locality its famous moniker: ‘Hollywood of the Outback’). It all adds up to a must-visit Aussie destination, and one with a unique charm.