Can't-miss Places to Visit in Australia, According to Australians
Editor's Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.
Australians will take any excuse to pack up and go. Whether it's a school break, the festive season, or linking together public holidays to create an extended weekend, we love every opportunity to hit the road.
When this happens, you'll find cities emptied and highways filled as locals migrate like geese to some hallowed turf they return to each year (think sun-kissed weatherboard beach houses brimming with memories of childhood summers, a favorite retreat in the country, or even a plane ride interstate for a change of scenery).
For many Australians, vacations are a chance to reconnect with the great outdoors, and thankfully, the Lucky Country has a rich variety of landscapes to explore year-round, from colorful reefs to ochre deserts to powdered mountains. Throw in a healthy appetite and your favorite road trip playlist, and you're set to experience Australia like a local.
Hidden in the mountainous folds of Victoria's high country, just a four-hour drive northeast of Melbourne, Bright feels like something of a revelation. Set in a pine forest valley on the banks of the Ovens River, the town is a charming perennial favorite among local vacationers.
In the summer, kids flood the water playground by the river and gold panners sit along the water's edge hoping to uncover remnants of the region's prospecting past. Thrill-seekers can hike or mountain bike on nearby Mount Feathertop and Mount Beauty, while gastronomes can either lazily pick their way through weekend markets brimming with fresh produce, or pop on a helmet and pedal between cellar doors.
In the cooler months, the tree-lined avenues burst with autumnal hues and food festivals celebrate the harvest season. Snow bunnies base themselves in Bright, spending their days carving the slopes of Mount Hotham or Falls Creek and enjoying après-ski drinks at Bright Brewery or Reed & Co. Distillery.
Bruny Island, Tasmania
Seemingly huddled into the Tasmanian mainland against the elements, rugged Bruny Island punches well above its weight for its size. Blessed with fertile soils and cold, clean waters, the island has played a significant role in Tasmania's reputation as a foodie haven, with a constellation of wineries, chocolateries, and dairy oyster farms that attracts hungry locals.
Those who prefer a taste of adventure instead should indulge in the island's network of hiking trails and lookouts, such as The Neck and South Bruny National Park. Keen-eyed visitors will spot fur seals lolling about on beaches, as well as humpback whales making their annual migrations to and from Antarctica. If you time your visit right, on a clear night in the winter, you might also see one of the island's other hidden secrets: the aurora australis — also known as the Southern Hemisphere's answer to the northern lights — shimmering on the horizon.
Katoomba, New South Wales
Located just 90 minutes west of Sydney, Katoomba is the eucalyptus-fringed heart of the wild Blue Mountains, a World Heritage range that draws Australians wanting to escape to the bush while eschewing tentpoles and swags in favor of luxury hotels.
Naturally, hiking and the great outdoors are the main attractions here — especially the Three Sisters rock formation and the Jenolan Caves, an extensive network of underground caves whose acoustics ideally lend themselves to monthly cave concerts. Across the Blue Mountains are cultural sites important to the Gundungurra people, including songline storytelling trails and cave paintings dating back 1,600 years. The region is also a popular wellness retreat, with locals indulging in pampering at a day spa or yoga class at the Kurrara Historic Guest House.
Occasionally, the mountain range receives snow in the winter, which is all we need to throw a Christmas in July festival, complete with log fires, sing-alongs and special, yuletide-themed menus in Katoomba's restaurants.
Esperance, Western Australia
At first glance, you might expect Esperance to be on a postcard from Queensland, thanks to the kangaroos skipping across pristine white-sand beaches. But here's the catch: Esperance is actually along Western Australia's southern coastline, and still relatively undiscovered, due to its remote location (about a day's drive or a 90-minute regional flight from the nearest city, Perth).
This means the locals have been able to enjoy Esperance all to themselves, only sharing the beaches with sunbathing kangaroos. It's the kind of place where kids grow up searching for crabs in rock pools on one of the hundreds of uninhabited islands, or spend long days in the surf before returning, salty-haired, to camp for a sunset barbecue. Australians have always loved bizarre things, which is why you'll find some oddities nearby, including the luminously pink Lake Hillier, remnants of the NASA space station that crashed here 40 years ago, and an inexplicably out-of-place full-scale replica of Stonehenge.
McLaren Vale, South Australia
Found just beyond Adelaide's city limits, McLaren Vale is not only easily accessible, but it's also one of Australia's top wine regions. International travelers typically continue down the coast to Kangaroo Island, but locals with a taste for the finer things know this slice of the Fleurieu Peninsula is worth a staycation in its own right.
The region's Mediterranean climate has had a distinctive impact on the region's wine, with local production skewing toward Italian varietals. The fact you can sip shiraz inside a giant glass Rubik's Cube tells you just how closely wine has mingled with art appreciation, and many cellar doors typically double as art galleries. The Fleurieu Arthouse is a great place to watch local artists plying their trade.
While the region is known for its produce, including cheese and olive oil, nothing lures locals more than the promise of fresh fish and chips by the beach, easily found thanks to an abundance of coastal cafes.
Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Alice Springs and the surrounding Outback hold an enduring place in the hearts and minds of Australians. The rust-colored landscape has been the setting for some of our greatest triumphs, tragedies, and myths, and it's become an unofficial pilgrimage to visit the iconic sandstone monolith of Uluru.
That said, Uluru is just a taste of what the Outback has to offer. Alice Springs is a launching pad for many adventures, including camel rides, hot-air ballooning, and hikes to watering holes. More recently, the town has reinvented itself as an arts hub, appealing to those who want to see the MacDonnell Ranges come alive with light and sound during Parrtjima, let their hair down in drag at FabAlice, or compete in a quirky "boat race" that takes place in a dried-up riverbed. The Araluen Arts Centre features significant works from contemporary Aboriginal artists and holds regular events celebrating Aboriginal culture.
Seventeen Seventy, Queensland
On a jagged headland thrusting out into the Coral Sea, the unusually named town of Seventeen Seventy has attracted Australians in part because of its laid-back vibes, but also because it's removed from Queensland's more heavily frequented cities.
Named after the year in which Captain Cook first landed in Australia, Seventeen Seventy is surrounded on three sides by the Coral Sea and Bustard Bay. The calm, warm waters lend themselves to swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and fishing, and its location facing the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef means it's also ideal for exploring quieter parts of the world's largest coral reef system. Regular snorkeling tours and fishing charters depart for Lady Musgrave Island, a coral cay known for its mix of coral reefs and pisonia forests. Plus, campers can make use of the ferry service to camp on the island.
Being positioned so close to Lady Musgrave Island also means that visitors can watch as loggerhead and hawksbill turtles come ashore to lay their eggs (from November to March), resulting in a spectacle when swarms of baby turtles flock back to the sea.
For many young Australians, the surfing town of Lorne has become synonymous with the essential summer road trip to Falls Music and Arts Festival on New Year's Eve, but the truth is Lorne was drawing locals well before the first big tops were put up.
The town's location, two hours southwest of Melbourne and sandwiched between Bass Strait and Great Otway National Park, means it enjoys the best of the coast and woodlands. Novice and experienced surfers can catch waves along the rocky shores of Lorne Point, while the pier is a good place to drop a line for trevally or barracuda. Meanwhile, temperate inland rain forests boast more than 10 waterfalls within six miles of town, zip-lining adventures, treetop walks, and hidden glowworms twinkling after dark.
Yamba, New South Wales
Frequently described as Byron Bay or Noosa "before the boom," Yamba is a relatively sleepy coastal town 62 miles south of Byron Bay that has all the same hallmarks minus the crowds. There are trendy cafes with swish interiors serving lattes that would make any Melbournian proud, and come nightfall, restaurants serve up fresh seafood caught that day (the town prides itself on its prawns). The historic Pacific Hotel provides live music, a dance floor, and stellar views over the water.
Yamba is home to four beaches, each with distinct water conditions, which means surfers will always find good conditions. On Wednesdays, locals visit the Yamba Farmers & Producers Market at the mouth of the Clarence River to pick up their groceries, as well as artisanal pastries, candles, oils, and gins.
Out of town, visitors can explore Iluka Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed Gondwana rain forest. A nearly two-mile walking track takes hikers past strangler figs and vines, and culminates at Bluff Lookout, where you can spot sea eagles and whales.
Hear more from some of our favorite Australians:
Laura Brown, editor in chief, InStyle
"When I return to my hometown of Sydney, it feels like I exhale a long-held breath. The more years I've been away in New York (18 now), the more I crave that feeling. It's the funny-sounding birds at Sydney Airport on a bleary early morning after a 15-hour flight from California. That singular "koo-koo-ka-ka" of a kookaburra is the kind of Australian-ness that exists nowhere else. We're a still-young country of settlers, ever reconciling itself with its indigenous owners, and now in possession of one of the most multicultural populations on earth. We have some of the best Thai curry you'll ever eat (and you'll most likely find it at a casual hole-in-the-wall), local wine that has a sprightly elegance and is delivered with no pretension, and always-excellent coffee that's topped with a heart-shaped froth. The walks around Sydney Harbour expand your lungs with fresh air. Jasmine and frangipani bloom all year long. The common greeting of 'Owzitgoing?' (Cut to writer, weeping from homesickness, wondering why she left.) The blessing and the curse of Australia, for us expats, is its distance. Its total uniqueness. But what will lure me back one day is its heart. And a green curry. Fresh mango. And my mum. Not in that order."
Abel Gibson, winemaker, Ruggabellus
"Wine was a very important part of the culture of the early immigrants to South Australia's Barossa Valley in particular. We are extremely lucky to have a globally significant resource of old-vine vineyards. There is also a very interesting array of minerals in old soils of South Australia. The Barossa and Eden Valley, in particular, enjoy many warm sunny days followed by cool summer evenings. The combination of these three things makes it an extremely exciting place to make wine. Many of us have traveled far and wide around the world and seem to have been drawn home. There is a very enchanting nature to the landscape and pace of life here. It genuinely feels resilient. And when you get away from the villages and into the bush it's hard not to feel the presence of the wisdom of it all."
Louis Tikaram, chef, Stanley
"As a chef, I find the region around Brisbane so inspiring — we have some of the best produce and seafood in the world. Passion fruit, lychee, mangoes, the local Moreton Bay 'bugs' (sweet-fleshed crustaceans), huge mud crabs, and reef fish are all delivered just a couple of hours after being picked or caught."
Chris Hemsworth, actor
"Australia has some of the most diverse, vibrant, and pristine coastlines in the world. The quality of life here is second to none; plus we have some of the most unique marine wildlife. There are places where the red dirt meets crystal turquoise water, and you can go days exploring the coast without seeing anyone else. Or, you can be in the heart of a buzzing city, like Sydney or Melbourne, with great restaurants and beaches just around the corner."
"In The Kimberley, we went fishing in one particular spot that rivaled Jurassic Park — there were crocodiles, snakes, buffalo, and an abundance of other amazing native wildlife. Sunset dinners in The Kimberley are another absolute must. The colors of the skyline there are as rich and vibrant as anywhere I've seen, and it is pretty special to see the millions of stars of the Australian outback's night sky. We stayed at a beautiful place called Berkeley River Lodge, having dinner each night on a sand dune, barefoot in the desert sand was pretty cool. And one of the best afternoons in The Kimberley was swimming in a secluded waterhole at the base of a waterfall. We helicoptered down along the winding Berkeley River and then boated across to this really private spot. It's something I'll never forget."
"In the Whitsundays, we stayed at One&Only Hayman Island, which was a real highlight. Amazing food and wine, it overlooks the reef — plus, they have an awesome kids club, with face painting, fish feeding, jewelry making, and some great swimming pools for us to chill out as a family. On the Great Barrier Reef, I went scuba diving for the first time, which was amazing. It's like visiting another planet. We also had an afternoon at Whitehaven Beach, which was absolutely stunning—it has the most pristine white sand and crystal clear water. The next day we took the kids for a picnic and a bit of beach cricket on Langford Island, just off Hayman Island. The kids loved running along the sand and playing in the shallows."
"Seeing Uluru for the first time was really awesome. We had the very special experience of meeting with Sammy Wilson, a local Anangu Traditional Owner. Listening to the local Indigenous people speaking with us about the cultural and spiritual significance of Uluru was fascinating and inspiring. The kids loved running around the base of the rock and exploring all the little caves and trails."