This blog post was updated on January 30, 2023.
So, you’ve always wanted to go to Australia, but you’re not sure where to start, or where do go. We’re here to help.
How much time do you need to really experience Australia? Well, keep in mind that the island is considered a continent unto itself. How much time do you need to see an entire continent? Think about a foreigner visiting the U.S. for the first time. What are the must-see parts of the country? How much time would you need to see every city? Geez, you could spend two weeks in New York City alone and still not see it all.
Well, Australia is about the same size as the continental United States. You could easily spend two weeks in Sydney or Melbourne alone, exploring the beaches, walking around the various suburbs, and eating out at nice places every night of the week without getting bored.
But, if you think this might be the only time in your life you’ll get to visit Australia, you might want to picking a few key places to plan your itinerary around. Here are some suggestions:
Sydney? Melbourne? Both?
One of the first questions you’ll want to ask is, which big Australian city — or cities — do you want to put on your agenda? The obvious choices are Sydney and Melbourne, but there’s also Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth. If you’re debating Sydney versus Melbourne, well you can’t really go wrong. But keep in mind that Sydney has the iconic opera house, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Whereas Melbourne has the National Gallery of Victoria, the Queen Victoria Market…and the Royal Botanic Gardens. (Yes, there’s one in each city.)
If you decide you want to visit both cities — and who can blame you? — keep an eye out for deals on domestic flights within Australia. Although the two cities may look close on a map, they’re actually a nine-hour drive away from each other. But you can fly in just ninety minutes.
Gaze in awe at Uluru
Visiting the Outback is a must, and the key site to see here is Uluru, a.k.a Ayers Rock, which is the spiritual heart of the Aboriginal world. Uluru is located near the center of the continent, and isn’t really close to any main city in Australia — the closest large town is Alice Springs, which is a five-hour drive away. But Uluru is certainly worth the side trip. The iconic sight of Uluru and the red dirt combined with camping under the stars and a hike at King’s Canyon is pretty much unforgettable.
Luxuriate in tropical North Queensland
And last, a trip to tropical north Queensland with its pristine beaches and lush rainforest should be in the cards. There’s so much to do and see in this area, including croc spotting, Aboriginal jungle tours, and hot air ballooning, that you’ll never be bored. Also, no trip to Australia is complete without seeing the Great Barrier Reef, just off the coast of the region around Cairns. You can swim by day and fall asleep at night to the sounds of the rainforest, which is just magical.
Ride a luxury train across Australia
Named after the Afghan camel riders that once roamed the outback, the Ghan is a luxury train that travels almost 2,000 miles across Australia. By hopping aboard, you’ll spend three days and two nights exploring the wonders of the land. Sights of note include Adelaide, the Northern Territory, the Painted Desert, Alice Springs, and Nitmiluk National Park.
The train ride itself is just the beginning of the adventure since you’ll also have the chance to disembark and enjoy all kinds of bucket list experiences. Ride a camel through sand dunes; take a helicopter tour over mountain ranges; look for local wildlife among gorges and bush fields. There’s even a gold mining town en route! Get on the Ghan if you’re interested in seeing big swatches of Australia on a limited budget or time frame.
Cruise the Kimberley
Hailed as one of the last “true wilderness” spots on the planet, the Kimberley is located on the northern tip of Australia, and you can find many different cruises to enjoy it from the water. You don’t have to live ruggedly just because you’re in a rugged place! You can lean back, sip on champagne, and take in the sights in style.
Tours typically take off from the cities of Broome, Wyndham, and Darwin. Your experience will depend on the cruise that you book. For example, the more basic trips might just whisk you around major sightseeing destinations like Mitchell Falls; the more luxurious trips might include spas, lounges, multi-course dinners, and on-deck helicopters to take you on aerial tours. Be prepared to spend multiple days on your cruise if you want to see it all. The Kimberley is vast, and it’s worth exploring at length.
Explore Freycinet National Park in Tasmania
You might be most familiar with Tasmania because of the Tasmanian devil, but there’s much more to see at this iconic Australian destination. Put Freycinet National Park on your itinerary to get started. We dare you to visit the sinuously curved Wineglass Bay without gasping at the sheer beauty of it. The same goes for the pink granite of the Hazards, the local mountain range, and the white sandy shores of Friendly Beaches.
Luckily, all of these sights can be found at Freycinet National Park. It’s considered a jewel among jewels in the wilderness down under. Not only can you take breathtaking pictures, but you can also go swimming, camping, climbing, wallaby watching, and more.
Sample a fine vintage at Barossa Valley
If you like a good buzz, there’s no better place than Barossa Valley. Known as Australia’s wine-producing region, it’s home to vineyards, cellars, bars, breweries, wineries, distilleries, and many other places of interest for connoisseurs. Tours and tastings are available everywhere, many of them attached to the 25-mile Barossa Trail. Vintages range from the old and rare to the quirky and creative. The local specialty is made from Shiraz grapes, but there are plenty of others to imbibe.
When you’ve gotten nice and wine-happy, feel free to explore additional activities and attractions in Barossa Valley, including farmer’s markets, hot air balloon rides, and tours around original 19th century German settlements. The spirits will be just the start of the fun!
Have you been to Australia and have alternative suggestions? Leave them in the comments below!
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