More than most other countries, Australia seizes the imagination. For many visitors, its name is synonymous with endless summers where the living is easy. This is where the adventures are as vast as the horizons, and the jokes flow as freely as the beer. A country of can-do spirit and laidback friendliness. Read our run-down of the best things to do in Australia.
1. Experience the wilderness of the Kimberley
Regarded as Australia’s last frontier, the Kimberley is a sparsely populated, untamed wilderness that contains some stunning landscapes. A region of red dust, endless skies, stunning sunsets, big rivers and huge gorges, the Kimberley is often romantically described as Australia’s last frontier. It’s a wilderness dotted with barely viable cattle stations, isolated.
When the dry season sets in around April, tourism in the Kimberley gradually comes back to life, with tours running mainly between thriving Broome and Kununurra along the iconic Gibb River Road, or down to the mysterious Bungle Bungles, south on Highway 1 near Halls Creek.
2. Discover extensive areas of the Fraser Island
The giant dunes, freshwater lakes and sculpted, coloured sands of the world’s largest sand island form the backdrop to popular 4WD safaris. A glorious offshore Eden, Fraser Island (or K’gari) is the world’s largest sand island. It measures 123km from top to bottom. Accreted from two million years’ worth of sediments, swept north from New South Wales.
Fraser Island’s colossal scale is best appreciated as you travel the 90km length of its razor-edge east coast. With the sea as a constant, the dunes along the shoreline seem to evolve before your eyes. In places low and soft, elsewhere hard and worn into intriguing canyons. On the beach itself, 4WD vehicles race along the open sands.
- Best for the beach location: The Beach Motel Hervey Bay
- Best for coastline view: Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort
Where to stay at Fraser Island:
3. Go rafting on the Franklin River
The Franklin River provides one of the wildest white-water roller coasters on Earth. It is also the only means of access to an astounding rainforest wilderness and offers endless things to do in Australia. To really experience the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park’s utterly pristine scenery and awesome sense of remoteness, you need to raft the Franklin River.
One of the great rivers of Australia, it was saved from destruction by protests in the early 1980s. It is the only major wild river in Tasmania. The river races through canyons in grade 3 to 4 rapids – even grade 6 in places – and through thick inaccessible rainforest. No wonder this is known by rafters as one of the greatest paddle adventures in the world.
4. Hike around Wilpena Pound
There are some fantastic hikes in the Flinders Ranges National Park but few top the spectacular scenery at the elevated basin of Wilpena Pound. Nestling up against the edge of Wilpena Pound, Wilpena is a good place to orient yourself for a range of accommodation, fuel and food.
Wilpena Pound’s two main walks are the Hills Homestead Walk (6.6km, 2hr) and the Wangara Lookout Walk (7.8km, 3hr). Both start at the visitor centre. Consult the visitor centre before attempting the less publicized full-day hikes. For example St Mary’s Peak on the rim, Edowie Gorge inside the pound, or any overnight trips.
Experience Australia's unique wildlife, wilderness and Aboriginal culture on a 3-day eco safari from Adelaide. Visit the Flinders Ranges National Park, Wilpena Pound, Brachina Gorge and more.
5. Ride the Great Ocean Road
On two wheels or four, the 280km route along the surf-battered cliffs bordering the Great Ocean Road is perfect road-trip material. It can also be followed as a rewarding hike. The Great Ocean Road, Victoria’s famous southwestern coastal route, starts at Torquay, just over 20km south of Geelong. It extends 285km west to Warrnambool.
This route was built between 1919 and 1932 as a scenic road to equal California’s Pacific Coast Highway. The road was to be both a memorial to the soldiers who died in World War I and an employment scheme for those who returned.
Experience the Great Ocean Road and its incredible landscapes on this Great Ocean Road and Wildlife Tour. See koalas and birds, take a rain forest walk, discover the 12 apostles and Loch Ard Gorge, and have morning tea on Torquay surf beach.
Western Australia offers wonderfully remote outback experiences: from spectacular national parks to sandy deserts, pristine beaches to working cattle stations. This tailor-made trip to Western Australia allows you to explore the way from Perth to Darwin in depth and at your own pace, in your own rental car.
6. Take a tour of South Australia’s wineries - one of the best things to do in Australia
Easily accessible from Adelaide, the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Coonawarra vineyards are all wonderful places to unwind. The Barossa Valley, only an hour’s drive from Adelaide, produces internationally acclaimed wines and is the largest premium-wine producer in Australia.
Located less than thirty minutes’ drive from the city, the Adelaide Hills’ wineries may not be as famous as those in the neighbouring Barossa Valley. However, they are gaining popularity and are definitely worth a trip. The cool weather (this is the coolest wine-growing region on mainland Australia) contributes to wonderful Sauvignon Blancs and fresh Chardonnays and you can even expect a superb cool-climate Shiraz.
Explore South Australia and the Northern Territory on this self-drive tailor-made South Australia and the Northern Territory adventure. Start in Adelaide and make your way over the Ayers Rock, Kings Canyon, and Alice Springs to the Kakadu National Park and ultimately Darwin.
7. Camp in the Atherton Tablelands
With its rainforest, crater lakes, and abundant wildlife, you could spend days exploring the Atherton Tablelands. Visiting this area is one of the best things to do in Australia. Most of the dense forest that originally covered these highlands was felled for timber, and the cleared patches given over to dairy cattle, tobacco and grain.
While the pockets of forest that remain are magnificent, it’s the area’s understated beauty that draws most visitors today. Though Kuranda pulls in tour parties from the coast, there are several quieter national parks brimming with rare species. You could spend days here, driving or hiking through rainforest to crater lakes and endless small waterfalls. Or simply camp out for a night and search for wildlife with a torch.
Explore Atherton Tableland's majestic waterfalls and rainforest and visit some of the most beautiful locations across tropical North Queensland on this Atherton Tableland Wilderness Tour with Lunch.
8. Enjoy Australian beach culture at Bondi Beach
Beach, surf and café culture: Sydney’s famous beach has something for everyone. Bondi Beach is synonymous with Australian beach culture, and indeed the 1.5km-long curve of golden sand must be one of the best beaches in Australia. It’s also the closest ocean beach to the city centre, 7km from the town.
Although still residential, visiting the beach become among the most popular things to do in Australia for backpackers from around the world. Beachfront Campbell Parade is both cosmopolitan and highly commercialized, lined with cafés and shops.
While here, explore some of the side streets, such as Hall Street. Here kosher bakeries and delis serve the area’s Jewish community, and some of Bondi’s best cafés are hidden.
9. Indigenous tours - one of the best things to do in Australia for a cultural experience
Seek a small-group Aboriginal-run tour in the Territories to get a taste of 40,000 years of Australian culture and experience some of the unique things to do in Australia. Though you are likely to meet many First Nations peoples living in cities and towns, one way of establishing meaningful contact for the short-term visitor is likely to be from a First Nations tour guide, a knowledgeable non-Aboriginal guide, or a visit to a festival.
Try to choose First Nations-owned tour providers, for example, Northern Territory Indigenous Tours. Keep in mind that most tours will only scrape the surface of a complex way of life.
But if you’re keen to learn about the meaning of Country for First Nations, about languages, bushtucker, bush medicine and Dreaming, these tours can be enriching.
Cruise the remote waters of the Great Sandy Straits and immerse yourself in Aboriginal culture on this award-winning guided eco-tour. Swim and discover the local marine life with a glass-bottom boat.
10. Go on an expedition to the Blue Mountains
World Heritage-listed, the Blue Mountains are a wonderland of ancient forests, deep valleys and lookouts from sheer cliffs, all just an hour or so from Sydney. The section of the Great Dividing Range nearest Sydney gets its name from the blue mist that rises from millions of eucalyptus trees and hangs in the mountain air, tinting the sky and the range alike.
In the colony’s early days, the Blue Mountains were believed to be an insurmountable barrier to the west. The first expeditions followed the streams in the valleys until they were defeated by cliff faces rising vertically above them.
Discover the natural beauty of the Blue Mountains on a full-day tour that takes you to Featherdale Wildlife Park. See a variety of native Australian animals, stop at Echo Point for panoramic views and enjoy 3 different rides at Scenic World.
11. Sale and dive in the Whitsundays
There’s fantastic sailing and diving – and whale watching in season – in the white-sand Whitsunday Islands. These 74 beautiful islands are the jewels of the Queensland coast. They still resemble the granite mountain peaks they used to be — until rising sea levels cut them off from the mainland six thousand years ago,
Most of the islands remain undeveloped national parks, some with wild campsites. A few are private, and predominantly the preserve of local yachties. Many visitors, therefore, base themselves on Airlie Beach, and explore the islands on boat excursions and cruises.
Don't miss the chance to go whale watching if you're here between June and September. This is when humpbacks arrive from their Antarctic wintering grounds to give birth and raise their calves before heading south again. Whale watching is one of the best things to do in Australia.
Choose a morning or afternoon departure for a 6-hour Whitsunday Islands cruise. Glide through some of the Whitsundays’ remote areas, bays, and islands.
12. Rent a 4WD
Adventure off-road from Queensland’s Cape York to the Territory’s central deserts or WA’s Kimberley. While Cape York’s crocodiles make the standard 4WD procedure of walking creek crossings before driving them potentially dangerous. Wherever possible you should make some effort to gauge the depth of the water and find the best route. Never blindly follow others across.
Make sure all rescue equipment – shovel, winch, rope, etc – is easy to reach, outside the vehicle. If you're going to explore Australia by car, explore our guide to everything you need to know about driving in Australia.
Experience the thrill of surfing down some of the largest sand dunes on Stockton Beach with this sand dune adventure tour. Pair an exciting 4WD adventure up massive sand dunes with unlimited sand boarding fun.
13. Take part in the parade at Mardi Gras
Sydney’s irreverent Oxford Street parade, from “dykes on bikes” to the “Melbourne marching boys”, ends the summer season. The year’s highlight is the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras: three weeks of exhibitions, performances and other events, including the Mardi Gras Film Festival showcasing the latest in queer cinema.
Mardi Gras starts the second week of February. It starts off with a free Fair Day in Victoria Park, Camperdown, and culminates with a massive parade and party, usually on the first weekend of March. The all-night dance party that follows the parade attracts up to 25,000 people and is held in several differently themed dance spaces at The Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park.
Sydney is not just one of the most beautiful cities in Australia, it's one of the most beautiful in the world. In our guide to the most beautiful cities in the world you'll find even more cities around the world that are breathtakingly beautiful.
- Best for central location: Ovolo Woolloomooloo
- Best for the city views: View Sydney
Where to stay in Sydney:
14. Surfing - one of the essential things to do in Australia
No wonder Aussies named a town Surfers Paradise – whether point, reef or beach breaks, there are world-famous waves on most coasts and warm water to boot. Beach culture is hardwired into the Aussie mentality and with around ninety per cent of the population living within two hours of the beach. Australians have found countless ways of getting in, on or under the water, making it one of the top things to do in Australia.
Forget any impressions of surfing as the counterculture activity of beach bums. In Australia, it is a mainstream sport where the standard is high and the mentality is territorial; cliquey at best, aggressive at worst. Learners, therefore, should familiarize themselves with a lesson or two at resorts such as Byron Bay first, and keep clear of the pack.
15. Visit Kangaroo Island
Fantastic coastal scenery and a huge variety of wildlife, from seals and sea lions to kangaroos, wallabies and koalas on a pristine island. To see Kangaroo Island properly, you’ll need at least three days. Though most people only visit the major south-coast attractions: Seal Bay, Little Sahara, Remarkable Rocks and Flinders Chase National Park.
Although promoted as South Australia’s premier tourism destination, it’s still unspoilt. Only in the peak holiday period (Christmas to the end of Jan, when most of the accommodation is booked up) does it feel busy. Once out of the island’s few small towns, there’s little sign of human presence to break the long, straight roads that run through undulating fields, dense gum forests and mallee scrub.
- Best for comfort: Villas on the Bay Kingscote
- Best for experiencing the local wildlife: Emu Bay Holiday Homes
Where to stay at the Kangaroo Island:
16. Explore Uluru
Yes, it’s a magnet for tourists from all over the world. But visit at dawn or dusk and you’ll understand why Uluru, aka Ayers Rock, is a sacred site for Aboriginal people. Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park encompasses Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (once known as the Olgas). If you’re wondering whether all the hype is worth it, the answer is, emphatically, yes.
The Rock, its textures, colours and not least its elemental presence, is without question one of the world’s natural wonders. Alice Springs is the closest major city to Uluru and is a hub for tourism in the region. The city is known for its rugged desert landscape and is home to a number of cultural and historical attractions, including the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air.
Journey into the heart of Australia's Red Centre on a full-day tour from Alice Springs. Hike in the wilderness of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and learn about the Aboriginal culture. Watch the sunset at the sacred rock of Uluru.
17. Take up sports at the MCG
Taking in a game of cricket or, better still, Aussie Rules football at the venerable Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is among the must things to do in Australia for any sports fan. Hosting state and international cricket matches and some of the top Aussie Rules football games. The “G”, as it is affectionately referred to, is one of the sports-mad Melburnians’ best-loved icons.
The present-day MCG has a capacity of 100,000, boosted by the development of the Northern Stand, which was created for the 2006 Commonwealth Games, and houses the Australian Sports Museum, which contains various sports exhibitions.
- Best for modern stays: Zagame's House
- Best for couples: Crown Promenade Melbourne
Where to stay in Melbourne:
18. Try to get through the Overland Track
The 80km route from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair is Australia’s greatest extended bushwalk: five or more days of exhilarating exhaustion and stupendous scenery. Some moan that it’s in danger of being loved to death, but most hikers agree that the Overland Track remains Australia’s greatest extended hike.
Most of the track is well-maintained boardwalk but you may still end up ankle-deep in mud. Along the route are six basic coal-stove- or gas-heated huts (not for cooking – bring your own stove), with composting toilets outside. But there’s no guarantee there’ll be space, so you need a good tent and a warm sleeping bag, even in summer.
19. Take a river cruise in the Kakadu National Park
Abundant wildlife and fascinating Aboriginal rock art in Australia’s largest national park, a World Heritage-listed wilderness. Covering more than 20,000 square kilometres, Kakadu is a challenging place to appreciate in a short visit. Aim to allow a minimum of three days, and consider renting a 4WD or joining a 4WD tour.
Try also to factor in a river cruise to get to more remote areas. The dry season months are the most popular times to visit, with little or no rain, acceptable humidity and temperatures, and conspicuous wildlife. Towards the end of the Dry, birdlife congregates around the shrinking waterholes, while November’s rising temperatures and epic electrical storms herald the onset of the Wet.
Visit Kakadu National Park and see wildlife, rivers, and Aboriginal sites on this Kakadu & Nourlangie Day Trip Plus Billabong Cruise. Go to the Warradjan Cultural Centre to learn about the indigenous people.
20. Go around the Circular Quay
Scaling the bridge, taking a harbour ferry to Manly, or just marvelling at the Opera House sails at the most iconic location in Sydney, a shorthand for Australia itself. Add these to your list of things to do in Australia.
Quay itself is always bustling with commuters during the week, and at the weekend it fills up with people out to enjoy themselves. Restaurants, cafés and fast-food outlets line the Quay, buskers entertain the crowds, and vendors of newspapers and trinkets add to the general hubbub.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a short walk from Circular Quay and is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. Visitors can walk or cycle across the bridge or take a guided tour to learn more about its history and construction.
Join Fantasea Cruising on a 60-minute or 90-minute sightseeing cruise around Sydney Harbour with commentary developed in partnership with Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation and the Australian Maritime Museum.
21. Marvel at the Sydney Opera House
The iconic Sydney Opera House is just a short stroll from Circular Quay, by the water’s edge on Bennelong Point. It’s best seen in profile, when its high white roofs, at the same time evocative of full sails and white shells, give the building an almost ethereal quality.
“Opera House” is actually a misnomer. It’s really a performing-arts centre, one of the busiest in the world, with five performance venues inside its shells, plus restaurants, cafés and bars, and a stash of upmarket souvenir shops on the lower concourse. The building’s initial impetus, in fact, was as a home for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and it was designed with the huge Concert Hall.
22. Walk the jungle paths in the Daintree Rainforest
Remarkable not only as Australia’s largest expanse of tropical rainforest, but the oldest to survive anywhere in the world, the extraordinary Daintree stretches uninterrupted for 1200 square kilometres between the Daintree and Bloomfield rivers. The sheer diversity of its flora and fauna is astonishing. Home to as many as thirteen different ecosystems, this is among the most complex rainforest structures on earth.
The majestic forest descends thick and dark right to the sea around Cape Tribulation. You can explore paths through the jungle leading to pristine waterholes, climb velveteen peaks, watch for wildlife, or just rest on the beach. Discovering this area is among the top things to do in Australia.
Step into the cool, crystal clear water of the Daintree: an ancient rainforest on this River Drift Snorkelling Tour in the Daintree. Drift with the current as you explore life under the water’s surface. Snorkel along the river and find many species of fish and turtles.
Western Australia is the country's largest state, covering more than a third of Australia. This self-drive tailor-made trip to Western Australia from Perth to Broome allows you to explore sunny Perth, stunning national parks and waterfalls, the remote wild west outback, empty beaches and much more.
23. Take a boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is to Australia what rolling savannahs are to Africa. Calling it “another world”, as the commonest cliché has it, doesn’t begin to describe the feeling of donning masks and fins and coming face to face with its extraordinary animals, shapes and colours.
There’s so little relationship to life above the surface that the distinctions one usually takes for granted – for example between animal, vegetable and mineral – seem blurred. While the respective roles of observer and observed are constantly inverted as shoals of curious fish follow the human interlopers about.
Perhaps it’s too obvious to mention, but seeing the Great Barrier Reef requires two things: first, a boat trip from the mainland. Secondly, you have to stick your head under the water. For more information read our guide on visiting Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Cruise to vibrant coral gardens and diverse marine life at the Great Barrier Reef on board the Silversonic catamaran. Sail to the Agincourt Reef and snorkel and dive among colourful coral reefs and reef fish at 3 separate locations.
24. Have a day out at the Rottnest island
Eighteen kilometres west of Fremantle, Rottnest Island was so named by seventeenth-century Dutch mariners. They mistook its unique, indigenous quokkas, beaver-like marsupials, for rats.
Today, following an ignominious period as a brutal First Nations penal colony in the nineteenth century, Rottnest’s sweeping sandy beaches and brilliant turquoise waters make it a popular holiday destination. It is easily accessible from Perth or Fremantle by ferry and – at the very least – a great place for a fun day out.
Cycle around Rottnest Island and discover the settlement by pedal power. Benefit from round-trip transfers by ferry from Hillarys Boat Harbour and bike around the car-free island at your own pace.
Ready for a trip to Australia? Check out the snapshot of The Rough Guide to Australia. If you travel further in Australia, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Australia. For inspiration use the itineraries from The Rough Guide to Australia and our local travel experts. A bit more hands-on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
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