Australia is the unexpected: a place where the world’s oldest cultures share vast ochre plains, stylish laneways and unimaginably blue waters with successive waves of new arrivals from across the globe.
An Ancient Land
Australia is a country, or Australia is the name for a land that encompasses many countries; to understand the latter is to walk in the footsteps of the first peoples. Whether you’re tracing outlines of rock art more than 20,000 years old in Kakadu National Park, floating in the azure waters of Rottnest Island or admiring the iconic sites of Sydney Harbour where the Eora Nation traded for centuries, you are on Indigenous land.
Nowhere builds cities quite like Australia: each is a homage to magnificent waterways or beachfronts, while offering different experiences across different geographies. Grab a bicycle from one of Melbourne’s bike-share racks and tour the city’s fashion districts and cafe-lined laneways. Only a city like Darwin can fuse southern-Asian influence with contemporary Aboriginal culture (and leave you with an impressive sunburn to boot). Want a bit of everything? Sydney will take your breath away with its natural beauty and bustling neighbourhoods, while Hobart strikes a chord with its Gothic history and contemporary art.
You only have to travel a stone’s throw from any of Australia’s capital cities before you’ve landed somewhere truly out of this world. Not scared of the deep blue? Dive into famous reefs from the Ningaloo to the Great Barrier Reef, or witness majestic southern right whales along the Great Australian Bight. Like thrills? Head to the incredible wildlife parks outside of Brisbane (Australia Zoo) and Darwin (Crocodylus Park). And nothing will steady your sea legs more than getting on a 4WD tour and hitting one of the many dirt roads leading to rocky outcrops, from Uluru to the Kimberley.
A Foodie’s Dream
Decades of migration combined with the re-emergence of native ingredients has brought Australian cuisine on to the radar of the world’s best chefs. You can buy a mouth-watering kangaroo steak complemented by indigenous greens at high-end restaurants, or take a bush tucker tour outside Alice Springs and learn first-hand which local plants to taste. No trip to Tasmania would be complete without planning exactly where you’ll slurp freshly shucked oysters, and don’t leave South Australia without a Barossa Valley taste tour. And a word for the brave: Darwinians love their spice!
Top 15 beaches in Australia
6 min read — Published February 25th, 2021
Lonely Planet EditorsWriter
With more than 10,000 beaches around its shores, Australia leads the way when it comes to incredible sand and surf. Here are Australia's 15 best beaches.
Discover some of the most unique and fulfilling experiences your next destination has to offer.
Tips & Travel trends to help you pick the perfect time to visit this destination.
Put these must-see destinations on your next travel wish list.
Browse the various transportation options to make your trip that much easier when you arrive.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Australia.
Definitively Sydney, Bondi is one of the world’s great beaches. It’s the closest ocean beach to the city centre (8km away), has consistently good (though crowded) waves, and is great for a rough-and-tumble swim (the average water temperature is a considerate 21°C). If the sea’s looking a bit angry, you can always head to the child-friendly saltwater sea baths at either end of the beach, both of which received an upgrade in 2019. Surfers also carve up sandbar breaks at either end of the beach; it’s a good place for learners, too. At the beach’s northern end there’s a grassy spot with coin-operated barbecues, but don't bring alcohol to your picnic – it's banned on the beach. Changing rooms and lockers can be found at Bondi Pavilion. Free beach-friendly wheelchairs (for adults and children) can also be booked through the Bondi Pavilion. If you’re looking for your LGBTQIA+ community, head to near the North Bondi Surf Club where there's an outdoor workout area. This is one of the main hangouts for queer beach-going Sydneysiders. Two surf clubs – Bondi and North Bondi – patrol the beach between sets of red-and-yellow flags, positioned to avoid the worst rips and holes. Thousands of unfortunates have to be rescued from the surf each year. Don’t become a statistic – swim between the flags. Bondi’s lifeguards Bondi Rescue, the hugely popular Australian TV series based at Bondi Beach began in 2006 but the history of Sydney’s Bondi Beach Surf Life Saving club dates back to 1907. The club began when a group of local swimmers met at Bondi’s Royal Hotel to discuss forming a surf life-saving organisation, the first in the world. Surf lifesavers, of lifeguards as they’re also known, deal with everything from swimmers getting into trouble in the sea swell to treating jellyfish stings. Shark attacks at Bondi? Headline grabbing yes, but there has been very few shark attacks at Bondi. The beach is ringed by a shark net protecting it from great white sharks. Although it is not entirely shark-proof, the chance of a large shark entering the area is low, and surfers and lifeguards are on the lookout to keep swimmers safe. The last major incident when the shark alarm was raised in 2019 -- the unmissable signal from lifeguards for everyone to evacuate the water -- turned out to be a false alarm. The shark spotted by two surfers was a harmless baby shark. Hotels near Bondi Beach Bondi is blessed with excellent accommodation options in every budget category. Bondi Backpackers Baxley Bondi Dive Hotel QT Bondi
Sydneysiders love their giant 'coathanger', which opened in 1932. The best way to experience this majestic structure is on foot. Stairs and lifts ascend the bridge from both shores, leading to a footpath on the eastern side (the western side is a bike path). Getting the train to Milsons Point and walking back towards the city offers the more spectacular views. Climb the southeastern pylon to the Pylon Lookout or tackle the arc on the popular if expensive, once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience, the BridgeClimb. Climbing the bridge The BridgeClimb experience takes between 1.5 and 3 hours depending on which Climb you choose. A thorough safety briefing as well as special boiler suits, harnesses and a headset are provided. Climbers are given 15 mins to take photos at the top of the climb, but it’s a good hour to climb back down. There’s also a climbing tour with an Aboriginal leader who will teach you more about the land, its First Nations custodians, and meaning behind Aboriginal place names in Sydney like Bennelong point where the Sydney Opera House sits, and original named Tubowgule by the Gadigal people here. For many, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge is an bucket-list experience that a fear of heights has thwarted. The outfit offers support for those with acrophobia. History The harbour bridge is a spookily big object – moving around town you’ll catch sight of it in the corner of your eye, sometimes in the most surprising of places. Its enormous dimensions, the arch is 134m high (440 feet) from the top to the water and the span measures 503m (1650 ft). It’s the biggest (although not quite the longest) steel arch bridge in the world. The two halves of chief engineer JJC Bradfield’s mighty arch were built outwards from each shore in what was a huge source of Depression employment. In 1930, after seven years of merciless toil by 1400 workers, the two arches were only centimetres apart when 100km/h winds set them swaying. The coathanger hung tough and the arch was finally bolted together. Extensive load-testing preceded the bridge's opening two years later. Sydney Harbour Bridge facts Construction began in 1923 and the bridge opened in 1932 -- connecting Sydney city with the northern suburbs. It has four railroad tracks, a multi-lane highway, a pedestrian walkway and a cycleway. The bridge is made of 53,000 tonnes of steel, held together by reportedly six million hand-driven rivets (we’re not sure who’s willing to check that fact!).
Considered one of the finest examples of Victorian-era landscaping in the world, Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens draw over two million visitors a year. Here you'll find plants from around the globe as well as a strong show of unique Australian flora. Mini ecosystems, a herb garden and an indigenous rainforest are all set amid vast, picnic-friendly lawns and black-swan-spotted ponds. From the air, these stunning, 38-hectare gardens suggest a set of giant green lungs in the heart of the city. Events and tours In summer the gardens play host to Moonlight Cinema, a nightly pop-up cinema where cult classics and new release films are screened under the stars. Open-air theatre performances are another summer highlight from Shakespeare to Wind in the Willows, they’re often child-friendly events. Children and parents will love the excellent, nature-based Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden, a whimsical, child-scaled place that invites exploration and water play. The Aboriginal Heritage Walk comes highly recommended. This is a site of cultural significance to the local Kulin Nation (there’s a reason this vast green space was not buried under streets and houses when the British descended). On the tour you’ll learn to identify significant native plants with an Aboriginal guide, and gain some insight in the customs and ongoing connection to country of Australia’s First Nations people. The visitor centre is the departure point for tours but book ahead (see the website for details). Close by, the National Herbarium, established in 1853, contains more than a million dried botanical specimens used for plant-identification purposes. And finally, the 19th-century Melbourne Observatory runs tours of the night sky here. Royal Botanic Gardens cafes This being Melbourne there are a few excellent cafes in and around the gardens including French-Vietnamese inspired Jardin Tan near entrance F. Cranbourne Botanic Gardens For visitors who can’t get enough, Royal Botanical Gardens has also developed the Australian Garden in the outlying suburb of Cranbourne which boasts 10kms of walking tracks through bushland and Australian landscapes.
The most iconic sight and enduring image for most visitors to the Great Ocean Road, the Twelve Apostles provide a fitting climax to the journey. Jutting out from the ocean in spectacular fashion, these rocky stacks stand as if they've been abandoned to the waves by the retreating headland. Today only seven Apostles can be seen from a network of viewing platforms connected by timber boardwalks around the clifftops. How to get there There’s pedestrian access to the viewing platforms from the car park at the Twelve Apostles Visitor Centre – more a kiosk and toilets than an info centre – via a tunnel beneath the Great Ocean Road. It's a 4 hour drive from Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road or just a 10-minute drive from Port Campbell if you'd prefer more time to explore the area. Best time to visit The best time to visit is sunset, not only for optimum photographic opportunities and to beat the tour buses but also to see little penguins returning ashore. Sightings vary, but generally the penguins arrive 20 to 40 minutes after sunset. They can be spotted from about 197ft (60m) away, so you'll need binoculars, which can be borrowed from the Port Campbell Visitor Centre.
One of of Australia's most photogenic and hyped beaches, Whitehaven is a pristine 4.3 mile-long (7km) stretch of blinding sand (at 98% pure silica, some of the whitest in the world) framed by lush vegetation and a brilliant blue sea. From Hill Inlet at the northern end of the beach, the swirling pattern of dazzling sand through the turquoise and aquamarine water paints a magical picture. How do I get there? Whitehaven beach is just a half-hour catamaran trip away from Hamilton Island. Helicopter and seaplane tours are available for those in search of the perfect aerial shot. Also offering good snorkelling, Whitehaven beach tours are available from nearly all Airlie-based operators. Can I stay overnight on Whitehaven Beach? You can be lulled to sleep by the ocean if you hire a boat and anchor just off the beach. For those who'd prefer dry land, camping options are available on the southern side of Whitehaven Beach. Book ahead via a national park camping website to ensure you're not disappointed.
Melbourne's most-celebrated laneway for street art, Hosier Lane's cobbled length draws camera-wielding crowds to its colorful canvas of graffiti, stencils and art installations. The changing subject matter runs from political to countercultural, spiced with irreverent humour. The street art continues along Rutledge Lane, which horseshoes back around to Hosier Lane. As the artworks evolve, with fresh murals continually thrown up overnight (officially most of this is actually illegal), no two visits will be the same. You'll visit Hosier Lane, as well as many other street art-laden lanes nearby including AC/DC Lane, on walking tours of the city centre. Hosier Lane street art Many famous Australian and international artists’ works have been spotted in Hosier Lane since it was first made famous in the global street art scene in the 1990s. The most well-known a Banksy stencil piece, Parachuting Rat from 2003, was mistakenly painted over by city council workers in 2010. Other renowned artists to have graced the lane with their ephemeral works include ABOVE (USA), Shepard Fairey (USA), Invader (France), and D*FACE (GB), as well as local talents such as Ha Ha, Prism and Rone. Hosier Lane history Melbourne's street artists first took their lead from the graffiti scene in New York, with train carriages and railway tracks the focus in the 1980s, before Melbourne's dark and disused city laneways became the new canvas for creatives. Over time stencil art, ‘pasties’ and sculptures complemented tags and pieces spray-painted after hours. Small bars and restaurants began popping up off the main city thoroughfares. Soon the city embraced this new vibrancy and the attention from overseas visitors to Melbourne. Many private and public walls now have large-scale murals painted on commission across Melbourne. Hosier Lane is just the beginning of your street art odyssey. To learn more about Melbourne’s early underground street art scene, seek out the 2005 documentary RASH. In 2020, ten masked men spray painted Hosier Lane with fire extinguishers filled with brightly colored paint, an act of vandalism according to the police and Lord Mayor. It was unclear if this was a response to the commercialization of Hosier Lane’s street art, or just a boring contribution to its story, but the bluestone cobbled lane was quickly cleaned up and new artworks appeared almost immediately. Hosier Lane directions The lane is directly opposite Federation Square (‘Fed Square’ to locals) off Flinders Street, at the southern end of Melbourne’s main city centre. Fed Square also houses two major cultural hubs: ACMI, the museum of screen culture, and the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Another major landmark to look out for is the 1920s-built Forum theatre, originally a picture palace and now a major live music venue. Hosier Lane bars and restaurants A Melbourne institution, the Spanish tapas restaurant MoVida sits as the southern end of Hosier Lane. While newcomer Tres a Cinco, a colorful Mexican cantina selling tacos and tequila, replaced the long-standing Misty cocktail bar.
A spectacular mix of sandstone, Australian bushland and tranquil water vistas, this 14,928-hectare park forms Sydney’s northern boundary. It’s located 20 to 30km from the city centre and accessible by public transport, making a spectacular day trip from the city. It is a popular place to visit for its wilderness, its Aboriginal heritage, as well as activities such as walking, cycling, and kayaking. In winter add whale-watching to the reasons to visit. The park takes in over 100km of coastline along the southern edge of Broken Bay, where it heads into the Hawkesbury River. There are two unconnected principal sections, Bobbin Head and the West Head area. The Barrenjoey headland at Palm Beach is also part of the park and the site of an historic lighthouse. The second national park in Australia, Ku-ring-gai was created in 1894. Its name comes from its original inhabitants, the Guringai people, who were all but wiped out just after colonization through violence at the hands of settlers and the devastating introduction of smallpox. It’s well worth reading Kate Grenville’s The Secret River for an engrossing but harrowing telling of this story. Remnants of pre-colonial Aboriginal life are visible today thanks to the preservation of more than 800 sites, including rock paintings, middens and cave art. Walks Elevated park sections offer glorious water views over Cowan Creek, Broken Bay and Pittwater. For information about walking trails, stop at the Bobbin Head Information Centre, operated by the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service. There are a marina, picnic areas, a cafe and a boardwalk leading through mangroves at Bobbin Head. Waterfalls Upper Gledhill Falls is a fairly easily accessible waterfall inside the park, and a popular ‘secret’ wild swimming spot for competent swimmers. Further downstream along McCarrs Creek there’s a series of cascades including another swimming spot known as Duck Hole or Duck Pond with a large sandy bank on one side. Camping The Basin Campground is a remote camping spot accessed by ferry with basic facilities: a shower block, toilets, picnic tables and drinking water. Campers need to be well-prepared and self-sufficient. Sites are pre-booked via the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service website Picnic areas There are multiple picnic areas in the park, with toilets and drinking water taps; some also have BBQ areas. Entry fee As with all Australian national parks there are entry fees for vehicles, and per person per day. More information can be found on the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service website on current fees and how to pay. How to get to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park Access to the park is by the Palm Beach water taxi or by car via McCarrs Creek Rd (off Mona Vale Rd, Terrey Hills) for West Head; or via Bobbin Head Rd (North Turramurra) or Ku-ring-gai Chase Rd (Mount Colah) for Bobbin Head. Accommodation As well as camping and a YHA at Pittwater and Collaroy, accommodation options includes houseboats on the Hawkesbury River and a Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park in nearby Narrabeen.
One of Melbourne's icons, the Shrine of Remembrance is a commanding memorial to Victorians who have served in war and peacekeeping, especially those killed in WWI. The shrine draws thousands to its annual Anzac Day dawn service (on 25 April), while the Remembrance Day service at 11am on 11 November commemorates the signing of the 1918 Armistice, marking the formal end to WWI. At this precise moment a shaft of light shines through an opening in the ceiling, passing over the Stone of Remembrance and illuminating the word ‘love’; on all other days this effect is demonstrated using artificial lighting on the hour. Shrine of Remembrance eternal flame With its cenotaph and eternal flame (lit by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954), the forecourt was built as a memorial to those who died in WWII. There are several other memorials surrounding the shrine. Below the shrine, a stunningly conceived architectural space houses the Galleries of Remembrance, a museum dedicated to telling the story of Australians at war via its 800-plus historical artefacts and artworks. History Built between 1928 and 1934, much of it with Depression-relief, or ‘susso’ (sustenance) labour. Its stoic, classical design is partly based on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. The shrine's upper balcony affords epic panoramic views of Melbourne's skyline and all the way up tram-studded Swanston Street. This unobstructed view isn't coincidental; planning regulations continue to restrict any building that would encroach on the view of the shrine from Swanston Street as far back as Lonsdale Street. Planning your visit Download the free Shrine of Remembrance app for a self-guided tour, or consider joining the guided tours daily (free for Australian and New Zealand veterans and defence force personnel). Kids can choose from four activity cards and learn about the Shrine, armed with an 'explorer kit'. Borrowed from the visitor centre, it features a periscope, a magnifying glass, a kaleidoscope and more. The complex is under 24-hour police guard; during opening hours the police are required to wear uniforms resembling those worn by WWI light-horsemen.
With a capacity of 100,000 people, the "G" is one of the world’s great sporting venues, hosting cricket in summer and AFL (Australian Football League, Aussie rules or "footy") in winter – for many Australians it's hallowed ground. History Though the MCG has undergone numerous renovations and expansions during its lifetime, the original cricket ground dates back to 1853. It hosted its first game of Aussie Rules football in 1858, and in 1877 it was the venue for the first test cricket match between Australia and England. Since then, the ground has served as the central stadium for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and played host to two Cricket World Cups, as well as the 2006 Commonwealth Games. It was also used as an army barracks during WWII. Despite this venerable history, the oldest parts of the current structure are the light towers, dating from the 1980s. A number of historical sporting items, including the hand-written notes defining the rules of Australian Rules Football, are on display at the Australian Sports Museum, located within the bowels of the stadium. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Aboriginal Australians played a form of football called " marngrook" prior to European settlement. A scar tree near the MCG, from which bark was removed to make canoes, serves as a reminder that Melbourne’s cricket fans were not the first to gather at this site – some Indigenous Australians like to call it the Melbourne Corroboree Ground. Marngrook is remembered in the name of a trophy awarded to the winner of an annual AFL match. How to tour Melbourne Cricket Ground Make it to a game if you can (tickets for matches are available via the official stadium website); otherwise, there are non-match-day tours that take you through the stands, media and coaches’ areas, changing rooms and members' lounges. Discounts are available if you get a combined Australian Sports Museum and tour ticket. If you're in the area and after a quick taste of a live AFL game, sometimes it's possible to wander in free of charge at three-quarter time (around 1½ hours after starting time) to see the last 30 minutes of the action.
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New South Wales, Australia: from Sydney to the Blue Mountains
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Kangaroo Island, South Australia: rising from the ashes
Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef: from the reef to the rainforest