Australia is a land reputed for big trips: some backpackers can spend two years exploring this huge island. And yet, it seems impossible to see it all. Keep in mind distances are enormous, going from one place to another can be a challenge during holiday planning. That’s why you want to create your Australia bucket list before getting lost on this continent. From all the Australian destinations I’ve visited since I moved to Australia about ten years ago, the list below sums up the places you must visit in Australia.
Looking for an extended must-do list? Mel was a backpacker in Australia for more than 1.5 years, and she has listed 100 experiences to try in Australia!
If you’re a scuba diver, you don’t want to miss this list of the best scuba diving sites on Australia’s East Coast.
Another critical thing to consider on top of time is budget. Australia isn’t a cheap country. Travelling by car and camping is the best way to make it affordable. Check this breakdown of the costs to travel in Australia for one month to give you an idea of what to expect.
My selection of places you must visit in Australia (bucket list) when you’re there for a short time
These are the most popular destinations I have been to that I would recommend visiting if you are planning a short trip to Australia.
Australia Bucket List: New South Wales
Sydney is the most iconic Australian city, and it should be on any Australia bucket list. While you’re in Sydney, visit the popular Manly or Bondi Beach. If you cannot afford to climb the Harbour Bridge, do not miss the cheapest and best views of Sydney Harbour from the Pylon Lookout.
There are a few day-trip or weekend trips you can do from Sydney that deserve a spot on the list of places you must visit in Australia. The following places should make it to your list if you have limited time:
- the Blue Mountains (for one day or more): I highly recommend canyoning or abseiling there to get a sense of the immensity of the national park, and there are fantastic hiking trails;
- the Nelson Bay/Port Stephens area (two days is good): it’s one of the best places to see dolphins and whales (at the right season), and the views are stunning;
- the Royal National Park (one or two days is good): although it can easily be done as a day trip from Sydney, it’s worth spending one more day hiking the magnificent coastal trails of the closest national park from Sydney.
If you’re going north towards Brisbane, you’ll find on your way many beautiful national parks. With a short time in Australia, you won’t have much time to check them out. But if you do, Crowdy Bay was one of my favourites. In the north of New South Wales, Byron Bay has a very special vibe that you don’t want to miss. Once up there, you are closer to the Queensland border and Brisbane than Sydney.
If you’re making a road trip from Sydney to Melbourne, the south coast of New South Wales has terrific surprises, and I highly recommend stopping at Montague Island. If you then choose to go inland, you’ll have the opportunity to climb Australia’s highest mountain.
Australia Bucket List: Victoria
Although Melbourne has been named the best city where to live for many years in a row, it’s not my favourite one in Australia. Many will disagree, so I suggest you visit it to make up your mind.
It will be on your way to go to one of the most popular road trips in Australia: the Great Ocean Road. I recommend spending a couple of days on the Great Ocean Road. If you can, add a detour to the Otways to try to spot a platypus.
Australia Bucket List: Queensland
Skip the cities when you’re in Queensland, they’re not worth your time compared to the magnificent natural spots that await.
All nature lovers will be disappointed by Surfers Paradise. Staying in Brisbane is a great idea when you have time to visit the gems in South East Queensland. Otherwise, I find the city itself not that interesting for tourists. You can see most of Brisbane in one day.
The places you must visit in Queensland:
- If you don’t plan to go to North Queensland, check out one of the many rainforests near Brisbane. Springbrook National Park is my favourite and can be explored in one day. You will have the unique opportunity to see a rare colony of glow worms in Natural Bridge. If you love waterfalls as much as I do, you may also want to add the Tooloona Creek Circuit in Lamington National Park to your list.
- Stradbroke Island is always a good idea. On a day trip, you can spot the iconic Australian wildlife (you can tick off the Australia bucket list kangaroos, koalas, turtles and manta rays or humpback whales in one go!) and the island offers excellent coastal views.
- Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island are among my favourite places in Australia. It’s impressive how the rainforest can grow on sand, how freshwater lakes are so pure and close to the ocean; plus, driving on the beach is an experience you may not have tried before. Take at least two days (I recommend three) on Fraser Island.
- The southern Great Barrier Reef – with Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island – is terrific (alert: diving on the Great Barrier Reef isn’t the best from Cairns!). If you’re travelling to Queensland in the first couple of months of the year, you may be able to see turtle hatching. If you cannot make it to the southern Great Barrier Reef Island, you may want to plan a trip to Bundaberg.
- Sailing in the Whitsundays will get images stuck in your head for the rest of your life. The best way is to join an overnight adventure while you’re there – day tours are nowhere as rewarding.
- Scuba divers should not miss the SS Yongala near Townsville, and a visit to Magnetic Island while they’re around.
- A liveaboard cruise from Cairns and Port Douglas will take you to the outer Great Barrier Reef. While you’re up there, if you have one or two extra days, don’t miss the beautiful Daintree Forest and Cape Tribulation.
Australia Bucket List: Northern Territory
The Northern Territory is the best state to discover the Australian Aboriginal Culture. Unfortunately, it is not as present in other most popular tourist attractions and you’ll have to work harder to find tours with cultural interpretation.
The places you must visit in the Northern Territory:
- Uluru, King’s Canyon and Kata Tjuta (three days is good)
- Kakadu National Park (three days is good)
- Katherine Gorge (two days is good)
Australia Bucket List: Western Australia
If you have limited time in Australia, Western Australia may be hard to get to. But now that direct flights are coming into Perth from Europe; you may have a chance to check out some of the best beaches in the world. I was seriously impressed by the beauty of Western Australia.
The places you must visit in Western Australia:
- the South coast (click here to view the road trip itinerary) up to Lucky Bay
- Rottnest Island, to tick off the Australia Bucket List, the cute quokkas
- Ningaloo Reef, to swim with the whale sharks and many other beautiful sea creatures
Australia Bucket List: South Australia
South Australia is another state that will be challenging to fit in your itinerary if you’re in Australia for a short time. But Kangaroo Island is one of my favourite places in Australia. And a few hours drive from Adelaide, snorkelling with playful sea lions is a souvenir I will never forget. So if you get the opportunity to visit, you really should.
Australia Bucket List: Tasmania
Check out this road trip itinerary and the photos of Tasmania to understand why I put the entire state on the list of places where you must visit in Australia. You will need at least one week to tour the island. But if you have less time, you can still check out some amazing places near Hobart or Launceston.
Australia Bucket List: Where to Find Wild Iconic Australian Animals
You will find kangaroos and wallabies easily as you get out of town at dusk or dawn. Be careful while driving!
Emus were everywhere when we drove around South Australia.
I only spotted wombats in Tasmania and once at a campground at Wilsons Promontory. Echidnas are easier to find, but Tasmania was again where I saw most of them.
Cassowaries are still on my bucket list, despite the hours we spent in the Daintree Forest hoping to see one. Mission Beach near Cairns is a reputed place to spot them.
There are tours to see the crocodiles in Kakadu National Park (Northern Territory), in the Daintree Forest (Port Douglas) or in Proserpine near the Whitsundays. You can also see some while kayaking in Katherine Gorge (Northern Territory).
You’ll have to be patient to spot a platypus. We saw a few in in Eungella National Park (Broken River, near Mackay in QLD) and in Bombala (NSW). Find out here the best tips on where and how to see one in the wild.
Less known but nonetheless magical, rare Australian glow worms can be found in the stunning Natural Bridge Cave in Springbrook National Park, not far from Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
Are you planning a trip to Australia or do you know someone who is? This can make the farewell party a lot easier: check out this Australian Survival Kit: Gifts for Someone Travelling to Australia