Australia is a country of contrasts; that’s why it never fails to fascinate. The land is sparsely populated despite its vastness. Its coastal cities are dense and vibrant, but inland the towns are typically sleepy and largely isolated. You’ll need at least two weeks to sample what Australia has to offer, but what you’ll get in that time will only be a tantalizing taste. To get a picture of what Australia is about in just a short time, you must not miss these 12 destinations when you visit Australia.
The international gateway to Australia, Sydney prides itself as one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Roughly a third of its population is made up of people born overseas, making Sydney the proverbial melting pot. Sydney is famous for its lovely harbor, as well as its postcard-worthy landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Melbourne is the cultural heart of Australia. Cultural festivals and sporting events like the Melbourne International Film Festival, the Melbourne International Art Festival, and the Australian Open (one of the four tennis Grand Slam events) make it a year-round destination. The city is also home to some of the oldest cultural institutions in Australia, including the State Library of Victoria and the National Gallery of Victoria.
Canberra is Australia’s capital city. As such, it is the home of the Australian Parliament and other government agencies, as well as sites and monuments of national significance like the National Museum, the National Library, the National Gallery, and the Australian War Memorial.
Adelaide used to be known for two things: its penal-free colonial history and the number of church spires dotting its cityscape. These days, though, Adelaide is becoming popular for its elegant buildings and landscapes, as well as its thriving multicultural foodie scene, due mainly to its large immigrant population. Adelaide’s proximity to Barossa Valley and Clare Valley makes it Australia’s wine country.
If you’re a nature lover, you need to stop by Kangaroo Island on your way to or from Adelaide. Kangaroo Island is an ecological paradise, with numerous sanctuaries for sea lions, penguins, koalas, birds, and, of course, kangaroos. Must-see attractions include the dramatic Remarkable Rock formation, and the sand dunes of Little Sahara.
Fraser Island is yet another ecological paradise in Australia. One of the largest sand islands in the country, the island is popular for its abundance of rainforests, mangroves, swamps, eucalyptus woodlands, beaches, and freshwater lakes, most of which can be explored through the 90-kilometer Fraser Island Great Walk trek.
Non-Australians probably know about Tasmania largely because of the Tasmanian devil, a ferocious marsupial that inspired a comically chaotic Looney Tunes character. But Tasmania is definitely more than its resident devil. It’s one of the most ecologically diverse islands in the world, boasting unique flora and fauna. The island also has a notable foodie scene, famous for its cheeses, beer, and wines.
Gold Coast is the place to go if you’re going to Australia in the summer. Gold Coast is Australia’s beach capital and surfing haven, boasting of nearly 70 kilometers of golden beaches, exciting surf breaks, and 300 days of sunshine. Beyond the sand and sea, the Gold Coast has a mountain region perfect for hiking, while downtown is full of pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes that promise an exhilarating nightlife.
A lot of tourists drop by Brisbane on their way to Gold Coast and surrounding resort towns, but Brisbane itself is a cool place for a visit. The city is building a reputation for edginess, and it shows in its brilliant restaurant scene and live performance venues. There’s always a concert or live performance happening in Brisbane, and its location on the mighty Brisbane River means there’s plenty of opportunity to hang outdoors.
Perth is one of the most laid back cities in Australia, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. If you want a taste of culture, you can visit a museum or gallery, of which there are plenty in Perth. The city also has an abundance of picturesque parks. And if you’re looking for excitement, just wait for nightfall for a taste of Perth’s nightlife.
Of all of the cities in Australia, only Darwin sports a tropical vibe. It’s no surprise, given how close Darwin is in Southeast Asia, particularly East Timor and Indonesia. Darwin is the place to go if you want an Asian-style beach experience in Australia or if you want to explore the national parks of Litchfield and Kakadu.
Alice Springs lies on the geographical center of Australia. Also known as the Red Center, Alice Springs is the entry point for exploring the red deserts of the Australian continent, particularly those surrounding Uluru and Kata Tjuta, the two majestic rock formations symbolizing Australia’s arid regions. Still, Alice Springs has its own merits as the Aboriginal art capital of the country.