So boss, about those vacation days…
Being so far away, many people think of Australia as a dot far along the “other side” of the map, perhaps the size of Texas, but it’s actually massive and the truth is you probably can’t or won’t see all the best bits in just one trip. In fact, it’s 11x the size of Texas, it’s the world’s sixth largest country and it’s not far off the entire USA in size…
When planning a trip to Australia, knowing where to go, how long it takes to get there and how much time you want to spend is one huge, worrying headache. No one wants to go all that way and blow it with bad planning.
This handy guide, if we don’t say so ourselves, should be just what you need to figure out the perfect amount of time for your needs, however you like to explore. Oh, and side tip: when it’s frigid in the Northern hemisphere, it’s smoking hot in Australia…
Eastern Australia is where you’ll find most of the cities and stuff which keeps travelers busy and has the things in the photos you’ve seen, like Sydney Opera House, Bondi Beach, 12 Apostles, and so forth.
With that said, Perth and Western Australia is marvelous and well worth a trip too. The first major thing to note is that they’re really far apart. Think 5 hour flight covering 1,600 miles, which is basically the same distance between New York and Denver. Planning matters for a trip like this, particularly if you plan to visit both coasts.
Getting around the East and South Coast of Australia, between cities like Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane is easy, and most flights are just an hour, or two.
If you’re coming from Europe, the USA or anywhere which requires more than 10 hours in flight time, seeing just one city would be a true shame.
Like the best cities in Europe, USA, Asia, or beyond, each city offers a completely different look and feel. Fortunately, much of Australia’s buzzing East Coast is very easy to navigate, and most flights clock between 1-2 hours and are generally cheap. The more cities the better, but shoot for at least two to get a feel…
If you only had two, Melbourne and Sydney are tough to beat. If you could add a couple more, Adelaide and Brisbane are wonderful and easy to reach. For those with more time, add Perth as well, with stunning scenery nearby in Western Australia.
Anyone can always argue for more or less, but as someone who finds many cities don’t need more than 24 hours, I can confidently say Sydney is a five nighter. It’s that good. One of the best parts of Sydney is how spread out it is, with quaint ferry rides connecting the beautiful coves and districts together with the Central Business District (CBD) effortlessly.
With so many unique neighborhoods and side trips you just can’t fit enough in. Here’s a 48 hour guide to help plan though…
Doing the Bondi-Coogee walk is at least a half day, and while you’re there, you should explore that end of the city, and go even further to Maroubra, if you can.
A ferry ride to Balmain and Balmain East is a must, and that’s at least a day on its own. Many also love exploring “The Rocks” in CBD and doing a Bridge Climb or Opera House tour – that’s another day. Venturing to Potts Point and onto Double Bay, each deserve at least half a day, if not more.
And that’s not even including things like side trips to the Blue Mountains, or exploring further out beaches like Manly or Balmoral. It’s a huge city and really the more time the better. Sydney is an infectiously fun spot. Don’t give less than 5 days unless you want to feel panicked.
We’ll make it super clear – Melbourne is a must. Everyone sees the iconic Opera House pictures from Sydney and says “take me there” but Melbourne has a soul of its own, and if you love great gastronomy, there’s no finer place. Melbourne is the jumping off point for 12 Apostles side trips and can even get you near wine country territory, but there’s hardly a reason to leave the city.
Melbourne is home to some of the worlds best pastry, best coffee, hippest shopping and neat outdoor markets. It’s also never far from a great beach, a cool bar with cold beer and well priced hotels.
Each neighborhood is a trip in itself, and you need at least half a day in places like St. Kilda or Fitzroy, which are the Aussie equivalent of hipster heaven. Even if you don’t like hipsters, their wares can often be very enticing, and they generally make excellent coffee and cocktails.
You could easily make the case that Melbourne is a five nighter, just like Sydney, but if you’re pressed for time three nights is enough to make you want to return, without feeling like you missed it all. If however you need a day on the beach, Instagramming the adorable, iconic surf huts on Brighton beach, better add another day.
Roughly three hours flight from Melbourne or Sydney you’ll find Northeast Queensland and all things natural beauty. There’s the great barrier reef, the iconic Whitsundays beaches and national parks galore. There are lots of direct flights, and discount carriers make flights from Sydney or Melbourne fairly cheap.
Obviously, the Great Barrier Reef requires a minimum of a day, and for many people – multiple days. If you’re after arguably the most beautiful beaches in Australia, Whitsundays is your spot. Some say they are the most beautiful beaches in the world. If that’s what you’re after, aim for Hamilton Island rather than Cairns. If you’d prefer epic hikes and further access to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is a perfect place to setup camp.
Plans at these places are so specific to each person it’s impossible to give a time estimate, but know that you’ll need to dedicate at least half a day getting there and half a day getting back to a major departure point.
To the West of Melbourne you’ll find Adelaide, and above Sydney you’ll find ever popular Brisbane and Gold Coast. Gold Coast is the city you may have seen in pictures, which is basically built onto a beach. These cities are truly awesome, and way more manageable to check out, if you can spare the time.
In general, two nights is enough to get a great feel of any of these cities.
They’re extremely approachable and far less spread out at their core than Melbourne or Sydney. If you’re looking to unwind on the beach without heading all the way to Hamilton Island, Gold Coast is an ideal place to finish a trip before jetting off from Brisbane, which is only an hour car ride away. Here’s a 48 hour guide to Brisbane.
Ideally, you want at least 10 days. If you can budget more, do it. For most of the world it’s not the closest place to get to and it’s never easy to take that much time off consecutively.
If you can swing 15 days you 100% will not get bored. If you can swing 15-20 days, you could easily do a side trip to New Zealand as well, but that’s yet another place which requires real planning. If you do go to New Zealand you can’t leave without seeing both the North and South Islands, and that’s a 2 hour flight in itself.