Contact Us   Site Map

So, where exactly in Australia should you visit, and how long should you spend there?

This next section on our series about Australia answers these questions for you.

Travel Planning and Assistance
Road Warrior resources
How to Book and Buy Travel
Scary, Silly and Stupid Security Stories
Airline Reviews
Airline (Mis)!Management
Miscellaneous Features
Reference Materials
About the Travel Insider
Looking for something else? Search over two million words of free information on our site.
Custom Search
Free Newsletter

In addition to our feature articles, we offer you a free weekly newsletter with a mix of news and opinions on travel related topics.


 View Sample
Privacy Policy

Help this Site
Thank you for your interest in helping this site to continue to develop. Some of the information we give you here can save you thousands of dollars the next time you're arranging travel, or will substantially help the quality of your travel experiences in other, non-cash ways. Click for more information
Reader's Replies

If you'd like to send in your own ideas and thoughts, send me a note.


Where to Visit in Australia part 1

Australia's 'A' list tourist attractions

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway in Cairns

The wonderful Skyrail experience in the Cairns region should be on your 'A' List of must do activities in Australia.

Part one of a four part article on places to visit in Australia - click on to part two.

Also part of a general series on travel to and in Australia - click the links on the right hand side for more articles.



There's such a lot to see and do in Australia that your problem is not so much what to do and where to go, but instead it is a more delightful and possibly more difficult problem - what to omit and where to not visit.

To help you in this process, we have prepared prioritized lists of what we consider to be Australia's most generally appealing destinations.

We recommend you don't attempt to see too much on each trip to Australia, so that you don't spend a disproportionate amount of time traveling between destinations.


Prioritizing Your Australian Itinerary

There's a big problem when visiting Australia - so much of the country is interesting, different, unusual, and enjoyable.  There are very few areas that can be immediately crossed off your doubtless long list of places to see and things to do while in Australia.

You're going to run out of time - and/or money - long before you run out of great things to see and do in Australia.

The first part of your planning process is to accept this stark reality.  Don't try to see and do the entire country in a single visit; you'll end up exhausted and overwhelmed.  Your objective is to relax and enjoy your visit, not to run around like a mad thing, furiously checking places off a huge list.

What you should do is make a list of the places you want to visit, more or less in priority, and perhaps set a minimum and ideal amount of time (there's no such thing as a maximum!) you'd want to spend in each place.

Then compare your time and cost budget with the time and cost implications of traveling around Australia to multiple places and decide how much you can include and how much you'll have to leave for another time.

One final thought.  If you wanted to 'cheat' a bit, you might decide to deliberately leave out one or two of the things you most wanted to see/do, so as to encourage your return to Australia in the future.

Along these lines, sometimes people choose their destinations based on a common 'theme'.  One theme might be food and drink; another might be cities, arts and culture, another might be beaches and sunshine type activities, another might be wildlife, another might be natural beauty, and so on.

Creating Our Own Recommended List of Places to Visit in Australia

Before we present our own list to you, we need to offer a disclaimer, an explanation, and an apology.

First, the explanation.  We're preparing this list based on our own experiences of helping tens of thousands of primarily American tourists visit Australia, and what we have discovered they most and least enjoy.

Our ratings are far from exact, with most of the items being arguably appropriate for inclusion in the category we've placed them, or in a category higher, or a category lower.  So use these ratings for guidance but don't adhere to them too strictly.  Which leads to -

Second, the disclaimer.  We're of course using subjective judgment and trying to create 'average' scores for places based on what works for most people.

Your own interests may be very different, and so our list may not be in line with how your own list will be developed.  For example, you might want to add a three day live-aboard dive cruise to your time in Far North Queensland, which would totally change the time needed in that area.  Or in any other way, your interests may diverge from the generic 'averages' we are considering.

 Neither you nor we are right or wrong - we are just looking at the topic from different perspectives.

Third, the apology.  We've overlooking or downgrading some truly amazing places in Australia that are world class by any other standard.  Anything and anywhere in Australia is sure to delight you.  But some places are simply better than others, even though the 'less best' places are still excellent too.

Australia's A List and How Many Locations to Include in Your Itinerary

We place two parts of Australia on the highest priority A list of places you simply must see.

The first is Sydney, and the second is Tropical North Queensland.

If you are spending a week or less in Australia, it is generally best to spend all the time in one location, particularly if you've traveled a long way to get to Australia.  Figure on a day for rest and relaxation and recovery after your long journey, and only after that do your 'quality' days of enjoyment start to tick over.

If you are staying up to about a week and a half, then two or at the most three locations would be an appropriate itinerary to build.

Then, as you add extra time, you can consider adding an extra destination every 2 - 4 days.

Allowing for Traveling Time

Remember that Australia is a huge country, and you can end up spending an entire day simply traveling from one place to another.

Don't forget to allow not just for the time it takes for a plane to fly from one airport to the other, but all the rest of the time too.  From when you start packing your bags, to checking out of the hotel, to getting to the airport an hour or two prior to departure, to your flight, to collecting luggage at the other end, to then completing your journey by getting to your next hotel, checking in, getting to your room and doing some unpacking - all these other parts of the total travel equation can easily add four or more hours to the flight time by itself.

In other words, even the shortest flight represents a good half day of time for the total process, and probably messes up the entire day in terms of hoping to combine the travel with a 'major' activity that might take half a day or more to enjoy.

That also points to one benefit of traveling when it is not winter in Australia.  You have more hours of daylight, allowing you to include more activities in a day.

A List Attraction - Sydney

The first of our two A list locations is Sydney.  This city is Australia's largest city (population of about 4.5 million) and also one of its oldest (the site of Britain's first penal colony in Australia and founded in 1788).

It is located around the shores of a gorgeous harbor, and has the country's largest international airport.  It is a clean lovely city full of enjoyable experiences, and is blessed with a wonderful climate pretty much year-round.

In addition to things to see and do in the city itself, there is plenty more to see and do in the form of short day touring from Sydney too.

How Long to Stay in Sydney

We recommend you have a minimum of three days in Sydney.  One day can be used for organized touring in Sydney itself, one day for touring outside of Sydney, and the third day would be a 'free' day to stroll around, sightsee, relax, and enjoy.

You could easily add another two days in Sydney before reaching the point where time might be better spent traveling on to other places.

On the other hand, some people travel to Australia for a week or longer and spend the entire time in Sydney, so if you are only going to Australia for about a week, maybe you should simply base yourself in Sydney for the entire duration rather than spend some of your precious in-country time traveling to other places.

A List Attraction - Cairns and Tropical North Queensland

If you have time to visit only one other place in Australia, it should probably be the region known variously as Far North Queensland or Tropical North Queensland, with Cairns as the major gateway city.

Here is the best place to go and see the Great Barrier Reef and also the World Heritage Rainforest - indeed, this is the only place in the world with two very different World Heritage areas (the Reef and the Rainforest) adjacent to each other.

Other things to do include Kuranda and the Atherton Tablelands.

How Long to Stay in the Cairns/Tropical North Queensland Area

We recommend a minimum of three days in this part of Australia.  One day can be used to visit the Great Barrier Reef, another day to visit the Rainforest, and a third day perhaps for Kuranda.  A fourth day and even fifth day could easily be spent as well before you started to get to the point where your allocation of time was becoming unbalanced.

For more information

This is part one of a four part article on places to visit in Australia - please click on to part two which describes the 'B' list Australian destinations we recommend.

Click the links in the top right of this page for additional helpful information about travel to and in Australia.

Related Articles, etc

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.


Originally published 2 Sep 2011, last update 30 May 2021

Related Articles
Information about planning a vacation in Australia
When is the Best Time to Visit Australia
Where to Visit in Australia
What Order to Travel Around Australia
Do you need a rental car in Australia

Travel Information on New Zealand

Your Feedback

How Would You Rate this Article


Was the Article Length and Coverage

Too short/simplistic
About right 
Too long/complex

Would You Like More Articles on this Subject