Head out on one of these top day trips from Sydney
As Australia’s largest city, Sydney is a cultural hub filled with iconic landmarks, history and nightlife. Set on the Pacific Coast, the capital of New South Wales is bordered by golden beaches on one side and the Blue Mountains on the other. Head out on one of these top day trips from Sydney to explore more of the area’s treasures, from vineyards to national parks, highlands and beaches.
All of these destinations are ideal for a day trip from Sydney or can be integrated into an Australian self-drive itinerary. Get some route suggestions from our six-night Sydney, Blue Mountains & the Hunter Valley Self-Drive or take a more extensive trip up the Australian east coast with our Sydney to Cairns - Grand East Discovery Self-Drive.
Heading north from Sydney
The Hunter Valley
This fertile valley lies three hours north of Sydney and is one of Australia’s oldest wine regions, specialising in Semillon. Take a tour and tasting session at one of over 150 wineries, including therenowned Tyrrell’s Vineyard and Brokenwood Wines. The Hunter Valley is also known for its amazing cheeses, chocolates, oils and olives, which you can sample in the valley’s acclaimed restaurants. Soak up the scenery with a hike in nearby Barrington Tops National Park, which is part of the UNESCO-listed Gondwana Rainforest, or visit the Hunter Valley Gardens. This oasis has ten themed gardens covering 14 hectares and showcases flora from around the world.
The Northern Beaches
For the perfect beach day, head to one of Sydney’s Northern Beaches. This suburban district is lined with a 30-kilometre string of sandy beaches and it takes around 45-minutes to drive the whole stretch. Beach-hop your way along or settle in at a favourite for some sun, sea and surf. You can take a 30-minute ferry ride from Sydney’s Circular Quay to the closest beach, Manly, which has a busy promenade, surf schools, a Sea Life Sanctuary and free BBQs. Other top picks include Newport, Curl Curl, Whale and Palm Beach, which is home to the Barrenjoey lighthouse and offers panoramic sea views.
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
It takes just 45 minutes to drive from Sydney to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, which is named after its original Guringai Aboriginal inhabitants. The park is a haven for nature lovers, featuring unspoiled bushland with eucalyptus trees, rainforest, bays and creeks. Follow one of the nature trails to explore the landscape or embark on an Aboriginal heritage walk to see ancient Guringai rock engravings. Head to the sandstone West Head Lookout at the tip of the park for sweeping views over the Central Coast to Lion Island Nature Reserve and the Barrenjoey headland. You can also go boating on one of the many lush waterways, which include Cowan and Smiths Creek.
Watersport fans will love Port Stephens, which lies two-and-a-half hours north of Sydney. The port is part of the Great Lakes Marine Park, which covers 98,000 protected hectares, making it double the size of Sydney Harbour. Port Stephens is home to diverse marine life such as turtles, dolphins, seabirds and migrating Humpback whales. Enjoy 26 beaches and try everything from surfing and sailing to kayaking, boating and diving. Highlights include whale watching trips, the Gan Gan and Tomaree Head lookouts and sand boarding in nearby Stockton Bight Sand Dunes, the largest dunes in the country.
The Hawkesbury River
One of Australia’s most beautiful rivers, the Hawkesbury, lies less than an hour and a half from Sydney. The river was a lifeline for British Colonial settlers who arrived in the 1790s to establish farms and small towns in the area. Today, you can visit these perfectly-preserved hubs, such as Windsor and Richmond, which boast heritage buildings, galleries, museums and markets. The Hawkesbury River is surrounded by four national parks and thick bushland, so the best way to explore is by renting a boat or taking the local Riverboat Postman Cruise. Float along forested waterways past steep cliffs and historic riverside settlements.
Heading west from Sydney
The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains are one of Australia’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites and lie just an hour west of Sydney. Discover a million hectares of dense forest with cliffs, waterfalls, gorges and Aboriginal rock paintings. From Echo Point viewing platform, you can see the Three Sisters rock formations and the blue haze released by oils from eucalyptus trees.
There are over 140 kilometres of trails to hike, you can also take a ride on the Katoomba Scenic Railway or marvel at 360-degree views of Katoomba Falls and the Three Sisters from a glass-bottomed cable car. If you have more time, visit the 11 Jenolan Caves, which have mammoth limestone chambers, emerald pools and stalactities.
Kanangra-Boyd National Park
Kanangra-Boyd National Park is part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, accessible from Sydney in less than three hours. This pristine slice of wilderness is part of the Great Dividing Range and has three waterfall systems as well as caves, gorges and rivers. The park is ideal for bushwalking, with a variety of hiking routes including the short Waterfall Walk and longer Plateau Walk, which provides views of mighty Mount Tomah.
Heading south from Sydney
Royal National Park
Journey 40 minutes south of Sydney to Royal National Park. Established in 1879, it’s the world’s second-oldest National Park after Yellowstone and covers over 150 square kilometres. The park is fringed by cliffs and has 11 beaches for swimming, surfing, snorkelling and whale watching. Take a canoe trip up the Hacking River, looking out for wildlife on the way, or cycle the 10-kilometre Loftus Loop Trail. There are plenty of tracks for bushwalking through subtropical rainforest, valleys, wetlands and sandstone plateaus. Highlights include Wattamolla waterfall, Garie Beach and Aboriginal rock art at Jibbon.
Strategically built between Sydney and Melbourne, Canberra is Australia’s thriving capital. The city lies three hours from Sydney and was designed in a geometric layout with parks and gardens by award-winning architects. Start at Lake Burley Griffin in the centre and spiral outwards to visit Canberra’s top attractions, which include The Old and New Parliament Houses, the National Museum of Australia, the Australian War Memorial and National Gallery of Australia. Get aerial views over Canberra from the 843-metre-high summit of Mount Ainslie and enjoy world-class parks, dining and shopping.
The Southern Highlands
For more Australian wilderness and cute country towns, drive 90 minutes from Sydney to the Southern Highlands. This cooler area encompasses Morton National Park and 81-metre-high Fitzroy Falls. The remote landscape is teeming with wildflowers and native animals such as possums, kangaroos and wombats. Do some wine tasting at Yarrawa Estate Winery, check out the views from Manning Lookout and float down the Kangaroo River in a canoe. Don’t miss the natural waterhole Mermaid Pools and Pioneer Park Museum. This fascinating attraction features colonial buildings, a bush school, timber cutters and the Archie Chittick Museum.
The peaceful seaside town of Kiama lies an hour and 40 minutes from Sydney, close to numerous soft-sand beaches. Kiama is mostly known for its dramatic blowhole, a natural rock formation that spouts crashing waves 20 metres into the air. Take in the views and then do some kayaking along the craggy coast, enjoy a dolphin watching cruise, do some rock climbing or try a round of golf. For sea views, follow the Kiama Coast Walk along green cliff-tops.
Berrima is a historic village set in the Southern Highlands which dates back to the 1830s. Drive 90 minutes from Sydney to see one of the country’s best-preserved Georgian villages with centuries-old architecture. Wander the streets to see heritage-listed buildings such as the Berrima Courthouse, visit the Schoolyard Market and learn about the area at the District Museum. The village is full of cafes, antique stores, boutiques and markets, with plenty of nearby wineries.
The 90-minute journey to Wollongong takes you along the Grand Pacific drive, through Royal National Park and over the unique Sea Cliff Bridge. The city is the third-largest in New South Wales and has a great art and cafe scene. Relax on nearby North Wollongong Beach where you can surf, kitesurf or kayak. Nearby sights include the Buddhist Nan Tien Temple, Lake Illawarra, Reddall Reserve and the Thirlmere Trainworks. Finish the day at Stanwell Park on Wollongong’s northern tip, where Lawrence Hargrave first flew a box kite at Bald Hill Lookout in 1894.
Stopover suggestions heading south from Sydney to Melbourne
Heading south from Sydney on a road trip to Melbourne and the east coast of Australia? Stop off at some of these top destinations along the way, featured in our Sydney to Cairns - Grand East Discovery Self-Drive tour. If you’re short of time, take an inland route to Sydney via Canberra, but otherwise, journey down the Sapphire Coast.
- Jervis Bay – thought to have some of whitest sand in the world, this popular seaside destination boasts incredible diving at the Marine Park, dolphin and whale watching cruises and nearby coastal villages.
- Canberra – detour inland to experience the Australian capital, home to history and museums, parks, art galleries and plenty of world-class restaurants.
- Mount Kosciuszko – set in Kosciuszko National Park, this is Australia’s highest mountain with a 2,228-metre summit. The 13-kilometre hike to its peak, nestled in the Snowy Mountains, is one of the best in the world. There’s also a chairlift for a more relaxing journey.
- Lakes Entrance – this coastal town is famed for its inland waterways, the Gippsland Lakes. Cross the bridge to spectacular Ninety Nine Mile beach for watersports and visit the Griffiths Sea Shell Museum.
- Wilsons Promontory – this national park is home to the southernmost spot in Australia and has an atmospheric lighthouse, hiking opportunities, beaches and granite peaks. Don’t miss Mount Oberon and the quartz-sand Squeaky Beach.
- Phillip Island – is known for its daily sunset penguin parade and the largest fur seal colony in the country. Stroll along the Nobbies boardwalk to spot seabirds.
- Mornington Peninsula – just north of Phillip Island, this area is dotted with isolated bays and caves, farms, orchards and 200 vineyards. Have a soak in the geothermal Peninsula Hot Springs.
Stopover suggestions heading north from Sydney to Cairns
If you’re heading north up the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane and then Cairns, you can find stop-off suggestions in our Pacific Coast Explorer Self-Drive tour and Sydney to the Sunshine Coast Self-Drive tour. Destinations include:
- Port Macquarie – is one of oldest towns in New South Wales, with a fascinating colonial past as well as a 19th century lighthouse, beaches and nearby Billabong Zoo.
- Byron Bay – Byron is a favourite surfing destination with a bohemian vibe and is home to striking Cape Byron Lighthouse in the State Conservation Park.
- Brisbane – discover Queensland’s capital, a modern city with museums, botanical gardens, parks and a superb urban beach. Walk along the lively South Bank and catch a show at the cultural centre, which is also a base for museums.
- Airlie Beach – is the jumping off point for sailing trips around the 74 Whitsunday islands. Snorkel and bask on remote white-sand beaches such as Whitehaven.
- Townsville – a seaside city on the Sunshine Coast known for its bustling Strand esplanade and Reef HQ, the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium.
- Cairns – this tourist hub serves as a base for exploring the UNESCO-listed Great Barrier Reef on a snorkel or dive trip.
- Port Douglas – head an hour north from Cairns on the scenic Captain Cook Highway to Port Douglas, the tropical resort town and gateway to Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation.
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