Stopover options for travelling to Australia
Planning a trip to Australia? Until Qantas launch 20-hour direct flights from London to Sydney in 2022, you’re looking at a long-haul journey with at least one connection. Rather than simply transiting through an airport, why not break the journey up with a longer stopover? Add another dimension to your holiday with a city break in the USA, luxurious stay in the Middle East, a taste of Asian culture or even a trip to South Africa. Here are some of the top stopover options for travelling to Australia.
What’s in this Australia stopover guide?
The Middle East
Note that some places make better stopovers than others depending on when you’re travelling to Australia and what you want to experience. Stays can be tailored to any length, whether you want to split up the journey to Australia by a couple of nights or spend a week exploring a new destination.
The Middle East
The Middle East encompasses 17 countries, predominately in western Asia. This huge region has been inhabited for centuries so is rich with ancient culture, as well as staggering landscapes. Think endless deserts and mountain ranges, grand religious buildings, a pristine coastline and traditional souks. Today, this contrasts with the Middle East’s modern cities which are home to chic hotels, megamalls and skyscrapers. Whether you’re looking for a five-star spa break or desert safari, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha all lie around seven hours from London and offer regular onward flights to Australia.
Flight duration: London to Dubai: 7 hours. Dubai to Sydney: 13.5 hours or 10.5 hours to Perth.
Best time to visit Dubai: between November and March, when temperatures remain in the mid 20s and humidity is lower. Avoid visiting Dubai in the summer, when it hits 40 degrees.
What to do: Dubai is known for its lavish spa hotels and golf courses, casinos, malls and striking skyline. Visit the world’s tallest building, the 828-metre-high Burj Khalifa, to take in views of the city from the 360-degree observation deck. If you love shopping, hit the Dubai Mall which has over 1,200 shops, an aquarium and a virtual reality theme park, or head to the popular Gold, Spice, Textile and Perfume souks.
Dubai also has plenty of sandy beaches on the Arabian Gulf, which are perfect for some downtime, or you can enjoy a dune buggy or camel riding adventure in the surrounding desert. If you’re looking for Arabian culture, the Fatimid-style Jumeirah Mosque has tours for non-Muslim visitors and you can visit Dubai’s oldest building, Al Fahidi Fort, which dates back to 1787 and now houses a city museum.
Suggested stay: JA Palm Tree Court Hotel
Flight duration: London to Abu Dhabi: 7 hours. Abu Dhabi to Sydney: 14 hours.
Best time to visit Abu Dhabi: between November and March, when temperatures are cooler and the crowds are less intense.
What to do: as the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi makes for an interesting Australia stopover. Highlights include Abu Dhabi Mall and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which has 82 domes and is one of the largest mosques in the world, with capacity for over 40,000 worshipers. Take a stroll along the Corniche, the eight-kilometre waterfront which has restaurants and a flawless beach, and trawl for treasures at the city souks.
Abu Dhabi features a range of luxury hotels and spas. Many are located on Yas Island, where you can enjoy malls, beaches, a waterpark, golf and the fastest rollercoaster ever invented at Ferrari World. If you plan on having a longer stopover in Abu Dhabi, camp overnight in the Arabian desert or drive the Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road. This seven-mile road has 60 corners and climbs to 1,200 metres, offering spectacular views.
Suggested stay: Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel & Villas
Flight duration: London to Doha: 7 hours. Doha to Sydney: 14.5 hours or 11 hours to Perth.
Best time to visit Doha: is between November and March, when temperatures stay in the bearable 20s.
What to do: Doha sits on the Persian Gulf and is the capital of Qatar, one of the richest countries on the planet. Stopover here to sample extreme luxury, especially on nearby Pearl Qatar, a man-made island with quality resorts that’s nicknamed the Arabian Riviera. The city is best viewed from the Torch Doha, a 300-metre-tall skyscraper with a hotel, revolving restaurant and panoramic city views.
Soak up some culture at Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, the 19th-century Barzan Towers or Katara Cultural Village, which has a museum and amphitheatre. The Souk Waqif is a must-visit for its labyrinth of shops selling everything from spices to clothing, while the Villaggio Mall houses high-class brands. Head out to the desert for some dune bashing and to see Al Zubarah Fort, a UNESCO site that was once a trading and pearl diving centre.
Suggested stay: Grand Hyatt – Doha
South Africa is a more unusual stopover but if don’t mind taking a longer route to Australia, you’ll be rewarded with incredible wildlife. Known as the Rainbow Nation for its diversity, South Africa has over 20 national parks and hundreds of reserves where you’ll find Africa’s Big Five: the leopard, lion, rhino, buffalo and elephant. Stopover in Johannesburg for a safari in nearby Kruger National Park or visit Cape Town, home to Robben Island and Table Mountain. Both cities have historical sites where you can learn about South African history, apartheid and icons like Nelson Mandela.
Flight duration: London to Cape Town: 11.5 hours. Cape Town to Sydney: 15.5 hours or 13.5 hours to Perth, both options connect in Johannesburg.
Best time to visit Cape Town: summer is the dry, peak season, with temperatures reaching 30 degrees from November to February. For whale watching, visit between July and November, while the shoulder season in March and April offers a quieter, cooler stay.
What to do: hailed as one of the most multicultural cities in the world, Cape Town is South Africa’s second-largest hub. Take a cable car up Table Mountain for sweeping views over the city and coast from 1,085 metres, or try one of the many summit hiking trails. Top city sights include the colourful Bo-Kaap neighbourhood, Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, which dates back to 1913 and is filled with indigenous flora.
Don’t miss a tour of nearby UNESCO site Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he was incarcerated during apartheid. You can find out more about this turbulent era at the District Six Museum, a former ‘whites only’ residential area. Head out to nearby Boulders Beach to see a colony of cute African Penguins and if you have time, take a drive along the coastal Garden Route, billed as South Africa’s best road trip.
Suggested stay: One&Only Cape Town
Flight duration: London to Johannesburg: 11 hours. Johannesburg to Sydney: 11-12 hours or 9.5 hours to Perth.
Best time to visit Johannesburg: summer falls from November to February, with hot days prone to afternoon thunderstorms. Visit between March and May or September and November for slightly cooler weather.
What to do: South Africa’s capital Jo’burg started life as a 19th century gold-mining settlement. Today, it’s a thriving metropolis filled with history. The Apartheid Museum, which documents the rise and fall of this oppressive regime, is an essential stop to understand South African history. Learn about some important Johannesburg residents at the Mandela House Museum in Soweto and Gandhi House. You can also visit Constitution Hill, the prison where both of these famous figures were once held.
More Johannesburg highlights include Nelson Mandela Square and the Carlton Centre, which is Africa’s tallest building, with a 50th-floor viewing deck. Visit the Gold Reef City amusement park, built on a disused mine, for gold-rush-themed rides or wander the city’s 81-hectare Botanical Gardens. Book a longer stay in Johannesburg to take a safari in Kruger National Park, which lies four and a half hours from the city.
Suggested stay: African Pride Melrose Arch
If you’re looking for an exotic stopover, then Asia is the perfect option. The region has everything from forests and mountains to beaches and cities filled with temples and grand palaces. Most Asia stopover destinations lie less than 15 hours from London and offer direct onward flights to Australia. Spend a few days in Singapore or Hong Kong for glitzy cityscapes and bustling harbours or head to Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur for sprawling markets and street food. If you’re craving a beach escape, make a stopover in beautiful Bali.
Flight duration: London to Bangkok: 11.5 hours. Bangkok to Sydney: 9.5 hours or 7 hours to Perth.
Best time to visit Bangkok: Thailand has a tropical monsoon climate and the rainy season falls between June and October. November to February is the best time to visit, with slightly cooler temperatures in the 20s and dry conditions.
What to do: Thailand’s iconic capital is one of the world’s most-visited cities. Temple hop around Bangkok’s golden temples, stopping at Wat Pho to see the giant reclining Buddha and Wat Arun on the riverfront, which has a 79-metre-tall tower covered in sparkling tiles. Visit the 18th century Royal Palace, a complex with over 100 elaborate buildings including Wat Phra Kaew, which houses the Emerald Buddha and is Thailand’s most sacred temple.
Khao San Road is Bangkok’s backpacker mecca known for its bars and street food. As well as nightlife, the city is a haven for shoppers, with malls and outdoor markets. The biggest is Chatuchak, which has over 8,000 stalls and is open at the weekends. Take a boat trip along the Chao Phraya River to see a slice of local Thai life, get a massage or head to Lumpini Park, the city’s largest green space, to spot monitor lizards.
Suggested stay: Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort
Flight duration: London to Kuala Lumpur: 13 hours. Kuala Lumpur to Sydney: 8.5 hours or 6 hours to Perth.
Best time to visit Kuala Lumpur: year-round temperatures average 28 degrees in Kuala Lumpur. It’s best to visit between May and July, when it’s dry and humidity is low. Monsoon season falls from October to January and in March and April.
What to do: Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia and its trademark Petronas Towers dominate the skyline. At over 450 metres tall, they’re the biggest twin towers in the world, connected by a sky bridge that provides impressive views over the city. Enjoy some retail therapy at Kuala Lumpur’s massive malls, including Suria KLCC and Mid Valley. Head to the central market for a more authentic Asian shopping experience with Malay, Indian and Chinese sections.
Kuala Lumpur reflects Malaysia’s diverse make-up, with historical gems like the Moorish-style Jamek Mosque, the 19th century Hindu temple Sri Mahamariamman and the nearby Batu Caves. Accessible by train from the city, these limestone cliffs are dotted with Hindu cave shrines. Back in the city, dine on tasty street food in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown and Little India or go to the swanky Golden Triangle area for nightlife and spas.
Suggested stay: Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur
Flight duration: London to Singapore: 13 hours. Singapore to Sydney: 8 hours or 5 hours to Perth.
Best time to visit Singapore: there are two main monsoon seasons in Singapore, from December to March and June to September. Visit between February and April, when it’s drier and cooler.
What to do: Singapore was once a British colonial outpost and has a blend of Chinese, Indian and Malay cultural influences. The city’s clean streets feature high-end shopping on Orchard Road, Chinatown for food vendors and the tourist-friendly Marina Bay. Here you’ll find attractions like the Science Museum, the Singapore Flyer and great restaurants and shopping. Take a boat tour across the bay in time to watch the 8pm Wonder Full Light and Water show.
Singapore is also known for its architecturally-renowned Gardens by the Bay, with futuristic supertrees, garden skywalks and seashell greenhouses. The UNESCO-listed Singapore Botanic Gardens are another leafy oasis, covering six hectares. For a fun day out, take the MRT to Universal Studios Singapore for movie-themed rides or go to Sentosa by cable car. This purpose-built island features unspoiled beaches, theme parks and golf courses.
Suggested stay: Naumi Hotel Singapore
Flight duration: London to Hong Kong: 11.5 hours. Hong Kong to Sydney: 9.5 hours or 7.5 hours to Perth.
Best time to visit Hong Kong: is from October to December or in March and April, when there’s plenty of sun, low rainfall and temperatures stay in the low 20s. It gets hot and stormy during July and August.
What to do: Hong King is a skyscraper jungle, nestled between the sea and green mountains. Visit landmarks like the Taoist Man Mo temple, Chinese-style Wong Tai Sin Temple and Tsing Shan monastery. Shoppers will adore Temple Street Night Market, which has stalls selling everything from food to antiques. Take a trip on the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour for views of the skyline during the nightly light show.
Hong Kong’s most popular attractions lie on the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, such as the clock tower, Hong Kong Museum of Art and Hong Kong Space Museum. Get views of the city by taking a tram to the 554-metre summit of Victoria Peak or hike the Dragon’s Back Ridge on Hong Kong Island. Nearby beaches include white-sand Tai Long Wan, or you can sail to Lantau Island for a day out at Disneyland.
Suggested stay: Harbour Grand Kowloon
Flight duration: London to Bali: 15.5 hours. Bali to Sydney: 6 hours or 3.5 hours to Perth.
Best time to visit Bali: between April and September, which is the dry season, with slightly lower humidity and lots of sun. Wet season falls between March and October, but it’s warm and humid all year round.
What to do: Bali is Australia’s favourite holiday destination and the most popular of Indonesia’s 17,000 plus islands. Relax on soft-sand beaches, some of the best include up-market Nusa Dua and Seminyak, while Sanur offers golden sands and Kuta has a vibrant nightlife scene. The south of the island has superb diving and snorkelling and surfing spots like Balian Beach and the Keramas boast brilliant waves.
Set inland, Ubud is Bali’s cultural capital, peppered with decorative temples and a monkey forest inhabited by long-tailed macaques. Get a traditional massage, watch a Balinese dance performance and explore the nearby UNESCO-recognised Jatiluwih terraces. Bike tours to coffee farms are popular in Bali, as are trips to Mount Batur, a 1,717-metre-high volcano. Bali is predominately Hindu and has over 20,000 temples to explore, including Besakih on Mount Agung, the largest and holiest on the island.
Suggested stay: The Laguna Resort & Spa
Stopover in the USA for cinematic cities packed with well-known landmarks, from the Statue of Liberty to the Golden Gate Bridge and LA’s Walk of Fame. New York City and the west coast hubs San Francisco and Los Angeles are ideal for an action-packed stopover, located less than 12 hours from London. Experience everything from shopping and museums to Californian beaches, notorious Alcatraz, American immigration history on Ellis Island and movie magic in Hollywood.
Flight duration: London to New York: 7-8 hours. New York to Sydney: 22 hours connecting flight.
Best time to visit New York: between April and June when it’s not too hot or from September to November before the winter chill really sets in.
What to do: The Big Apple is an unforgettable stopover with famous sites around every corner, from Times Square and Madison Avenue to the Empire State Building and Central Park. Take in views of the city from the Top of the Rockefeller building or Brooklyn Bridge. No trip to New York would be complete without seeing a Broadway show and for more culture, visit the Museum of the City of New York, the Guggenheim or American Museum of Natural History.
Other top New York sights include the constellation-covered ceiling in Grand Central Station and the moving 9/11 Memorial Museum. Catch a ferry from Battery Park to see the Statue of Liberty and on the way back, stop at Elis Island, which has a fascinating immigration museum. If you’re planning a longer stay in New York, go to Brooklyn’s Coney Island to see the 1900s pier and amusement park.
Suggested stay: Stewart Hotel
Flight duration: London to Los Angeles: 11.5 hours. Los Angeles to Sydney: 15 hours.
Best time to visit Los Angeles: the city boasts 300 annual days of sunshine but summer can be unbearably hot, smoggy and crowded. The weather is pleasantly sunny but cool in spring and autumn, which are ideal times to visit.
What to do: most tourists head straight for Hollywood Boulevard to follow over 2,600 stars on the Walk of Fame. Stop at the TCL Chinese Theatre, which has been hosting film premiers since 1927, to see film-star handprints ranging from John Wayne to Jennifer Lawrence. Looking for that Hollywood Hills sign? Take a free bus to Griffith Park for stellar views and then visit the iconic observatory. Other LA sights include the Hollywood Bowl, Rodeo Drive for shopping, art at the Getty Center and driving along Sunset Boulevard.
Universal, Warner Bros and Paramount Pictures all offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Hollywood on their studio lot tours. Opt to visit Universal and you can also spend the day riding rollercoasters and exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If that’s not enough fun for you, there’s always Disneyland in nearby Anaheim. Take a day trip to one of LA’s top beaches, such as bohemian Venice or Santa Monica with its Pacific Park and pier.
Suggested stay: Kimpton Everly Hotel
Flight duration: London to San Francisco: 11 hours. San Francisco to Sydney: 15 hours.
Best time to visit San Francisco: the city can be windy all year-round, with heavy fog in summer. The best time to visit is from September to November when temperatures are in the low 20s and the city is quieter.
What to do: San Francisco’s steep streets are best explored by heritage cable cars, which date back to the 1880s. Stop at city sights like Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, trendy Haight and Asbury and Pier 39, where you can see dozens of basking sea lions. You’ll get great views of the city from 64-metre-tall Coit Tower and of course, you’ll want to visit the Golden Gate Bridge. Head over to Alamo Square to see a strip of colourful Victorian and Edwardian homes known as the Painted Ladies.
You’ll need to book ahead to take a tour of Alcatraz, the former maximum-security prison that floats in the middle of San Francisco bay. In the rainbow-covered Castro District you can learn about the life of Harvey Milk, San Francisco’s former revolutionary mayor and visit the area’s LGBT Museum to understand the Castro’s role in the Gay Liberation movement. If you’re planning a longer stopover, drive to the Muir Woods to see towering, 2,000-year-old Redwood Trees or take a Berkeley College tour.
Suggested stay: Kimpton Sir Francis Drake