Places to visit, stay, explore, food to try & more in Australia
Australia is an enormous country bigger than all the countries of Western Europe combined. How on earth do you choose what to see and do?
From drinking a Melbourne flat white (coffee) to watching the sunset over Uluṟu, these 15 experiences offer a taste of modern Australian culture (and in many cases a taste of delicious food, too).
The best time to visit Australia all depends on where you’re going and what you want to do.
One of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions is the Great Barrier Reef. While the temperatures are warm year-round, the best time to visit is in the summer or spring. While it is the wet season, the rain keeps away the large crowds that flock to the coast in the drier winter months.
If you’re after picture-perfect days at the Gold Coast‘s famous beaches, plan your trip during the summer months (December to February).
For wine lovers, the best time to visit Australia’s 60 wine regions is in the autumn, From April to June, you’ll be in time for the many harvest festivals.
Australian life and culture
Every aspect of Australian life and culture, whether its matey attitudes or it's truly great outdoors, is a product of the country’s scale and population or lack of it. Australia rivals the USA in size, but is home to only 24 million people, giving it one of the lowest population densities on earth. The energy of its contemporary culture is in contrast to a landscape that is ancient and often looks it: much of central and western Australia the bulk of the country is overwhelmingly arid and flat. In contrast, its cities, most founded as recently as the mid-nineteenth century, burst with vibrant, youthful energy.
The most iconic scenery is the Outback, the vast fabled desert that spreads west of the Great Dividing Range into the country’s epic interior. Here, vivid blue skies, cinnamon-red earth, deserted gorges and geological features as bizarre as the wildlife comprise a unique ecology, one that has played host to the oldest surviving human culture for up to 70,000 years (just 10,000 years after Homo sapiens is thought to have emerged from Africa).
This harsh interior has forced modern Australia to become a coastal country. Most of the population lives within 20km of the ocean, the majority of these occupying a suburban, southeastern arc that extends from southern Queensland to Adelaide. Urban Australians celebrate the typical New World values of material self-improvement through hard work and hard play, with an easy-going vitality that visitors, especially Europeans, often find refreshingly hedonistic. A sunny climate also contributes to this exuberance, with an outdoor life in which a thriving beach culture and the congenial backyard “barbie” are central.
Australia’s indigenous people
Although visitors might eventually find this low-key, suburban lifestyle rather prosaic, there are opportunities – particularly in the Northern Territory to experience Australia’s indigenous peoples and their culture through visiting ancient art sites, taking tours and, less easily, making personal contact. Many Aboriginal people especially in central Australia have managed to maintain a traditional lifestyle (albeit with modern amenities), speaking their own languages and living by their own laws. Conversely, most Aboriginal people in cities and country towns are trapped in a destructive cycle of racism, poverty and lack of meaningful employment opportunities, often resulting in health problems and substance abuse. To give just one example, life expectancy rates for Aboriginal Australians are ten years lower than those of the rest of the population. There’s still a long way to go before black and white people in Australia can exist on genuinely equal terms.
Where to go to Australia
For visitors, deciding where to go can mean juggling distance, money and time. With an expanse of places to visit, Australia’s tourism means that you could spend months driving around the Outback, exploring the national parks, or hanging out at beaches; or you could take an all-in, two-week “Sydney, Reef and Rock” package, encompassing Australia’s outstanding trinity of must-sees. These are just some of the top places to go in Australia.
Both options provide thoroughly Australian experiences, but either will leave you with a feeling of having merely scraped the surface of this vast country. Visit Australia and experience the two big natural attractions: the 2000km-long Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast, with its complex of islands and underwater splendor, and the brooding monolith of Uluru (Ayers Rock), in the Northern Territory’s Red Centre.
Sydney is the jewel in Australia’s navel. Famous as one of the world’s great gay cities, it attracts LGBTQ visitors from around the world. Melbourne closely follows, but there are scenes in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, and to a lesser extent in Perth, Adelaide, Hobart, and Darwin.
Away from the cities, things get more discreet, but a lot of country areas do have friendly local scenes impossible to pinpoint, but easy to stumble across. However, Outback's mainstays of mining and cattle ranching are not famed for their tolerance of homosexuality, so tread carefully in remote destinations.