We all know about Sydney, Australia’s most populous (and arguably most beautiful) city. But after you’ve seen the Opera House, walked across Harbour Bridge, and sunned on the sands of Bondi Beach, it’s time to strike out for something new. From its ancient rust-red center to the turquoise blues of the Great Barrier Reef to the vineyard greens and colorful streets of southern Australia's wine country, this vast continent is ripe for exploring. Here, the six best places to visit beyond Sydney.
If Sydney is Australia’s cosmopolitan poster child, Melbourne is its soul. Art, culture, fashion, food—you’ll find it all within Melbourne's multi-cultural neighborhoods, whose communities and restaurants run the gamut from Vietnamese and Middle-Eastern to African and Chinese. A walk past the iconic colored huts of Brighton Beach is a perfect introduction to the city. Two culinary spots on the current radar: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in Southbank, a spin-off of the London original that delivers golden-age dining (refined classic cocktails; modernized British staples) in a sleek, glam space; and Anchovy, over in the inner suburb of Richmond, which is turning heads of its own thanks to chef Thi Le’s modern takes on Vietnamese-meets-Southeast Asian cuisine. For a nightcap, enjoy a swig of local wine at Fitzroy’s Bar Liberty before falling asleep in the new QT Melbourne, in the CBD, whose custom art installations and buzzy nightlife are not-so-subtle nods to its downtown address.
You may have heard stories about Australia’s Northern Territory, smack in the Red Centre, but nothing can truly prepare you for the scope of this desolate region, still home to Aboriginal Anangu peoples. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, ground zero for the sandstone monolith formerly known as Ayers Rock, remains so sacred that parts of the rock are completely off-limits to photographers and visitors. The trip is worth it just to lay eyes on this pilgrimage site and its sister formation, Kata Tjuta—both famous for their ever-changing colors with the rising and setting of the sun. Take it all in during a guided desert tour led by Ayers Rock Resort, then catch a nap at the luxurious Sails in the Desert hotel before a nighttime walk through artist Bruce Munro’s ethereal Field of Light installation, which, both figuratively and literally, shines a new light on the beauty of this region’s otherworldly landscape.
That the Gold Coast clocks in as the top vacation destination for Aussies year after year isn’t a fluke. The city’s shimmering skyscrapers, which rise out of the sand like that other land of Oz, were built around the area’s best natural assets—the sand, the surf, and the gorgeous people that come here. The area is notoriously glitzy, but a few stylish outliers are moving things in a new direction. Byron Bay, a surfer’s town just down the coast, has become a food-lover’s paradise in recent years as more and more chefs and restaurateurs trade in their city roots for beach life. Three Blue Ducks, started by Sydney expats, is on its own 86-acre farm estate and is all about healthy dishes that pack a ton of energy (jerk chicken with quinoa and raw spinach; rice bowls with smoked fish and boiled eggs). Meanwhile, the 20-seat Fleet is all about hyper-local ingredients served on ceramics. Stay at the Halcyon House, halfway between the Gold Coast and Byron Bay—an instant classic when it hit the scene in 2015. All 21 rooms are uniquely designed with globally sourced furniture, 60s-era fabrics in beachy blue and white hues, and framed watercolors.
Great Barrier Reef
Continued coral bleaching has kept the Great Barrier Reef in the headlines, which is why it’s even more urgent to visit now. The 1,429-mile icon, comprised of over 2,900 reefs and 900 islands, stretches the coast of Queensland and is best seen by whatever mode of transport suits you best—be it glass-bottomed boat, snorkel, scuba, or seaplane. After checking out Cairns, the rainforest-meets-port-city gateway to the reef, dive in for a chance to spot resident marine life, which includes 1,500-plus species of fish, 400 types of coral, and populations of whale, dolphin, and dugong. Further up the coast, dreamy archipelagos like the Whitsundays and the Family Islands are home to some of the most luxurious and romantic beach resorts in the world. For a taste of the good life, book a flight to Australia’s northernmost island resort, Lizard Island, a 40-room oasis within range of no fewer than 24 pristine beaches and sites like Cook’s Look and Cod Hole.
Australia’s southern island state is synonymous with vast, rugged wilderness, world-class art, and, in just the last few years, fantastic food. Begin your journey in the harbor capital of Hobart, whose waterfront teems with craft beer bars, cafés, and restaurants like Smolt, which makes every local’s recommendation list thanks to fresh Tasmanian seafood and quality pizza. A few miles north, you’ll find the groundbreaking Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and its provocative collection of ancient antiquities and subversive contemporary art, which threw Tasmania onto the world stage when it opened in 2011. The same hype surrounded Pumphouse Point, a hydroelectric-plant-turned-boutique-hotel. If you're looking to go off the grid, this is where to do it. While you won’t spot any Tasmanian devils in this alpine region, two and a half hours inland on the banks of Lake St. Clair, you’re bound to come across a wombat or two and, if the stars align, the Southern Lights. Or, for the best of both land and sea, book it straight to the eastern coast’s Freycinet Peninsula, a rugged utopia of pink granite hills, sugar-white beaches, and aquamarine waters that's best taken in from the grounds of the luxuriously intimate 20-room Saffire Freycinet.
Adelaide, the architecturally rich capital of South Australia, is known as the City of Churches, as well as a hub for vibrant street art, über-hip pubs and cafés, and one of the country’s best food scenes. Two recent standouts include Restaurant Orana—a modern celebration of Australia’s aboriginal food culture and ingredients unique to the country (like saltbush and damper)—and the South West Supper Club pop-up in Adelaide Hills, where former Southern Ocean Lodge chef Tim Bourke serves five-course dinners spotlighting South Australian produce to sold-out crowds of foodies. Adelaide’s festival scene is just as dynamic: events like the Adelaide Festival of Arts and WOMADelaide draw creatives to the city center and pastoral Botanic Park for music, art, dance performances, and workshops. For something a bit more low-key, take a trip out to McLaren Vale, a warm-climate wine region home to some 65 small-time wineries, which are known for producing spectacular varieties of Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.