Even though I love living in Western Australia, my favourite place to holiday in Australia is Queensland. We have visited numerous times, so I’m going to share what I think are the 10 best places to visit in Queensland.
The sunshine state has so much to offer the traveller with a world heritage reef, paradise islands, waterfalls, tropical beaches, rainforest, surf breaks, and theme parks. So whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a luxury escape, a family holiday or a backpacking adventure, there’s something for everyone.
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10 Best Places to Visit in Queensland
Airlie Beach and The Whitsundays
Airlie Beach is the gateway to the stunning Whitsundays and one of the best places to visit in Queensland. There’s the choice of staying in Airlie Beach or on one of the islands. We chose Airlie Beach as it’s more family-friendly and cheaper than the Whitsunday Islands. However, if you’re looking for a luxury getaway, I recommend Long Island (stay at the Elysian Retreat) or Hamilton Island (stay at Qualia Resort).
Alternatively, you may choose to set sail among the coral-fringed islands. If you have some boating experience, you can try bareboating, where you charter and skipper the boat yourself. Then you’ll find out why the Whitsundays was voted as the best cruising experience in Australia on Trip Advisor.
If this isn’t for you, join one of the many tours that depart Airlie Beach and the other Whitsunday Islands. There’s so many to choose from, but you can read the reviews here. Make sure it includes Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet.
If you’d rather be up in the air for that incredible aerial outlook of the Great Barrier Reef, book this his 60-minute Whitsundays Reef and Island Scenic Flight or take a panoramic helicopter tour for views of the iconic Heart Reef.
Visiting Airlie Beach during the wet season? Then a visit to Cedar Creek Falls in the Conway National Park is a must.
Read: Things to do in Airlie Beach for more ideas.
Accommodation: We stayed at, and highly recommend, the Mantra Boathouse Apartments, which overlook Port of Airlie Marina.
The Great Barrier Reef
We can’t list the best places to visit in Queensland without including one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Great Barrier Reef is over 250,000 sq. km, which is bigger than the UK, Switzerland, and Holland put together. It consists of 3,000 individual coral reefs and 940 islands and covers an area from north of Cape York Peninsula to the north of Fraser Island. Over 1500 species of fish, dugongs, turtles, dolphins, whales, sea snakes, seals, crocodiles, sea horses, sea dragons, birds, sharks, and rays call this home.
This reef is the largest structure built by living organisms on Earth and was declared a World Heritage Area in 1981. There are numerous ways to view the largest protected marine park globally, including scuba diving, snorkelling, scenic flights, semi-submersibles or glass-bottom boats. Cairns, Port Douglas, The Whitsundays and Townsville are the most common destinations for tours to the GBR. Some of the best tours are the Premium Catamaran Cruise from Cairns, Scenic Reef Window Seat Airplane Flight, and Green Island & Reef Full-Day Sailing Cruise.
Accommodation: We stayed at, and highly recommend, the Seapoint on Trinity in Trinity Beach, one of Cairns’ northern beaches.
Daintree and Cape Tribulation
The 130 million-year-old Daintree rainforest and the remote, unspoilt Cape Tribulation beach is another bucket list item for Queensland. Catch the cable ferry across the crocodile-infested Daintree River to see where the World-Heritage-listed rainforest meets the reef. Visit the Daintree Discovery Centre to gain insight into the area and see the rainforest canopy from a 23m high tower.
Another must-do is a cruise along the Daintree River to spot saltwater crocodiles. These river cruises depart from Daintree Village on the southern part of the river.
While in the area, stop at Mossman Gorge, where crystal clear water cascades over ancient granite boulders.
Accommodation: These are my favourite places to stay in Daintree and Cape Tribulation.
Magnetic Island, or Maggie Island as it’s affectionately known, lies just off the coast of Townsville. This tropical paradise has Northern Australia’s largest koala colony, which you can often see on the Forts Walk. It boasts an average of 300 sunny days per year and is a popular destination for backpackers.
There’s plenty to do on this island with its magical beaches, which are perfect for snorkelling, and numerous walking tracks. Of course, you can hire a Barbie Car and drive around the island, stopping at Horseshoe Bay for lunch.
Accommodation: We stayed at the Holiday Inn (now Grand Chancellor) Townsville using points. It was central to shops and restaurants, but the rooms were a bit dated and small. Next time I would stay in one of these choices on Magnetic Island.
Cairns itself wouldn’t be on my list of best places to visit in Queensland. However, it makes a perfect base to explore the lush rainforest, idyllic beaches, World Heritage reef, and the Tableland of Tropical North Queensland.
TNQ is my favourite part of Queensland, with so much to see and do. Of course, as above, it’s the embarkation point of many Great Barrier Reef tours. Plus it’s possible to travel from Cairns to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree in one day.
Cairns is a laid-back town popular with backpackers and tourists from all over the world. Families enjoy the adventure playground and water lagoon while backpackers and mature travellers love the bars and cafes that line the streets.
The Flecker Botanic Gardens are renowned as one of the best exhibitions of tropical plants in Australia. If you’re interested in photography, this small group (max of 4) Photography & Nature Walking Tour explores the tiny creatures that live in the Cairns Botanic Gardens. It’s the only tour of its kind in Cairns.
When you want to feel sand between your toes, head to Cairns’ Northern Beaches. There are ten tropical beaches to choose from: Machans Beach, Holloways Beach, Yorkeys Knob (where the cruise ships dock), Trinity Park Beach, Trinity Beach, Kewarra Beach, Clifton Beach, Palm Cove, Buchans Point, and Ellis Beach.
If you’re short on time, consider a tour like this good value Half-Day City Sightseeing Tour. You get to see St Monica’s Cathedral, the Cairns Museum, Botanic Gardens, Cairns scenic lookout, Lower Barron Gorge, including the Surprise Creek Falls, and Palm Cove.
Accommodation: We stayed and highly recommend the Seapoint on Trinity in Trinity Beach. If you want to stay in Cairns, I’d recommend either Riley, a Crystalbrook Collection Resort, or Pullman Reef Hotel Casino.
The Gold Coast, or Brisvegas as it is sometimes called, is a fun destination for all ages. It’s also a popular one, receiving 12.6 million visitors in 2018. With 300 days of sunshine per year, the Gold Coast is synonymous with sun, sand, and surf.
Surfers Paradise is the Gold Coast’s party capital, with a large variety of trendy pubs, nightclubs, and cocktail bars. It’s known for its skyscrapers that cast a shadow over the beach every afternoon. The international-class surf breaks attract surfers from all over the world, and Surfers is host to prestigious surf life-saving competitions.
Another major attraction to the Gold Coast is the theme parks. The adventure seekers love the thrill of the roller coasters at Movie World and Dreamworld, while Sea World is a marine animal park incorporating rides with animal exhibits.
It’s not all concrete, though, with the lush rainforest, spectacular waterfalls, and stunning views of Springbrook National Park. In less than an hour, you can be surrounded by nature and may even see glow worms at the Natural Bridge.
If you don’t see the glow worms here, head to Mount Tamborine Glow Worm Caves. The stunning hinterland is only a 45-minute drive from Surfers Paradise.
Lamington National Park is another spectacular park within an hour’s drive from the Gold Coast. The extensive walking tracks make this Gondwana Rainforest of Australia World Heritage Area a unique place to visit.
Accommodation: We have stayed twice in Broadbeach; at Oceana on Broadbeach and Meriton Suites Broadbeach. They are highly rated and perfect for families. Both have full kitchen and laundry facilities, a pool, and separate bedrooms. Meriton is closer to the center of Broadbeach, but Oceania is closer to Surfers.
We have also stayed at Beachside Tower in Main Beach. We found Main Beach to be more family-friendly and laid back than Broadbeach. The restaurants within a short walk were great value. It was a beautiful stroll along the beach into Surfers Paradise from here.
The Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane is all about nature, with beautiful sandy beaches, the spectacular Glasshouse Mountains and whale-watching in Hervey Bay. The region stretches from Caloundra, by Bribie Island, to the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park.
The Glasshouse Mountains were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago and tower over the coastal plain. Only an hour north of Brisbane, in the hinterland, makes it an easy drive. There are lots of walking trails, horse-riding trails, and is a popular abseiling destination. Consider the Glasshouse Mountains Scenic Drive or this scenic loop around the hinterland. Look out for fresh produce alongside the road, predominantly pineapples, avocados, and the Queensland nut (otherwise known as macadamia). Carry money on you to leave in the honesty boxes.
Australia Zoo is one of Queensland’s most popular tourist attractions. The was home to the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, who tragically lost his life in 2006. You can read more about this incredible Australian conservationist on the Australia Zoo site. Visit the zoo to see native and exotic wildlife, plus the daily Wildlife Warriors show. Buy discounted tickets from Klook with price guarantees and open dated Skip-the-line tickets.
Visit one of the many beaches along the Sunshine Coast or drive over the bridge to Bribie Island. If you want a fun way to explore the 4th largest sand island in the world, book a 4WD tour.
Drive to the holiday hotspot of Noosa for some surfing, good food, and nature. If you can’t surf, book a 2-hour surf lesson with a local instructor where experienced instructors will get you standing on a board in your first lesson. Noosa Heads is the trendy part of the region with the iconic Hastings Street. Here you will find classy boutiques, hip cafés, and first-class restaurants. Noosa National Park features the stunning coastal scenery of Noosa Headland and nearby areas around Lake Weyba, Peregian and Coolum. Read more about this park on the Parks and Forests site.
Great Sandy National Park is about 30 km north of Noosa Heads. Most of the park is restricted to 4wd, so I recommend taking a tour. I like this Rainbow Beach Drive 4WD Tour from Noosa to Mooloolaba.
If you want to try some delicious local produce, listen to live music, or shop for handcrafted treasures, visit the Eumundi Markets.
Fraser Island & Hervey Bay
Fraser Island is a favourite four-wheel-driving adventure destination for all ages, while Hervey Bay provides the ultimate whale watching experience.
The world’s largest sand island attracts eco-tourists and 4wd enthusiasts wanting to explore the 120 km island. Some of the highlights include Wanggoolba Creek boardwalk, Lake McKenzie, Seventy-Five Mile Beach, Eli Creek, the Maheno shipwreck, and the Pile Valley rainforest. Fraser Island is only accessible by 4WD, so you will need to take a tour (unless you have your own). We were going to book this Fraser Island Full-Day Coach Tour before covid hit but hope to do it soon.
If you are lucky enough to visit during winter (July to November), you might see Humpback whales. Enjoy once-in-a-lifetime-up-close encounters with the majestic humpback whales as they migrate from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef. Choose from a full day whale watching cruise, half day cruise or a combined Fraser Island & whale watching cruise.
The capital of Queensland, Brisbane, is a cosmopolitan city with a booming art scene, lively nightlife, and exceptional cuisine. It may be the third-most populous city in Australia, but it retains its laid back lifestyle. Being blessed with 283 days of sunshine on average a year and its warm climate, you will find lots of outdoor activities and alfresco dining.
Start by wandering the inner-city streets with a visit to Brisbane City Hall, the Museum of Brisbane, and King George Square. Then take a cruise along Brisbane’s river or, if you’re feeling energetic, a guided river kayak tour.
One of the most scenic walks is the Brisbane river walk between New Farm to the Howard St Wharves and then onto the CBD.
South Bank is a must when visiting Brisbane. The artificial beach attracts families where kids can play in the pool and remain safe with lifeguards patrolling all day.
If you’re after a bit of culture, the Cultural Centre is home to Queensland’s most significant galleries, library, and museum.
There are two botanical gardens to choose from – City Botanic Gardens and Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens. The City Botanic Gardens is Brisbane’s original botanic gardens and include the Bamboo Grove, Weeping Fig Avenue, Riverstage, ornamental ponds and more. The Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha is recognised as Queensland’s top subtropical botanic gardens.
You will be spoilt for choice when wining and dining in Brisbane. Try Felon’s Brewing Co., located right under Story Bridge at the Howard Smith Wharves. Make sure to visit Eat Street Northshore, which is one of Brisbane’s hottest foodie destinations. Built from 180 repurposed shipping containers on a disused historic wharf, it features over 70 traders, including 5 themed bars and micro restaurants. The delicious dishes and treats cover six continents, including Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America.
Tip: When looking for tours for ourselves, I found that Klook was sometimes a bit cheaper as they were offering discounts on some tours and experiences. Check here on Klook and either book with them or use the price guarantee with GYG or Viator.
Accommodation: There are so many amazing hotels and apartments to choose from in Brisbane, but these are my favourites: The Inchcolm by Ovolo, Art Series – The Fantauzzo, W Brisbane, Arise Ivy and Eve, Emporium Hotel South Bank, Hyatt Regency Brisbane and Meriton Suites Herschel Street.
Cooktown is the start of the Cape York Peninsula. This area is known for its 4WD track, crocodile-infested waters, savannah woodlands, and rainforest.
Saltwater and freshwater crocodiles inhabit the Cape waterways, so pay attention to the signs. Stay away from river edges and creeks and only swim in well-known croc-free areas.
Be aware that alcohol bans run across certain parts of the Cape, and heavy fines apply if caught. However, if you can prove that you’re not a resident in a restricted area, nor is your destination or drive route within one, then you can travel with alcohol. It’s easier to buy it once you’re outside the alcohol bans, though.
It takes a lot of preparation, planning, and your own 4wd to visit the Cape York Peninsula. This doesn’t mean you can’t go, though, as there are companies that provide tours.
To see the most of Cape York Peninsula, this 14-Day Cape York Camping Tour is fantastic. However, not everyone has that amount of time. Adventure North Australia have 3-day tours, including time spent in Cape Tribulation and Cooktown. Choose from the 3-Day Far North Queensland: Atherton Tablelands, Cooktown, Daintree and the 3 Day Cape Tribulation & Cooktown Tour from Cairns or Port Douglas. The shorter 2-Day Cooktown 4WD Small-Group Tour has an overnight stay in Cooktown, while the Cooktown 4WD Discovery is a day trip that includes a flight from Cooktown to Cairns at dusk.
For more things to do in Queensland, check out this Queensland Travel Guide.
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