Discover the best city holidays in Australia – here is nine to 20 of the 100 ways to holiday here this year.
9. Discover a different side of Cairns, Qld
Cairns, best known for its reef and rainforest, is ready to take flight again thanks in no small part to Crystalbrook Collection’s renovation of the city skyline with its new accommodation offerings, all of which have been designed with distinct personalities and sustainable luxury in mind: there’s the Riley, a ‘live in the moment’ resort; the Flynn, ‘a social butterfly’; and Bailey, ‘a thoughtful and arty’ option.
There’s now a frisson of excitement about the city and a confidence that can be felt everywhere from the bohemian stretch of Grafton Street, where colourful hippies converge for lattes at Caffiend, to the green fringes of the city where Tanks Arts Centre utilises former Royal Australian Navy fuel tanks as performance spaces.
The NorthSite Contemporary Arts Centre is housed within the new Bulmba-ja building, which is a hub for Indigenous arts and includes a dance incubator, JUTE theatre, yarning circle and garden area for Indigenous smoking ceremonies. In addition to Bulmba-ja, creative types should visit the Munro Martin Parklands, which hosts operas and productions in an outdoor performance space.
REEF AND RAINFOREST
One of the best eco-friendly experiences to have in the region is to snorkel over the underwater coral gardens planted by Passions of Paradise. Sustainability has informed the business practices driving the operator’s catamaran since it began sailing off the coast of Cairns more than three decades ago.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway also offers visitors a different perspective on Cairns, from the rainforest fringes of Mt Yarrabah out to the Coral Sea.
FOOD & MORE
From Smithfield Skyrail station, it’s a short drive to Palm Cove. Here, award-winning restaurant Nu-Nu excels at seafood and tropical ingredients and is emblematic of the charm of the tight-knit Tropical North Queensland community.
Back in Cairns, bounce between the Riley, Flynn and Bailey to find some of the city’s best bars and eateries. Dive into Asian eats at Paper Crane, give pasta a twirl at Flynn’s Italian, and head to Pachamama for authentic Latin share plates. Find more eateries scattered along the Esplanade and waterfront. Our pick is the eat-in trawler Prawn Star.
Turn your visit into a road trip by taking one of the four main routes: the Great Inland Way, Pacific Coast Way, Matilda Way and Savannah Way. Take a self-drive tour of the Atherton Tablelands where you can source the freshest organic ingredients for a cup of tea from Nerada Tea Plantation and Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy. You can also visit Mt Uncle Distillery, set on a banana plantation, and Charley’s Chocolate Factory for single-o handmade chocolate bars.
10. Take the perfect short break in Canberra, ACT
As far as short breaks go, Canberra is the whole package: a compact city where heavyweight national icons are met with world-class gallery offerings and offset by a current of rule-breaking creative energy manifesting in up-and-coming suburbs.
Check in at Ovolo Nishi and take the time to orientate yourself in the neighbourhood. The architecturally exciting Nishi building that your digs are housed in is also home to contemporary cultural space The Nishi Gallery.
Make a dinner reservation at Monster Kitchen and Bar, Ovolo Nishi’s eclectically outfitted in-house restaurant that serves up modern Australian with Japanese and Middle Eastern inflections.
Get up at the crack of dawn for a hot-air balloon ride over the city with Balloon Aloft. Reward yourself afterwards with breakfast at Barrio in the hip hood of Braddon, before exploring its boutiques and design stores.
Spend the afternoon with Canberra’s national icons: Australian War Memorial, National Museum of Australia and Parliament House. And make time to visit the National Gallery of Australia on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.
For an evening of good food, fine wine and great music, head to Bar Rochford. It is a bar first and foremost, but serves a concise menu of sophisticated modern Australian dishes.
Eat breakfast at Monster before making your way to south Canberra to visit Canberra Glassworks within the historic Kingston Power House. Explore its industrial-cathedral interiors via a gallery exhibition, a heritage tour or by taking part in a glassblowing session. Then drop into the Old Bus Depot Markets next door (held every Sunday).
Pick up some lunch from the markets and head to the Kingston Foreshore to hire an electric picnic boat from GoBoat to spend a lazy afternoon on Lake Burley Griffin.
Check out of your hotel and head down the road for a caffeine fix at The Cupping Room before taking the long way home to explore the city’s cold-climate wine region; it’s home to more than 30 cellar doors. Clonakilla, Mount Majura Vineyard and Helm Wines are top choices.
11. Plan a weekend in Brisbane, Qld
Brisbane is the newly anointed capital of cool thanks to a whole heap of design-driven restaurants, hotels and bars popping up all over the city.
Start the day at Three Blue Ducks. The laid-back Bronte and Byron collective is newly installed in the W Brisbane, serving its signature flavoursome menu using the freshest local produce. Same Same is another addition to the Calile Hotel’s Ada Lane dining precinct, the menu does mod Thai in a space that is light and relaxing.
Howard Smith Wharves has recalibrated the Brisbane dining scene, adding a new vibrancy and quality. Yoko Dining, a Japanese izakaya restaurant and bar has a funky fit-out (to resemble a bento box) and a hibachi grill working overtime in the kitchen. Another recent Howard Street Wharves arrival, Stanley, serves up Cantonese that lets the quality of the local produce used shine.
Find Maeve Wine housed within a grand heritage bank building. The wine menu here concentrates on more boutique producers while the food is European-influenced and designed to share.
Luckily the local hotel scene is keeping pace with the food one, with loads of luxe accommodation options coming online in the last few years; book a room at the super-cool Calile Hotel, the art-inspired Fantauzzo or big names such as W Brisbane, with its sexy pool deck, or Westin Brisbane.
12. Stay at Moss Hotel in Hobart, Tas
You’ll find Moss Hotel retrofitted into two historic Georgian buildings on the waterfront of Hobart’s Salamanca Place. Access is gained through a green glass door that hints at the experience to come.
Climbing the sandstone-lined staircase, a cosy lounge space that effectively serves as the property’s reception opens up in front of you. With its subdued lighting and requisite open fire burning low, the area envelops guests rather than merely welcoming them.
More sandstone and original wooden beams above are rustic yet proud, and the inclusion of a large woven wool wall hanging introduces a soft, tactile focal point. Check-in is a casual affair, all the better to hasten the arrival into one of the property’s 41 rooms.
Pushing open the door, the interiors are sleek and well formed. There is ample use of warm wood in the fittings throughout, contrasted against dark walls, and with lighting that enhances the feel created by all of the complementary elements.
A generous king-size bed dominates the space, while a duo of locally made chairs have a retro Scandi vibe, with tones of green used on the upholstery, and layered with fluffy sheepskins. But it’s the bathrooms that really stand out: covered from floor to ceiling in glossy green ceramic tiles laid out in a mesmerising chevron pattern, offset with pearly-white basins and soaking tubs.
When you’re ready to explore the city’s food offerings, head to Small-fry for breakfast, where the space is tiny but flavours are big; grab coffee at Room for a Pony; score baked goods at Battery Point’s Jackman & McRoss; book a table at vibrant Suzie Luck’s for its Asian fusion menu and clever cocktails; try Fico for Italian with a hint of Japanese; and feast on Tasmanian comfort food at Peacock and Jones in the Henry Jones Art Hotel.
13. Check into a neighbourhood hotel
Nowhere is it written that a weekend away requires booking a hotel room in a far-flung country town or smack in the middle of the city. The rise in the number of accommodations taking up residence in inner- and outer-city suburbs is a trend to get onboard with. Here, some suburban stays worth investigation.
Located in the inner-west Sydney suburb of Burwood, Marsden Hotel boasts understated luxury appointments and a range of destination eateries and bars including pretty-in-pink patisserie Artisaint and the rooftop Skye Bar, complete with pool and stunning views.
Combining a heritage home with a sleek new build, The Albert is a 26-room boutique hotel on Sydney’s North Shore that offers stylish interiors and access to all the beaches, cafes and shopping in Mosman, plus Taronga Zoo down the road.
Retrofitted into a row of terrace houses in the funky Sydney suburb of Potts Point, Spicers Potts Point has 16 rooms and four suites, all fitted out in a restive, muted palette with splashes of blue and green to complement the dreamy, watery works by Sydney artist Martine Emdur hung throughout.
Located adjacent to the designer-filled Chadstone shopping centre, Hotel Chadstone Melbourne – MGallery by Sofitel has two chic dining spaces, a heated indoor pool and a Holism Retreat day spa.
The focus of Zagame’s House, a 97-room hotel in Melbourne’s Carlton suburb, is on all things design, with a side of sustainability for good measure. There’s a cosy street-side cafe, an art-daubed rental car – Freya the Fiat – available for guest use and a fur-friendly policy throughout.
Overlooking the track at Sydney’s Warwick Farm, the equine-themed five-star The William Inglis – MGallery hotel boasts luxuriously appointed rooms, an extensive health and wellness centre, a restaurant, cafe and bar, and stables, of course.
14. Have a staycation in your city
Four Australian Traveller contributors suggest the perfect inclusions for a weekend away in and around their home towns.
“I constantly dream about Rottnest Island, and each year I extend my annual stay. I can’t get enough of the simple life; bike and feet-transport on winding paths, hellos from strangers, quokkas nonchalantly hopping past, shockingly clear water in all the hues of a blue-green opal and barbecues sizzling each sunset. I like to stay in a basic balconied cottage at Geordie Bay, steal away to Little Parakeet Bay early or late and cycle to see the seals at West End. Day trips just don’t cut it.” Fleur Bainger, writer
“Those hankering for a quintessential Sydney experience should look no further than a table for two at The Apollo in Potts Point, followed by a cocktail at nearby speakeasy, Dulcie’s. It’s only a short stumble away from Spicers Potts Point, which means you’ll be well-placed to get an early morning breakfast table at another local institution: Room Ten.” Dilvin Yasa, writer
“It’s a good thing isolation is in vogue. Unyoked has quietly set its first Queensland tiny home free in the wild, just 1.5 hours ‘south-ish’ of Brisbane’s CBD. The location is a secret, but Remy sits waiting for sustainably minded wanderers, with all you need (read: fire pit, negroni ingredients) and nothing you don’t (read: TV and wi-fi).” Celeste Mitchell, writer
“Stay close to home and visit the Dandenong Ranges – our own incredible rainforest! Sherbrooke Falls is a great place to start, or try the stunning Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens, followed by a coffee next door at the Piggery Cafe.” Annette O’Brien, photographer
15. Eat, drink and stay in Coogee, NSW
Less than five kilometres down the road from Bondi, the beachside suburb of Coogee offers up the perfect alternative to its scenic neighbour. Here, we present the perfect two-day itinerary.
Head to breakfast at The Little Kitchen, the menu includes everything from avo toast to The Full Monty fried breakfast. Take your coffee to go and head to the beach for a swim.
Try lunch at X74 cafe, where the on-site organic kitchen garden supplies ingredients for its menu of sandwiches, burgers and super bowls, and then spend the afternoon taking in the coastal scenery on the Coogee to Bondi walk.
Back in Coogee, head to the prominent Coogee Pavilion. Take up position at the Rooftop for pre-dinner drinks and then score a seat at Mimi’s to sample the mod-Med menu. After dinner, make a beeline for the recently revamped Crowne Plaza Sydney Coogee Beach, with its bright and breezy new restaurant spaces and seriously stylish room upgrades.
Coogee is home to a number of stunning natural rock pools and coastal baths, including the heritage-listed Wylie’s Baths; take a dip and then head back to the hotel for breakfast.
Spend the rest of the morning snorkelling at Gordons Bay, north of Coogee; the secluded beach boasts an underwater nature trail, complete with a chain trail and information displayed in steel plaques.
Head for a long lunch of spicy Asian fusion dishes at Sugarcane. Now all that’s left to do is grab a takeaway coffee at The Diver Cafe and cruise past the beach for one last look at this delightfully laid-back destination.
16. Go wild in the city at Taronga Zoo Sydney, NSW
Living out your wildest dreams in the middle of the city is a cinch at Taronga Zoo Sydney’s luxe eco-conscious Wildlife Retreat. Comprising 62 rooms, the retreat, owned and operated by the Taronga Conservation Society Australia, offers privileged access to the zoo’s inhabitants, while promoting an agenda that leans satisfyingly towards education, conservation and sustainability.
The five low-rise lodges have been constructed with reconstituted timber and metal and plentiful sandstone and native plantings soften the built edges; the property is targeting a five-star Green Star rating.
While the communal hub of the property is the ‘nest’, a central lounge bathed in natural light and looking out at the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and city skyline through floor-to-ceiling windows, its heart and soul is the Sanctuary, a purpose-designed and built native habitat created exclusively for guests.
It is here that you can interact with an array of Australian native animals (led by zookeepers), including two resident echidnas, Tammar wallabies, a red-necked pademelon and koalas.
And it is also here that the strength of the message being told at the Wildlife Retreat becomes clear: with the privilege of access comes the responsibility to protect and safeguard these creatures and their environment for generations to come.
17. Experience Perth’s cool new arrivals, WA
Perth has been going through quite the transformation in the last year, from new five-star hotels to refurbished classics, here are eight hotspots in the City of Lights.
1. As well as boasting 205 rooms and suites, a slick rooftop bar and outdoor heated infinity pool, the late 2019 arrival of the luxe Ritz-Carlton brand also added another destination diner to the city’s roster: Hearth, serving up a modern Aussie menu utilising plentiful seasonal Western Australian ingredients.
2. Celebrated street artist Matt Adnate is the namesake of Art Series – The Adnate hotel, which is impossible to miss on the inner-city skyline due to its monumental 25-storey exterior mural.
3. The grand heritage-listed Royal Hotel, originally built in 1882, has been meticulously restored and renovated, resulting in a venue that presents as much like a gallery as it does a pub. The 50-seat Fleur restaurant is a local hit.
4. With 80 locations in Japan and three in the US, Furaibo makes its Australian debut in Perth’s Raine Square, serving up its crowd-pleasing menu of izakaya dishes.
5. Coogee Common (a restaurant, lounge bar and gardens) is housed on the site of the 120-year-old Coogee Hotel in the southern coastal suburb of the same name. The menu is filled with dishes made from the produce grown on site.
7. The first synagogue in Perth, built in 1902, the Fremantle Synagogue now houses a collection of bars and dining spaces, including The Old Synagogue, a hidden basement bar, accessed through a fake library wall.
8. Relaunched into Fremantle Harbour after renovations to give it a retro 80s-diner feel, the pick of the menu at Kailis Fish Market is the $6 fish wings platter, sprinkled with one of the at least eight different salts created in-house.
18. Find out what’s hip in Newcastle, NSW
Introduce yourself to the city properly with a Newcastle Afoot walking tour. Owner Becky Kiil will guide you from the harbour to the laneways, with tidbits about the city’s convict and industrial history and recommendations on some of the best spots to eat and drink around town delivered along the way.
Follow up the tour with a visit to the Olive Tree Market. The market, which launched in 2008, is the nucleus of Newcastle’s creative scene and hosts some 140 stallholders who sustainably and ethically create high-quality local products.
Among the locally produced wares – including hand-painted bike bells by Beep and exquisite pieces by ceramicist Anna Bowie – is Urban Hum, an artisan beekeeping enterprise. Between producing raw honey and selling it at the markets, the owners also hold apiarist workshops to train people about ethical beekeeping.
While the arts and culture scene is flourishing, Newcastle’s accommodation offering has been slower to catch up. But Hunter Street is set to welcome QT Newcastle, the city’s first new luxury hotel in decades. The 106-room hotel will feature a rooftop bar and signature dining. The Kingsley and Little National are also set to enter the market in the next couple of years.
In the meantime, a stay at historic Hayes House is sure to delight. It’s located in the charming Cooks Hill area within walking distance of buzzy dining and shopping strip Darby Street.
The all-important culinary scene is another space Newcastle is kicking goals in. Start the day with a fresh, plant-based brunch at Goodfriends Eatery. Dine at the refined California-cool-style restaurant Flotilla, or indulge in a Brazilian barbecue feast at Meet. Check out the city’s beloved watering holes, The Criterion, the iconic Great Northern and The Prince of Merewether – all of which have been given multimillion-dollar makeovers resulting in sleek interiors and local produce-driven menus.
Before you wrap up your weekend, squeeze in Nobbys Beach and Nobbys Lighthouse, a dip at the Bogey Hole or the Newcastle Ocean Baths and a walk along the ocean-hugging Bathers Way. And make sure to come back for the Big Picture Fest, which sees street artists from around the world transform the city’s drab pockets into vibrant outdoor art galleries over a three-day period.
19. Explore Melbourne’s hidden gems, Vic
Melbourne is a compelling city, filled with nooks and crannies that many locals don’t even know about. If you want to get below the surface of the city on your next weekend away, book a tour that suits your interests and curiosities and hit the streets.
Saddle up for the Real Melbourne Bike Tour hosted by Murray Johnson, a local journalist and photographer, exploring the attractions of the city’s backstreets, from markets to shops to cafes to multicultural neighbourhoods.
The city’s street art scene has become an attraction in its own right; this Melbourne Street Tour is conducted by street artists themselves who give an insight into the styles and themes, and explain why Melbourne has become one of the street art capitals of the world.
Selling its experiences as ‘more fun than a walking tour, classier than a bar crawl’, Drinking History Tours’ roster includes the Boozy History & Hidden Bars Tour and Fitzroy: Slumtown to Hipsterville Bar Tour, exploring the dark history, street art and hidden bars of the city’s oldest suburb.
This three-hour Hidden Secrets walking tour through Melbourne’s celebrated laneways and arcades offers up indie designers and retailers, quirky cafes, interesting architecture, street art and local history.
Take a shot of Dutch courage at one of the city’s bars and then head into the night on a Lantern Ghost Tour, exploring the city’s chequered, sometimes macabre, history through tales of opium dens and body snatchers.
20. Do a festival (or five) in Adelaide, SA
Each year the Adelaide Festival delivers internationally acclaimed theatre productions, an eclectic array of world-class musicians, breathtaking dance pieces, renowned writers and striking visual arts displays.
The open-access Fringe, meanwhile, sees buildings the city over become venues for all manner of artistic expression; the stately architecture of the North Terrace lit up with cutting-edge projections; the East End parklands transformed into open-air circus and cabaret hubs; and the Botanic Park given over to the eclectic arts and music festival WOMADelaide.
Throughout the year you’ll find enough compelling evidence – from food festival Tasting Australia, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, the LGBTIQ+ queer arts and cultural festival Feast, Adelaide Film Festival, OzAsia Festival and even guitar and history festivals – to suggest there’s a celebration for every mood in Adelaide that extends well beyond Mad March.