The northern NSW coastal town of Byron Bay has it all.
Beautiful beaches, great surf, cutting-edge culture, boho boutiques and dynamic dining out scene. While Byron used to be seen as Australia’s hippie heartland or simply a pit stop on a road trip up or down the East Coast, it’s now regarded as one of the No. 1 spots in the country to enjoy a short break.
The town, which has so far resisted high rises, remains a vibrant hub that welcomes everyone from dreadlocked hipsters with tribal tattoos to perfectly coiffed movie stars and a steady stream of travellers. Head to the main beach before sunset and you will likely be joined by a motley crew of dishevelled #vanlifers, grizzled surfers, and eccentric residents. It’s a definite vibe. Here are the Top 10 things to do in Byron Bay.
Go for a surf
If you’re an experienced surfer, you will be able to manoeuvre around the knot of beginners hustling to get onto a wave and paddle into a set from the peak. But if you’re a beginner, you can surf Byron Bay with an accredited instructor from companies such as Soul Surf School or Let’s Go Surfing and receive hands-on help during a two-hour lesson. Main Beach is hardly a secret spot, but you will have a ball paddling furiously alongside locals who make it look easy while your mates hoot you onto a wave.
See Byron Bay from an Indigenous perspective
Delta Kay is a local Arakwal Bundjalung woman who is a respected elder in the Byron Bay Shire. Join traditional custodians of the land on an Explore Byron Bay Guided Aboriginal Tour that aims to connect participants with Indigenous culture. Delta includes Dreamtime stories about the significance of Nguthungulli (otherwise known as Julian Rocks) an important cultural site to the local First Nations people. Delta also guides visitors around Currenba (The Pass) and points out a 1000-year-old midden with archaeological evidence of her ancestors gathering here to feast on everything from fish and pippies to pademelon.
Enjoy a brewery & distillery crawl
It feels a little wrong to tell you to do anything other than flop and drop while holidaying in Byron Bay. But it’s worth giving visitors a nudge to enjoy the top-notch tastings and district views on offer at the microbreweries dotted around the Byron Bay Shire.
Craft beer devotees and amateur homebrewers and distillers will enjoy the fact they can bump elbows with the local artisan brewers and distillers on a Behind the Barrell tour. Highlights of a Full Barrell Tour include pit-stops at Stone & Wood, Seven Mile Brewing Co, Cape Byron Distillery and Husk Distillers.
Byron Farmers Market
Take a stroll around the Byron Bay Farmers’ Market and you will find colourful fruits, luscious organic vegetables, avocadoes, coffee, local honey, edible flowers and freshly baked bread. Byron Farmers’ Market is on the map for most visitors. But it’s also where locals go shopping and source products from the purveyors themselves at stalls such as Byron Spice Palace, Woodland Valley Farm and Cheeses Loves You. Join the local push for a plastic-free Byron and bring your eco bag to this vibrant community hub, where locals linger for lunch at stalls such as the Bloody Good Food Shack.
Swim at Wategos Beach
Wategos Beach is only accessible by foot, via the Cape Byron Walking Track, or over the rocks at low tide, which is the best time to visit the beach, which is bordered by native bushland. The protected beach is ideal for families and a top spot to picnic, go beachcombing and build sandcastles. The waves here are also beginner-friendly making it a popular spot for learners and longboarders. If you have the cash to splash, stay at boutique retreat Raes on Wategos or at one of the retro beach houses available to rent near this picturesque pocket.
Walk to the Cape Byron Lighthouse
You cannot visit Byron without making the loop up to the lighthouse via the Cape Byron Walking Track, regarded as one of the best walks in Byron Bay. It’s as bona fide Byron as bongo drummers on the beach and an excellent spot for people-watching (and whale watching, too, in season).
The 3.7-kilometre walkway is clearly signposted and classified as a Grade 3 walk as you will have to huff and puff up quite a few stairs and steep inclines. You can enter the walking track via the Cape Byron Conversation Area or Palm Valley car park. Bound for Cape Byron Lighthouse tour is a two-hour, one-kilometre walking tour around Cape Byron led by a knowledgeable NPWS guide.
See whales and dolphins off the coast of Byron Bay
Venture offshore from Byron Bay and you will get a great perspective of the craggy coastline and cliffs and verdant rainforest in Arawkal National Park. You will also be perfectly positioned to see whales cruising past in the open ocean (between June and October), and pods of playful dolphins onboard a Whale Watching Byron Bay Tour.
The tour departs directly from Cape Byron in a unique purpose-built whale-watching RIB (rigid-hull inflatable boat), a Zodiac-style vessel that offers 360-degree views so everyone has a ringside seat.
Go on a shopping spree
If you’re going to hang out in Byron Bay for an extended break, you will need to get the right uniform. Pop into Spell to replenish your wardrobe with wide-leg jeans, sundown gowns, flannel shirts, strappy maxis and folk festival rompers with bold designs. You will also find jewellery, hippie handbags and accessories from the neighbourhood boutique, which has a cult following amongst the chi-chi brigade in Byron. Habitat Byron Bay is also a treasure trove with flagship independent boutique and fashion labels; it includes Habitat Collective, a concept store unique to the village.
Enjoy a Sunday session at the Beach Hotel
There’s a reason why most visitors end up at the beer garden at the iconic Beach Hotel: the ‘Beachy’ is located across the road from the lawned area where locals and visitors gather each day to shoot the breeze. Gather at the popular drinking haunt on a Sunday arvo and you will be joined by a captivating crowd of locals and tourists who gather here to support live music and enjoy a brew with a view (over Main Beach). The popular drinking haunt has been given a new lease on life since the pokies pulled out to make way for the Green Room, an eatery led by food director David Moyle.
Laze on the lawn outside the Top Shop
Arrive at the Top Shop with your bare feet schnitzelled in sand and nobody will bat an eyelid. Byron Bay isn’t short of great places to eat and drink – from The Roadhouse to Fishheads, Rae’s on Wategos, Three Blue Ducks and Treehouse on Belongil. But the experience not to miss is eating a messy burger at the Top Shop, housed in an old 1950s’ milk bar, which is both a nod to nostalgia and an up-to-the-minute eatery that supports local farmers and suppliers. Order a post-surf brekkie burger and then chill on the hill, which encapsulates Byron’s distinctive personality with the frozen-moment quality of a polaroid.