March 17, 2023
11 mins Read
You’ll find a lot of things to do in Bowral, in the heart of NSW’s Southern Highlands. It’s a destination for all seasons offering everything from spring blooms to autumn foliage and from croquet on the lawn on a summer’s day to sipping wine by a log fire in winter. And that’s not to mention the cafe culture, sporting history and retail therapy you’ll find on any day of the year. Here, our list of the best things to do in Bowral, located just 90 minutes by car from both Sydney and Canberra.
Anyone visiting the Highlands enclave of Bowral is bound to ask: what is the best thing to do in Bowral? Well, stepping inside the regional gallery Ngunungula is now considered to be up there with the very best. The gallery founded by award-winning artist Ben Quilty is set within a meadow of wildflowers on an old dairy farm on the Retford Park estate.
Ngunungula means ‘belonging’ in the traditional language of the Gundungurra First Nations people, and it’s the first regional art gallery in the Southern Highlands to offer a space for creatives. As well as hosting significant exhibitions, the gallery will offer workshops and artist talks.
Hearth by Moonacres is adjacent to the gallery and is committed to the ethical production of food delivered from the paddock to the plate. Book in for a farm tour with owner Phil Lavers to feel the soil and taste the produce and understand where your food has come from. The cafe collaborates with the gallery over summer with the hip and happening Ngunungula Nights, a program of live music, food and drinks over summer.
The Milk Factory Gallery and dinky Bowral Gallery are also worth a visit.
Bowral became a fashionable summer retreat for Sydney’s gentry at the end of the 19th century and many great country estates were built as a result of this early tourism boom.
Fast-forward more than a century and many of these old manor houses now provide unique accommodation in the Southern Highlands.
Properties like Peppers Craigieburn Bowral or Peppers Manor House Sutton Forest, Berida Hotel and The Coach House at The Rift Estate combine heritage charm with modern luxuries, elegant grounds to wander, atmospheric common spaces with roaring open fires, and more often than not a croquet lawn, tennis court and billiards room.
Osborn House is located a half-hour drive away in Bundanoon and must be included in a round-up of places to put on your radar. The Pill Factory is also in Bundanoon, so again, it’s beyond Bowral, but the quirky sandstone accommodation is one of the coolest places to stay in the Southern Highlands.
A hands-down highlight of any trip to Bowral is browsing its town centre and dipping into its hip cafes for your caffeine fix.
Make a beeline for the junction of Bong Bong and Banyette streets where you’ll find an array of options starting with The Press Shop, housed in a harmonious space within the flagship Bespoke Letterpress building. The Press Shop serves excellent coffee and handcrafted teas.
Just down the street in the thriving Green Lane shopping and dining precinct is Plantation (the sister venue to popular restaurant and wine bar Harry’s On Green Lane, next door). The light and plant-filled space serves Double Roasters coffee, fresh-baked goods and an all-day menu.
Sitting pretty just opposite is Bowral institution Dirty Janes – a vintage emporium with a tea salon. Note that fossicking for vintage finds here is one of the best things to do in Bowral.
Dirty Janes’ tea salon, Your Vintage Occasion, serves a famed high tea that you’d be remiss not to treat yourself to.
Enjoy this most quintessentially English endeavour while you sip on Highlands Tea Company brews from dainty cups and saucers, and nibble on pinwheel sandwiches.
While we’ve got our eye on a range of flavours, such as the lavender, rose, and white chocolate and cinnamon, you can’t go past the classic scone for country comfort. There are also gluten-free options available, and all come with the requisite generous dollops of jam and cream on the side. Book ahead on weekends.
Dirty Jane’s is also set to open Salter’s Licensed Café, another spin-off that will brighten your day in Bowral.
From bookshops to antique stores and boutiques, Bowral is a shopping mecca. The thriving Green Lane precinct, a haven for those in the market for unique gardens and homewares, is a great place to start.
It’s home to The Potting Shed, which sells rustic garden ornaments, terracotta pots, tools, gifts for gardeners and more, and The Orangery, which sells indoor plants, cold-climate perennials, topiary, water features and garden furniture alongside a careful edit of Italian linen clothing and Portuguese porcelain by Bordello Pinheiro.
Green Lane adjoins Dirty Janes Antique Market, a mecca for those who love sourcing unique vintage pieces – from furnishings to ornaments and jewellery – that’s home to over 60 independent dealers, decorators and upcyclers.
Round the corner on Bong Bong Street, Arkke is a concept store selling a curated selection of designer clothing and accessories. Other boutiques worth checking out in town include The South Store, The Bronte Tram and Barbara’s Storehouse for one-of-a-kind homewares and furniture. Cookshop Plus for copper pans, cast-iron Dutch ovens and whistling cooktop kettles; and the full-to-the-brim Bookshop Bowral for all your literary needs.
If you’re after homewares more quirky than quaint, visit All the Wild Horses which is a lot of fun and where you can find everything from furs to gold leopard-print lamps. Highlands Emporium and Few & Far are two more not-so-hidden gems. Followers of fashion designer Collette Dinnigan will be delighted to know she has opened a homewares store in the old post office in Mittagong. Visit Rabbit Trap Timber in nearby Sutton Forest to get inspiration for your rustic farmhouse fit-out.
The Southern Highlands has become somewhat of a hub for foodies and eating out is one of the best things to do in Bowral. Make a dinner reservation at Onesta Cucina, a much-loved family-owned restaurant, the name of which translates to ‘honest kitchen’. This atmospheric spot, with its ambient lighting and vintage Campari posters, serves high-quality, hearty Italian fare.
The menu changes every day but could include an appetiser of warm, marinated Ligurian olives for the table followed by a primi of fried soft-shelled mud crab with salsa verde. We’d also recommend ordering a few pasta dishes like orecchiette with gorgonzola and rosemary ragu or a finely tuned secondi like a whole Snowy River rainbow trout with brown herb butter and almonds.
The menu is complemented by a carefully crafted wine list. We’ve asked our network of locals for recommendations and they’ve all recommended Bistro Sociale, tucked away in the charming Berida Hotel, as one of the best restaurants in Bowral.
Bowral is the hometown of cricketing icon Sir Donald Bradman and the Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame is where to go to explore his legacy.
Set on the edge of Bradman Oval in pretty Glebe Park, the museum incorporates interactive displays with fascinating memorabilia and a collection of national significance that tells the story not only of Bradman himself but of cricket itself – from its origins right through to the Big Bash League.
The museum is also the start and finish point of a self-guided tour of Bowral from Bradman’s perspective. The leisurely 1.7-kilometre Bradman Walk takes about 45 minutes to complete and visits historic sites associated with the legend, including his childhood homes, schools and church.
Elegant gardens have long been a drawcard for visitors to the Southern Highlands and Corbett Gardens, in the centre of Bowral, is one of its oldest and most beautiful.
It dates back to 1911 when the local tourist association, at the suggestion of one Ada Corbett, purchased a disused patch of land in the centre of Bowral called Deadmans Paddock and transformed it into a public park.
With its huge array of tulips and colourful springtime bulbs, Corbett Gardens is the centrepiece of Tulip Time Festival which is held each September. The countryside is also within reach at Southern Highlands Botanical Gardens, which has a beautiful grove of birch trees and sculptures dotted around the landscape.
The Southern Highlands is a relatively young wine region, with a high elevation and seasons that are perfectly primed to produce cool-climate wines like pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling varieties.
From its beginnings in the 1990s, the region now has more than 60 vineyards and 15 cellar doors, which offer extra incentive to get out and explore the beautiful rural landscape here.
Take the Southern Highlands wine trail to make the most of it – stops include Bendooley Estate, where you can also explore the Berkelouw Book Barn; Joadja Estate, the region’s oldest; and Tractorless Vineyard, an urban cellar door in Braemar, a 15-minute drive from Bowral. Stop by for a glass of wine at Centennial Vineyards and linger over a long lunch featuring local produce from the surrounding area.
Get a taste of bushwalking in the Southern Highlands by exploring the Mt Gibraltar Reserve on the outskirts of town.
Here, 130 hectares of restored natural forest surround the summit of the collapsed volcano Mt Gibraltar – at 863 metres, it’s the highest point between Sydney and Canberra.
From up here you can see three different perspectives via the Bowral, Mittagong and Jellore lookouts; the 1.2-kilometre Rim Track connects all three.
Bendooley Estate Larder is the place to go to pack a picnic. The Larder has tapped the chefs in the kitchens of Bendooley Estate and raided the paddocks and pantries of its favourite providores to provide a showcase of the region’s bounty. One of the best things to do in Bowral is pack a picnic basket full of local produce and enjoy it alongside stunning views of the rolling countryside.
No trip to Bowral is complete without spending a day idling between its surrounding towns, each with its own distinct character and history and within an easy drive of one another.
Don’t miss Mittagong, with its ivy-clad cafe The Boston serving one of the best brunches around; Berrima, where you can score a table for coffee and cake at Berkelouw’s famous Book Barn on Bendooley Estate and duck into old-school lolly store Lolly Swagman for road trip treats.
Mark nearby Moss Vale on your map for its collection of boutiques, cafes and old-school Bernie’s Diner (for the best Rueben sandwich outside of NYC).
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