From living it up in a country estate to trawling for books and antiques and sipping great coffee.
In the heart of NSW’s Southern Highlands, just 90 minutes by car from both Sydney and Canberra, Bowral is a destination for all seasons: 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 pick of things to do when you’re in town.
At the end of the 19th century, Bowral became a fashionable summer retreat for Sydney’s gentry and many great country estates were constructed as a result.
Fast-forward over a century and many of these old manor houses now provide unique accommodation to visitors seeking a quintessential Southern Highlands experience.
Properties like Peppers Craigieburn Bowral or Manor House, 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.
2. Cafe hop
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, which serves excellent coffee and handcrafted teas.
Just down the street in the thriving Green Lane shopping and dining precinct, Plantation (the sister venue to popular restaurant and wine bar Harry’s On Green Lane, next door) is a light and plant-filled space serving 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.
Dirty Janes’ tea salon, Your Vintage Occasion, serves a famous high tea that you’d be remiss not to treat yourself to.
Channel the spirit of eccentric English aristocracy while you sip on Highlands Tea Company brews from fine bone china cups and saucers, and nibble on pinwheel sandwiches.
Scone flavours include classic, lavender, rose, and white chocolate and cinnamon, with gluten free options available, and come with the requisite generous dollops of jam and cream on the side. Book ahead on weekends.
4. Browse the boutiques
The thriving Green Lane precinct is also a haven for those in the market for unique garden and homewares.
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 Bronte Tram and Barbara’s Storehouse for one-of-a-kind homewares and furniture; Cookshop Plus for copper saute pans, cast iron Dutch ovens and whistling cooktop kettles; and the full-to-the-brim Bookshop Bowral for all your literary needs.
Make a dinner reservation at Onesta Cucina, a much-loved family-owned restaurant whose name translates to ‘honest kitchen’.
This atmospheric spot, with its ambient lighting and vintage Campari posters, serves high quality and hearty Italian fare.
The menu changes every day but could include a round of warm marinated Ligurian olives for the table; a primi of fried soft-shelled mud crab with salsa verde; pasta dishes like orrechiette with gorgonzola and rosemary ragu; and 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.
6. Explore the Bradman Museum
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 a Bradman 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.
7. Stroll through Corbett Gardens
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 centerpiece of Tulip Time Festival which is held each September. [2020’s event has been cancelled due to Covid-19]
8. Hit up a winery
The Southern Highlands is a relatively young wine region, with a high elevation and climate that is 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.
9. Take a hike (and pack a picnic)
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 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.
Pack a picnic of local produce (Bendooley Estate Larder in Bowral will set you up) to enjoy alongside stunning views.
10. Visit the neighbours
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; or the somewhat hidden gem of Moss Vale with its collection of boutiques, cafes and retro Bernie’s Diner.