Being tasked with choosing the best places to visit in Australia is no easy assignment.

There is no shortage of spectacular places that could make the potential shortlist, from culturally diverse cities with rich Aboriginal history dating back tens of thousands of years, to the Great Barrier Reef and the raw outback landscapes in between.

Unless you’ve got months – or even years – to spare, the country’s immense scale and the sheer diversity of experiences on offer means it’s impossible to do it all in one trip. That’s why we’ve rounded up just eight of Australia’s best places to go to help you make your own shortlist – and maybe even give you reasons to visit more than once.

A dirt path leads towards a vast flat-topped mountain
Uluru, in the Red Centre, is an Australian icon © Ryan Jones

1. The Red Centre, Northern Territory

Australia’s most iconic outback experience

Nothing will take your breath away like a trip to the red heart of Australia in the Northern Territory. Here you can watch the sunset over Uluru – arguably the world’s most famous monolith, and spiritually significant site to the Anangu people – or be inspired by the sheer size of the 36 red domes at nearby Kata Tjuta, within the same national park. The desert’s natural beauty is only further enhanced by immersive art installations, like the new Wintjiri Wiru experience at Uluru (which tells part of an Anangu sacred story using more than 1100 drones), Bruce Munro’s Field of Light and the Light-Towers at King’s Canyon. 

While there are plenty of adventure activities, like scenic flights and camel riding, don’t miss the opportunity to discover the world’s oldest continuously living culture. Walking tours and art lessons led by First Nations guides can be found near Uluru and Watarrka National Park.

Planning tip: Accommodation in the Red Centre, including campsites, is limited during the peak visitor season of June to September. Book ahead for tours and to secure accommodation.

2. Northern Rivers region, New South Wales

Best for exploring back roads

Bohemian Byron Bay – which has become a favorite destination for celebrities and backpackers alike – is probably the best known destination in northern New South Wales. But it’s just a small part of the Northern Rivers region. Head inland towards the hinterlands and you’ll find quaint villages and laid-back towns equally worth exploring. You can swim in Killen Falls, wander through the charming community of Newrybar, or sample the goods at the surrounding macadamia plantations and from farmgate stalls.

One experience not to miss is the Tweed section of Northern Rivers Rail Trail, which opened in 2023. The 24km (15-mile) abandoned railway corridor connects the region’s historic villages, best explored by bike.

Planning tip: Visit Mullumbimby Farmers Market on a Friday morning. Held at the showgrounds, you’ll be supporting micro-farmers and rubbing shoulders with locals.

Two girls sit on a rock and look out over an iconic harbor, with a white opera house and a large bridge
Make the most of the outdoors when in Sydney, including its beautiful harbor © Julia Gomina / Getty Images

3. Sydney, New South Wales

Australia’s best city for outdoor activities

Sydney is rightfully considered one of the world’s most beautiful cities, where the natural splendor of cityside beaches collides with incredible urban architecture, including the Opera House. It owes much of its good looks to its massive natural harbor, which is surrounded by a blend of skyscrapers, national parks and multimillion dollar homes.

During the summer, you can cool off at one of the eastern beaches (such as perennial favorite, Bondi) or in one of the harbor’s 20 sheltered swimming spots. Try Marrinawi Cove, a new terraced sandstone swimming spot. Since opening in 2023 at Barangaroo, it’s been widely embraced by nearby office workers on their lunch breaks.

In the winter, don’t miss seeing the harbor lit up for Vivid Festival. The foreshore is transformed into a canvas for light installations and projections. The cooler daytime temperatures also make this the perfect time of year to take on the Sydney Loop walk, which covers 26km (16 miles) of Harbour foreshore.

Planning tip: Don’t miss a journey to Manly from Circular Quay on the ferry. It's an incredibly budget-friendly way to explore the harbor, taking in Parliament House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. 

4. K'gari, Queensland 

Best for off-grid adventuring 

With a return to its traditional name in 2023, K’gari – the world’s largest sand island – has seen a surge of visitors keen to connect with Indigenous Butchulla culture. Formerly known as Fraser Island, this UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is rich in history and culture, but it’s also one of Australia’s best 4WD adventures.

Abounding in natural attractions, this is where you can swim in the crystal clear waters of Boorangoora/Lake McKenzie, spot dingos playing on the beach, or relax in a natural ocean spa at the Champagne Pools. Visitors can camp, stay in one of the island’s resorts or even walk nearly the full length of the island on the 90km (56 mile) K’gari Great Walk. Whatever option you choose, you’ll soon understand why “K’gari” translates to “paradise.”

Planning tip: Always carry a list of tide times, as access to some of K’gari’s most popular spots is tide dependent. The sand on the island is deep and soft, so if you’re not familiar with driving a 4WD, it may be best to book a tour with a local operator.

People relax in a city square lit up at dusk
To experience the best of Melbourne, stay out for the nightlife © Scott E Barbour / Getty Images

5. Melbourne

Best Australian city for nightlife

Melbourne is a 24-hour city, and come nightfall, the party gets started. Hit the laneway bars for drinks and bites, and don’t miss a live show: iconic St Kilda music venue the Espy offers three stages for live acts. Meanwhile over in Collingwood, the Tote is so beloved that locals crowdfunded to keep it open.

Melbourne is also famous for its comedy clubs. Check out Spleen Bar or Basement Comedy Club, or time your visit to coincide with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, held every autumn (March to April).

When the gigs are done, settle in for a drink at one of Melbourne’s signature late-night bars like Nick & Nora's and Cherry Bar, or if you’re feeling hungry, fill up at Stalactites.

Planning tip: Melbourne has a specific set of Night Network trains, trams and buses, which operate on Friday and Saturday nights to make sure you can get from bar to bar safely and back home again with ease.

6. Margaret River, Western Australia

Best for wineries and adventure

From New South Wales to South Australia, Australia is spoiled for wine regions. What sets Western Australia’s Margaret River apart is that its food and wine offerings are complemented by incredible natural attractions. Located just south of Perth, this corner of Australia is considered one the world’s biodiversity hot spots. It has a high concentration of endemic species, including numbats (a marsupial with behavior similar to a meerkat), Western ringtail possums and around 8000 species of vascular plants, 80% of which are found nowhere else on earth. 

The wine is just as notable, with roughly 95 wineries producing award-winning sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, semillon and chardonnay. And when you need to work off all the food and drink, you can paddle out in the legendary southwesterly swell at some of state’s best surf beaches, go deep underground on a tour of the region’s limestone cave systems, or walk a portion of the 123km (76-mile) Cape to Cape track along the coast.

Planning tip: Learn more about the traditional owners of the land, the Wadandi (Saltwater) people at Koomal Dreaming, which offers guided walks and food experiences.

A group seal lions play and lounge and squabble on the beach
Kangaroo Island is a haven for wildlife and one of Lonely Planet's best places to visit in 2024 © Uwe Bergwitz / Shutterstock

7. Kangaroo Island

The best place for an Australian wildlife safari

Just across the water from Adelaide is Kangaroo Island (KI), a haven for wildlife, including its namesake kangaroos alongside wallabies, koalas, echidnas and platypus. You can watch the island’s little penguins waddle to their dens at Penneshaw and see (and smell) the world’s third-largest sea lion colony lounge amongst the limestone cliffs at Seal Bay Conservation Area. If you’re lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of the endangered glossy black cockatoo with their red tails, or the exceptionally shy Kangaroo Island dunnart, a type of tiny marsupial endemic to the island. 

KI isn’t just a refuge for wild things; though. It’s also home to countless local producers, including distilleries, wineries and beekeepers, the latter of whom produce honey made from the only purebred Ligurian bee colony left in the world. Needless to say, there’s a reason we named it one of the best places to visit in 2024.

Planning tip: Many of Kangaroo Island’s native species, including kangaroos, are more active at night. As such, it’s advisable to avoid driving at this time.

8. Tasmania

Best for igniting all the senses 

Home to a thriving festival scene, a world-class art gallery and an unbridled wilderness adored by nature lovers, Tasmania is one of Australia’s most diverse destinations, capable of stimulating all your senses.

Here, you can taste whisky at Lark Distillery, Australia’s first carbon-neutral distillery on Hobart’s waterfront, eat freshly shucked oysters on Bruny Island, or dine at restaurants like Stillwater in Launceston, a UNESCO City of Gastronomy (one of only roughly 50 world cities to earn this accolade).

You can see weird and wonderful art at the controversial Mona (Museum of Old and New Art). You can hear international music at the popular Dark Mofo and Mona Foma winter and summer festival. You can feel the ground beneath your feet as you explore one of the state’s hiking trails. And you can smell the fresh sea air while on a boat tour around some of the world’s highest sea cliffs

Planning tip: Renting a car can be tricky during Tasmania’s busy summer season, so it pays to book ahead. Likewise, if you plan to take the car ferry from the mainland, the route often sells out. Bookings may be made up to 11 months in advance.

This article was first published June 2021 and updated December 2023

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