9 Australian Destinations for Your Down Under Bucket List

Imagine Australia as a treasure map for thrill-seekers, each state and territory a glittering gem with its own unique brand of magic.

Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia. Zac Porter/Unsplash

Under the blazing Australian summer sun, Melbourne isn’t just basking in the warmth; it’s seizing the global stage each January, showing off its prowess as the host of the Australian Open. But that’s not all. Last April, the city vaulted into the spotlight for a whole different reason, leaving Sydney in its dust in the population stakes for the first time in over a century, emerging as an unmissable destination on any thrill-seeker’s journey through the land down under. 

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Melbourne proves it’s never resting on its laurels and always evolving into something even more spectacular, though it’s also the perfect launch pad for an adrenaline-fueled Aussie adventure that traverses from cityscapes to the wild blue yonder. Sydney, with its showy charm and iconic landmarks, and Brisbane, gearing up to dazzle as the 2032 Summer Olympics host, are just the opening acts. Imagine Australia as a treasure map for thrill-seekers, each state and territory a glittering gem with its own unique brand of magic. Be it on wings or wheels (and let’s hope those high-speed train tracks will soon be laid, after years of teasing), this land is perpetually ripe for the bold-hearted explorer. Gear up for a coast-to-coast escapade that tosses the conventional tourist path into the wilderness. From the crashing surf of Byron Bay to Tasmania’s untamed frontiers, Australia is a deep dive into the remarkable. So dare to pack light and wander far for an odyssey that turns the everyday on its head. Here’s some destination inspiration to get you started.

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Tasmania. Tim Hart/Unsplash


Tasmania, that little powerhouse down under serves up wild beauty with a torrent of refined culinary and culture. Fly into Hobart and anchor yourself at The Tasman, a spectacular fusion of architectural eras. Here, colonial elegance, Art Deco pizzazz and modern sophistication collide to create Hobart’s most stylish haunt. But the real thrill of the capital resides at the dinner table. Tasmania’s culinary scene is a flavor-packed adventure, from the freshest seafood to wallaby “wings” and tartare hopping onto the plate.

The Tasman. The Tasman

Dining hotspots like Aloft, Institut Polaire and Bar Wa Izakaya are locavore leaders that deserve your attention. For the wine connoisseurs, Tassie’s vineyards, particularly in the Tamar Valley, are where cool-climate varietals like pinot noir and riesling thrive. Whiskey buffs are also in for a treat at distilleries such as Lark and Sullivan’s Cove, which are concocting spirits that could turn Scottish heads. Set off to sea on a voyage of “pinch-me” moments, cruising past the Bay of Fires and Wineglass Bay, or stick to land delving into history at the hauntingly fabled Port Arthur, then tumbling down the rabbit hole of avant-garde art at MONA. Seeking a fusion of wilderness and luxury? Spend a few nights at Saffire Freycinet. Resembling a spaceship that’s gracefully touched down in its namesake national park, it offers up a full-blown Tassie epic complete with breathtaking vistas, Aboriginal-guided bushwalks, and a sanctuary for “retired” Tasmanian devils playing their part maintaining balance in the fragile ecology. 


Byron Bay, New South Wales

Imagine Byron Bay as Montauk’s spirited twin in the Southern Hemisphere: once a laid-back hippie haven, now a celebrity-studded coastal gem, all set against a backdrop of breathtaking natural beauty. Seeking a plush stay? Check out the new kid on the block, Hotel Marvell. This five-star wonder boasts a rooftop pool and the sultry seafood haunt, Bonito. Or, for a twist of retro cool, drive into the hinterland and bunk at Sun Ranch for a ’70s-style pastoral retreat. 

Start your day with a bang at Bayleaf in the heart of town. Sure, they’ve got your classic avo toast, but don’t skip their hearty sweet potato pancakes and zingy fresh-squeezed lemonade—a surefire way to kickstart your day as much as any surf session. And speaking of waves, carve up the swells at the main beach or take a scenic 30-minute drive, dotted with koalas, to Wategos Beach. Duck into Rae’s across the lawn for lunch. Then there are Byron Bay’s community markets, like Byron Twilight Market in Railway Park, a nocturnal fiesta with local artisans, musicians and healers showcasing their talents. For a culinary adventure, prepare to be wowed at Light Years with its pan-Asian flair, the moody allure of wine bar Bar Heather, or the unique indigenous tastes at Karkalla. And don’t miss The Mez Club, where the party vibe of Mykonos dances with Aussie laid-back charm. After dinner, mingle with the locals at Railway Friendly Bar for live tunes or catch piano bar melodies spilling out of The Northern Hotel.

Noosa, Queensland. Unsplash/Yulia Ryding

Noosa, Queensland

Queensland’s Sunshine Coast is where the extraordinary mingles with the idyllic. Envision beaches so pristine they sparkle, waves that are the stuff of surf lore, and a melting pot of bronzed locals and clued-in travelers all basking under a golden sun. Noosa, located in the UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve, is where cutting-edge, low-rise structures cozy up to subtropical rainforests and serene waters, creating an atmosphere that’s as sophisticated as it is laid-back. The real enchantment of Noosa, however, flows through its aquatic arteries. The Noosa River, a 37-mile ribbon of pristine nature, is a hotspot of biodiversity where you can trek its banks, sail its waters, or, for the adrenaline junkies, conquer it by kayak. Sailing from Noosa’s shores to K’gari (Fraser Island), prepare to be captivated by one of Mother Nature’s grandest creations. The world’s largest sand island is a mosaic of endless beaches, shimmering lakes and dense rainforests. Alternatively, take a 4WD for a spin on the iconic 75 Mile Beach, a stretch where land meets sea in a dramatic dance of shifting sands.

Sydney, New South Wales. Caleb Russell/Unsplash

Sydney, New South Wales

Sydney: a city that needs no introduction with its iconic Opera House, the towering Harbour Bridge and those picturesque harbor beaches. It’s an absolute bucket-list destination for anyone journeying to the land Down Under, a city blessed with an abundance of aesthetic charm. Nestled in The Rocks, Sydney’s oldest sector, a room at the super-swish Park Hyatt Sydney offers a wake-up call overlooking these world-famous landmarks (plan on swimming laps in the rooftop pool to kick that jet lag to the curb). For a day soaked in Sydney’s bougiest essence, hit the Eastern Suburbs. Saunter from Bondi to Bronte, soak up the sun at Camp Cove—a ferry’s leap from Circular Quay—and wrap it up with a culinary crescendo at Bondi’s trendiest, like Totti’s and Sean’s. In Paddington (“Paddo”), culinary alchemy awaits at Saint Peter. Here, chef Josh Niland is crafting a sustainable seafood renaissance, turning the discarded into the sublime (yes, even fish eyes find their glory in pastry cream). And while Sydney’s nightlife might often be written off as lackluster, The Caterpillar Club in the CBD is determined to stretch raucous nights out to beyond 3 a.m. It’s a gem in a city where the day traditionally commences with the dawn surf. 

The Cabins at Five Acres in Phillip Island, Victoria. Marnie Hawson

Phillip Island, Victoria

Phillip Island, just a breezy 90-minute drive from Melbourne, is an oasis of crystalline beaches, family escapades and a living gallery of Australia’s wildlife royalty. Drawing over three million visitors a year, this island is famed for its enchanting Penguin Parade: a procession of penguins, endearingly making their way back to shore after a day’s adventure in the ocean. But Phillip Island’s charm extends beyond its dapper, feathered celebrities. Here, you can meet Australia’s beloved koalas and kangaroos up close in their natural habitat at the Phillip Island Wildlife Park. 

Surfers, gear up for a thrill at Cape Woolamai, where majestic pink granite cliffs frame some of Australia’s most exhilarating surf breaks. Vino enthusiasts, trade in your surfboard for a wine glass and make a beeline to Purple Hen Winery, a hidden gem of the island. Thinking of turning your day trip into an overnight stay? Drift into the rustic elegance of The Cabins at Five Acres. These three chic cabins pay homage to Phillip Island’s traditional beach shacks, elevating relaxation into an art form.

Brisbane. Brisbane Local Marketing/Unsplash

Brisbane, Queensland

Brisbane, a city of delightful dichotomies, is strutting its stuff as a fusion of nature and urban flair. Here, sun-drenched beaches coexist with cutting-edge galleries, while a constellation of vineyards lies just a stone’s throw from the city buzz. Standing on the ancestral lands of the Jagera people, Brisbane is evolving into a cultural cauldron, bubbling with equal parts “anything-goes” and ambition. 

Make your way to Moreton Bay, a tropical idyll where sandy isles and cerulean waves play host to an awe-inspiring lineup of whales, turtles and dolphins. It’s a living, breathing postcard scene. Far from just lounging in the sun, Brisbane is starting to flex its muscles for the 2032 Summer Olympics with an urban revamp that’s turning heads. Queen’s Wharf stands at the forefront of this makeover; a multibillion-dollar showstopper set to partially debut in 2024. This is where the past and the present intertwine: restored historic buildings mingle with swanky hotels, lush parks and a Sky Deck offering a panorama that takes your breath away, all peppered with vibrant bars and top-tier eateries. But the charm of Brisbane goes beyond the superficial. The Calile Hotel, a trailblazer in the city’s design-centric lodging scene, promises sleek luxury meeting tropical tranquility. And for those with a thirst for culture, the Brisbane Powerhouse, a former 1920s power station, now electrifies as a hub of artistic fervor, playing host to events like the Melt Open, a vibrant celebration of queer arts.

Expedition travellers aboard inflatable boats explore King George River in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. Western Australia, Australia.
The Kimberley, Western Australia. Design Pics Editorial/Universal

The Kimberley, Western Australia

Welcome to the Top End, where Australia’s raw, untamed outback crashes into the sea in a spectacle of natural drama. This immense territory, stretching from Cape York in Queensland to the Kimberley in Western Australia, is a living museum of history and culture, preserved by Aboriginal peoples for millennia. This year, the Kimberley—among Australia’s most remote swaths—flings the doors to its secluded shores wide open, especially for cruise enthusiasts. Seabourn is making a splash with the Seabourn Pursuit, charting a Kimberley Expedition course for luxury amid the region’s rugged splendor. Not to be outdone, Ponant joins the adventure with its vessels Le Jacques-Cartier and Le Lapérouse. These grand ships are on a quest to redefine the Kimberley’s wild coastlines—think jaw-dropping horizontal waterfalls and ancient Aboriginal rock art—into a must-visit corridor for the bold traveler. It’s a promising transformation that’s placing the Kimberley high on the bucket list of every thrill-seeking explorer. 

Kangaroo Island. De Agostini via Getty Images

Kangaroo Island, South Australia

This green gem, zealously guarding over a third of its terrain as protected wilderness, is more than just a sanctuary for its eponymous kangaroos. It’s a vibrant aviary, too, home to a staggering 300 species of birds. At the heart of this ecological wonderland is Flinders Chase National Park, crowning Kangaroo Island’s western frontier and hailed as one of South Australia’s premier natural attractions. Here, perched like a king on a clifftop throne, the reborn Southern Ocean Lodge (coming back to life in December 2023 after bushfires) offers a majestic view over the ocean’s expanse. For those craving a hands-on encounter with Australia’s wild heart, the Kangaroo Island Koala and Wildlife Rescue Centre is your gateway. Dive into a world where you can rub shoulders with the locals, from a behind-the-scenes tour of their animal hospital to the soul-stirring experience of bottle-feeding a joey. And then, there’s Seal Bay Conservation Park. Brace yourself to be mesmerized as you watch one of Australia’s most significant sea lion colonies play a never-ending game of tag with the waves. 

Kakadu National Park, Northern Territories. AFP via Getty Images

Kakadu National Park, Northern Territories

Kakadu National Park is not just a walk on the wild side. Just a two-and-a-half-hour adrenaline-pumping journey from Darwin, this colossal natural playground is like stepping onto the set of a prehistoric epic. In a land where the Bininj and Mungguy peoples have thrived for 65,000 years, ancient rock art outshines even the Mona Lisa in the game of antiquity. For those thirsting for adventure, Kakadu is a dream unleashed. Acquaint yourself at the Bowali Visitors’ Centre just off the Kakadu Highway in Jabiru. Fuel up at the café, soak in the knowledge of local gurus, and discover Kakadu’s secrets in the impressive in-house museum. Then, leap into the wild: Navigate billabongs where the drama of nature unfolds in real-time, with birds and crocodiles as your fellow adventurers. Witness the time-honored rock art at Ubirr and Nourlangie, marvel at the cascading Jim Jim Falls for aquatic spectacles, and visit Cahills Crossing for a close encounter with crocs. 

9 Australian Destinations for Your Down Under Bucket List