The Three Sisters rock formation in the Blue Mountains (©RA Stanley Landscape Photography/Destination NSW)
Whether you are up for adventure or cruisy exploring, the surrounds of Sydney are
begging to be discovered. Within an easy two-hour drive from Sydney are mountains,
world-class beaches, countryside, forests and food. No matter if you head north, south or west, these great Sydney day trips are sure
to delight and surprise.
Long a holiday destination for stressed-out Sydneysiders, the Blue Mountains to the west are the city’s set of lungs. There the air is clearer but the real drawcard is the scenery. Instagram star, The Three Sisters at Echo Point, are spectacular rock formations, which, according to Aboriginal legend, were three beautiful sisters who were turned to stone.
From Echo Point hightail it around the corner to Scenic World for the Scenic Railway, a funicular rail journey into World Heritage Forest with a “choose your own adventure” seat that is adjustable for maximum thrills. For even more thrills take to the sky with the Scenic Skyway cablecar. If you fancy a walk you are spoiled for choice. Classic trails include the thigh-busting Giant Stairway and the panoramic Prince Henry Cliff walk.
The main centre, Katoomba, is a mecca for eclectic cafés, vintage bazaars and grand old guesthouses. Food is a highlight with cool climate fare; standouts are Darleys for elegant fine dining or Solitary for sweeping views.
With its English style vistas and charming villages, the Southern Highlands offer a little slice of England less than two hours southwest of Sydney. In the main centre of Bowral, stroll down the marvellously named Bong Bong Street for retail therapy and coffee. From Bowral, it’s a scenic drive through countryside dotted with elms and oaks to the highland hamlet of Berrima, a beautifully preserved Georgian village.
If you’re in the mood for a splurge, make a booking at Biota, a hatted restaurant with locavore principles. For outstanding views, head to Fitzroy Falls, one of NSW’s finest waterfalls, with bushwalking trails and a visitor’s centre focusing on Aboriginal culture.
It’s a case of getting there is half the fun with Wollongong, two hours south of Sydney. Sure, you can drive down the highway, but why not take the scenic route, the Grand Pacific Drive. This takes you through Royal National Park, past quaint old coal mining villages and over Sea Cliff Bridge, a much-photographed cantilever bridge that curves around the cliffs.
The university town of Wollongong has largely swapped its industrial past for tourism. The Illawarra Escarpment towers above, lending it a dramatic air and “The Gong,” as the locals call it, has fabulous beaches and seafood. Enjoy the great outdoors on the coastal cycle/walking path that ends in historic Flagstaff Hill or walk the 5-kilometre Mount Keira Ring Track on the rainforest summit of Mount Keira.
Still want more? Tour the super-interesting Nan Tien Buddhist Temple.
A one and a half hour drive north of Sydney, the Central Coast not only has a slew of beautiful beaches but in the last few years its foodie scene has flourished, with hipster eateries, microbreweries and even a gin distillery.
The most popular beaches of Umina, Pearl Beach, Avoca and Terrigal are on the coast’s southern end. To the north, The Entrance is famous for the daily afternoon pelican feeding and Long Jetty has an arts vibe.
For family fun, head inland to the Australian Reptile Park—your chance to get face-to-face with a Gila monster! Dust off the walking boots at Bouddi National Park, the go-to spot for hikes or trek up The Skillion at Terrigal for a workout with knockout views.
Rimmed by the craggy Brokenback Range, the Hunter Valley, a two-hour drive from Sydney, is Australia’s oldest wine region. Shiraz vines were planted here in the 1830s and today the Hunter Valley is a mix of old-school wineries such as Tyrells and boutique vignerons. To get the most out of your wine experience, it’s best to book one of the many winery tours. Or take to the gently rolling hills by bicycle with Grapemobile.
With wine comes food, and the Hunter Valley has its share of hatted restaurants. Muse Restaurant is a standout as is Bistro Molines, with arguably the Hunter’s best view. For casual country fare, Amanda’s on the Edge or Verandah Restaurant are great places for a long lunch. For non-buffs the Hunter Valley offers many other activities.
Soar above the vineyards with a sunrise balloon safari or take a scenic helicopter ride from 10 minutes to an hour. There’s horse riding, cooking classes and if time allows, sneak in a side trip to historic Morpeth, a charming riverside port.