Australia is a land of amazing sights and adventures, but not all attractions are created equal. Some are overrated and packed with tourists, while others are hidden gems that are well worth the hype. Here are the attractions that appear in almost every “top 10 attractions in Australia” list along with our opinion, as an Aussie and an American, on whether they're worth your time:
1. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef: Overrated
The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia's biggest draws, but coral bleaching, pollution, and overfishing have really taken a toll and sadly the reef isn't what it used to be. While this damage occurs reef-wide, the areas most frequently visited on tours are in the worst condition with the added damage from high boat traffic and poor snorkeling and diving practices. If you're still set on visiting the reef, it might be worth splurging for a liveaboard experience. This way, you'll have the opportunity to explore the more remote, healthier, and vibrant parts of the reef.
What to do instead: head to Ningaloo Reef! It’s the world’s largest fringing reef system, meaning it’s close to shore and way easier to reach compared to the Great Barrier Reef, so no need to spend hours traveling. It's also a much healthier and more vibrant reef and is full of marine life. It’s a great spot for whale-watching, as it is a migration route for humpback whales. You may even be lucky enough to spot dugongs, manta rays, leopard sharks, and whale sharks. Plus, it's less crowded and often more affordable!
2. Visiting The Outback: Worth it
You haven’t really experienced Australia until you’ve visited the beaches, the bush, and the Outback. You could say that skipping the Outback is like going to France and skipping the croissants. There really is nowhere else in the world like it. While Uluru has become quite the tourist hub recently, it still retains its unique charm and remains one of the most captivating places to visit in all of Australia. After experiencing just one sunrise here, as the sky glows pink behind this iconic monolith, you’ll understand why.
Keep in mind though, the Outback is so much more than just Uluru! It’s an incredibly vast expanse of land, filled with hidden gems just waiting to be explored. To put it into perspective, the Outback alone is big enough to cover over half of the USA! Hire a 4WD, get off road, and experience Australia's wild and untamed beauty. Explore the stunning desert landscape, with its wide open spaces, rugged mountain peaks, natural pools, and spectacular sunsets. Take the opportunity to learn from the Indigenous communities about their culture, history, and relationship with the land as the world’s oldest civilization. The Outback also offers plenty of opportunities to spot some of the local wildlife, including emus, kangaroos, and dingoes that have adapted to thrive in a pretty inhospitable environment.
Plus, the night skies in the Outback are unlike anywhere else! Did you know you can see up to 100 times more stars in the Southern hemisphere because faces the milky way? Being far from any light pollution, with vast open spaces and clear horizons, it’s the perfect spot for a truly breathtaking nightttime show.
3. Taking a Tour of Sydney Harbour: Overrated
Sydney Harbour is one of Australia's most iconic attractions, and it is home to the world-famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. Boat tours are often promoted as a must-do experience because they offer a chance to explore the harbor and its many attractions from the water. However, these tours are often crowded and always expensive. So save your money because there is a better way!
What to do instead: Hop on one of Sydney’s public ferries! Most of the ferries depart from Circular Quay, right beside the bridge and the opera house and tickets start at just $5.40 ($7.70 AUD). So, you can get almost the same experience as a private tour for a fraction of the price! Plus, the ferries depart frequently throughout the day, so you can explore the harbor at your own pace, without the time constraints of a tour boat. What’s more, many of the ferry routes end at a beach, so if you time it right, you can enjoy lunch or dinner on the beach with a beautiful harbor view and experience Sydney the way a local would.
Choosing which ferry to take in Sydney offers some great options with different scenic routes. Some go under the bridge while others sail around the iconic Opera House. You can check out all the routes on the official website. But, if we had to choose, our favorite is the Manly Ferry line. It offers a unique view of the Opera House and takes you straight to one of Sydney's best beaches, Manly.
4. Exploring The Great Ocean Road: Worth it
The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia's most scenic drives, and it's definitely worth the hype. Whether you're stopping to admire the Twelve Apostles, or checking out the stunning beaches along the way, you're sure to be wowed by the natural beauty of this incredible coastal route.
If you’re hoping to get a glimpse of some Aussie wildlife, the Great Ocean Road is the place to be. There’s a very good chance you’ll come across kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, and maybe even a wombat or echidna. In fact, the Koala Walk in Kennett river is one of your best chances to see koalas in the wild. With luck, you may even be able to spot some whales and dolphins in the waters. If you’re up for a nighttime adventure, head to Melba Gully for a pretty incredible display of glow worms.
If you want to take your experience to the next level though, do the Great Ocean Walk. While the entire hike is 110km and can take anywhere from 5 to 8 days, it’s also possible to just hike smaller sections as there are plenty of entry and exit points along the trail. Each day of the hike brings something new and it finishes at the Twelve Apostles. The hike gives you the chance to explore remote stretches of beach that you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise and the hiker-only campsites have some pretty incredible views!
5. Bondi Beach: Overrated
Bondi Beach is one of Australia’s most famous beaches, and for good reason. However, this popularity has its downsides, particularly during peak tourist season when the beach can get incredibly crowded. This can make it difficult to enjoy the sun and surf, which are the main draws of the beach. The huge influx of tourists has also led to the commercialization of the area, with shops, cafes, and restaurants popping up to cater to the crowds. While this may bring in more business, it takes away from the relaxed and laid-back atmosphere that was the initial draw of Bondi Beach.
What to do instead: Explore other nearby beaches such as Bronte or Tamarama, which offer similar surf and sand, but with fewer crowds. The New South Wales coast is full of beaches so there is no shortage of better alternatives for Bondi Beach.
6. Kakadu National Park: Worth it
Kakadu National Park is one of Australia's most incredible natural wonders, and it's definitely worth a visit. It's packed with stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and rich cultural heritage. The park is home to some seriously epic hikes and camping spots. Imagine hiking up a waterfall to find some natural pools looking out over red escarpments. The scenery here is unlike anything you’ve seen before. There's also a ton of amazing wildlife to find, from saltwater crocs to flocks of colorful birds and everything in between.
The park is also steeped in the rich Indigenous culture that has been around for thousands of years. It's a place where the traditional way of life and beliefs of Australia's Indigenous people are still deeply intertwined with the land and its resources. There are countless rock art sites throughout the park, featuring paintings and engravings that tell the stories of the area's Indigenous people. Taking a guided tour with an Indigenous guide will give you a glimpse into how the paintings offer a glimpse into the beliefs and practices of the Indigenous people and you'll leave with a deeper appreciation for the park and its cultural heritage.
7. Byron Bay: Overrated
Byron Bay is a popular tourist destination, known for its beautiful beaches, laid-back vibe, and vibrant arts and music scenes. However, there has been a stark change in the town's atmosphere over the past few years. It has become increasingly commercialized, with tourists and new residents alike flooding the town, making it harder and harder to find the peace and tranquillity that once made Byron Bay so attractive.
What to do instead: head either North or South of Bryon along the coast and you will find plenty more unspoiled beaches, charming towns, and opportunities for outdoor activities like surfing, fishing, and hiking, with much fewer crowds. Yamba is one such place, located just a short drive south of Byron Bay, and offers a similar laid-back vibe and stunning beaches. This charming coastal town is known for its relaxed atmosphere, great surf, and friendly locals, making it a great alternative to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the coast without having to deal with the crowds.
8. Wineglass Bay: Worth it
Wineglass Bay in Tasmania is a definite must-visit for anyone that makes their way to Tasmania. Despite it appearing on many top destination lists for Australia, it is still very much under the radar. It's tucked away in Freycinet National Park and boasts crystal clear waters and pure white sand that give it its signature wineglass shape. The beach is surrounded by towering cliffs that offer stunning views, and the hike down from the top is definitely worth it for the panoramic vistas. The cove is protected, making it a great spot for swimming, sunbathing, and just enjoying the view. The hike is relatively easy so people of most fitness levels can enjoy it.
9. Surfers Paradise: Overrated
Surfers Paradise, located on the Gold Coast of Queensland, is a very popular destination in Australia. However, these days it's lost most of its charm and can feel like just another crowded and tourist-centric city. The numerous high-rise buildings that line the coastline obstruct the beautiful ocean views and contribute to a cramped and claustrophobic atmosphere. Plus, by the afternoon, the high-rise shadows drape the beach in shade. The town is known for its bright lights and partying scene, but this intense nightlife can detract from its original appeal and make it feel like any other city, rather than the seaside paradise it once was.
What to do instead: explore some of the other beaches to experience the best of what the Gold Coast has to offer. Tallebudgera Creek, for example, is a serene spot, surrounded by lush vegetation and offering calm waters perfect for swimming and paddling the day away. Burleigh Heads, just a short drive from Surfers Paradise, is a much more laid-back surf town with a stunning national park, a beautiful beach, and a range of great cafes and restaurants. Currumbin is another great option for a charming coastal village famous for its stunning beach and laid-back atmosphere.
10. Fraser Island: Worth it
Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, is worth visiting despite its recent popularity. This natural wonder offers stunning scenery, crystal clear lakes, and a very good chance of seeing wild dingoes! If you don’t have a 4WD, make sure to join a tour with one as it’s one of the few places in the world where you can drive on the beach! You'll also be able to visit some of Fraser Island's most famous landmarks, such as Lake McKenzie, Indian Head, and the iconic 75-Mile Beach. While many of the tours are in big groups, you rarely see others aside from at the campsites at night, so it never feels overrun with crowds.
If the tours aren’t for you but your own 4WD and still want to experience driving along a beach, you can actually drive along the Noosa River North shore. But you do need a permit which you can buy online for $10 ($14 AUD). For more info on the route and purchasing permits, here’s the official website.
So, there you have it! A rundown of the top 10 attractions in Australia and whether they're worth the hype or overrated. From the overcrowded Bondi Beach and Surfers Paradise to the hidden gems like Wineglass Bay and Kakadu National Park - Australia has a lot to offer. For those attractions that have lost their charm, there are plenty of alternatives for a more authentic and enjoyable experience. Whether you're up for an adventure in the outback, or just want to relax on a secluded beach, there's no shortage of bucket list items here.