New South Wales Travel Guide

Home of Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, New South Wales, has plenty more to offer beyond its a gorgeous harbour. Our New South Wales Travel Guide will hopefully inspire you to discover more of the state and its gems.

Why visit NSW?

NSW is home to more Australians than any other state. The state offers more diversity than any of its neighbours; there is a real outback, the country’s highest snowfields, a world-famous harbour and of course the much loved east coast beaches. There is good reason for its popularity as a great place to visit.

You probably already have Sydney on your list, but there is so much more to NSW. When you begin to plan your itinerary, consider these facts:

  • 870 national parks and reserves to wander
  • 2137 km of coastline
  • Six UNESCO World Natural Heritage areas
  • Australia’s oldest wine region
  • a true red dirt outback and all the great characters that go with it.

So let’s start exploring NSW and see what takes your fancy.

The Regions Of New South Wales (NSW)

You could easily spend a year exploring the many towns of NSW; however, most travellers stick to the coast, taking the long drive from Brisbane to Sydney or south to Melbourne. They add to that a few long weekend trips to the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley and Snowy Mountains. Few travel into the interior and visit Central NSW and the outback.

New South Wales is home to 8 million Australians, who reside mainly in towns along the east coast.

We have travelled all four corners of NSW and are about to head off on another month-long trip west to Broken Hill and then the towns along the Queensland Border. An outback discovery of the state’s most remote spots.

Here’s a rundown of the regions of NSW:

  • Blue Mountains
  • Central Coast
  • The Hunter
  • North Coast Region
  • New England
  • Central NSW
  • Outback NSW
  • The Murray
  • Riverina
  • Snowy Mountains
  • South Coast Region

There is enough variety in the state to keep you busy for years worth of holidays, below we will focus on our top five highlights in each region and leave the rest for you to discover yourself.

Sydney – The Capital

Our hometown and the topic of our first website Sydney Expert, we love Sydney and can give you 100 reasons why you should visit. Choosing just five is hard! However, even with just a weekend in the city, you can see plenty of the best sites.

Sydney Harbour from Observatory Hill NSW Travel Guide
The view from Observatory Hill

Top 5 things to do on your first visit to Sydney

  • See the city’s twin icons, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge
  • Ride the ferry across the harbour to Manly
  • Take a coastal walk along one of Sydney’s beaches
  • Explore the new development at Barangaroo and enjoy a meal at one of the waterfront restaurants
  • Spend a day in one of the city’s inner suburbs – either DIY by train or on a guided tour

Make sure you book a Sydney Greeter, I can’t recommend this enough. Spending a couple of hours with a local is the best way to get to know a city. There are lots more ideas on our seven days in Sydney itinerary

Local Tip: Visit the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Museum for the best views in the city at a bargain price.

Related: Check out our guide on where to stay in Sydney

The Blue Mountains

The Greater Blue Mountains is a UNESCO World Heritage area that begins about 100km west of Sydney. The image of the Three Sisters appears in every Sydney guidebook, but there is so much more to discover here. It’s one of our favourite day trips from Sydney, and we highly recommend you include at least one day here in your plans.

The Blue Mountains NSW Travel Guide
The view over the Grose Valley near Blackheath in the Blue Mountains

Must do Blue Mountains activities:

  • Katoomba – Visit the Three Sisters
  • Wentworth Falls – hike to the biggest falls in the mountains
  • Blackheath – Explore antiques and art in the upper mountains town
  • Pulpit Rock – Head here for the mountains best sunrise
  • Bilpin – Eat apple pie and go cider tasting

Local Tip: The HOHO Bus here is excellent, we highly recommend it if you don’t have a car for your visit.

Related: Check out our guide on 50 things to do in the Blue Mountains

The Central Coast

The Central Coast is almost an extension of Sydney. However, once you cross the Hawkesbury River, about 60 minutes north of the harbour, you find yourself surrounded by National Parks, you can feel the stress of the city strip away.

Mount Ettalong Lookout on the NSW Central Coast
Mount Ettalong Lookout on the NSW Central Coast looking back towards Pittwater and Lion Island.

Highlights of the Central Coast

  • Australian Reptile Park – Check out the venom room experience – a spider and snake Venom-Milking Program
  • Pearl Beach and Patonga – above, with stunning beaches
  • Bouddi National Park – good campsites, easy and rewarding hikes
  • Terrigal and the Entrance – classic seaside holiday towns popular with NSW families
  • Lake Macquarie – four times the size of Sydney Harbour this is one big lake with so much to explore

Local Tip: Stop in for fish n chips at Fishermans Wharf in Woy Woy or hit nearby Gnostic Mana for breakfast.

Central NSW

Central NSW, west of the Blue Mountains was settled for its fertile land, perfect for grazing and hit the popularity stakes with Australia’s first Gold Rush in the 1860s.

Hologram display at the POW Theatre at Cowra Visitor Information Centre.
Credit: Destination NSW

Highlights of Central NSW include:

  • Bathurst – Australia’s oldest inland settlement and home of the Bathurst 1000.
  • Grenfell – Home of Henry Lawson, one of Australia’s most celebrated poets and a cool Chrysler Car Museum.
  • Cowra – Cowra Japanese Gardens and the Cowra Prisoner of War Campsite
  • Orange – Orange is all about food – it’s a beautiful town with lots of lovely old pubs and excellent wineries.
  • Parkes – With annual Elvis and Abba Festivals in the area you know a town has to be fun right. Science nerds will love the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope.

Local tip: Look for the bushrangers hideout cave.

The Hunter

Less than three hours north-west of Sydney the Hunter Valley is a popular day trip for international visitors, but it also makes a fantastic weekend away.

Hunter Valley View NSW
Hunter Valley vineyards,

Popular things to do in the Hunter Valley

  • Visit three or four vineyards – Audrey Wilkinson for the view, Krinklewood for atmosphere and organic wine.
  • Check out the delicious cheese at Binnorie Dairy.
  • If you have kids, Hunter Valley Gardens is popular, but we find it a bit pricey.
  • Book a sunrise hot air balloon ride, followed up with a champagne breakfast.
  • Drop in to one of the heritage-listed towns, Wollemi, Morpeth or Maitland are good choices.

Local Tip: Park the car at your hotel and jump on iHop – a fabulous local hop on hop off service for exploring the Hunter Valley wineries. We loved it!

New England

The New England region sits behind the North Coast and extends from Tamworth in the south to the Queensland border. It’s jam-packed with National Parks, waterfalls, heritage towns, art and of course country music. Try to spend a few days here at least – there is so much to see.

View of Ebor Falls, NSW, Australia
Ebor Falls in Guy Fawkes River National Park

We think your hit list for New England should include:

  • Tenterfield – Basket Swamp Falls and Bald Rock National Park
  • Glen Innes – Gemstone country and home of the Australia Celtic Festival
  • Tamworth – the music capital of Australia and home of Country Music
  • Armidale – Waterfalls, more than five national parks and the Waterfall Way to the North Coast
  • Walcha – Walcha Open Air Gallery and gateway to the Oxley Rivers National Park

Local tip: Be sure to visit the 12m tall “Big Golden Guitar” one of Australia’s much loved big things

Mid North Coast

For simplicity, and because the names for the different regions on the coast keep changing, this section includes the section of coast from Newcastle to Coffs Harbour.

Mereweather Beach Baths Newcastle

Highlights of spending time on the Mid-North Coast include:

  • Newcastle – with a walk that equals the Bondi to Coogee and more great cafes than you can fit in one holiday
  • Forster – the quintessential Australian holiday town with its own pod of dolphins
  • Port Macquarie – The Koala Hospital and Sea Acres Rainforest Centre
  • South West Rocks – Trial Bay Gaol and Smoky Cape Lighthouse in Hat Head National Park
  • Coffs Harbour – the Big Banana, Forest Sky Pier at Sealy Lookout and Muttonbird Island all warrant a stop.

Local tip: Each of these towns are perfect for a week-long holiday or string them together for excellent road trip.

North Coast

Heading North from Coffs Harbour to Tweed Heads on the Queensland border is beach after beach of holiday fun. The region also boasts 90 parks and reserves including some of the UNESCO World Heritage Gondwana rainforests.

Choose between the popular holiday hotspots, or drive just a couple of kilometres to a smaller town off the main tourist trail, either way, you won’t be disappointed.

You should also set aside a day to explore the hinterland – Mullumbimby, Bangalow, Nimbin and Murwillumbah are lovely towns to explore on a road trip inland. We also suggest you check this regional markets guide and pop into any that time for your visit.

Byron Bay lighthouse, Australia, at sunrise.  Pacific Ocean from most easterly point of Australia.
Byron Bay lighthouse, Australia, at sunrise. The most easterly point of Australia.

Highlights of spending time on the North Coast include:

  • Grafton – visit in spring for Jacaranda season.
  • Yamba – rated the number 1 town in Australia by Australian Traveller Magazine – do you agree?
  • Nimbin – Colourful, hippie central and according to the local Bundjalung people, the resting place of Warrajum, the Rainbow Serpent
  • Byron Bay – where the celebs head for an “off the radar” holiday 😉
  • Kingscliff – NSW answer to the Gold Coast – without the tourists

Local tip: Take a drive into the hinterland and visit Bangalow – the main street is so pretty

The Outback

New South Wales has its own red centre, where the dirt changes colour and the towns are few and far between. I am not sure exactly where it starts – it’s been a while since we were out that way, but we are heading there again soon so I will let you know 😉

Broken Hill Sculpture Symposium. Australia
Broken Hill Sculpture Symposium at sunset is a must.

Towns to include on an extended road trip include:

  • Broken Hill – the biggest city in outback NSW, be sure to see Silverton and the Sculpture Park.
  • Corner Country – Where the state borders of NSW, South Australia and Queensland meet
  • Bourke – Check out the Darling River Run – one of the countries iconic drives.
  • Lightning Ridge – will you find a black opal? At the very least you will find one of the quirkiest towns in Australia.
  • Cobar – after you have checked out the mining history head to see the Ngiyampaa rock art at Mount Grenfell Historic Site.

Local tip: Try to time your visit with a local festival for even more fun – Broken Heel in September in Broken Hill is a top choice!

The Murray

The Mighty Murray River forms part of the border between NSW and Victoria. At 2500km it’s the longest river in the country beginning in the Snowy Mountains and ends in South Australia. The river is lined with gorgeous red river gums and a lovely place for long walks.

Walls-of-China-Mungo-National-Park-NSW-Australia.jpg
Walls of China Mungo National Park

The best things to visit in the Murry region include:

  • Lake Mulwala – fabulous fishing and kayaking spot
  • Mungo National Park – part of the Willandra Lakes UNESCO World Heritage area
  • Moana – take a Murray River paddleboat cruise
  • Albury/Wodonga – the border towns with a great art scene

Local tip: If you’re a history lover check out the Bonegilla Migrant Experience – more than 300,000 migrants passed through the centre between 1947 and 1971.

The Snowy Mountains

The Snowy Mountains in NSW are mostly visited in winter when snow falls across its five ski resorts, and hundreds of Aussie skiers arrive ready to play. In summer, it is just as worthy of attention, especially if you are into hiking, fishing, mountain biking or horse riding.

Lake Jindabyne in NSW
Lake Jindabyne

Highlights of the high country

  • Lake Jindabyne – Beautiful views especially at sunset
  • Thredbo – home of Australia’s longest ski runs and great for mountain biking in summer
  • Cooma – Visit the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre
  • Kosciusko National Park – walk to Australia’s highest point 
  • Tumut -festivals, food and fun await – oh and apples!

Local tip: Don’t miss the Yarrangobilly Caves Thermal Pool where the water is a lovely 27oC year round.

The South Coast

It’s a bit cheeky, but we are rolling the entire area from Wollongong to the Victorian border as the South Coast. Don’t worry; there will be plenty more detail across the site covering this region cause it’s our backyard! The south coast attracts fewer holidaymakers than the north coast. It is generally underrated by those who have not visited; it’s sleepy and underdeveloped and perfect!

Pristine white sands of Greenfield Beach, Vincentia in the state’s South Coast
Credit: Destination NSW

Some of the magical spots on the NSW South Coast include:

  • Kiama and Gerringong – the iconic blowhole and the 24km coastal walk.
  • Jervis Bay and Booderee National Park – white sand beaches and plenty of space
  • Mogo Zoo – see this very special zoo that survived the bushfires
  • Murramarang National Park – the Kangaroo populated Pebbly Beach
  • Eden – The 30km Light to Light Walk and the Killer Whale Museum top our list here.

Local tip: Hyams Beach is not the only white sand beach in Jervis Bay – They are all just as amazing so check out one of the others and avoid the crowds!

Advice To Help You Plan Your Visit

When Is The Best Time To Visit NSW?

Anytime! Just steer clear of the summer school holidays unless you book way in advance and a happy to part with a large sum of money. February to April is ideal for a coastal holiday, head west from April to October.

If you are planning on being in Sydney during one the New Year or Vivid get your accommodation sorted early.

NSW Calendar of Festivals and events

Some events have been postponed today for 2020 so please check individual events before making any plans.

JanuaryElvis Festival – Parkes
JanuaryCountry Music Festival – Tamworth
MarchSydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
April – Orange F.O.O.D week
April/May – Oyster Festival – Narooma
May-JuneVivid Sydney
May – Hunter Valley Food and Wine Festival – Pokolbin
May Australian Celtic Festival – Glen Innes
JuneWinter Magic – Katoomba
June – Henry Lawson Festival – Grenfell
June Pie Time – Southern Highlands
July – Splendour in the Grass – Byron Bay
SeptemberBroken Heel Festival – Broken Hill
September Mudgee Food and Wine Festival
SeptemberJapanese Gardens Sakura Matsuri – Cowra
SeptemberPeter Allen Festival – Tenterfield
October Bathurst 1000
OctoberGood Food Month – Sydney
October – Abba Festival – Trundle
October/NovemberSculpture by the Sea – Bondi
December – Cherry Festival – Young

NSW Holiday periods

School holidays see prices go up and availability reduce. If you don’t need to be travelling at this time, you can save quite a bit by avoiding it.

Public Holidays in NSW 2020-2021

Holiday20202021
New Years Day1 Jan.1 Jan.
Australia Day27 Jan.26 Jan.
Good Friday10 April2 April
Easter Sat.11 April3 April
Easter Mon.13 April5 April
Anzac Day25 April25 April
Anzac Day holiday27 April26 April
Queen’s Birthday8 June14 June
Labour Day5 Oct.4 Oct.
Christmas Day25 Dec.25 Dec.
Boxing Day28 Dec.26 Dec.
Christmas Day HolidayN/A27 Dec.
Boxing Day HolidayN/A28 Dec.
Source: NSW Government June 2020

School Holidays in New South Wales 2020-2021

Period20202021
Autumn break:13 April – 24 April5 April – 16 April
Winter break6 July – 17 July28 June – 9 July
Spring break:28 Sept. – 9 Oct.20 Sept. – 1 Oct.
Summer break:21 Dec. -26 Jan. 202120 Dec. – 27 Jan. 2022
Source: NSW Dept of Education June 2020

How To Get To new South Wales

International Airports

New South Wales has one international airport, Kingsford Smith, which is located in Mascot. A second international airport is under construction at Badgerys Creek.

Key Domestic airports

There are numerous small airports around the state, Rex Airlines service 18 of them if you need to get somewhere in a hurry.

The two main airports are:

  • Sydney International – three terminals, one international and two domestic
  • Newcastle – which offers direct services to Canberra, Melbourne, Dubbo, and the Gold Coast

Interstate Trains

You can take trains from Sydney to Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. All interstate services leave from Central Station and tickets can be purchased via CountryLink or in the case of the latter two from Journey Beyond.

Interstate Buses

Three companies offer travel between Sydney and the other capital cities.

  • Greyhound offer a national bus network
  • Firefly offer routes between Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide
  • Murrays travel from Sydney to Wollongong and Canberra.

How to get around NSW

Public Transport

Much of NSW is covered on the Opal Card, you can download the app on your phone, or use your credit/debit card to tap on and off. Opal is used for ticketing in Sydney, Blue Mountains, Hunter Region, Central Coast, Illawarra, Southern Highlands.

Driving distances

  • Sydney to Wollongong – 1hr 30m
  • Sydney to Katoomba – 1hr 30m
  • Sydney to Newcastle – 2hrs 15m
  • Sydney to Jervis Bay – 3hrs
  • Sydney to Hunter Valley (Pokolbin) – 3hrs 20m
  • Sydney to Orange – 3hr 30m
  • Sydney to Batemans Bay – 4hrs
  • Sydney to Port Macquarie – 4hrs 15m
  • Sydney to Tamworth – 4hrs 50m
  • Sydney To Jindabyne – 4hrs 50m
  • Sydney to Dubbo – 5hrs
  • Sydney to Byron Bay – 8 hrs 20m
  • Sydney to Broken Hill – 13hrs

Numerous smaller companies offer domestic bus services to towns along the NSW coast.

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