Queensland Travel Guide

Our Queensland Travel Guide will help you decide which towns and cities in Queensland you should visit on your next trip. We cover the basics of planning a trip to Queensland and give you a quick rundown on the main tourist regions and most popular things to do in Queensland’s cities and towns.

Why visit Queensland

Australia’s second-biggest state offers over 260 days of sunshine a year and 2000km of coastline. You probably don’t need a lot of convincing to book a Queensland holiday but just in case you are still undecided consider this:

  • The 2300km long Great Barrier Reef
  • Two Hundred National Parks
  • One Hundred Islands
  • Five World Natural Heritage areas
  • Ancient rainforests

When we say Queensland is big, we are not exaggerating. If Queensland were its own country, it would be the eighteenth largest in the world. To drive from the NSW border to Cape Tribulation takes 24 hours.

Today we give you the cliffs study notes on planning a holiday to Queensland. Everything you need to work out what to do and see on a visit to the sunshine state. You will find the main attractions, a list of school and public holidays, and a little about the weather.

The Regions of Queensland (QLD)

Unless you have a month or more to explore, you will likely only visit one or two of these regions on any trip. Queensland has so much to offer it’s a good idea to get a lay of the land, see where the visitor hotspots are.

While officially the state is divided into seven regions there are many more holiday zones.

  • The Gold Coast – Surfers Paradise, Hinterland
  • Brisbane – Moreton Island, Stradbroke Island
  • Sunshine Coast – Noosa, Maroochydore, Bribie Island
  • Fraser Coast – Fraser Island, Harvey Bay, Bundaberg
  • Capricorn Coast – Southern Barrier Reef Islands, (Heron, Lady Elliot) 
  • Rockhampton – Yeppoon, 1770 and Agnes Waters
  • Outback QLD – Mt Isa, Longreach Winton
  • Whitsundays – Airlie Beach Whitsunday Islands, Bowen
  • Townsville – Mission Beach, Hinchinbrook Island, Hayman Island
  • Far North Queensland – Cairns, Atherton, Palm Cove and Port Douglas, Cape Tribulation.

There is way too much for us to list, so we are going to focus on the main highlights but encourage you to find your own.

Just under five million people call Queensland home.

Brisbane

Capital of the sunshine state, Brisbane used to be considered a bit of a sleepy city by those from the southern states. Those who still feel that way have likely not visited in quite a while. I remember travelling here for work in the early 2000s and having that feeling but these days when we head to Brisbane for a short break I never seem to be able to get through our list of things to do.

Southbank Beach in Brisbane Queensland
Southbank Beach Brisbane

Top 5 things to do on your first visit to Brisbane:

  • Visit Southbank – check out Streets Beach and the gardens
  • Riverwalk – the most popular walk in the city
  • Howard Smith Wharves – grab a meal and drink by the water
  • Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art – world-class exhibitions in a lovely space
  • Tangalooma, Moreton Island – A scenic 75min ferry to hand-feed wild dolphins at Tangalooma Island Resort

I also suggest you book in with a Brisbane Greeter, if you have not experienced a greeter program yet, I can’t recommend this enough. Spending a couple of hours with a local is the best way to get to know a city a little better.

Local Tip: Check the view from the City Hall clock tower.

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

The Gold Coast

Once THE destination for an Aussie family holiday, these days the area gets pretty stiff competition from the Sunshine and Fraser Coasts but its still a great spot for to hit with the kids and outside of school holiday periods it’s a fun place to soak up some sun.

Seaworld on Queensland Gold Coast
Seaworld Theme Park on the Gold Coast

Highlights of the Gold Coast:

  • Currumbin Sanctuary – feed the gorgeous rainbow lorikeets and explore the new Lost Valley exhibits
  • Theme Parks – Movie World, Sea World, Wet n Wild – perfect for family holidays
  • Lamington National Park – an enchanting UNESCO listed rainforest with some fantastic walks
  • Springbrook National Park – another of the Gondwana Rainforests – don’t miss the waterfalls here

Local Tip: Avoid November when “Schoolies” descend on the area (spring break style).

The Sunshine Coast

This part of the Queensland Coast offers over 100km of beaches and a beautiful rich hinterland. If you are not planning on visiting the Gold Coast Theme Parks, then this is my preferred spot for a beach holiday in Queensland.

Glasshouse Mountain lookout

The Sunshine Coast feels more relaxed than it’s busiest, shinier cousin south of Brisbane.

Highlights on the Sunshine Coast include:

  • Australia Zoo – the Irwin’s Australia Zoo is a must-see
  • Noosa National Park – start with the 5.4km coastal walk and then move on the Emu Mountain
  • Glasshouse Mountains – 13 volcanic peaks just north of Brisbane, both beautiful and significant to local Gubbi Gubbi and Jinibara people
  • Noosa’s annual music and food festivals – the city comes alive during these two key festivals

Local tip: Need to plan a romantic surprise? Check out the Gondolas of Noosa.

The Fraser Coast

Home to the world’s largest sand island, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and only of the only places you can watch the sunset over the ocean on the east coast.

Popular things to do on the Fraser Coast:

  • Fraser Island – camp, swim or walk the tracks on the worlds largest sand island
  • Harvey Bay – join a cruise in the whale watching capital of the country
  • Tour Maryborough – the heritage city where Mary Poppins was born
  • Lady Musgrave Island – one of the southernmost Barrier Reef islands, with affordable campsites
SS Maheno shipwreck Fraser Island Queensland
The rusty wreck of Maheno on Fraser Island

Local Tip: Travelling on a budget? You can camp on Lady Musgrove Island for just $5.75 if you are lucky enough to nab a booking.

Capricorn Coast – Southern Barrier Reef Islands

If you are looking for the road less travelled then head to the Capricorn Coast, only 4 hours north of Brisbane. With fewer international visitors than much of the state, you will find it easy to nab your own patch of sand.

The Capricorn Coast is where the Great Barrier Reef begins.

Heron Island wharf

Highlights of the Capricorn Coast include:

  • Carnarvon Gorge National Park – explore this incredible gorge is an oasis in Central Queensland
  • Capricorn Caves – view the largest privately owned caves in Australia
  • Lady Elliot Island – visit this important turtle habitat and beautiful part of the Great Barrier Reef

Local tip: A visit to the Southern Barrier Reef Islands can be a little easier on the wallet and a lot less crowded.

Outback QLD

You don’t need to go all the way to Uluru to see the red dirt of the outback. You could jump on the Inlander train and explore Queensland’s own outback.

The night sky in Winton

Highlights of the Queensland outback are:

  • Mt Isa – time your visit with the annual rodeo, you won’t regret it
  • Longreach – Qantas Founders Museum and Stockmans Hall of Fame
  • Winton – explore the Dinosaur Trail
  • Birdsville – the famous Birdsville Races await
  • Riversleigh World Heritage Site – a must-see UNESCO listed fossil site

The oldest dinosaur footprints in the world can be found in the outback town of Winton.

Local tip: Queensland’s outback is vast, but it’s perfect for a road trip with a difference – just be sure to book more than an overnight visit.

Whitsundays

With 74 islands, one for every type of holiday, and home to one of the top 10 beaches in the world, the Whitsunday’s are a paradise worthy of a week or more.

Two of the most photographed spots on the reef are Whitehaven Beach and Heart Reef, if you have a chance to visit you really should!

Whitehaven Beach, is on many “best beaches in the world” lists.

Highlights of spending time in the Whitsundays include:

  • Whitehaven Beach – 98% white silica sands
  • Hamilton Island – resorts and tours to suit all types of travellers
  • Reefsleep – sleep under the stars on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Bowen – stroll this charming historic town and see it’s Big Mango
  • Conway Circuit Walk (28km) – previously known as the Whitsundays Great Walk from the forest to the beach

Regardless of your budget, there is a Whitsunday island to suit. Choose from campsites on a National Park island to some of the most luxurious resorts in the country.

Local tip: Two airports service the area, Proserpine Airport, aka Whitsunday’s airport and Hamilton Island airport which is a one-hour ferry ride from the mainland and can sometimes offer cheaper flights.

Townsville

With winter temperatures consistently in the high 20s and a drier tropical heat, Townsville is the perfect place to escape the southern winter. Townsville is the second-largest city in Queensland and is also off the international travel routes, so you will find it less busy than Cairns or the Gold Coast.

Horseshoe Bay Magnetic Island

There are so many highlights:

  • Magnetic Island – or “Maggie” to the locals
  • Reef HQ – an aquarium featuring 120 coral species only found on the GBR.
  • Paluma National Park – the entry point to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area
  • Yongala Wreck Dive – considered by many the best wreck dive in Australia
  • Hinchinbrook Island – 130km north of Townsville, the biggest island on the Great Barrier Reef

Local tip: Head to the Townsville Yacht club on a Wednesday for Twilight sailing.

Far North Queensland

The stretch of the coast from Cairns through to Cape Tribulation is one of the most popular in the state. Cairns is the most popular launchpad to the Great Barrier Reef.

Palm Cove Beach

Highlights of the tropical north:

  • Cairns – the gateway to the Barrier Reef with dozens of reef tours to choose from
  • Atherton Tablelands – Waterfalls
  • Palm Cove resorts – spend a few nights here – rest, wine and dine
  • Daintree National Park – explore the ancient rainforest, swim at Mossman Gorge and
  • Cape Tribulation – from jungle zip-lining to spotting a rare (but pretty dangerous) cassowary or hike the Mount Sorrow trail.

Local tip: Grab a table at On the Inlet and enjoy seafood by the water.

Related: Check out our guide on where to stay in Tropical North Queensland

Advice To Help You Plan Your Visit

When Is The Best Time To Visit Queensland?

Weather-wise there is no wrong time to visit Queensland. Winter sees Australians from the southern states head north in large numbers, so May – September can be busy in the most popular towns.

If you have a particular type of accommodation in mind or want a wide range of choice, I suggest booking in advance.

Queensland Event Calendar

Below are some of the biggest events on the Queensland calendar. We will update this as new information becomes available, but you should also check the official regional tourism pages when you book.

JanuaryBrisbane International Tennis
May Noosa Food and Wine Festival
MayPort Douglas Carnivale
JulyBirdville Big Bash
AugustMount Isa Rodeo
AugustBrisbane Marathon
AugustHamilton Island Race Week
SeptemberBrisbane Festival
November – Wonderland Festival 
DecemberWoodford Folk Festival

Queensland School & Public Holidays

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 Queensland

Holiday 20202021
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 April 25 April
Anzac Day holiday27 April26 April
Labour Day4 May 3 May
Royal Queensland Show (Brisbane)12 Aug.11 Aug.
Queens Birthday5 Oct.4 Oct.
Christmas Day25 Dec.25 Dec.
Boxing Day28 Dec.26 Dec.
Christmas Day HolidayN/A27 Dec.
Boxing Day HolidayN/A28 Dec.
Correct as at Jan 2020, Information presented is from QLD Government sources.

School Holidays in Queensland

Period 20202021
Autumn break:4 April – 19 April2 April – 18 April
Winter break: 27 June – 12 July26 June-11 July
Spring break:19 Sept. – 5 Oct.18 Sept. – 4 Oct.
Summer break:12 Dec. -26 Jan. 202111 Dec. – 23 Jan. 2022
Correct as at May 2020

How to get to Queensland

Unless you have a lot of time for your trip, you will probably want to include some internal flights due to the distances between the main cities. If you plan on visiting the reef and Brisbane for example, a flight is by far the best option.

Airports

Queensland has 3 International Airports

  • Brisbane International Airport – from all continents
  • Gold Coast Airport – Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul and Bali
  • Cairns Airport – Flights from Japan, Singapore, Auckland, Bali and Hong Kong

Key Domestic airports

  • Sunshine Coast – 1hr 30 from Brisbane, 2hrs 15 from Sydney and 2hrs 55 from Melbourne
  • Harvey Bay – 55 minutes from Brisbane, 1hr 45 from Sydney and 3hrs 50 from Melbourne.
  • Whitsunday’s (Proserpine Airport) – 2hrs from Brisbane, 2 hrs 30 from Sydney and 2 hrs 55 from Melbourne
  • Hamilton Island – 3hrs from Sydney, 4hs from Melbourne, 2hrs from Brisbane, and 2hrs 45 from Darwin.
  • Cairns – 2hrs 10 from Brisbane, 2hrs 55 from Sydney, 3hrs 20 from Melbourne, and 2hrs 35min from Darwin.

Interstate Trains

There are direct trains from Sydney (14 hours) and Adelaide to Brisbane (2 days and 7 hours). From Brisbane several trains explore the state – you will find them here.

Interstate Buses

The bus from Sydney takes approximately 13 and a half hours. You can buy passes that allow travel along the whole east coast over a period of weeks at reduced rates.

Getting Around Queensland

Public Transport

Queensland has an extensive regional rail network, that will get you to many of the regions listed above. Greyhound also operates numerous routes and offer an east coast pass.

South East Queensland uses the Go Card. It can be used on all TransLink bus, train (including Airtrain), ferry and tram services in greater Brisbane, Ipswich, Sunshine Coast, and on the Gold Coast. A statewide system is planned for release in 2021.

Driving

If you have not driven in Australia before, I suggest you read our tips for driving in the land Downunder. While driving between some towns and cities is comfortable the distances between say Brisbane and Cairns or even the Whitsundays make flying appealing.

Driving times

  • Gold Coast to Brisbane – 1hr
  • Brisbane to Sunshine Coast – 1hr 20m
  • Brisbane to Noosa – 1hr 40m
  • Brisbane to Harvey Bay – 3hrs 20m
  • Brisbane to Cairns – 19hrs
  • Harvey Bay to Whitsundays – 9hrs 30
  • Whitsundays to Cairns – 7hrs
  • Cairns to Port Douglas – 1hr

Rideshare

Rideshare services are legal and regulated but may not operate in all cities across the state.

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