After spending over three months in North Queensland, we’re sharing the best things to do in Townsville for free. Whether you are travelling with family, friends, as a couple, or solo – there is something fun for everyone in Townsville.

This page may contain affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy for more information.

Townsville is often overlooked and bypassed by holidaymakers on the way to Magnetic Island or Cairns. However, the fourth most popular city in Queensland is a fantastic tourist destination in its own right, worth a least 3-5 days of your itinerary.

This modern coastal city provides a mix of family-friendly activities, historical landmarks, urban delights, and outdoor adventures for every type of traveller. With its dry tropical climate and more than 300 days of sunshine per year, Townsville is an excellent choice for your next beach getaway.

Extend your stay and use Townsville as a base for easy access to memorable day trips like the Great Barrier Reef and the southern parts of the Wet Tropics Heritage Area – Paluma Range National Park and Seaview Range.

The Gurambilburra Wulgurukaba, Bindal, Nywaigi and Gugu Badhun People are Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land.

Planning your trip to North Queensland and wondering what is there to do in Townsville for free? We’ve included our top picks for the best free things to do in Townsville below.

Learn Local History at Jezzine Barracks Precinct

The Jezzine Barracks Precinct brings together contrasting historical elements significant to this area. Starting at the Garabarra Entrance, you’ll find over dozens of incredible art installations commemorating the Aboriginal heritage of the site. Take your time winding along the Ethno-Botanical Trail, spotting art amongst traditional plants.

Jezzone Barracks Townsville Queensland
Credit Tourism Events Queensland ©Roslyn Budd

Then head back to the Coastal Boardwalk for scenic views all the way up to the observation deck at Kissing Point Fortification. The fort was established over 120 years ago with cannons and guns to protect Townsville from potential attacks. In 1979, Kissing Point became a museum and was joined by the Army Museum of North Queensland in 2009.

Coastal Boardwalk Jezzine Barracks Precinct Townsville (1)
Coastal Boardwalk Townsville Credit: Chantell Collins

Finishing the walk at the Kissing Fort Entrance will bring you to the northern end of The Strand.

Stroll Along the Strand

The Strand is a popular two and a half kilometre walkway dotted with palm trees that runs along the beach foreshore of Townsville. You can take The Strand at your own pace, stopping at the many cafes and bars with stunning sea views. It can get hot under that beating sun, so try to go early morning or late afternoon and don’t forget your hat.

The Strand Townsville Queensland
The Strand Credit: Tourism Events Queensland

Swim at The Strand Beach, Rockpool, and Water Park

Cool off with a dip at the beach or in the rock pool after strolling the northern section of The Strand. Sitting side-by-side, you can choose from the seawater pool enclosed by rock walls or the golden sand and gentle waves of The Strand beach.

The Strand Beach  Townsville QueenslandTQE
The Strand Beach Credit: Tourism Events Queensland

During “stinger season” from November to May, there is higher activity of jellyfish in North Queensland. Thankfully, Townsville has two stinger nets installed on The Strand beach and one for the rockpool. Lifesavers patrol these areas and provide daily updates on conditions.

For those travelling with kids, there’s also The Strand Water Park, in the southern section of the esplanade next to Breakwater Marina.

Drive or Walk Up Castle Hill

If you do nothing else, make sure you add the Castle Hill lookout to your Townsville list. The pink granite monolith towers of Townsville and provides 360-degree views of the city and Magnetic Island.

It’s highly recommended to challenge yourself to one of the Castle Hill walking tracks. We chose the most popular, Cudtheringa Track, which got our hearts racing and is one of the fondest trip memories. The Cudtheringa Track starts opposite the first car park at the base of Castle Hill Road.

Castle Hill Lookout Townsville Chantell Collins
Castle Hill Lookout Credit: Chantell Collins

Alternatively, you can drive all the way to the top of Castle Hill Lookout. There are multiple platforms for different yet equally incredible viewpoints of the sea and mountain ranges.

Shop at Local Markets

Looking for the perfect souvenir to take home? Townsville has regular local markets with arts and crafts, fresh produce, food vans and live music.

  • Cotters Market: Every Sunday on Flinders Street from 8.30 am to 1 pm
  • Willows Market: Every Sunday at Willows Shopping Centre Carpark from 7.30 am to 11.30 a

Get Tropical at Townsville Botanic Gardens

Townsville has three distinct botanic gardens offering unique plant collections:

  • Palmetum: a tropical experience containing plants of the palm family Arecaceae
  • Anderson Gardens: the largest Australian Botanic Garden featuring plants of the dry tropics
  • Queens Gardens: a botanic heritage experience displaying ornamental tropical plants.

Take Your Camera on the Townsville Street Art Trail

Street art trails are an entertaining way to explore new cities while admiring local artwork and snapping Instagram pics.

Street Art Townsville
There are some great murals in Townsville Credit: Tourism Events Queensland

Use this Interactive Public Art Map or pick up your free copy of the Street Art Walking Trail map at the Townsville Visitor Information Centre on Flinders Street.

For those passionate about the arts, don’t miss the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery on the corner of Denham and Flinders Street. This heritage-listed public art gallery has a collection of over 2000 artworks.

Walk the Townsville Heritage Trail

Besides the Townsville Street Art Trail, there are multiple self-guided walking tracks you can take around Townsville to learn more about the city and its history. Download the Townsville Tours & Trails app or brochures to your phone.

Rest at Riverway Lagoons and Boardwalk

The Riverway is a recent addition to Thuringowa Central suburb, providing flourishing parklands, three swimming pools, barbecue facilities and a shady boardwalk along the river. Kids can learn traditional games that were played by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on the Ngulu Marga Yulga Uriny Games Trail. There are also free monthly movie nights at Riverway. Check WhatsOn Townsville to see when the next one is showing.

The easiest way to get to Riverway is by driving, and there is plenty of public parking. If you don’t have a car, there are bus stops along Riverway Drive and Ross River Road.

While visiting the Riverway, why not take a look inside Pinnacles Gallery? The current exhibitions can be found on the City of Townsville website, or let yourself be pleasantly surprised when you arrive.

Explore Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park

Cape Pallarenda was a defence point in World War II, with Australian and American soldiers camping here. The park has multiple trails of varying lengths, which take you along the coastline and provide the opportunity to see World War II structures.

We chose the Shelly Cove trail (750m one way), and Forts walk (500m one way) for a mix of coastal scenery, hilltop views, and World War II relics. On the Shelly Cove trail, you’ll encounter the remanents of the Old Jetty. There’s not much shade on these trails, so keep that in mind when planning your walk.

Shelley Beach Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park Townsville (2)
Shelley Beach Cape Pallarenda Conservation Park Townsville Credit: Chantell Collins

Birdwatch at Townsville Town Common Conservation Park

The Townsville Town Common Conservation Park, referred to as the Town Common, is an extension of the Cape Pallarenda Conversation Park. The trails range from a 30-minutes return to 10.1 km one-way, taking you to natural lagoons, wetlands, and woodlands along the way. Five observations points have been set up for bird watching.

Both Cape Pallarenda and the Town Common are located on Cape Pallarenda Road, 10km north of the Townsville city centre.

Drive Up to Mount Stewart Lookout

This viewpoint is best accessed by car and a worthwhile stop for any road trippers on their way to or from Townsville. Mount Stewart Lookout is a 25km drive from the CBD, which takes approximately 30 minutes. Upon arrival, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views that rival Castle Hill.

There is an optional short trail at the top to access more viewpoints; however, closed-in shoes are recommended.

See Wallabies at Ross River Dam

After visiting the Riverway, keep driving inland along Riverway Drive until you meet the formidable Ross River Dam. Walk over to the dam wall stairs and keep an eye out for rock wallabies bouncing around. We also spotted baby crocodiles in the dam and a turtle.

Turtle at Ross River Dam Townsville (1)
Turtle at Ross River Dam Townsville Credit: Chantell Collins

Where to Eat and Drink in Townsville

  • Mal’s Pies & Pastries serves up the best pies in Townsville (according to us). You can also grab fresh bread, baked goodies, and fresh sandwiches to go.
  • Riverview Tavern is a local spot with peaceful river views. Stop in after walking along the Riverway Boardwalk for a refreshing drink.
  • City Lane Precinct brings restaurants and bars together for a stylish laneway experience in the hub of Flinders Street, Townsville.
  • Tiny Mountain Brewery is named after the iconic Castle Hill. The reason being that its namesake is only a few metres short of mountain status. Come for the relaxed atmosphere, a solid lineup of brews, regular events and brewery tours on Saturday.

Where to Stay in Townsville

  • Civic Guesthouse is an affordable option with shared dorms, twin and double rooms within walking distance to major attractions, bus and ferry terminals.
  • Waters Edge The Strand (from $128 per night) provides waterfront, self-contained apartments including a private kitchenette for a convenient and comfortable stay.
  • Hotel Grand Chancellor Townsville (from $160 per night) has an onsite restaurant, rooftop pool, and panoramic views. This local landmark has been nicknamed the Sugar Shaker due to the building’s resemblance to a giant sugar shaker.

How to Get to Townsville

Townsville airport has direct flights from major Australian cities such as Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, and the Gold Coast, as well as regional destinations including Cairns, Mackay, Mount Isa, Cloncurry, Toowoomba, and Long Reach.

If you’re planning a road trip along the magnificent Pacific Coast Way, Townsville is a must-visit destination. The full route runs 1700km north from Brisbane to Cairns, with Cairns located 347km from Townsville. You can also make the same journey by rail or bus and avoid long days of driving.

The Spirit of Queensland is a diesel-powered Tilt Train operated by Queensland Rail and is approximately 18 hours from Brisbane to Townsville. It’s a comfortable journey with the ability to move around the train cars and visit the car galley for refreshments.

In comparison, the more budget-friendly, long-haul options of Premier Motor Service and Greyhound buses take over 23 hours to travel from Brisbane to Townsville. You can grab a 15 or 30 day Greyhound Whimit Travel Pass and take your time along the route.

About the Author: Chantell Collins is a Pinterest Advertising Consultant, eco enthusiast, and occasional Travel Writer. Her work has been featured in Skyscanner, Yahoo, MSN, and many more. After living abroad for almost ten years, she’s renewing her affection for Australia through slow travel. 

Got a question? Head over to our Australia Travel Tips Facebook Group and ask a local.

Leave a comment