Where to go in New South Wales (NSW)
Wondering where to go in NSW? You could easily spend a year exploring the many towns of NSW but because for most of us time is limited we have shared the top sites in each of the regions of NSW.
Most travellers stick to the coast, taking the long drive from Brisbane to Sydney or south to Melbourne. Then add 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 so read on and see which places grab your interest and start planning.
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We have travelled all four corners of NSW, including a four week outback discovery tour of some of the state’s most remote spots. We will continue to share our advice on these.
New South Wales is home to 8 million Australians, who live mainly in towns along the east coast.
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.
Our hometown and focus of our first website, Sydney Expert; we love Sydney and can give you 100 reasons you should visit. Choosing just five is hard! However, even with just a weekend in the city, you can see many of the best sites.
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 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 The Sydney Expert 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.
Must do Blue Mountains activities include:
- Katoomba – Visit the Three Sisters
- Wentworth Falls – hike to the biggest falls in the mountains.
- Blackheath – Explore antiques and art in this upper mountains village
- Pulpit Rock – Head here for the mountains best sunrise
- Bilpin – Eat apple pie and go cider tasting
Local Tip: If you don’t have a car, you can easily explore the Blue Mountains using the train and HOHO bus.
Related: Check out this 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.
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 enormous lake with so much to explore
West of the Blue Mountains, Central NSW was settled for its fertile land, perfect for grazing. The region hit the popularity stakes with Australia’s first Gold Rush in the 1860s.
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 one of NSW Silo Art installations.
- 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.
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.
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
- 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!
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.
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 Australian Celtic Festival
- Tamworth – the music capital of Australia and home of Country Music
- Armidale – Waterfalls, over 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. Also, drive the Waterfall Way for an excellent road trip.
Mid North Coast
For simplicity, and because the names for the different regions on the coast keep changing, this section includes the coast from Newcastle to Coffs Harbour. I think at the moment the official name is the Barrington Coast.
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 is perfect for a week-long holiday
The 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.
Highlights of spending time on the North Coast include:
- Grafton – visit in spring for the 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 😉
- The Tweed Valley – explore the charming hinterland towns
- 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
New South Wales has its own red centre, where the dirt changes colour and the towns are few and far between. The area covers over one-third of the state and stretches from Lightning Ridge in the east up the Queensland border, west to the South Australian border and south to the Murray River.
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 country’s 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 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 ending in South Australia. The river is lined with gorgeous red river gums and a lovely place for long walks.
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 primarily visited in winter when snow falls across its five ski resorts, and hundreds of Aussie skiers arrive ready to play. It is just as worthy of attention in summer, especially if you are into hiking, fishing, mountain biking or horse riding.
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
For simplicity, we have pulled together the Illawarra, Shoalhaven and the entire area from Wollongong to the Victorian border as the South Coast. Don’t worry; there will be 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!
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 impressive, so check out one of the others and avoid the crowds!
Got a question? Head over to our Australia Travel Tips Facebook Group and ask a local.