Where to go in Queensland
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.
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Holiday Regions in Queensland
There is way too much for us to list, so we will focus on the major highlights but encourage you to find your own.
Just under five million people call Queensland home.
The key regions are:
- The Gold Coast – Surfers Paradise, Hinterland
- Brisbane – Moreton Island, Stradbroke Island
- Sunshine Coast – Noosa, Maroochydore, Bribie Island
- Fraser Coast – Fraser Island, Hervey 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.
The sunshine state capital, 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.
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
You might also like to add an extra day to your time in Brisbane to allow you to explore the areas nearby on one of the many excellent day trips on the doorstep.
Related: Check out our guide on where to stay in Brisbane
Local Tip: Check the view from the City Hall clock tower.
If you plan to explore Queensland in detail, then this road trip itinerary between Brisbane and Cairns is a great place to start planning.
Surfers Paradise & the Gold Coast
Once THE destination for an Aussie family holiday, these days, the Gold Coast gets pretty stiff competition from the Sunshine and Fraser Coasts. Still, it’s a great spot to hit with the kids with loads of fun activities, and outside of school holiday periods, it’s a fun place for adults to soak up some sun.
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
- Gold Coast Waterfalls – There are more than a dozen stunning waterfalls in the Gold Coast Hinterland and Scenic Rim
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 to visit the Gold Coast Theme Parks, this is my preferred spot for a beach holiday in Queensland.
The Sunshine Coast feels more relaxed than its 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, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one 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 world’s 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
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.
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.
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 outback.
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 – be sure to book more than an overnight visit.
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!
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
- Rent your own yacht and sail some of the islands
- 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. Check our guide to Islands in Queensland for help choosing the best one for your visit.
Local tip: Two airports service the area, Proserpine Airport, aka Whitsunday’s airport and Hamilton Island airport, a one-hour ferry ride from the mainland and can sometimes offer cheaper flights.
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.
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.
Highlights of the tropical north:
- Cairns – the gateway to the Barrier Reef with dozens of reef tours to choose from
- Atherton Tablelands – Waterfalls galore and so much more!
- Palm Cove resorts – spend a few nights here – rest, wine and dine
- Daintree National Park – explore the ancient rainforest and swim at Mossman Gorge
- 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
Got a question? Head over to our Australia Travel Tips Facebook Group and ask a local.