Queensland, Australia’s sunshine state, has more beaches, islands, ancient rainforests, mountain ranges and cute country towns thank you could visit in a lifetime, as well as a couple of cosmopolitan cities thrown in for good measure.
My favourite parts of Queensland are at either end of the east coast. Up north, the tropics tempt travellers with the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday Islands and the Daintree Rainforest. At the other end of the state, cities like Brisbane and the Gold Coast combine a laidback lifestyle with big city living, with sublime results.
I’ve written about how to spend one perfect day in Brisbane, my hometown, as well as my itinerary for one week in northern Queensland, from the Whitsundays to Cairns. Australia is more expensive than many other destinations in the southern hemisphere, so you might find my budget for a week in Queensland helpful as a guide.
Not sure where to start? Check out these 37 photos that will inspire you to visit Queensland,these 11 Queensland trip ideas and photos from my most recent trip home, when I spent four days in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.
Best Places to Travel in Queensland
Some of my favourite regions and cities in Queensland, listed from north to south. If I had to pick just two regions of Queensland for a first time traveller, I’d suggest Tropical North Queensland and the capital, Brisbane.
Tropical North Queensland
Bliss out in the tropics among world-heritage listed natural wonders, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, between days spent island hopping and exploring mountain-top rainforest villages. There’s nowhere in the world quite like Tropical North Queensland!
Stay in: A backpackers in Cairns or a holiday apartment or resort in Port Douglas.
The 74 islands of the Whitsundays are legendary for their beauty, and are the perfect stop between Cairns and Brisbane if you’re travelling the east coast. Only a handful of the islands have undergone development. Splash out on a stay on Hamilton Island, Daydream Island or Hayman Island, or save some cash and stay in Airlie Beach on the mainland. From Airlie Beach, the magnificent Whitehaven Beach is an easy day trip with Cruise Whitsundays.
Stay in: A backpackers in Airlie Beach, camp on Daydream Island or splurge on a luxury resort on Hamilton Island or Hayman Island
The Sunshine Coast
A fierce rival of the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast is made up of a string of beach towns and national parks just two hours north of Brisbane. Noosa is the most popular tourist destination, but Mooloolaba and hinterland townships of Montville, Maleny and Mapleton are worth checking out if you have a car. Noosa National Park is full of great hiking trails and the Eumundi Markets are a great place to have a fresh breakfast while wandering the largest art and craft market in Australia.
Stay in: Noosa or Mooloolaba for beaches, or in this cute BnB in Maleny for the hinterland.
Brisbane, Queensland’s laid-back capital city has lived in the shadows of Sydney and Melbourne for too long. Australia’s third city is younger, warmer and sunnier than it’s larger rivals, and is particularly popular with European tourists for being, well, not quite as European as Sydney and Melbourne.
Home to the most visited art gallery in Australia and the world’s number one young university, Brisbane is finally having it’s turn in the spotlight. What makes Brisbane special? It could be the warmth of the people, the calming effects of a laid-back lifestyle, the cites’ burning desire to shine brighter or it’s nearly year-round brilliant weather…Or it could be that unlike at Sydney or Melbourne wildlife sanctuaries, you’re legally allowed to cuddle koalas here, and that alone makes it a pretty good place to live.
Some of my favourite haunts that I return to almost every time I’m in town are the Davies Park Farmers Market, Mt Coot-tha and the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). Brisbane makes a great base for day trips around Queensland.
Stay in: Newfarm or Fortitude Valley
There’s more to Australia’s most notorious beachside city than the glitz of touristy Surfers Paradise. The Gold Coast has beautiful beaches, a burgeoning restaurant and bar scene, access to national parks and a lush, mountainous hinterland. Looking for ideas? Check out my post about how to spend one perfect day on the Gold Coast.
The Gold Coast is a great spot to go whale watching, if you’re in town from June-November. Check out my post about Gold Coast whale watching here.
Stay in: Broadbeach to be close to the action in Surfers (but not too close) or Burleigh Heads
Most Beautiful Natural Sights in Queensland
Queensland has more than 1600 km of coastline and more than 84 patrolled beaches, more islands than you’ll ever have time to visit, dramatic mountain ranges and tranquil national parks and rainforests. The outdoors is one of the best places to be in Queensland!
The Great Barrier Reef
The largest living structure in the world, the Great Barrier Reef stretches along most of Queensland’s coastline, but most people visit it via Cairns.
Explore the oldest rainforest in the world with a local eco-tour guide for the best experience of this ancient wonder.
Cape Tribulation, Tropical North Queensland
Cape Tribulation is the only place in the world where two UNESCO World Heritage Sites collide. At Cape Tribulation, you can watch the Great Barrier Reef meet the Daintree Rainforest. Cape Tribulation is easily accessible on a day tour from Cairns.
Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays
Whitehaven Beach is the best beach in Australia and #3 in the world for a reason. A freak of nature, the silica sand makes the beach super bright & white without heating up in the sun. Visit on a day trip from Airlie Beach or other Whitsundays islands with Cruise Whitsundays.
Spot humpback whales in Moreton Bay
Magnificent Humpback Whales make their annual migration from the chilly antarctic waters every year, which means from June-November you can spot them in action in Queensland waters. Hervey Bay is Queensland’s whale watching capital, 3-4 hours north of Brisbane, near Fraser Island. You can also do whale watching day trips from Brisbane, with Brisbane Whale Watching which operates out of Redcliffe, in Moreton Bay.
Green Island is exactly my idea of paradise. Powdery white sand meets crystal-clear water, which also just happens to form part of the Great Barrier Reef. Snorkel the reef straight from the beach!
A short ferry ride from Townsville, Magnetic Island is one chilled out little spot. Horseshoe Bay is the easiest beach to reach on a day trip from Townsville, using the local bus. When I visited, we had the entire beach to ourselves all evening!
Moreton Island is the world’s second-largest sand island is an easy weekend trip from Brisbane. Feed dolphins at the island’s main resort, Tangalooma, or bring your own 4WD and explore the island’s countless beaches & lakes at your leisure.
North Stradbroke Island
The world’s first “Slow Island” is great as a day trip from Brisbane, but even better as a weekend away. The Italian-born Slow movement is best known for it’s “Slow Food” branch, but has also spawned a global “Slow Cities” or “Cittaslow” movement. North Stradbroke Island is the first “Slow Island” to join the movement, which means that the community is committed to preserving a slow, meaningful lifestyle.
The Best Things to Do in Queensland
Australia’s most-visited art gallery has hosted exhibitions celebrating the works of big names like Valentino, the Prado and Andy Warhol, but even better is it’s larger-than-life Asia-Pacific Triennial (APT) exhibition. Don’t forget to pop in next door to the Queensland Art Gallery after your visit.
Skypoint, Gold Coast
Zip up to the 77th floor of the Q1 building to the Skypoint Observation Deck for 360 degree views over the Gold Coast. The view puts Melbourne’s Eureka Skytower to shame!
Kuranda Skyrail, Tropical North Queensland
Hop in a cable car and glide over ancient rainforest canopy up to the mountain-top rainforest village of Kuranda, on a day trip from Cairns. There’s plenty to do in Kuranda, but the scenic journey up the mountain on the Kuranda Skyrail is worth the day trip alone. On your way down, catch the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway.