Ahhh… the Sunshine State. How could you not want to visit every place in Queensland with a name like that! It’s like the whole state was just made for people to go on holiday.
There’s no doubt that there are some magnificent places to visit in Queensland but it’s more than just sunshine and beaches.
There’s the reef and the rainforest, two of the biggest drawcards.
There’s Brisbane and other vibrant cities with modern culture and fascinating heritage.
There’s the Outback and the unique adventures that come from this lesser-explored part of Australia.
And then, of course, there are the different layers to the destinations that you may think you already know. There are always lots of things changing in regions like the Sunshine Coast, there are new Indigenous experiences to learn about the history of Cape York, and there are lots of hidden spots within easy reach of Townsville.
It’s hard to know where to start when you’re planning a trip to the state because there are so many options. But here are my tips for the best places to visit in Queensland.
Brisbane may be a laidback city but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Particularly in recent years, Queensland’s capital has grown into a bustling centre full of cool bars, restaurants, and regular events. There’s the music scene in Fortitude Valley and a robust craft brewery scene.
It’s easy to spend a few days in Brisbane, exploring the galleries and museums, visiting a few of the other tourist sights, and even just walking along the river. But it’s also a nice place just to hang.
When it’s cold down south, the city offers warm weather and hotels with pools where you can relax on a mini-break. Or use it as a base to explore some of the nature around the city, or areas like the Scenic Rim or Granite Belt.
The Gold Coast has always been flashy and, honestly, that probably hasn’t changed in the main areas. You’ll find theme parks for the kids and nightclubs for the adults – but that’s why a lot of people come, right?
But there is much more to the Gold Coast and you don’t need to look far to find it. Even along the main beaches, you’ll be able to find quieter spots, if that’s what you want. Either way, the waves are going to be awesome most of the time.
You can also head up into the hinterland, where things are a bit more chilled. There are walks in national parks, wineries, and some lovely little villages.
The Sunshine Coast also has a hinterland and this is often an area not explored by visitors (except for the Queensland locals – they have caught onto this hidden gem). The villages here have excellent local produce, plus there are some epic walks and waterfalls. When it comes to nature, the Glass House Mountains are the highlight.
It’s not called the Sunshine Coast for no reason, though (was there ever a better marketing name in Australian tourism?) and there is plenty of action down by the water. At first glance, it may look like there’s lots of development, but things never get too hectic.
The nice thing about visiting the Sunshine Coast is that you can find a little pocket that feels right for you, but you’re never far from everything else. There’s fancy Noosa, the surfing area around Coolum, busy Maroochydore, and family-friendly Mooloolaba, for example.
Fraser Island (K’gari) is the world’s largest sand island and it’s a real treasure of the Queensland coast. 123 kilometres long, there’s heaps to explore and it definitely makes for a destination on its own.
There are beautiful spots to swim all across (and around) the island, and a highlight is the freshwater Lake McKenzie. There are lots of bush walks, including the 90-kilometre Great Walk across the island. And the 4WD driving on the sand is also a lot of fun.
Fraser Island is also an excellent area to spot wildlife. Of course, there are the dingoes, which are local icons, but you’ll be able to see whales swimming past during migration months as well.
You may have seen that a photo of that famous heart-shaped island on the Great Barrier Reef. Well, this is where it’s from, and there’s a lot to love about the Whitsundays.
The Whitsundays is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Queensland. It’s a collection of 74 islands, from large to small – not that anyone is likely to go to all of them. Some of the large islands have big holiday resorts, like Hamilton Island and Hayman Island, and then there are exclusive resorts on some of the small ones, like Daydream Island.
A lot of people base themselves in the biggest city on the mainland because there are lots of things to do at Airlie Beach. Plenty of trips from here will take you out on the water, to the island highlights – like Whitehaven Beach – and show you a good time. The Whitsundays are made for visitors!
Bundaberg often doesn’t get as much attention as other cities along Queensland’s coast because it doesn’t have the same kind of resort feel (partly because it is slightly inland). But there are actually lots of really interesting things to do in the region and it’s definitely worth visiting.
One of the highlights is the Mon Repos Conservation Park, where you can see baby turtles hatching – the only place in Australia that offers ranger-guided tours. Or you can fly out to Lady Elliot Island and swim with the turtles (plus lots of other sea life).
Back on the mainland, there’s the famous Bundaberg rum distillery, heaps of other amazing local produce, and all sorts of other unique experiences around towns like Childers and beyond.
Townsville has grown into a really interesting city, where you’ll still find a relaxed beach vibe along the Strand, but with a bustling CBD with street art and new restaurants just minutes away. There are lots of things to do in Townsville and the heritage here, particularly related to the military, is particularly interesting to explore.
But Townsville is also the launching spot to visit Magnetic Island, just a short ferry ride away, which can be visited as a day trip or overnight. It’s a real gem of the Queensland coast, with beautiful bush walks, secluded beaches, and a lovely relaxed atmosphere to chill out.
Even further afield, Townsville is a great base to explore other islands, head out to the Great Barrier Reef, and visit some of the national parks in the region. Sometimes it’s too easy to focus on the cities but in North Queensland, some of the best experiences come when you look around them.
Cairns is a tourism mecca, and for good reason – there’s so much to do here. The city itself has lots of great bars and restaurants and a series of sparkling new hotels, but it’s the things you can do around Cairns that make it so popular.
Of course, there’s the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns is one of the best places to visit the Great Barrier Reef and there’s a range of tours that will take you to the outer reef or more convenient closer islands.
But there are also lots of other tours in Cairns that will show you the region and take you on some fun adventures. You can go for thrills with canyoning or white water rafting, or explore the rainforest and the local produce.
Although it’s easy to base yourself in Cairns, there are other popular coastal towns nearby that make for good bases. Upmarket Port Douglas, north of Cairns, is one of them, and is the gateway to the magnificent Daintree Rainforest.
Or, if you go south, you’ll find the more relaxing Mission Beach, which has a great atmosphere. It’s easy to spend a few days here, including a day trip over to Dunk Island.
The most remote part of Australia’s eastern coast, Cape York is seen by many as the ultimate adventure. The roads are mainly unsealed, there’s little (or no) phone reception, and services are limited. But that’s all part of the adventure.
Cape York has more than a thousand kilometres of rugged rainforest and, as you drive up through it, there are more than ten different national parks to see. Visiting Cape York is all about enjoying the nature – and making sure you’re not beaten by it.
Cape Tribulation, at the southern end of Cape York, is relatively easy to reach and is known as the spot where the rainforest meets the sea. Further north, there’s Cooktown, and then, beyond that, you’ll need a well-equipped 4WD for the 860km journey to the tip, through waterfalls, rock art, and luscious wetlands.
Although most people think of the coast when they think of Queensland, most of the state actually consists of dry outback. There may not be as much tourist infrastructure inland, but there are still some great areas to discover – and Longreach is one of them.
Longreach is in the very centre of the state and it is the perfect example of the Outback lifestyle. You’ll find a warm welcome at the pubs, be dazzled by the bright stars at night, and be able to discover the heritage of early settlers.
One of the highlights of Longreach is the Qantas Founders Outback Museum, celebrating the birth of Australia’s national airline. Walking all over a Boeing 747 is not what you may have expected from the middle of the desert.
It’s worth making a road trip of a visit to the area and also stopping at some of the other towns like Barcaldine, Tambo, and Winton.
And for a special Queensland experience, there’s the remote city of Mount Isa, which is almost at the border with the Northern Territory.
Although it has an industrial edge, as a mainly mining town, that offers a particular type of heritage and culture that you can explore as a visitor. Mount Isa is famous for is annual cowboy festival and you’ll find elements of that any time of the year.
The stunning landscapes around Mount Isa are another highlight and there are a few national parks worth exploring. You’ll find plenty of water amongst the red mountains at Boodjamulla National Park, and there’s also the World Heritage Site at the Riversleigh Fossil Fields.