Visitors to the New South Wales capital are spoilt for choice for sublime day trip destinations. Choose from the stunning Blue Mountains, Jenolan Caves, the popular Hunter Valley wine region, the tranquil Southern Highlands, and many more.
Sitting pretty around its eponymous harbour, Sydney is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
It’s also the gateway to a swag of stunning day trip destinations across southern New South Wales, and getting out and about by car is one of the best ways to enjoy them. There’s something amazing to be discovered in almost every direction, and enough variety to keep any Sydneysider or visitor busy for months.
So, what are you waiting for? Hire a car or service your vehicle, fuel up, check that you have adequate comprehensive car insurance in place, and hit the road. Here are ten of the best day trips from Sydney.
Watch our video of ten top things to do in Sydney:
Are you planning a visit to the amazing New South Wales capital? In this episode of our online travel series, we bring you ten top things to do in Sydney.
1. Northern Beaches
Let’s start with Sydney’s gorgeous Northern Beaches — a 30-kilometre peninsula of end-to-end stretches of sand, each seemingly more glorious than the last. There’s no doubt that the Northern Beaches makes one of the best day trips from Sydney. If time permits, consider visiting all of the region’s beachside communities over a series of weekends. You’ll soon discover that each has a distinct character.
If you only have one day though, make an early start and head to the enigmatically named Dee Why for a morning swim. There’s plenty of parking for drivers, or you can take the 136 bus from either Manly wharf or Chatswood railway station. Dee Why has undergone a foodie renaissance in recent years, so it’s the perfect place to enjoy breakfast or morning coffee with superb ocean views. Head to Sea Change Cafe on The Strand for a huge range of on-trend brunch options. Afterwards, walk off the calories by taking a northward route past the lagoon and up to the Long Reef headland. You’ll be rewarded with superb views for your effort!
A rich history, stunning scenery, and great bushwalks combine to make the Blue Mountains another of the best day trips from Sydney. Start with a visit to the quaint village of Leura and browse in the upmarket boutiques, such as Josophan’s Fine Chocolates. The town also hosts a spectacular spring garden festival.
In neighbouring Katoomba, Echo Point Lookout provides the classic view of the Blue Mountains’ most famous landmark — the rock formation known as The Three Sisters. You should also check out fabulous Scenic World — home to the Scenic Railway — the world steepest passenger rail service.
Further along the Great Western Highway in Medlow Bath, the iconic Hydro Majestic hotel has Art Deco interiors and a sumptuous old-world ambience. Indulge in the hotel’s decadent high tea and soak up yet more spectacular valley views. From there, it’s a short drive to Blackheath — home to a fantastic monthly growers’ market and the atmospheric Logan Brae Orchards. Dive into a slice of their sublime apple pie, or warm the cockles with a glass of hot spiced cider!
History buffs will love Mount Victoria — the highest point in the Blue Mountains and a true village. Admire the historic railway station, settle into a matinee session at vintage cinema Mount Vic Flicks, or visit Mount York lookout and relive the story of the first successful mountain crossing by European explorers in 1813.
Ranging from delightfully easy to incredibly tough, memorable bushwalks abound across the Blue Mountains National Park’s almost one million hectares. Try and do at least one hike during your visit, but always respect the weather and challenges presented by the region’s extraordinary topography.
Scientists believe the Jenolan Caves are around 340 million years old, making them the oldest known open cave system on earth. Armed with this awe-inspiring thought, it’s worth embarking on the 2.5-hour drive from Sydney across the Blue Mountains to the tiny village of Jenolan. Tourists have been coming here for more than 150 years, so you’ll find a well-developed visitor infrastructure — including historic Jenolan Caves House, and many other dining and accommodation options.
The range of cave tours is impressive, with everything from children’s tours and self-guided audio tours, to night tours and adventure caving trips. In making your choice, consider your overall fitness level, as access to some areas requires over a thousand stairs to be climbed. Yet several of the most beautiful caves, such as the Orient, Imperial Diamond and Temple of Baal, demand only moderate fitness. You’ll be amazed by the variety of crystal formations, the delicate mineral tints, and the entrancing reflections of both in the underground rivers and pools.
4. Hunter Valley
At just two hours’ drive from Sydney, the Hunter Valley — Australia’s oldest wine region — offers another superb day out from the city. Award-winning wines, a thriving food culture, lovely countryside, and spectacular gardens and estates are some of the many reasons to visit the area. There are around 150 cellar doors to choose from, so use the Wine Country directory to plan your day or book one of the many tours that will take you to the top vineyards.
Providores are starting to give winemakers a run for their money in attracting visitors to the region. The Smelly Cheese Shop has two outlets — at the Roche Estate Complex and the Smelly Deli in Pokolbin. The Lovedale Smokehouse is a mecca for all things charcuterie as well as jams, olives, and preserved fruits and vegetables. On Saturdays you can hone your Asian cookery skills at the onsite Majors Lane Cooking School.
Green thumbs will love the Hunter region. The Hunter Valley Gardens are the largest display gardens in Australia and home to ten themed sections, including the much-loved Storybook Garden and the magnificent Sunken Garden. This is a great spot for families and features seasonal school holiday activities.
Over on the coast east of the Hunter region, it’s all about the environment — well, two environments actually. One is the huge bay known as Port Stephens — an ancient flooded valley and deeply indented piece of coastline, which has formed a natural anchorage more than double the size of Sydney Harbour. Unsurprisingly, this relatively calm expanse of water is popular with boaties and alive with marine life. Day trippers can enjoy both on a dolphin-spotting cruise — and you’re virtually guarantee of seeing resident bottlenose dolphins.
On land, Australia’s largest complex of coastal sand dunes makes the Worimi-Stockton dunes in Worimi National Park a must-visit for aficionados of outdoor adventure. There are lots of ways to experience this desert-like landscape up close, including quad biking and a variety of 4WD tours. Sandboarding provides hands-on fun for all ages.
The world’s second oldest national park (behind Yellowstone in the United States), Royal National Park is a treasured environmental resource on Sydney’s southern doorstep. The park begins at Port Hacking, just below the beachside suburb of Cronulla. Facing Cronulla across the mouth of the bay is the village of Bundeena, where you can enjoy watersports (fishing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding), art and craft markets, and walking trails through rainforest and past Aboriginal rock carvings.
The rest of the park — which stretches as far as the northern suburbs of Wollongong — is a hikers’ paradise. Walks through coastal heathland yield breathtaking views of the iconic sandstone cliffs of the Sydney basin, as well as myriad opportunities to see native Australian plants such as waratahs, grass trees and Gymea lilies. Secluded beaches and idyllic natural pools are perfect for a cooling swim mid-hike. There are also plenty of shaded picnic areas (some with barbecue facilities).
7. Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Nestled in Sydney’s northern suburbs, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park was established in 1894 and is the second-oldest national park in New South Wales. Start your visit at the Kalkari Discovery Centre to learn about the park’s flora, fauna, and rich Indigenous heritage. If you’re feeling energetic, you may decide to tackle the moderately difficult Birrawanna Walking Track. It offers complete immersion in peaceful forests alive with birdsong.
The trail also leads to Bobbin Head — a vintage ‘pleasure-ground’ created through make-work schemes during the Great Depression of the 1930s. There’s plenty of open space here for picnics and games (bring your frisbee!), a mangrove boardwalk, and a café serving snacks and light meals. The nearby Empire Marina has small boats for hire (perfect for a spot of fishing or for exploring the picturesque inlets of Cowan Creek). Alternatively, stay on shore and enjoy a meal made from sustainable, locally sourced ingredients at the Waterside Bistro.
Situated at the northern tip of the 15,000-hectare park, the Resolute picnic ground acts as a gateway to Red Hands Cave. Reached by a short walking track (a 0.6-kilometre return trip), the cave contains ancient rock art by the Guringai people — the original inhabitants of this part of Sydney. A further one-kilometre walk from the cave (or a two-minute drive from the picnic ground) is West Head Lookout, which offers incredible coastal vistas.
8. South Coast
This long stretch of sparkling beaches and spectacular cliffs begins at the village of Stanwell Park, which can be reached in an hour by car or 70 minutes by train from the centre of Sydney. Stanwell Tops — the escarpment that overhangs the village — offers magnificent opportunities for coastal hang-gliding and paragliding. Just six kilometres to the south is the sweeping Sea Cliff Bridge, its sinuous curves overhanging the Pacific Ocean. It provides extraordinary views of the rocks and water for both motorists and pedestrians.
Pretty seaside villages such as Coledale, Austinmer, and Bulli dot the coastline as it extends southward to the city of Wollongong — home to great surf beaches and many dining/shopping options. As you travel further south past Lake Illawarra, the scenery takes on a very English feel. Lush dairy farms juxtapose emerald-green grazing land with the bright blue of the ocean. An old-world seaside charm awaits you in the picturesque town of Kiama — famous for its spouting blowhole and home to historic buildings, craft markets, and a popular annual Jazz and Blues Festival.
9. Southern Highlands
Heritage townships and a soul-soothing rural atmosphere are the hallmarks of the Southern Highlands, located roughly two-hour’s drive southwest of Sydney. Mittagong is the region’s gateway town and a natural first stop. Depending on how early you hit the road, the Shaggy Cow Café will meet your breakfast or morning tea needs in style (who can resist those cow portraits lining the walls?). Just outside Mittagong is Tertini Wines — highly regarded not just for its cool-climate vintages, but also for the guest experience at its cellar door.
Continuing on to the town of Bowral, you’ll find a huge range of things to see and do. For cricket fans, there’s no question of where to stop first — the excellent Bradman Museum. Garden enthusiasts can head to Corbett Gardens, which are especially stunning during ‘tulip time’ in September. Antique collectors will be spoiled for choice at two excellent emporiums: Dirty Janes and Lancelot Hill Antiques. Grab a coffee at Rush or indulge yourself with a fine dining experience at Onesta Cucina. Finish your Southern Highlands day of discovery with an afternoon visit to the historic town of Berrima (and perhaps a stop at the famous Berkelouw Book Barn).
If you’re prepared to put in a long day, it’s possible to visit Canberra from Sydney without staying overnight. Driving time to and from the nation’s capital is three hours each way at a moderate pace. Break the journey with coffee and cake at Marulan’s Meridian Café.
Canberra’s centrepiece is magnificent, man-made Lake Burley Griffin, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy its shimmering expanse. Cycle the waterfront promenades, stroll along the Australian of the Year Walk, or do a lake cruise.
Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Escape (News Limited), Mindful Puzzles, Vacations and Travel, and Mindfood. In her former career as an English Literature academic, she studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed Roslyn to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.