Missing your annual dose of Fiji or Hawaii? The essential elements are all on offer in our very own Townsville. With its tropical take on city life and stunning coastal setting, there's little reason to travel further. Here's a handy to-do list for first-time visitors.
Townsville is the fourth biggest urban centre in Queensland, and the largest city in tropical Australia.
This bustling coastal centre basks in more than 300 days of sunshine each year and offers visitors access to a rich trove of federation architecture, sophisticated restaurants, top accommodation options, an extensive calendar of events, and superb shopping. There are also myriad natural wonders within easy reach, including sublime Magnetic Island, the Great Barrier Reef, the lush Wet Tropics rainforest, and the Queensland outback. You’ll need four or five days to do the region justice.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Townsville.
1. Walk along the Strand
Start your time in Townsville by taking a stroll along the Strand — a stunning 2.2-kilometre beachfront promenade. It offers wonderful vistas and comes complete with lush gardens, restaurants and cafes, BBQ facilities, a popular (and free!) water park, and plenty of spots to chill beneath swaying palm trees.
The Strand is equally delightful in the evening, and you’ll no doubt notice the Ocean Siren sculpture rising from the water next to the Strand Jetty. It’s part of the collection of the celebrated new Museum of Underwater Art, which has its main installation at John Brewer Reef on the Great Barrier Reef itself. You’ll need to book a tour with an approved dive operator to visit the main site.
2. Soak up the views from Castle Hill
Castle Hill is situated right next to the CBD and you can drive or follow one of several walking trails up to the peak. Your reward is sweeping panoramas of the city and suburbs, Magnetic Island and the Coral Sea.
3. Explore the vibrant cultural scene
In recent years Townsville has become a hub for amazing street art, and there are around 30 commissioned murals on display across the city centre. Download the Townsville City Council’s self guided walking tour map and app, and take in the various works at your leisure.
The Townsville Civic Theatre hosts music, comedy, dance and theatre productions. Many major Australian performing arts companies tour here, as do international performers. Check the What’s On Townsville website for current and upcoming shows.
Townsville was founded in 1864 as a shipping port, and is still a major import and export centre. While education and research are seen as the major growth industries for the future, it’s not hard to get a sense of the city’s past. Start by visiting the award-winning Museum of Tropical Queensland, where there’s a strong emphasis on maritime archaeology. The Maritime Museum of Townsville is another interesting option.
4. Learn the region’s military history
Townsville is home to Australia’s largest defence base and has long been of strategic military importance to the country’s north. The 15-hectare Jezzine Barracks precinct commemorates the military and Aboriginal heritage of the Kissing Point headland, while the Forts Walk on Magnetic Island leads to historic WWII fortifications and infrastructure. Lookouts along the way afford excellent views of the Palm Island group and Bowling Green Bay National Park. Koalas are often seen in trees along the track. The walk culminates in 360-degree views from the top of the fortifications.
5. Indulge in some laneway dining
The City Lane precinct in the heart of the CBD is bursting with dining options and New York-style flair. Here you can eat your way around the world without leaving town. Donna Bionda offers Italian cuisine and Sakana serves Japanese. Harri Dumpling does delicious dumplings, while Syros specialises in traditional Greek street food. Also check out The Taphouse — North Queensland’s first self-pour craft beer bar.
6. Try some top local drops
For more opportunities to refresh with a brewed beverage or enjoy a great meal, head for the Townsville Brewery. Housed in the old Townsville Post Office, which dates back to 1889, this family-owned brewhouse produces some sensational seasonal drops. Try the Premium Townsville Bitter, Be More Pacific Ale, Legends Lager, and Sourpuss Mandarin and Mango Beer. The tavern food menu offers an array of share-style plates.
7. Escape to Magnetic Island
Magnetic Island — located just eight kilometres off the coast of Townsville — is a unique blend of national park, holiday paradise and residential community. The island has some of the best beaches in Queensland, and the vibe is relaxed and friendly. Book a 20-minute ferry transfer to and from the island. Once you’re there, you can choose to jet ski, sail, scuba dive, snorkel, fish, ride horses, play a round of golf or just relax in one of the many peaceful coves.
8. Experience the magic of the reef at Reef HQ
For a taste of the magic of the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet, visit Townsville’s Reef HQ — the largest coral reef aquarium in the world. It’s home to thousands of fish, sharks and turtles, and of course, a wide variety of living corals. The aquarium’s Turtle Hospital cares for sick and injured marine turtles. Please note: Reef HQ is currently closed for a $40 million upgrade. It will reopen in 2023.
9. Take a walk on the wild side at Billabong Sanctuary
To meet land-loving local wildlife, head out to Billabong Sanctuary. This fabulous wildlife park will see you holding a koala, cuddling a wombat, smiling at the odd crocodile and draping a python around your neck. There are animal presentations and feeding sessions throughout the day.
10. Dive the wreck of the Yongala
Finally, while you’re in Townsville, why not take advantage of the warm tropical waters and learn to scuba dive? There are several operators that can get you certified in just a few days. Experienced divers will also enjoy their time in Townsville. The Yongala wreck is considered to be Australia’s best dive site and attracts seasoned divers from around the world.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Townsville? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Tourism and Events Queensland. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Len Rutledge has been travel writing for 40 years. During that time he has penned thousands of newspaper articles, numerous magazine pieces, more than a thousand web reviews and around 35 travel guide books. Len has lived in nine countries and currently resides in Townsville. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award and other recognition. He is the author of the Experience Guides series of travel books.