5 Great Cities To Visit In Australia That Aren’t Sydney

We all know Australia is a huge, expansive country. It’s beyond crazy to think some people will visit and only barely make it outside Sydney, let alone the state of New South Wales! There is so much more to see and do in other great cities, and these are just a few of them. So, where are the best cities to visit in Australia that aren’t the not-capital of Sydney?

Cities of Australia

Much like New Zealand, the definition of a city in Australia is a tricky one (blame New South Wales). Of course, the definition alludes to a certain population size to count as one of the cities of Australia. In general, the rather loose term makes it seem as though a city in Australia is more of a local government area, and I’m yet to find a clear answer on how they really define a city besides that!

With that in mind, here are just some wonderful cities in Australia to help you find where the best cities to visit in Australia are!

Melbourne

If Sydney is the big name city of Australia, then Melbourne is its hip younger sibling! I’m including Melbourne in my choices for its world-class culture, great cafes, and nearby wildlife.

There’s plenty of unforgettable experiences in Melbourne; especially the day trips you can take from the city around Victoria. One of my favourites includes visiting Phillip Island to catch the Penguin Parade – a remarkable moment when the tiny fairy penguins scurry back home across the beach from a long day out at sea, and with the sun setting at the same time it really is an amazing sight! Another wonderful day trip to take from Melbourne will see you drive the Great Ocean Road and witness the crashing waves along the coastline at the Twelve Apostles. Quite the feat of nature to behold! 

misty clouds hover over the 12 Apostles in Victoria, Australia as yellow rock columns battle crashing waves along the coastline
The Twelve Apostles is a great day trip to take from Melbourne

Activities in the city itself are no less exciting. I loved wandering the alleys and arcades spotting street art, diving into quirky boutique stores, and resting at some awesome coffee shops. Hosier Lane is a tourist favourite for street art, as well as the adjoining AC/DC Lane!

cityscape views of Melbourne Australia and tree-lined green grassy parks
Incredible views of Melbourne from the Shrine of Remembrance and King’s Domain

When visiting Melbourne taking a stroll along the Southbank is a must. It’s here you can see the fire display outside the Crown Complex, head over to the National Gallery of Victoria to see some incredible art, snap a photo of the famous Flinders Street Station, and soak up views of the city across the Yarra River.

The yellow front of Flinders Street Station in Melbourne with busy pedestrians walking across the street
The iconic Flinders Street Station can’t be missed on your visit to Melbourne

Brisbane

While Sydney has the iconic landmarks and beaches, and Melbourne has the cosmopolitan atmosphere, Brisbane is a laid-back, family-friendly city that boasts plenty of attractions for all to enjoy. Flanked by the Sunshine Coast to the north and the Gold Coast to the south, Brisbane is an ideal stop-off for any East Coast Australia trip. With stunning beaches and idyllic surf towns all around, Brisbane is a welcome change of pace to mix up your Australia itinerary.

Tourists post for photos at the Brisbane southbank sign
The Brisbane sign is never without a number of keen visitors on the Southbank
Purple flowers and
Gorgeous flower tunnel on Brisbane’s Southbank

Brisbane’s Southbank is a hub of culture and buzzing attractions. From museums, art galleries, and markets you can easily spend the afternoon getting lost exploring this part of the city. Cooling off at the riverside lagoon at the end of the day is a chance to catch your breath and watch the sunset over the cityscape too!

The sun sets over Brisbane lagoon with calm paddling waters and a man made beach overlooking a cityscape view
Brisbane Lagoon provides great views over the city

Attractions that are easily accessible from the centre of Brisbane include the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where visitors can hold a koala, feed the kangaroos, and observe the many fascinating native wildlife of Australia. Another reason you absolutely should visit Brisbane on your trip to Australia!

hand held out while a young kangaroo feels from it
Feeding the kangaroos is a must-do at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Cairns

Cairns is the tropical paradise city of Australia. I know what you’re thinking: “but isn’t all of Australia hot, Suzy?!” Well, in some places it is, but Cairns takes the “hot” spot (I’ll see myself out) as being one of the balmy-er cities.

Cairns is likely most famous for its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. Activities such as diving, snorkelling, and overnight boat trips to nearby islands. You’ll soon see why Cairns is so popular for such experiences, with chances to see some incredible wildlife in their natural habitats.

Cairns lagoon across the waterfront on a cloudless day
Cairns Lagoon is the ideal space to cool off on a hot day

If you’d prefer to stay on dry land, Cairns Esplanade is a dream to explore. With bars and restaurants all around, you can have you pick of delicious meals. The Cairns Lagoon is sat right alongside the Esplanade in case a quick dip in the water does take your fancy too!

Views across the beach and ocean towards the coastline in Cairns
Walk along Cairns Esplanade for beautiful views across the ocean

Unexpectedly, Cairns has a thriving art scene despite being famed as a primarily outdoor activity-focussed city. Exploring the Centre of Contemporary Arts in Cairns is a treat for those looking to enjoy a slice of culture on their visit to this city. Keep an eye out for their upcoming exhibitions (Note: the centre is reopening in 2019 following refurbishment), and check out the giant jelly babies out the front! Walk along the Esplanade or Abbott Street and you’ll find a number of jazz and live music bars to suit your mood. Elixir Tapas Bar is an especially great jazz spot that’ll certainly get your feet tapping!

Giant jelly babies stand outside an art gallery on a sunny day in Cairns
The giant jelly babies of Cairns’ Centre of Contemporary Arts

After you’re feeling fed, watered, and full of culture explore Cairns Night Market and discover a variety of stalls selling anything and everything you can imagine. Whether it be a simple bracelet to add to your collection, or a new set of headphones (or even a sample of the foods!) you name it, Cairns Night Market will have it!

Perth

Heading over to the opposite coast of Australia, the capital of Western Australia is a wonderful city to visit that absolutely must be included in your Australian trip. Full of history, glorious beaches, and peaceful pockets of nature, you can find pretty much anything to suit your tastes in Perth.

Although it’s another coastal city, Perth is unlike its eastern siblings in that the city is overlooking a river rather than a beach. The Swan river is a gem of Perth, with gorgeous pieces of recreational land such as Point Walter – where you can even walk across the sandbar through the river and rub shoulders with the majestic swans!

View of skyscrapers and a harbour in Perth
Perth central business district as viewed from Elizabeth Quay

There are many cities in Australia that were built and developed based on their gold mining heritage. The abundance of gold found around Perth is particularly notable, as you can learn at the Perth Mint. A fun family day out, you’ll get the chance to see the Kangaroo Dollar, a $1 million coin, as well as attempt to lift a gold bar, discover your weight in gold, and even see a traditional gold bar being poured. An informative and interactive activity, it’s well-worth a visit when in Perth.

To wind down your day exploring this city in Australia, mosey along Elizabeth Quay or stroll through Kings Park to see the sun set over the cityscape, and enjoy the peaceful oasis away from the bustling city centre.

Perth city as viewed from above through silhouetted trees
The sunset begins at Kings Park

Fremantle

Fremantle is not your typical city destination in Australia. It’s a heck of a lot smaller, and it’s within a 30 minute drive to its big brother, Perth! In fact, it’s probably the result of that loose definition mentioned earlier. Nonetheless, as one of my favourite cities in Australia, I just couldn’t leave it out. Fremantle has the benefits of being a city brimming with character and charm, sat right alongside the beach, and is away from the big city slicks in their glassy towers of Perth.

Wandering through Fremantle Market is an ideal lazy afternoon out of the blaring sun. Full of tasty treats and treasured trinkets you could browse until you hunt down all your souvenirs! If history is more your cup of tea, then the Western Australia Maritime Museum or WA Shipwrecks Museum will give your fix of naval stories and fascinating artefacts to peruse.

Blue skies behind Fremantle Market - a low brick building with visitors outside
Fremantle Market may be unassuming but inside is a whole host of treats to explore

Best of all, Fremantle is the setting of some of the most gorgeous sunsets you’ll ever see. Facing west and overlooking the crystal clear (but chilly!) Indian Ocean at South Beach the golden light bounces off the white sands before turning the most vibrant shades of pink and purple. You’ll want to have your camera at the ready for this one, I promise! After all that excitement, head to one of Fremantle’s many bars or restaurants to celebrate another day in an awesome city.

Bright pink and purple clouds of a sunset over the beach and sandy pier
Have you ever seen such a beautiful sunset?

To get away from it all, catch the ferry over to Rottnest Island and explore hidden lagoons, coves, bays, and a whole host of land and marine life – including the adorable quokka. Fremantle is the ideal base to take a trip over to the island, with the ferry taking just over an hour you can take a day trip and be back in time for an evening swim!

Why Sydney Is Worth Visiting Too

Don’t get me wrong, there are a million reasons to adore Sydney. The iconic architecture, the bustling harbours, the great nightlife, the spectacular beaches… It’s all amazing, and is the essence of a juxtaposed city alongside a relaxed Aussie lifestyle that really can’t be beaten.

My standout experience of Sydney was when I saw the Sydney Opera House for the very first time. It just so happened to be a gorgeous late summer evening, the sun was setting and created a pink and golden shadow over the arches – it was magical! There’s something gravitational about Circular Quay with views of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, and the great bars and shops that make you keep returning for more!

Yellow, pink, and purple clouds of a sunset over Sydney Opera House and the harbour
Sydney certainly has plenty of reasons to visit

When visiting Sydney I’d recommend taking a day trip to the Blue Mountains. The stunning waterfalls, the dramatic cliffs, the view that stretches for miles – it’s certainly something that seems to showcase the landscape of Australia, and only a short drive from the city centre! And, of course, no trip to Sydney is complete without catching some rays at Bondi Beach – the coolest suburb!

Needless to say you won’t get bored easily in Sydney, and it’s an essential destination for anyone travelling to Australia with something to offer everyone, nature and city lovers alike. BUT, don’t forget there’s a whole country out there too! Stop by one of the many other cities in Australia, or delve into the smaller towns and countryside, I promise you won’t be disappointed! 

Where are your favourite cities in Australia? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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4 Replies to “5 Great Cities To Visit In Australia That Aren’t Sydney”

  1. Loved this post, Suzy! I’ve been to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Cairns has been my home for nearly nine months now. For anyone coming to Cairns, don’t underestimate how long you need to spend here to see everything. Although it isn’t a big ‘city’ like the others, you have access to some of the most beautiful places in Australia, including the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. I’ve added both Perth and Freemantle to my road trip bucket list, after reading this article (THAT SUNSET!!!). Thanks for sharing, Suzy!

    1. Aww thanks so much Ally! You are my go-to Cairns experts, I really want to go back after seeing how much you’ve loved living there! When I was over I had a pretty extraordinary case of conjunctivitis thanks to an epidemic in Fiji, and even through gammy eyes it was awesome! When are you guys heading over to WA? Can’t wait to see your roadie!

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