The land down under may seem like a world away, but it’s a dynamic destination that caters to music lovers and fashionistas, urban adventurers and discerning gastronomes, the nature-intrigued and seasoned outdoors explorers. Now reopen to international travelers, Australia beckons with all that it offers. You may come for the very great barrier reef in Queensland and discover scuba diving led by Indigenous guides; or pair Victoria’s ski scene with its wine scene. Maybe you should consider a longer trip...



When’s the best time to go to Australia?

It’s hard to find a wrong time to visit Australia. Winter is June to August, when most of Australia hits a low season. This is the time to ski in the Kosciusko National Park or on Victoria’s Mount Hotham. It’s also the best time to visit northern Australia.

Between May and September the Northern Territory, northwestern Australia, and Queensland offer ideal weather. In summer, these areas swelter, either too humid or too hot, inciting some travelers to make a U-turn to more friendly climes down south.

From September to May, southern Australia is at its peak. Every other traveler looking for antipodean escapades arrives at this time of year, but there’s plenty of land to go around. December to February have most Sydneysiders and Melbournians pumping up the air-conditioning, while braver tourists define new tan lines on Bondi and Manly beaches.

How to get around Australia

They don’t call Australia “the land down under” for nothing. It’s a long flight from just about anywhere. And once you’re here, the various must-see destinations are spread over vast distances, so some logistical planning is necessary.

As of 2022, there were nine nonstop inbound flights to Australia from the U.S., stopping in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, or Perth. Interstate flights are easily accomplished via Qantas, Jetstar, Tiger, and Virgin.

To see the whole continent in under a month is a serious undertaking and will involve trains, planes, a few automobiles, boats, and a ferry or two.

A less daunting project would be to take on the East Coast in one trip, spending time in Sydney and Melbourne, exploring Adelaide and the Great Ocean road by car, taking a car-ferry or flight to Tasmania, popping in to Canberra, and jetting up to Queensland for the tropical experience.

Western Australia is simple to navigate by train, car, or tour bus, but don’t even think about going into the outback alone in summer.

The interior outback, known as the Red Center, is best reached by organized tour, available as luxury excursions, adventure operations, backpacker units, and every other imaginable collective. You can take four-wheel-drives off road, but carry water (five liters per day, per person), bring a high-frequency radio transceiver, and be sure to respect Aboriginal sacred land, national park rules, and animal crossings at dusk and dawn. (Neither party comes out well from an on-road clash with a large kangaroo.)

Food and drink to try in Australia

Foreigners’ overused jokey adage to “throw another shrimp on the barbie” no longer sticks. First of all, Australians call them prawns. Second, Australian gastronomy has surpassed the humble barbecue. It remains a happy summer stalwart in backyards across the country, but what happens elsewhere is more interesting. The country’s food scene has been largely overlooked abroad, and for the most part the global food media have shunned Australia’s culinary experience, focusing instead on its cuddly native critters and extraordinary landscapes. It’s also true that the nation’s food culture is really coming of age. What was a less than inspiring restaurant scene just a couple of decades ago has blossomed in recent years. Restaurants such as Attica, Quay, Sepia, and Flower Drum can stand up to the world’s best.

Culture in Australia

The new year kicks off the traditional cycle, and less than a month later the country celebrates Australia Day. Officially it marks the anniversary of the arrival of the British in Sydney on January 26, 1788. Mindful of the original inhabitants of the land, the day is now simply a celebration of being Australian. Folks light the barbecue, play cricket on the beach, and take to the outdoors. Every happy Australian stereotype comes out on one glorious public holiday. Parties don’t come much more mind-blowing than the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, the biggest of its kind in the world. Go along to cheer on the sequined, feathered, Lycra-wearing ensemble as they celebrate equal rights.

Hippies, rockers, folk fans, indie types, country listeners, jazz groovers: There are festivals across Australia for every sort of music lover. Travel north to Byron Bay to revel in the stunning bushland setting of Splendor in the Grass, and go to Victoria for the Falls Festival, relocated from Tasmania following a two-year pandemic hiatus. See where Keith Urban started his career at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. There’s Tropfest for film lovers, and the Sydney, Melbourne, or Byron Bay Writers Festivals for the more literary.

Local travel tips for Australia

Australia is a wide, stunning, varied land. To travel around it well requires great research and good advice. Locals love nothing better than spouting off about their favorite places, the best eats, the must-nots and must-dos. “Shout” (buy) a local a beer and you’ll get better insider advice than you could from a guidebook, and probably a really good laugh.

Read Before You Go
The Wunambal Gaambera Traditional Owners in Western Australia will serve as the godparents of the luxury expedition vessel “Seabourn Pursuit”. Here’s what the pact means for the community, the destination, and for those sailing with Seabourn.
Resources to help plan your trip
The capital of the Northern Territory isn’t known for its shopping, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. Beyond Aboriginal artwork and market handicrafts, there are plenty of stylish boutiques to outfit travelers in fresh swimwear and modern Australian fashion. There are also precious local pearls, second-hand books, natural body products, and anything one could ever want made out of crocodile skin. These great boutiques deserve more than a window shop.
Victoria, the home of what some would argue is the best pinot noir and coffee in Australia, if not the world, calls on all visitors to explore its vast offering. Explore the cafe, restaurant and bar culture in Melbourne, drive to Daylesford’s luxurious Lake House and, whether it’s via plane, car or walking boots, visit the extraordinary 12 Apostles on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. Victoria’s beaches are known for their surf, and water buffs explore the coast to look for a few good waves.
Australia’s most tropical state has everything to offer adventure seekers, from bungy jumping to skydiving, from scuba diving to swimming with jellyfish.
Balmy nights and some of the clearest skies in the country make for dreamy dinners under the stars. Add in ocean views and desert dunes, and al fresco dining in the Northern Territory is pure magic. Here’s the best of the batch.
From croc balls to mud crabs, Australia offers many dishes one might not at first consider food. But outback bushrangers have been hunting wild animals and raising livestock for generations, while indigenous people have lived off the plants and animals of Australia for thousands of years. Many restaurants and tours specialize in such cuisine, called “feral food” or “bush tucker,” depending on what it is. If you can’t hunt and gather yourself, hit up one of these iconic spots.
Relive scenes from Crocodile Dundee and We Of the Never Never at outback outposts across the Northern Territory. From their days of feeding railroad workers and the builders of the Overland Telegraph Line to their role in housing and revitalizing long-distance travelers, outback pubs are where the characters live and the memories are made, and many are as relevant today as they were in the late 1800s. Shout (buy a drink) for the patron next to you and you might have a mate for life.
Australia’s Northern Territory is home to some of the oldest artistic traditions in the world. As such, it’s one of the best places to buy authentic Australian Aboriginal art, which includes dot paintings, bark etchings, wooden objects, and pottery. But it’s important to make sure Aboriginal artists receive their fair share of profits when you purchase indigenous art in the country. These galleries, shops, and Aboriginal arts and craft centers are great places to start.
The most ethnically diverse state in the country—Darwinites descend from at least 70 ethnic backgrounds—offers myriad traditions when it comes to food, craft, and culture. Markets are a great way to explore the variety, and the Northern Territory is a leader in open-air bazaars. From the balmy and bohemian Mindil Beach Market in Darwin to the Aboriginal heartland of Alice Springs, here are a half dozen markets to plan your trip around.
While it may not have the San Pellegrino World’s Best rankings of Sydney and Melbourne, the Northern Territory is no stranger to fine food, and it offers the landscapes and night skies to match. From Darwin’s iconic Hanuman restaurant and open-air Pee Wee’s at the Point to the magical Tali Wiru experience held at a desert dune near Uluru (Ayers Rock), these dining experiences won’t disappoint.
Shelby Donley of Camelback Odyssey, a member of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council, has a fondness for one of Australia’s most rugged regions: the Northern Territory. She also, however, doesn’t mind luxurious comforts. The itinerary she created for AFAR Journeys includes cultural and culinary highlights of Brisbane, and opportunities to explore the Northern Territory while staying in top eco-lodges and resorts. For more details of her trip and other itineraries to Australia, visit AFAR Journeys.
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