NSW weekend getaways: the best places to visit
Looking to get a bit off the beaten track of the east coast of Australia? Here are a few NSW weekend getaways to consider visiting and what you can get up to in each place.
Many travellers who head to Australia, tend to go to the same places. Travels to the east coast in particular are popular, in New South Wales (NSW).
They will visit Sydney, stretching their trip out to the Blue Mountains if they have the time. Which is pretty barmy, as there are many interesting, beautiful and in some cases, downright weird places to visit in NSW.
As Australia’s biggest state in terms of population, NSW has a lot to offer. As it also happens to be my ‘state of origin’, I’ve travelled around it extensively.
You could be told to: “GO TO SYDNEY AND THE HUNTER VALLEY TO DRINK ALL THE WINE AND OMG BYRON BAY IS SO BEAUUUUTIFUL!!!”
These would be fun experiences, for sure, but there are plenty of other decent places to visit in NSW, that see far less travellers pass through them.
In most cases, you have to travel a little further inland to experience the best of what Australia’s first state has to offer.
It doesn’t matter if you’re after a unique weekend getaway in NSW, or looking to take a proper road trip around the state. There are plenty of small towns and regional cities to see, each offering something different.
Here’s a list of ten of the best places to visit in NSW, which will make your trip to Australia a little bit more unique.
NSW Weekend Getaways
This guide to unique NSW weekend getaways will cover:
1. Lake Macquarie
Nestled in-between Newcastle and the Central Coast and a 1.5 hour drive from Sydney, the Lake Macquarie region covers an expanse of land and a plethora of mostly-nature based activities to do. If you’re staying in the state’s capital, then its close proximity makes it one of the more perfect NSW weekend getaways from Sydney.
Go for a walk along many of the region’s nature trails, swim at one of the essentially empty beaches, or at the Toronto Jetty. Jump on a cruise around the lake (with lunch included), antique hunting in Teralba or visit the Dobell house for a bit of local history.
There is a ton of things to do in this underrated pocket of NSW.
A five hour drive inland from Sydney, Tamworth is best known for being Australia’s country music capital.
Every January, country music enthusiasts gather in town to celebrate and commiserate (as, did you know that if you play a country music song backwards, you’ll find what you’ve lost?).
I haven’t attended the festival since I were a wee nipper, but I remember it being a lot of fun. I hope to one day return as an adult.
There’s still plenty to see and do year round (although Australian comedian Tom Gleeson doesn’t agree).
You can tour the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, or check out the Powerstation Museum and visit the Rocky Creek Gorge (if you fancy a drive). And yeah. Maybe pop into Gunnedah, while you’re at it.
3. Port Stephens
Port Stephens is an area north of Newcastle (and 2.5 hours from Sydney) comprising of several beaches, notably Nelson Bay.
It’s one of those holiday areas that local Australians, particularly from Newcastle and the Hunter Valley tend to flock to.
As such, Port Stephens is primarily for relaxing. Think lazy days at the beach, sprawled across the sand, eating fish and chips by the shore and devouring ice cream. Bliss.
If you are after a bit of adventure, there are local sand boarding and 4WD tours which take to the nearby dunes, along with whale watching opportunities and a dolphin cruise.
It’s the ideal destination for a weekend away that won’t incur too much of an expense.
Plus, it’s a great destination to take your pooch for a beautiful seaside break! Check out these dog-friendly tips for Port Stephens.
Only a two hour drive inland from Sydney, Goulburn makes for an ideal NSW weekend getaway, or a stopover at the very least on the drive from the NSW capital to Melbourne.
You can visit the town’s Gold Trails, to learn more about the gold rush period in NSW, grab a meal in plenty of cafés and restaurants in town, check out some of the historic homes and poke around the antiques shops. There are also weekend markets and the opportunity to go hunting for truffles.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Goulburn is the local “lighthouse”. If you drive in at night, you’ll see a beacon of light sweeping across the city, from the top of a hill.
Your first thought will be “A lighthouse? Um, aren’t we 100kms from the coast?”
Turns out it’s the town’s war memorial (the Rocky Hill War Memorial is its official title), doing its part in guiding residents home.
Mudgee is a popular option amongst locals wishing to head a bit further afield for a wine-heavy weekend. It’s an ideal NSW weekend getaway for anyone looking for an alternative to the Hunter Valley.
It takes just under four hours to travel to Mudgee from Sydney, but it’s fairly accessible from many other places in the state.
The town itself is known for its colourful and heritage colonial buildings and the surrounding land is littered with wineries.
For something special, take in the sights of Mudgee from a hot air balloon.
You can have a great weekend biking around the many wineries, exploring the town and grabbing dinner at the Lawson Park Hotel.
Orange is the place to head to in NSW if you’re a fan of wine, food and beautiful scenery.
There are plenty of vineyards to choose from if you fancy a tipple or twelve, with Philip Shaw Winery probably being the best known, operating out of the area.
The town’s food scene is pretty off the hook as well – Lolli Redini Restaurant is the best in the area, earning a tonne of Sydney Morning Herald Chef’s Hat (our equivalent of a Michelin, I guess). I’ve eaten at Racine – the food was brill and the views weren’t half bad either.
Mount Canobolas is the place to head to for views over Orange and in the warmer months, you can swim in the nearby Lake Canobolas.
And to be honest, it’s just nice to walk around the town centre. Many of the buildings there are from the last 1800s/early 1900s – there’s a lot of history packed into a pretty small space.
You can knock Dubbo and Orange off in one trip, as they’re less than two hours apart by car, or bus – two for the price as one, as far as NSW weekend getaways are concerned!
Dubbo is a particularly historic town – my hands down favourite thing to do, is to visit the Old Dubbo Gaol. The 19th Century building was nearly demolished by the State Government when closed, with locals protesting and saving it, leading to its revival as a museum and tourist attraction.
The town is also home to Dundullimal Homestead, Australia’s oldest standing timber slab homestead and houses important Aboriginal artefacts at the Western Plains Cultural Centre.
The area is popular for bird-watching, bike riding, canoeing and SUP-ing. If you’re super keen on the great outdoors, visit the Dubbo Regional Botanic Gardens, which feature traditional Japanese gardens.
My favourite attraction is the Taronga Western Plains Zoo. Not only is it incredibly fun for a day trip, you can spend the night sleeping in the local Zoofari, paying much less than you would to do similarly at Taronga’s other zoo in Sydney.
8. Broken Hill
Oh, Broken Hill. Where do I start?
Full disclosure – this is an area of NSW I’ve ever been to and there’s no other corner of the state that I wish to visit more. It probably wouldn’t fall into the category of a NSW weekend getaway if you’re heading there from Sydney, but it’s accessible from other parts of the state (and it’s closer to Melbourne than Syd – go figure!).
Broken Hill and surrounds is rife with history. The town was once a traditional mining settlement – now it operates as a mecca for artists and tourists alike.
There’s so much to see, so I’m just going to list the things I want to experience the most. The Living Desert and Sculptures, Silverton Tea Rooms, the Mundi Mundi Plains and iconic Line of Lode Lookout and Miners Memorial, just to name a few.
Any film buffs will be salivating over the area – Broken Hill and surrounds have been featured in many Australian movies, such as Pricilla, Queen of the Desert and Mad Max. The Max Max Museum or the famous Silverton Hotel are good places to start.
Here are some ideas of what to do in Broken Hill with kids.
If you’re keen to see the Australian outback for yourself but don’t have the time to travel any further than the state border, then this will be a win-win situation for you.
Take off your shoes, sink your toes into the red sand and let the songlines of the earth reverberate throughout your being.
Or not. It’s your experience, after all.
If you want to holiday like the locals do, pick an area like Forster-Tuncurry, in the mid-north coast of New South Wales.
These towns are home to many beautiful beaches and an ideal fishing spot. It’s basically the perfect place to just chill – go for walks, camp in the great outdoors, swim in the ocean, have a BBQ for dinner every night. Sometimes, these make for the best breaks or holidays.
Forster-Tuncurry is also a short (in Australian terms) drive to many beautiful lookout spots, such as Crowdy Head or Bennets Head Lookout. The town is a stone’s throw from the local Booti Booti National Park, a popular camping spot.
What I like best about this area is that it’s big… and empty. I’ve found myself to be the only person on the beach (Seven Mile, for those of you playing at home) even in the middle of summer.
That’s the joy of living in a country that’s home to 10,000 beaches, I guess!
10. Coffs Harbour
When you ask most Australian’s what Coffs is known for, it’ll inevitably be the Big Banana, one of the most well-known of Australia’s “Big Things”. Yet, there’s plenty more to see in this beautiful part of the NSW north coast.
As is a running theme with most of this post, there are some gorgeous beaches up this way. The Marina is worth exploring, as is Muttonbird Island, name for eponymous birds that call the island home (Coffs is aces for birding, just in case you’re wondering!).
For a view of the city, make a trip out to Forest Sky Pier at Sealy Lookout – just 15 minutes outside the CBD, it juts out over the forest floor below.
And if you fancy getting a bit further out of the city for a day trip, head to Dorrigo National Park. There you’ll find native birds, some great rainforest walks and a local waterfall.
Want to know more? Check out this local’s guide to Coffs Harbour attractions.
11. Port Macquarie
Port Mac is around a five hour drive north of Sydney and one of the more perfect NSW weekend getaways for a bit of R&R.
There’s plenty to do in this seaside town.
You can visit the Koala Hospital and learn about the good work they’re going with one of Australia’s most beloved mammals.
Check out the very cute Tacking Point Lighthouse, built in 1887. Have a dip in the very picturesque Flynns Beach. ]
Ride a camel along Lighthouse Beach and learn a little bit about the area at the Port Macquarie Museum.
Or take a scenic helicopter flight over the town.
You’ll easily fill a couple of days in this part of the state. Check out other must-sees on the Mid-north coast of NSW here.
Maitland is essentially the gateway to the Upper Hunter Valley, around half an hour away from the famous vineyards of Pokolbin and a place worth exploring in its own right. If you’re making a NSW weekend getaway to the Hunter Valley, take some time out of your schedule to pop into Maitland.
Visit the Maitland Regional Art Gallery for a taste of local art (and make sure you sample a meal or at least a hot bev at the local restaurant), stroll along the High Street and admire the historic buildings in the centre of town and East Maitland.
One of my favourite points of interest is the suburb of Morpeth. It’s full of cute buildings and Miss Lily’s Lollies is worth a visit for some old time sweets and delicious fudge (and it’s definitely worth popping into the nearby Ducks in the Field High Tea, if you’re a fan of decently cooked treats).
It’s also worth making a visit to Maitland Gaol. Once Australia’s most notorious gaol, it now exists as a local museum. You can wander around at your own pace, do a guided tour or even stay the night!
Here are some other fun things to do in Maitland.
Newcastle is located less than a two hour drive from Sydney and has a lot to offer.
Once best known for its steelworks, people now visit for its beaches, nature and casual arty vibe.
You can learn how to surf, go paragliding over the city, take a dip in the ocean baths, explore the local museum or art gallery or laze along one of the city’s eat streets.
Discover more fun things to do in Newcastle and thecity’s best beaches.
Wollongong, or the “the Gong” as it’s affectionately known, is only 80kms away from Sydney as you head down the south coast, making it ideal option of NSW weekend getaways.
The city is home to two lighthouses and beautiful baths and beaches. There are paths to be cycled and bush walks to be had and plenty of scenic drives on offer.
Or perhaps time your visit during the Wonderwalls Street Art Festival, where the town is painted from head to toe in urban street art.
The Gong is only a half hour drive away from Kiama, which features the largest Blowhole in the world (formed when sea caves turn into vertical shafts and the power from the waves hitting the land’s edge blasts water through the openings in high-pressure releases).
Here’s a quick guide on how to spend 48 Hours in Wollongong, Australia.
15. Jervis Bay
Jervis Bay is around a three hour drive south from Sydney and has the world’s whitest sand beach.
There’s plenty of places to hike and of course go to the beach. You can go on a dolphin cruise or even go whale watching if the time is right.
Make a stop in the super cute country town of Berry too, on the way.
Where you can go within 2 hours from Sydney
If you’re after a quick weekend trip from Sydney that doesn’t involve much (or any driving, as you can catch the train) you can plan to visit Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Port Stephens or Goulburn.
Where you can go within 3 hours from Sydney
A three hour drive from Sydney will get you to Jervis Bay.
Where you can go within 4 hours from Sydney
If you don’t mind driving a little bit further for a weekend getaway, you can spend time in Orange, Mudgee, Forster-Tuncurry and Port Macquarie.
Have you visited any of these regional towns or cities as NSW weekend getaways? What did you enjoy most about them?
These towns are located on the lands of First Nations peoples. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.
I’m adding the two jails to my must-visit list!! Actually all these places sound fab and worth a visit. I’ve driven through Coffs some ten years ago and have very distinct memories of the Big Banana (which wasn’t actually all that big…) but I now want to see that giant sheep and also the big guitar in Tamworth! Plus Dorrigo but that’s been on my list for a while.
Nice makeover, btw! 🙂
They’re both really cool! Although I haven’t been to Dubbo Gaol since I was nine, haha. Tamworth is great, I really wish I were there atm as the Country Music Festival has kicked off! Maybe next year. 🙂 Hope you make it to Dorrigo. Isn’t NSW great? 😉
And thanks, haha! Had a few revisions which I’ve made now, pretty pleased with it. It was due an facelift!
I’m Canadian and have been to Australia a few times (now living here). I’ve been around a good chunk of coastal NSW, to Queensland and Melbourne and a few places in rural Victoria, and so far I have to say my favourite spot is the area around Wollongong. It’s just so lovely 🙂 And Wollongong is a pretty nice little city. So it’s good to see it on your list 🙂
It’s a funky little city! Have not been for a few years now (tend to spend most of my time further north in NSW), but would love to return one day soon and re-explore. The coast around it is so lovely, I agree!