Australia is a continent sized country with a relatively small population, the vast majority of whom live in cities. The Outback maybe the heart of the country but for most Australians it’s a city life. The 20 largest cities are homes to ~80% of the population. I’ve spent time in 16 of them, and this is how I would rank them as places to visit.
The obvious choice but deserved for its iconic sights (Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach) and one of the most spectacular settings of any city in the world, wrapping around a huge natural harbour. It has probably the best city beaches in the country, world class culture such as the Art Gallery of NSW, and many incredible coastal walks.
A controversial choice, but I love Australia’s capital, having spent a week there over two different trips. It is home to some of the best culture and history in the country including the Australian War Memorial, National Gallery, and the old and new Australian Parliaments. Architecture fans will love the city layout (best seen from one of the three main hills) and the embassy quarter, and cycling around Lake Burley Griffin is hugely enjoyable.
My initial favourite but I’ve become less keen on repeat visits. There are some great museums and galleries, and funky neighbours to explore, but I’m always biased against flat cities on rivers, and like a city with good hiking opportunities which Melbourne generally lacks.
Australia’s second oldest city (after Sydney), has managed to retain much of its heritage, while embracing the new such as the infamous MONA. The city has a beautiful setting by the water, with Mt Wellington towering behind.
One of the most isolated cities in the world, but it doesn’t feel like it. King’s Park is one of the best city parks in the country, the waterfront has improved hugely over the past decade, and Perth is one of the most bike friendly Australian cities, with many kilometres of cycleways.
A small but perfectly formed gem of a city, packed with beautiful heritage buildings, and green spaces. I only spent a few hours there but it made a real impression on me and I’d like to return one day to explore it more fully.
If ranked on liveability Brisbane would appear much higher on this list. It is is a very appealing place to live but relatively light on attractions for travellers. The South Bank, both as a public space, and the museums and galleries along it, are world class though.
My favourite city which isn’t a state capital, Bendigo has many beautiful heritage buildings, the third largest cathedral in the country, and fascinating Chinese history on display at the excellent Bendigo Joss House and Golden Dragon Museum.
Home to possibly the most consistently excellent architecture in Australia thanks to gold rush era wealth. The buildings on the main streets are outstanding, but so are many of the houses around town.
An unexpected delight, with a lovely coastline, good vibes, and the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere.
Worth an explore before travelling out to the Great Barrier Reef or Daintree Rainforest, in particular for the excellent botanic gardens, and informative Cairns Museum.
Tasmania’s second city has a huge number of heritage buildings remaining, making a wander around the city a delight.
By far the lowest ranked state capital here, I found Darwin a pretty rough. The state parliament building is pretty flash, and the man made surf pool is novel, as the sea is home to jellyfish and salt water crocodiles, but there wasn’t much to keep me here.
On the border between New South Wales and Victoria this is an attractive place, with a nice botanic garden and good city views from Monument Hill.
I found second largest city in New South Wales generally underwhelming. There were some interesting sights including the huge Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle Museum, and City Hall, but much of it was a bland sprawl.
16. Gold Coast / Surfers Paradise
I’m sure others would rate this much higher, but for someone who likes history and culture there isn’t a lot of it here. The beach is nice though…
The four of the twenty largest cities I’ve not been to are Geelong (passed through though coming back from the Great Ocean Road), Townsville, Toowoomba, and Sunshine Coast. If it was large enough Alice Springs would have made my top ten, it’s a great place to visit.
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