11 of the Best Towns and Cities on the East Coast of Australia

At this point, I’ve been almost everywhere along the east coast of Australia.

This includes every place you should visit and every place nobody ever should.

Over nine weeks I backpacked my way through 22 cities and towns from Sydney, NSW to Cairns, QLD. This means I only got to spend a few days in each place when, in fact, I could have spent more time in fewer places. The guide books I read had a way of making me feel like every stop on the east coast was worth a visit but, as it turns out, that’s not entirely true.

Don’t get me wrong–I love Australia, but if you’ve got a limited amount of time, stick to the following cities!



Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

Of course, Sydney, the most famous of all Australian cities, is a must visit. It spans multiple boroughs, each one offering something entirely different.



The small beach town of Yamba, NSW

A small, lesser-known town on the east coast with an immense amount of charm. The beaches are breathtaking and the views I was lucky enough to witness were some of the best I’ve evern seen. Yamba is also known, within the right crowds, to provide some of the best surf on the east coast. Most other people just haven’t heard that yet. Be sure to sign up for ‘Shanes Ten-Buck Tour’ at the local YHA hostel.


Byron Bay

11 of the Best Towns and Cities on the East Coast of Australia

A party town and a beautiful beach make this a great stop for backpackers. Be prepared to spend some money on a few blurry nights!


Surfer's Paradise

Surfers Paradise
Photo credit: Xiquinho Silva

Very touristy but it’s a must visit. Lots of shopping and beach bodies everywhere. Despite its name, there are better places along the coast to surf.



Aerial View of Brisbane

Great nights out in Fortitude Valley, and enjoy a ride up the river. Culture abounds in Brisbane, too, making it a must-see destination in Australia.



Photo credit: Michael Dawes

A small, quaint town offering magnificent views, some really nice hikes and loads of boutiques along the esplanade. The beach here was one of my favorites.


Fraser Island

Four wheeling on Fraser Island

Be sure to do a 4WD tour of Fraser Island. Spend three days and two nights driving along the beach, through the water and over obstacles with a group of seven others in your vehicle. The tour companies provide you with menus, food, tents and every other necessity. Definitely one of the highlights of my trip.


Whitsunday Islands

The stunning Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands
The stunning Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands

Whitehaven Beach is a beach unlike any you’ve ever seen before. A cruise through the islands will take you there and possibly elsewhere, depending on the vessel. You can dive or snorkel along the way, creating a fulfilling experience. I’d recommend a smaller boat with fewer people–larger boats become more commercialized and a bit less personal.


Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island Will Draw You

A tiny little island (seven minutes from end-to-end on a scooter) off the coast of Townsville. Some fantastic hiking and walks, remnants of World War II barracks and a beautiful beach made this one of my favorite stops along the way!


Mission Beach

Mission Beach
Photo credit: Matthew Kenwrick

Stop by Mission Beach if you’re interested in skydiving. It’s one of the only places you can land on the beach and the views from 14,000 feet in the air are spectacular!



Photo credit: Matthew Kenwrick

Backpacker central! There’s lots to do from Cairns but not much to do in Cairns. It’s the jump-off point for diving on the Great Barrier Reef as well as other day trips to surrounding areas like Kuranda and the Atherton Tablelands.

But prepare to party hard!

About the Author

Jeremy Scott Foster

Jeremy Scott Foster is an adventure-junkie, gear expert and travel photographer based in Southern California. Previously nomadic, he’s been to ~50 countries and loves spending time outdoors. You can usually find him on the trail, on the road, jumping from bridges or hustling on his laptop working to produce the best travel and outdoors content today.
  1. Looking for a gorgeous place to stay for a week on east coast travelling from brisbane to cairns with gorgeous beach & where we can do diving snorkelling & will also have 8 year old & 3 year old 🙂

  2. There are some big gaps in between Sydney and Yamba and Noosa and Airlie. Is there anything worth seeing in there? Planning my trip for early next year

    1. Port Stephens and Coffs Harbour are lovely spots between Sydney and Yamba. Between Noosa and Airlie, you could always stop in Bundaberg or Rockhampton, but I’d probably rather devote my extra time to Noosa.

  3. I keep on seeing Fraser Island being recommended when searching for places that I can travel to in Australia. The more and more I see it recommended, the more that my interest in that place is spiked. Thanks for the list and for including Fraser Island, so stoked to travel there later this year!

  4. My wife and I visited Melbourne, Surfers Paradise and Sydney in 2013. We had a marvelous 23-day experience and are planning to come back. In about a year, we expect to re-visit Sydney and the Gold Coast, but we want to also see one new locale. We have been thinking of Noosa, but my wife is disabled and it sort of appears that most of the hotels in Noosa are a ways from the downtown and the beach. She would not do well with a mile walk each way and that is what a lot of them appear to be. Any suggestions? What are some good hotels say within 0.5 miles or less from the beach? Thank you.

  5. Planning to move from the US to Australia! Would love to be as close to the beach as possible.. What place is the least tourist-y and best for long term residents??

  6. My wife & I have been along the coast many times . A new stop off for us was Evans Head NSW found it to be nice. We were in a car, stayed at Bowling Club motel. There is a caravan park.

  7. Sorry bit you missed the best beach in the country. South West Rocks, big beautiful bay, camp below the 1850s derelict prison and watch the sun set across the ocean, while on the east coast.

  8. To each his own, but THIS “Old Sea Dog” can’t believe you left out; MACKAY; (guess it was not “Yuppie” enough?)
    Plus you added the WORST town I have EVER been in Australia; CAIRNS!
    Not only is it the ONLY place in Australia I regret visiting, (and I’ve visited a lot), but it’s the ONLY one where I had to refrain from the urge of breaking a nose.
    I think I was helped to control the “Urge” out of respect for all the “Cool” Australians I have met in all the OTHER Australian places, 🙂

  9. Obviously not been to Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Think Manly to the stretch to Palm Beach (film location for Home and Away). When you’ve been to this long stretch of multiple beautiful beaches you can forget Haiwaii!

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