Last Updated on August 2, 2018
Turquoise-blue waters barrelling along gorgeous stretches of sandy beach, flanked by the tall skyscrapers of Surfers Paradise – this is the quintessential image of this iconic Australian holiday destination. But the Gold Coast has so much more to offer than just nice beaches.
The Gold Coast on Australia’s East Coast boasts an incredible 300 sunny days a year. From the moment you arrive, you’ll notice a distinct air of relaxed and feel-good vibes that seem to permeate through the Queensland city. And how could it not? Surfers ‘hang ten’ in Coolangatta, Mermaid Beach delights with coastal chic charm, and Tugun is fast becoming a place to find the perfect coffee and acai bowl.
And of course, there’s the theme parks and nightlife scene that draws families and party-goers alike from all around, not to mention the vast, subtropical Gold Coast hinterland which begs to be explored.
So what are you waiting for? Dive right in with our guide to the best of the best the Gold Coast has to offer.
Get face-to-face with Aussie animals at Currumbin
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary has been a Queensland institution since 1947 (originally as Currumbin Bird Sanctuary) and delights visitors with close-up encounters of animals. Highlights include the impressive birds of prey and reptile shows, the chance to see roaming kangaroos and emus throughout the park, a wildlife hospital, a miniature railway, and the daily feeding of hundreds of rainbow lorikeets, which descend on the park to eat fresh nectar right from visitors’ hands (and heads and shoulders!)
The real highlight however is that it’s here that you can get very up close and personal with one of Australia’s most iconic animals – the koala. Book in for a ‘koala hold’ for a truly Aussie experience you won’t forget.
Learn to surf
The Gold Coast is famous for great surfing, so why not have a go yourself! Surf in Paradise is just one of many surfing schools based on the Gold Coast, located just north of Surfers Paradise. Catering for both adults and children, learner surfers get the chance to experience some of Australia’s most beautiful beaches and world-famous surf breaks.
If surfing isn’t quite your thing, but you still want to get out in the water, maybe give stand-up paddle boarding a go!
Explore Lamington National Park
Set in the World Heritage-listed ancient Gondwana Rainforest, Lamington National Park entices visitors with spectacular views, plenty of walking tracks to explore, sub-tropical bird and animal species, lush forest and towering, ancient trees. The ecological importance, high biodiversity and sheer beauty of the rainforest is what garnered its World Heritage listing, and also earned it the nickname of ‘Queensland’s National Park’.
Don’t miss: A guided tour of the rainforest glow worm grotto to find the ancient glow worms lighting up the secluded gullies like stars. O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreats offers tours.
Get your thrills at the theme parks
The Gold Coast is synonymous with theme parks, so take a break from the beach and get ready for some thrills. Get lost in a movie wonderland, where you can visit characters and sets of some of your favourite films at Warner Bros Movie World; squeal with delight as you whiz down a giant water slide at Wet n Wild; make new animal friends at Sea World; or brave the ‘Big 9 thrill rides’ at the biggest park of them all, Dream World.
Don’t miss: The Australian Outback Spectacular, a dramatic dinner and show package featuring outstanding theatre, music, horse-riding and Aussie bush tucker. For more insider tips to get the most out of the Gold Coast’s theme parks, make sure you check out our guide to Australia’s Theme Park Capital.
Shop ‘til you drop
The Gold Coast may be famous for beaches and rollercoasters, but it’s also the ideal destination for a spot of retail therapy. Pacific Fair Shopping Centre is Queensland’s largest retail centre, with more than 400 stores for you to browse, plus a huge number of dining options.
If markets are more your vibe, don’t miss the Carrara Markets – Australia’s largest permanent market. With 10 acres hosting more than 400 stalls, this weekend market is a treasure-trove of bargains, clothing, food, jewellery, homewares, bric-a-brac, arts and crafts, and just about anything else you could want.
Immerse yourself in paradise
Surfers Paradise, that is (although ironically the surf breaks here are not the best the Gold Coast has to offer, but don’t let that put you off!). This part of the Gold Coast is one of the most recognised – think glittering tall skyscrapers juxtaposed against the endless sandy beach – and is home to beachfront markets, a thriving nightlife, great cafés and bars, and plenty of family-friendly attractions (think Aquaduck tours, mini-golf, bowling and Dracula’s Haunted House).
Don’t miss: 360-degree views of the Gold Coast from the Skypoint Observation Deck, Australia’s only beachside observation tower.
Check out the neighbourhoods
Surfers Paradise may be the most popular spot on the Gold Coast, but there are plenty of other areas that deserve your attention too.
Coolangatta: Straddling the border of Queensland and New South Wales (the airport runway crosses state lines!), Coolangatta has all the great surf beaches, minus the big crowds of its northern neighbours. Come for the beach, stay for the quirky indie atmosphere and retro-inspired shops.
Tugun: Come here for a top-notch caffeine hit and a delicious acai bowl – Tugun is fast becoming a foodie hot spot on the Gold Coast. Our pick is Niche & Co for delicious vegan treats.
Burleigh Hill: For those who like to start their mornings by stretching their legs, come to Burleigh Hill – there are a number of walking tracks to choose from and you’ll be rewarded with some pretty spectacular beach and rainforest views along the way.
Main Beach: Need to update your wardrobe with something summery? Not keen on an inner-city shopping mall? Browse the delightful Marina Mirage in Main Beach – right on the waterfront. Here you’ll find designer brands, day spas and award-winning restaurants.
If you’re travelling to Australia’s Gold Coast from overseas, you may find our 8 Things To Know Before Travelling To Australia article useful before you travel. Flying to Brisbane? Check-out our guide to 24 Hours In Brisbane to help you plan your stay.
The nearest airport to the Gold Coast is Gold Coast Airport (OOL) located in Coolangatta. Other nearby airports include Brisbane (BNE) and Ballina-Byron Gateway (BNK). You can find airport transfers to and from these airports at Jayride.com.