The Gold Coast is a metropolitan region south of Brisbane on Australia’s east coast. It’s famed for its long sandy beaches, surfing spots and elaborate system of inland canals and waterways. It’s also home to theme parks such as Dreamworld, Sea World and Wet’n’Wild. Inland, hiking trails crisscross Lamington National Park’s mountain ridges and valleys, home to rare birds and rainforest.
Stretching along the Southeast Queensland coast, from Coolangatta to Southport, the Gold Coast is one of Australia’s most famous vacation destinations. The tourist hub of this glamorous coastal strip is aptly named Surfers Paradise, and it’s like an Aussie version of Miami Beach. Skyscrapers bristle along a stretch of beautiful blond beach, and you’ll find designer shops and lively entertainment venues a short stroll from the soft sands. Not far from the city, the famous Gold Coast theme parks add to all the exciting things to do.
Beyond the buzz of this holiday hotspot, you’ll find plenty of peaceful escapes. Golden beaches stretch for miles south to Coolangatta with a perfect patch of sand for everyone, and wildlife parks are wonderful family attractions. In the hinterland, nature lovers can relax amid rolling green valleys, lushly cloaked peaks, and World Heritage-listed rainforests. Best of all, the sun shines on the subtropical Gold Coast more than 300 days a year.
Find the best places to visit on this sun-soaked coast with our list of the top attractions on the Gold Coast.
Surfers Paradise Beach
Sun, sand, and sea — the Gold Coast’s alliterative assets — are on impressive display at this iconic three-kilometer strand. Despite all the skyscrapers rising behind the beach and the many bronzed bodies basking along its shore, it remains a surprisingly clean and picturesque stretch. Kids can splash around in the shallows or build sandcastles in the soft white sand. Surfers can ride the typically gentle swells, and if you want a break from the sun, you can seek shelter in one of the many nearby shops, cafés, and restaurants.
Lifeguards patrol 365 days a year, but swimmers should stay between the red and yellow flags at all times. At night, the beach is illuminated for evening strolls.
Bargain hunters flock here Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday nights to the Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets with more than a hundred stalls, selling everything from fashion, photographs, and art to souvenirs and jewelry.
Location: The Esplanade, Surfer’s Paradise
SkyPoint, Surfer’s Paradise
SkyPoint, in the contemporary Q1 Resort and Spa, is Australia’s tallest residential tower and offers giddy views of the entire Gold Coast. You can choose from two sightseeing attractions here. The SkyPoint Observation Deck on level 77 affords 360-degree panoramas of the Gold Coast, the sea, and the distant green hinterland.
Those seeking a little more adventure can opt for the SkyPoint Climb, where thrill seekers clamber upon a 270-meter-high platform perched above the city. It’s an exciting way to appreciate the lay of the land. The pricier SkyPoint Climb includes entry to the observation deck, where you can relax at the café and browse the informative exhibits to help plan your stay. Morning, day, and twilight climbs are available.
Official site: https://www.skypoint.com.au/
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
A favorite with families, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is a well-known wildlife park owned by the non-profit National Trust of Queensland. Bird lovers are in for a treat here. Hundreds of brightly colored rainbow lorikeets eat from visitors’ hands and even perch on their heads.
Other highlights include the free-flight bird show, a Tarzan-worthy Adventure Park High Ropes Course, Segway tours, and a little train that will delight toddlers. In addition to all the feathered residents, you can commune with kangaroos, cuddle koalas, and keep your distance from the resident crocodiles. All proceeds support the animals.
Address: 28 Tomewin Street, CurrumbinOfficial site: http://www.cws.org.au/
Near the New South Wales state border, Coolangatta Beach provides a much more peaceful alternative to the tourist-packed Surfer’s Paradise beaches a 30-minute drive north. Spending a day on the soft sun-soaked sands here is one of the best things to do on the Gold Coast for free.
If you look at a Gold Coast tourist map, you’ll see that this stretch of coast faces north, which means the water is typically calmer with great conditions for swimming. Parents bring their children here to play and splash along the gleaming shores, and lifeguards patrol year-round. When you want a break from the sun, sand, and sea, you’ll find plenty of shops and cafés across the road from the beach.
Skirting Coolangatta beach is a lovely waterfront park, dotted with Norfolk pines. During the winter months, this is a popular spot to stroll along the paths and look for whales and dolphins. The town of Coolangatta is also the site of the Gold Coast airport.
If you’re looking to ride some waves, favorite surfing spots near here include Greenmount Point and Snapper Rocks at the eastern end of the beach; Duranbah (“D-bah”) just around the corner from Snapper Rocks; and Kirra Beach, known for its fantastic sand-breaking right-hand point.
Sea World on the Gold Coast is the largest marine park in Australia. Young and old alike will enjoy the exhibits and busy agenda of shows here, with favorites like performing dolphins, sea lions, and Jet-Ski stunts. Other highlights include the polar bears, penguin feeding presentation, as well as the tropical fish, shark, and ray exhibits. The park even offers sea-themed rides like roller coasters. For a great overview of the park, hop aboard the monorail.
After viewing all the marine creatures, the small water park is a great spot to cool off with the kids. Check the website for discounted multi-park combination tickets.
Address: Seaworld Drive, Main Beach
Official site: http://seaworld.com.au/
Burleigh Heads Beach
Swimming and surfing are two of the most popular things to do at beautiful Burleigh Heads Beach. Fringed with Norfolk pines and pandanus trees, this enticing slice of soft, white sand sits about halfway between Surfers Paradise and Coolangatta.
Surfers usually make a beeline to the famous point break on the northern side of the headland, but you can also surf the beach breaks along the outer bar. Swimming is best in the two areas patrolled by lifeguards at Burleigh and North Burleigh. This is also an ideal beach for families; the park adjacent to the beach offers barbecues and plenty of picnic nooks, and you’ll find plenty of cafes and shops a short stroll from the beach.
On the last Sunday of every month, shoppers can browse the markets in Justin Park, where more than 150 stalls sell everything from baked treats and fresh produce to locally-made crafts.
Another bonus of “Burleigh,” as it’s called by the locals is Burleigh Head National Park. This peaceful pocket of bushland blankets the headland, and you can explore the park on scenic hiking trails with elevated beach views — keep an eye out for migrating whales in the spring.
Dreamworld is one of the Gold Coast’s favorite theme parks — with an Aussie twist. In addition to a thrilling lineup of roller coasters, live shows, and movie characters, the park hosts many native Australian animals and offers close-up experiences with crocodiles, tree kangaroos, and dingos. You can even sign up for a sunset safari and come face to face with endangered big cats at Tiger Island. Other highlights at this popular park include a virtual reality aboriginal corroboree experience with storytelling, song, and dance, and every toddler’s favorite — Wiggles World.
If time permits, you can bring your swimsuits and pop next door to WhiteWater World, an extravaganza of waterslides and splash pools. Check the website for special offers and combination tickets.
Address: Dreamworld Parkway, Coomera
Official site: https://www.dreamworld.com.au/
South Stradbroke Island
If you want to escape the Gold Coast buzz and play Robinson Crusoe for a day, South Stradbroke Island is the ideal getaway. Affectionately called “South Straddie” by the locals, this 21-kilometer-long island is only 200 meters from the Spit at the northern end of Main Beach, but it seems like a world away. It’s less developed than its larger neighbor, North Stradbroke island, to which it was once connected, but you’ll still find plenty of things to keep you busy.
Besides basking on the beautiful and refreshingly uncrowded beaches, popular activities include swimming, surfing, snorkeling, sea kayaking, fishing, and hiking through the island’s conservation park. Keep your eyes peeled for resident wildlife. Wallabies, bandicoots, sugar-gliders, blue-tongued lizards, snakes, and many species of birds call the island home.
You can visit the island on a day trip, and if you’re looking for things to do in the Gold Coast on a budget, you can stay overnight at one of three campsites on the island. Other accommodation options include vacation rentals and apartments at Couran Cove Island Resort. Charter boats, ferries, and water taxis will whisk you here from several departure points on the Gold Coast, including Hope Harbour Marina and Runaway Bay Marina.
Warner Bros Movie World
At Warner Bros Movie World, kids can come face to face with superheroes, ride roller coasters, see stunt shows, and immerse themselves in fantasylands on 3D interactive rides. Little ones will love the kids’ Fun Zone with colorful rides and Looney Tunes characters, and the parades on “Main Street” are also a hit.
Many of the rides here are for older kids and have strict height restrictions. Favorites including the hair-raising DC Rivals Hypercoaster, the Doomsday Destroyer, and the Green Lantern Coaster. You’ll also find new additions here. At Aquaman – The Exhibition, you can explore costumes and set pieces from the film, and the Scooby Doo Spooky Coaster Next Generation, keeps you on the edge of your seat with high-tech special effects and surprises.
If you are planning a theme park tour of the Gold Coast consider purchasing a combination pass, which allows access to multiple parks at a discount.
Address: Pacific Motorway, Gold Coast
Official site: http://movieworld.com.au/
Lamington National Park
About an hour drive from Surfers Paradise, World Heritage-listed Lamington National Park is renowned for its beautiful rainforest scenery, many waterfalls, and quirky wildlife. The park lies in the lush hills of the Border Ranges, remnants of an ancient volcano, where the Lamington Plateau plunges into dramatic cliffs and gorges.
Birders will be in heaven here with more than 190 species to spot, including brilliantly colored parrots and the elusive bowerbird, named for the elaborate arches they build and decorate to impress possible mates. Other wildlife here includes red-necked pademelons and long-nosed bandicoots.
A twisty hilltop road leads to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, a guesthouse and spa where you can also enjoy a meal at the café. Staying overnight at this romantic retreat is one of the favorite things to do in the Gold Coast for couples. From here, nature buffs can explore the park on the O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walk, a 180-meter series of suspension bridges strung through the rainforest canopy.
Official site: http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/lamington/index.html
Springbrook National Park
Not far from the busy beach strip, Springbrook National Park offers a tranquil escape in World Heritage-listed wilderness. Soaring rock faces, rainforests, waterfalls, and the gorges of the McPherson Range dominate the park. A popular attraction is Natural Arch Bridge, where a waterfall plunges into a cave (home to a colony of glow worms) and through a natural basalt arch.
Rainforest-fringed trails lead from the picnic area to the river and a lookout. From here, you can see Mount Warning, the remnant of a large shield volcano. Pretty Purling Brook Falls, in the central section of the park, is another highlight. The park is also a haven for birds, with several threatened species.
Official site: http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/springbrook/
Cavill Avenue, Surfer’s Paradise
Cavill Avenue is the shopping and entertainment heart of Surfer’s Paradise. The street stretches from the city center through Cavill Mall to the sun-splashed beaches along the Esplanade. Dotted with date palms and Norfolk pines, the pedestrian-only Cavill Mall is a focal point with its alfresco eateries, restaurants, boutiques, and abundant entertainment venues. At night, it tends to be a little rough around the edges, but during the day, it’s a fun spot for people watching.
Also along the avenue, the Centro Surfers Paradise is a large shopping complex with more eateries and fashion stores. Other top tourist spots are Ripley’s Believe it or Not and the Hard Rock Café. You can catch the G:Link, the Gold Coast’s light rail system, directly to Cavill Avenue.