The Ring of Kerry is a circular drive that traverses about 111 miles around the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland, passing through Killarney National Park and a number of beautiful small towns while offering easy access to the breathtakingly wild coastline and soaring mountains. Along this often narrow, winding route, these top things to do are an ideal way to take advantage of this scenic landscape and all it has to offer.
Hike Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park is one of Ireland’s most magical destinations, filled with waterfalls, countless lakes, dramatic mountains, forests and even castles. Hiking is arguably your best best for getting an up close and personal look at all of this jaw-dropping scenery, like the short trek to Torc Waterfall which plunges 60 feet from the Torc Mountains via a river known as the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Another option is to take the walk that begins and ends at Muckross House. This fabulous route involves only a very minimal amount of climbing and you’ll get to see a number of historic buildings and formal gardens too.
Kayaking the Lakes of Killarney
Kayaking the Lakes of Killarney is an unforgettable experience. The beautiful lakes cover nearly a quarter of Killarney National Park, and you’ll have the chance to gaze up at sea eagles soaring overhead, check out fascinating limestone caves and ancient ruins. If you don’t want to head out on your own, you can join a tour led by an expert guide through outdoorsireland.com. You’ll start out at the grand 15th-century Ross Castle, paddling into Lough Lein, where you’ll discover wooded islands, limestone caves and local history as well as the ancient ruins of Innisfallen Abbey – once a leper colony, it now serves as the home of many of Ireland’s native red deer.
Cruise to Skellig Michael
The largest of the two Skellig Islands, Skellig Michael sits about eight miles off the Kerry coast from the small village of Portmagee. By taking a boat excursion, available from late spring through early fall, weather permitting, you’ll be able to marvel at some of the most jaw-dropping views in the country, and walk in the footsteps of monks that once lived here in an ancient monastery constructed between the 6th and 8th centuries. Its rugged natural beauty was spotlighted in the final scene of the latest “Star Wars” film, “The Force Awakens,” making it an especially popular place to visit.
Listen to Live Music and Take the Star Wars ‘Force Perfect Pint Challenge’ at the Bridge Bar
Speaking of Star Wars, as Portmagee is the closest village to Skellig Michael, when the cast and crew were filming, they made the Bridge Bar their home, with even Hamill himself pulling pints of Guinness behind the bar. Today, the Bridge Bar invites visitors to come chat with the owners, staff and locals about the making of the film and even “take the Force Perfect Pint challenge,” which means you’ll be pulling your own pint of Guinness in the same bar as Luke Skywalker. You can also enjoy the frequent live music, set dancing and award-winning cuisine, and stay overnight at the adjacent Moorings Hotel.
Walk Bray Head Loop and View Tetrapod Footprints on Valentia Island
Valentia Island is just a short jaunt off the Ring of Kerry, linked to the mainland by a bridge in Portmagee. It’s loaded with breathtaking natural beauty, including the barren, dramatic cliffs of Bray Head which provide extraordinary views of the coastline as well as lush and colorful vegetation. One of the highlights here is the Bray Head Loop walk, a 4.3-mile trek along the coast with a steady climb up to Bray Tower at the summit where you can take in impressive vistas of the Atlantic, The Skelligs, Portmagee and Puffin Island. Along the Tetrapod Trackway, you can view Tetrapod footprints that are said to be the most extensive of the four Devonian trackways on the planet, believed to be between 350 and 370 million years old.
Stand at the Edge of the Dramatic Kerry Cliffs
The Kerry Cliffs are part of a family-run attraction, situated just a short drive from Portmagee. This is one of the very best spots for viewing the rugged cliffs and the Skellig Rocks, in addition to being near Puffin Island, where some 10,000 Atlantic puffins reside. The site also includes a small gift shop and a coffee shop with indoor and outdoor seating.
Sample Heavenly Chocolate at the Skelligs Chocolate Factory
Skelligs Chocolate Factory is a small, family-run chocolate factory that sits right along the Ring of Kerry at the edge of St. Finian’s Bay. Here you can not only taste delicious samples, but you can watch the chocolate being made and take some back home too. It also offers a coffee shop that serves tea, coffee, and its very own tasty hot chocolate as well as fresh, homemade cakes and other desserts.
Take a Stroll Through Kenmare, The Ring of Kerry’s ‘Crown Jewel’
Many visitors to Ireland fall in love with Kenmare, with its pretty colorful gardens and stone cottages highlighed by flowers that overflow from window boxes. Often called the “crown jewel on the Ring of Kerry,” just strolling around can make for a lovely afternoon, walking to the pier and exploring the shoreline when the tide is out, where herons can often be seen searching for fish off the rocks. In this “haven of tranquility,” there’s lots of fantastic fare to dine on, golf courses, opportunities for hiking and horse riding too.
Check Out Staigue Fort
Ireland is home to many stone forts, a common element of the archaeological remains here, particularly in the west. Some stone forts are particularly impressive, like Staigue Fort in County Kerry. This large stone fort represents the best examples of non-ecclesiastical monumental architecture that’s managed to survive in Ireland from the pre-Norman period. Walk around the large circular wall with steps, ledges and formidable chambers and just imagine the homes that once stood inside the wall.
Walk the Spectacular Sands of Derrynane Beach
Derrynane Beach is a beautiful, long and sheltered white sandy beach with a natural harbor just two miles from the village of Caherdaniel. The Blue Flag Beach is staffed by a lifeguard during the warmer months of the year and is ideal for a refreshing dip. If the water isn’t warm enough for your liking, you can always enjoy a nice stroll across the unspoiled sands instead.
Iceland is one of the most breathtaking countries on Earth, legendary for its hot springs, geysers and active volcanoes. You’ve probably heard about the Blue Lagoon and perhaps even the opportunity to dive between two continents, but what about the country’s lesser-known attractions? Here is a look at some of its best hidden attractions and more off-the-beaten-path places.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall near the southern coast of Iceland is one of the country’s most famous falls and a popular stop on most tour itineraries. But most people miss Glyufrafoss, which is hidden near its more popular neighbor. By following the cliffs about two-thirds of a mile north, you’ll catch a glimpse of the glorious falls hiding behind the cliff face, and by entering through a narrow, six-and-a-half-foot opening, you can get inside the canyon where you’ll be able to stand right underneath the water. While you have to work a bit more to fully appreciate the beauty of Glyufrafoss, it’s well-worth the effort as you’re likely to be awed by its presence in relative solitude.
Driving along the Ring Road from Vík to Skaftafel, Fjadrargljufur (Feather River) Canyon, is one of the most picturesque spots in the region, but it’s often overlooked. While it doesn’t boast the size of some famous canyons, at about 330 feet deep and one-and-a-half miles wide, its magnificent beauty lies in its various hues and shapes. By getting out on the trail that begins at the car park you can get a closer look and observe it from different angles, peering down at the brilliant turquoise water that sits within the canyon. It makes for the perfect break from a long drive on the Ring Road, and one that really should not be missed.
The Secret Lagoon
The Secret Lagoon, Secret Pool or Seljavallalaug, as its officially known, is one of the oldest pools in Iceland, but this hidden gem is missed by most as they’re too busy checking off all of the highlights on their “must-visit” list. Tucked within a narrow valley below Eyjafjalla Glacier, the protected 25-meter pool surrounded by spectacular scenery was built in 1923 by visionaries who wanted to give locals a place where they could learn to swim, during a time when few Icelanders knew how yet many made a living by fishing. The water stays at 98 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit all year long and is filled by a natural hot spring nearby. The pool is kept as natural as possible, maintained mostly by volunteers and donations.
The Bruarfoss Falls are trickier to find than most of Iceland’s best known waterfalls, but with water so vividly blue it’s hard to believe its real, this is a spot that really shouldn’t be missed. Absolutely magical, the falls can be found near the main road between Thingvellir National Park and Geysir along the Golden Circle route, but few other tourists are aware of Bruarfoss, so you can spend plenty of time gazing at the gorgeous color of the water without bumping elbows with others.
Arguably the most stunning swimming pool in all of Iceland, Hofsos sits on the Trollaskagi peninsula in the North of Iceland and was designed by the very same architect responsible for the Blue Lagoon. While it isn’t of Olympic size, it does offer some of the most dramatic views in Iceland as it was built into the hillside. As you swim in its warm geothermal waters, it feels like you can continue paddling right into sea. Drangey, with its steep sea cliffs, can be seen rising majestically in the midst of Skagafjordur. You’ll also be able to soak up an incredible variety of blue shades, including the dark blue of the distant mountains, the crystal blue color of the pool itself, the cerulean sea and bright blue skies on a clear day.
This volcanic crater lake contains the most brilliant aquamarine waters that become even more vibrant the closer you get. Located some 10 miles north of Selfoss, it was formed about 6,500 years ago and is the northern end of a row of craters known as Tjarnarholar. The oval-shaped crater is about 900 feet long, 558 feet wide, and 180 feet deep. As it’s not primarily fed by rain and doesn’t drain, the crater lake acts as a window to the groundwater. The rim of the crater can be reached via a short, easy hike, and it’s also possible to walk completely around it and to get down to the water as well, so be sure to take the time to walk around, viewing the lake from all angles. While it’s worth a stop year round, in the summer months it’s especially impressive, surrounded by vivid green colors that make the blues of the water stand out even more.
The Abandoned DC3 Plane Crash
Unless you’re a Justin Bieber fan or a military history buff, odds are, you’ve never heard about the US Navy DC3 crash on Iceland’s black sand beach, Solheimasandur, that occurred back in 1973. The plane crashed on the south coast after the pilot thought it had run out of fuel. Everyone survived, but it turned out the pilot had only needed to flip a switch to engage the other fuel tank. For whatever reason, it was left abandoned, to sit rotting on the desolate, jet black dunes, looking like a scene out of some post-apocalyptic zombie movie. Today, the site is a favorite with photographers, filmmakers and videographers – one of Bieber’s music videos was shot here. It can be reached in about an hour on foot off Route 1, just past Skogafoss heading east. Look for the dirt access road to Sólheimajökull Glacier on the left and then drive east for a little over a mile until you see another dirt road turnoff with a gate on the right. The crash site is about a two-and-a-half-mile trek from there.
Despite the Westfjords being one of the most jaw-dropping areas of Iceland, just 3% of tourists make it out to what may be one of Iceland’s best kept secrets. As it’s quite isolated and largely uninhabited, the area has remained an unspoiled wilderness that is a must-visit for avid explorers. It’s home to Hornstrandir, an uninhabited peninsula and nature reserve that serves as a haven for the Arctic fox and a wide variety of bird life, including puffins, while the dramatic cliff known as Hornbjarg, is considered one of the nation’s greatest seafowl habitats. The highest peaks of its razor-backed ridge reaches more than 1,750 feet above sea level. Getting there requires a two-and-a-half-hour one-way boat ride from Ísafjörður, mostly through the Arctic, but its remoteness means that you probably won’t run into many other tourists, and if you can manage the journey, you’ll be treated to one of the most magnificent sights along Iceland’s coastline.
12 Tonar is an independent label that’s released more than 50 albums by artists including Mr. Silla, Ólöf Arnalds, Rökkurró and Singapore Sling, as well as a record store and a local legend, established in 1998. Jam-packed with vinyl and CDs, including rare limited editions, customers can open any one of them to listen on a comfy velour couch while sipping free espresso, and discovering what Icelandic music is all about. Vinyl is located down the winding staircase in the basement, and the selection focuses on new Icelandic releases, with a tilt toward indie rock and classical, and you’ll find a sampling of used records as well. Although it’s a popular hang spot for local musicians, it’s also a welcoming place for tourists.
Ellioaardalur and the Arbaejarsafn Open Air Museum
At Ellioaardalur, visitors can enjoy taking a relaxing stroll among nature, watching salmon swim through the river and creatures roaming in the woods before reaching the Arbaejarsafn, the historical museum of the city of Reykjavik as well as an open-air museum and a regional museum. There are more than 20 buildings here, recreating a town to showcase what the architecture and life was like in the country centuries ago. While you might think such a place would be somewhere out in the countryside, it’s located right within the city limits.
Edinburgh is a historic and beautiful city in Scotland that’s packed with fun festivals, iconic attractions, unique museums, and opportunities to taste some delicious homegrown spirits. Families, couples, and solo travelers love exploring the highlights and soaking up the serene scenery of the gently rolling hills. Here are our top picks for things to do in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh.
One of the most well-known sites in the entire region is Arthur’s Seat. It’s located in Holyrood Park and offers impressive views of the surrounding landscape from this high point. It is an extinct volcano, and legend says that this is where Camelot was located and how the site got its name. You can hike the uphill trail to the top, but make sure to wear sturdy boots and bring plenty of water. There are no admission fees for this essential Edinburgh experience, and Holyrood Park is open 24 hours a day all throughout the year.
Awesome panoramic views can also be taken in at Calton Hill, which is east of New Town and one of Scotland’s very first parks. The site is closely associated with the literary work of Robert Louis Stevenson, and iconic monuments and buildings are located here. The acropolis here is an unfinished monument that was designed to be a replica of Athens’ Parthenon. Nelson’s Monument is also here to remember the British admiral who led a victorious charge at Trafalgar. The climb to the top of the hill is pretty easy and particularly scenic at sunrise or sunset.
Scotch Whisky Experience
Scotland is well-known for its whiskey, and you can try some for yourself at the Scotch Whiskey Experience. There are various tour options that show guests how whiskey is made, what the production facilities look like, and include tastings. Fifty-minute Educational Tours are £13, 50-minute Silver Tours are £15.50 and include a tasting, 70-90-minute Gold Tours are £27 and include four regional single malts, and 90-minute Platinum Tours are £38 and offer an extended collection viewing. You can also take an in-depth Morning Masterclass or do the Taste of Scotland that includes whiskey and food pairings at the award-winning restaurant.
Edinburgh Gin Distillery
However, whiskey and scotch aren’t the only spirits that Edinburgh is known for. There’s also a great gin distillery in town that’s popular among tourists and locals. Celebrate the city’s gin-making heritage by taking a Gin Discovery Tour, Gin Connoisseur Tour, or Gin Making Tour. Favorite spirits made here include Seaside Gin, Cannonball Gin, and Christmas Gin, as well as specialty liquors made with raspberry, elderflower, rhubarb and ginger, pomegranate and rose, and plum and vanilla. The distillery has one location in the heart of the West End and another at the Biscuit Factory in Leith.
Royal Botanical Garden
Spanning dozens of acres, the Royal Botanical Garden is a lovely place to relax and slow down your pace of travel. There are thousands of exotic plans here in climate-controlled greenhouses and a particularly impressive rhododendron collection. The garden is open every day except for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. There is no admission fee to see the gardens; however, glasshouse admission is £6.50 for adults and £5.50 for children. For refreshment, you can grab a meal, snack, or drink at the Gateway Restaurant, Terrace Café, or East Gate Coffee Bar.
The most recognizable landmark in this region is the Edinburgh Castle, which is also one of the most-visited attractions in the country. This has been the home to kings and queens and also served as a military prison. Top sights to see here include the Mons Meg gun, St. Margaret’s Chapel, the crown jewels, and the vaults under the Great Hall. The castle is typically open from 9:30am to 5pm, and admission for adults is £17 and for children is £10.20.
National Museum of Scotland
To learn about the city of Edinburgh and get a better overall understanding of the region, make sure to visit the National Museum of Scotland. There are tens of thousands of artifacts here that range from art to dinosaurs and world cultures. Families with children enjoy coming here because there is so much to see and learn about. Admission to the museum is free and donations are welcome. Opening times for the museum are daily from 10am to 5pm except for Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day.
Shopping on Victoria Street
Shop-a-holics will definitely enjoy taking a stroll down Victoria Street to browse the shops. There are lots of independent boutiques here that sell clothing and books, as well as lots of dining and drinking opportunities to refuel mid-day. Also on this charming street, you can see the inspiration for the Harry Potter books, buy Harry Potter memorabilia, and visit the famous jokes and novelties shop called Aha Ha Ha.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
For a unique museum experience, make a stop at the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. It is along the Royal Mile and packed with puzzles and optical illusions that fun to experience for both adults and kids. The actual Camera Obscura is a large dome structure where you can see a projection of the landscape onto a viewing table. Favorite features include the vortex tunnel, mirror maze, a humorous tour guides. This is actually the oldest tourist attraction in the city and has been entertaining visitors since 1835. Standard admission prices are £15 for adults and £13 for students and seniors. The opening hours vary by season.
Compare Old Town and New Town
Old Town is a section of the city that is densely populated and has many traditional houses and narrow alleys. August is a fun time to visit Old Town because it’s when the Edinburgh Fringe and Festival takes place. The other part of town is called New Town, which has grand squares and wide avenues that date back to the 18th century. This is a great area for designer shopping and learning about art and architecture. Take some time to explore and compare both sections to town to see which one appeals to you the most!
Colorado is home to numerous hiking trails, but one trail in Glenwood Canyon has become one of the state’s most popular hiking spots. Known as Hanging Lake, this one-of-a-kind trail offers an uphill hike that results in an outstanding view. Full of crystal clear water and breathtaking waterfalls, the natural wonder of Hanging Lake will make the hike worth every minute. Hit the Hanging Lake trail the next time you’re in the Centennial State.This gorgeous part of Colorado is located off Highway I-70 near Glenwood Springs and Rifle, Colo. Now there are plenty of naturally unique places found in the state. However, Hanging Lake is home to a hanging plant community, something not typically found here. Due to its unique nature, Hanging Lake is designated as a National Natural Landmark.Now the hike up the lake doesn’t require any technical gear, but sturdy shoes are highly recommended. Keep in mind there is no potable water along the hike, so bring your own water bottle to the trailhead. As you hike up this one-mile trail, expect steep parts and rocky terrain. As you reach Hanging Lake, you’ll find handrails to guide you through the steepest part of the trail. Once you tackle this obstacle though, you’ll reach the boardwalk that circles this beautiful alpine lake.
Hanging Lake has become such a popular destination that there are rules to abide by while hiking and viewing the lake. This area is a unique ecosystem, so treat the area with respect. Swimming, fishing, and walking on the fallen trees in the lake are not allowed. Dogs are not allowed on the trail either. If you intend to hike this trail during summer, make sure to arrive early to find a parking spot, since parking fills up fast during warm and busy months.
Hanging Lake also is a beautiful place to explore during the winter months. Since this area regularly sees snow in the winter, expect a snow-packed and icy trail. Since conditions are a bit more treacherous, it may be a good idea to bring along boots, crampons and trekking poles. A winter ascent of Hanging Lake should be reserved for those in healthy physical shape and with proper gear.
Lake Hallstatt, Hallstatt, Austria
Lake Hallstatt is magical and even more so when it’s surrounded by autumn’s vibrant colors. Located in Hallstatt, Austria, often ranked among the world’s most picturesque towns, it’s surrounded by soaring mountains and filled with elaborately decorated, colorful homes, looking as if it came straight from the pages of a fairytale. If you’re there in early to mid-fall, you can take a boat tour or rent a pedal boat to explore the lake’s nooks and crannies. Hiking or biking the path that circles the banks is a fabulous way to enjoy it too.
Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Jenny Lake is one of Grand Teton National Park’s most beloved spots, and in the fall, you’ll get to enjoy splashes of yellow and orange, with a dash of red, against a backdrop of those towering jagged peaks. The crowds are few and weather is likely to be cool and crisp, an ideal time for hitching a ride on the Jenny Lake Boat to the base of Cascade Canyon to embark on a hike to Hidden Falls. This is a wonderful time for wildlife watching too, with the bull elk actively bugling to signal their dominance and attract females, an eerie sound that pierces through the air early in the evening. You may even get to see a sparring match between two male elk, a sight you’ll never forget.
Lake Placid, New York
The oak, maple, birch and beech trees burst into fiery red, vivid orange and yellow hues among the green of the deeply forested mountains that surround Lake Placid. The Adirondacks are legendary for their fall hues, and the lake itself is often ideal for taking out a canoe, kayak or paddleboat. There are numerous fall festivals too, like the Flaming Leaves Festival in early October which features lots of mouth-watering barbecue, lawn games, a horseshoe tournament, craft vendors, chairlift rides to the top of the 120-meter ski jump and more.
Dillon Lake, Colorado
Dillon Lake in the Colorado Rockies offers the opportunity for recreational activities galore, with 26 miles of shoreline and a backdrop of breathtaking mountain scenery that’s exploding with brilliant foliage in the fall. The lake is ideal for boating, sailing and picnicking along the shore, while Dillon Marina offers charter cruises as well as boat rentals and weekend sailing regattas, as the long as weather holds out, which it often does through mid-October.
Lake Tahoe, California
Renowned as one of the world’s most beautiful lakes, Tahoe sits across the California and Nevada border, with the north offering a more tranquil, sophisticated experience, while the south is known for its party-happy casino atmosphere. The biggest crowds arrive in summer and winter, so no matter which side you choose, you’re much more likely to enjoy it without bumping elbows with countless other visitors. Enjoy fishing, hiking, mountain biking and even scenic cruises. There are a number of tours on Emerald Bay, including daytime trips and sunset dinner cruises as well. Along the way, be sure to keep watch for the bald eagles that can be spotted perched in the trees along the shoreline.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
The sight of the stunning white Church of the Assumption, situated on a tiny islet in the midst of sapphire-blue Lake Bled, draws visitors to Slovenia all year round, but in the fall, when golden foliage is set against the snow-capped Karavanke Alps, the scene is even more magical. Take in the spectacular display from medieval Bled Castle, which enjoys dramatic lake views and also hosts a number of hiking trails along the shore.
Loch Lomond, Scotland
Loch Lomond is the largest fresh water body of water in Great Britain by surface area and autumn is a wonderful time to be here with the rich colors and the quality of light. “The Queen of the Scottish Lakes,” as author Walter Scott called it, is filled with trout salmon and whitefish, making it ideal for fishing. Visitors can also enjoy hiking, biking, boating and wildlife viewing – and, even the chance to soak up the romance of a Scottish castle: Balloch Castle sits in a 200-acre park and provides impressive views over the water as well as featuring walled gardens, nature trails and guided walks.
One of Italy’s most stunning lakes, with its blue waters surrounded by manicured gardens, grand estates, emerald forests and snow-capped peaks in the distance, Lake Como has inspired a host of visitors, including George Clooney and Lord Byron. This magnificent region is filled with charming little villages that sit along its shores, and you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful gold and orange hues of fall as well.
Lake District, England
England’s Lake District is famous for its striking scenic beauty, and with the autumn light, it becomes even more awe-inspiring. There isn’t just one lake, but many, and they’re surrounded by gold and ruby covered hills that are ideal for hiking. Cumbria hosts beautiful woodland areas like Grizedale Forest Park, with green pines and copper beech trees that frame mountain vistas, as well as a number of cozy pubs for popping into and enjoy a glass of cider or local ale. While the weather is notoriously unpredictable, meaning, it’s not at all unusual to experience all four seasons in a single day, the showers and passing clouds only serve to emphasize the grandeur of the scenery.
Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina
Lake Santeetlah boasts 76 miles of mostly protected shoreline as part of the national forest, set in the tranquil, colorful forest against a backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains. Rent a pontoon boat, motor boat or kayak and get out and explore. This is also the ideal season for biking and hiking, and a scenic drive among the fall foliage is a must. Afterwards, you may want to head to the
lakeside bar and dock at Blue Waters Mountain Lodge, a great place for a nightcap after a day of play.
Destinations in Australia
Port Campbell National Park
This world famous park is a definite highlight, home to wind and wave-sculpted rock formations like London Bridge, the Arch and the Twelve Apostles. Helicopter tours are available for a bird’s-eye view, or you can join a boat tour to marvel at the magnificent limestone stacks from the water. Some of the park’s other standout coastal features include the eerie beach and maritime history of Loch Ard Gorge, the 230-foot-tall cliffs of Gibson Steps and the tranquil Bay of Islands. You can also savor the region’s bounty along the 12 Apostles Gourmet Trail, including delectable chocolates, regional cheeses, fine wines, ice cream and fresh berries.
The Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef
The Whitsundays, made up of 74 Island Wonders along the tropical coast of Queensland in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, is internationally renowned for snorkeling and diving, with an astonishing array of marine life, including more than 1,600 species of tropical fish, turtles, sharks, dolphins, rays and giant clams. One of the best ways to experience this beautiful archipelago is to take a scenic flight over, or go on a sailing excursion, where you can snorkel or dive all day, sailing from island to island and experiencing a variety of picture-perfect stretches of sand. The islands are dotted with secluded beaches, and Whitehaven Beach is consistently ranked in the world’s top 10 beaches, with its white silica sand and striking azure waters.
Adelaide, the country’s fifth largest city, has become an increasingly popular destination in recent years, and was the only city in Australia to make the New York Times’ list of best places to visit in 2015. Located on a plain between rolling hills and the Gulf St. Vincent, and bordered by many of Australia’s famous wine regions, you’ll find lots to do while you’re here. It’s a favorite with foodies, who flock to its nearly 150-year-old Central Market which boasts more than 80 stalls, cafes and restaurants that all showcase fresh, local produce. In the city itself, there are over 100 pubs, lots of hip bars and watering holes, along with highly acclaimed fine dining eateries that exist right alongside food trucks. You’ll also appreciate the mix of modern and historic architecture, many of which sit alongside the banks of Elder Park next to the famous Adelaide Festival Center which hosts world-class theater and musical performances. All of that, and beach lovers will discover some of the country’s best-kept secrets, like Henley Beach, with its pristine sands and lovely old wooden jetty.
Visiting Sydney is really an essential part of any vacation in Australia. The country’s largest city offers an ideal mix of iconic landmarks, a picturesque harbor, gorgeous botanic gardens, beautiful beaches and impressive architecture. Sydney is often represented by its iconic symbol, the Sydney Opera House, with its white-tiled sails along the harbor at Bennelong Point. The UNESCO World Heritage Site not only offers opera performances, but it frequently hosts all types of concerts and plays, and visitors can explore it by taking a guided backstage tour or dining in one of its restaurants. It’s also home to the world famous Bondi Beach, dubbed one of the country’s Top 10 beaches, renowned for its pristine sands, clean waters and fantastic people watching. Other highlights include climbing another iconic landmark, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and visiting the city’s wealth of museums and galleries.
Tasmania, Australia’s smallest state, packs a punch when it comes to offering the ultimate vacation destination. You could easily spend all of your time on this alluring island known for having some of the cleanest air in the world along with dramatic mountains and stunning beaches. Its capital city of Hobart, is the country’s second oldest city after Sydney, but offers a more intimate experience with a population of around a quarter-million residents. Not only is it buzzing with art and nurturing an exciting foodie scene, but it boasts a number of fine examples of Victorian and Georgian architecture. Salamanca Place features a terrace of warehouses dating back to its whaling days in the early 19th century, which have been transformed into restaurants, galleries, craft shops and offices. It also houses the famous Salamanca Market that attracts thousands every Saturday all year long with its more than 300 stalls filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, hot baked spuds and baked goods as well as buskers strumming folk songs on the guitar, singing the blues or stroking a beautiful harp.
The tropical city of Darwin hugs the coastline of the Northern Territory and has long been the most international of Australia’s major cities with its close proximity to other countries in the Indian Ocean. Closer to Bali than Bondi, this vibrant, multicultural destination offers a gateway to natural icons like the Tiwi Islands, Litchfield, Adelaide River, the Top End and the Katherine Region. The Waterfront precinct, in the heart of the city, features a swimming lagoon and wave pool that’s surrounded by laid-back bars, cafes, shops and seafood eateries. While Mitchell Street, lined with pubs and bars, offers a pumping nightlife scene. In the middle of Darwin at Crocosaurus Cove, you can climb into a Perspex tube known as the “Cage of Death” and take a dip into the crocodile enclosure where you just might get an eye-to-eye enclosure with one of the monstrous-looking creatures.
Broome, a perpetually sunny town located in Western Australia’s Kimberley Region, known as one of the most unique wilderness destinations in the country, offers the chance to enjoy nearly endless white sands and turquoise seas, and even ride a camel into the sunset on Cable Beach. In the heart of the region, are vast wildlife sanctuaries, stunning gorges and thundering waterfalls. In the town of Broome itself, you can view indigenous art at Short Street Gallery, hosting extensive collections that highlight the varied and distinct styles of the different Aboriginal tribal groups and go pearl shopping in Chinatown, home to the world’s finest pearl showrooms, for a classic souvenir. Visitors can also tour restored luggers, learn about pearling history, watch a diving demo and even sample pearl meat.
This small, pretty coastal city that enjoys a tropical climate and easy going atmosphere, is an adventure sports enthusiast’s paradise with its close proximity to the mountains, the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. The city itself is home to The Pier marketplace with a wealth of cafes, shops and expanding multi-cultural art scene, and at the Cairns Wildlife Dome, visitors enjoy an all-weather wildlife exhibit that includes a replicated rainforest environment with birds like cockatoos, lorikeets and parrots freely flying through as well as animals like kookaburras, rainforest wallabies, koalas, crocodiles, pythons, turtles and more. Swim or soak up the sunshine at the Esplanade Lagoon, take one of the nearly 200 hiking treks in the surrounding mountains, or, if you’re especially adventurous, this is Australia’s capital of Bungy Jumping, with the opportunity to jump from a 164-foot-high tower in the canopies of the rainforest, dipping your head into the chilly stream at the bottom.
Australia’s second most populous city after Sydney is the capital of the state of Victoria, sitting near the southeastern top of the country along Port Phillip Bay. Often referred to as its cultural capital, Melbourne is a mecca for fine food and shopping. Its theaters, galleries, shops and restaurants offer a distinctly European feel. Shoppers flock to the elegant Royal Arcade on Bourke Street, as well as Chapel Street and the Melbourne Central Shopping Center. The city is home to many thriving marketplaces, including Queen Victoria Market, which has been selling produce, clothes and crafts for more than a century. A foodie paradise, it also boasts an impressive culinary mash-up of Eurasian street food along with an abundance of fancy food trucks. While there are still plenty of traditional fast foods to be found, they also offer gourmet fare like burgers made from prime waygu beef.
A must-visit for wine lovers, the Barossa Valley is Australia’s wine country, recently named as one of the top ten best wine travel destinations by Wine Spectator Magazine. Located in South Australia about 40 miles northeast of Adelaide’s city center, Barossa Valley is often referred to as a region of indulgence with its award-winning local wines and outstanding local cuisine. There are more than 80 cellar doors and about 70 wineries, with everything from boutique wineries to big name best sellers, each with its own specialties. While that may sound pretty overwhelming, the good news is that the valley has a lot of winery clusters, like Seppeltsfield Road with 16 wineries as well as a small but distinguished group on Krondorf Road, including Grant Burge, Charles Melton, Rockford and St. Hallet. Henschke’s tiny cellar door in the Eden Valley often has some gems open for tasting too. Visitors can enjoy mingling with the locals at Barossa Farmers’ Market, held in the Vintners’ Sheds near Angaston with its more than 30 stalls to wander through.
Nambung National Park
Located about 125 miles northwest of Perth, Nambung National Park is home to one of Australia’s most unique landscapes: the Pinnacles Desert. The vast, 17,487-hectares area provides a natural habitat for an extensive array of native animals and bird life in addition to boasting the incredible natural limestone spires that rise from the golden sands of the desert, some standing as high as 16 ½ feet high, looking as if they were a scene from another planet. They were formed some 25,000 to 30,000 years ago after the sea receded and left deposits of sea shells, over time, coastal winds removed the surrounding sand, leaving the pillars exposed to the elements. Emus, cockatoos and gray kangaroos can also been seen in the park, while at nearby Hangover Bay, bottlenose dolphins are often spotted.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Deep in the heart of red rock country in the Central Australian desert, the very remote Uluru-Kata Tjuṯa National Park is home to world-famous Uluru Rock, one of the most photographed natural wonders in all of Australia. The striking red monolith towers over the landscape at 1,141 feet, forming the centerpiece of the park, and bears a number of inscriptions made by ancestral indigenous peoples. The park also showcases fiery hued dome-shaped rocks known as Kata Tjuta. Just before sunset, visitors gather to watch the legendary rock and Kata Tjuta as they’re transformed in the changing light. Tours led by aboriginal guides and rangers are available, providing an inside look at these sacred structures.
The place to go for off-road lovers, Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island and a mecca for four-wheel enthusiasts. Created over hundreds of thousands of years from sand drifting off the mainland’s east coast, it’s the only known place where rainforest grows on sand. Accessible via a 40-minute ferry ride off Queensland’s coast, the island boasts nearly 75 miles of pristine beaches, and visitors can hire a four-wheel drive vehicle to explore its fresh water lakes, like Lake McKenzie which is perched high in the sand dunes, as well as ancient rainforests, colored sands and massive sand blows. The island is also home to all sorts of interesting birds and wildlife, including dingoes, reputed to be some of the last remaining pure dingoes in Eastern Australia, while its offshore waters are teeming with dolphins, manta rays, dugong, sharks and migrating humpback whales.
Freycinet National Park
Freycinet Nataional Park, located on the island of Tasmania, one of Australia’s top vacation destinations, sits on the wildly rugged Freycinent Peninsula, jutting out into the sea along the east coast. Surrounded by cerulean bays and pristine white sand beaches with a backdrop of dramatic pink granite peaks of the Hazards Range, it’s an ideal place for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. Take the short, scrambling trek to Wineglass Bay for one of Tasmania’s most photographed views, or if you’re looking for something more lengthy, continue from the Wineglass Bay lookout down to the perfectly curved beach and back to the park entrance through the Hazards Range for incredible views of Great Oyster Bay and the stunning coastline. Along the way, keep an eye out for the white-bellied sea eagles that often glide overhead, and the Australasian gannet that dives for his dinner in the sea.