Sydney is one of the most-visited, beautiful and liveable cities in the world, but it’s so fast-paced that sometimes you need to get away for a day or weekend.
Luckily, there’s a bunch of incredible places in day trip distance of the city. Whether you’re after a mountain or beach adventure or a quick bushland getaway, all of these destinations are less than two-and-a-half hours away from the CBD by car (or public transport) and offer a completely different experience to the usual Sydney vibe.
#1 The Basin
One of Sydney’s best-kept secrets, The Basin National Park and campground is just a ferry ride away from the city’s northern beaches. Drive (or catch a bus) to Palm Beach, jump on the ferry (which runs hourly on weekends) and, 20 minutes later, you’re in bush heaven.
A double-whammy of pristine beachfront and quiet lagoon, it sometimes feels like The Basin is just flaunting its natural beauty. Surprisingly bold and adorable rock wallabies bound through the area, while vaguely terrifying and ballsy goannas hunt the grass for leftover sausage sandwich.
Pack a picnic and your swimmers and you’re in for a perfect day, with the final ferry departing just before sunset. It’s also a fully equipped campsite with toilets, showers and BBQs, so it’s ideal for a weekend away with mates. It’s around $30 per tent, per night if you plan on staying over – you can book ahead on weekends.
#2 The Blue Mountains
Jump on a train and head west to Katoomba or Leura, two postcard-perfect mountain villages set among the natural splendour of the Blue Mountains.
If it’s a bit of adventure you’re after, Katoomba is the go – take a short walk from the train station and you’ll be gawping at the Three Sisters rock formation and the seemingly endless misty bushland surrounds.
If you’ve brought your hiking boots, there are heaps of bushwalks for all abilities, but if you’re feeling a bit lazy, then Scenic World (at the corner of Violet Street and Cliff Drive in Katoomba) offers cable-car rides, slow treetop walks, and the amazing Scenic Railway, the world’s steepest passenger train.
Nearby Leura is a quaint, sleepy village full of boutique shops, cafes and bookshops as well as one of Australia’s best lolly shops. Stop in at the Wayzgoose Cafe for fresh scones served in a tiny flowerpot. Just remember to pack warm clothes if you’re heading into the mountains – it can get chilly, even in summer.
The NSW Central Coast is less than two hours north of Sydney, but it feels a world away. Laid-back and slow-paced, lovely, coastal Terrigal is like the southern California of Australia.
The main beach, a patrolled beach great for both swimming and surfing, sits alongside a strip of cafes and shops and the nearby lagoons are perfect for honing your stand-up paddleboarding skills. Local rock pools are good for lazy afternoon wandering and there’s often public pelican feedings in the evening.
On the way home, stop in at the Australian Reptile Park – if you’re really lucky, you’ll see the once-a-month feeding of the gigantic boa constrictor. Yeesh.
#4 Kangaroo Valley
Just two hours south of Sydney, Kangaroo Valley is surrounded by lush rainforest, farmland and wild animals (and yes, there are kangaroos, but keen eyes can also spot wombats and platypuses). It’s as green as Ireland and has a real village atmosphere.
The tiny town which boasts one of the nation’s best pie shops and the historic Hampden Bridge is Australia’s only surviving colonial wooden suspension bridge, spanning the Kangaroo River, which is great for kayaking and swimming (in the slower patches).
Nearby, the town of Berry is a little larger (in that it actually has traffic lights) and features a pub selling Alpaca Burgers. For those with a sweet tooth, the doughnut van on the Berry main street is essential, and the Treat Factory is also sublime.
OK, yes, Cabramatta is technically a suburb of Sydney, but it’s over 30km south-west of the CBD and is less like a suburban stop-in and more like a day trip to Hanoi. Hop off the train (40 minutes from Central) and wander into the main mall, where you should immediately buy a Vietnamese iced coffee from one of the many bakeries or juice shops scattered around. Fuelled by this intensely strong coffee and sweet condensed milk, you can start exploring.
Markets selling fresh fish, fresh fruit and vegetables will make you feel like you’re in south-east Asia, while the two-dollar shops in Cabramatta are mint – if you’ve ever wanted to buy 200 glow sticks for $5, now’s your chance. There’s also a strong trade in ceramics, spices and fabric as well as terrible Halloween costumes.
Hungry? Great! The area is teeming with great eats, but Phu Quoc is the best for spring rolls, crispy pork and prawn pancake, and pho.
(Lead image: Vern / Flickr)
Bonnie Sutherland is a children's puppeteer whose show takes her around the world. She lives for food, new and weird experiences and giggles.