The Blue Mountains are peppered with old-world villages, historic hotels and some of Australia’s best bushwalks, but the main feature that draws visitors to this rugged region west of Sydney is its boundless gum-tree forests. This UNESCO World Heritage listed area is covered with 91 different species of eucalypti, whose oils give off the blue mist that lends the mountains their moniker.
“Its beauty is subtle,” says Carolyn Melbourne from Jenolan Caves, another of the Blue Mountains’ must-see attractions. “At first glance, visitors see an endless vista of the same type of tree, the eucalyptus…but the Blue Mountains is home to over 91 different types of eucalypts. After a rare heavy rain, the powerful scent of eucalyptus is intoxicating.”
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Two hours inland from the centre of Sydney, the Blue Mountains don’t appear on every traveller’s Australian itinerary. Those who make the effort, though, are rewarded with 140km (87mi) of hiking trails, jaw-dropping rock formations, towering waterfalls, abundant native wildlife and a drool-worthy food and drink scene spread across a string of twee towns.
“So many tourists come to Sydney, see the Opera House, Bondi Beach and the Harbour Bridge before hopping back on a plane and flying to Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef or the Northern Territory’s Uluru – great experiences,” Melbourne continues. “But those people miss out on seeing the outback of New South Wales in its wild, dusty, rugged and treacherous beauty.”
From the world’s steepest passenger train and the oldest caves on Earth to crocodile pizza and apple cider fresh from the orchard, discover the best things to see and do in the Blue Mountains.
Katoomba’s Scenic World provides the best vantage point of the Blue Mountains. Well, the best four vantage points. The Scenic Railway is the steepest passenger train in the world at a 52-degree decline into the forest. The Scenic Walkway is a 2.4km (1.5mi) boardwalk winding beneath the canopy. The Scenic Cableway is a gentle 545m (1,788ft) descent into the Jamison Valley. And the Scenic Skyway is the highest suspended cable car in Australia, soaring 270m (886ft) above Katoomba Falls, the Three Sisters and Mount Solitary.“The Scenic Skyway also provides a unique thrill as the ancient rainforest is revealed beneath your feet through its electro-glass cabin floor,” says Scenic World’s John Mitchell. “We are a World Heritage Area, and the villages here are surrounded by a national park that enjoys stunning natural landscapes, and these can be accessed via many walking tracks and lookouts. We’re fortunate to live in a location that has so much natural beauty.”
Carved out by underground rivers as far back as 340 million years ago, this maze of spectacular limestone chasms are the oldest discovered open caves anywhere on Earth. And Jenolan Caves are in near-pristine condition, too — Aboriginal people used the waters to heal illness for millennia before European colonisers turned the area into one of Australia’s earliest reserves. Today, the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve houses kangaroos, wallabies, lyrebirds, platypuses, wombats, water dragons and rosellas, as well as nine caves from the system of 300 that are open to the public on easy-paced walking tours or more adrenaline-fuelled adventures. “Many countries have spectacular caves, but the caves here at Jenolan are very special and worth experiencing,” Melbourne says. “When today’s visitors see our caves, they are unspoiled – as stunning as the day they were discovered.”
This Doonside zoo is a compulsory stop on the drive from Sydney to the Blue Mountains. Featherdale Wildlife Park is the closest place to Sydney where visitors can hand-feed a kangaroo, as well as cuddle a koala and feed a crocodile. And that’s only a handful of the 1,700 Aussie animals at this hands-on wildlife experience. “Just east of the mountains, Featherdale Wildlife Park is a must,” Melbourne says. “This zoo is an amazing collection of native birds and animals, over 250 species, especially koalas – really healthy, happy, well-cared-for animals.”
Glenbrook is the gateway to the Blue Mountains, and another perfect pit stop en route to the rainforest. Grab a coffee from specialty coffee shop Kickaboom or a freshly squeezed orange juice from Cafe 2773 across to road to fuel up for a bushwalk through the Lower Blue Mountains. “If you are wanting a short walk, follow the Jack Evans Track as it meanders down from the Nepean Lookout Trail to Erskine Creek, where you can take a dip before returning the way you came,” recommends Justine Sinclair from the Blue Mountains Council tourism team. “Stop off in the early morning for a chance encounter with kangaroos at the Euroka Clearing or drive to the culturally significant Red Hands Cave to view traditional hand painting from the Darug people.”
Echo Point – the vantage point for the iconic Three Sisters rock formation nestled in the Jamison Valley near Katoomba – might be crowded with tourist coaches, but it’s a Blue Mountains must-see. “From the Echo Point lookout you can see Mount Solitary, the Ruined Castle, Narrow Neck Plateau and the inclined railway at Scenic World,” says Mitchell. “You definitely need to stop by at Echo Point to see the iconic Three Sisters up close. You might even consider venturing along some of the easy walking tracks of the Blue Mountains National Park that surround Echo Point.” But Govetts Leap lookout in Blackheath, just north of Katoomba, is perhaps even more spectacular thanks to the sheer sandstone walls and towering falls that frame the Grose Valley. “It’s one of Australia’s most famous lookouts,” Mitchell adds. “Govetts Leap features a magnificent waterfall that drops 180m (591ft) to the base of the cliff.”
The Blue Mountains first appeared on the tourist map in the 1800s as an escape from the city for Sydney’s rich and stylish. That old-world charm is ingrained in Katoomba, particularly the Carrington Hotel, the only surviving 19th-century grand resort hotel in New South Wales. The Sunday afternoon high tea in the opulent dining room is a particularly cherished tradition, plating up finger sandwiches, cakes, fluffy scones with jam and cream and savoury treats. Mitchell says, “Served in one of the last Victorian dining rooms in Australia with the sounds of a local pianist playing in the background, you’re in for a high tea filled with the history and charm of yesteryear.” Katoomba – the hub of the region – is home to a high street full of historic places to eat and drink, including Station Bar and its famous wood-fired pizzas. “My pick would be the delicious bullaburra pizza, which has crocodile on it,” Sinclair says.
East of Katoomba on the Great Western Highway, Lawson is another good launching pad for some of the Blue Mountains’ best walking terrain. Grab a croissant from Black Cockatoo Bakery – the best in the Blue Mountains, according to Mitchell – and a coffee from the Rust and Timber Chocolate Bar next door, which roasts its own coffee and makes its own chocolate in-house. That’s just the sustenance hikers need to tackle the South Lawson Waterfall Circuit or the string of walking trails to Dantes Glen Falls, St Michael’s Falls and Fairy Falls at the end of St Bernards Drive.“The South Lawson Waterfall circuit encompasses four stunning waterfalls,” Sinclair explains: Adelina Falls, Federal Falls, Junction Falls and Cataract Falls.
The Blue Mountains aren’t renowned as a wine-growing region – from Sydney, most people head north to the Hunter Valley in search of a drop, or cruise through the mountains on the way to Mudgee. But the vineyards of Dryridge Estate and Megalong Creek Estate, as well as the Old Zig Zag Brewery outside Lithgow and Bilpin Cider (surrounded by Bilpin’s apple orchards), provide plenty to drink. Mitchell recommends the single-estate wines from Megalong Creek. “The family farm is a boutique vineyard situated in the beautiful Megalong Valley,” he says. “Wine varieties include pinot grigio and shiraz.”
No corner of the Blue Mountains is as quaint as Leura, which boasts one of the prettiest main streets west of Sydney. Pick up one of the handcrafted pies from the legendary Bakehouse on Wentworth, then stroll down Leura Mall, which is particularly beautiful during spring – when the line of cherry trees blossom – or autumn. “Autumn in the Blue Mountains is beautiful with the leaves changing colours and the hint of fresh cold air,” Sinclair says. “It’s very special.” Close by, Wentworth Falls is a stunning three-tiered waterfall flowing from Jamison Creek, while the Leura Cascades walking track winds past a string of smaller falls. “However, if you want to get off the beaten track, try the Pool of Siloam,” Sinclair advises. “Follow the stairs that are surrounded by the sounds of native birds until you reach the stepping stones that pass by a waterfall tucked away in an alcove with the cliff face. Look out for the lyrebirds as they scratch for grass seeds.”
If the grandiose clifftop hotel looks like it’s been transplanted from some other part of the globe, that’s because it has – the central casino dome was shipped out from Chicago before being reassembled in the small town of Medlow Bath. Gazing out over the Megalong Valley, the Hydro Majestic is an over-the-top exercise in Art Deco extravagance, with a series of swanky dining rooms and accommodation options lining a lengthy one kilometre of escarpment edge.“It is the grandest hotel in the mountains, also with a spectacular view,” Melbourne says. “It is really wonderful to dine at. It was totally renovated only a few years ago – very grand and expensive, but it’s the sort of experience that people do for anniversaries and give as gifts.”
This is an updated version of a story created by Hannah Lewis.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.