The Ultimate 3 Week Australia Itinerary

Explore the best of Australia, from the rugged coastlines along the Great Ocean Road to the desert landscapes of Uluru, on this ultimate 3 week Australia itinerary.
Sydney, Australia. Photo by: Photoholgic | Unsplash

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Australia is huge, 2.7 million square miles huge, and exploring the best of it takes some good planning. However, with an adventurous spirit, this ultimate 3 week Australia itinerary up your sleeve, and some local tips, you can discover the endless golden sand beaches, postcard-perfect coastlines, and otherwordly desert landscapes the country is known for.

If you’d like a helping hand planning your Australian adventure, you’ve come to the right place. Below, you’ll learn about Australia’s best cities, beaches, restaurants, and islands. From the rugged coastlines of the Great Ocean Road and pristine beaches of Byron Bay to the great Outback – we hope you’re ready for an adventure like no other.

Day 1: Arrive in Melbourne

Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Ayush Jain | Unsplash

When planning a 3 week Australia itinerary, most visitors choose to fly to Melbourne or Sydney. While you can’t go wrong either way, we’ve chosen Melbourne as it’s a fantastic first introduction to Australia, and you won’t have to backtrack later on.

You’ll have a full day to explore the ‘cultural capital of Australia’ tomorrow, so today, we recommend taking it easy and visiting Federation Square. Here, you’ll find a tourism information center with friendly staff and everything you need to plan your day tomorrow. Federation Square is also packed with museums, interesting shops, and many restaurants and bars, so you won’t have to go far when hunger strikes.

What to eat:

$ – Roule Galette Melbourne: French cafe serving sweet and savory crepes
$$ – Straight Outta Saigon: Vietnamese street food with a modern twist
$$$ – The Lui Bar: Spectacular views over Melbourne with small bites and refreshing cocktails

Where to stay (3 nights):

$ – Space Hotel
$$ – Atlantis Hotel
$$$ – Shadow Play Melbourne

Day 2: Melbourne

Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne
Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne. Photo: Benjamin Ashton | Unsplash

Hopefully, you’ve had a wonderful night’s sleep and have dusted off any jetlag. Today, you’ll take a deep dive into Melbourne’s rich culture and beautiful surroundings. We recommend doing a mix and match of the following:

  • Walk Yarra Trail – The Yarra River Trail runs from Melbourne’s eastern suburb into the CBD and ends at Southbank. While we don’t expect you to walk the entire 20-mile (33 km) trail, it’s a great place to stretch your legs and discover some of the most scenic parts of Melbourne. 
  • St Kilda – You’ve likely come to Australia excited about the postcard-perfect beaches. So, why wait a moment longer? Pack a day pack, hop on the Yarra Tram, and in less than 30-minutes, you’ll be at this action-packed beach suburb. 
  • Queens Victoria Market – Fancy some shopping? The Queens Victoria Market is the largest open market in the Southern Hemisphere and sells everything from fresh food to boutique art. Be careful, though. Time seems to disappear faster the deeper you get into the market.

Day 3: Great Ocean Road & Twelve Apostles

Twelve Apostles
Twelve Apostles. Photo: Wee Ping Khoo | Unsplash

Travel time: 8 hours driving + lots of stops

Today it’s all about hitting the road and seeing some of the most iconic sights of Australia. We recommend booking a bus tour so you can enjoy the views while someone else drives, but if you prefer to be on your own time, it’s easy enough to rent a car and go on your own.

Either way, you’ll want to hit the road early and head west along the Great Ocean Road, stopping off for incredible viewpoints and charming small towns. You can expect the journey to the Twelve Apostles to take five to six hours, and once there, you’ll have time to ponder the magnificence of these giant limestone pillars before heading back to Melbourne. Each tour has a slightly different itinerary, but you can expect the day trip to last from 7 am to 9 pm. 

Day 4 & 5: Sydney

View of Opera House in Sydney, Australia
View of Opera House in Sydney, Australia. Photo: April Pethybridge | Unsplash

Travel time: 2 hours

Today you’re back in the air for a short but scenic hour-and-a-half flight to Sydney. If possible, book your flight for an early morning departure and do your best to get a window seat. It’s pretty incredible to fly over Sydney’s many harbors and iconic sights before landing.

Once you’ve arrived into Sydney, drop your bags of at your hotel and head for Circular Quay. Here, you can take your own bucket-list picture in front of the Opera House and walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Afterward, head to The Rocks District for delicious food or the Royal Botanic Gardens for awe-inspiring views over the harbor. Tomorrow, you’ll have the entire day to explore or relax at one of the best beaches to visit in Sydney, so take your time and appreciate the many views and unique shops surrounding you.

Where to eat:

$ – Mamak: Cheap, filling, and authentic Malaysian food
$$ – Farmhouse Kings Cross: Simple meals that are made with fresh ingredients
$$$ – Black Bar & Grill: Your classic steakhouse that takes Australian cuisine up a few notches

Where to stay (3 nights):

$ – Sydney Central YHA
$$ – Bid Hotel CBD
$$$ – Park Hyatt Sydney

Day 6: Manly

Manly, Australia
Manly, Australia. Photo: cat mastro | Unsplash

Travel time: 30-minute ferry, each way

One of the best ways to experience Sydney is to hop on a ferry and see the sprawling city from the water. And if you’re doing this, you might as well hop on the 30-minute ferry that takes you to Manly.

Once you’ve arrived in Manly, you’ll notice two beaches on either side of the harbor. Don’t head to either of these. Instead, make your way across the peninsula, and after a 10-minute walk, you’ll have arrived at Manly Beach. Here, you can post up and soak in the sun, walk along the oceanfront path to Shelly Beach, or rent a surfboard and try your luck at catching some waves.

When hunger strikes, you’ll find an abundance of cute cafes along the waterfront. Then, when you’ve had enough sun for one day, catch the ferry back and enjoy an evening in Sydney CBD.

Day 7: Port Macquarie

Port Macquarie Breakwall
Port Macquarie Breakwall. Photo: Deb Dowd | Unsplash

Travel time: 4.5 hours

Instead of flying to Brisbane, we recommend renting a car and driving up the east coast. In total, the drive will take about ten hours. But don’t worry; we’ve included two overnight stays along the way to break it up. 

Your first day brings you up on a scenic drive up the coast through Newcastle, Myall Lakes National Park, and plenty of other classic Australian small towns until you reach the oceanfront town of Port Macquarie. Once here, you can visit the Koala Hospital, head out on a whale-watching cruise, relax at one of the 17 beaches in the area, or enjoy a walk along the breakwall. 

What to eat:

$ – Thai Touch Tide Restaurant: You guessed it, delicious and authentic Thai food at an unbeatable price
$$ – The Rainforest Cafe: Your classic Australian cafe, set in a rainforest
$$$ – The Stunned Mullet: If you have the budget, don’t miss out on the perfected food and amazing views found here

Where to stay:

$ – Port Macquarie Backpackers
$$ – Surf Beach Motel Port
$$$ – Sails Port Macquarie by Rydges

Day 8: Byron Bay

Byron Bay, Australia
Byron Bay surfing. Photo: Gustavo Barbosa | Unsplash

Travel time: 4 hours driving

Byron Bay’s reputation for its buzzing nightlife and laidback hippie lifestyle certainly precedes itself. However, even if you’re not in Australia to dance the night away on the beach, you’ll still love all this charming town has to offer. If you get an early start to the day, you’ll have plenty of time to hike the Cape Byron Walking Track, visit quaint shops in town, or chill out at one of the many fabulous beaches here.

What to eat: 

$ – Foxy Luu’s: Relaxed vibe serving up delicious Asian street food
$$ – Harvest: Farm-to-table food on the outskirts of Byron Bay
$$$ – Forest Byron Bay: Indoor and outdoor seating set next to lush rainforest

Where to stay:

$ – Glen Villa Resort
$$ – Byron Bayside Central Studio Apartments
$$$ – The Lord Byron

Day 9 & 10: Brisbane

Brisbane, Australia
Brisbane, Australia. Photo: Alice Duffield | Unsplash

Travel time: 2 hours driving

You’ve completed your longest road trip on this 3 week Australia itinerary and arrived at Brisbane’s busy city. While Brisbane isn’t typically a tourist destination, there’s so much to do and see in the surroundings; it’s well worth settling in for a few days. While here, we recommend:

  • Ride the Wheel of Brisbane for exceptional views of the city.
  • Wander South Bank filled with short walks, great shopping, and lots of top-notch restaurants.
  • Visit the Koala Sanctuary, home to over 100 koalas, as well as kangaroos, wombats, and Tasmanian devils.
  • Take a stroll in the City Botanic Gardens.
  • Sample the many craft breweries dotted around town.

What to eat:

$ – Gnocchi Gnocchi Brothers: Hand-made gnocchi crafted in more ways than you can imagine
$$ – Kensington Tavern: Your classic Aussie pub serving up a bit of everything
$$$ – Moda: Serving up Spanish-style tapas in an upscale atmosphere

Where to stay (4 nights):

$ – Brisbane Quarters
$$ – The Point Brisbane
$$$ – Crystalbrook Vincent

Day 11: Lamington National Park

Ultimate 3 Week Australia Itinerary, Lamington National Park
Ultimate 3 Week Australia Itinerary, Lamington National Park. Photo: Steven Joel | Unsplash

Travel time: 3.5 hours driving

Had enough of pristine beaches? We didn’t think so, but today you’ll take a break from the coastline and head to Lamington National Park. Located an easy hour and 45-minute drive from Brisbane, you’ll quickly be amongst Queensland’s breathtaking interior with geology dating back a staggering 225 million years. The best way to experience the National Park is to lace up a pair of hiking shoes and hit one of the many trails. A few of our favorites include:

  • Centenary Track – The shortest of the three at 1.1 miles (1.8 km) return, this sealed track is perfect for all abilities and gives you a great introduction to the lush forest, and colorful birdlife found within the park.
  • O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walk – On this short but exciting track, you’ll walk 20 feet (16 m) above the ground on suspension bridges.
  • Box Forest Circuit – Ready to tackle something more challenging? The 6.7-mile (10.9-km) Box Forest track takes you through magical rainforest and over impressive waterfalls.

Day 12: Moreton Island

Moreton Island
Sandy beach on Moreton Island. Photo: Tania Richardson | Unsplash

Travel time: 75-minute ferry, each way

We’re back to the sand today. Catch a ferry right from downtown Brisbane, and after a leisurely cruise, you’ll reach the third largest sand island in the world – Moreton Island. You’ll feel like you’ve landed in absolute paradise as you hop off the ferry onto soft sand with nothing around but deep blue water and colorful wildflowers. 

With so much to do and see here, you’ll want to plan ahead and book some activities to get the most out of your day. A few great options include sand tobogganing, snorkeling above one of the many wrecks, explore by quad bike, or tackle a climb up Five Hills Lookout.

Day 13: Fly to Cairns

Cairns, Australia
Cairns, Australia. Photo: Thomas Chen | Unsplash

Travel time: 2.5-hour flight

Today you’re back in the air for a 2.5-hour flight up to Cairns. While this bustling town is known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, you’ll be heading there tomorrow, so today, take advantage of the many other exciting things to do here. If you want to get a head start on learning about the aquatic life, head to Cairns Aquarium. To keep your budget intact, visit the 94-acres (38-hectare) free tropical Cairns Botanic Gardens. Or, simply wander around town checking out the fantastic shops and boutique stores.

What to eat:

$ – Rusty’s Market: Choose from one of the many stalls serving freshly cooked food in a bustling market setting
$$ – Cairns Burger Cafe: Your classic hearty burger that’s sure to please every palate
$$$ – Tamarind: An everchanging menu that offers Australian produce cooked to perfection

Where to stay (3 nights):

$ – Gilligan’s
$$ – Palm Royale Cairns
$$$ – Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort

Day 14: Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef. Photo by Photo: Francesco Ungaro | Unsplash

It’s finally time to discover Australia’s most renowned landscape, or should we say, seascape. The Great Barrier Reef stretches a mind-blowing 1429 miles (2300 km) along the Queensland coast, and while there are plenty of ways to see this impressive reef, we recommend taking a sailing trip from Cairns.

If you’re scuba certified, you’ll find a range of dive shops in Cairns that offer day trips out to the closer islands and reefs. Pro Dive Cairns and Cairns Dive Adventures are two of the top companies, but there are plenty to choose from, so have a look around and pick one that fits your budget and time frame.

If you’re not scuba certified, you can still get out and discover the magic of the Great Barrier Reef. Depending on how much time you want to spend in the water, you can head out for an all-day cruise or opt for a cruise and snorkel combo.

Day 15: Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Rainforest
Daintree Rainforest, Australia. Photo: Manny Moreno | Unsplash

Travel time: 5 hours driving

Get ready for another incredible day trip today, up to Daintree Rainforest. Thought to be the oldest rainforest in the world, dating back 110 million years ago, you’ll discover a world filled with wonder and more greenery than you thought imaginable.

The perfect first stop is at the Daintree Discovery Center, where you can learn about the unique flora and fauna found in the region, and get helpful hints on how to spend the rest of your day. Of course, hiking is the best way to get out and experience the region, but if you’d like a more relaxing day, you cannot beat an afternoon at the Daintree Wellness Spot with treatments inspired by Indigenous wisdom.

Fun fact: Daintree Rainforest sits right beside the Great Barrier Reef, making it the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites meet.

Day 16: Alice Springs

Alice Springs
Alice Springs, Australia. Photo by: Nico Smit | Unsplash

Travel time: 2.5-hour flight

It’s time to switch things up and get your first real introduction to the Outback of Australia. As it takes a particular type of mentality to live in this unforgiving desert landscape, it won’t take you long to appreciate the quirks and adventurous spirit found here. For those looking for adventure, embark on a camel ride or explore remote landscapes on a quad bike tour. Or, if you’d like a more relaxing day, visit Desert Park to get up close with kangaroos, emus, and plenty of other unique animals that call the Outback home.

Where to eat:

$ – Confucius Palace Dumplings: Cheap and delicious dumplings; need we say more?
$$ – Jump Inn Craft Beer Bar & Restaurant: Feel good atmosphere with Mediterranean and Asian specialties
$$$ – Barra on Todd Restaurant & Bar: Located in the Mercure Resort, serving up a range of Outback classics

Where to stay (2 nights):

$ – Alice’s Secret Travellers Inn
$$ – Desert Palms Alice Springs
$$$ – Mercure Alice Springs Resort

Day 17: Uluru

Uluru, Australia
Uluru, Australia. Photo: Henrique Félix | Unsplash

Travel time: 5 hours

Today you’ll discover one of Australia’s most perplexing sites, the world-famous Uluru. If you prefer, you can rent a car and make the five to six-hour drive on your own. However, we recommend opting for a one-way bus tour to Uluru, then flying out of the Ayers Rock Airport tomorrow. 

Logistics aside, get ready for a day of dramatic scenery. After passing through the West MacDonnell Ranges, you’ll get your first glimpse of Uluru rising dramatically out of the red desert landscape. Depending on which tour you opt for, you may even get treated to a sunset BBQ and tick off the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing Uluru during golden hour.

Fun fact: Uluru used to be named Ayers Rock but was recently changed to show respect for the Anangu people and acknowledge their ownership of the land.

Day 18: Perth

Perth, Australia. Photo: Urlaubstracker | Unsplash

Travel time: 3 hours

Your last four days of this 3 week Australia itinerary will be well-spent in Perth. Located in the southern portion of Western Australia, Perth has stayed relatively off the beaten tourist path and maintains much of its authentic charm. Tomorrow you’ll have all day to explore this exciting city, so take it easy tonight, enjoy a delicious dinner and wander around town.

Where to eat:

$ – Tak Chee House: Authentic Malaysian food that tastes great and is easy on your wallet
$$ – Outback Jacks Bar & Grill Northbridge: Your classic Australian steakhouse
$$$ – Wildflower: With a motto of “A rooftop culinary journey revolving around the indigenous six seasons.” – you know it’s going to be good

Where to stay (3 nights):

$ – Kangaroo Inn
$$ – The Great Southern Hotel Perth
$$$ – Crown Towers Perth

Day 19: Full day in Perth

Kings Park Botanic Gardens
Kings Park, Perth. Photo: Steve Franklin | Unsplash

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Perth feels different from the rest of Australia. Standing by itself on the western fringe of Australia, life in Perth is full of surprises and fascinating natural attractions. A few of our favorite things to do include:

  • Hang out at Elizabeth Quay – You could easily spend an entire day here indulging in the wonderful food and checking out the outdoor art installations along the quay.
  • Explore Kings Park – You’ll be hard-pressed to believe you’re in the middle of a city when exploring Kings Park. Sitting on 988 acres (399.9 hectares) of land, you’ll discover plentiful wildflowers, lovely walking trails, and plenty of places to stop off and enjoy your surroundings.
  • Discover Fremantle – While Fremantle used to be its own city, it has slowly become part of Perth’s sprawling cityscape. Here, life is a bit slower, Victorian buildings stand proud, and quirky bars and hipster cafes are the places to be.

Day 20: Rottnest Island

Quokka on Rottnest Island
Quokka on Rottnest Island. Photo: Mark Stoop | Unsplash

Travel time: 30-minute ferry, both ways

It’s your last full day in Australia, but not to worry. Today you’ll discover one of Perth’s best-kept secrets – Rottnest Island. While not quite a National Park, Rottnest Island, or Rotto, as the locals call it, is pretty darn close. Here, nature is the ruler, animals are the top priority, and you’re just a visitor.

If you’re an animal lover, you’ll especially love meeting the famous quokka. These adorable animals are naturally curious, and if you wait patiently, they’ll come right up to you and offer you the cheekiest smile. Of course, there’s much more to see on Rottnest Island, like cycle around the island, go snorkeling in clear blue waters, or relax on a pristine white sand beach – but it’s hard to get past how cute the quokka is!

Day 21: Final day in Perth & fly home

Coffee in Perth
Celebratory coffee on the final day of the 3-week Australia itinerary. Photo: Nathan Dumlao | Unsplash

Can you believe it’s already the last day of your 3 week Australia itinerary? There’s no doubt your heart will be full of amazing memories and joyful moments, but all good things must end, so, unfortunately, it’s time for you to head home. Depending on where that home is, you’ll either fly straight out of Perth or transfer in Sydney.

Final Thoughts:

That’s the best of Australia packed into a busy three week itinerary. All that’s left to do now is grab your swimsuit and get ready for an adventure you’ll remember forever.

If you’d like to combine your trip down under with an incredible vacation in New Zealand, get a head start on your planning with our ultimate 2 week New Zealand itinerary and recommendations on 3 amazing day trips you can take from Auckland by car.


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