2018 Australia’s Favourite City to Visit
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Review Australian cities on short-break satisfaction. Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Canberra, Perth, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart and Cairns rated on accommodation, atmosphere, shopping, getting around, food & drink, events/attractions, value for money and overall satisfaction in 2018.
Canstar Blue research finalised in September 2018, published in September 2018.
See our Ratings Methodology.
Hobart rated the best Aussie city to visit
Sometimes you just need to take a break – whether you’re escaping work, school, the madness of the city, or a combination of everything. Taking a short break could be just what you need to recharge the batteries and come back refreshed, ready to take on the world all over again. But if you’re not careful, that short break can become more stressful than relaxing, especially if you pick the wrong destination for what you need – be it shopping, the beach, the culture, good food & drink, special attractions, or a bit of everything.
At Canstar Blue, we help Aussie consumers make better-informed purchase decisions about more than 100 different goods and services, from household appliances to internet providers and electricity plans. So we thought, why not help people pick a better holiday destination, too. Sure, you could hop over to Bali, Tokyo or Bangkok for a few nights, but we’re more interested in which Australian cities provide the best short-break getaway. To form our ratings, we surveyed more than 3,000 adults to ask them if they have escaped to another city in the last year, and if so, how they enjoyed their trip based on a range of important factors, including the accommodation they stayed at, the atmosphere of the city, the food & drink on offer, how easy it was to get around, the shopping, events, attractions & nightlife, the value for money they got, and ultimately, their overall view of the city.
There are dozens of awesome places to visit in Australia, but to be included in our review, cities must have received a minimum of 30 survey responses. The 10 cities that received enough responses were rated in the following order for overall satisfaction:
- 1st Hobart
- 2nd Adelaide
- 3rd Brisbane
- 4th Melbourne
- 5th Darwin
- 6th Cairns
- 7th Gold Coast
- 8th Perth
- 9th Canberra
- 10th Sydney
You’ve no doubt heard it anecdotally, but here’s confirmation, Hobart is a great place to visit! Of the 10 cities included in our review, Hobart was the only one to record top marks from visitors for atmosphere, accommodation, ease of getting around, food & drink, value for money and overall satisfaction. It scored four stars for shopping and three stars when it comes to events/attractions/nightlife. So, it might not be the best place for party-going teenagers, but as a high-level guide, Hobart is pretty awesome!
Hobart wasn’t the only city to score top marks in a specific area though; Brisbane, Melbourne and Gold Coast were all praised for having some great accommodation, with Melbourne also leading the way for shopping and special events & attractions.
The results don’t make great reading for the likes of Perth and Sydney, and perhaps surprisingly, Cairns and Gold Coast. But really it all comes down to expectations and what you’re looking for from your trip.
Would you recommend your city break?
In addition to rating their city escape, we asked respondents to our survey a range of questions about why their chose the city they did, where they stayed, who they travelled with, and whether or not they would recommend the city to friends and family. When it comes to recommendations, this is what we found:
- Visitors to Hobart were the most likely to recommend the city (95%), followed by Cairns (93%) and Gold Coast (92%)
- Visitors to Sydney were the least likely to recommend the city (85%), followed by Brisbane (89%) and Perth (89%)
Why did you choose that city?
We asked survey respondents to tell us what they were looking for from their city of choice (i.e. why they decided to go there). This is what we found:
- Visitors to Hobart were the most likely to cite good food & drink as a reason for their trip (39%), ahead of those who went to Melbourne (23%) and Adelaide (17%)
- Those who visited Cairns were the most likely to cite the weather as a reason for going (45%), followed by those who went to Gold Coast (39%) and Brisbane (20%)
- Visitors to Hobart (22%), Darwin (21%) and Melbourne (17%) were most likely to report culture as a reason for their trip
- Special events (e.g. sports or entertainment) were a major draw for visitors to Melbourne (30%), Sydney (26%) and Adelaide (24%)
Where did you stay?
Whatever their reasons for travel, survey respondents were more likely to stay in a hotel than any other type of accommodation. However, this varied greatly between cities:
- Visitors to Cairns (64%) and Gold Coast were most likely to stay in a hotel (59%)
- Those who went to Hobart (24%) were more likely to use Airbnb or a similar service
- Visitors to Perth (48%) were most likely to stay with friends or family
- Travellers to Darwin (9%) were more likely to stay in a hostel
Who did you travel with?
Sometimes the best breaks are the ones where the kids stay at home… We asked survey respondents who they travelled with on their city break:
- Brisbane (25%) and Perth (24%) were the most likely destinations for lone travellers
- Groups of friends were most likely to head to Darwin (21%) and Hobart (20%)
- The majority of visitors to Cairns (55%) and Adelaide (53%) were couples
- Gold Coast (41%) was the most likely destination for families
Getting around a city you’re not entirely familiar with can be tricky, which is why many people hire a car when they jet off to a new destination. Our survey found that visitors to Hobart (56%), Cairns (45%) and Gold Coast (39%) were most likely to hire a rental car on their break, with those who went to Canberra (20%), Sydney (23%) and Melbourne (23%) least likely.
Meanwhile those who went to Hobart (90%), Cairns (89%) and Darwin (88%) were most likely to travel outside of their city during their trip. Those who visited Canberra (61%), Sydney (60%) and Melbourne (55%) were least likely.
With our research findings done, let’s take a look at why exactly you might want to visit the 10 cities in our review, starting with the best-rated. These details are borrowed from the respective tourism boards in each state, so if some of the suggestions sound a little OTT, you’ll know why!
From 1830s Georgian warehouses in Salamanca Place, to world-class gourmet restaurants on Elizabeth Street, Hobart has a little bit of everything for everyone.
Wander through quaint little cottages on Kelly Street in Hobart’s historic Battery Point village, and stand on Kelly’s Steps to pay homage to famous adventurer Captain James Kelly. The steps bridge Salamanca to Battery Point. Houses built during the first European settlement of ‘Hobart Town’ are also still dotted around Battery Point, which is just a short walk from the city’s popular waterfront.
Art and culture
For a modern art experience, take a ferry up to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Interact with a series of thought-provoking works on display by using ‘the O’, a unique technology which allows visitors to learn about each artist in a digital format tailored to suit each person. You should also check out the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG). From fossils to fine art, see up to 800,000 items that define the State’s natural and cultural heritage.
Trek up Mount Wellington for picturesque views of the city, and admire the waterways that supply fresh drinking water to the world. If you would rather explore on ground level, Wellington Park houses several micro-climates within the park that sprout around 500 native plant species. The park is also home to a variety of fauna, including different bird species, and animals such as platypus, echidnas, bettongs and pademelons.
If the weather isn’t great, you can still enjoy panoramic views of Hobart and Bruny Island from the suburbs of Mount Nelson. The Mount Nelson Signal Station opened in 1811 and was the first of many signal stations connecting Hobart Town to Port Arthur. It also close to Truganini Reserve, which boasts 130 hectares of protected native bushland. It’s also home to the Truganini Memorial, which honours the Tasmanian Aboriginal people and their descendants.
Adelaide, South Australia
Nicknamed the City of Churches, Adelaide does not disappoint with buildings like St Peter’s Cathedral featuring 19th century architecture.
For a must-see museum experience, the MOD. at the University of South Australia is the place to be. It features free dynamic exhibitions about science and technology, which showcase how research shapes our understanding of the world to inform us of the future.
Say hello to Wang Wang and Funi, the only Giant Pandas in the Southern Hemisphere, at the Adelaide Zoo. The zoo is just a 15-minute walk from the CBD and is home to more than 1,800 animals and almost 300 species of exotic and native mammals, birds, reptiles and fish.
If you fancy yourself a sommelier, drink your way around internationally-renowned wine regions just a few minutes away from the city. Show your support for our homegrown heroes and watch Australia compete against other countries in major sporting events at the Adelaide Oval. And in March, there’s also no better way to spend warm summer nights at the renowned Adelaide Festival and the Adelaide Writers’ Week to celebrate creative excellence.
From hiking scenic city views at Mount Coot-tha, to relaxing on the beach in the suburbs, there’s plenty to do in Brisbane.
Hang out with the natives
A trip to Brisbane isn’t complete if you don’t meet one of Australia’s national icons, the koala. The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is a 20-minute drive from the city centre and is home to more than 130 creatures.
Brisbane CBD offers more than 1,000 shops and is said to house the state’s largest collection of flagship stores. Then visit local designers and high-end fashion boutiques at Fortitude Valley, before stocking up on vintage fashion, homewares and books in Paddington.
Australia’s only inner-city man-made beach
Soak up the sun and sand at Brisbane’s iconic South Bank Beach right in the city centre. Swim laps in the pool overlooking the Brisbane River and CBD, then fuel-up with some fish and chips on the green lawns or have a barbecue at one of the tables in the South Bank Parklands. There’s also a variety of cafes, fine dining restaurants and takeaway food options in the area.
Brisbane’s best festivals
Get your laughs at venues like the Brisbane Powerhouse and SunPAC during Brisbane Comedy Festival, between February and March. And see what the city has to offer at the Brisbane Festival and Brisbane Writer’s Festival.
Brisbane is becoming a food truck haven, with foodie hubs like the Eat Street Markets and Welcome to Bowen Hills offering plenty of choices to satisfy everyone’s hunger. Taste a diverse range of foods from around the world while enjoying live entertainment.
Venture into hidden laneways filled with chic cafes and secret bars, and be wowed by internationally renowned street art painted all around one of the world’s fashion capitals.
Some of Melbourne’s must-see landmarks can all be found within metres of each other in Melbourne’s CBD. This includes Federation Square, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Hosier Lane and the Clocks of Flinders Street Station. It’s also walking distance to other popular hotspots, including the Queen Victoria Market and Chinatown.
Celebrate cultural diversity at the Melbourne Fringe Festival held every September. The event shines a light on more than 3,000 creative artists and showcases over 450 works in more than 170 venues. Other major events include the Melbourne Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival.
Ready, set, sports!
Giddy up and head to Flemington Racecourse in November to join more than 100,000 people watching the horse race that stops the nation. The Melbourne Cup Carnival includes the iconic Myer Fashions on the Field competition.
If you’re a fan of cricket, be sure to check out Melbourne Cricket Ground. Since opening in 1853, the must-see landmark is one of the top places to watch nail-biting clashes, including international cricket matches, Big Bash matches and, of course, Aussie Rules footy.
Or if tennis is more your thing, the Australian Open showcases the world’s best players in a two-week showdown in January. Spectators can see their favourite players practice on the training grounds and then cheer on their sporting hero in iconic battlegrounds such as the Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and Hisense Arena.
Darwin, Northern Territory
From discovering incredible works of Aboriginal rock art, to setting sail on some of the world’s most beautiful sunset cruises, find out what makes Australia special in the Northern Territory capital city of Darwin.
Learn about Darwin’s history
Unearth the city’s wartime past by visiting the Darwin Military Museum. Hear first-hand accounts from survivors and watch actual footage in the city’s oldest military museum. The Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility in Stokes Hill Wharf similarly offers visitors the opportunity to learn all about the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and the events that unfolded during WWII. You can witness the historical 1942 Japanese bombing raid on Darwin Harbour through virtual-reality glasses, as well as see a live map of the current location of RFDS plans.
Face-to-face crocodile encounters
When you visit Darwin, be sure to snap up the opportunity to see some of Australia’s largest saltwater crocodiles at Crocosaurus Cove. If you’re feeling brave, have a face-to-face encounter with the crocs in the ‘Cage of Death’. This once in a lifetime opportunity will see you enter the enclosure for 15 minutes. The three-story attraction also offers 360-degree views of the crocs, as well as other activities such as an interactive hatchling area and a big Croc feed and presentation.
Festivals and markets
Before winding down to watch your favourite film at the outdoor Deckchair Cinema on Darwin Harbour, fuel up at the popular Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. It boasts a variety of international cuisine options from places like Turkey, South America, North Africa, India and South-East Asia. There are also plenty of live street theatre and circus acts to keep you entertained – all with a tropical sunset background. Once your cravings are all satisfied, walk it off by shopping at the many different stalls. From Australian-made skincare products to Indigenous painted didgeridoos, there’s something to please everyone.
Dreaming of a tropical holiday? Escape the fast-paced hustle and bustle of the city and sink your toes into the white sandy beaches of Cairns. From exploring ancient rainforests and snorkeling with rainbow fish, to cruising the laid-back cosmopolitan streets, Cairns has something for everyone.
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Get a hands-on glimpse into the world’s oldest living culture by visiting the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Centre. Start the day learning about hunting methods and ancient food, before meeting with the Bama people at the Nightfire experience. Celebrate Aboriginal Dreamtime stories with the Tjapukai warriors, join the Rainbow Serpent circle to learn traditional songs and watch the ceremonial fire.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Fly through the world’s oldest tropical rainforest with the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. The unique Skyrail experience allows you to soar above the lush rainforest canopy, before nose diving into the forest to explore the Red Peak and Barron Falls Rainforest Stations. If you have extra time, make a day out of it and visit the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Kuranda village.
Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef
Cairns is also a short trip to the Whitsunday Islands and World-Heritage-listed wonders like the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. If you’re planning a trip to Pelican Sands between June and November, you might be able to spot around 20,000 humpback whales travelling from Antarctica towards the Great Barrier Reef.
Gold Coast, Queensland
Home to one of Australia’s most popular beaches, the Gold Coast is a premier tourist destination that stretches along 57km of south east Queensland and has 70km worth of beaches.
With four epic point breaks dotted across the Gold Coast, there are plenty of opportunities for people to catch a wave in one of the most unique surfing destinations in the world. Snapper Rocks at Rainbow Bay in Coolangatta is an ideal place for beginners to start as it offers gentle surf and swimming conditions.
Other areas like Currumbin Alley are popular choices for more advanced surfers. Duranbah Beach is also host to several international and professional competitions like the Volcom TCT Surf Series.
If you’re a thrill seeker, the Gold Coast is home to family-friendly theme parks including Warner Bros Movie World, Wet ‘n’ Wild, Dreamworld and Sea World. The Gold Coast also offers more heart-pumping action with aerobatic flights, jetpack and flyboard activities, stunt training, V8 and European Supercars experiences, as well as indoor and outdoor skydiving. There’s even a variety of ghost tours for people who want a supernatural experience. If you love the unusual and bizarre but don’t want to meet the paranormal, head to Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
You’ll feel on top of the world when you’re standing on the SkyPoint Observation Deck in Surfers Paradise. Situated 230m above the ground, the deck is located on level 77 of the Q1 Building, apparently one of the world’s tallest residential buildings. Enjoy 360-degree views from Australia’s only beach side observation deck, enclosed with floor-to-ceiling glass panels. And once you’ve soaked in the views, you can get your adrenaline pumping with the Gold Coast’s ultimate high altitude adventure – the SkyPoint Climb, Australia’s highest external building climb.
Gold Coast wildlife
Australians and overseas tourists aren’t the only visitors to the Gold Coast each year. If you’re lucky, you might get the chance to surf with dolphins at hotspots like Snapper Rocks in Coolangatta. After sunset, take a trip to the Natural Bridge at Springbrook National Park to see glow worms light up the natural rock formation. In summer, you can also see fireflies and fungi.
Perth, Western Australia
Planning a trip to Perth? Visit the place where the city meets the sea and wander through beaches, vineyards, parks and Perth’s bustle urban playground.
Trek the Perth Hills and discover unique places like Mundaring, a scenic lookout where you can learn all about one of the world’s longest freshwater pipelines. Follow the Golden Pipelines Heritage Trail or walk the Kep Track from Mundaring. Pause for lunch and visit art galleries at Kalamunda, another stop in Perth Hills. Kalamunda also marks the start of the Bibbulmun Track, one of the world’s longest walk trails, which is almost 1000km to Albany on the south coast.
Perth is like one giant fruit bowl, offering plenty of opportunities to pick fresh produce throughout the year. If you love cider, consider booking a tour at the CORE Cider House fruit orchard in Perth Hills. Learn about the process of growing and harvesting fruit, and sample a bunch of the apples and pears used to create artisan cider. Fruit picking is similarly available at other fruit farms like the Golden Grove Orchard in Chittering Valley. Some of the produce offered at Golden Grove Orchard includes lemons, grapefruit and a variety of oranges such as Valencia and Seville. The orchard also grows low acid oranges, which are said to be ideal for people who often suffer discomfort from usual oranges.
Forget Central Park and make your way to Kings Park and Botanic Garden, said to be one of the biggest inner city parks around the globe. Sprouting Western Australian flora, Kings Park is the perfect place to have a picnic and enjoy an outdoor summer concert. Check out the 750-year old boab tree from the Kimberley, shop at the Aspects of Kings Park gallery, take a guided walk with Kings Park Guides, and climb the 101 steps of the DNA Tower. Kids can also head to the Rio Tinto Naturescape, a place designed to encourage children to connect with nature. There are also several playgrounds to choose from.
Escape the hustle and bustle of the big smoke and nestle yourself into the capital city of Australia, Canberra. It’s home to national icons like the Australian War Memorial, National Gallery of Australia, National Zoo & Aquarium and the National Library of Australia.
Cockington Green Gardens
At Cockington Green Gardens in Gold Creek Village, you can venture through a variety of uniquely crafted miniature buildings from more than 30 countries. But if you prefer to venture into an out of this world experience, the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex is a 45-minute drive from the city central.
Visit the heart of the Australian government
A trip to Canberra isn’t complete until you’ve visited Parliament House on Capital Hill. Take a guided tour through the nation’s meeting place. Watch Question Time, witness historic bills being debated or watch committee inquiries as current issues are explored. There are also permanent and temporary exhibitions showcasing historical treasures and the contemporary art. Children can similarly visit the National Electoral Education Centre to learn about democracy, government and voting in Australia by taking part in mock elections, watching a multimedia presentations and exploring the Discovery Zone. Other similar attractions include the High Court of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, and the Royal Australian Mint.
Celebrate Australia Day in the country’s capital city by taking your family and friends for a fun day out at Patrick White Lawns. Play a game of cricket, watch performances from local acts, get your face painted, and enjoy a range of activities like jumping castles and giant slides. To help keep your energy up before the big fireworks spectacular, there are a number of local food trucks on site. Otherwise, you can always pack a few Aussie favourites like lamingtons, vegemite scrolls and ANZAC biscuits. Canberra is also host to big events like Anzac Day, the National Multicultural Festival, Floriade, Summernats, Skyfire and the National Folk Festival.
From the Sydney Opera House to Bondi Beach, Sydney is home to some of Australia’s most well-known landmarks.
Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb
What’s a better way to admire the sights of this vibrant city than to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge? Choose one of two types of guided climbs, with the Bridge Climb being the only option available day or night. The 3.5-hour Bridge Climb is the most popular trek and is suitable for all ages. For visitors in a rush, the Express Climb is a fast-track to the top of the bridge. This day climb involves less stops and requires a higher level of fitness.
Reach the peak of your Sydney adventure at the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Start the day by venturing on one of several bushwalking trails. With 140km worth of walking tracks, there’s plenty of native bushland and underground caves to discover. Once you’ve completed your trek, put your feet up at One&Only Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa before grabbing a nice dinner at Darleys Restaurant.
Watch Oxford Street transform every March as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardis Gras. One of the biggest and most anticipated events in the country and around the world, the Mardis Gras Parade is a massive celebration of ‘pride, love and protest.’ It features hundreds of groups showcase jaw-dropping floats from a variety of LGBTQI groups and allies.
The city also hosts the New Year’s Eve fireworks, a festive light show which ignites the Sydney Harbour to welcome the New Year.
Frequently Asked Questions
Canstar Blue surveyed 3,000 Australian adults across a range of categories to measure and track customer satisfaction, via ISO 26362 accredited research panels managed by Qualtrics. The outcomes reported are the results from customers within the survey group who have visited another Australian major city for a holiday or break (at least 2 nights) in the last year – in this case, 1,553 people.
Brands must have received at least 30 responses to be included. Results are comparative and it should be noted that brands receiving three stars have still achieved a satisfaction measure of at least six out of 10. Not all brands available in the market have been compared in this survey. The ratings table is first sorted by star ratings and then by mean overall satisfaction. A rated brand may receive a ‘N/A’ (Not Applicable) rating if it does not receive the minimum number of responses for that criteria.