Canstar Blue’s 2021 Aussie Escapes review compares major cities on their atmosphere and culture, value for money, accommodation, food and drink, ease of getting around, events and attractions, shopping and overall satisfaction.
See our Ratings Methodology.
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 2,000 adults to ask them if they have escaped to another city or region in the last two years, 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 area, 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 region.
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. This year, the tropical north city of Cairns arrived at the destination first, scoring five stars for atmosphere & culture, events & attractions, as well as overall satisfaction, meaning heading north may be just on the cards for your next trip away from home.
Canstar Blue’s 2021 Aussie Escapes review saw 13 cities and regions compared and rated in the following order for overall satisfaction:
Darwin, Sunshine Coast, Hobart, Gold Coast, Hunter Valley, The Whitsundays, Adelaide and Perth were all rated four stars for overall satisfaction, with Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra earning three stars overall. While Cairns achieved the sole top spot for atmosphere and culture, it was joined at the top by Darwin and Melbourne for events and attractions, with the Victorian capital also scoring the sole five star rating for shopping.
Other five star results included Darwin, Sunshine Coast and Adelaide claiming five stars for value for money, with the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Hunter Valley and the Whitsundays achieving five stars for accommodation. Gold Coast and the Whitsundays were rated at the top for ease of getting around. Darwin joined the Gold Coast and Hunter Valley with five stars for food and beverages. With so many options to choose from, you better read on to see just what each location has to offer!
There are plenty of reasons why we go to the places that we do. Whether it’s for family visits, to catch up with friends, or try something completely new, most of us don’t really need an excuse to travel. We asked our survey respondents why they chose their region of choice for their recent travels, with multiple responses recorded below:
While the majority of respondents visited a major city or region to either catch up with old friends or to enjoy the change in weather, each area offers a number of locations to explore and see. But with survey respondents spending, on average, over $1,600 for their time away from home, looking into what each region offers, and what it can offer on a budget, may be worth it if you’re hoping to stick to a spending limit.
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 snorkelling with rainbow fish, to cruising the laid-back cosmopolitan streets, Cairns has something for everyone.
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.
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.
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.
From hot nights to a cool dip in the ocean, Darwin offers a bit of everything for those looking to get out west while still staying in the big smoke.
Darwin is also flanked by two national parks – the Mary River National Park, and the Litchfield National Park – both of which offer a rich landscape and are home to plenty of native animals. The Mary River National Park is located 150km east of Darwin, and is home to a river, wetlands and billabongs, and is famously frequented by the rains, and saltwater crocodiles! The Litchfield National Park has a number of waterfalls, plunge pools, waterholes and trails to explore, with the opportunity to also pitch a tent along the way.
A staple within the outback, the Royal Flying Doctor Service has saved countless lives over the years, with the Royal Flying Doctors Tourist Facility open to the public. Containing interactive ghost stories, virtual reality displays, a decommissioned PC-12 aircraft and a history of the bombing of Darwin in 1942, the tourist facility will be a go-to for families, history-buffs, aircraft enthusiasts and everyone in between.
Being close to the water, it wouldn’t be a holiday without dipping your toes in. While you’ll have to be careful in some areas for snappy creatures, Darwin has plenty of waterfronts, recreation lagoons and fishing charters available for you to get wet in a safe environment. You can even set sail towards the Tiwi Islands, with a four-day trip on a catamaran available for those looking to adventure further afield.
With no shortage of sun-stretched beaches, surf sports and rainforests, the Sunshine Coast has a number of smaller towns and cities for you to explore.
With a number of iconic landmarks across the Sunshine Coast, going for a walk, hike or climb will be close to the top of your to-do list, with the views from the top worth the pain your legs may feel. Including the Glass House Mountains, Mount Beerwah, Mount Tibrogargan, Mouth Coochin and Mount Coonowrin, you’ll have no shortage to choose from. If you prefer to stick closer to the ground, the Noosa Everglades may be more your speed, with a number of walks and waterways to explore via canoe or kayak.
From jet skiing along the Pumicestone Passage to skydiving over the beaches, the Sunshine Coast has a number of thrills to get the blood pumping. If those aren’t your cup of tea, you can always venture out on the water via boat to explore what’s under the surface, with a number of shipwrecks and dives available. If you want to get behind the wheel, the Sunshine Coast is also home to a number of 4WD tracks, with beach driving also offering a challenge for those used to bitumen roads.
If you’re a sucker for punishment, the Sunshine Coast is also home to plenty of triathlons, marathons and ironman events, with the Noosa Triathlon one of the largest events in Queensland. If you’re not keen on strapping up the runners, you can always opt for one of the Sunshine Coast’s regional events, including the Chevallum Stawbfest, or even the Kenilworth Show and Rodeo, allowing you to relax and enjoy the scenery.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wine, wine and more wine, what more could you want in a holiday? Well thankfully, the Hunter Valley has plenty more to offer!
It wouldn’t be a trip to the Hunter Valley without visiting a winery or two. With a rich history of vintage and award-winning wines, the Hunter Valley also offers a number of pet-friendly and children-friendly options for something the whole family can enjoy. In addition to trying the latest drop, you can also learn how to make wine, the history of wine as well as get the inside lane on how to impress at your next wine tasting. And if you’re a keen wine enthusiast, you can always visit the Hunter Valley Wine Show, one of the most-renowned wine shows in Australia.
If you’re looking to get some air, look for the Sunrise Hot Air Ballooning Adventure. Enjoy an hour-long sunrise balloon flight over the picturesque Hunter Valley landscape, along with a gourmet breakfast and sparkling wine tasting at the end of the journey. And if you want to extend your holiday, Sydney is a few hours journey away from the Hunter Region!
Made up of 74 islands, the Whitsundays are known for their white, sandy beaches, with the Great Barrier Reef close by, just waiting for you to explores.
Surrounded by clear water, the Whitsundays are an ideal location to drop a line and get some fishing in on your holiday. From charter boats to fishing tours, or even just some space on the boardwalk to cast a line, for the fisherman if your family, the Whitsundays offer a number of options. And if you’re simply a fan of getting out on the water without fishing, you can book a Sundowner Cruise or hop on a Pioneer Adventure cruise to explore some of the islands.
It wouldn’t be a trip to the Whitsundays without visiting one of the natural wonders of the world: the Great Barrier Reef. With a number of reef tour boats and cruises available, you’ll be able to take in the serene landscape as you travel through a destination like no other. You can even book an underwater ReefSuite, allowing you to wake up in a world like no other.
If you’ve gotten enough sand stuck in your shoes, you can always make your way inland, with towns like Proserpine close by. Home to sugar mills, lakes and even a few crocodiles, Proserpine has a rich history dating back to 1870, with the town also on the way for those looking to explore Conway Beach, Cedar Creek Falls and plenty of bushwalks for those looking to swap the sandy-white beaches for lush greenery.
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.
Planning a trip to Perth? Visit the place where the city meets the sea and wander through beaches, vineyards, parks and Perth’s bustling 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.
From hiking scenic city views at Mount Coot-tha, to relaxing on the beach in the suburbs, there’s plenty to do in Brisbane.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the Sydney Opera House to Bondi Beach, Sydney is home to some of Australia’s most well-known landmarks.
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.
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.
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 centre.
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 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.
With most of the country going through lockdowns, travelling can be hard for many Aussies, with 28% of survey respondents indicating that they had to postpone or cancel a recent trip due to being in lockdown, while 38% had to cancel or postpone their travels because their destination was sent into lockdown.
Despite the recent struggles, it seems more home-grown adventures were always the preference for some, with 25% of Aussies prioritising travelling in Australia even before COVID, while 29% of respondents said they enjoyed their regional holiday in Australia after COVID changed their original holiday plans. And with so many options listed above, it’s no surprise that many are still finding plenty to get excited about.
With Australia home to plenty of secret getaways, sleepy towns and vibrant cities, it can be a tough decision to find your next travel destination if you’re looking to stay in the country. While which region or city you visit will be dependent on a number of factors, such as how much time you have in your travel plan, your budget, if you’re travelling with someone else, and whether or not you’re a first time visitor or almost a local, a bit of research into just what each city has to offer can help narrow down your options. And you don’t have to stay within the city limits either, with 51% of survey respondents also travelling outside of the city during their most recent trip, meaning you may find the best spot on a short car trip outside the CBD. But with Australia home to plenty of cities, cultures and events, you won’t have to look far for your next holiday.
This report was written by Canstar Blue’s Content Projects Lead, Dean Heckscher. He’s our resident expert on all things automotive, health & fitness, streaming and more. Dean is also one of Canstar Blue’s customer research report producers, helping to turn complicated subjects into easily-digestible information for our readers. He’s passionate about helping consumers make better-informed purchase decisions on all manner of consumer goods and services.
Photo Credits: Pikoso.kz/shuttestock.com, Werayuth Tes/shutterstock.com, Joel Everard/shutterstock.com, Pok Leh/shutterstock.com, Neale Cousland/shutterstock.com, Darren Tierney/shutterstock.com, John Carnemolla/shutterstock.com, amophoto_au/shutterstock.com, Martin Valigursky/shutterstock.com, jejim/shutterstock.com, Taras Vyshnya/shutterstock.com, Daniela Constantinescu/shutterstock.com, Darren Tierney/shutterstock.com, Andrey Bayda/shutterstock.com, Andrew Atkinson/shuttestock.com
Canstar Blue surveyed more than 6,000 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 or region (i.e. Hunter Valley, the Whitsundays, the Kimberley, Red Centre, etc.) for a holiday or break (at least two nights) in the last 2 years – in this case, 2,088 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.
Below are the previous winners of Canstar Blue’s Aussie Escapes reviews: