The Gold Coast is the tourism capital of Queensland, but there is so much to do you often don’t know where to start. Which is why we’ve put together your ultimate 2020 guide to the Gold Coast. Whether you’re spending your days lazing around on one of the beautiful golden beaches, hiking your way through the bush to a free flowing waterfall or riding a roller coaster, you’re sure to have a great time while you’re here.
From the must see sights and attractions to how to get around and what to pack, this guide covers everything you need to know about the Gold Coast before you visit.
6 Things to Do on the Gold Coast
1. Take a walk in a national park.
There is nothing like reconnecting with nature. The Gold Coast is home to some of the most beautiful national parks in Australia with many boasting free-flowing creeks, waterfalls and lots of rare wildlife. Best part is, most of these gorgeous rainforest walks are less than a 1 hour drive from the heart of Surfers Paradise— it does mean you’ll have to rent a car if you aren’t a local though.
With tracks to suit a range of fitness levels, from beginners (and family) to expert there is something for everyone. For those looking to spice up their nature walks, Mt Tamborine has a skywalk, which allows trekkers to walk amongst the rainforest canopy along suspended bridges.
Those with young kids, there are many walks suited to families, with some being boardwalks and sealed paths. Stay on the path though, as you never know what could be lurking in the forest floor — we also recommend wearing covered shoes and socks.
2. Take a day trip to the hinterland.
The Gold Coast Hinterland is arguably the most underrated area of the Gold Coast region. For those with access to a car, we recommend taking a day trip to Mt Tamborine or Springbrook for the day. Both these areas are filled with lookouts with stunning views.
If you find yourself in the Springbrook National Park, we recommend checking out the ‘Best of All Lookout’ — yes, this is its actual name. The lookout showcases panoramic views to the south east of the coastline all the way down to Byron Bay.
About 40 minutes west of Surfers Paradise you’ll find Tamborine Mountain. This Gold Coast hidden treasure is full of culture and charm. Often visited by local Gold Coasters, the area offers the region’s best wineries, paragliding, markets, bush walks and quirky shops.
If you find yourself up that way we recommend checking out the Gallery Walk. The Gallery Walk is the main street and is filled with tiny shops, featuring locally made gifts. Personally, I’d recommend visiting the fudge shop, lolly shop and most of all, the German cuckoo clock shop — trust me, it’ll blow your mind.
Looking to stay in the Gold Coast Hinterland? Check out the Binna Burra Lodge. In 2019, the iconic lodges were devastated by bushfires, reducing the building and surrounding areas to rubble. In the last 12 months, the Lamington National Park locals and Queensland Government have been working hard to restore the lodge to its former glory. In September 2020, the lodge reopened to guests, boasting eco friendly accommodation options including camping, cabins, and 5-star apartments.
3. Go paddle boarding.
The Gold Coast is famous for its beaches, but why just swim or lay in the sun when you can try out something new. Paddle boarding is fast becoming a popular recreational activity for locals and tourists alike. It provides a relaxing way to cruise the many creeks and admire the wildlife, without disturbing it.
Don’t have a paddle board? No worries! There are many places up and down the coastline where you can rent one for as little at $20. For those wanting to paddle board, we recommend visiting Currumbin Creek, Tallebudgera Creek or the Southport Broadwater, which all provide the perfect calm conditions for even the most novice of paddlers.
4. Visit the local markets.
There is nothing better than visiting the local markets on a Sunday morning. The Gold Coast is filled with markets of all kinds, from night markets, village markets, farmer’s markets, arts and crafts markets and even Christmas markets. All the markets offer free entry and are the perfect place to pick up a souvenir, or a little something for yourself.
5. Try the local cafés and restaurants.
The Gold Coast has better coffee than Melbourne. Don’t believe us? Come try one of the local cafés. There are so many cafés on the Gold Coast, and we aren’t exaggerating, you can barely drive 5 minutes without coming across one. Whether you’re after a vegan breakfast, chocolate-loaded pancakes or a simple acai bowl, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to the Gold Coast.
The culinary scene on the Gold Coast is second to none, with so many types of restaurants and bars we can almost guarantee you’re going to struggle choosing where to eat. Some of the most popular types are Mexican, seafood and Asian. To find the best restaurants in your area when you arrive, download the Localsearch.com.au app on the App Store or Google Play Store.
6. Koala spotting.
It wouldn’t be a guide to the Gold Coast without mentioning Koalas. We recommend going Koala spotting, and no we don’t mean real Koalas. It all began in 2013 when a local artist made giant Koala statues covered in colourful designs. They were placed sporadically throughout the Gold Coast to raise money for the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary Animal Hospital.
While technically the promotion is over, you can still catch a glimpse of the Koalas in Burleigh, Currumbin, Surfers Paradise and more. Bonus points if you spot some real Koalas during your search.
Note: If you’re looking to spot some real koalas (and kangaroos) in their natural habitat, then you can take a walk around the lovely Coombabah park.
5 Top Gold Coast Attractions
1. Time zone, Infinity and other Cavill Ave attractions.
If you’ve visited the Gold Coast before, you’ve likely been to Cavill Ave. Cavill Ave is the heart of Surfers Paradise, packed with high rises, family attractions, restaurants and nightlife, all only a few meters from the beach.
Families can’t go past Timezone! Timezone is the largest arcade on the Gold Coast, filled with the latest games and attractions including laser tag and bumper cars. If arcades aren’t really your thing, take a trip to Infinity. Infinity is a stunning light museum full of optical illusions and stunning interactive light displays.
There is so much more to explore in Surfers Paradise. Download the Localsearch.com.au app to find attractions near you during your stay.
2. Canal cruise.
Cruising the waterways on a sunny day is the ultimate way to relax. The Gold Coast offers a variety of canal, river and ocean cruises all for affordable prices. If you’re after something a little different, jump aboard one of the canal cruises, which offer a high tea or lunch on the water.
3. Wildlife parks.
The Gold Coast has some of the best wildlife experience in the country, from lunch with alpacas to feeding lorikeets. Depending on which part of the Gold Coast you’re staying in, we can almost guarantee there will be a park within 20 minutes.
For those with a family you can’t go past Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. The park is filled with Australian wildlife and hosts multiple educational shows daily. Plus, there is a giant playground perfect for kids at all ages. For the big kids at heart, Currumbin is also home to the TreeTop Challenge, an elevated treetop obstacle course.
If you’ve got access to a car and don’t mind a drive, Mountview Alpaca Farm is the perfect place for a family picnic. The farm lets you borrow an alpaca (for a fee) to join your picnic too!
4. Theme parks.
You can’t visit the Gold Coast without visiting at least one of the theme parks. If you’re visiting in the warmer months, we recommend visiting one of the waterparks. They have rides to suit all ages.
For animal lovers, you can’t miss Sea World. It has rides for the big and little kids, plus animals for the whole family to learn more about, including the rehabilitation of Australia sea life.
5. Learn to surf.
All Gold Coasters start their day with a surf before heading to the office, right? Wrong. Many Gold Coasters can’t surf at all — myself included. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try your hand at surfing while you’re here.
Gold Coast beaches are littered with learn to surf workshops, from Mermaid beach to Palm Beach — there is no shortage of opportunities. For those who already know how to surf, you can often rent a board for a small fee from local surfboard higher stalls along the foreshore.
The best places to surf on the Gold Coast are Kirra Point and Burleigh Heads — but I may be biased.
5 Things You Have to Bring to When You Visit the Gold Coast
The Gold Coast is like no other place on earth, so you have to pack like no other holiday. Unless you’re local, it’s hard to know what you’ll need, so let us get you started with the essentials.
1. Sunscreen, sunscreen and more sunscreen.
We cannot stress enough the importance of bringing sunscreen. There is a reason Queensland is the skin cancer capital of the world. Even on cloudy winter days, our sun is harsh and you’ll likely get burnt. Nothing ruins a fun day in the sun more than blistering red sunburn.
We also recommend bringing a hat, sunglasses and other protective gear – especially if you’re prone to sunburn.
So remember to slip, slop, slap, seek and slide.
2. An umbrella and poncho.
The Gold Coast may have more than 300 days of sunshine in a year, but we also have some of the most indecisive weather in Australia. Gold Coast weather can go from beautiful, clear blue skies to hail storms in under 30 minutes, so you need to be prepared. Be sure to pack an umbrella and/or poncho.
3. Togs, swimmers, bikinis and cozzies.
Togs, swimmers, bikinis, cozzies; whatever you call them, make sure you pack them. In fact, pack multiple because it’s the Gold Coast and you’ll likely spend most of your time in or around the water.
4. Slip on shoes and comfy clothes.
If you’re visiting in summer, you’ll need slip on shoes to wear to the beach. Trust us, the sand is hot and will burn your feet without them.
Also ensure you bring comfortable clothes. On Gold Coast beaches, anything and everything goes — this goes for shops near the beach too. We recommend packing a slip on summer dress for the girls and a t-shirt and shorts for the guys.
5. Mozzie spray.
Mosquitoes (AKA mozzies) on the Gold Coast are savage, if you’re spending any time in or around our waterways, you’ll need mozzie spray or risk waking up covered in itchy red bites.
Where possible, get a repellent which also works for leeches and ticks if you’re planning on doing any bushwalking.
How to Get Around on the Gold Coast
1. Renting a car.
The Gold Coast is a massive 57km long, so if you’re planning on seeing the entire region, you likely need to rent a car. Renting a car on the Gold Coast is relatively cheap and easy if you’re an open licence holder over the age of 25.
There are many places to get your rental, but the most convenient option is the Gold Coast Airport.
2. Trams and public transport.
Overall, the Gold Coast has pretty reasonably priced and reliable public transport. We have everything from busses, trains and trams throughout the coast. For those staying in Surfers Paradise, Mermaid Beach, Main Beach and even Broadbeach, the most reliable form of transport is the tram, locally known as the G:Link. It runs from Helensvale all the way down the Coastline to Broadbeach, soon to be extended all the way down to the Gold Coast airport.
Buses cover the areas the tram does not currently operate in, including the southern coastline along the Gold Coast Highway. For those travelling from Brisbane, the train runs directly from the airport though the CBD down to Varsity Lakes. The tram and train connect at Helensvale Station, making it easier for those travelling to the beach to reach their destination.
To catch any form of public transport in Queensland you’ll need a Go Card.
How to get a Go Card:
You can purchase a Go Card from most news agencies and convenience stores around the Gold Coast. If you’re flying in, you’ll easily be able to pick one up at the airport.
Go Cards are also able to be purchased online, at train stations and some ticketed tram stops. However, we recommend getting your Go Card before embarking on your trip.
How much do Go Cards cost:
A Go Card costs a $10 refundable deposit for an adult and $5 for children, seniors and concessions. Note, if you are planning on applying for a senior or concession card, you will need identification to be eligible for the lower rate. You may also be asked to show you relevant ID by ticket inspectors.
Do Go Cards expire:
Yes, Go Cards expire 10 years after purchase for adults. Children will need to apply for a concession or adult card when they turn 15.
How do you top-up a Go Card:
Topping up a Go Card is simple. Cards can be topped up online via the Translink website, at ticketing machines, newsagencies and some eligible convenience stores. You may also opt to do an automatic top-up when your card balance hits $10.
3. Taxis and ride shares.
If public transport isn’t available where you’re staying or it simply isn’t your thing, the Gold Coast has plenty of ride share options available. We have taxis, Ubers, Didis and almost every other rideshare you can think of.
Find the best local restaurants in your area on Localsearch.com.au.