Backpacker Precincts

The Different Drummer, Glebe, NSW. © Destination NSW

Backpacker Precincts

Join the backpacker brigade in Australia’s hippest urban enclaves. From Bondi Beach in Sydney to Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, these are places the young and young-at-heart come to stay during their Australian adventure. You’ll find hostels, nightlife, places to eat and drink and a vibrant sense of community. Soak up the historic seaside charm in Perth’s Fremantle or experience Melbourne’s alternative culture in Fitzroy. Swap travel tales beneath the palm trees along Darwin’s Mitchell Street or along Cairns’ oceanfront esplanade.   Explore Adelaide’s attractions from the stylish, central East End, dine out in Hobart’s Salamanca Place or throw yourself into the high-energy nightlife of Surfers Paradise.

If you’re in Sydney to enjoy the beach lifestyle then you’ll probably be drawn to Bondi, Coogee or Manly. Just 30 minutes from the city, Bondi’s famous beach is the hub for backpackers, flashpackers and fashionistas. There are lively bars, boho chic cafes and a funky back-street shopping scene. Head here for the Christmas Day backpacker beach party, the Flickerfest film festival in January or the City to Surf race in August.  Further along Sydney’s east coast lies Coogee, a seaside haven for both families and travellers. Swim in the calm ocean or historic baths and walk the stunning coastal path to Gordons Bay for snorkelling and diving. Across the harbour, the picturesque peninsula of Manly is just a 30-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay. Surf the ocean waves or swim in the sea pools and harbour beaches. Manly cranks up after dusk, when you can sandy-foot it between wine bars, waterfront pubs, burger joints and alfresco restaurants.  

If you want to be in the thick of things, try the inner-city villages of Glebe, Newtown or Kings Cross. A short bus ride from the city, Glebe is home to a diverse community of students, academics, activists and new-agers.  Join them at the popular Saturday markets, which sell vintage and hand-made clothes and second-hand stuff. Or wander down the main strip of Glebe Point Road, past health food stores, esoteric bookshops, friendly pubs and cheap ethnic restaurants.  It’s a similar mix in nearby Newtown, except King Street is much longer and has edgy boutiques and an almost inexhaustible selection of exotic restaurants. Check out the gay-friendly bars and anarchic street fashions. If sleep isn’t a priority, head to Kings Cross, where most of Sydney’s nightclubs are concentrated. The slightly seamy adult strip is just around the corner from elegant, tree-lined Potts Point and waterfront Elizabeth Bay with the delis, cafes, wine bars and restaurants, historic terraces and art-deco apartments.

Anything goes in Fitzroy, the bohemian heart of a city that prides itself on its artistic flair.  This is the place to grab an all-day breakfast or vegetarian burger, shop for recycled fashion, see live music or gawk at the eclectic crowds.  Along the main artery of Brunswick Street, hippy chicks sip lattes next to corporate types and second-hand stores nestle next to designer boutiques. You’ll find galleries, artist’s markets, great gastro pubs and legions of lively nightspots.  The Melbourne Fringe Festival brings circus, cabaret, music, dance and comedy here from September to October. Head to nearby Gertrude Street for specialty books, hip clothes and a string of drinking and eating spots. Or discover the cheap ethnic eateries and health-food restaurants along Smith and Johnson Streets. Johnston Street - Melbourne's Spanish Quarter – is lined with tapas and flamenco bars and hosts a Hispanic-Latin-American festival in November.  A number of trams and buses run between Fitzroy and the city.

The young and young-at-heart flock to St Kilda for its vibrant streetscapes, glossy cake shops and boisterous nightlife.  St Kilda has a charming, frayed elegance – the result of being a seaside resort for well-heeled Melbournians in the 1940s, and hub for a much tattier crowd in the 60s and 70s. Join the locals strolling, walking and cycling along the promenade or go sailing, windsurfing or kiteboarding. Take a ride in the old wooden roller coaster at Luna Park, with its iconic laughing face dating back to 1912. Fine dine along the waterfront or in a pavement restaurant or listen to live music in one of the grungy pubs that have become Melbourne institutions. Eat cake in a seductive old-world European patisserie along Ackland Street or get into the 24-7 nightlife along Fitzroy Street. Don’t miss the St Kilda Festival at the end of January - a heady week of live music and general revelry.

Northbridge is probably Perth’s biggest backpacker precinct, with lots of hostels and budget-friendly party places.  Try the top-value restaurants around James, Lake and William Streets. Nearby Leederville and Subiaco also have inviting cafes, bars and eateries. Further from the CBD but more charming is the historic port of ‘Freo’ or Fremantle. With art galleries, fascinating maritime history and a rocking live music scene, you won’t have trouble staying entertained. Wander the heritage-listed streets, which on weekends are abuzz with markets and busking musicians and magicians. Check out the lively Cappuccino Strip, dine on fresh seafood on Fishing Boat Harbour, visit the micro-breweries or imbibe a pint in a historic pub. If you’re a bona-fide beach lover, you might prefer to stay in one of the hostels along Cottesloe Beach. Spend your days swimming, snorkelling or surfing before watching the Indian Ocean sunset from a beachfront pub.

Fortitude Valley – just the Valley to locals – is where you’ll find Brisbane’s nightlife pulse and counter culture.  These once-gritty streets are lined with fashion shops, theatres, live music venues,lots of great places to eat as well as pubs, clubs and bars. The area has been gentrified, but retains a diverse cultural community and vibrant, bohemian flair. Have a sizzling Asian feast in Chinatown, where you can do tai-chi classes on Sundays. Or detour off the mall to discover Greek and Italian culinary pockets. Shop for hot local designers in the boutiques along Ann and Brunswick Streets or the weekend markets in Chinatown. Catch arthouse movies in the James Street cinema and walk the floating walkway to neighbouring New Farm. You’ll find loads of hostels here, and many local watering holes offering backpacker specials.

Darwin’s backpacker scene is alive and kicking on Mitchell Street – a palm-shaded strip of hostels, hotels, bars, cafes and tour offices in the compact city centre. You’ll find your most of your fellow travellers here, reading their travel guides, booking their Kakadu excursions or beating the tropical heat with a cold drink.  Jump in a shuttle bus from the airport and you’ll be amongst the action within 15 minutes. For nightlife, you don’t need to venture further. There are cinemas, pool bars, open-air pubs and restaurants for budget meals. Many of the staff are long haul travellers, adding to the lively holiday camp atmosphere. Book your tours from one of the many operators along here. Do a day trip to the Tiwi Islands or lush Litchfield National Park or head off to your Kakadu National Park adventure. There are boat cruises, multi-day hikes, Aboriginal cultural tours, 4WD journeys and helicopter flights.

You’re walking distance to most of Adelaide’s attractions in the cosmopolitan East End. Visit the galleries, museums and elegant colonial buildings along North Terrace. Or hire a bike and ride through Rymill Park and the Botanic Gardens, where the international music festival WOMADelaide is held every second March. This area is also rife with dining options. Head to Rundle Street for stylish cafes, wine bars and restaurants or Gouger Street for a cheap, steaming Asian feast. For fresh produce you can’t beat the atmospheric Central Market. Many travellers also base themselves in the lively seaside resort of Glenelg - 25 minutes from the city in a vintage 1929 tram. There are loads of hostels here, many charming hotels and a bustling business of shops, sidewalk cafes and summer entertainment. Learn to sail, swim with wild dolphins, spot seals on a wildlife cruise and soak up the spectacular sunsets.

You’ll never have to worry about finding somewhere to eat or drink in Cairns. This is an unabashed party town, and the eight blocks between the oceanfront esplanade and McLeod Street comprise one heaving social district. Along the esplanade, backpackers top up their tans, swim in the huge saltwater lagoon and discuss their nights out in a multitude of languages. This waterfront strip is lined with upmarket hotels, restaurants and bars, while the back streets are packed with more budget-conscious establishments. Hop between the hostel pool bars, enjoy live music in a beer garden or dance to local DJs in a cocktail lounge or mega-club. You’ll find cafes for quick eats and big breakfasts as well as a global smorgasbord of restaurants. There are also loads of tour operators, for when you want to book your excursion to the Great Barrier Reef, Kuranda Rainforest and World Heritage-listed Daintree.

Once the haunt of sailors, whalers and workmen, the lovely cobblestone square of Salamanca Place is now home to lots of hostels and places to dine and imbibe. The Georgian warehouses house have been reinvented as galleries, theatres, cafes, bars and restaurants, with glass and chrome glinting over the 1830s sandstone. Browse the work of local artists in the bustling Saturday markets, drink coffee under the sun umbrellas or taste a pint of Tasmanian beer in a historic pub. Catch a local band at the Salamanca Arts Centre or wander past the busking string quartets. Down on the waterfront you’ll find another popular restaurant strip. Pick a pier and dine on fresh Tasmanian seafood while listening to the gentle slap of sails on masts. A short cab ride away, North Hobart is also hub for smart young things, with loads of bars playing live music and good-value ethnic restaurants, particularly along Elizabeth Street.

With its gorgeous beaches, new-age lifestyle and energetic music scene, Byron Bay is a time-honoured stop for travellers along Australia’s east coast. The epic waves of the Pass and Watego’s Beach have been attracting surfers for years, but artists, writers, hippies and healers also make their home here. Swim with dolphins off Main Beach or wind along the Cape Byron Walking Track to the lighthouse on Australia’s easternmost point. Compare big breakfasts at the many excellent café and mingle with pro surfers and models at the bars along Jonson Street. Visitors from everywhere converge on Byron for the huge New Year's Eve street party with dancing and DJs. Byron is also a big destination on the music festival scene.  The International Blues & Roots Music Festival takes over town each Easter and big-name bands from everywhere hit town for Splendour in the Grass in August. The Byron Bay Writers Festival in July also attracts a crowd.

Backpacker Precincts

More Australian Ideas