Looking for where to eat, sleep and play in Australia’s cities? Join the backpacker brigade at these hip urban enclaves.
Bondi, Coogee and Manly, Sydney
If you want to make the most of Sydney’s beach lifestyle then you’ll be drawn to one of its popular seaside suburbs. There are Bondi and Coogee in the east and Manly in the north. Bondi’s world-famous beach is the hub for backpackers, flashpackers and fashionistas. There are lively bars, fabulous cafés and local markets – not to mention a year-round calendar of events, such as Flickerfest in January and the City to Surf in August. Nearby is Coogee, a seaside haven for both families and travellers. Swim at the historic Wylies Baths or walk the stunning coastal path to Gordons Bay, renowned for its snorkelling and diving. Across the harbour, the picturesque neighbourhood of Manly is a relaxing 30 minute ferry ride from Circular Quay. During the day it’s a popular spot for surfers, but Manly really cranks up after dusk when you can walk sandy-foot between its wine bars, waterfront pubs and burger joints.
Glebe, Newtown and Kings Cross, Sydney
Looking to stay in the thick of things? Head to Sydney’s inner-city suburbs 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. The popular Saturday market is a treasure-trove for pre-loved fashion, while Glebe Point Road is home to health food stores and cosy coffee shops. This eclectic mix continues in nearby Newtown. Check out its inexhaustible selection of ethnic restaurants, gay-friendly bars and edgy street fashion. If sleep isn’t a priority, head to Kings Cross, where most of Sydney’s nightclubs are found. The slightly seamy adult strip is just around the corner from elegant, tree-lined Potts Point and waterfront Elizabeth Bay with its delis, wine bars, restaurants and Art Deco apartments.
Northbridge, Fremantle and Cottesloe Beach, Perth
Cottesloe Beach, Perth, Western Australia
Northbridge is Perth’s biggest backpacker precinct, with lots of hostels, great nightlife and budget eateries. Try the top-value restaurants around James, Lake and William Streets, or the nearby suburbs of Leederville and Subiaco. The charming, historic port of Fremantle, or ‘Freo’, is brimming with art galleries, markets and a vibrant live music scene. Grab a bite at one of its many food trucks and wash it down with a coffee in the famous ‘Cappuccino Strip’ area. Fremantle is also the place to go for seasonal and craft beers. Drop in to Little Creatures, The Monk or The Norfolk Hotel. 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.
Fitzroy and St Kilda, Melbourne
Melbourne is often referred to as Australia’s cultural capital and is home to a thriving live music scene, late night bars and laneways dotted with cafés and coffee shops. Wander down the cobbled laneways near Flinders Street Station to discover one-off shops, alfresco dining and fantastic street art – you can even spot a Banksy on AC/DC Lane. Catch a 20 minute tram from the city centre to bohemian Brunswick Street in Fitzroy. Head to Vegie Bar for lunch before checking out its vintage fashion shops and Rose St. Artists’ Market, held on weekends. From the city centre you can also catch a 30 minute tram to the beachside neighbourhood of St Kilda. Hire bikes and ride the 40 minute round trip to see the colourful Brighton Bathing Boxes. Back in St Kilda enjoy casual Mexican food at Radio Mexico before catching a music gig at Esplanade Hotel, known as “The Espy” to locals.
Fortitude Valley, Brisbane
Fortitude Valley – just the Valley to locals – is where you’ll find Brisbane’s counter culture and nightlife pulse. The once gritty streets are now lined with fashion boutiques, theatres, live music venues, and loads of great places to eat and drink. Despite its gentrification, there’s still a diverse cultural community and bohemian flair. Get your fill of dumplings in Chinatown or detour off the mall to discover Greek and Italian culinary pockets. Local designers sell their wares in the boutiques along Ann and Brunswick Streets, and James Street is the go-to for arthouse film. You’ll find loads of hostels here, and many local watering holes offering backpacker specials.
Mitchell Street, Darwin
Darwin’s backpacker scene is alive and kicking on Mitchell Street – a palm-shaded strip of hostels, hotels, bars, cafés and tour offices in the compact city centre. You’ll find most of your fellow travellers here, planning their trip to Kakadu or beating the heat at one of its many watering holes. Mitchell Street is a quick 15 minute shuttle bus from the airport. Once there you’ll find no need to leave – pool bars, open-air pubs and budget restaurants are all within easy reach. One of the many tour operators will help to book a day trip to the Tiwi Islands or lush Litchfield National Park.
East End, Adelaide
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. The international music festival WOMADelaide is held here each March. This area is also rife with dining options. Head to Rundle Street for trendy boutiques, cafés, wine bars and restaurants or Gouger Street for a cheap, sizzling Asian feast. For fresh produce you can’t beat Central Market.
Cairns is an unabashed party town, and the eight blocks between the oceanfront esplanade and McLeod Street comprise one heaving party district. The esplanade is lined with up-market 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 club. And for the next morning, there are plenty of places serving a big breakfast. Tour operators are readily on hand for when you want to book your excursion to the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest.
Salamanca Place, Hobart
The Georgian warehouses of Salamanca Place have been converted into galleries, theatres, cafés, bars and restaurants, and countless accommodation options. Browse the work of local artists in the bustling Saturday markets, catch a local band at the Salamanca Arts Centre or drink a pint of Tasmanian beer in a historic pub. Down on the waterfront you’ll find another popular dining strip. Pick a pier and dine on fresh Tasmanian seafood while listening to the gentle slap of sails on masts.
With its glorious 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 Wategos Beach have been attracting surfers for years, but artists, writers, hippies and healers also make their home here. Don’t miss the Cape Byron Walking Track to the lighthouse on Australia’s easternmost point, before grabbing brunch at one of Byron’s countless cafés. Each year visitors converge on Byron for Bluesfest over the Easter long weekend (usually falling in late March or early April) and Splendour in the Grass in July, which attract big-name international and Australian acts.