Scenic World, Katoomba, New South Wales © Destination NSW
3 days in the Blue Mountains
Head to the hills on Sydney's doorstep for breathtaking scenery, historic townships and gourmet food.
By Georgia Rickard & Marc Llewellyn
Check out Art Deco shops and culture in Katoomba, be astonished by the natural beauty of the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park, and go horse riding among kangaroos. Meander through cool-climate gardens and orchards on your final day.
What to expect
- See the dramatic, World Heritage-listed Three Sisters rock formation
- Wander through rainforest and cool-climate gardens
- Tickle your taste buds with delicious local produce
- Time: 3 days
- Distance: 285km (177mi)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major city: Sydney
- Price: $$$
Day 1: Sydney to Leura, Katoomba
Hire a car from Sydney's city centre or airport and head 45 minutes west to Doonside to visit Featherdale Wildlife Park. In this hands-on wildlife park, you can pat a koala or hand-feed kangaroos before you continue on to Katoomba, a town in the Blue Mountains. Katoomba is known for its gorgeous Art Deco architecture and offbeat shopping. Browse antique stores, vintage emporiums, jumbled-up op shops (stores selling second-hand goods for charity) and quirky thrift stores on the main strip, Katoomba Street. You'll also find first edition books, fabulously unusual vintage clothes and one-off homewares in stores such as Mr Pickwick's Fine Old Books and Peachtree Antiques. From here, it's a five-minute car ride to the gorgeous garden village of Leura, where the shopping gets even better (don't miss The Candy Store). Here a selection of gorgeously Instagrammable cafés lines the main street. Have a tapas-style lunch at Leura Garage, which does a fantastic cheese board, then return to Katoomba via the Blue Mountains Chocolate Company, where you can make your own hot drink from silky smooth couverture chocolate.
The town of Katoomba sits on the edge of a cliff, offering breathtaking views of the craggy Three Sisters rock formation. Drive (or walk) from Katoomba town centre to the Echo Point lookout to see the Three Sisters and beyond. The views of World Heritage-listed rainforest and dramatic escarpments stretch over the horizon. (Insider tip: come back after dark to see the Three Sisters floodlit until 11pm.) Next, head to Scenic World, where you can ride the world's steepest train down into a valley between the mountains, or take an aerial cable car offering great views, before disembarking at the bottom to stroll through 2.4km (1.5mi) of Jurassic rainforest. Don't worry if it's misty, or even raining. It can be even more beautiful that way. Book in for two nights at the Victorian-era Lilianfels Resort & Spa or in the stunning old-world surrounds of the Hydro Majestic.
Day 2: Katoomba to Blackheath
A 15-minute drive this morning brings you to the town of Blackheath for a delicious breakfast at Anonymous. Stock up on picnic supplies such as goat's cheese with truffle honey, continental meats, sourdough bread and homemade jams and relishes at This Little Piggy Wiggy provedore. Explore two floors of antiques at the Victory Theatre Antique Centre and Café, where you can also have lunch. Then take a stroll among ponds, fern glades and woodlands at the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens. The best time to see the rhododendrons in bloom is from September to November. Alternatively, head to Pulpit Rock lookout for stunning panoramic views of the valleys below. The lookout can be reached on a scenic drive down Hat Hill Road and also serves as the starting point for the clifftop Pulpit Walking Track.
Head to Centennial Glen Stables in the beautiful Kanimbla Valley. The stables offer trail rides with experienced guides, and guests can trot along green plains, cross creeks and walk through wooded valleys. Book the sunset ride to enjoy the changing colours across the mountains. The sunset trail ride begins 1.5 hours before sunset.
Day 3: Blackheath to Mount Wilson, Bilpin and Sydney
Stretch your legs among rare and exotic plants in Windyridge Garden. Then, follow Bells Line of Road to the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah, home to cool-climate plants from around the world. While you're there, why not try the onsite Nature Therapy Walks – originating from Japan, Shinrin-yoku (forest therapy) is a preventative health practice that improves wellbeing by immersing your senses in nature. This guided experience is designed to increase your mental and physical health by reducing stress levels and lowering your pulse and blood pressure.
Next stop is Bilpin, a small town famous for its apples. You'll know when you're close, because hand-painted signs will start appearing on each side of the road, advertising freshly picked apples and local honey. Look out for a sign pointing out The Local Harvest. Housed in a corrugated shed, this little shop stocks the region's most-loved apple pies, baked fresh each day with local apples. Between January and June you can also stop around Bilpin to pick your own fruit, and not just apples, but walnuts, chestnuts, mandarins, artichokes, persimmons, peaches, strawberries and blueberries (again, just look for the hand-painted signs). It's an easy 90-minute drive back to Sydney's centre from here, but take your time. Bilpin is full of enchanting accommodation options, such as the Love Cabins, which overlook mountain rainforest wilderness, and there are several great spots to eat, serving (you guessed it) local produce.