26 Famous Australian Landmarks
Plan your visit to this ancient and astonishing continent with a local’s guide to the must-see parts of the natural landscape and human-made marvels and attractions. These famous landmarks are listed below according to the state and territories in which you can find them.
Uluru (labeled by European explorers as Ayers Rock) is a huge monolith or “inselberg” lying half-submerged in the Western desert, just over 300 kilometers south-west of Alice Springs. Sacred to the Pitjantjatjara people, tours by local guides around Uluru’s base tell visitors about traditional ways of life and the stories that help explain the nature and history of the land. Nearby Uluru is the lesser-known but no less sacred or majestic is Kata Tjuta (also known as the Olgas) a collection of large dome-like rock formations.
Together Uluru and Kata Tjuta comprise the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site well worth the spectacular journey. Try to see Uluru at sunrise or sunset when the desert landscape colors are at their most magical.
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2. Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park is one of Australia’s most pristine wildernesses. Located almost 200km to the southeast of Darwin, Kakadu is a vast place, covering around 20,000 square kilometers, an area about the size of Wales. The Kakadu area has been vital to its Indigenous inhabitants for thousands of years and is littered with ancient rock art and important cultural sites.
Much of the park has been owned by them since 1976. Around 500 Indigenous people live in the park, many of whom also work there. Visitors have the option of going on cultural tours run by the area’s traditional owners, giving an insight into the real and ancient Kakadu.
3 Kings Canyon
Watarrka National Park sits at the bottom left corner of the Northern Territory, 300 kilometers out of Alice Springs, and is most notable for being the site of King’s Canyon. Not for the faint of heart or the out of shape, King’s Canyon is much loved by intrepid hikers for its arduous yet rewarding walks through the very heart of Australia. The area is considered sacred to local Aboriginal people and tourists are discouraged from leaving the track for this reason, and also for their own safety.
Make sure to pack a lot of water if you’re visiting Watarrka National Park, and a camera to take a few shots of views of the unique flora and fauna that you’ll be thinking about for the rest of your life. Day trips and helicopter flights are also fantastic ways of seeing this beautiful park if time is short.
4. Great Barrier Reef
Stretching for almost two and a half thousand kilometers, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system and it’s consistently labeled one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It is certainly the most famous landmark in Queensland. Big enough that is clearly seen from space, the reef has also been called the world’s largest living organism, is comprised of billions of tiny coral polyps along with a bewildering and diverse array of marine wildlife.
It’s no surprise then that the Great Barrier Reef is one of Queensland’s biggest tourist attractions, bringing in an estimated $3 billion a year in tourism revenue. But don’t worry, with an area covering 344,400 square kilometers, there’s more than enough room to snorkel, scuba dive, or simply relax in isolated serenity.
Just off the shore of Port Douglas is the Low Isles, a perfect introduction to scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.
5. Fraser Island
The largest sand island in the world, over 120 kilometers in length, is an ecotourism destination. This UNESCO protected island is offshore from Hervey Bay. Mango swamps, sand dunes, rainforest, and more than 100 clear lakes make this a beautiful location for camping and swimming.
The sand dunes move over time and different colors can be seen in places where the sand from cliffs and stacked structures. These include Red Canyon, the Pinnacles, Rainbow Gorger, and the Cathedrals.
Unfortunately, in 2020, bushfires burned through the vegetation of 50% of Fraser island.
6. Daintree Rainforest
The Daintree is a village, river, and National Park. The region begins at the incredible Mossman Gorge close to Cairns and continues north past Cape Tribulation. It is 65 million years older than the Amazonian Rainforest. It grows down to the sea and includes some “fringing reefs” just off the coast which make it a unique experience.
Most of the Daintree Rainforest is a UNESCO World Heritage protected site but there are many walks, tours, cruises, and ways to experience its size, diversity, and beauty. Hiking, climbing, four wheel drive tours, canopy walks, Jungle Surfing, and boat tours are just some of these ways.
New South Wales
7. Sydney Opera House
Perched on Bennelong Point and jutting out into Sydney Harbour is one of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks, the Sydney Opera House. After a long and troublesome building process running from 1958 to 1973, the Sydney Opera House has gone from a running joke to a UNESCO World Heritage site. Holding over 1500 performances of all different genres every year, it’s also a staple of Sydney’s cultural life bringing in over a million people annually.
Barely a walk from the CBD through the beautiful Botanic Gardens, you can’t leave Sydney without taking in a performance, or a guided tour (or a selfie in front of) one of the 20th Century’s most unique buildings.
8. Bondi Beach
The most famous beach in Australia and one of its most visited tourist destinations, Bondi Beach (along with its famous lifesavers) is nothing if not iconic. Just a quick train ride out from Sydney’s CBD in the city’s eastern suburbs, Bondi Beach is a kilometer stretch of golden sand with each end of the beach having its own subculture!
The beach is nestled in between built up, yet scenic, headlands. The beach is particularly packed on Christmas Day when it becomes a mecca to thousands of tourists and Sydney residents alike.
9. Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge has the highly specific honor of being the largest steel arch bridge in the world, allowing throngs of commuters to transit from one side of Sydney to the other every single day. Lovingly labeled the “Coathanger” by local residents, the bridge was opened in 1932 (with more than a little controversy thanks to amateur fascist Francis de Groot) and has been a vital part of Sydney’s infrastructure and self-image ever since.
More than just a thoroughfare, visitors can also make the climb up the Sydney Harbour Bridge for a reasonable fee, snapping that prized selfie with the whole of Sydney laid out behind them.
10. The Blue Mountains
Starting at the outskirts of Sydney’s western suburbs, the Blue Mountains is the name given to the section of the Great Dividing Range mountain range which passes closest to the city of Sydney. It gets its name from the blue tinge given off by the bush-covered hills in the sunshine. The Blue Mountains acted as a barrier to British expansion west in the early colonial period before being famously crossed by Lawson, Wentworth, and Blaxland in 1813.
This enormous one million hectares area is home to a number of natural monuments with their own unique indigenous myth stories, most notably the Three Sisters. Great for long hikes, adventures should also be sure to stop by at Katoomba and take a ride on the world’s steepest railway.
11. Mount Kosciuszko
The highest mountain in Australia, Mount Kosciuszko, forms part of the Snowy Mountains Range in an alpine area of New South Wales. Hiking to the summit of the 7,310 feet (2228 m) mountain is done by over 100,000 people every summer.
Kosciuszko National Park is a part of the larger Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves. Hiking, horse riding, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, and kayaking are popular ways to spend time in this lovely landscape close to Canberra and Sydney.
12. Lord Howe Island
The UNESCO listed island paradise in the Tasman Sea is part of the state of New South Wales. It lies off the coast of Port Macquarie (700 kilometers from Sydney) and has subtropical forests with white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. The coral reef and dive sites here attract snorkelers and scuba divers from around the world. Ball’s pyramid is an underwater natural structure that is the tallest sea stack in the world.
The scenery is dramatic and there are only 300 locals. The population of visitors is capped at 400 at any one time. Lord Howe Island can be reached from Sydney via a 2-hour flight.
13. Cape Byron Lighthouse
Cape Byron Lighthouse is a mandatory part of a visit to beautiful Byron Bay on the coast of northern New South Wales. Byron Bay is only an hour’s drive from Surfer’s Paradise in Queensland and is also a good day tour from Brisbane.
It is the most easterly point of the Australian mainland. Humpback whales can be seen from the automated lighthouse and there are a maritime museum and a history of shipwrecks you can learn about from the guided tours.
14. Great Ocean Road
Winding along almost 250 kilometers of scenic Victorian coastline between the towns of Torquay and Allansford, the Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s most iconic stretches of highway. In addition to stunning scenery, the Great Ocean Road also the world’s largest war memorial, being built by World War One veterans and dedicated to their fallen comrades.
The Road is best known for running past the Twelve Apostles (see the next entry), but the London Arch, the Grotto, Loch Ard Gorge, Cape Otway, and the beautiful coastal hamlets of Torquay, Lorne, Apollo Bay, and Port Fairy make this a spectacular drive.
For a comprehensive guide to planning a Great Ocean Road Holiday see: Great Ocean Road Holiday – A Comprehensive Planning Guide
For every kind of Great Ocean Road Itinerary, see: Great Ocean Road Itinerary
And for where to stay on the Great Ocean Road, see: Ultimate Guide to Great Ocean Road Accommodation
15. Twelve Apostles
A confusingly named row of seven limestone stacks off the coast of Port Campbell National Park. The Apostles were once part of the cliffs. They have been isolated from the mainland by millennia of erosion.
These enormous limestone columns (those that haven’t yet collapsed into the sea), rise from the treacherous waves of the southern coastline and can be seen from viewing areas, the beach below (the Gibson Steps), or by helicopter.
The Twelve Apostles visitor center has a large parking area and this is a major day destination for overseas travelers visiting Melbourne. For a comprehensive article on visiting the Twelve Apostles, see: Be Wowed by the Beauty of the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road.
16. Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)
Australians are very fond of their abbreviations, and so the Melbourne Cricket Ground (probably the most significant sports venue in Australia) is often known as either the MCG or even simply “the G”. The MCG is the largest stadium in the southern hemisphere, playing host to not just cricket but frequent games of AFL (the Australian Football League or “Aussie Rules”) and rugby union, alongside rugby league and the occasional game of soccer (football).
Built in 1853 it has been expanded and renovated over the years to fit over 100,000 spectators if need be, all this while retaining a spot as a center of Victorian heritage. Make sure to catch a game here if you can. There is no other true way to really come to terms with what it means to be a Melburnian than being part of an AFL crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The atmosphere of the ground, the rivalry of supporters from different Melbourne suburbs, and the sheer physicality of Australian sport will be sure to make it worth your while.
17. St. Kilda Pier
Saint Kilda is one of Melbourne’s most popular bayside suburbs. The Esplanade and the beach draw crowds from Melbourne and tourists from all over the world, especially backpackers. Sea baths and a Luna Park theme park give the beach strip a vintage foreshore feel.
The Saint Kilda Pier and breakwater continues the vintage seaside feel with a historic kiosk, the St. Kilda Pavilion, as well as a viewing platform for a colony of Little Penguins located on the Pier.
18. Kangaroo Island
The third-largest island in Australia, Kangaroo Island (ominously Karta, or the Island of the Dead, by local indigenous people) lies about a hundred kilometers off the coast of Adelaide in the Great Australian Bight. Best known for its natural beauty and gourmet foodstuffs, Indigenous people lived here for at least 10,000 years before suddenly disappearing around the time of Christ.
Make sure to check out the Karta’s national parks, teeming with wildlife (that includes koalas, kangaroos, seals, sea lions, and penguins) and natural monuments like Admirals’ Arch and the Remarkables Rocks in your time on this mysterious island.
It’s also important to be aware that 52% of the island was devastated by fires in January 2020 and several species are now endangered.
19. Bungle Bungles Rock Formations
Containing the awe-inspiring Bungle Bungle Range in Purnululu National Park is a World Heritage Site in the unspoiled Kimberly Region of Western Australia. The park is often synonymous with the mountain range within it, a line of domed sandstone that rises up 820 feet (250 metres) from the grasslands in regal splendor.
The elements of eons have painted the Bungle Bungles with sets of black and orange bands, originating from the careful work of uncounted bacterial organisms, acting to preserve the soft sandstone on which they live. The Bungle Bungles are difficult to reach but well worth the effort.
20. The Pinnacles, Pinnacles Desert
Within Western Australia’s Nambung National Park is the Pinnacles Desert. The Park is a two-hour drive from Perth, the capital of Western Australia, Perth. In the Pinnacles Desert, you’ll find the amazing limestone structure known as the Pinnacles.
The Pinnacles Desert was once covered by the ocean but when the sea receded (25-30,000 years ago), deposits of sea shells were left behind. But sand dunes were also left behind. Eventually the wind blew away the sand and has left the limestone (sea shell) stacks, or pinnacles, standing alone in the desert.
There is a fee for entrance to Nambung National Park and the park closes by 9 pm. Many travelers visit at night to see the Pinnacles by the Milky War starlight.
21. Wave Rock
As you can see from the picture above, Wave Rock looks remarkably like a long and tall ocean wave. It is a natural rock formation, 15 meters high and 110 meter long. It is actually one side a hill called ‘Hyden Hill” that was formed 270 million years ago.
The natural rock formation is made from multicolored granite and is one of a number of interesting natural structures around the town of Hyden, in the Western Australian wheatbelt.
Wave Rock is southeast of the Western Australian capital, Perth, and takes four hours to drive the 340 kilometers.
22. Shark Bay
Shark Bay is an important UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Gascoyne area of Western Australia, 800 kilometers north of Perth. It is more than just a beach – it is a 23,000 square kilometer region and includes offshore islands. 70% of the area is protected marine waters. It is protected in part because it has the world’s largest sea-grass beds, stretching for 4,800 square kilometers. This means it is rich in an amazing diversity of sea life.
Dugongs or sea-cows live here in large numbers, but so do Bottlenose dolphins and Humpback and Southern Right Whales (during migration season), and Manta Rays. Shark Bay is home to five endangered mammals including the Shark Bay Mouse and the Western Barred Bandicoot.
Shark Bay also has a large number of stromatolites. Stromatolites are the oldest structures on earth! These are dome-shaped structures that are formed from deposits of algae.
Australian Capital Territory (ACT)
23. Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial in Canberra is the most important of the many war memorials that run up and down a country always conscious of its fallen soldiers. Dedicated to those who have died or fought in the various wars since and prior to Federation, the memorial and shrine were opened in 1941, just as the War in the Pacific began, and is one of the most visited sites in the nation’s capital.
Though centered on its Commemorative Area with its Hall of Memory and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Australian War Memorial also comprises a gallery and museum as well as a research center that holds valuable military records, allowing visitors the opportunity to discover lost details about their veteran ancestors.
24. Parliament House
Opened in 1988, and replacing “Old Parliament House,” new Parliament House is located on Capital Hill beside Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra. It is designed in the shape of two boomerangs arranged around a 266 feet high flagpole.
Guided and virtual tours can be taken of Parliament House, including the Great Hall and the House of Representatives and the senate chamber. Architecture tours are regularly conducted and these also include the Marble Foyer and the Members Hall.
The “Yeribee” experiences of Parliament House is an indigenous tour about indigenous parliamentarians and staff, the indigenous history of the site, and the indigenous art collection within the House. You can see the Great Hall Embroidery, the Barunga Statement, the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples, as well as the Yirrkala Bark Petitions. The tour runs daily at 9.30 am.
25. Port Arthur Historic Site
At the end of the remote isolated and isolated Tasman peninsula in Tasmania is the notorious Port Arthur. In colonial times Port Arthur was a penal colony, and for a time was thought of as one the worst places in the British Empire. Home to convicts who were seen as particularly savage or simply very rebellious, Port Arthur’s security measures and unique geography made it extremely difficult to convicts to escape the life of forced labor and brutality of the settlement. This convict heritage is well preserved for the benefit of tourists, giving them a look into a violent process that was so vital to European colonization of the continent.
In modern times Port Arthur became famous for no less brutal reasons. In 1996 one of Australia’s worst-ever spree-killings was conducted here, which led to a series of landmark gun reforms. A memorial garden dedicated to the victims of the shooting exists to commemorate the victims.
26. Cradle Mountain
The Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair national park is a must-see destination in Tasmania. it is a stunning part of the Tasmania Wilderness World Heritage Area. Cradle Mountain is often snow-covered and provides dramatic views as you take the two-hour walk around Dove Lake at the base of the mountain.
This wilderness area includes alpine heaths, old-growth rainforest, Tasmanian devils, platypus, quolls, and echidnas. There are a number of walks that can be taken through the national park, including climbing Cradle Mountain. Trout fishing and lake cruises are other activities on Dove Lake.
Cradle Mountain is 2 and a half hours drive from both Launceston and Hobart.
Links and Further Information
There are just so many unique things to do and see in Australia. All of the best Australia activities and tours are here
More detailed information on how to book transport, airfares, accommodation, and travel insurance is available on my Travel Resources page
For other wonderful destination information when you are planning your Australian holiday, see my Australia destinations page here
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