How to plan your perfect Townsville getaway
Almost smack bang in the middle of Cape York and Brisbane on Queensland’s coast, the state’s unofficial second capital has a big city offering with a small-town feel.
Bordered by the Coral Sea, the Wet Tropics and the Outback, the Townsville region has a vibrant natural landscape, rich Indigenous history, beautifully preserved Federation architecture, a smattering of islands just off its coast, and a buzzy dining scene.
Townsville is often overlooked for its northern counterpart, Cairns, but this North Queensland town holds its own when it comes to holiday appeal. Experiencing the same tropical climate but with less rain, Townsville is the ideal sun-sand-and-sea holiday – one that is less crowded, affordable and oh-so-laidback.
Blessed with an abundance of natural wonders, adventurers are kept happy with ample outdoor pursuits from hiking (the city’s very own Castle Hill is a must-visit) to mountain biking and diving. It has a similar proximity to the Great Barrier Reef (with its own unique reef experiences) so is a great base for exploring this World Heritage Site.
You’ll find the main town centre is easily navigable on foot, and is incredibly family friendly with a host of playgrounds and open spaces for the little ones. Bonus? Its culinary scene, which has been boldly said could rival that of Melbourne’s.
The city has also upped its game in the accommodation stakes with the multi-million dollar revamp of its resort-casino, The Ville, which has a hip and happening Palm Springs/Miami vibe.
Townsville, it seems, is an all-round people-pleaser.
When to go
With 320 days of sunshine on average per year, there’s not really a bad time to visit Townsville. But if you’re averse to heat and humidity, it’s best to avoid summer months (December to February) when day temperatures can average between 29 and 31 degrees.
Winter months, June to August, are when you’ll be blessed with milder blue-sky days of 25 to 29 degrees and cooler nights. November through to April is cyclone season.
What to do there
Ten thousand steps a day will be cinch – with an enviable landscape ranging from cerulean waters to lush rainforest to vast outback plains, you won’t spend much of your time here indoors.
When you think of visiting the Great Barrier Reef, Townsville may not immediately come to mind, but it’s actually a great base with various ways to experience the reef, including world-class snorkelling and scuba diving options. And if you can’t get to the actual reef, Townsville has the next best thing: Reef HQ, the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium. It’s an absolute must while in town.
The Townsville coast is also dotted with islands to discover. Just 20 minutes from Townsville is Magnetic Island, a natural beauty boasting 23 beaches and bays and a plethora of wildlife. For something truly special, Orpheus Island is an exclusive resort just 30 minutes’ from Townsville (via helicopter) – you can visit on a day trip with Sealink if you’re not staying here.
History buffs can step back in time with these historic experiences around the city; families are covered with ample kid-friendly activities to keep young and old happy; and there’s a busy calendar of events to mark in your diary. Retail therapy is also sorted – we’ve put together this shopping guide to help.
If you’re still stuck for reasons to visit, check out this ultimate list of 100 things to do in Townsville.
Where to eat and drink
Townsville city’s dining precinct City Lane has a collection of trendy bars and eateries, such as Born Wild, the city’s first clean-eating restaurant; Donna Bionda, a cosy Italian bolthole; and Taphouse, a self-pour craft beer bar.
Bustling Palmer Street is all about international flavours, including the award-winning Jam Restaurant, and along The Strand, a two-kilometre waterfront promenade, you’ll find more laidback dining and open spaces for picnics and barbecues (including an excellent free water park for kids!).
When it comes to the most important meal of the day, Townsville has you covered with these top breakfast spots. So many choices, so little time? We’ve made it easier with this list of the hottest places to dine in the city.
North Queensland’s bounty of fresh produce is on display at Cotters Market (held every Sunday on Flinders Street) while The Strand Night Markets (held the first Friday of every month from February to December) features local food trucks.
Best day trips to take
Magnetic Island – or ‘Maggie’ as the locals like to call her – comprises more than 70 per cent national park, 20-plus bays and beaches, a large wild koala population and many walking tracks. Hire a classic moke or topless car to get around – it’s half the fun! While a day trip from Townsville is a no-brainer during your stay, you can easily spend 48 hours on Magnetic Island. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a family holiday.
Get outta town! Less than 90 minutes’ drive north of Townsville, you can experience a little slice of Italy at the town of Ingham, well known for its Italian population and influences (think pasta, gelato, espresso, oh my!) as well as its prolific birdlife and stunning natural scenery.
Drive one hour further west of Ingham (two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Townsville), and you’ll find the breathtaking Wallaman Falls, Australia’s highest single-drop waterfall.
World Heritage-listed Paluma Range National Park is the southern gateway to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, 90 minutes north-west of Townsville. Enjoy a rainforest walk, swimming holes, waterfalls, mountains and the historic town of Paluma.
You can also reach the outback in a day trip, 140 kilometres south-west of the city at Charters Towers – a town worth exploring for its history and authentic characters.
Where to stay
From cultivated couples to backpackers, Townsville has options for everyone.
Iconic casino-resort The Ville is a chic stay with fabulous dining and entertainment all rolled into one; Rambutan Resort is an upmarket backpackers (you read correctly) right in the CBD; while there’s various apartment options that are perfect for families such as Grand Hotel Apartments on Palmer Street.
If you’re planning on staying overnight at Magnetic Island, Peppers Blue on Blue Resort is a great stay located at the marina, while Leisure Island Resort is more geared to families with self-contained units at Nelly Bay.
If it’s a high-end experience you’re looking for, look no further than Orpheus Island Lodge, a beautiful island resort accommodating just 28 guests. It’s an all-inclusive stay – luxe accommodation, premium food offering and more – with the Great Barrier Reef at its doorstep.
Read this post for more on the accommodation offering.
Things you need to know
Heading to Wallaman Falls? Check out these tips on how to take the best photos.
If you hire a topless car on Magnetic Island, be sure to pack the sunscreen and a hat! The sun can be fierce but you may not feel it while driving with the wind in your hair.
Take a walk through Townsville’s hidden laneways to discover more than 20 vibrant commissioned street art murals by international artists and local talent. Grab a map from the visitor’s information centre.
If you’re heading to the reef, read all about Townsville’s secret reef experiences.