Townsville, Queensland – Everything You Must See And Do

While Townsville might not have the same touristy reputation as either nearby Cairns or Airlie Beach, that doesn’t mean it’s short of its own attractions.

Often underrated, Townsville is a dynamic city on the tropical northeastern coast of Australia. Surrounded by some of the most amazing natural wonders Queensland has to offer.

So what is there to see and do in Townsville? Let’s take a look at the must do’s:

The Strand

The Strand, Townsville

The Strand is a great place to start your time in Townsville.

This long stretch of the foreshore area is nestled between the beach and the road named The Strand is home to a number of Townsville’s public attractions.

While The Strand has been around since the mid-1860s, it was completely redeveloped in 1999 following significant damage due to a tropical cyclone in 1998, into the popular public space we can experience today.

The green space not only offers stunning views across the water to Magnetic Island but also towards Castle Hill which dominates the skyline in the other direction. Both are key attractions in their own right which we’ll get to later in this post.

The Strand’s parkland area is a popular spot for both locals and tourists to take a stroll, while there are a number of public spaces to take advantage of.

You might also find art installations in The Strand from time to time.

Both the ANZAC Memorial and Tobruk Memorial Baths pay tribute to the military history of the city, which can be further explored in the Jezzine Barracks, which we’ll get to shortly.

If you are travelling with kids, there is a small park at the southern end of The Strand and a larger man-made protected pool area on the northern end, known as The Strand Rockpool. There are also a couple of playground areas and an outdoor basketball court.

Pro Tip: When it comes to swimming at any of Townsville’s beaches, stick to the patrolled beaches. Particularly along The Strand. The patrolled beaches have protection in place against stingers (jellyfish) as well as advanced warnings of crocs (saltwater crocodiles) in the water nearby.

Not that I’m trying to scare you out of swimming in the water; just note that stingers are seasonal and crocs only make occasional appearances.

If all that is a bit too much, you can enjoy most of what the stand has to offer on the other side of the road which is lined with cafes, bars and restaurants.

Jezzine Barracks

Jezzine Barracks, Townsville

While you are up at the northern end of The Strand, it’s also worth walking up the hill to check out the Jezzine Barracks on the Kissing Point headland.

The Jezzine Barracks is a spot of both Australian military and local Aboriginal significance. This heritage precinct is almost an extension of The Strand and is also free for you to roam around and explore with boardwalks, and lookouts in and around this military fortification built during World War 2.

The precinct pays special tribute to the military, with plenty of artwork and information boards to let you know more about the history of this part of Townsville.

If you would like to get a much better understanding of the military history of the area, which even to this day has a significant Australian Army presence, then stop into the Jezzine Barracks Military Museum/Army Museum North Queensland.

The museum operates on a limited schedule, only open until lunchtime on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays as it is run by volunteers.

But it gives a really in-depth insight into Townsville’s military history as well as Australia’s involvement in conflict around the world, including when that conflict made it to Australian shores.

Best of all the Army Museum North Queensland is free to enter and well worth a quick visit if you happen to be in the area when it’s open.

Jezzine Barracks also offers stunning views out over the water to both the harbour and Magnetic Island.

Museum of Tropical North Queensland

Museum of Tropical North Queensland, Townsville

For a change of pace, and to get a good overview of North Queensland as a whole, head to the Museum of Tropical North Queensland.

It’s not the sort of museum that you will spend a full day in, but you could easily spend a couple of hours in air-conditioned comfort (just in case it’s too hot in Townsville), discovering much more about the history of Townsville.

Of particular interest is the shipwreck of HMS Pandora exhibit. In short, the Pandora was sent to capture the HMS Bounty and her mutinous crew from Tahiti but hit the Great Barrier Reef and sank during its return journey in 1791.

Obviously, there is a fair bit to the story, but the museum now holds a number of artifacts recovered from the wreck which remained undiscovered for 186 years. If any of that grabbed your interest, then a visit to the Museum of Tropical North Queensland is a must.

If you’d like to learn more about World Heritage-listed tropical rainforest and reefs that this part of North Queensland is known for, the museum also features a great exhibit showcasing the local flora and fauna from the region. Starting from the pre-historic times through to the modern era.

In addition, there is a whole bunch of extra fun stuff to keep kids entertained if you are travelling as a family.

SS Yongala

Speaking of shipwrecks, the wreck of the SS Yongala is very popular if you happen to be a PADI-certified driver.

Located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, this is Australia’s largest and most intact historic shipwreck attracting 10,000 visitors each year.

A very abbreviated version of the history of the ship is that the Yongala was en route between Melbourne and Cairns when sailed unaware into a cyclone and sank on 24 March 1911. You can find out more here.

Given that the wreck of the Yongala is inside the protected area of the reef, access is limited to authorised operators only. So, if you are considering a visit, you will need to organise a dive tour through a company like Yongala Dive.

Yongala Dive is located at Alva Beach, an hour’s drive south of Townsville.

Reef HQ Aquarium

Reef HQ Aquarium, Townsville

How would you like to get a glimpse into the Great Barrier Reef without getting your feet wet?

Update: As of July 2023, Reef HQ is closed and being rebuilt. I haven’t seen an update as to when the aquarium will re-open but progress was well underway on my most recent trip to Townsville.

The Reef HQ Aquarium is the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium. This open to the elements exhibit is its own living breathing ecosystem, showcasing the reef as it is in the wild.

It’s a really good opportunity to discover more about the coral reefs that the area is famous for without swimming, diving or even getting wet.

Even if you are planning on doing a cruise out onto the Great Barrier Reef while you are travelling through northern Queensland, the Reef HQ Aquarium is a good spot to learn more about it before you get there.

It’s also ideal to be able to discover some of the sea life that the reef is famous for, but is notoriously hard to spot in the wild.

The aquarium also runs a Sea Turtle hospital which cares for and rehabilitates these rare sea creatures. Take the opportunity to see these animals while they are being treated before they are let back out into the wild.

The Reef HQ Aquarium is well worth the price of admission to be able to see the reef ecosystem first-hand and learn more about the Great Barrier Reef even if you do plan on visiting the reef in your travels.

Billabong Sanctuary

This aptly named wildlife park is a fantastic opportunity to get up close to some of the local wildlife that is notoriously difficult to spot in the wild.

Billabong Sanctuary, which as the name suggests is centred around a billabong, is located just a 20-minute drive outside of Townsville.

The sanctuary is your best opportunity to be able to safely get up close with some of the unique local wildlife from the rainforests of the region, particularly Cassowaries and Crocodiles.

In addition, Billabong Sanctuary is also home to a number of other Australian animals including Kangaroos, Koalas, Dingos, and a variety of snakes and reptiles. Great for kids or if you haven’t stopped into this style of wildlife experience elsewhere in Australia.

The core of the Billabong Sanctuary experience is being able to get up close to as well as feed and interact with the animals, more so than other zoos and wildlife parks you might have already visited.

Keep an eye on the schedule as they hold a number of activity times throughout the day that are included as part of the ticket price.

Castle Hill

Castle Hill, Townsville

Dominating Townsville’s skyline, Castle Hill is the best vantage point to get a good lookout over the entire city and its surroundings.

There are two ways to get to the top, the quickest and easiest being driving up to Castle Hill’s main lookout area. Which is almost at the summit.

Just keep in mind that it is quite popular and the car park does fill up. That said there are a couple more car parks a bit further down the hill for a short-ish walk to the top.

However, if you are feeling super energetic, you can walk the entire way to the top. A popular workout amongst the locals, the hike to the top along the Goat Track is a great way to both get the heart pumping as well as take in the stunning views (more so on the way back down!)

I like to do the trail at least once each time I visit Townsville as a bit of personal challenge, and also gange my own fitness. The good part is that once you get to the top you’re rewarded with stunning views which make the effort all worthwhile, and it’s all downhill on the way back!

Pro Tip: Do yourself a favour and organise your trip to the top to be at the summit for sunset.

It’s a fantastic spot to watch the sun go down in the distance and witness the city and surroundings change from day to night. The view is spectacular, just watch out for the mozzies (mosquitos).

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island - Queensland

Located just off the coast of Townsville, Magnetic Island is its own natural wonder.

8km out to sea, the mountainous island has over half of its landmass protected as a National Park making it a sanctuary, particularly for the local birdlife and the large Koala population.

You can either visit Magnetic Island as a day trip as it’s only a 40-minute ferry ride away from Townsville. Or if you would really like to make the most of it, the island has its own tourism infrastructure, with hotels and resorts amongst the 4 villages on the island to allow you to explore the entire island at your own pace over a few days.

Magnetic Island is famous for its scenery with many walking/hiking trails covering the island. As well as its friendly Wallabies.

The most popular trail being the climb to the top of Mount Cook, where you can explore World War 2 forts and also check out the views over some of the secluded beaches and bays the island has to offer.

Make sure you pack the swimwear as well as you’ll definitely want to get out in the water to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef which the island is also part of.

Keep an eye out for the wreck of SS City of Adelaide which can be seen at low tide in Cockle Bay.

In short, Magnetic Island is a destination all on its own, with plenty to discover.

Bonus: Wallaman Falls

Wallaman Falls, Townsville

Now this one is a bit of a bonus because I can’t technically include it as part of Townsville as it is 160km’s away.

And while locals will say that Wallaman Falls is just up the road (what’s considered a reasonable drive is much broader in these remote parts of Australia), the little over 2-hour trip to see the falls is well worthwhile.

Located in the Girringun National Park, Wallaman Falls is the tallest single-drop waterfall in Australia.

I’ve dropped in and explored Wallaman Falls a couple of times, both as a day trip once out of Townsville as well as on the way to Cairns.

The waterfall is impressive from the lookout at the top is impressive, but to really appreciate the scale you will need to take the hike (3.2km return) down to the base of the falls. Just keep in mind that this is the rainforest and the hike down can be quite wet and muddy.

While the destination is great, also keep an eye out for the number of other waterfalls and features of the tropical rainforest along the way there (or back). I would strongly recommend checking out both Crystal Creek and Jourama Falls as well.

Pro Tip: If you are doing the trip out to Wallaman Falls as a day trip from Townsville, then the town of Ingham makes for an ideal spot to stop and get some lunch.

Just keep an eye out on your travels between Ingham and Wallaman Falls for cattle sleeping on the road. They will be fairly easy to spot, but just keep an eye out and always keep moving albeit slowly past them. While the ever-elusive Cassowary can also be seen from time to time along the route.

Save Money On Queensland Attractions

With so much to see and do, not only in Townsville but in Queensland as a whole, the admission to all these attractions can really add up. A great way to save money is to make sure you take advantage of the bundle ticket offers. 

Personally, I use the Queensland Klook Pass if I’m planning on visiting a few things while I’m in the state, but you can also find good deals on individual attractions as well.

Alternatively, you can also check out Get Your Guide and Viator to see if you can get a better deal on individual attractions and tours.

Townsville sunrise

Make sure you also read my ultimate guide to Townsville, covering everything else you need to know for your trip.

If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around Australia… Check out the rest of my blog posts.

Also, make sure you check out the travel tools that I use the most to help you save some money when booking your next trip.

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About the author

Rhys Vandersyde

Traveller, Photographer, Content Creator - I've spent the last 20 years actively seeking out new destinations and new adventures. Find out more about me here:

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