No matter if you’re just planning on stopping into Townsville as part of a road trip up (or down) the east coast of Australia, or visiting it as a destination all on its own, the regional city has plenty to offer!
The unofficial capital of North Queensland (not to be mistaken for Far North Queensland), Townsville’s tropical climate, as well as its location alongside the world’s largest coral reef the Great Barrier Reef, makes it one of several popular travel destinations along the northeastern coastline of Australia.
Fun Fact: Townsville is the fourth largest population of any Queensland city. So it might be bigger than you think.
Nestled between a World Heritage Listed rainforest and reef, Townsville averages 300 days of sunshine per year making it a popular destination year-round.
Over the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to have travelled to Townsville many times, and I’ve only ever seen it rain there once.
In that time I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks, and some important information that will help you make the most of your time in Townsville as soon as you arrive.
Townsville is located in Northern Queensland, 1300km’s north of Brisbane and 350km’s south of Cairns
Townsville is roughly 1300km’s north of Brisbane, easily accessible with a couple of hour flight from the Queensland capital. Alternatively, a more scenic option is to drive along the Bruce Highway, which will take you at least two days.
Townsville is roughly 350km’s south of Cairns, there are a couple of flights that operate between the two cities. But it’s just as easy to drive between the two cities, it’ll take you about 4 hours along the Bruce Highway if you are in a rush.
The Best Things To Do In Townsville
While Townsville doesn’t quite have the same touristy reputation as either the nearby (relatively) Cairns or Airlie Beach, it still has a tonne of attractions.
Let’s go through my best picks of things to see and do while you are in 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.
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
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.
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
How would you like to get a glimpse into the Great Barrier Reef without getting your feet wet?
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
Best Places To Stay In Townsville
Much like most of the towns and cities along the northeastern coast of Queensland, Townsville is a tourist town, albeit not to the same extent as say, Cairns.
Townsville is well set up with a good variety of accommodation options from backpacker through to luxury spread out all over the city. However, in my experience, there are a couple of areas that are better suited to help you make the most of your time while you are in the regional city.
It stands to reason that the hotels near the water, particularly on the beach and along the river are going to be the nicer, yet more expensive options.
Along Palmer Street, you will find a tourist hub with a good selection of mid to high-end brand-name hotels, as well as restaurants etc.
In this part of Townsville, I would recommend Rydges Southbank Townsville. It’s centrally located within walking distance of the CBD and most rooms either have a view over the city or the marina. Grand Hotel and Apartments Townsville is also a good option nearby.
If you are looking for something a little cheaper, there are a few reasonably priced options across the city including a couple of backpacker hostels.
On the more price-conscious side of things, I would recommend Summit Motel as a good comfortable and quiet option closer to the CBD while Motel on Mitchell is great if you would prefer to stay closer to The Stand.
While Q Express on the outskirts is often a bit cheaper again, but you will need your own transport. And if you are really on a budget, the Reef Lodge Backpackers is the best of the backpacker options right in the heart of the action.
That said, a lot of people choose to stay on Magnetic Island instead of in the city itself.
If you are looking to do the same, then I would suggest the Grand Mercure Apartments Magnetic Island for a bit of luxury. However, you can certainly get the resort-style feel for a bit cheaper by staying at the Arcadia Village Motel instead.
The Best Time Of Year To Visit Townsville
With an advertised 300 days of sunshine, Townsville is a year-round destination.
That said, the city does sit inside the tropics. So it is susceptible to tropical storms, including cyclones that do frequent the northern parts of Australia during the summer months. Which is better known as the wet season locally.
So the most ideal time of year to visit Townsville is between May and September. Especially as an escape from the cooler winter months in the southern parts of Australia.
Getting To The City From Townsville Airport
Townsville is one of those places that is quite easy to get around, both within the heart of the city as well as on Magnetic Island.
Once you start looking beyond that, having your own transport is going to make your time in Townsville so much easier, but we’ll get to all that shortly. So obviously, my first recommendation is that you consider renting a car to get to and from the airport. It’ll also allow you to hit the ground running when you arrive in Townsville.
All of the major car rental companies are represented at the Airport, making it super convenient.
That said, if you are staying on Magnetic Island just looking to spend time within the heart of Townsville, then your cheapest option will be Townsville Shuttle Services. The bus service is just $10 (each way) servicing several hotels in and around the city as well as the Sealink/Magnetic Island Ferry terminal. Ideal if you are travelling by yourself.
Alternatively, Townsville Airport is really well set up for both taxi and ride-sharing services including Uber.
If you are looking for a taxi, there is a taxi rank located right out the front of the arrivals end of the terminal. While there is also a dedicated ride-sharing collection point next to the rental car parking. Both are well signposted; just look out for the signs.
Obviously, prices vary depending on where you are staying in or around Townsville but expect to spend about $20 on either a taxi/Uber ride each way from the airport.
How To Get Around Townsville
If you like walking, then Townsville is a pretty simple place to get around if you want to stick to the confines of the CBD and The Strand.
Obviously, the famously good weather makes it ideal for getting outside, but there are also well laid out footpaths and pedestrian bridges that interlink the centre of the city, making it really convenient.
If you are feeling adventurous, there are also electric scooters available for rent all over the city to take advantage of all the walkways.
Beyond that, Townsville also offers a public bus service, run by Sunbus/TransLink, that operates both around the city and on Magnetic Island as a cheap alternative.
As with most public transport options, I tend to find the routes and timetables a bit restrictive and on the days that are particularly hot and humid, having the ability to drive yourself around does come in really handy.
Getting Beyond The City
Once you start to look at some of the attractions that Townsville has to offer beyond the CBD and the waterfront, then I would strongly suggest that you look at renting a car.
Townsville’s CBD is quite small, but the suburbs are spread out far and wide from the city. This also means that some of the key attractions, particularly the natural ones, are a fair distance away from the center of the city.
Having your own wheels and being about to move around at your own pace is very important to make the most of your time in Townsville.
One good thing about Townsville is that the majority of parking is free, the exception being in the CBD area, so you can avoid any surprise costs. Also, they don’t have any toll roads.
Getting over to Magnetic Island is also straightforward with the regular SeaLink ferry services across to the island each and every day.
And for more information on where the bus services can get you, visit the TransLink website.
Where To Find Food In Townsville/What To Do In The Evenings
Being a military and tourist city, Townsville has plenty going on to keep you fed and entertained into the evenings. Especially on the weekends!
If you are looking for something a little more low-key, your best bet will be to head towards The Strand, particularly around Gregory Street.
In this part of Townsville, you’ll find a variety of cafes, restaurants (including takeaways) and casual pubs. Ideal for either a quick bite to eat or a quieter night.
Within the CBD, especially around Flinders and Sturt streets, is another good place to look for restaurants and pubs options. There is absolutely something for everyone in this part of Townsville. It’s also where you will find the Cowboys Leagues Club (the local football team club) with its own bar and restaurant options.
If you are looking for something a little more unique, keep an eye out for City Lane and City Arcade (which run parallel to each other between Flinders and Sturt). The boutique-style bars and restaurants in these two laneways are some of the most popular that Townsville has to offer.
On the hunt for something a little cheaper, especially backpacker-style food options, follow Flinders Street back towards the beach. There are some really good and cheap takeaway options along this stretch.
This stretch of Flinders Street is also where you will find a good variety of bars and nightclubs to kick on into the evening.
If you are looking for something truly unique to do in Townsville, how about heading to North Queensland Stadium (also known as Queensland Country Bank Stadium) for a North Queensland Cowboy’s NRL match?
This brand new state-of-the-art stadium is also due to host major international sporting matches in the not too distant future.
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.