14 best things to do on the Gold Coast

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  • Post last modified:July 20, 2024
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The Gold Coast goes all out with seemingly never-ending beaches, laughter-evoking theme parks, palm-dotted shopping centres and ancient rainforests. After digging into our best things to do, you may even ask yourself why you ever would want to holiday anywhere else.

1. Embrace being a tourist at Surfers Paradise

“Touristy” takes a whole new level in Surfers Paradise, the Gold Coast’s holiday hub. Picture shiny hotel towers, big-chain restaurants, flashing signs, buzzing arcade halls and stores filled with things you don’t really need. Overlooking the craziness, the iconic Surfers Paradise arch is slightly awkwardly positioned next to the busy Esplanade, forcing you to watch out for traffic when getting that essential shot with the beach backdrop.

On that sand strip, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a local. Surrounded by bone-white sand, blue ocean and fellow visitors living their best lives sunbaking, swimming, surfing and playing volleyball, you actually won’t mind.

Woman in dress photographing the Surfers Paradise arch
Be a tourist in Surfers Paradise.

2. Set free your inner child at the theme parks

Fast or slow, wet or dry, exciting or cute — there’s a theme park experience for every mood on the Gold Coast. Here are the parks that should be on top of your list:

  • Dreamworld – With over 40 rides, from thrill to family, and a wildlife section home to creatures like kangaroos, koalas and even tigers, Australia’s biggest theme park ensures plenty of action for all ages.
  • WhiteWater World – Dreamworld’s wet (and seasonal) sister park invites you to escape the heat by sliding and splashing.
  • Warner Bros. Movie World – Movie-themed attractions get the adrenaline pumping with power and speed while childhood favorites, superheroes and supervillains cheerfully parade.
  • Wet’n’Wild – The most sprawling waterpark in Australia welcomes visitors to enjoy its wide-ranging slides, relaxing lazy river and laughter-evoking splash zone year round.
  • Sea World – It’s above all about the marine animals, ranging from polar bears and seals to sharks and turtles, but there are amusement rides and an aquatic zone where kids can get wet, too.
The palm-framed entrance to Sea World on the Gold Coast
Gold Coast — aka the theme park capital.

3. Marvel at sweeping views from the SkyPoint Observation Deck

Enter the express lift and travel to floor 77 of Surfers Paradise’s Q1 building, a journey lasting 43 seconds. At the observation deck, 230 m above sea level, million-dollar, 360-degree views of the Gold Coast and beyond await.

You need to be fairly wealthy to afford the admission fee of some $40. Add a casual meal at the top — breakfast, lunch or dinner — to extend the occasion and make it feel more worth your while.

Want to get the heart racing? Consider Australia’s highest external building climb, reaching all the way up to the spire on the roof, 270 m over the beach below.

People absorbing the view through the floor-to-ceiling windows at SkyPoint Observation Deck
Gaze across the Gold Coast from the Q1 Tower.

4. Spread your towel at Burleigh Beach

Venture away from Surfers Paradise to find a more manageable scale with smaller high rises and the local feel intact. At Burleigh Beach, white sand is framed by imposing rocky outcrops, setting a picture-perfect scene for beach days.

The namesake headland provides a corner where swimmers can seek respite from the largest waves. In the exposed waters off the rocks, surfers thrive. Just steps from the sand, Burleigh’s bubbling scene of cafes, restaurants and bars has you covered.

People enjoying Burleigh Beach, resting under the heights of the landmark Burleigh Head
Beautiful Burleigh Beach.

5. Appreciate stubborn Burleigh Head National Park

Surrounded by development, Burleigh Head National Park refuses to change. Uncover an ecosystem of eucalyptus, pandanus, rainforest, mangrove, heathland and tussock grassland framed by glistening beaches and the pounding Pacific.

From Burleigh Beach’s south, take the 1.2-km one-way Oceanview Track around the headland, admiring the waves crashing into the rocks below and keeping an eye out for lizards. As you reach protected Tallebudgera Creek, dip your feet in the water before returning back to the starting point via the Rainforest Circuit. Along the way, allow some extra time for the Tumgun Lookout, commanding brilliant vistas of the ocean and southern coastline. During the season, from June to October, breaching humpback whales might even pass by.

Two women admiring the view along the Oceanview Track in Burleigh Head National Park
Absorb the scenery along the Oceanview Track.

6. Sightsee on relaxing canals with Hopo

Forget heavy traffic and red lights. Embark on a ride with the hop-on-hop-off Gold Coast ferry (Hopo), connecting Surfers Paradise with Sea World, to rest your eyes on tranquil waterways while gaining area insights, spanning from the history to the wildlife. With some luck, spotting a dolphin can be the icing on the cake during the 2-hour loop.

7. Discover the Hinterland’s allure on Tamborine Mountain

Rainforests, waterfalls, wineries and villages come together on Tamborine Mountain, a hinterland plateau formed by lava some 20 million years ago.

Be mesmerized by the rainforest and waterfalls in Tamborine Mountain National Park. Leisurely wander along the Curtis Falls track (30 mins) or Witches Falls (1 h), listening to singing birds and soaking up the environment.

Celebrate the occasion with a wine tasting at nearby Witches Falls Winery. Or head straight to Tamborine Mountain’s focal point, the Gallery Walk, lined by atmospheric cafes and eclectic stores with everything from delicious fudge to cuckoo clocks.

Two couples watching the sunset from the Hang Glider Launch and Lookout on Tamborine Mountain
Love is in the air on Tamborine Mountain.

8. See a waterfall entering a cave in Springbrook National Park

Teeming with rare life, Springbrook and Lamington national parks are the main attractions in the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site protecting the world’s most extensive subtropical rainforest.

In Springbrook National Park, an hour from Surfers Paradise, stroll the well-maintained 1-km Natural Bridge circuit to, from several different vantage points, witness an enchanting waterfall cascading into an arched cave and, if you visit after dark, glow worms. Then, zoom out at the Best of All Lookout, living up to its name with Mount Warning backdropped by ocean blue.

9. Become a dedicated birdwatcher in Lamington National Park

A 1.5-hour drive from Surfers Paradise, the 1.8-km Centenary Track is an excellent introduction to Lamington National Park, and a birder’s paradise. Look for bucket-list species including yellow robins, rufous fantails, bowerbirds and logrunners, as well as — with its powerful, often mimicking voice — show-stealing Albert’s lyrebirds. For close-ups of the canopy, continue with the Tree Top Walkway at nearby O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat.

10. Shop until you drop at Pacific Fair

The shopping opportunities abound on the Gold Coast.

For the biggest selection, turn your attention to Broadbeach’s Pacific Fair, boasting 400-plus stores across two levels. Browse everything from household names, like Big W, Kmart and Target, to luxury labels, such as Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Bright open-air sections, lush greenery and rippling water features entice shoppers, adding a sophisticated feel.

Shoppers passing through and enjoying a bright open-air section at Pacific Fair
Delve into sprawling Pacific Fair.

11. Find bargains at Harbour Town

Prefer to hunt for branded bargains? Australia’s largest outlet centre, Harbour Town has over 200 stores with favorites including Adidas, Bonds, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. And because it’s an outdoor complex, you can relish the Gold Coast’s beautiful climate while shopping.

Majestic palm tree in the centre of the pathway outside stores at Harbour Town
Score sweet deals at Harbour Town.

12. Encounter the most vivid locals at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

Experiencing Australia’s beloved wildlife doesn’t have to involve a lengthy drive to a far-away corner or exhausting hiking. Kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, wombats, emus, crocodiles and lorikeets — to name a few — are waiting at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. An array of animal shows and ranger talks are included with admission; pay extra for a personal encounter or koala photo.

Colourful lorikeets in Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
Feed lorikeets in Currumbin.

13. Get some exercise along the Gold Coast Oceanway

A 36-km network of pathways, the Gold Coast Oceanway traces the coastline north from the New South Wales border. At the epicentre in Surfers Paradise, walkers, runners and bikers can enjoy views of skyscrapers on one side and the beach on the other. Providing a secluded contrast, the northernmost, unpaved stretch meanders along vegetated sand dunes to the tip of The Spit.

Paved, palm-lined stretch of the Gold Coast Oceanway on The Spit under a blue afternoon sky
Walk, jog, run or bike the Gold Coast Oceanway.

14. Witness unforgettable sunset colours from The Spit

To crown your Gold Coast day, make the pilgrimage to the northern end of The Spit, a permanent sand tongue surrounded by the Broadwater, the Pacific and the seaway connecting them. A breakwall and jetty provide plenty of opportunities to absorb the setting, including South Stradbroke Island across the seaway. Watch dogs playing on the beach, boats cruising through the seaway, fishermen trying their luck and the sun magnificently kissing the water’s surface while it slowly dips below the Hinterland.

Strayaguide's Marie sitting with a stroller and watching a golden sunset at The Spit
Marie watching the sunset at The Spit.

In case you wonder

What are the best free things to do on the Gold Coast?

Some of the best things in life are free, as shown by the Gold Coast. Beyond the many spectacular beaches and national parks at no charge, there are free daily lorikeet feedings at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Which are the best things to do on the Gold Coast for couples?

How about relaxing in the sand on Burleigh Beach, then hiking through the national park and exploring the local restaurant scene? For a lovely sunset spot, venture up to The Spit.

What to do in Gold Coast with kids?

The sheltered Tallebudgera Creek Beach is an excellent spot for safe splashing and swimming with family. To get close to native animals, make your way over to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.

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