Golden sands, crashing waves, and endless sunshine make Gold Coast one of Australia’s premier vacation destinations. Sprawling for tens of miles along the southern shores of Queensland, the beach vibes of the Gold Coast are real. Start at Surfers Paradise, where the beach meets the city, and you’ll be awed by the sight of skyscrapers and high-rise apartments rising above the Pacific Ocean.
Head north, and you can explore the sand dunes of South Stradbroke Island. Head south, and there are endless beaches and surf spots reaching all the way to Point Danger on the New South Wales border.
With so many great things to do in Gold Coast, it’s no surprise that this has become Australia’s sun-soaked playground. There are beach bars and clubs, night markets and outback shows, and of course, theme parks and water parks.
There’s nature, too, and you can join whale-watching tours, visit the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, and head to Tamborine Mountain or Springbrook National Park in search of rainforests, glowworms, and waterfalls.
With so many things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. That’s why we decided to compile our list of the best things to do in Gold Coast for you. Stick to these fun and unique Gold Coast bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an incredible time exploring this beautiful part of Australia!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Gold Coast
1. Hit the beach at Surfers Paradise
The Gold Coast is all about the beaches, and there’s no better place to start than Surfers Paradise. This is the most iconic suburb on the Gold Coast, and we know you’re going to love spending the day at the beach here!
Surfers Paradise is the original Gold Coast suburb. This is where tourism first took hold along the Queensland coast, and from a sleepy surf village with a few beachside bungalows, Surfers Paradise has grown into a soaring beachfront metropolis.
Head down to the Esplanade, and you’ll have the Pacific Ocean to your east and the iconic high-rise skyline of Surfers Paradise to your west. You’ll be standing in the shadow of Q1, Australia’s tallest skyscraper, while Cavill Avenue is one of the busiest shopping streets in the country. There are pubs and museums, theme park rides and shopping malls, and the eccentric “Gold Coast Meter Maids” who ensure that no parked cars can receive a parking fine!
But best of all is the beach. Surfers Paradise Beach is a highlight of the Gold Coast, and you’ll love how the white sands are spectacularly framed by the skyscrapers behind. This is a classic Aussie beach, and you can spend the day basking in the sun and swimming in the ocean.
2. Surf the waves of the Gold Coast
One of the best Gold Coast activities is surfing. And with tens of miles of coastline at your disposal, there’s no better place in Queensland for a surf vacation than here!
There are beaches and surf spots for almost all abilities along the Gold Coast. If you’re a novice, then you can learn the basics and expand your skill set with the help of one of Gold Coast’s many surf schools. Head down south to Currumbin if you’re just starting off, where the beautiful but mellow waves of Currumbin Alley are a delight for beginners to surf.
Further south, at Rainbow Bay and Snapper Rocks, you’ll find bigger waves suitable for more experienced surfers, while in the north, the undeveloped beaches of South Stradbroke Island have always been a favorite surf spot.
Many of the beaches of Gold Coast are patrolled by lifeguards, and there are often dedicated surf zones that are marked out by flags. Don’t surf in the swimming zones, and try to brush up on your surfing etiquette before you jump into the ocean because, in peak season, the best surf spots are packed.
3. Take in the views from the SkyPoint Observation Deck
A trip to the top of the SkyPoint Observation Deck is one of the best things to do in Gold Coast. Located 230 meters above sea level, we know you’re going to love the sweeping views over the city!
The SkyPoint Observation Deck is found toward the top of Q1, one of the most iconic skyscrapers in the Gold Coast. Q1 rises to a total height of over 300 meters and has laid claim to the title of the tallest building in Australia for many years.
You’ll take the elevator to the 77th floor of Q1, where you’ll have uninterrupted views across the entirety of Gold Coast. High in the sky, you’ll be able to see for miles along the coastline, while looking inland, you’ll have brilliant vistas of the Gold Coast Hinterland.
If you’re feeling adventurous, then you can take on the SkyPoint Climb. This is Australia’s highest external building climb, and you’ll walk up to another viewing platform 270 meters above sea level. If you’re not quite up for that, then we’d recommend enjoying a few cocktails or a gourmet meal at the SkyPoint Bistro & Bar instead!
4. Take a boat cruise along the Nerang River
The Nerang River flows for 31 miles through the Hinterland until it reaches Gold Coast, where it empties into the Pacific Ocean by South Stradbroke Island.
Much of the river by the coast has been channeled into canals and waterways around which the skyscrapers and marinas of the Gold Coast have been built, making this a beautiful collision of nature and the urban.
The best way to explore the Nerang River is to join a boat cruise along the waterways. This is one of the best things to do in Gold Coast, and you’ll have a fantastic waterside view of the city’s famed skyline as you cruise through the canals.
Boat cruises regularly depart from the Nerang River by Surfers Paradise, lasting approximately 1.5 hours and featuring onboard commentary that delves into the local history and culture. You can choose from morning, afternoon, and sunset cruises, making this a beautiful way to explore the city!
5. Learn about local wildlife at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
The Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary was first established in 1947, and over 70 years later, it remains one of the top Gold Coast sightseeing attractions.
The sanctuary was originally founded as a bird sanctuary, attracting large numbers of local lorikeets, as well as other tropical birds, which still fly free around the outdoor park today. Over the decades, the sanctuary expanded to take in sick and injured wildlife and is now home to a vast number of indigenous species of birds and animals.
You can take a tour of the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital (book in advance) to see the important work carried out here first-hand. The sanctuary takes in and cares for wildlife from the Gold Coast areas, many of which are involved in road accidents or bushfires.
But there’s much more to see at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Every day, huge flocks of lorikeets fly through the sanctuary. Plus, you can walk through a preserved section of rainforest known as the Lost Valley, see unusual species of animal such as the cassowary, and enjoy unique experiences like the TreeTop Challenge and Breakfast with Koalas.
6. Join a Whale Watching Tour
From the end of May until the end of October, the waters of the east coast of Australia are teeming with whales. Tens of thousands of humpback whales make their annual migration north toward the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef, and along the way, they’ll stop off to feed and rest in places like Gold Coast.
Known as the Humpback Highway, the Pacific Ocean off the Gold Coast becomes one of the best places in the world to spot these beautiful marine mammals in their natural habitat. If you’re visiting in whale watching season, then you can join one of the daily tours that depart from Surfers Paradise and other locations along the coast.
You’ll cruise out into the Pacific, enjoying spectacular views of Gold Coast’s iconic high-rise skyline as the captain and crew keep watch for whales and dolphins in the water. During migration season, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll return to land without seeing a whale, but if you do, then the boat companies offer a complimentary return ticket, so you can come back and try again!
7. Pick up a bargain at the Carrara Markets
The Gold Coast has no shortage of shopping malls, designer shops, and boutique sales outlets, but we recommend heading to the Carrara Markets to find a more authentic and local shopping experience.
The Carrara Markets are the biggest markets on the Gold Coast. They’re only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 7 am until 3 pm, so make sure you time your visit right. You’ll find over 300 different stalls and stands open for business on weekends, with a unique choice of local products available to purchase.
The 300-plus stalls are spread out over 24 acres, and you can find everything from clothes stalls to jewelry stands. There’s a huge section devoted to local farm produce, including fruits and veggies and more artisanal products such as cheese and jams, as well as sections devoted to pets, plants, toys, antiques, and collectibles. There’s an extensive selection of cafes and food stalls, too, serving up great local eats when you’re feeling peckish.
It’s a fun day out for all. You can escape the high-end price tags of the beachside shopping malls and pick up a few bargain souvenirs at the Carrara Markets!
8. Explore the Gold Coast Hinterland with a trip to Tamborine Mountain
Gold Coast might be famous for its beaches, but look inland, and you’ll find that there are some incredible places to visit in the Hinterland.
Known affectionately as the “Green behind the Gold,” the Gold Coast Hinterland is home to rainforests, mountains, and national parks. For a taste of what the Hinterland has to offer, then we recommend visiting Tamborine Mountain, which is just a 45-minute drive from Surfers Paradise.
You’ll notice the temperature drop immediately because Tamborine Mountain is just over 500 meters above sea level. It’s a welcome respite from the heat of the Gold Coast, and with plenty of accommodation options, you may find yourself staying the night!
Tamborine Mountain is home to a small population of just 7,000 people, but there’s much to do in this small Hinterland town. Start by visiting the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk, where you can walk among ancient trees 30 meters above the ground.
Back at ground level, you can tackle the Rainforest Walk and visit the Botanic Gardens, or you can visit the local distilleries, breweries, wineries, and handicraft shops that make Tamborine Mountain such a pleasant place to explore.
9. Join a nocturnal glowworm tour
The Gold Coast Hinterland really comes alive once the sun has set over the mountains. The rainforest canopy reverberates with the sound of wildlife as nocturnal species awake from their daytime slumber. At the same time, a unique phenomenon appears, as glowworms light up the darkness.
Glowworms are an unusual type of beetle that literally glow in the dark, and they can be found in large numbers and in many locations around Tamborine Mountain. You can visit the Underground Glow Worm Caves for a guaranteed sighting (as it’s a cave, the glowworms can be seen during the day), but bear in mind that this conservation sight isn’t natural.
We suggest joining a nocturnal glowworm tour instead. You’ll be led, after dark, on a rainforest walk around Tamborine Mountain by a local guide. The glowworms are often spotted at Curtis Falls, but even if they aren’t around, you’ll have an amazing time spotting all sorts of other nighttime creatures in the rainforest!
10. Experience the Australian Outback Spectacular Show
The Australian Outback Spectacular Show brings the Aussie Outback to the tropical shores of Queensland. This unique dinner show is cheesy, it’s loud, and it’s exciting, making this one of the most fun things to do in Gold Coast!
The immersive show takes place in a purpose-built arena that’s kitted out with high-tech lighting, visuals, and projection mapping that vividly recreates the sights and sounds of the Aussie Outback.
The story is as immersive as the effects, and you’ll be following the two main characters (Reg and Marge) as they forge a living on a remote farm in distant Australia. As the show unfolds around you, you’ll discover a newfound appreciation for the hard environment that many endure in the Outback, but you’ll also come to appreciate the community spirit and camaraderie that’s born on Australia’s farmsteads.
The story is called the “Heartlands,” and it’s guaranteed to not only entertain you but to move you with its twists and turns and unlikely happenings. You’ll be served a three-course meal and drinks while the story unfolds before you, and it’s perfect for friends, family, or a date night. If you really love the show, then you can even book a backstage tour to see how the entertainment and effects are choreographed!
11. Chase waterfalls in Springbrook National Park
One of the best places to visit in the Gold Coast Hinterland is Springbrook National Park, a beautiful protected area that you’ll find just an hour’s drive south of Surfers Paradise.
Springbrook National Park is a vast conservation area just north of the border with New South Wales, and while it’s covered in rainforest and dotted with mountain peaks and plateaus, it’s the waterfalls that really bring in the visitors.
Springbrook National Park is the perfect place for chasing waterfalls. If you’ve got the time and the fitness, then the 10-mile-long Warrie Circuit leads you through ancient rainforest and canyons to six different waterfalls. The walk to Purling Brook Falls is much shorter but equally spectacular, with just a few miles of trails leading to a 100-meter-tall waterfall that crashes through the trees.
The most famous waterfall in Springbrook National Park is Natural Bridge Falls. This unique rock formation has been shaped over millennia by cascading water. The waterfall tumbles through a dark cave where glowworms light the darkness, making this a unique natural spot to visit!
12. Join a jet ski safari to South Stradbroke Island
To the north of Surfers Paradise and just meters away from the Spit, you’ll find South Stradbroke Island, a conservation area that’s known for its wild nature and wild wallabies.
Despite being very close to the mainland, access to South Stradbroke Island is deliberately difficult in order to protect the unique ecosystem. You can’t drive here in your own vehicle, and so the only way to reach the island is by private boat or water taxi, by kayaking or paddleboarding, or by joining a guided jet ski safari!
Jet ski safaris are by far the most exciting way to explore South Stradbroke Island. You’ll depart from Gold Coast, then speed your way north along the coast. Once you reach the island, you’ll continue along the shore, stopping off at white sand beaches and sand dunes and watching for wallabies and birds on land and turtles and dolphins in the water.
There are campsites on South Stradbroke Island if you’d love to spend a rustic night in the wild, and many of the tour operators (including the jet ski safari operators) can arrange an extended overnight stay on the island.
13. Spend a day at a Gold Coast Theme Park
The Gold Coast is like Florida, California, and Las Vegas all rolled into one. There are casinos, beaches and surfing, and there are theme parks!
If you’re looking for a thrill or if you’re planning a great family day out, then you picked the right place for a vacation. Gold Coast is known as Australia’s “Theme Park Capital,” and you’re going to find it hard to narrow down your choices.
Movie fans will want to book tickets for Warner Bros. Movie World, where you can ride roller coasters like the Superman Escape, hang out with Batman, and meet timeless characters like Bugs Bunny. At Wet’n’Wild you can spend a day on the lazy river or tackle water slides and rapids at Australia’s biggest water park, while WhiteWater World offers a similar action-packed day out of slides and rapids!
Next to WhiteWater World, you’ll find Dreamworld, one of Australia’s most beloved and biggest theme parks. Dreamworld offers thrilling roller coasters, vertical drop rides, wildlife encounters, and much more for all of the family.
14. Have a night out on the Gold Coast
Gold Coast is a destination that has it all. There are family attractions, beaches, wildlife, entertainment, and nights out.
Gold Coast has some of the best nightlife in Queensland, but you’ll be surprised to find that it’s not all beer drinking and pub crawling. Gold Coast has a night out for everyone!
Yes, there are the classic Aussie-style pubs and backpacker bar crawls, there are the clubs and shooter bars, and of course, there’s the casino.
But there are also chic cocktail lounges, comedy clubs, and live music nights. Head down to the Esplanade in the evenings, and the beachfront is lined with market stalls and street food vendors. There are gourmet restaurants that are all perfect for a romantic evening out, and there are classic entertainment shows like the Australian Outback Spectacular!
15. Take in the views at Point Danger
Follow the coast south from Surfers Paradise to Coolangatta, and you’ll come to the end of the Gold Coast. You can drive or cycle, enjoying mile upon mile of coastline along the way, and when you get to the end of the Gold Coast, you’ll find yourself at Point Danger.
Point Danger marks the southern extremity of Queensland. Walk along Boundary Street, and you can stand in New South Wales, then hop back across the border and you’re in Queensland. From Point Danger – a scenic headland jutting out into the Pacific Ocean – you can see the skyscrapers of Surfers Paradise in the distance.
Look out to sea, and you’ll be gazing at the spot passed by Captain Cook two centuries ago when HMS Endeavour traversed the coastline. They named Point Danger for obvious reasons: it’s a rocky, dangerous place to sail a ship! Check out the Captain Cook memorial and lighthouse, then make your way back north along the Gold Coast.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Gold Coast. What’s your favorite thing to do in Gold Coast?
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