Your Ultimate Guide to Wollongong
15th July 2020
Wollongong in a nutshell
The coastal town of Wollongong can be found south of Sydney, along the Grand Pacific Drive. Dotted with rock pools, surfing beaches and secluded coves and surrounded by forests and rocky cliffs, Wollongong is a real gem on the NSW coastline. This picturesque hub south of Sydney has some of the most gorgeous beaches around, is packed with culture and is wonderfully lively and spirited due to its large student population. Inside the city of Wollongong – the 10th largest city in Australia – find quirky bars and cosy cafes, vibrant nightlife and multiple festivals throughout the year.
The perfect weekend getaway from Sydney
Driving from Sydney to Wollongong takes approximately 1.5 hours, making a day trip totally feasible. However, a night stay is far more relaxing and plus, there’s a whole plethora of things to do in Wollongong. You certainly won’t be able to see everything in just one day. Lots of attractions, activities, beaches, restaurants and cafes, adventures and much more, make this New South Wales city much more than a day-trip destination.
If you’re looking for an escape from the city this year, Wollongong offers just about anything and everything you’d want from a NSW Weekend Escape. Select your Wollongong accommodation, and head south. Getting to Wollongong is a breeze. As for the rest, this Ultimate Guide to Wollongong has got you covered. Below, find the best things to do in Wollongong. Also find the best things to see, eat and drink.
To discover our recommendation for accommodation in Wollongong, scroll to the bottom of this Ultimate Guide and click the link to reveal our top choice!
Things to do in Wollongong
Visit a handful of beaches
The beaches in Wollongong are some of New South Wales’ best kept secrets. Think of your favourite Sydney beaches, minus the crowds. North Beach and Wollongong City Beach are the most popular beaches. Heading just a little north of Wollongong, Bulli also offers spectacular beaches and ocean views. Bulli Beach as well as Sandon Point Beach are both perfect options, meanwhile Thirroul Beach is where you’ll find the surf. Stanwell Park Beach is a stunning location to spend the day; steep cliffs and hills covered in greenery frame your turquoise ocean views. Stanwell Park – a reserve by the edge of the sand – offers BBQs as well as a grassy spot for picnics.
Wollongong is also famous for its ocean pools. There are around twelve of them scattered along the rocky Wollongong coastline. Coalcliff is a very pretty location to take a dip, meanwhile Thirroul has a free Olympic-sized ocean pool great if you’re looking to get some exercise. Wombarra has secluded hidden baths great for some peace and quiet. If it’s more about the ocean views, the ocean pool at Austinmer offers panoramic ocean views and is arguably the most stunning location.
Take a dip in a salt lake
Whilst the ocean is absolutely the main feature, you’ll also find other places to go swimming in Wollongong. Lake Illawarra, a huge saltwater lake just outside of the city is a wonderful location to do some sailing, kayaking and water-skiing. It’s equally enjoyable to visit for the day and relax with a backdrop of the lake A boat and catamaran rental is close by and a path which follows the waters edge is available for cyclists and pedestrians. A few children’s playgrounds are also scattered around.
Go surfing in Wollongong
Surfing is one of the best things to do in Wollongong. Life in this coastal town is built around what’s happening at the beach, making it quintessentially Australian. It’s the perfect place to learn to surf (check out AST Surf School), or to jump right in if you’re a seasoned surfer. When conditions align here, you can find some of the best surfing in New South Wales. At Sand Point, long powerful waves of impressive sizes can be found, especially during winter.
Alternatively, Windang Island, south of Port Kembla is one of the regions premier big-wave locations. Windang Island might not be the best location for beginners, but if you’re well practised then you’ll love it here. Pop down to the beach and have a go at surfing in Wollongong during your trip from the city. Not only will you get a good workout but also a revitalising dose of fresh sea air.
Explore a temple
This one may surprise you a little. Wollongong is home to the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. NanTien Temple – also known as “Southern Paradise” – is a striking building in the city and tourists are welcome to walk through and enjoy the serene setting. A programme at the temple, including a variety of activities such as meditation, excursions, seminars and retreats are all on offer and open to anyone who wants to get involved. To finish off your trip to NanTien Temple, drop by the cafe on site and enjoy some tasty food and hot teas.
Take a quick stroll
Escaping the city and heading to the seaside town of Wollongong naturally lends itself to some exploration on foot. You are very much spoiled for choice for trails and walking tracks in and around the town. For a quick stroll, head to Belmore Basin and check out the Wollongong harbour. Walk along the coast to Stuart Park to admire the ocean views and catch a glimpse of the famous Wollongong Lighthouse.
At Sublime Point, find the walking track and head upwards on a 45-minute track to discover the best views around. Surrounded by thick forest most of the way, at the top you’ll come to an amazing open space. Gaze down towards the town across greenery and vibrant colours.
Hike to a waterfall
If you’re into hiking, you’ll find the track to Kelly’s Falls opposite the Sri Venkateswara Temple. This unknown hike is stunning but make sure you take your swimmers and wear hiking boots. Don’t take kids as there’s a tricky bit of rock climbing along the way to get to the bottom. Finally, for something a little more challenging, you might want to opt for the hike to Kelly’s Falls. With the trail starting opposite Sri Venkateswara Temple, walk upwards climbing steep hills. Discover the occasional rock climbing obstacle on the way. If you do want to try out this hike, make sure not to bring young children and definitely bring your hiking boots. Waiting at the top, you will find a beautiful waterfall where you can rest and enjoy the scenery, before descending.
Take the children to Jamberoo Action Park
Not far from Wollongong, Jamberoo Action Park is a spot ideal for families with kids. One of the largest theme parks in New South Wales, the park offers mini-golf, slides, wave pools, waterslides, and much more. The recreation park is ideal for children of all ages and it’s likely parents will also enjoy it too.
Visit Symbio Wildlife Park
For a family day trip that’s a little more educational, opt for a visit to Symbio Wildlife Park. Located north of Wollongong, the park provides visitors with closeups of native Australian animals, as well as others such as tigers, meerkats, red pandas and tamarin monkeys. Symbio Wildlife Park is nestled within 16 picturesque acres of manicured, greenery and gardens. Animal experiences and interactions are available, and a petting zoo with farm animals is also on site.
Drive across Sea Cliff Bridge
South of Sydney at the entrance of the Royal National Park, Grand Pacific Drive lines the dramatic coastline. Passing through thick rainforests and quaint seaside villages, the road meanders along the coast. On the way, the iconic Sea Cliff Bridge stands above the sea, next to cliff faces, and links coastal villages of Coalcliff and Clifton. This famous bridge is the second most photographed in New South Wales. If you have the time, park your car and find a viewpoint for a different perspective. Climb up to Bald Hill Lookout for spectacular views of the bridge, nestled within the jagged rocks. It’s a pretty amazing sight at sunset.
Learn a little at the Wollongong Science Centre
In terms of things to do when its raining in Wollongong, a trip to the Science Centre is ideal – especially if you’re on holiday with the kids. Hands-on exhibits and interactive experiences will immerse you in the best of science at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus. Free shows at the planetarium and diverse exhibits make this place an attractive option for rainy days.
Stroll through Wollongong Botanic Gardens
Catch Wollongong Botanic Gardens on a beautiful New South Wales sunny day and you’ll revel in the natural beauty. Visit and explore the open spaces of gardens, learn a little about conservation and take in the pretty surroundings. Follow a selection of paths through gardens representing different regions, or take a guided walk to broaden your knowledge of Australian flora. Occasionally, a sunset cinema is hosted here. There’s no better spot for it. Learn some things about sustainable living, or simply lap up the tranquil environment at Wollongong Botanic Gardens. If you’re looking for peace, quiet and a dose of nature, you’ll certainly find it here amongst the vibrant colours of the gardens.
Take a walk through Minnamurra Rainforest
At Budderoo National Park, cascading waterfalls and viewpoints with exquisite rainforest views are abundant. Inside the national park at Minnamurra Rainforest Centre, staff can tell you about the surrounding rainforest environment and will be available to give you information to help you explore. Wander throughout a series of elevated walkways through the rainforest landscape and soak up the sounds and sights of the exotic environment. Flourishing with plants and buzzing with the sounds of animals and birds, the rainforest of excellent for those with an interest in wildlife. Waterfalls that give off misty water droplets give the rainforest a tropical feel. This has to be one of the best things to do in Wollongong if you’re after an escape from the city.
Check out Helensburgh Tunnel
A visit to Helensburgh Tunnel has also become one of the most famous and best things to do in Wollongong during a weekend escape to the coast. Constructed in the 1800’s, the tunnel is nestled between tow rock faces and is home to abundant glow worms! With the tunnel currently fenced-off, you can still walk along the track towards the tunnel to capture a great shot or just explore some of the surrounding Helensburgh area.
Find Kiama Blowhole
Another of the slightly unusual things to do in Wollongong, is to drive towards Kiama to see the famous blowholes. Drawing in almost a million tourists every year, Kiama Blowhole is about 30 minutes south of of Wollongong. This one is the largest of its kind in the world. Stand on the viewing platform and catch a glimpse of the blowhole which emits spectacular plumes of water in certain ocean conditions. Formed by volcanic lava flows about 260 million years ago, today, the force of the ocean causes this natural wonder.
Buy some local produce at one of the local Wollongong Markets
Souvenirs, gifts, local produce, tasty treats, roasted coffee beans and arts and crafts; markets in Wollongong have it all. Eat Street Markets on Thursday nights between 5pm and 9pm mustn’t be missed. Passionate local producers and hungry customers all meet here on Thursday to chat, relax and indulge on tasty local treats. Products are almost exclusively organic, seasonal and local. Grab a hot meal, soak up the atmosphere of the local community and wander around the night market until you just can’t eat any more. On a Friday, the Forage Market offers food stalls as well as jewellery, art, hand-made soaps, clothing and much more. Open from 9am until 3pm, the Forage Market is a great option during a trip to Wollongong over a long weekend.
Experiences in Wollongong
Wollongong from above
Wollongong is absolutely one of the most beautiful places to have a go at Paragliding. Undulating topography, sea views and hilly rainforest backdrops guarantee the ultimate paragliding experience. At Adventure Plus Paragliding, you can fly over Stanwell Tops, looking out across the ocean. You certainly won’t forget this.
Equally suited to the Wollongong landscape is skydiving. If it’s an adrenaline rush you’re after, skydiving might be for you, and from this height you’ll see even more. Catch a glimpse of mountains, ocean, rainforest and the gorges of the Great Dividing Range in NSW all from a bird’s-eye view.
Illawarra Fly treetop Walk
For those of us who like to stay a little closer to the ground, 35 minutes from Kiama you can walk amongst the trees and zip-line from the rainforest canopy. For the ultimate rainforest experience, sunset and sunrise experiences are also on offer. Glide through the lush rainforests, take an elevated walkway just beneath the canopy at 50-metres high, and soar above the ground on the highest zip line tour in Australia. Coastal views can also been seen from the highest points. When it comes to things to do in Wollongong, this is a pretty awesome option.
Restaurants and cafes in Wollongong
Cafes in Wollongong
Comprised of bare bricks and flooded with arty vibes, Lee and Me is one of the best cafes in Wollongong. Set within a terrace house from the 1890’s, the establishment serves up delicious modern Australian brunches and lunches on the main street in Wollongong. Owned by a husband and wife duo, the place has a friendly and casual atmosphere.
Diggies, in North Beach, is another fantastic option when it comes to cafes in Wollongong. A real Aussie beach culture is felt here and paired with tasty food and an impressive selection of cocktails. Brunch fans will enjoy the fresh, seasonal menu and the views of the ocean are to die for. Transforming from a kiosk in the 1930’s, Diggies is now a family favourite cafe in the town.
Restaurants in Wollongong
Views to die for can be found at the Scarborough Hotel. If you’re visiting Wollongong, you absolutely have to drop by for a drink. The Scarborough Hotel boasts a striking sea cliff beer garden located on the stunning north Illawarra coast. Sensational views across the ocean can be enjoyed here with a glass of wine or local craft beer. In terms of food, the restaurant at The Scarborough Hotel offers fresh seafood and a handful of high-quality classics. One of the best restaurants in Wollongong area – particularly when it comes to setting – The Scarborough Hotel could easily become a place to spend a whole afternoon.
For those of us foodies looking to treat ourselves to a fine-dining experience, Altitude 1148 provides guests with delectable cuisine with gorgeous seafront views. Contemporary food with a hint of Indian spice and fresh seafood is the general theme here. Also available are coffees or light snacks with a view through floor-to-ceiling glass doors. Alternatively, Rookie is a fine-dining restaurant offering contemporary cuisine in a white-washed setting. Showcasing the best of Australian produce, the general aim at Rookie is to portray to guests the very unique culture of Australian cuisine. An on-site herb garden provides the restaurant with a range of fresh indigenous and introduced herbs.
Book your trip to Wollongong
Only just over an hour from Sydney, Wollongong is a haven for natural beauty, exquisite restaurants and endless activities. So close to Sydney, a trip here might just be the perfect New South Wales Weekend Escape. Looking for hotels in Wollongong? Take a look at our recommendation. Get your choice of accommodation in Wollongong just right.
The Mantra is located centrally; surrounded by shops, the Wollongong Botanic Gardens and and other Wollongong attractions right in the heart of the seaside city. With rooms as well as apartments on offer, the hotel offers pretty much everything you could want from a hotel. Opt for a double room if you’re after a chic and comfortable place to sleep during an active weekend exploring the town. Alternatively, if you’re seeking a place to kick back, go for a one or two bed Deluxe Apartment. Balconies with spectacular views and clean, crisp furnishings make this option absolutely perfect for long lazy beach weekends.
Grab yourself a cosy room or spacious apartment at The Mantra in Wollongong this winter and spend a weekend exploring this heavenly coastal region.