Only one and a half hours west of Sydney is one of UNESCO: s World Heritage- listed areas to protect and preserve. For the adventurous, the nature lover and the historian, or for those who just want to get away from the big city life, Blue Mountains National Park is the perfect destination. The area is easily accessible with several transportation options and it offers a lot to see and do. The mountains have been named after the bluish haze that occurs when the Eucalyptus trees’ oil evaporates. The jagged mountains are embedded in soft tones of blue, which create a dramatic backdrop of the hilly national park.
The 1million-hectare sized area is dominated by forest. There are plenty of cascading waterfalls and high sandstone cliffs and rock formations. But also, deep ravines and a dense wilderness. It is particularly well suited for those who want to challenge themselves to test a new activity. You can learn the basics of rock climbing and swim through the ravines. Or follow a hiking trail and swim in one of the waterfalls. The possibilities are many, it is entirely up to you.
Blue Mountains have several sights and attractions, including the world’s steepest railway. The area is divided into villages with smaller towns. Up in the mountains are Katoomba, Leura, Wentworth Falls, Blackheath, Mount Victoria and Medlow Bath. In the lower mountains you will find Springwood and Glenbrook. In the towns of the larger villages of Katoomba and Leura, you can find cosy cafés, restaurants and old shops. There are also museums, parks, golf facilities and much more. When it comes to accommodation, you can get everything from cheap hostels to luxury spa hotels. If you want to get closer to the wilderness, there are also several camping opportunities in the area.
Blue Mountains is a historic place. There is evidence that the mountains were populated by Aboriginals already about 22,000 years ago. There is therefore much to see and learn about the Australian indigenous. In the 1800s, the European colonialists began populating the area and they built, among other things, Cox’s Road, which today is called the Great Western Highway. The settlement of Europeans had a large and negative impact on the indigenous, but even today some of their descendants live in the area surrounding the Blue Mountains. There is the possibility to be guided by someone with Aboriginal descent and thus take part of the unique knowledge of the Blue Mountains.
Sights and experiences
The Blue Mountains can be visited anytime during the year. Each season has something special up its sleeve, so when to visit depends entirely on what you want to do. It blooms beautifully in spring and this is the best time of the year to visit the beautiful gardens. Summer is the perfect season for outdoor activities such as wilderness hiking or rock climbing. In the autumn, you can witness a beautiful reddish-brown landscape when the leaves begin to change colour. And during the winter months the so-called Yulefest is held, a tradition from the year 1980 which means celebrating Christmas already in winter. This spectacle is usually called Christmas in July.
Discover and explore
The large national park is well-preserved and has plenty of hiking trails to discover. Some are longer and more challenging than others. No matter which track you choose, you are surrounded by beautiful views and unique photo opportunities. You can wander past great enchanting waterfalls like Wentworth Falls and Katoomba Falls. In summer, a splash in the waterfalls is obligatory, so bring your swimwear. The very best lookouts in the Blue Mountains are popular sights. Some of them are Govetts Leap Lookout in Blackheath, Sublime Point Lookout in Leura and of course Echo Point Lookout in Katoomba from where one can see the famous rock formation Three Sisters (wotif.com/things-to-do/full-day-blue-mountains-tour.a452918.activity-details).
Three Sisters is named after an Aboriginal story that states that the three pillars were once three sisters. The Sisters were in love with three brothers from another tribe whom they were forbidden to marry. Therefore, the brothers decided to catch the sisters, which ended with battle. The Sisters’ tribal leaders turned the sisters into stone to protect them from the brothers. The leader planned to break the curse after the battle, but he was assassinated before he could do it and that is the reason why the pillars remain. In the same area lies one of Blue Mountains main tourist attractions, Scenic World (wotif.com/things-to-do/blue-mountains-hop-on-hop-off-pass-with-scenic-world.a477600.activity-details). In Scenic World you can choose between going on The Scenic Skyway, which is a cable car with glass floor transporting people over the valley up in the air, or The Scenic Railway which is the world’s steepest railway or wander The Scenic Walkway. Enjoy breathtaking views of the Katoomba Falls and the Three Sisters, among others.
Another popular tourist attraction you shouldn’t miss is the Jenolan Caves (wotif.com/things-to-do/jenolan-caves-blue-mountains-day-tour.a228630.activity-details). According to researchers, these natural limestone caves are around 340 million years old and thus the oldest discovered caves in the world. Jenolan Caves has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area and has, among other things, received awards from the Qantas Australian Tourism Awards. There are several guided tours of various kinds to choose from in the different caves. At night, different nightly tours are organized, including the popular Ghost Walk Legends, the Mysteries & Ghosts. The most challenging daytime tours are called Adventure Caving, and this is when you get to enter the slightly harder and more narrow caves. Put on overalls, helmet and headlamp, and be prepared to climb, crawl and try rappelling down a steep cave wall (wotif.com/things-to-do/plughole-adventure-experience-in-the-heart-of-a-mountain.a476216.activity-details).
If you still haven’t had enough of adventure after the Adventure Caving experience in the Jenolan Caves, you can try out High n Wild Mountain Adventures (wotif.com/things-to-do/stunning-empress-canyon-blue-mountains.a255844.activity-details). They organize courses such as mountaineering, abseiling and canyoning. Canyoning involves, among other things, hiking, swimming and rappelling down a small waterfall. There are courses for everyone, both beginners and the more experienced.
Art and culture
The beautiful landscape of the Blue Mountains has long been a great source of inspiration for artists resulting in several galleries in the area. Lost Bear Gallery, also known as Katoomba Fine Art (katoombafineart.com.au) is a large gallery of modern art. The gallery has twelve exhibition halls and a sculpture garden where a variety of artists’ unique creations are exhibited. Admire paintings, sculptures, pottery, glass art and much more. One of Australia’s most famous writers and artists, Norman Lindsay, used to live in Faulconbridge in the Blue Mountains and the beautiful place that was formerly his home has been turned into a Gallery, The Norman Lindsay Gallery (normanlindsay.com.au). Here you can take part of Lindsay’s creative works or enjoy the beautiful surroundings. It is common that people book this place for wedding arrangements or photography.
If you are interested in Aboriginal art and culture, a visit to the Waradah Aboriginal Centre (waradah.com.au) is a must. This is a place to learn about Aboriginal culture or watch one of the regularly arranged briefer shows of Aboriginal dance. The gallery displays Aboriginal art and sell pictures and other souvenirs.
Sports, entertainment and events
For the golf enthusiast, the Blue Mountains is a paradise. Cherry-pick between the many golf clubs; Lithgow Golf Club, Springwood Country Club, Wentworth Falls Country Club, Katoomba Golf Club, Leura Golf Club and Blackheath Golf Club. It’s not every day you play golf with such a view. Blackheath Golf Club is located at the top of the mountains. There are several annual festivals organized in the Blue Mountains. In spring that falls around September to November, it blooms beautifully in the Blue Mountains and it is the best time of the year to visit the beautiful gardens. Leura is the mountain village with most gardens and every year, usually in October, the two-week-long Leura Gardens Spring Festival is held (leuragardensfestival.com). The ticket price includes a visit to the eleven participating gardens, including the renowned Everglades Garden. Other gardens worth visiting in the Blue Mountains are the Mount Tomah Botanic Garden, a 252 hectares-large garden, and the Campbell Rhododendron Garden in Blackheath. Spring is a perfect time for picnics in one of the gardens or a coffee break on a patio of one of the many cosy cafes.
During the winter months, Yulefest is arranged in the Blue Mountains. It all began in 1980 when a group of Irish began to miss the cold Christmas that they were accustomed to when they saw snowflakes. They decided to celebrate Christmas in July and since then it has turned into a popular winter tradition. Every year from June to August, thousands of people come to the Blue Mountains to celebrate Yulefest. During June, the Winter Magic Festival is celebrated, which include stalls with local and Australian products and community-based performers that will fill the streets of Katoomba. The Yulefest is celebrated with traditional Irish and Australian Christmas food. Then there is a variety of entertainments to choose from. All restaurants and hotels are in on the Christmas celebrations, making activities pop up everywhere. With warm bonfires and carols, the Christmas spirit is high. The Clarendon Guesthouse (clarendonguesthouse.com.au) in Katoomba is known for its live shows. The comedy show The Goon Show LIVE! that is performed during the Yulefest has become very popular. The Guest House offers package prices including a three-course dinner, show, accommodation and breakfast. They have early bird prices, so it pays off to book on time.
There are many unique shops such as antique shops, old bookstores, vintage shops and designer boutiques in the Blue Mountains. Most of the shopping is found in the towns of the largest villages of Katoomba and Leura. In Katoomba lies a hat specialist shop called The Hattery (hatsdirect.com) and the circus shop Weirder The Better (weirderthebetter.com.au). There are also outdoor adventure retailers and of course souvenir shops. If you like chocolate, you can visit one of the chocolate factories in the area. Blue Mountains Chocolate Company (bluemountainschocolate.com.au) is located in Katoomba and Josophans Fine Chocolates (josophans.com.au) can be found in Leura. Both factories use genuine Belgian chocolate and through a window, you can see how the manufacturing works. They hold tastings, workshops and you can of course buy some chocolate.
In Leura, there is not only the chocolate factory to make your mouth water, but also a big candy store simply called The Candy Store Leura (candystore.com.au). The shop sells old-fashioned candies, both imported and Australian. There are over 2,000 kinds of candies, so if you want to try something new or find the candy you miss from your childhood, this is where you go. In Leura, you will also find Bygone Beautys Tearoom and Teapot Collection (bygonebeautys.com.au). It is not just a shop, but also a café and museum. Bygone Beauty’s Treasured Teapot Museum has the world’s largest private collection of teapots. In Mount Victoria you can find Trains, planes and Automobiles (antiquetoys.com.au) which also is a combined gallery and shop. They sell and exhibit antique toys. Located in Brookland’s Village lies Nanas Teddies and Toys (teddys.com.au), Australia’s largest teddy bear shop with over 15,000 teddy bears, dolls and collectibles.
Restaurants and cafés
There are lots of cosy cafés with a perfect setting for a coffee break in the Blue Mountains. The Paragon Cafe in Katoomba is a popular café which is also Australia’s oldest. Tourists come here for its unique art deco decor. It feels like you step into the 1920 century. The Hydro Majestic Hotel and Carrington Hotel are two historic buildings with both a café, a restaurant, a bar, a hotel and a spa. Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee or come here for a sumptuous dinner. Here, too, you step into a unique old-fashioned atmosphere. A café that should be highlighted a little extra is The Yellow Deli (yellowdeli.com) in Katoomba. The café has a unique and cosy atmosphere and produces everything from scratch. They have their own farm where they grow organic produce, and they bake the bread themselves. Feel free to try the healthy South American Tea Maté, which they also sell for you to take home.
In spring and summer, it is especially nice to sit on the outdoor cafes and enjoy the surrounding nature. Go to Cafe Bon Ton (bonton.com.au) which is a French bistro café in Leura, or Solitary Restaurant and Kiosk (solitary.com.au) in Cliff Drive or enjoy world-class food and wine in the Katoomba at Echo Points steep hillside with a striking view of the Jamison Valley.
Means of transportation and tour operators
There are many ways of how to discover the Blue Mountains. With several means of transportation available in the area, it is easy to get around. If you live in Sydney, you can take the train from Central Station to Katoomba Station. From there, you can get around with the help of Blue Mountains Explorer bus (wotif.com/things-to-do/blue-mountains-hop-on-hop-off-explorer-pass.a477437.activity-details), hop-on, hop-off buses that run every 30 minutes. You can also visit some attractions with local buses, timetables can be found here: (cdcbus.com.au/blue-mts-transit).
If you want to travel between different villages in the Blue Mountains, train is a choice. The easiest and most flexible way of transportation is of course by your own car (wotif.com/Car-Hire) or by motorcycle (wotif.com/things-to-do/blue-mountains-motorcycle-tour.a265577.activity-details). There are many parking spaces near popular sights, and many (but not all) are free of charge. If you do not want to spend time planning your day, there are tour operators of various kinds to do the work for you. Some tours start in Sydney while others start in the Blue Mountains.
Good to know
There are several offices with tourist information in Glenbrook, Katoomba, Lithgow, Oberon and Blackheath. For more activities, tickets and accommodation in the Blue Mountains, you can also take a look at Wotif’s website (wotif.com/things-to-do/search?location=Blue%20Mountains).
Warnings and preparations
If you plan to go hiking, there are different routes to choose from and some may take several hours long to get through. By using the map located at the beginning of the trails, pick the level that suits you and your time frame best. It is also not uncommon that poorly prepared hikers get lost or injured, so it pays off to dress accordingly and to bring a map and compass. The weather in the Blue Mountains can change rapidly and during winter it can become very stormy. During summer there is an increased risk of fire. To find current weather conditions and warnings you can visit NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service’s website (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/alerts/alerts-list). In the event of an emergency, you can contact the Blue Mountains State Emergency Service on telephone number 132 500. But keep in mind that you may not have phone coverage everywhere, so it is best to be well prepared right from the start.
You can find accommodation suitable all types of budgets in the Blue Mountains. Everything from hostels to luxury spa hotels (hotelscombined.com/Place/Blue_Mountains.htm).
Flying Fox Backpackers (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/The_Flying_Fox_Backpackers.htm) is located just 5 minutes’ walk from Katoomba Station. The staff is very helpful, and you get free breakfast, Wi-Fi, a map and pick up from Katoomba Station if desired. If you want to test the wilderness life for real, there are several camping opportunities. All places have a toilet but neither drinking water nor cooking place. Most campsites want you to bring with you your own rubbish when you leave. Below you will find some different options.
- Euroka Campground at Glenbrook. Located near the beautiful Nepean River. A very popular campsite that must be booked in advance. They take a fee that at the time of writing is 20 dollars and up.
- Murphy’s Glen Campground in Woodford. Located at the rainforest and close to Murphy’s Lookout and Bedford Creek.
- Ingar Campground at Wentworth Falls. There is a small pond where you can swim or paddle in and lots of shady eucalyptus.
- Perry’s Lookdown in Blackheath. There is a total of five campsites with views of the Highlands and Mount Bank.
If one does not want to live backpacker life, the Sky Rider Motor Inn (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Sky_Rider_Motor_Inn.htm) is a good alternative. The motel has a swimming pool and BBQ area. If you want to experience a great stay, Windradyne Boutique Bed & Breakfast (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Windradyne_Boutique.htm) is another good choice. It includes breakfast and the guest lounge offers free tea and coffee. The hotel is located 30 meters from the iconic rock formations Three Sisters and has a nice view over Echo Point.
- Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Lilianfels_Blue_Mountains_Resort_Spa.htm)
is a beautiful and romantic hotel set among two gardens. It features two gourmet restaurants, an outdoor pool, tennis court and a luxurious spa offering a variety of treatments.
- Fairmont Resort (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Fairmont_Resort_Blue_Mountains_Mgallery_by_Sofitel.htm) has received several awards for being the best luxury hotel. From here, you get a view of the Jamison Valley and it is not unusual for weddings to be organized here.
- Carrington Hotel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/The_Carrington_Hotel.htm) is an old-style hotel located near Katoomba Station. The hotel has a restaurant, bar and spa, offering you a historical experience even if you do not to stay overnight.
- The Hydro Majestic Hotel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Hydro_Majestic_Hotel_Blue_Mountains.htm) is a historic Edwardian hotel from 1904, recently refurbished. If you do not want to stay for the night you can have a coffee or something to eat in the hotel’s restaurant, café or bar. The Hydro Majestic Pavilion also has an exhibition on the history of the place.
A Saturday by car in the Blue Mountains
If your day trip by car starts from central Sydney, you can expect the drive to Wentworth Falls to take around an hour and a half. To make sure there is no fog around The Three Sisters and other lookouts, don’t forget to check the weather forecast for the Blue Mountains before you leave.
08:00 – On a quest for waterfalls
After a steady breakfast, start the day by hiking in Wentworth Falls. Bring your camera, a pair of good shoes and swimwear. Discover the beautiful scenery and magical waterfalls. Take a dip in one of the waterfalls and cool off after the hike.
12:00 – Food- and garden stop
After hiking up and down among Wentworth Falls, you are probably tired. A cosy lunch in the Leura might suit you well by now. For example, you can dine at Lily’s Pad (lilyspad.com.au) at 19 Grose Street. Take the opportunity to stroll around the streets of Leura and visit the beautiful Everglades Garden.
15:00 – Stunning lookout
Next stop – Katoomba, Blue Mountains’ main village. Get a stunning view over the Three Sisters, Katoomba Falls and Jamison Valley by using the Scenic Skyway, an up-in-the-air cable car with glass walls. Take some beautiful photos at Echo Point Lookout and move on to discover the shops on Katoomba Street. Don’t forget to sample chocolate from Blue Mountains Chocolate Company.
18:00 – Entertaining dinner
Time to get entertained. At the Clarendon Guesthouse in Katoomba, you can purchase an entertainment package consisting of a three-course dinner and a comedy show. If you want to treat yourself to something extra, you can add accommodation and breakfast to the package too. Remember, for lowest price it is best to buy the package in advance.
20:00 – Ghosts and caves
Finish the evening with the popular ghost tour Legends, Mysteries & Ghosts tour in the Jenolan Caves. The tour lasts about two hours. If you are travelling with children, it may be helpful to know that the minimum age to participate is ten years.