Byron Bay is located at the top of New South Wales, next to neighbouring state Queensland. The country’s easternmost point is marked by a lighthouse that for many years protected seafarers from treacherous shallows and rocks. A whole bunch of liberal bohemians, alternative eccentrics and long-haired hippies live in Byron Bay. It’s hard not to be inspired by their relaxed lifestyle and positive attitude. During the 1960s, Byron was an obvious place for barefoot people. More recently, tourism has become an important source of income and contributed to a more urban feel that made the place somewhat more mainstream. But Byron Bay is still surrounded by an unmistakable atmosphere that is young and relaxed. And there is still a significant percentage of flower power supporters left. Colourful personalities thrive in Byron, where it is perfectly okay to break norms and dare to be different. Both in terms of appearance and living. Many artists are happy to settle here, where forested mountaintops meet the beaches. Of course, surfers too are fond of the surroundings. With beaches in almost all directions, the wind is always suitable for surfing somewhere. And the waves rarely become too high. In Byron, there are several companies that happily teach you how to surf. With a bit of work, soon you will be able stand on a surfboard yourself. But you can also try bodyboarding or kayaking.
The town is a great place to combine physical daytime activities with a vibrant nightlife. Nights are to be celebrated, something backpackers happily do. A bit too many backpackers are in love with Byron Bay. The town is mythical among travellers and especially appreciated by sun-thirsty bathers. Just like Sydney, Byron is a given stop, so expect that you are not the only one in town that speak your native language. Byron Bay is an equally appreciated destination among the Australians themselves. The mixture of sea, sun and spirituality attracts millions of visitors every year. Bottlenose dolphins, turtles and stingrays can be seen in the waters. Join in on a trip out to sea to take a closer look at life beneath the surface. Relax on the beach while the sun rises and try some yoga. Inland, lush rainforests are never far away. Explore nearby nature reserves and finish your stay with a spa treatment. There are plenty of alternative healing and New Age-think in Byron Bay. And the streets are lined with countless vegetarian cafes, hip bars and trendy restaurants.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
There are plenty of activities to try out in and around Byron Bay. Learn to ride the waves with Lets Go Surfing (wotif.com/things-to-do/byron-bay-surfing-lesson.a275889.activity-details). They do their best for you to stand on your own legs in the first lesson. They teach small groups and the instructors are experienced and patient. If you rather stay on dry land, you can tag along with Mountain Bike Tours (byron-bay.net.au/mountainbiketours.htm). Bike Tours is an eco-certified company with dedicated employees. Cycle through the dense rainforest or follow the coast. Regardless, your guide will show you the best in the area. No previous experience of mountain biking is required. You can also see the scenery from above. Join Byron Bay Ballooning (wotif.com/things-to-do/hot-air-balloon-flight-with-champagne-breakfast.a255728.activity-details) for an experience from above. Start early in the day and be rewarded with unbeatable mountain views when the sun rises over the horizon.
There is a lot of art and culture to discover in Byron. Lone Goat Gallery (lonegoatgallery.com) exhibits works from local artists and creators. The small gallery is run by volunteers and is in the library’s premises along Lawson Street. Once you’ve had enough of crowded places, head a few kilometres south of the city where you will find Arakwal National Park (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/arakwal-national-park), a lush area located by the sea. If you have a car, you can park at Cosy Corner parking area. Then walk down to the beach and find a peaceful place along the three-kilometre-long sandy beach Tallow Beach (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/surfing-spots/tallow-beach-activity). During winter and spring, you can see whales outside the coast. Farther south lies Seven Mile Beach.
There are several beaches near Byron Bay. Byron Bay town centre is next to Main Beach where lifesavers work during the summer season. East of Main beach lies Clarkes Beach and westwards lies Belongil Beach. The beaches are shallow, which means that they are suitable for children. However, keep an eye out for jellyfish that can occur all year round.
On steep cliffs not far away is Cape Byron Lighthouse, Byron’s most famous landmark. It is popular to visit the lighthouse around sunrise or sunset. If you arrive around evening by foot, be sure to return home before the sun goes down. There is no streetlight along the way, you will be forced to walk in total darkness after sunset. Follow Cape Byron Walking Track (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/cape-byron-walking-track), which takes about two hours round-trip. Don’t forget the water bottle and sun protection. For those who want to get to Cape Byron Lighthouse with the help of a tour operator, there are options with pick up all the way from the Gold Coast (wotif.com/things-to-do/byron-bay-day-tour-from-gold-coast.a170579.activity-details).
Meet the locals at Byron Bay Community Markets (byroncentre.com.au/markets/community-market). The market is held at Butler Street Reserve between 08:00-15:00 on the first Sunday of each month (and the third Sunday in December and January). Fill-up on burritos or smoothies while you wander among stalls who make candles, paint portraits and foretell your future. And for ultimate relaxation, head to the Be Salon & Spa (besalonspa.com.au) at Shop 1/14 Middleton Street for an hour’s massage.
With more than 25 years of experience, Byron Bay Blues Fest (bluesfest.com.au) has become Australia’s largest international blues- and roots festival that often book in renowned artists. Seven scenes and a hundred bands play, drawing around 100,000 visitors annually over the Easter weekend each year. The festival is held at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, eleven kilometres north of the town centre. Join in and experience one of the biggest music festivals in Australia. And buy tickets well in advance so you don’t miss out.
There are a whole bunch of restaurants and cafés in the town centre to choose from. Stop by at Chihuahua Taqueria, 26 Jonson Street in Feros Arcade to try out the best tacos in town. The dishes are colourful and beautifully presented with vegetarian options. A great dinner tips is Il Buco (ilbucobyronbay.com) at 4/4 Bay Lane. Forget all about greasy slabs of pizza. Here, you will be served a generous pizza with a crispy baked base and seasonal ingredients. And the garlic bread is just salty enough. The BYO is free of charge, so do not forget to bring a bottle of wine. Open daily from 17:30-22:00.
Good to know
Visit the Visitor Information Centre in Old Stationmaster’s Cottage at 80 Jonson Street. It is packed with information. There are several more Visitor Information Centres around town, but they mostly sell guided tours which they make money from. If you want to get tips on activities and accommodation in and around Byron Bay, you can also take a look at Wotif’s website (wotif.com/discover/australia/new-south-wales/byron-bay.d6138873).
Warnings and preparations
Byron is a popular destination both for Australians and tourists. If you are planning to come here during school leave or any long weekend, it is best to pre-book any accommodation. Also, summer months are often fully booked, for quite a long way in advance. Although there are plenty of people smoking pot in Byron, you should be aware that it is illegal to sell, buy and possess drugs in Australia.
Getting here and beyond
Brisbane 2 Byron (brisbane2byron.com) express buses runs between Roma Street in Brisbane and Byron Bay in around two hours. Buses also run directly from Brisbane Airport. You can bring a surfboard on board, completely free of charge. Closest airport is in Ballina, a half-hour drive from Byron (wotif.com/Flights). Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Regional Express operates there. Several bus companies (ballinabyronairport.com.au/to-from-the-airport/transport-options) can take you to Byron Bay. If you want to rent a car, it can be done in connected to the airport if it suits you (wotif.com/Car-Hire).
There are a variety of accommodation options in and around Byron Bay, but everything quickly gets sold-out during peak season. Prices are also adjusted according to supply and demand. Expect a fat bill during summer months. Even the campsites cost a fair bit. A good campsite is First Sun Holiday Park at Lawson Street (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/First_Sun_Holiday_Park.htm). Perfect location right on the beach and a minute’s walk from the town centre. However, a little expensive. Flashpacker hostel Nomads (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Nomads_Byron_Bay_Backpackers.htm) is large and centrally located at Lawson Lane. With barbecue grills, Jacuzzis, TV-room and well-equipped kitchen there is a lot to do at the hostel. Many choose to stay for a long time. Free lending of body boards.
Another nice hostel is Wake Up! Byron Bay (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Wake_Up_Byron_Bay.htm) at 25 Childe Street, in a quieter area right by Belongil Beach. Bikes can be borrowed if you want to go the town centre. Recently, the premises underwent a proper renovation. Today it is fresh, clean and bright. There are different types of rooms to choose from, so if you don’t want to share room with lots of others, this can be solved. They also arrange morning yoga on the beach.
If you are travelling in a larger company, renting an apartment is an idea. Byron Central Apartments (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Byron_Central_Apartments.htm) along Byron Street is a good option. The apartments are located a few steps from the beach and are fully equipped. They have private balconies and barbecues. Walking distance to the city, so no risk at being disturbed by noisy nightclubs and pubs. If you have a good budget and don’t mind spending your money, you can stay at Beach Suites (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Beach_Suites.htm) at 20 Bay Street. They rent out spacious apartments with a wonderful sea view. With modern kitchens, wide bedrooms and a private swimming pool on the roof, it hardly can go wrong.
A Saturday in Byron Bay
08:00 – Café coffee
Start the day at hipster-dense café Dip at 1/21-25 Fletcher Street. Feast on Byron’s best breakfast. They have freshly squeezed juice, poached eggs and frothy coffee. Sometimes there can be a queue to get a table but put up with it and soon you realize that it’s worth the effort. The food is beautifully served, and the portions are far from modest.
11:00 – Surf’s Up!
Book a surfing lesson with Lets Go Surfing (wotif.com/things-to-do/byron-bay-surfing-lesson.a275889.activity-details). Let the instructors give you their best tips and fight the lactic acid that soon will attack your arms while you paddle through the swells. With a little stubbornness, soon you will be standing on the board, catching your first wave.
13:00 – Sightseeing and sushi
Be sure to relax for some time in the afternoon. Walk around the city and alternately look at souvenirs and glance at people and crazy gadgets. Eat lunch at O-Sushi (osushi.com.au/welcome-to-osushi-contemporary-japanese-cuisine-byron-bay) at 90 Jonson Street. The sushi arrives on a conveyor belt like a colourful train and you pay for how much you eat.
16:00 – Lighthouse in the east
Drive south to Arakwal National Park (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/arakwal-national-park). Park your car and head down to the beach. Choose a quiet spot along the kilometre-long beach and relax. Cool down in the sea when the sun burns a bit too much. On the way back, stop at Cape Byron Lighthouse to see the sun sit low on the horizon at Byron Bay’s most photogenic place.
18:00 – Italian dinner
Dinner is served at Il Buco (ilbucobyronbay.com) at 4/4 Bay Lane. This is where you get Byron’s best gourmet pizzas. High class in terms of both ingredients and presentation. Don’t forget to order their garlic bread as a starter while you wait. Try a pizza with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes.
20:00 – The Rails
The final stop of the day is at The Railway Friendly Bar (therailsbyronbay.com) at Jonson Street. The bar is by the locals called The Rails, a given place to meet up for a beer or two. As for music entertainment, live bands are playing every night. If you get hungry again, order in some pub grub with your drink.