With trendy coffee shops, pristine ocean, outback desert, unique wildlife, delicious beer, and a plethora of adventure activities, there’s almost no place better to go backpacking than Australia.
It was the first country I traveled solo, and I spent 15 months backpacking and working my way through the cities, beaches, small towns, and outback of what is now one of my favorite places on earth. If you’re planning to go backpacking, you don’t want to miss the best backpacker cities in Australia.
I’m a city boy at heart, and when I arrived in Sydney, I felt like I fit right in. It was the first city that I visited on my very first backpacking trip five years ago, and I immediately fell in love.
With opulent beaches and gorgeous women dotting the coastline (especially by the famous Bondi Beach) Sydney is a city that’s easy to get sucked into. You can ride seaplanes over crashing waves, take a jet boat ride through mountainous surf, laze by the beach, and enjoy some of the best nightlife in all of the country.
Where to Stay: Sydney Harbour YHA
Five years ago, Yamba was Australia’s little secret. Nowadays, it’s a little more trodden, but it still maintains the same, sleepy, Aussie-beach-town feel that I fell in love with.
Known within the surfing community as having some of the best break in the entire country, every morning was accompanied by an 8am surf call with the legendary Shane Henwood, the proprietor of one of the highest-rated hostels in the entire country.
In fact, the surf here is so good, the owner of Billabong owns a house here. Surf’s up, kids. This is one of the best backpacker cities in Australia.
Where to Stay: Yamba YHA
“Melbun,” as the locals call it, is my type of city. Even though I was traveling solo, as many backpackers will understand, I never quite felt like I was alone. Constantly surrounded by other likeminded travelers, I sunk my teeth into the culture of Australia’s most alternative city, and fell madly in love.
I had no particular timeframe in mind, but with an active social life and a bar job on the beach, I didn’t feel the need to go anywhere else in any kind of rush. St. Kilda is a small beach town just outside of the city, chock full of bars and restaurants, and it became my first home-away-from-home for six glorious, intoxicating months.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the coffee.
Where to stay: Melbourne Central
Australia’s answer to Napa Valley, Adelaide is wine country. Prepare your palette (and your liver) for daily tastings and pairings in the vineyards of South Australia. With 18 wine regions in the area, and more than 200 cellar doors in Adelaide’s surrounds, it’s no secret why this city has become Australia’s wine capital, accompanied by plenty of beer, chocolate, artisanal cuisine, and quality music.
Where to Stay: Adelaide Central
5. Byron Bay
Another one of Australia’s legendary surf spots, Byron Bay has some serious backpacker vibe. With a famed nightlife scene that rivals, and potentially outdoes, that of any place I’ve visited from New York to Beijing, Byron Bay serves two main purposes—surfing and partying. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
I couldn’t stay longer than three days, as I watched my bank balance quickly dwindle away at Cheeky Monkey’s, the party bar once thought only to exist in fairy tales. But if you can resist temptation, like I often cannot, and you’re looking for a bustling yet relaxed beach town to kick your heels up in for a few days to a few weeks, Byron is your spot.
Where to Stay: Byron Bay YHA
The unique Fremantle has retained its unique 19th century port streetscape. Filled with vibrant markets, lively music, constant street performances, fascinating boutiques, and a wide selection of micro breweries, we’re off to a good start over in Western Australia.
And, there’s no need to fear a visit to Fremantle Prison, a World Heritage listed building because it has no prisoners these days—it’s a modern day backpackers, where prison cells are dorms and private rooms!
Where to Stay: Fremantle Prison
Darwin, despite the humidity, is a brilliant spot to chill out. Located in the Northern Territory, and seemingly closer to Asia than anywhere else in Australia, Darwin is also the jump-off point for your ultimate outback adventure.
From frontier post to modern city, Darwin is an urbanized city with loads of accommodations, cafes, restaurants, and nightlife in abundance. Yeah, it’s hot, but the eclectic range of food, diverse culture, and outdoor lifestyle make Darwin the cultural backpacker’s paradise.
Where to Stay: Darwin YHA
8. Airlie Beach
Though Airlie Beach lacks an actual beach, the man-made lagoon there more than makes up for it. It’s a buzzing coastal city with plenty of sun and a heavy dose of nightlife. But don’t party too hard—your sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands leaves early in the morning!
Nestled in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays have been labeled as having some of the best beaches in the world. Would you dare come to Australia and skip that? Didn’t think so.
Where to Stay: Airlie Beach YHA
9. Surfers Paradise
Most well-known simply as “Surfers,” this iconic east coast party city is full of toned, tanned beach bodies, killer nightclubs, and only mediocre surfing. If you’re looking for the best places to surf on the East Coast, you’re better off in Yamba or Byron Bay.
Laze by the beach early in the morning, because the disappears at 3pm behind the mammoth resorts that line the coast. If you make it here between November and December, prepare yourself for one of the biggest parties you’ve ever been to. It’s called Schoolies (which is essentially Spring Break), and it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen more.
Where to Stay: Surfer’s Paradise YHA
With the Great Barrier Reef just a short ride away, a beautiful lagoon, and plenty of beautiful backpackers gracing the sidewalks and nightclubs, there was almost no reason to ever leave the legendary city of Cairns. Known as the place to party in Australia, this is where the rugby boys come when they’re on break, and where all the girls flock in search of them.
There is no shortage of diving and snorkeling trips to the Great Barrier Reef, and you could even hop on a live-aboard boat for a week full of diving. Coupled with the insane nightlife of this small city, Cairns claimed my heart for six of the 15 months I spent living in Australia. For a twenty-something backpacker, there’s almost no better place in the world to be.
Where to Stay: Cairns Central
Have you been to Australia? What was your favorite city?
Disclaimer: This was an editorial collaboration with YHA, Australia’s premier hosteling network. All text and opinions remain my own.