The Gold Coast, Australia is east of Brisbane and full of sun, surf, and sand!
It’s known for its sunny subtropical climate, surfing, beaches, a rainforest hinterland, and wild nightlife.
For most travelers, visiting the Gold Coast means spending time in the most famous city in the area, Surfers Paradise. This is a major stop for travelers and backpackers looking to get some sun, surf, and spend time partying.
It’s a fun place but my advice is to avoid spending a lot of time there and head to some of the better, less crowded cities like Burleigh Heads and Coolangatta. When you get out of the city, you get to a lot of nicer beaches, watering holes, local spots, and places with cheaper prices.
This Gold Coast travel guide will help you figure out where to go, what to see, and how to save money in this region of Australia.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do on the Gold Coast
1. Learn to surf
2. Visit the Q1
3. Explore the hinterland
4. See the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
5. Hit the beaches
Other Things to See and Do on the Gold Coast
1. Walk the Burleigh Hill
Make like the locals and stretch your legs along Burleigh’s esplanade before heading around the hill. The track is bordered by lush rainforest on one side and stunning views north to Surfers Paradise and south over Tallebudgera Creek. It takes around 45-minutes to walk (it’s only 2.3km).
2. Go whale watching
Between June and October, humpback whales make their migratory journey from the Antarctic to warmer waters where they mate and give birth. Later in the season, the whales are on their return journey, swimming with their calves beside them. It’s also common to see are bottlenose dolphins, huge loggerhead turtles, and orcas. Tours start at about 75 AUD ($57 USD).
3. Experience the nightlife
“The Goldie” is one of the biggest party destinations in Australia. There are countless bars, clubs, and pub crawls here. Surfers Paradise has the biggest nightlife (but it’s not really fun unless you want to get really drunk), but Coolangatta is just as good and less touristy (and cheaper).
4. Visit the Infinity Maze
If you are looking to do something completely different, check out the Infinity Maze. This mirror maze is filled with funky music, dazzling lights, sound effects, and mirror illusions. It’s like a super fun carnival mirror maze but way more interactive and high-tech. It’s a good activity to do with kids. Admission is 25.90 AUD ($20 USD) when booked online in advance.
5. Check out the Currumbin Valley rock pools
At the end of the drive through Currumbin Valley, you’ll find an easy pathway through the rainforest leading you to some rock pools. Fresh mountain water flows over the hills of boulders and it makes for the perfect place to have a swim and cool off (especially in the hot summer months). There are picnic tables, rope swings, bathrooms, and even a snack bar to get something to eat.
6. Hike the Lost World Valley
Although it’s only a short drive from Surfers Paradise, the Lost World Valley is an off-grid, deep-in-the-jungle hiking trail in Lamington National Park. At the end of your rainforest trek, you’ll find private swimming holes and waterfalls. There are dozens of hikes here.
7. Hang out at Miami Marketta
This diverse food market is home to pretty much every type of cuisine there is. You can find Thai food, tapas, and everything in between. There is also all kinds of events and live music here too. The market is open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 5pm until late.
8. Visit the Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre
At the Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre you can hire an Indigenous guide to lead you through Burleigh Head National Park. You’ll hear traditional stories and learn about the historical sites used by the Yugambeh people, allowing you to connect with some of Australia’s most fascinating indigenous cultures. Walkabouts start at 39 AUD ($29 USD).
9. See Twin Falls
Twin Falls is considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in South East Queensland, located in Springbrook National Park. It only takes 15 minutes of hiking to get there, and it’s actually best to visit after heavy rainfall. All you need to do is follow the road through the Settlement Camping area and then just beyond Canyon Lookout for the road leading to the Twin Falls Circuit.
For more information on specific cities in Australia, check out these guides:
Gold Coast Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Dorms start at 20-25 AUD ($15-19 USD) per night for a bed in a room with 10-14 beds. Smaller dorms (4-8 beds) cost between 25-40 AUD ($19-30 USD). Private rooms start at 70 AUD ($53 USD) per night.
For those traveling with a tent, a basic plot without electricity outside Surfers Paradise costs around 38 AUD ($29 USD) per night.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start at 100 AUD ($76 USD) for a double. Expect the standard amenities like Wi-Fi, TV, and AC. The closer you get to the center of Surfers Paradise, the more expensive hotels will be.
For Airbnb, private rooms start at 75 AUD ($57 USD) but average closer to 130 AUD ($98 USD). For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 150 AUD ($115 USD).
Average cost of food – Most meals at a restaurant cost 30 AUD ($23 USD) or more for standard Aussie fare like meat, seafood, and pasta. For a three-course meal with a drink, expect to pay around 50 AUD ($38 USD). Fast food like McDonald’s is 12 AUD ($9 USD) for a combo meal while a medium pizza is 16 AUD ($12 USD). If you want international food like Thai, Chinese, or Indian, meals cost between 15-20 AUD ($11-15 USD)
Beer is around 8 AUD ($6 USD) while a cappuccino or latte is around 5 AUD ($3.80 USD). Bottles of water cost 2.50 AUD ($1.90 USD).
If you cook your meals, expect to pay 100 AUD ($71 USD) per week for basic groceries like pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs.
Backpacking the Gold Coast Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget, you can visit the Gold Coast for 75-90 AUD per day. This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a large hostel dorm, cooking most of your meals, limiting your drinking, and using public transportation. You can lower this by about another 20-30 AUD by Couchsurfing and limiting your drinking
On a mid-range budget of 245 AUD per day or more, you’ll be able to stay in a budget hotel or Airbnb, eat out most of your meals, do a couple activities, and enjoy a few drinks at the bar. You won’t live large but you’ll be comfortable.
On a “luxury” budget of 480 AUD or more, you can stay at a four-star hotel, eat out for every meal, drink all you want, do more expensive tours (like whale watching tours), and hire a rental car to get around. The sky is the limit!
Here’s a chart with some suggested budgets to help you plan. Prices are in AUD:
Gold Coast Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
The Gold Coast can be very expensive. Here are ways to cut down your costs when visiting the Gold Coast:
- Free transport – Some hostels provide free transport to and from the airport. If you are going to Surfers Paradise, they will also pick you up for free at the bus station. Book a hostel with a shuttle to save a few bucks,
- Eat cheap – Eating out can be very expensive; however, there are a lot of sandwich shops around that can keep your costs down. Avoid the sit-down restaurants, and instead, grab a sandwich or some delicious Asian or Indian food (which tends to be cheaper).
- Couchsurf – Accommodation on the Gold Coast is pricey. If you plan ahead, you can usually find a Couchsurfing host. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Drink goon (box wine) – Goon is infamous on the Australian backpacker hostel trail. This cheap box of wine is the best way to drink, get a buzz, and save a lot of money at the same time.
- Work for your room – Many hostels offer travelers the chance to work for their accommodation. In exchange for a few hours a day of cleaning, you get a free bed. Commitments vary but most hostels ask you to stay for at least a week.
- Cook often – The best way to reduce your costs is to cook as many meals as possible. Book a hostel or Airbnb with a kitchen so you can save money on food costs. Additionally, stay at a hostel with free breakfast for an extra free meal!
- Book tours as a package – This country has a lot of exciting activities and tours that eat into any budget. Booking activities together through a hostel or tour agency will get you a discount and save you hundreds of dollars as a repeat customer.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water in Australia is safe to drink. Bring a reusable water bottle with you to save money and lower your plastic use. LifeStraw makes a bottle with a built-in filter so you can be sure your water is always clean and safe.
Where To Stay on the Gold Coast
Here are my favorite places to stay on the Gold Coast that are fun and provide a lot of value:
How to Get Around the Gold Coast
Buses – Buses will get you just about everywhere you need to go on the Gold Coast. TransLink is the largest public transit operator, while Surfside Buslines is a local operator. Both have buses that run from the south to the north side of the coast (and beyond). There’s also a NightLink night bus service for buses after midnight.
Surfside fares start at 2.40 AUD ($1.85 USD) and go up depending on how far you travel. There is a daily cap of 7.20 AUD ($5.50 USD) per day, making it super affordable to take the bus everywhere. Translink fares start at 2.70 AUD ($2 USD) with a Go Card (a transportation card that will save you money on your fares). Without a Go card, fares are almost 5 AUD ($3.80 USD).
Unlimited travel on Translink is 10 AUD ($7.60 USD) per day.
Light Rail – G:link, the regions light rail, runs along the Gold Coast highway. You’ll be able to reach all the main tourist spots and the fares are the same as the Translink public bus system. As with the bus, the Go Card will save you money on fares.
Ferries – You can explore the Gold Coast’s waterways (including Stradbroke Island) by using the region’s ferry and water taxi services. The vehicle ferry to Stradbroke Island costs around 85 AUD ($65 USD) while the water taxi is around 17 AUD ($13 USD).
Bicycle – There are over 370 miles (600km) of bicycle trails on the Gold Coast! Daily rates per bicycle rental start around 35 AUD ($27 USD).
Car Rental – You can get just about anywhere along the Gold Coast via public transit, but if you want to get off the tourist trail or travel inland, having a car rental is ideal. During the off-season, you can find rentals for around 65 AUD ($50 USD).
Taxi – Taxis are expensive here and should be avoided. Prices start at 5 AUD ($3.80 USD) and go up by 2.50 AUD ($2 USD) per kilometer.
When to Go to the Gold Coast
The Gold Coast is busy year-round thanks to its consistent weather and nearly 300 days of sunshine per year. That’s what makes it such a great place to visit!
One of the best times to visit is near the end of April throughout May because the average daily temperature is between 62-76°F (17-25°C), making it one of the most comfortable times to be there. There aren’t too many crowds during this time and hotel prices are lower.
Mid-November to early December should be avoided if possible due to Schoolies Week, when students and their parents take holidays. The beaches get crowded, as do all the attractions. In October there’s the 600 race, which also brings large crowds and inflated prices. June to August is also a very busy time on the Gold Coast.
How to Stay Safe on the Gold Coast
The Gold Coast is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel – even if you’re traveling solo or are a solo female traveler. People are friendly and helpful and you’re unlikely to get into trouble.
When in doubt, always trust your instincts. If a taxi driver seems shady, get out. If your hotel or accommodation is seedier than you thought, leave and go somewhere else. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID, in case of an emergency.
If you’re swimming, heed the red and yellow flags. Yellow flags indicate swimming conditions may be dangerous; red flags mean the beach is closed.
As a general rule, if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re on the Gold Coast. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of safety advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Gold Coast Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel to the Gold Coast. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. Just enter your departure and arrival destinations and it will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost. One of the best transportation website out there!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Gold Coast Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Gold Coast Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is one of the most prolific and recognized names in travel writing. This book chronicles a journey through Australia and takes you from east to west, through tiny little mining towns, forgotten coastal cities, and off-the-beaten-path forests. Bryson includes lots of trivia in his tale as he travels around in awe — and sometimes in fear (thanks to box jellyfish, riptides, crocs, spiders, and snakes) — of this enormous country. This is the book that inspired me to go to Australia.
A Long Way From Home, by Peter Carey
Irene Bob loves to drive fast, and her husband is the best car salesman in southeastern Australia. Together they decide to enter the 1954 Redex Trial — an endurance drive that circumnavigates the entire country. Willie Bachhuber, a failed schoolteacher, joins them. If they win their lives will be forever changed — but first they’re led out of the comfortable Australia they know so well and into an unexpected adventure full of twists and turns. Peter Carey is a two-time Booker Prize winner, and one of Australia’s most well-known writers.
Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback, by Robyn Davidson
This is Robyn Davidson’s memoir of her incredible journey 1,700 miles through the Australian desert to the sea, accompanied only by four camels and a dog. Davidson fends off sweltering heat, poisonous snakes, and dangerous men — all while wrangling her temperamental camels. It’s definitely one of those transformative stories that allows you to get super invested in the author as well as the severe Australian desert landscape.
The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin
You can’t come to Australia without learning a little bit about the country’s Indigenous Australians. This is part travelogue and part autobiography, and one of Chatwin’s most famous books. Here, Chatwin searches the Australian Outback for the source of the Aboriginal “dreaming tracks,” the invisible pathways from which the Aboriginals’ ancestors sang the world into existence. The Songlines was an instant best-seller when it was published, and nowadays it’s a classic.
Australia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Australia travel and continue planning your trip: