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If the idea of perusing quaint old bookshops and exploring leafy national parks takes your fancy, you’ll love the Southern Highlands, NSW. Situated just over 100km southwest of Sydney and accessible by train or car, Southern Highlands is an ideal destination for a short NSW escape.
Top Southern Highlands attractions include quirky antique stores, the annual tulip festival in Bowral, walking trails around gushing Fitzroy Falls and the opportunity to detour into picturesque Kangaroo Valley.
To find out what to do in the Southern Highlands, whether you’re planning a day trip or a weekend getaway from Sydney, read on to learn more!
Things to Do in Bowral
Bowral is a quaint country town sitting at the foot of Mount Gibraltar. Bowral attractions include bookstores, antique shops and boutiques, as well as lots of cute cafes.
Cafes and Food in Bowral
We had a coffee at the cosy Elephant Boy Café on Bong Bong Street, which was lined with old books and felt like a set from Harry Potter!
Next, we enjoyed pastries from Gumnut Patisserie, which had lots of outdoor seating. The Southern Highlands is well known for its pies, so you’ll see plenty of bakeries!
Tulip Festival Bowral
The best time of year to visit Bowral has to be September (early spring), as the annual Tulip Time Festival is on!
Corbett Gardens in Bowral is the main attraction, with over 75,000 tulips on show, lots of craft stalls and plenty of family-friendly events to enjoy, including a sunset cinema.
Things to Do in Mittagong
If you’re on a day trip from Sydney, Mittagong will be your first stop-off point when you reach the Southern Highlands region. Mittagong information centre is situated on Main Street, so pop in for more information on tourist attractions in the Southern Highlands.
Things to do in Mittagong include admiring heritage buildings, visiting craft shops and art galleries, and eating in stylish cafes such as The Shaggy Cow. The hilly backdrop reminds you that you’re not in Sydney any more!
Vintage Shops & Antique Stores in Mittagong
Mittagong is more spread out than Bowral and not quite as quaint, but the shops on Bowral Road are fantastic to browse.
We spent ages rummaging through all the clothes and accessories in Twisting Vintage, and even if it’s not your thing, don’t miss a look around Hunters and Collectors Antiques. This was by far the most interesting and eclectic antique store I’ve ever been in, selling everything from mopeds to tiger taxidermy!
Mount Gibraltar Lookouts
If you’re driving to Mittagong, make sure you take the short detour up Mount Gibraltar for scenic views across the Southern Highlands. It’s one of the main tourist attractions in Mittagong.
Head along Oxley Drive, and you’ll pass some impressive country mansions before taking the loop road to Mittagong Lookout and Jellore Lookout. Further along, Bowral Lookout also has toilets and a picnic area.
Things to Do in Bundanoon
Further down the Southern Highlands trainline sits the historical town of Bundanoon. The town has a much smaller shopping strip than Bowral and Mittagong, but it’s extremely charming, with well-preserved heritage architecture.
The other main attraction in Bundanoon is its proximity to nature. Bundanoon is walking distance to Glow Worm Glen, which lights up after sunset, and it’s only 3km from Morton National Park (where you’ll find Fitzroy Falls).
On the way to Bundanoon is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village of Exeter. I only saw two shops there but I had to stop for a photo of the antique store!
Things to Do in Morton National Park & Fitzroy Falls
A visit to Fitzroy Falls is one of the most popular things to do in the Southern Highlands. Morton National Park, where Fitzroy Falls is located, also boasts multiple walking tracks, rushing waterfalls and plenty of breath-taking viewpoints.
Fitzroy Falls is an 80m-high waterfall that gushes down into the valley below. It has to be one of the most well-known attractions in the Southern Highlands, as well as in Morton National Park. The falls is located 16km southeast of Moss Vale.
You can park at Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre on Nowra Road (it cost $4 when I visited, coins only), which has a cafe, toilets, information, souvenirs and a picnic area with barbecues.
Walking Tracks in Morton National Park
From Fitzroy Falls visitor centre, it’s only a two-minute walk to Fitzroy Falls main lookout. If you prefer a longer hike, there’s actually 10km of walking tracks that you can enjoy.
We walked as far as Richardson Lookout, which was a pretty flat and easy stroll, but you could easily continue on further.
Camping in Morton National Park
If you want to go camping in the Southern Highlands, check out Gampbells Rest Campground., which has picnic facilities, showers and toilets.
Grand Canyon Lookout
To enjoy stunning views without hiking, there are parking spots on Bundanoon Loop Road at the Sunrise Lookout and Grand Canyon Lookout.
Things to Do in Kangaroo Valley
Stunning Kangaroo Valley lies 16km south of Fitzroy Falls, and a visit there is definitely one of the most popular things to do in the Southern Highlands, NSW. I think Kangaroo Valley is the most picturesque area in the Southern Highlands region.
To get to Kangaroo Valley, you’ll need to drive down a steep descent from the elevated highlands, where you’ll zig-zag down through beautiful rainforest. It reminded me of all the mountain roads in Tasmania!
You’ll know you’ve arrived in Kangaroo Valley when you pass over Hampden Bridge, Australia’s last surviving wooden suspension bridge.
The bridge is flanked by impressive gothic Victorian sandstone towers. If you pull over before the caravan park, just after you’ve crossed the bridge, you can get out and take photos. There’s also a little track leading down to the riverside.
Flowing underneath Hampden Bridge is Kangaroo River, which is popular with kayakers and a great spot for a picnic.
A little farther down Moss Vale Road, you’ll come to the village of Osborne (the main centre of Kangaroo Valley), which is full of cute heritage buildings from the late 1800s with a lush backdrop of greenery. You can even have coffee in the 1891-built bank!
How to Get to the Southern Highlands
You can reach the Southern Highlands by train or car, but you’ll obviously have more freedom in a car, particularly to get to Morton National Park and Fitzroy Falls. However, all the towns I’ve listed (apart from Kangaroo Valley) have train stations, so they’re easily accessible.
Driving to the Southern Highlands
The distance from Sydney to Mittagong is 114km via the M31, which takes around an hour and a half to drive.
Southern Highlands Trainline
The train from Central Station in Sydney to the Southern Highlands takes just over two hours and only costs around $6 each way. Just be aware that the trains only run every hour or two, so check the Southern Highlands train timetables in advance!
The Southern Highlands trainline is really picturesque, passing through lots of open countryside and villages. Make sure you pick the journeys that state you can use your Opal card, as some trains run all the way to Canberra and cost much more.
For more ideas for NSW getaways, check out my other New South Wales travel guides. If you’d like to extend your trip, I’d thoroughly recommend a visit to stunning Jervis Bay in South Coast NSW. Have a great time exploring the Southern Highlands, NSW!