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Just 90 minutes south of Sydney, nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the leafy Illawarra escarpment, Wollongong is blessed with both city attractions and stunning natural scenery. No matter what you’re looking for on your South Coast NSW trip, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Wollongong in this weekend itinerary.
If you’re driving from Sydney to Wollongong, you’ll travel along the stunning Grand Pacific Drive via Seacliff Bridge. If you’re travelling by train, like I did, all of my recommended Wollongong attractions are accessible by public transport!
While Wollongong does look a bit industrial to the south, the city actually has stunning beaches to the north and a lush, mountainous backdrop. It’s the perfect destination for a relaxing weekend getaway from Sydney.
Read on to discover my Wollongong weekend itinerary full of of the best things to do in and around the city.
Day 1 Morning Itinerary: Wollongong Beach Walk to Puckeys Beach vis Flagstaff Hill
- Distance: approximately 3km each way
- Time: 1-1.5 hours walking plus café breaks
One of the main Wollongong attractions has to be its amazing coastline. From the city right up to the Royal national Park lies a string of unspoilt beaches, all backed by the lush, mountainous scenery of the beautiful Illawarra escarpment.
A coastal walk in Wollongong is the perfect way to appreciate all that stunning scenery. If you head north, you can walk as little or as much as you like, as there’s a walking/cycle path all the way up the coastline through the northern suburbs.
Start your walk off at City Beach, which is amazingly huge and white considering it’s right on the doorstep of Wollongong CBD. It does have the industrial view of Port Kembla to the south, but that disappears out of sight once you head north past the lighthouse.
Walk north along the beach and up Flagstaff Hill to Wollongong Lighthouse, where you’ll be rewarded with views stretching for miles across the coastline.
Continue around the harbour, passing a second, smaller lighthouse before reaching beautiful Brighton Beach.
Cute little Brighton Beach has a children’s playground, Levendi Café and, as you can see, very clear water!
Continue north and admire the rocky coastline and shimmering ocean. You’ll pass lots of information boards explaining Wollongong’s history along the way.
You’ll pass through the tramway cutting between the rocks before reaching stunning North Wollongong Beach. The view here is absolutely amazing. It’s hard to believe this is part of a city!
If you want to grab brunch or lunch, beachside Diggies Café is a great place to stop. There’s also a kiosk if you just want a coffee or snack to enjoy outside.
Continuing north takes you to Puckeys Lagoon. There are lots of sheltered picnic tables here as well as barbecues, if you want somewhere to enjoy a packed lunch.
Follow the grass and you’ll pass the large Lagoon Restaurant and children’s playground. Turn right onto Squires Way, cross over Fairy Creek Bridge, and you’ll see the boardwalk leading into Puckeys Estate Nature Reserve.
The reserve is actually an annex of the Botanic Garden due to its rare coastal dune system and endangered plant communities.
You can either spend some time exploring the reserve, or follow the boardwalk to Puckeys Beach.
From here you can return via the sand to Diggies Café at North Wollongong Beach and head back to the city.
Day 1 Afternoon Itinerary: Explore the City & Art Gallery
The main shopping street in Wollongong city centre is Crown St, where you’ll find a pedestrianised mall between Kembla St and Keira St.
There’s also an indoor mall, Wollongong Central, on the corner of Crown St and Keira St.
For a choice of restaurants, head to Keira St near the corner of Crown St. I had a great meal at Kinn Thai, which has outdoor seating with heaters (if you’re there during winter!).
If you’re looking for cultural things to do in Wollongong, Wollongong Art Gallery is a small space on the corner of Burelli St and Kembla St, next to the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre.
When I visited there was a really interesting exhibition on called The Gift, which is all about a Lithuanian migrant and steel worker who lived in the city, called Bronius (Bob) Sredersas. Bob actually instigated the opening of the gallery when he donated all of the artwork he’d collected over his lifetime!
Day 2 Morning Itinerary: Nan Tien Temple
One of the most famous Wollongong attractions is the Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere!
Out in the leafy suburb of Berkeley, Nan Tien Temple offers one-day and weekend meditation retreats, as well as an onsite restaurant and accommodation.
It’s also free to enter if you just want to have a look around like I did, and takes about 30-60 minutes to explore.
The view of the hills behind the temple is beautiful, and you can also relax beside the Lotus Pond that you’ll pass on the way in.
If you’re not driving, you can catch the number 34 bus from the city, which takes about 20 minutes and stops right outside the temple. Take a look on the Transport NSW trip planner for details.
Day 2 Afternoon Itinerary: Botanic Garden
In the afternoon, hop on the free shuttle bus from the city up to stop number 1 at the University of Wollongong. From here you can spend a good hour or two wandering around the lush green Wollongong Botanic Garden.
There are many different sections to the gardens; my favourite was the Succulent Collection above. Which looked really vibrant and unusual!
The Botanic Garden is right at the foot of the Illawarra escarpment, so you really feel like you’re miles away from the city!
How to Get from Sydney to Wollongong
Sydney to Wollongong is an easy 1.5-hour journey either by car or train. The train from Sydney was only around $6 each way when I travelled, but it only ran once an hour.
Being the third-largest city in New South Wales, there are plenty of accommodation options in Wollongong. Here are some options.
Hotels in Wollongong
For a family weekend getaway or a romantic escape, the 4* Best Western City Sands is situated within Wollongong Golf Club. The hotel is only a four-minute walk to the beach, a five-minute walk to the CBD, and all apartments have a private balcony and kitchenette!
To browse more hotels, I’d recommend starting with Hotels Combined, as they compare prices on all the major booking sites for each hotel to make sure you get the best deal!
Backpacker Hostels in Wollongong
If you’re looking for backpacker accommodation, I stayed at Keiraleagh House, which is the only backpacker hostel there, as far as I’m aware (the YHA closed down).
It’s a relatively small hostel in a charming old mansion with a bohemian, Balinese style. It does need renovating in parts, but the bathrooms were all quite new and the garden is beautiful.
It’s an easy walk to the city and the beach from here, so the location is excellent. Note that you’ll need to pay in cash on arrival.
There are so many things to do in Wollongong; it really is an ideal city for a Sydney day trip or longer holiday! If you’re on a road trip from Melbourne to Sydney, check out my guide to Jervis Bay. It’s a stunning beach location!
If you have time for more drive stops, Kiama is well worth a visit too. Have fun exploring!
Lisa Bull, founder of Dreaming of Down Under, has been living in Australia as a British expat since 2015. After travelling to every state and territory in Australia and living in Perth, Brisbane and Sydney, Lisa knows from first-hand experience the best destinations to visit in Australia and the best budget travel tips. Her guides on this blog have been read by over 700k readers and helped thousands of people achieve their dream of living in or travelling Australia.