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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.

City Beach and Port Kembla view.
City Beach Wollongong, with Port Kembla in the distance.

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.

Wollongong Lighthouse on Flagstaff Hill.
Wollongong Lighthouse on Flagstaff Hill
Canons at Flagstaff Hill.
Looking north from Flagstaff Hill

Continue around the harbour, passing a second, smaller lighthouse before reaching beautiful Brighton Beach.

Wollongong Harbour.
Wollongong Harbour

Cute little Brighton Beach has a children’s playground, Levendi Café and, as you can see, very clear water!

Brighton Beach in Wollongong, NSW.
Brighton Beach, Wollongong

Continue north and admire the rocky coastline and shimmering ocean. You’ll pass lots of information boards explaining Wollongong’s history along the way.

Stunniing rocky coastling in Wollongong, Australia with sun on the ocean.
Beautiful craggy coastline of north Wollongong

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.

Sun glinting on the ocean at North Wollongong Beach.
North Wollongong Beach

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.

Puckeys Beach and lagoon picnic area.
Picnic area behind Puckeys Beach & Lagoon

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.

Puckeys Estate Nature Reserve.
Entering Puckeys Estate Nature Reserve

You can either spend some time exploring the reserve, or follow the boardwalk to Puckeys Beach.

Seagulls at Puckeys Beach, NSW.
Puckeys Beach – this is what happens when you accidentally drop a morsel of food!

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.

Crown St Mall in Wollongong, Australia.
Crown St pedestrianised shopping area

There’s also an indoor mall, Wollongong Central, on the corner of Crown St and Keira St.

Laneway cafe in Wollongong, Australia.
Cafe seating at the back of Wollongong Central

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!

Paintings of Bronius Sredersas.
Paintings of Bronuis (Bob) Sredersas

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.

Steps and stunning architecture at Wollongong's Nan Tien Buddhist Temple.
Nan Tien Temple, Wollongong

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 from Nan Tien Buddhist Temple in Wollongong, NSW.
Inside the grounds of Nan Tien Temple

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.

Tranquil lake at Nan Tien Buddhist Temple.
The lake at Nan Tien Buddhist Temple

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.

Sun through the trees at Wollongong Botanic Gardens.
Succulent Collection at Wollongong Botanic Garden

There are many different sections to the gardens; my favourite was the Succulent Collection above. Which looked really vibrant and unusual!

Dappled sunlight through the trees at Wollongong Botanic Gardens.
Grassland at the gardens

The Botanic Garden is right at the foot of the Illawarra escarpment, so you really feel like you’re miles away from the city!

Australian tree fern.
Tree fern at Wollongong Botanic Garden

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.

Wollongong Accommodation

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).

Keiraleagh House hostel entrance.
Keiraleagh House

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.

Keiraleagh House hostel courtyard, NSW.
Garden at Keiraleagh House

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!

The best things to do in Wollongong Australia on a weekend trip from Sydney. Discover Wollongong beaches, botanic gardens, restaurants and more in this fun 2-day itinerary.
Lisa Bull
Written by Lisa Bull

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.