This well-rounded Aussie adventure checks off the east coast's greatest highlights in just over a week. See the famous landmarks of Sydney, then head north to Cairns to dive into the tropical Great Barrier Reef and discover the Kuranda Rainforest. Along the way, you'll have free time for day trips and leisure time to explore at your own pace—from the iconic sands of Bondi Beach to the ancient jungles of Daintree National Park.


  • Spend a few days exploring the streets and beaches of Sydney
  • Hike through the vast panoramas of the Blue Mountains
  • Discover the home of two World Heritage sights in Cairns
  • Check out the tropical fish and coral of the Great Barrier Reef
  • Take a ride on the Skyrail across the world's oldest rainforests

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Sydney Sydney
Day 2 Panoramic Sydney Sights Tour & Free Time Sydney
Day 3 Full-Day Blue Mountains Tour & Hike Sydney
Day 4 Fly to Cairns Cairns
Day 5 Full-Day Outer Barrier Reef Cruise Cairns
Day 6 Free Day  Cairns
Day 7 Full-Day Kuranda Rail & Skyrail Cairns
Day 8 Depart Cairns  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Sydney

Welcome to Sydney!
Twilight over Sydney Harbour

After taking the shuttle or taxi from the airport to your hotel, it's time to begin your Australian adventure! You have some free time today to soak up Sydney's iconic harbor, outdoor lifestyle, and natural beauty. Cruise under the Sydney Harbour Bridge or wave at the Opera House as you ride a ferry across the harbor to Manly. Learn to surf at Bondi Beach or swim in the calm waters of Coogee. Lose yourself in the cobblestone cul-de-sacs of The Rocks or in the markets, boutiques, cafés, and pubs of Paddington.

In the afternoon, you'll get an exclusive backstage look at the world's most recognizable sails with a tour of the Sydney Opera House. This amazing piece of architecture faced impossible odds to come into existence, but today is one of the busiest performing art centers on earth. Working with state-of-the-art audio-visual components—in which images are projected right onto the building—your guide will take you on an unforgettable journey into a story with enough twists and turns to rival an opera plot.

Day 2: Panoramic Sydney Sights Tour & Free Time

Sydney's landmark surf spot at Bondi Beach

See more of Sydney today with a half-day tour that introduces you to Australia's largest city and New South Wales' capital. Visit the historic Rocks area and hear stories of early convict history. Enjoy magnificent views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, then head into the main shopping district to browse designer shops and shopping malls like the 19th-century Queen Victoria Building. Stroll through Sydney's trendy LGBTQ hub of Oxford Street to the historic neighborhood of Paddington, known for its distinctive terrace houses dating to the Victorian era.

Eventually, you'll arrive at the coast and enjoy walks around the coastal suburbs and star beaches like Bondi. Dover Heights, located nearby, gives the best panoramic view in Sydney and makes the perfect stop for pictures. Return to the city via Double Bay, Kings Cross, and Mrs. Macquarie Point for a final viewpoint over the harbor. In the afternoon, you have time to explore the city on your own and revisit any sights you wish to spend more time at.

Day 3: Full-Day Blue Mountains Tour & Hike

The Three Sisters , Blue Mountains
The famous Three Sisters, nestled in the Blue Mountains

About a two-hour drive inland from the urban jungle of Sydney are the dramatic Blue Mountains, a region known for rugged cliffs, eucalyptus forests, and cascading waterfalls. Lace-up your hiking boots for a full-day, small-group excursion to see the best of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. After transferring here, you'll visit a working farm and meet local wildlife like kangaroos, emus, wombats, and koalas. Then, hike across valleys and sandstone ridges to viewpoints of the towering Three Sisters rock formations.

As you reach Govetts Leap, one of the country's most famous lookouts, marvel at the sweeping vistas across Grose Valley, Australia's answer to the Grand Canyon. Your final stop is 3,280 feet (1,000 m) above sea level at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden. Here, you'll see hundreds of international plant species as well as the exotic critters that call this sanctuary home, including various birds, reptiles, and insects. You'll return to your hotel in Sydney.

Day 4: Fly to Cairns

Panoramic view of Cairns
A panoramic view of Cairns

Today you'll leave Sydney behind and fly north to Cairns, where you'll be transferred to your hotel upon arrival. Lying at the center of a tropical paradise on the shores of Trinity Bay, Cairns is the gateway to Australia's greatest natural attractions. Sitting offshore and shaping the city's character is the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's most popular diving sites.

To the north of the city lies another World Heritage-listed treasure, the ancient tropical rainforests of the Daintree National Park. Cairns is home to various international cafés and restaurants, so why not spend your first evening diving into a new cuisine? Experience the city's famed nightlife as the sun goes down, or simply relax at your hotel as you prepare for the next day's adventure.

Day 5: Full-Day Outer Barrier Reef Cruise

One of the world's seven wonders: the Great Barrier Reef

Pack your sunscreen and swimwear today for a full-day adventure on the Great Barrier Reef. After a transfer to the Port Douglas Marina, a wave-piercing catamaran will take you to the very edge of Australia's Continental Shelf and into an underwater world with a dazzling kaleidoscope of color and brilliance. Choose to dive, snorkel, or stay dry and explore the stunning reef from the comfort of a semi-sub a few feet underwater. 

Adjacent to the Coral Sea trench, these ribbon ridges are the most pristine ecosystems in the reef's environment. Clear water provides the best possible underwater visibility, encourages rich coral growth, and supports spectacular marine life—from colorful parrotfish to moray eels and reef sharks. After your day on the water, you'll be returned to Port Douglas Marina, where a shuttle will be waiting to transfer you back to your hotel.

Day 6: Free Day

The world-renowned Cairns Esplanade

Take a full day to explore this tropical paradise on your own. Opt for a 4WD tour of Daintree National Park, where you'll be able to off-road and explore the corners of this remarkable ecosystem. You can also explore the world-famous Cairns Aquarium. Every visit is unforgettable, with over 16,000 animals and unique opportunities to see some of the world's most fascinating, elusive, or deadly creatures up close.

Hike around Daintree National Park, defined as one of Australia's Wet Tropics due to its heavy rainfall and lush vegetation, then finish off the day at the Mossman River for a one-of-a-kind River Drift Snorkeling tour. You could also opt for a day tour from Cairns to the stunning Fitzroy Island. Snorkel around Fitzroy Island or bring a picnic and explore the national park. If you're not up for a full day of exploring, relax on one of the many amazing beaches Cairns offers.

Plan your trip to Australia
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 7: Full-Day Kuranda Rail & Skyrail

Magnetic Island - Koala
See koalas up close on today's Kuranda excursion

In the morning, you'll leave from Cairns for a ride on the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway to the mountain village of Kuranda, which is located about 15 miles (25 km) inland. The train snakes along hillside tracks built by the early settlers and offers breathtaking views of waterfalls, the cane fields of Cairns, and the Barron Gorge as you rise from sea level to 1,072 feet (327 m). 

Upon arrival, you can explore the rainforest village of Kuranda and its heritage markets, which are known for their colorful and unique arts and crafts. Then, head to Kuranda Koala Gardens, where you can cuddle a koala. Perhaps spend time at Birdworld or the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, where you'll be surrounded by over 1,500 of these beautiful creatures as they flutter around you.

Return to Cairns via a 90-minute trip on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Snap plenty of photos as you glide over the canopy of one of the world's oldest rainforest ecosystems. There are two stops en route, including boardwalks and the CSIRO Discovery Centre, an environmental research institute.

Day 8: Depart Cairns

The stunning cityscape at the Port of Cairns at dusk

While this is the last day of the tour, it doesn't have to be your last day in Cairns. Stick around if you like or explore more of Australia's spectacular eastern coastline. If you do have to leave, you will be transferred from your hotel via taxi or hotel airport shuttle for your departing flight. Safe travels!

More Great Australia Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Australia? Check out these other Australia itineraries, explore different ways to spend eight days in Australia, or discover the best time to visit Australia.


Map of Experience Australia: Sydney & Cairns - 8 Days
Map of Experience Australia: Sydney & Cairns - 8 Days
Written by Liz Neal, updated Aug 16, 2023