Visiting Townsville turned out to be a pleasant surprise. This small city on the coast of North Queensland was filled with palm trees, street art and patios. I walked only by foot, marveling at the history behind nearly every corner.
Townsville is located in the North Queensland region on Australia's East Coast. It's about a 4.5 hour drive south of Cairns and around 3 hours north of Airlie Beach. The city has one airport, which offers flights to several domestic and international destinations.
Greyhound Australia operates 3 coach trips to Townsville each day from Cairns (5-6 hours) and from Airlie Beach (4-5 hours), making it a great place to stop if you're traveling Australia's East Coast by bus.
The Spirit of Queensland, operated by Queensland Rail, stops in Townsville five times per week on its journey between Cairns and Brisbane.
WHAT TO DO ON YOUR VISIT TO TOWNSVILLE
Townsville is a great place to spend a few days, though it's still possible to enjoy your time in the city if you're only here for 24 hours! Here are some great ways you can enjoy your visit to Townsville on any budget:
EXPLORE THE STRAND
The Strand is a beautiful area along the waterfront that has it all - beaches, playgrounds, bbq areas, restaurants and even a swimming pool. At one end is lovely Anzac Park, which features some historically significant monuments, such as the WJ Castling Memorial Drinking Fountain, constructed in 1908, and the more recent First World War and Battle Of The Coral Sea memorials.
Beyond Anzac Park are pathways along the coastline with views across the water to Magnetic Island. Walking all the way to the other side will take at least 30 minutes, but if you're anything like me, you'll take your time and stop several times along the way.
CLIMB CASTLE HILL FOR THE BEST VIEWS OF TOWNSVILLE
Originally called Cootharinga by the local Indigenous people, Castle Hill is a fantastic place to get breathtaking 360-degree views of Townsville. Standing over the city at over 280 metres high, the heritage-listed site offers a lookout as well as several hiking trails for various fitness levels.
SEE SOME UNIQUE QUEENSLAND ART
The Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, named after a former mayor of Townsville and housed in a lovely heritage building, showcases an ever-changing collection of artwork related to the tropics of North Queensland. My visit introduced me to some beautiful pottery as well as an abstract explosion of colour called Cockatoo Cavern Fever.
The gallery is free to enter and is open Monday to Friday 10AM - 5PM and Saturday & Sunday 10AM - 2PM.
DELVE INTO TOWNSVILLE'S MILITARY HISTORY
Jezzine Barracks, at the end of The Strand, is a fantastic place for history lovers and is one of the best free things to do while visiting Townsville. The Kissing Point Lookout features two large guns that were used to protect the coast in previous times of war. The lookout is wheelchair-accessible, and offers beautiful views of the water and surrounding area.
Next to Jezzine Barracks is the Army Museum of North Queensland, which is open Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and is free to enter.
GO FOR A SWIM AT THE STRAND ROCKPOOL
The Strand Rockpool is an outdoor swimming area near the Jezzine Barracks. This little man-made lagoon is a great place for families to relax, with a grassy park that features a play area for kids. There are also restaurants with patios overlooking the pool.
The Strand Rockpool is open every day except Wednesdays and is free to enter. Lifeguards are on duty every day from 9AM until 5PM.
TAKE A DAY TRIP TO MAGNETIC ISLAND
A highlight on every visit to Townsville is a trip to Magnetic Island, a beautiful tropical paradise just a 40-minute ferry ride from the city. Located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the island offers tons to see and do over the course of one day, or a couple. There are many walking trails on the island, including the Forts Walk, which takes you through historically significant sites from WWII and offers amazing views from the top.
For animal lovers, the Bungalow Bay Koala Village offers a 2-hour guided tour through their wildlife park 3 times a day. They also offer the chance to hold a koala for an extra fee, though I encourage everyone to consider the ethics of this activity - Alice at How Wild It Was To Be gives a good account of her experience cuddling with koalas in Queensland.
The island also has some great snorkeling off some of the beaches, but for those that want to enjoy the water without being it in, Magnetic Island Sea Kayaks offers a morning kayak tour, as well as a sunset one at dusk.
DISCOVER TOWNSVILLE'S STREET ART
Townsville is full of amazing street art by local and visiting artists. If you'd like to wander off the tourist path and explore a different side of the city, make sure you pick up a map of the best street art locations for a self-guided walking tour of the inner city. You can also download the 2019 Townsville Street Art Guide.
LEARN ABOUT THE LOCAL AREA AT A MUSEUM
Because of its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, it's only fitting that the largest indoor collection of living coral is located in Townsville. Reef HQ allows visitors to learn more about the marine life located off the coast of Queensland, and is also dedicated to protecting sea turtles at their Turtle Hospital.
Located next door to Reef HQ is the Museum of Tropical Queensland. The museum houses both permanent and temporary exhibitions that will allow you to learn more about the history and ecology of Queensland, including an exhibit on the HMS Pandora, which was sent to recover the HMS Bounty after its famous mutiny.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK IN TOWNSVILLE
Townsville has no shortage of great patios and cozy bistros. Whichever area of the city you're in, you're sure to find a great place within a short walk. However, here are a few suggestions:
SHAW & CO
This trendy steakhouse in City Lane is a great place for meat-lovers to stop for lunch or dinner while exploring the city. They also offer a few options for vegetarians, though their highlight is their beef. The restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating.
Hours: 12 PM - LATE, 7 days/week
383 Flinders Street, Townsville CBD
THE BALCONY RESTAURANT
Housed in a colonial-style heritage building, this popular restaurant offers great open-air dining from its balcony, which overlooks other heritage buildings on Flinders Street. The menu includes breakfast and vegan options, which are available all day.
Hours: 9 AM - 2 PM, Monday & Tuesday
7:30 PM - 2 PM, Wednesday-Sunday
287 Flinders Street, Townsville CBD
RAMBUTAN ROOFTOP RESTAURANT
The Rambutan isn't just a hotel and backpackers, it's also got a great restaurant. The instagrammable space offers pool views on one side and city views on the other, and it's a great place to enjoy a unique DIY taco kit and a jug of one of their best cocktails.
Hours: 9 AM - 2 PM, Monday-Thursday
9 AM - 12 AM, Friday-Sunday
113-119 Flinders Street, Townsville CBD
C Bar is a great place on The Strand with a patio that has views of the coastline and Magnetic Island. The restaurant is open for breakfast and has a large selection of options, including breakfast, seafood, burgers and even curry.
Hours: 6 AM - 10 PM, 7 days/week
Gregory Street Headland, The Strand
LONGBOARD BAR & GRILL
This casual surf-themed restaurant is located beside C Bar on The Strand, and offers similar views from the large deck. The menu features Tex-Mex cuisine with an Aussie twist, and even if you're not eating it's a nice place to relax with an ice cold 'Mexican Chelada' (beer & lime juice).
Hours: 11 AM - LATE, 7 days/week
Gregory Street Headland, The Strand
This seafood restaurant is in a beautiful location overlooking Breakwater Marina. It includes vegan options in its menu and reservations are recommended, as the dining hours are different depending on the day of the week.
Breakfast Hours: 8 AM - 10:30 AM, Sunday
Lunch Hours: 12 PM - 3 PM, Friday-Sunday
Dinner Hours: 5 PM - LATE, Monday-Saturday
Sir Leslie Thiess Drive, Townsville
WHERE TO STAY IN TOWNSVILLE
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AQUARIUS ON THE BEACH
This hotel is located right across the street from The Strand and features an outdoor pool. All rooms have a kitchenette and balconies, most with amazing views of Cleveland Bay and Magnetic Island.
75 The Strand, Townsville CBD
OAKS GATEWAY SUITES
Oaks Gateway Studios is located near the Maritime Museum, just across the bridge from the CBD. Suites are clean and modern, and the building features a jacuzzi and infinity pool looking towards the harbour.
2 Dibbs Street, South Townsville
RAMBUTAN & TOWNSVILLE YHA
The Rambutan is both a trendy hotel & backpackers hostel, which means it's great for any budget. The accommodation features a lovely pool area, a great rooftop restaurant and a downstairs cafe.
113-119 Flinders Street, Townsville CBD
The Mercure is a great option for those who don't mind being a bit further from the city center. This hotel is in a beautiful setting beside Lake Curralea and features a large swimming pool, jacuzzi and on-site restaurant.
166 Woolcock Street, Currajong
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