Nestling on a narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the leafy Illawarra escarpment, Wollongong is known for its coal mining, large beaches, and relaxed life. The city has become quite popular among Sydney Siders as a weekend getaway destination due to its proximity (a mere one-hour drive away). With everything from quick day trips to serene escapes available by car or train, it’s no wonder why so many people are taking advantage of this hidden gem.
Nestled on a narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the leafy Illawarra escarpment, Wollongong is famous for both its coal mining history and beautiful scenery.
This town has become my favourite getaway locations during the pandemic. Since I do not have access to a car, I love hopping on the train every couple of months to still get away from Sydney’s hectic lifestyle. I recently spent a couple of days exploring the centre of Wollongong to see exactly what it had to offer and discovered that it is more than just its beaches and surf spots.
It also offers various cultural attractions such as art galleries like Wollongong Art Gallery which shows contemporary Australian artwork in an open warehouse layout or quirky little museums like Taronga Western Plains Zoo where you can explore Australia’s diverse wildlife habitats up close (and personal). The city centre is bustling with street performers, parks and markets full of delicious yummies.
Here are some of my recommended things to do in Wollongong on a two-day trip.
Wollongong is a bustling city that is full of technology, art, and restaurants. Surrounded by the beautiful beaches of the South Coast and packed with students from the large university, it’s a town that buzzes with energy.
You’ll find a bustling ‘eat street’ right in the centre of Wollongong on Keira Street between Crown and Smith. Home to more than 20 restaurants, eateries, cafes, bars and dessert shops – it has something for everyone! You can spend the whole day dining out with friends or family from breakfast through lunch then head straight back again for some afternoon tea or happy hour drinks before finishing off your night at one of many bustling pubs.
The city of Wollongong has a vibrant arts precinct, with the largest and most well-known gallery housing an impressive collection of Aboriginal art. In addition to that, there are multiple venues for theatre, music and comedy at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre.
Wollongong is a coastal city, and with that comes the opportunity to explore! There are three beaches on the edge of Wollongong that you can enjoy. Outside of this wonderful city, there are many more adventures to be had in Mount Keira or Mount Kembla. You can also try some great outdoor activities such as skydiving, scuba diving, surfing, fishing and mountain biking.
BASIC INFORMATION ON WOLLONGONG
Underneath you will find some handy basic information on Wollongong, including how to get there, public transport in and around the city and more.
GETTING TO WOLLONGONG
Getting from Sydney to Wollongong by car is only an hour-long drive along the beautiful Princess Highway. You will be rewarded with scenic views of the sea and a stunning coastline. If you don’t have your own vehicle, public transportation is also available in the form of buses and trains. Parking near the main beach should not be difficult either because there are plenty of spaces available.
An amazing route to take is the Grand Pacific Drive. The Grand Pacific Drive is a beautiful drive through the Royal National Park and up to many incredible viewing points. If you’re looking for an exhilarating experience, I recommend taking this route. One of the most interesting sections on this drive is Sea Cliff Bridge which towers over stunning sandstone cliffs. You can see some of the rougher areas as well as the softer ones that have been sculpted by centuries of erosion and waves.
There are plenty of train services to Wollongong’s suburbs and coastal towns from Sydney.
The SCO train from Sydney is a really easy train ride (and there’s toilets on-board! ). For 90 minutes, you travel through the outer reaches of Southern Sydney and through the stunning and lush depths of Sydney’s Royal National Park, before arriving in Wollongong.
With an Opal Card, the trip to Wollongong only costs $6.20.
BEST TIME TO VISIT WILLONGONG
For those looking for a lazy day on the beach, September to February is the perfect time of year in Wollongong. The summers are not too hot and winters aren’t cold enough that you can’t enjoy them either! So no matter what time of year you visit, there’s always something to do in this coastal city.
Low season is generally in the winter months from July-August with temperatures around 17 C (62 F). Summer is the most popular time to explore Wollongong because it makes for a perfect weekend escape to the beach.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU NEED IN WOLLONGONG
You won’t need more than a day and a half to explore all of the Wollongong attractions. The city is relatively small so you can easily walk from one area to another in no time. I would recommend planning on spending your first day at the beach and then taking your second day exploring the surrounding areas of Wollongong.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN WOLLONGONG
Tired of walking, biking or driving to get around? Check out the free shuttle bus! It’s a great way to explore Wollongong without getting tired! The route 55A and 55c buses travel in a loop between the CBD and Wollongong University. They operate every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends/holidays.
In case you’re wondering, these buses don’t stop at all stops – they only pick up passengers if they’re flagged down by pedestrians.
Hotels in Wollongong range from top international brands to apartment-style stays. There are eight internationally branded Wollongong hotels and plenty of B&Bs. If you are on a road trip, there are some caravan parks in Wollongong to choose from too.
I stayed at the Adina Apartment Hotel Wollongong. I have stayed at the Adina franchise at different locations, and I like their rooms and set up. They are Covid proof, clean and well organised. The rooms are large and (most) come with a fully equipped kitchen. I preferer to stay at accommodations that have kitchens in the rooms so that I can prepare my own mails during my trips. This is such a money saver!
Adina in Wollongong is located within easy walking distance from the beach, shops (Including supermarkets) and the train station. I walked everywhere and it was easy to do. It has a nice pool, gym and sundeck, making it a nice place to chill and explore the city.
BEST RESTAURANTS IN WOLLONGONG
You will not go hungry in Wollongong as the city is filled with many amazing eateries to choose from, including a large range of cuisines. Underneath you can find just a couple of amazing options:
Steamers Bar and Grill is located right on Wollongong Beach. It offers some amazing sights, perfect for a romantic dinner. The food is good and they have live music every Thursday!
Harbourfront Seafood Restaurant is located at Brighton beach and offers some amazing views of the harbour and the Breakwater Lighthouse. This seafood restaurant is a popular spot to enjoy a lovely sea platter lunch.
Babyface Kitchen is possibly my favourite restaurant in Wollongong at the moment! The food was absolutely perfect, and had a wonderfully memorable night!
WHAT’S ON IN WOLLONGONG
Wollongong nightlife is buzzing hidden bars, quirky cafes and new nightspots. The bar and club scene is quite vibrant and nice to explore! Check out His Boy Elroy which is an awesome laneway bar with exposed bricks, offering gourmet bites, burgers & creative cocktails.
The Howlin’ Wolf Whiskey Bar is located in the CBD near the Illawarra Museum. It offers a Cozy atmosphere, and it is a good place to catch some live music whilst sipping on one of their great whisky’s.
The Throsby Wollongong is a Wine Bar located in Kembla Street Wollongong. It is a small bar, but the food and drinks are simply too good to miss out!
Throughout the year there are many festivals and events in Wollongong, including theatre festivals, art exhibitions and charity walks. So make sure to check what’s on in Wollongong to see what is coming up.
Things to do in Wollongong during a weekend getaway
Underneath are some of the best things to do in Wollongong if you are there for two days.
SURF, SUNBAKE OR WANDER ALONG WOLLONGONG BEACH
Wollongong Beach is a stunningly clean beach with many features and amenities. It’s always clean, never crowded, and is home to the best surf break on the south coast of Australia. You can see it from the highway when you drive by and once you get there it will feel like your own private paradise with plenty of amenities for families just waiting to be discovered.
It has an on-site café, plenty of picnic areas, lifeguards during the summer months, and it is close to parking. The best part about this beautiful sandy shore? There are rock pools for children to play in!
You can enjoy a swim in the saltwater pool set along the iconic Blue Mile between Wollongong Harbour and North Beach. Continental Pool is one of the city’s most loved swimming spots. There are three pools- 50m, 45m, and toddlers’ – all salty.
Entry is free but bookings are required!
WOLLONGONG HARBOUR AND LIGHTHOUSE
The Wollongong Harbour’s Breakwater lighthouse has been inactive since 1974. It stands 12 metres high, and its tapered round wrought iron tower houses a lantern which shines bright white when need be. The lighthouse was seriously deteriorated before being restored in 1978 – 1979, stabilizing the condition of the structure.
In 2000 to 2002, a complete restoration was conducted which restored the lighthouse and its lighting equipment to their original configuration. The light has been relit in connection with an international lighthouse conference held in Sydney.
Interesting fact: Wollongong is the only point on the eastern coast of Australia which has two lighthouses.
VISIT NANTIEN TEMPLE
The vast Nan Tien Temple complex is embedded in a peaceful hillside and has two prayer halls with Tibetan-style architecture – one that overlooks the Blue Mountains to the east. It is not only the largest Buddhist temple in Australia but also one of the largest in all of Asia.
The exterior resembles a Chinese palace with flying eaves and was built using modern techniques back in 1991.
While some people visit the temple only for the day, others choose to take up residence so they can experience all that it has to offer.
EXPLORE WOLLONGONG BOTANIC GARDEN
In the highest part of Wollongong, on the delightful grounds of Gleniffer Brae Manor House is the city’s world-class botanic garden. This is all set along a creek, feeding a small lake, and has a range of exhibits, from native Australian plants to exotic collections from around the world.
There’s even a children’s playground with an outdoor climbing wall! Plus, there are events on every month – check out their website for more information.
GO SHOPPING IN WOLLONGONG’S MARKETS
The Crown Street Mall is where you can find the best of what Wollongong has to offer in fresh produce, handmade and creative products, and unique pieces. They hold markets twice a week.
Eat Street Market is held every Thursday night from 5 pm – 9 pm with live music and other cool events.
The Friday Forage Market features a range of sweet treats, artisanal crafts, clothing, jewellery, accessories, photography prints and much more! Also held between 5 pm – 9 pm.
GO SKYDIVING AND LAND ON THE BEACH
If you are looking for a thrilling experience, then jumping out of a plane at Australia’s highest altitude of up to 15,000 feet is the place. You can jump from this height over North Wollongong beach and freefall at speeds of 200 km/hr for 60 seconds before finally floating under canopy for 5-7 minutes soaking in spectacular views of Wollongong and the Southern Sydney beaches. I did this jump many years ago and let me tell you it was absolutely amazing!
I hope that this blog post has helped you get an idea of the best things to do in Wollongong.
SHOP MY PRINTS
I recently started an online Etsy shop. If you love Australia and are looking for some cool prints, digital artwork or even some cool stickers to spruce up your planners, then have a look at my Etsy Shop – Bondi to Basic Designs. I offer lots of amazing artworks from the stunning cockatoo to the colorful Rainbow Lorikeets, Koalas and much more!
Additional Sydney Resources
- 10 Epic places to check out the Sydney Opera House
- The ultimate Sydney bucket list
- Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk
- Spit Bridge to Manly Coastal Walk
- Whale watching in Sydney’s Harbour
- mini-guide to Bondi Beach
- Sydney by night | all Must do’s and see’s
The best Sydney Travel Itineraries
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