When people think of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia, the first–and often only–thing that comes to mind is the iconic Three Sisters, a huge rock formation in Katoomba. But the mountains, which are only an hour and a half west of Sydney, have so much more going for them.
Dotted with quirky, eclectic, and unique shops, cafes, and towns to get to know, it’s an ideal day trip or a lovely place to spend a few nights. If you’re looking for a holiday that’s truly out of the ordinary, set aside some time to explore the Blue Mountains and all the area has to offer.
If you want unsurpassed views mixed in with some serious thrills, then Scenic World is for you. This privately owned tourist attraction is home to Australia’s only glass-bottomed cable car and the steepest passenger-carrying railway in the world. A working mine until 1945, Scenic World now showcases the region’s history and significance of coal and shale mining, while also giving people a taste of how they would have lived back in the day.
The best views in the Blue Mountains are, arguably, underground. A trip to Jenolan Caves is an experience not to be missed. With crystal-clear underground rivers, stalactites, stalagmites, and crystal limestone formations that will take your breath away, a visit to Jenolan Caves is like a holiday to another world. The Jenolan Caves are among the oldest and best-preserved cave systems in the world, and there are guided tours to suit every fitness level. You can even stay overnight at the heritage-listed Caves House and enjoy your dinner in its grand dining room.
Calling all lovers of scenery, landscape artists, and botanists, or anyone who enjoys a stroll and a picnic in a beautiful park: the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden has endless views, perfectly maintained gardens, and plenty of secluded areas for snuggling up to your loved one. Beautiful in every season, the garden is at its most stunning in the spring and fall. Pack a picnic and spend the afternoon exploring or simply lounging under an evergreen.
Held annually in March, the Blue Mountains Music Festival of Folk, Blues, and Roots is the perfect getaway for music lovers and avid festival-goers. Unlike touring or national festivals, the Blue Mountains Music Festival is much more intimate without skimping on the talent. Local, national, and international artists perform at this three-day feast of music, dancing, and all-around good times. Hotels book up quickly around festival time, so be sure to reserve a room in advance.
Blue Mountains Sparadise, South Bowenfels
Hidden away about a 30-minute drive west of Katoomba is Sparadise, a genuine Japanese bathhouse and the only one of its kind in New South Wales. It boasts an outdoor pool filled with water from a natural hot spring, an indoor spa, an herbal steam room, and massage rooms. It’s peaceful, calming, and feels a little bit spiritual. Though there are plenty of rules to respect (no shoes inside the establishment, personal bathing before entering the pools, and no loud talking, among others), the feeling of total Zen you'll get is worth following a few simple instructions. Sparadise is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and reservations are essential.
Beloved by locals and tourists alike, the village of Leura comes to life in the spring. With unusual wares lining the main street and a cafe every few blocks or so, there’s plenty to occupy your time when visiting Leura. See the local artists’ galleries, visit the lolly shop for some international treats, or visit the First Sunday Markets. In the winter, slip into a cafe with an open fire and enjoy a mouth-watering hot chocolate or some homemade pumpkin soup, just like your grandmother used to make.
Those who like a little (or a lot of) mystery should not miss Blue Mountains Mystery Tours. These unique tours give a new perspective on the Blue Mountains and teach you about geology, ancient myths, Aboriginal stories, flora, fauna, and the odd ghost story. You can choose a daytime mystery tour, or braver souls can opt for a nighttime ghost tour and take in the bloody history behind the scenery.