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Whether you’re heading down under to explore Australia’s cosmopolitan cities or dive into the Great Barrier Reef, a trip to Oz is sure to be memorable. Australians have a (deserved) reputation for being cheerful, extroverted, and humorous, which makes getting to know them an absolute joy. Sydney itself feels like a few cities in one, with the area containing not just glittering skyscrapers near the harbor, but chic neighborhoods like Paddington and the gorgeous suburb of Bondi, home to the eponymous, iconic beach. And if you’re into nature, you’ve found the right spot: Australia boasts a huge diversity of wildlife and is home to more species than any other developed country—with 87 percent of its mammals only being found there.
But the country is so massive it basically qualifies as a continent in and of itself—not to mention there’s the expansive Outback in the interior—so having a travel book is a great way to get started planning your adventure. We’ve rounded up some of the best, from guides to the hip city of Melbourne to a wonderfully funny memoir by Bill Bryson.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Frommer’s Australia 2019
The past editions of Frommer’s Australia have gotten great reviews from travelers heading to Oz, and the 2019 edition promises more of the same—in the best way possible. The coming year’s book was written by the author who wrote the previous editions: Lee Mylne, a Brisbane resident who’s covered Australia for years now. We love that the guide has ultra-detailed local maps (including Sydney’s ferry system) and updated pricing (Frommer uses a star system to indicate costs) for tickets and average spend at restaurants. There’s also a great section on the country’s aboriginal history and information about cultural sensitivity. Mylne’s incorporated a variety of itinerary ideas, as well as a ton of practical advice (including tips about car rentals) that’s sure to be a boon to anyone heading down under.
Best for Budget Travelers: Things to Do in Sydney for Free
If you’re packing light both baggage- and money-wise, the Kindle-only Things to Do in Sydney for Free is a great take-along resource. Liz Harper has done the work to lay out more than 150 free things to do in Sydney, from festivals and events to year-round favorites. Reviewers say that this guide helps them save money on the essentials like sim cards and transit, while also providing advice about going out in a country that’s notorious for the price of its booze. Readers also love that the book dives into locals-only, off-the-beaten-track experiences (even locals say they get great use out of this guide). And although what she covers is quite extensive, Harper has organized the book into sections that are easy to follow—and she also provides further resources, like free apps, to help travelers make the most of their money in the city.
Best for Great Barrier Reef: Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef
Moon Travel Guides are highly respected in the world of travel publishing, and Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey’s holds up. We appreciate that it includes a comprehensive guide to Sydney but also shares its title with the Great Barrier Reef for a great one-two trip to Australia (after all, Sydney is likely where you’d fly into for a diving excursion there). Lemmin-Woolfrey clearly lays out how to make your way from Sydney to the Great Barrier Reef, including great stopovers along the way, and she also takes on helping travelers figure out where the best diving is. If heading under the waves isn’t your thing, but seeing the area’s natural beauty is, she also has resources for finding great reef cruises, rainforest tours, and wildlife (and goodness knows Australia has some wildlife worth keeping an eye out for). All in all, this makes an excellent guide for your first or even second reef experience.
Best for Melbourne: Lonely Planet Melbourne and Victoria
Lonely Planet’s travel guides are some of the most reliable and engaging in the industry, and this guide to Melbourne and Victoria is a great resource for planning your trip to this hugely cultural city and its surrounds. It comes with nine color maps for easy reference, as well as proposed itineraries you can use as a base—or supplement—to your trip. Expect plenty of great restaurants and cafes—Melbourne is known for its foodie scene and love of coffee—as well tips on how to get around like a local. There’s also info on cultural must-dos for anyone in the city, like the Royal Botanic Gardens and National Gallery of Victoria. If you’re planning to get out of Melbourne for a few days, there are also handy guides to the Grampians, Bellarine Peninsula, Phillip Island, Spa Country, and more. We love the insider tips for on-the-ground, locally derived insights that save travelers time and money.
Best for Quick Trips: DK Eyewitness Books: Top 10 Sydney
If you just have a few nights in Sydney—whether it’s a stopover on the way to bargain flights to Asia or you’re just in town quickly before heading out along the coast—this quick-hitting guide covers the essentials. Expect guides to galleries, beaches, theater, and more—plus advice on local drinking and dining. It comes with a pull-out map to take with you as you amble through the city, as well as walking tours to see the city on foot. You’ll get great context for famous landmarks like the Sydney Opera House. If you’re planning to extend your trip to Sydney, the book more than serves a longer-term purpose too. And no, it’s not all super-touristy attractions — expect plenty of off-the-beaten-path sights too. Keep in mind that it was published in 2015, so some restaurant information might be outdated, but overall, it still stands as an excellent pocket guide.
Best for Kids: Let’s Explore Australia
Taking the little ones along on your trip to Australia? With highlights of the country’s most famous attractions, this book is full of illustrations that hint at sights to come and lead curious minds to begin asking questions about the trip. The book is from a publishing house that deals with reference materials, so expect context for the images at an age-appropriate level; each photo or picture has a short blurb to help kids match the image with the context surrounding it. And it’s not just Sydney, either. The book covers sites like Uluru, the stunning Blue Mountain National Park, the Gold Coast, and even Kangaroo Island. All in all, it makes for a great gift pre-trip to get kids excited and interested in what’s to come (we love the idea of talking through your itinerary via the photos), or for kids to bring along with them on the trip itself. Or, simply enjoy it at home, letting your child’s mind start to explore the world even before they have the chance to travel themselves.
Best for West Coast: Lonely Planet West Coast Australia
Despite all the attention that Australia’s east coast gets—and is likely where a first-time traveler to Australia might go—there’s more to the country than Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. Head west to Oz’s opposite coast for a unique trip filled with adventure, from surfing at hidden-gem reefs to exploring the wine country along Margaret River. This guide, published by Lonely Planet, covers it all—and then some. We love the insider tips so you can do what the locals do, as well as the variety of itineraries and upfront pricing that doesn’t leave any surprises when the bill comes. Because of the huge land area it covers, it’s especially handy for those that want to add in a few day trips to a stay in a central area, like Perth. There’s also a great pullout regional map that’s helpful for mapping your upcoming route—or reliving the trip when you get home.
Best Memoir: In a Sunburned Country
If you're familiar with travel memoirists, Bill Bryson needs no introduction. And per usual, In a Sunburned Country delivers the author's signature wit, wry humor, and self-deprecating observations — this time from Australia. It’s a great read for the long flight over to Oz—or at home as you plan your itinerary—giving you insight into local quirks and experiences that go well beyond the standard guidebook. Reading the book feels like Bryson is telling his tales over a lively pint, which, for most of us memoir-averse, is exactly what we’d like in an honest, accessible travel book. His passions for observational humor, nature, and the wonder of travel shine through, and what more could you want from a book to get you excited for an adventure down under? Although you might not plan your trip off this book, you might certainly find creative stops to make along your route—and you’ll definitely have some quirky anecdotes and facts to enhance what you do see.
Our writers spent 3 hours researching the most popular Australia guidebooks on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 30 different books overall, screened options from 15 different brands and read over 60 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.