The Blue Mountains refers to the mountain range itself as well as the surrounding area located just 90 minutes from Sydney, Australia’s largest city. The region is UNESCO World Heritage-listed as the Greater Blue Mountains Area and covers 1.03 million hectares comprising 8 distinct protected regions. It stretches north almost to the Hunter Valley wine region, south to the Southern Highlands and west beyond the ancient formations of the Jenolan Caves.
The National Park offers everything from a 5-minute stroll up to a lookout over the Jamieson Valley and it’s most famous sandstone peaks to an epic week-long trek crossing multiple National Parks. In between are our favourite day and part-day hikes that cover the region.
But it’s not only hiking that you’ll come up here for; the foodie scene is great, there are excellent public and private gardens, the natural history and that it’s an ideal location to unplug from the city and indulge the senses.
Table of Contents
- Things to do in the Blue Mountains
- 1. Prince Henry Cliff Walk
- 2. Scenic World
- 3. Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens
- 4. Jenolan Caves
- 5. Leura Cascades
- 6. The Three Sisters Lookout
- 7. Katoomba Falls
- 8. Gordon Falls Lookout
- 9. Katoomba
- 10. Leura
- 11. Pulpit Rock Lookout
- 12. Govetts Leap Lookout
- 13. Street Art
- 14. Sublime Point Lookout
- 15. Echo Point
- 16. Open gardens
- 17. Ride the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus
- 18. Giant Stairway
- Some top foodie spots
- Where to stay in the Blue Mountains
- Getting to and around in the Blue Mountains
- The best time to visit the Blue Mountains
Things to do in the Blue Mountains
1. Prince Henry Cliff Walk
Starting from the park above the Katoomba Falls the cliff top walkway runs for 7 km through to Leura. Allow 3 to 4 hours to do the walk one-way while enjoying the many points of interest and lookouts. You can also choose to break it up into sections and complete it as a return walk. There are fabulous views and interesting detours from the track the whole way along. This is the quintessential Blue Mountains and to really get a feel of what the area is all about I’d highly recommend spending time along here.
The track follows the contours of the ridgeline and although it does include some stairs and steps along the way it doesn’t head down into the valley making it a fairly level and easy walk.
2. Scenic World
Scenic World is a series of 3 scenic rides and a 2.4 km boardwalk down at the forest floor in the Katoomba section of the Blue Mountains. The rides include:
- the steepest passenger train in the world that sets off down to the base station at an incline of 52°
- the skyway with 360° views and a glass floor that glides across the Jamieson Valley 270 metres above the forest floor, and
- a cableway that descends 545 metres down into the valley to the base station and boardwalk below.
You can easily spend a full day exploring the National Park and making good use of the Scenic World discovery pass. We share highlights of our day, itinerary and fabulous views in our post on discovering the best of Scenic World.
Scenic World is integrated into the national park, only the rides themselves are paid activities, you can freely move between the rides and the greater National Park throughout the day by scanning your wristband as you board each ride. For those that choose not to use the rides, there’s no private section of the forest, while the company maintains the boardwalk to protect the forest floor from the high number of visitors it can also be accessed via paths and stairs cut into the cliff.
3. Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens
Stunning in all seasons, the Blue Mountains botanic gardens have a range of walking trails that criss-cross the 97-hectare property. The views out to the hills from Mt Wilson to Wheeny Gap would have been a little better on a clear day but even with some low cloud, it was pretty easy to identify the peaks and valleys from the identification board on the viewing deck of the main building and we quite enjoyed the moody scene while we explored the gardens.
4. Jenolan Caves
With a natural history dating back 340-million years, the cave system at Jenolan is believed to be the oldest in the world. There are 11 caves that you can tour here, each with their own highlights whether that is their size, fossils, the underground river that carved out the hillside or the crystal formations.
The photos below are from the Temple of Baal and the Orient Cave tour, both of which we’d highly recommend but everyone we spoke to had enjoyed whichever caves they’d been into, some will suit individual interests butter than others but there is no right or wrong choice. You’ll also want to leave time to walk around the blue lake, the limestone gives it an incredibly vibrant hue and the waterfall and swimming hole is so pretty even if you don’t want to take a dip.
<< Read more about the Jenolan Caves >>
5. Leura Cascades
This short 30-minute walk from the picnic area is less than a kilometre loop back to the pretty falls behind the park. There are a carpark, large shade trees and picnic tables here or you can enter via a short detour from the Prince Henry Clifftop walking track.
6. The Three Sisters Lookout
The distinctive rock formation is visible from many sections of the clifftop walkway, the Scenic Ropeway, Scenic World and other trails and lookouts in the region. These soft sandstone peaks are the most familiar of the Blue Mountains landmarks. The three sisters have cultural significance to the local Aboriginal People and are each individually identified by name.
You aren’t able to climb here but there are stairs and a walkway across to the first sister and a small seating area to reflect on the stunning surroundings before the climb back up.
7. Katoomba Falls
The top sections of the Katoomba Falls aren’t large but they are pretty and haven’t run dry in recorded history. They weren’t a roaring torrent when we visited after 6-weeks of dry weather but still well worth seeing. They are very easy to access from the park and the clifftop walkway that passes right past them as it heads towards the Furber Steps.
8. Gordon Falls Lookout
Also accessed from the cliff top walk is the Gordon Falls Lookout. There’s a park and a picnic area at the top and then it’s a short stroll down to the lookout. To see the 200-metre drop of the falls you’d want to be here in the afternoon light, in the morning you are looking directly into the sun.
This is a popular area for bird watching and there are several other walks you can detour off to from the park which include the Pool of Siloam, a pretty sandy pool beneath the waterfall surrounded by ferns, and Lyrebird Dell.
The largest and best-known town in the Blue Mountains is Katoomba. In 1879 a coal mine opened in the mountain near Orphan Rock and the cable car that was to become the Scenic World train line was installed. The town became an early tourist destination with visitors transported around the sites by horse and carriage, many of the original boarding houses from those times along the road to the three sisters are still in place and heritage listed.
Some of the best-known walkways and formations are located here and the infrastructure makes it a practical base for visitors and day-trippers. The village today houses a variety of restaurants and cafes, supermarkets, businesses, and galleries. On the weekends especially it can get very busy with day-trippers up from the city and an increasing population of its own.
Located only a few minutes drive from Katoomba is the township of Leura. The main street of this quaint and welcoming village is lined with small art deco buildings that house restaurants, deli’s, galleries and shops. We were drawn to the more relaxed feel here, while still having everything we needed so close by.
We choose The Fairmont in Leura as our base while in the Blue Mountains and found it ideal. The immediate area has its share of parks, lookouts and attractions and is also known for its excellent open gardens which are arguably at their best in the spring and autumn.
11. Pulpit Rock Lookout
There is a dirt road down to the carpark for the Pulpit Rock lookout but it’s well graded and easy enough to navigate with a normal car. This is probably my favourite lookout in the Blue Mountains, while it’s well maintained it’s not as well known as many others. We only saw one other couple walking back up the track as we were on our way down, other than that we had it to ourselves.
The track signage might make you smile a little on the way back out though, there’s quite a large sign at the start of the track that proclaims Pulpit Rock Lookout, 400 metres, 15 minutes one way, easy grade. The track is very do-able, don’t get me wrong, but as I grabbed my water bottle from the car when we returned I felt that they might have oversold the ease just a little. The Australian track grading system is generally going to make you feel like an overachiever, something marked as easy grade would normally be flat, potentially stroller friendly, perhaps even partially sealed or a boardwalk. This is an excellent track with safety rails, ladders for the steep parts and stairs cut into the cliff to avoid slipping in wet conditions, for the views it would be hard to beat and I’d highly recommend including it on your itinerary but if your knees are giving you issues you may find it more difficult than you expect.
12. Govetts Leap Lookout
Not far from Pulpit Rock, also in Blackheath is the Govetts Leap Lookout. This is a drive up option although many of the lookouts are joined by trails if you have the time to allocate walking between them.
The Bridal Veil Falls walk leaves from here, an easy enough walk down (about 15 minutes) but save some energy for those 500+ stairs on the way back up. There are also a couple of other slightly longer tracks from here including Braeside Walk which is an interesting shorter walk for seeing a variety of the interesting rock formations, waterfalls and fauna, it’s around 2.5 km and takes around 90-minutes to complete the return walk.
13. Street Art
Of the many things we anticipated in the Blue Mountains a fabulous collection of street art wasn’t on the list but it’s right here and if you enjoy outdoor art then keep your eyes open for these as you drive around. The biggest single collection was in Katoomba next to the Gingerbread House on Waratah Street but there were plenty more surprises to be found.
14. Sublime Point Lookout
The Sublime Point Lookout is in Leura and again just a short stroll from the carpark, a good option for catching the scenery in the early morning or late afternoon light. There are fabulous views of the Jamison Valley and cliffs but you are slightly outside the National Park itself here and you might see rock climbers taking on some challenging moves. Unless you are experienced this isn’t the place to try it out for the first time, the sandstone cliffs are very delicate and crumbly throughout the Blue Mountains with the potential for significant damage to you and the environment.
You do however get the opportunity to take a short bridge across the ravine to the lookout. From here there are views out to Katoomba, the three sisters and Mt Solitary. It’s a good option for a picnic and the trees near the carpark attract the black cockatoos and gang gangs at either end of the day.
15. Echo Point
Right on the edge of the escarpment in Katoomba with a view down the valley and across to the three sisters is Echo Point. You can reach the lookout from the cliff top walk that we’ve mentioned above or you can park and stroll the short distance out onto the lookout platform from here.
You will need to pay for parking here and in the immediately surrounding streets, it’s one of the very few places in the Blue Mountains that is the case but if you want very easy access or are dining in the lookout restaurant it may be worth it to you for the convenience. The lookout is huge and the view stunning, it’s also tour bus central and there is a constant stream of drop-offs making it by far the busiest place we went to. That said it’s not somewhere to skip, it really is beautiful and they bring people here for a reason but be ready to dodge the flag bearing guides and rapidly moving tour groups so you aren’t swept along in their wake.
If you are considering visiting the Blue Mountains on a day tour, do your research, while it can be tempting to look for one that fits the most things into a day that doesn’t always result in the best possible experience and if the attractions are widely spaced you may spend a lot more time on the bus than you do seeing the sights.
16. Open gardens
There’s a range of options for garden lovers in the Blue Mountains. One of the most popular is the Everglades Historic House and Garden, a 1930’s art deco cottage and landscaped garden in Leura. It’s open daily from 10-4 and sprawls across 5.2 hectares with a backdrop of the regions stunning views and bush. It’s a formal European style stroll garden and you can stop for something to eat in the tea rooms or bring a picnic to enjoy in the gardens.
The Campbell Rhododendron Gardens in Blackheath cover 18.3 hectares and open all year round although the peak season for the rhododendrons up here from September to November with the best displays generally in late October. The gardens are only 1 km from the Blackheath railways station so it is practical to reach it by public transport with a little walking. If you are in the area we highly recommend Anonymous Cafe in the main street, the attention to detail by the baristas and quality produce used here made it a worthy stop for our morning cuppa and one we want to share.
The Leura gardens festival is on again in October showcasing spring in the cool climate gardens on the mountain, 2019 will mark the 55th year of the festival and is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of the area and the work that goes into creating the stunning displays.
17. Ride the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus
If you’re in the Blue Mountains with your own vehicle then you won’t need this but as it’s a popular destination that’s easily and economically reached by public transport out of Sydney so wanted to include how this might work for some visitors.
The Blue Mountains Explorer Bus has 29 stops around Leura and Katoomba including easy access from the train stations, many accommodation options including the Fairmont Resort where we stayed, and 12 trail-head stops giving access to many great walks and waterfalls in the region. You’ll also find plenty of options for foodies, and stops at Scenic World, galleries, and museums.
18. Giant Stairway
The Giant Stairway might feel like a test for the fittest but it’s part of a great half day walk for those that are feeling up to it. It begins here above the first of the three sisters. Climb down and cross over Honeymoon bridge to the famous rock structure, then continue down the remainder of the 998 stairs which are made up of more steel staircases and steps carved into the cliff face itself.
At the bottom you have a few choices, you could return the way you came but now you are down here why not turn right onto the Federal Pass track and continue on around until you meet Katoomba Falls tumbling down the cliff. It’s about a 30-minute walk. Just past here you could return via the Furber Steps and past the top section of the falls or continue a little further around joining the Scenic World boardwalk and treat yourself to a shortcut back to the top via the worlds steepest railway.
Some top foodie spots
19. The Potager Cafe at the Botanic Gardens
This place not only looked adorable with these great views but the food was fabulous. Not having thought to make a booking for our mid-week visit we thought we might have been out of luck with many of the best seats displaying reserved signs but we only had to wait about 10 minutes before they found us a table right on the edge of the balcony.
We highly recommend the Potager Pot pies of slow-braised beef rib in a rich red wine jus, the crispy truffle oil baked chat potatoes that come alongside were pretty heavenly too, a very welcome change to the ubiquitous fries. If you’re heading out to the botanic gardens or elsewhere in Mount Tomah this is a great option for lunch.
Bells Line of Road, Mount Tomah
20. Milk Bar in Katoomba
It was a hot morning and we stopped in here to try their fruit smoothies and fresh warm lemon myrtle doughnuts on our walk along the cliff top. There’s a restaurant upstairs that would have an even better view but we didn’t get around to trying it. The cafe deck did offer a nice respite before the crowds on the Echo Point and three sisters lookouts, after that the crowds thin out again and you only pass occasional walkers.
33 Echo Point Rd, Katoomba
21. Kickaboom in Glenbrook
The first village you discover as you enter the Blue Mountains is Glenbrook and the premium coffee and fun menu at Kickaboom may draw you in more than once. It’s full of nice touches, the syrup in my Butterscotch Latte is made in house and just the right amount has been added to the rich coffee to impart the distinctive aroma and flavour of butterscotch without the overwhelming sweetness you might expect.
My banana bread french toast is a sweeter choice for brunch but again well balanced and full of flavour. The kaffir lime gel and lime yogurt whip are offset with candied walnuts, almond crumble and coffee caramel. Drew equally enjoyed his less photogenic but equally tasty choice of brunch burger tantalisingly adorned with BACON JAM! I mean really, where do I get a Kilner jar full of that.
1/6 Ross St, Glenbrook
22. Gingerbread House in Katoomba
This one jumped out at us on our first drive through Katoomba and having made an abrupt stop when we spotted the street art just along from it, it seemed fated that we’d be trying out the Gingerbread House for our afternoon cuppa. They serve a range of meals and snacks here with indoor seating and a sizable outdoor space including a children’s play area.
I couldn’t go past the local Josophans chilli hot chocolate on almond milk and it was an excellent choice, so rich and decadent and a decent hit of the chilli flavour and heat. The outdoor seating area is leafy and tucked away from the road, a relaxing spot to recharge before taking a wander through the town.
56 Waratah St, Katoomba
23. Yellow Deli in Katoomba
A cute little spot, the interior is like walking into Middle Earth or a set from the Hobbit. Food is an 8/10, service a 2/10 but it’s kind of an institution in Katoomba. If it hadn’t been for the somewhat odd vibe from the waitress inspiring a quick Google search while we waited I’d have missed the notoriety entirely.
Apparently, the cafe is owned by the Twelve Tribes cult which seems to have a sizable holding nearby and a number of businesses here. Internationally the cult’s has had their share of legal issues over the treatment of children but to be honest I’d heard nothing about them previously in Australia.
Their sandwiches are fabulous though, home-baked bread, packed with flavour and generous on the fillings.
214 Katoomba St, Katoomba
24. The Garage in Leura
Relaxed and casual but you’re going to want a booking for the bar/restaurant even in the middle of the week. Their plates are made for sharing, from gourmet pizzas to mussel pots and interesting tasting plates.
The potential here is huge as they seem to have this part of the market pretty much to themselves at the moment. The concept and decor is fun and interesting but the service and consistency aren’t quite there. If you want a light dinner and drink at the end of an energetic day, and you want to keep it casual, it’s a good option as many of the other cafes in Leura don’t open in the evening.
84 Railway Parade, Leura
25. Embers in Leura
This restaurant in the Fairmont Resort offers stunning views through the multi-storey windows out over the valley and that alone made a meal here a must-do on our list. The menu offers some interesting combinations including my tea-smoked duck which was succulent, delicate and delicious although some would have considered it a light serving when presented as a main.
Sadly the steak that was cooked beyond the requested medium-rare which is disappointing at the price point. That said the locally sourced produce is good quality, the views amazing and the front of house service very good.
56 Waratah St, Katoomba
26. Josophans fine chocolates
Jodie knows her chocolate and is the founder of this family business and Leura icon. Located in the main street not only do they produce and sell exceptionally fine, filled shell chocolates but they have some incredible pieces of chocolate art in the store.
When you pop in to pick up a little treat look for the incredible solid chocolate trees down the back and the finely detailed bodice works displayed around the store. If you enjoy chocolate in small quantity and exquisite quality you have found your dream store.
132 Leura Mall, Leura
27. Anonymous Cafe
Anonymous is a friendly little coffee shop in the art deco strip of Blackheath. You’ll pass through here as you head out to the Botanic Gardens, Jenolan Caves and several of the lookouts and walking tracks mentioned above and it’s well worth a stop.
The baristas have great attention to detail delivering an excellent cup of coffee, there’s also a menu of seasonal local offerings and some tempting sweet treats displayed in old fashioned glass jars behind the seating area. A worthy consideration for brunch or lunch.
237-238 Great Western Highway, Blackheath
28. The Bakehouse on Wentworth in Leura
With a specialty in organic sourdough loaves all shaped by hand, this bakery also makes some of the best gourmet pies we’ve had in Australia and has an impressive range of sweet treats too. While they do have some seating on site this is a great stop to pick up the makings of a picnic to enjoy at one of the many waterfalls, parks and lookouts in the area.
208 Leura Mall, Leura
Where to stay in the Blue Mountains
Katoomba is the biggest township in the Blue Mountains and together with nearby Leura, they are the ideal base to explore the region. There are accommodation options at a variety of price points, a good selection of restaurants and cafes, basic shops and so many beautiful walkways, lookouts and fun activities.
We choose the Fairmont Resort in Leura. an Accor property under the Sofitel brand. Our stay was midweek and outside of school holidays. The rooms were a good size, clean and well-appointed,
Getting to and around in the Blue Mountains
We flew into Sydney from Brisbane with Jetstar Australia. They offer some great deals to the hub city from all around Australia. You can book with them directly at Jetstar.com and we’ve recently downloaded their app, it’s a great way to keep track of our travel details. With the app on my phone, I can also check flight status, make bookings, complete the mobile check-in and see all the latest offers that come out for our home city.
The Blue Mountains is around an hours drive from downtown Sydney and it’s one of those places that is definitely easier to get around with your own transport. We hired a car from Sydney airport where you’ll have the choice of the usual range of rental companies. We use Avis because we’ve been happy with them on recent trips, they are easy to deal with and their pricing is usually relatively transparent.
Don’t do what we did this time though and forget to gas up the car on the way back to the airport, we got distracted in heavy traffic and roadworks and missed the last station, it’s an expensive mistake as they charge around 3x the normal pump price. Fortunately, we had filled up during the week after our long-distance trips so the damage wasn’t too bad.
If you don’t want to drive yourself there are still some other great options available.
Train and Explorer Bus
One great value alternative is to take the train up from Sydney to either Leura or Katoomba. You can explore the local area on foot, take the train to various villages in the Blue Mountains or a pass for the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus that runs a circuit through many of the Blue Mountains attractions and you can hop on and off as you want.
Great Blue Mountain Tour Options
If time is limited there are a variety of well-rated tour options into the Blue Mountains out of Syndey. Individual needs and preferences will vary but we suggest identifying if there are any specific things you really want to do and picking the tour based on that as a starting point. This is particularly important if you want to see the Greater Blue Mountains area including Jenolan Caves as this covers a substantial geographic area.
The best time to visit the Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains have a temperate climate with 4 distinct seasons each with their own attractions for visiting this natural landscape.
From December to February is summer. Expect the weather to be hot and humid but the clear blue skies are a stunning offset to natures views at this time of year. It’s a few degrees cooler than it is down in the city and that gorgeous leafy shade, resort pools and natural swimming holes make it a very appealing time to be here.
The explosion of jewel-coloured leaves from the deciduous trees planted through the streets and gardens of the Blue Mountains make it really come alive at this time of year. The cooler temperatures are ideal for walking the many trails and enjoying the views out over the Jamieson Valley and beyond.
The Blue Mountains have a true winter being a few degrees cooler up here than down on the coast and in the city but it’s a popular time to visit. The crisp air and clear sky can make for great views from the many walks and lookouts and it’s equally popular to cozy up and enjoy the local food settled in front of an open fire.
Many of the gardens are at their best in the springtime with special openings of private gardens, the Leura festival and flowers such as cherry blossom and rhododendrons at their most dramatic. As the city wakes from its winter hibernation visitors will feel energised by the fresh air and new growth.
Did we miss any of your favourite spots? Share them in the comments below and if you have any questions, please ask.
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