Having driven up, down, and across it, I can safely report that what people say is true:
Australia really is vast.
Heck, its landmass is similar in size to the United States!
The only difference?
The majority of Australia is comprised of red, empty, and inhospitable dirt.
However, scattered around this ancient place is also an inordinate number of landmarks that are so breathtaking, beautiful, and mind-blowing they have to be seen to be believed.
Are you trying to find out about the most famous landmarks in Australia to make planning your trip around the country a little bit easier?
Well, you’re in the right place!
In this article, I’m going to go through 12 famous landmarks of Australia that I think should feature on anybody’s Australia itinerary.
Check them out!
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12 Famous Landmarks of Australia
With so many landmarks in Australia to choose from, narrowing them down to a single list was never going to be straightforward.
So, it’s fair to say this post about famous Australian landmarks is far from exhaustive!
It is, however, full of 12 incredible places that are guaranteed to leave an indelible mark on your memory. Let’s dive in…
1. The Great Barrier Reef
Perhaps the best-known of Australia’s landmarks is the dazzling Great Barrier Reef. It’s been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, and it’s not difficult to see why.
The world’s largest reef system contains over 2,500 individual reefs that cover an area of 348,000 sq km. The reefs stretch from the northeast tip of Australia over 2,000 km south along the eastern coast.
It’s one of the richest and most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet with over 400 species of coral and 1,500 species of fish.
You’ll also have the chance to see sharks, turtles, birds, and even whales!
Visitors can enjoy snorkelling, scuba diving, or boating through this unique natural landmark. Stay at a luxury resort on one of the 900 islands that dot the coastline, or base your excursions from the cities of Cairns, Townsville, or Mackay.
Bonus tip: Sadly, like other famous landmarks in Australia and around the world, this natural wonder is suffering from the effects of global warming. If the Great Barrier Reef is on your bucket list, try to plan a visit sooner rather than later!
2. Sydney Opera House
One of the most famous man-made landmarks in Australia is the iconic Sydney Opera House. Also a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s one of the most influential and iconic buildings from the 20th century.
How did it come about?
In 1956, Sydney announced an international competition to build an opera house on its famous harbour. More than 200 architects submitted ideas, but the winning architect was Jorn Utzon with his whimsical design modelled after seashells.
Since its official opening in 1973, millions of visitors have flocked to Sydney Harbour to see those one-of-a-kind white vaulted “shells”.
The venue hosts an average of 1,500 shows each year, from classical symphony orchestras to rock concerts and modern dance spectacles.
You won’t have any trouble finding the Opera House – it dominates the skyline of Sydney Harbour.
Book a ticket to see a performance or schedule a tour to see the beautiful interior.
Another popular option is a scenic harbour cruise past the Opera House and other famous Australian landmarks in the area.
3. Uluru (Ayer’s Rock)
Did you know that Australia’s home not only to the world’s largest reef but also the world’s largest monolith?
Deep in the interior of central Australia, you’ll find another instantly recognisable landmark:
Western explorers first saw this enormous red mountain in 1873 and named it Ayer’s Rock.
It wasn’t until 1993 that it was ‘officially’ renamed to the aboriginal word Uluru.
Whatever you call it, it’s a sight you’ll never forget. Rising a dramatic 348m from an otherwise flat landscape, it’s easy to understand why it’s long been a spiritually significant site for the local Anangu people.
Plan your visit for just before sunrise or sunset, when the rock lights up in a brilliant shade of neon red.
You’ll find Uluru located in the heart of the Northern Territory in the appropriately named Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
The closest major ‘town’ is Alice Springs – a mere 5-hour drive away – although there is a small airport in the nearby town of Yulara.
I’m not kidding when I say this is one of the most remote landmarks in Australia (if not the world).
Before you set off for your outback adventure, make sure you’re equipped with the latest outdoor safety gadgets.
4. The Great Ocean Road
If you love epic road trips, you’ll love the next item on our list of Australia’s landmarks.
Pack your sunglasses and your surfboard and head south to the state of Victoria, where you’ll find one of the most scenic coastal routes on Earth.
Also called the Surf Coast Highway, this 243km stretch of road connects the towns of Torquay and Allansford.
You’ll find an array of hotels and guesthouses to choose from, or you can try your hand at different types of camping along the way!
Around every turn, there’s a new craggy cliff, deserted beach, or soaring bluff to discover.
The highway’s dotted with quaint surf towns and fishing villages where you can stop in for a coffee or a cold pint.
The road’s flanked on all sides by lush countryside and rainforests, providing plenty of Instagram-worthy photo ops.
Don’t miss the stunning 20-million-year-old limestone cliffs known as The 12 Apostles.
There are also plenty of opportunities to interact with local wildlife, soak in natural hot springs, and venture deep into the rainforest.
The closest big city is Melbourne, where you can easily rent a car and begin your once-in-a-lifetime road trip.
5. Kangaroo Island
Not all of Australia’s landmarks are situated on the mainland.
Located just southwest of the city of Adelaide you’ll find a true hidden gem:
One-third of this rugged island is designated as either National Parks or conservation areas, so it’s an ideal destination for nature lovers.
In addition to kangaroos, you’ll also find colonies of seals, sea lions, penguins, and wallabies.
Foodies will appreciate some of the freshest food and beverage products anywhere on the continent.
You’ll enjoy an abundance of seafood, rock lobster, grass-fed beef, and sheep’s cheese.
The island is also home to 28 wineries, as well as bee farms (for honey) and distilleries for lavender and eucalyptus oils.
If this sounds like your cup of tea, you’ll find regular ferries departing from Cape Jarvis and flights from Adelaide.
This is Australia’s third-largest island, so give yourself at least a few days to explore its wonders!
6. Bondi Beach
Sydney’s Bondi Beach is arguably one of the most famous beaches in the world.
Deep blue Pacific waters combine with warm golden sand to create a spectacular 1km stretch of sunbathing paradise.
Located just 7km from Sydney’s city centre, Bondi Beach is beloved by locals and tourists alike. Have a drink at a beachside cafe, go for a swim, rent a surfboard, or lie back and get a tan — but hopefully not a sunburn.
On summer weekends you’ll find the Bondi Farmer’s Market offering a wide selection of produce, artwork, and handicrafts.
You can also catch boat tours to go whale watching or, if you’re lucky, you might see some breaching from the shore.
Keep in mind that the seasons are reversed down under. If you’re hoping for a lovely summer holiday, plan your Bondi Beach getaway between November and March.
7. Port Arthur Historic Site
For a unique glimpse into history, head to the ‘bottom of the world’ and the bottom of Tasmania to the historic town of Port Arthur.
This is the site of one of the most prominent penal colonies of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Surrounded by water on three sides, the imposing penitentiary was believed to be inescapable — the Australian version of Alcatraz.
Thousands of convicts from England and Ireland were deported here to serve their time.
Hard labour was the norm and (not surprisingly) most inmates didn’t survive long. The prison finally closed and was abandoned in 1877, serving as a chilling reminder of the darker aspects of Australia’s history.
Today, visitors can tour the prison, an immersive museum, and the convicts’ church.
If you’re brave enough, you can even sign up for a lantern-lit ghost tour after dark!
8. Shark Bay
Moving from Australia’s southernmost point in Tasmania, let’s head to the westernmost point on the continent and the fascinating landmark of Shark Bay.
As you might have guessed, the area received its name in 1699 because of the abundance of sharks in the waters.
There was a reason for this, though – the bay is also home to some of the world’s most unique plants and wildlife.
In Hamelin Pool, you can see colonies of stromatolites – a type of bacteria believed to be the oldest lifeform on the planet.
The bay’s also home to the world’s largest colony of sea cows (dugongs) in the world, with a population of over 10,000 strong.
If you need more reasons to visit, Shark Bay is also one of the best spots to find whale sharks, migrating humpback whales, loggerhead sea turtles, and bottlenose dolphins.
Like Uluru and other famous landmarks in Australia, it’s going to take some time and effort to reach Shark Bay.
Many visitors make the 800km trek from Perth in a rental car, so make sure you bring a list of awesome road trip ideas to pass the time!
9. Blue Mountains World Heritage Area
Here’s a famous Australian landmark that’s a little easier to reach…
The Blue Mountains sit inside a National Park that’s just a short two-hour drive or train ride from Sydney!
When you visit this area, you’ll find a spectacular landscape of karst cliffs, sandstone formations, and rugged canyons.
Waterfalls and rivers abound, feeding the lush rainforest and abundant plant and animal life.
The Blue Mountains get their name from a bluish haze that appears in the area when viewed from a distance.
Scientists believe this is from the eucalyptus trees releasing their oils into the atmosphere.
Don’t miss the most-visited site within the National Park:
The Three Sisters.
These stunning rock formations rise over 900m from the mists of the Jamison Valley. They even have unique names: Gunnedu, Michni, and Wimla.
10. Daintree Rainforest
It’s not every day you get to visit a 180-million-year-old rainforest, so why not add this Queensland destination to your travel bucket list?
This National Park features one of the oldest rainforests on earth and – as you would expect – a dazzling variety of flora and fauna, including 400 rare or endangered species.
The two main areas of the park are Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation, each lying about 100km from the city of Cairns.
Fun fact: The coast of Cape Tribulation borders part of the Great Barrier Reef, making this the only place on earth where two UNESCO sites overlap!
Take a river cruise to look for crocodiles or go zip-lining through the treetops for a bird’s eye view of the jungle.
The dry season (May through October) is cooler and drier, while the wet season (November through April) brings higher temperatures and humidity.
11. Undara Lava Tubes
You probably don’t think of volcanoes when you think of Australia, so it might surprise you to learn that there’s a Volcanic National Park near Cairns.
The aboriginal word Undara means ‘long way’ – and they’re not kidding.
The area’s home to the planet’s longest lava tube system, with over 160km of underground caves. Historians believe they formed during a volcanic eruption some 190,000 years ago.
The tubes are as wide as 20m and as high as 10 in some places.
You can’t visit them on your own, but you can sign up for an eco-tour that explores the geology and history of the area.
If you’re into a spot of spelunking (i.e. caving), then this is one Australian landmark you don’t want to miss!
12. Sovereign Hill
A list of famous Australian landmarks wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions:
If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to live in the Gold Rush era of the 1850s, here’s your chance to immerse yourself in history.
This open-air museum allows you to enter and explore a real underground gold mine and learn from costumed characters.
There’s also a Gold Museum where you can see vast quantities of real gold, as well as learn more about the Gold Rush and the historical town of Ballarat.
When you need to quench your thirst, belly up to the bar at the posh Sovereign Hill Hotel.
Sovereign Hill is an easy 90-minute drive from downtown Melbourne.
Heads up, there are plenty of companies that organise day tours if you prefer to leave the driving to someone else!
Photo attribution: Mike Lehmann, Mike Switzerland, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons
Famous Landmarks in Australia: Which Will You Visit First?
Even for a country as enormous as Australia, there’s a crazy number of unmissable things to see and do in the Land Down Under.
Heck, I spent almost a year there and only scratched the surface!
With any luck, though, this list of 12 famous landmarks in Australia will help you settle on what to see first.
Nicely, with so many famous landmarks of Australia around, you’re never too far from something unforgettable to explore.
Wherever you go and whatever you do, you’re all but guaranteed to have an incredible time.
Want some help staying entertained as you drive from place to place?
Check out this list of 200 road trip questions.