Townsville has been on my list of places I want to visit for a long time. Mainly because there are direct flights from Melbourne and I had exhausted most options where this is the case! This isn’t to say Townsville isn’t worth visiting. Not at all.
Townsville is a lovely city. The first thing we noticed about it was how beautiful it looked and how different to Cairns – where we had just come from. It was far more desolate with big rocky mountains and far less vegetation.
I was thinking about how it looked more like we were in the Outback, especially compared to the rainforests in Cairns. I had a vague memory of hearing Townsville described as “where the Outback meets the sea”. I may be confusing this to elsewhere but it’s how it looked to me.
We arrived in Townsville on a sunny day which probably helped. The water was stunningly beautiful and the orangey, red rocks leading into it made for quite a contrast. Our photos really don’t do it justice at all.
Townsville only got better from here with some great tourist attractions in Townsville and it being just a nice place to hang out. It is also much more affordable that it’s northern cousin, Cairns.
Below you will find out guide to what to do in Townsville Australia including what to do on Magnetic Island, kids’ activities in Townsville, where to stay in Townsville as well as other practical information to help you enjoy Townsville as well.
The top of our list of Townsville things to do and see is definitely Castle Hill. This hill is only 286 metres tall but it is the tallest thing around and located very centrally in Townsville.
It’s visible from basically anywhere and has magnificent views of Townsville from all sides. This includes the water, Magnetic Island and inland Australia.
It’s a quick drive from the centre of Townsville or you can walk – if you are going to take this option definitely set out early or wait until early evening.
At the top, there are also short walks to better vantage points which are definitely worth taking.
Castle Hill is also a great choice if you are looking for things to do in Townsville for free. There is no charge.
Enjoying the Strand is one of the fun things to do in Townsville. It’s a waterfront area with walkways, beach, pool, water playground, parks, jetty and cafes. There’s also a regular night market. It’s the perfect place from which to enjoy Townsville.
At one end is Jezzine Barracks (more below) and Rockpool. Rockpool is a big pool area perfect for swimming and splashing around – the perfect thing to do if you are looking for free activities in Townsville. There is also a cafe here.
I was surprised to find that the beach along the Strand looks quite nice. It’s not a good idea to swim here but you could sunbathe or have a picnic.
Along the Strand, you can also find the Strand Waterpark. I listed this separately on my list of things to see in Townsville list as it’s just so cool!
The Strand Waterpark was recently reopened after a complete redevelopment and it’s looking amazing. If you are looking for free things to do in Townsville with kids then this is a big winner. They are sure to love it.
It is quite extensive and lots of fun. There’s a lifeguard on duty through most of the day – you can find more information and hours here. Note that it’s currently closed on Tuesdays when it’s not school holidays.
Reef HQ is the world’s largest living reef aquarium and worth adding to your stuff to do in Townsville list if you are interested in learning more about the Great Barrier Reef.
There are many different fish and coral on display as well as turtles and baby crocodiles. There’s a fair bit of information as well as live talks and a long tunnel.
The site is only small – we were done in less than half an hour but we were not there at the right time to hear a talk and our kids get bored easily. If you are interested in learning more about the Great Barrier Reef or you are not going to make it on a trip out to see it then it is one of the recommended places to go in Townsville.
Find more information on their website.
The Museum of Tropical Queensland surprised us by being incredibly awesome! It is definitely one of the top things to do in Townsville.
There are many exhibits which detail things like what it’s like to live in the tropics, information about the Great Barrier Reef, rainforests, the history of the area and items and information about the HMAS Pandora which is a ship that sank nearby in 1791 that had been sent to capture the infamous Bounty mutineers.
There is also currently a special dinosaur exhibit until July 2017 which is especially awesome.
Everything is well displayed and informative. There are so many special Townsville things to do with kids in this museum. I was incredibly impressed by the amount of fun activities.
This museum is also great for adults. I would have loved longer to study everything, especially about the HMAS Pandora.
We were running out of time when we made it here which meant we didn’t spend nearly long enough – put aside at least half a day especially if you are looking for Townsville activities for kids.
Find more information on their website.
On Palmer Street is the small, marina-side, Townsville Maritime Museum. Spread across three small buildings the collection is a cross between the memorabilia stored in a few old salts’ sea-chests and the life’s work of a group of model ship makers (ships in bottles and all). While it won’t appeal to everyone the small collection is well laid out and easy to explore.
The former patrol boat HMAS Townsville is due (or is already? – it wasn’t clear) to be moored at the museum for exploring, and this would have added a lot to our visit.
Not every kid (or adult) will find a visit here interesting, sure, but Z and I did and it was an engaging 40 minutes. It’s an easy and enjoyable Townsville place to visit. The museum was pram friendly.
Tickets are currently $5 AUD for an adult and $3 for kids five and over.
For Townsville attractions and activities, head to Jezzine Barracks at the end of the Strand. This site is home to coastal boardwalks, artwork and parks, as well as the Army Museum North Queensland. It has previously been the site of army barracks and is a significant site to the local Aboriginal people. Today, it commemorates both of these heritages.
There are observation decks and nice walks. I recommend a visit in the early evening when the sun is not so bright. We made the mistake of visiting in the early afternoon and it was just too hot to walk around much. This area is right next to the rockpool so it’s easy to combine these places to see in Townsville.
One of the places to visit in Townsville is one of the four Botanic Gardens.
We visited Queens Gardens since it is nice and central. It’s a lovely green area with lots of shade and a small playground. It also has many small gardens like a rose garden, herb garden and cactus garden.
Entry is free.
A trip to Far North Queensland would not be complete without visiting the most famous of the things to do near Townsville – the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s easy to do snorkelling and diving trips to the Great Barrier Reef from Townsville or Magnetic Island.
We did not do this as we had just visited it in Cairns, but if you are just visiting Townsville then you need to put this on your list of what to see in Townsville.
Magnetic Island is a small island just a 20 minute ferry ride from Townsville. I would hazard a guess that most tourists that come to Townsville visit Magnetic Island, with many staying there.
This small island is just lovely. I visited on a day trip with 6 year old, S, and we had a great time. It’s a low key place but just beautiful and chilled.
What is there to do on Magnetic Island? Mostly it’s about relaxing and enjoying the beach and life. There are many fabulous beaches and a few have stinger nets set up. There are many water activities like paddleboats, jet skis and kayaks. Prices seemed reasonable.
There’s restaurants, cafes and shops and a couple of small attractions with the main one being Bungalow Bay Koala Park (more about that next!).
A popular thing to do on Magnetic Island is to go hiking – there are many walking trails and the ones I saw were very well set up. We just did a quick one to a lagoon from Horseshoe Bay and it was nice to get out in the bush. S was extra happy when she recognised plants we had learned about at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park in Cairns.
What I loved best about Magnetic Island is just how peaceful it is. Everything looked stunningly beautiful when we visited. The fact that it is an island helps limits the crowds and cars which is a great thing. A friend had described Magnetic Island as the perfect place for an old school holiday and I agree.
There are many accommodation options on Magnetic Island and it’s definitely worth considering a stay here. I would have loved a few days relaxing.
It’s very easy to get to Magnetic Island. It took us 20 minutes on a Sealink ferry which departs regularly from Cairns. There’s also the option of Fantasea which operates a car ferry. Getting around the island is easy – hiring cool little pink “topless” cars is popular (but overpriced). We used the public bus which meets all the Sealink ferries and was cheap and easy.
If you are looking for Magnetic Island things to do and want the opportunity to get up close to some of Australia’s native wildlife then this is the place to visit.
Bungalow Bay Koala Park offers two hour “tours” of their wildlife park. I put tour like that because it wasn’t quite what I imagined. Basically, everyone enters the wildlife park section of Bungalow Bay Koala Village and then various animals are brought out for you to touch and hold. I think interactive wildlife presentations would be a better way to describe it.
We were able to hold a baby crocodile, various lizards, a big python, kiss a bird, hold a koala and pat a wombat. There was plenty of opportunity to take photos and we weren’t rushed at all.
The guide was incredibly knowledgeable and his presentations was what made this very good. Touching wildlife like this always makes me uneasy and I wouldn’t have visited had I realised this was the main activity in this things to do at Magnetic Island.
However, I can say that I learned a lot and S absolutely loved getting close to all these animals.
You can find more information including the latest prices and tour times on their website. It costs extra to hold a koala but everything else is included in the entry price.
We visited Townsville with our 6 and 4 year olds and our 7 month old baby. We found Townsville to be an excellent destination with kids.
All the things to do around Townsville listed above work with kids – and we took our kids to them all. The Townsville kids’ activities that we particularly enjoyed were the Strand Waterpark and the Museum of Tropical Queensland.
We found everywhere in general to be quite kid friendly with many little things for kids to do in Townsville like playgrounds.
We found Townsville to have a great range of accommodation for good prices. We were very happy with our pick of the Park Regis Anchorage and especially recommend it if you are visiting Townsville with kids.
The Park Regis Anchorage is located in a handy spot near Ross Creek in Townsville. It is walking distance to many of the best things to do in Townsville listed above including the ferries to Magnetic Island.
It has two pools, but the best part for us were the two bedroom apartments that are great for families. We ended up in a townhouse. Downstairs was an open plan dining, fully equipped kitchen and lounge area with a toilet and a laundry. Upstairs was two lovely bedrooms and a large bathroom. There was air conditioning and fans in the living area and bedrooms.
There was also a back courtyard area with table and chairs and a big balcony with a small table and chairs. We had a private car park right at our front door.
It was so easy to be here. The townhouse was serviced (something we find to be rare in Australia). We never heard a sound from outside and they were very good about letting us have a late checkout for a very reasonable price.
We very much enjoyed our time in Townsville. It’s a low key destination with some lovely things to see and do in Townsville. It’s a very easy place to visit whether you are with kids or without.
We especially enjoyed visiting Magnetic Island and I would love to go back and have a holiday based there. We also loved the Museum of Tropical Queensland and just hanging out in this city.
It is very easy to visit from Melbourne and so I am sure another visit here will be on the horizon soon!
You can also read our full guide to Cairns here.
Have you visited Townsville or Magnetic Island? Do you have any tips?
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