Mountain High: Sydney to Blue Mountains travel guide

For those with a love of spectacular scenery, there’s no better road trip than one unveiling the rugged beauty of the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains. From epic walks to a string of charming villages, it’s a destination sure to please.


The Scenic Skyway cabin passes over the Jamison Valley, Katoomba, at Scenic World in the Blue Mountains

If you weren’t familiar with New South Wales geography, you’d expect the Blue Mountains was miles away from civilisation. The rugged beauty of the landscape, created millions of years ago, seems like a completely different world to Sydney’s harbours, beaches and nightlife. But this incredible wilderness is only a 90-minute drive. Take three or four days to appreciate all it offers: art galleries showing the work of local artists, charming villages with their own personalities, and walks that immerse you in the World Heritage-listed landscape. When you’re staring out over the golden rock formations you might wonder why they’re called the Blue Mountains… It’s because of the hue cast by light refracting through droplets of eucalyptus oil.


couple at a lookout on the Wentworth Falls Track in the Blue Mountains National Park, NSW

Bring your most comfortable walking shoes because there are innumerable hiking trails throughout the Blue Mountains. One of the best known takes you to the Three Sisters. It’s short and easy, but get there early in the day to avoid the crowds. If you want to challenge yourself, Wentworth Pass is a five-kilometre circuit that passes through thick rainforest and takes in Empress Falls, a number of other waterfalls, creek crossings (it’s not called the Valley of the Waters for nothing) and lookouts. The Grand Stairway then takes you back to the top. Leave at least four hours and take plenty of water.


  1. He’s considered one of Australia’s greatest artists – a painter, sculptor and novelist – and lived in the Blue Mountains for seven decades. Now, you can see how he lived and worked at the Norman Lindsay Gallery. His paintings hang in his former home and his sculptures dot the gardens. If you don’t know much about Lindsay’s controversial life, this is the place to begin discovering it.

  2. The geology of the region means there’s ample opportunity for adventure. Canyoning, where participants abseil down cliffs, jump over waterfalls and float down rivers, is one example. Book with Blue Mountains Adventure Company, which has expeditions for beginners and those with more experience.

  3. Many venues in the Blue Mountains offer high tea, but the best place to partake in this grand tradition is The Hydro Majestic. Tiny sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and delicate cakes are served in the hotel’s wintergarden, with panoramic views of the Megalong Valley that surely make everything taste even better.

  4. There’s no better way to take in the majesty of the mountains than from the back of a horse. At Megalong Valley Farm, choose from hour-long rides through forests and pasture or full days exploring along ridges and down to Coxs River. There are horses suitable for all levels of rider.

  5. It’s one of the last villages on the highway, so not everyone makes it to Mount Victoria. Which is a shame because there are lots of original nineteenth-century buildings, some now cafes, galleries, antique stores and even a cinema, as well as museums, gardens and easy access to lookouts and walking trails.


Blue Mountains Heritage Motel

Stay in the centre of Katoomba at Blue Mountains Heritage Motel. It has a range of room styles, all modern, clean and comfortable, and is an easy walk to many of the town’s restaurants and cafes.

Cedar Lodge Cabins

Be surrounded by bushland gardens, complete with visiting kangaroos, at Mount Victoria’s Cedar Lodge Cabins. All five are cosy and rustic – some suitable for families, others just couples – and have fully equipped kitchens.

Old Leura Dairy

The Blue Mountains is strewn with luxury digs, but for something different that doesn’t blow the budget try Old Leura Dairy. The owners have transformed farm buildings, regenerated gardens, added other eco-friendly accommodation options, and made a shared outdoor hot tub from an old milk vat.


Blue Mountains

Pick up your pre-booked vehicle from Apex Car Rentals at Sydney Airport then head west. It can seem as though the suburbs last forever, but that’s the Blue Mountains looming in the distance. You’ll discover villages of varying in size just off the highway, and signage pointing out plentiful lookouts and walks. It takes about 90 minutes to get to Katoomba, but plan on spending at least three days exploring galleries and antique stores, eating in cute cafes and doing epic walks through the national park.


A small group on a tour through a cave system at Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains, NSW

Jenolan Caves is in the foothills of the Blue Mountains on the western side. It’s one of the oldest and most spectacular caves systems in the world and there are several tours from which to choose. Some are suitable for everyone, others – like the Lucas Cave, which starts with a climb up 300 stairs – are for those who are physically fit. If you’re staying close by, get there early to avoid the bus tour crowds then check out the historic village at Hartley on the way back.