From tropical beaches to dusty deserts, buzzing cities to wildlife sanctuaries, Australia has an amazing range of experiences for the adventurous traveler.
The largest island on earth, Australia is almost as big as the continental United States, offering itself as a backdrop for films like Finding Nemo, The Great Gatsby, The Matrix, and Mad Max.
Famed for their laid-back attitudes, Australians enjoy a modern culture with a unique blend of European, American, and Asian influences.
So while you're packing your bags, here are the top five cities you just have to see if you want to get a true feel for this massive continent.Sydney
Sydney is one of the most spectacular cities in the world. The shiny clean city sits on the sparkling blue water of Sydney Harbor, framed by the opera house and towering bridge.Coffee culture, student culture, and underground culture have been refined to an art in Newtown and Glebe, two neighborhoods in Sydney. Bondi, it's main beach, is one of the most famous in the world. Suburbs like Surrey Hills, Paddington and Rose Bay are filled with class, wealth and sophistication, and if city life is all too much, it's just a 15 minute drive to the surf of beaches like Bondi or Manley. Colonialism and Asian immigration give the city quite a distinctive feel, and locals are spoiled by the impressive range and quality of international cuisine. Jagged cliffs and beach coves line the coast, and just one hour west of the city are the sheer rocks and thick bush of the Blue Mountains. Cairns
If your image of Australia is primarily formed by "Finding Nemo", then Cairns is the place for you. With the Daintree rainforest to the north and the Great Barrier Reef to the east, Cairns is the ideal base for snorkeling, hiking and scuba diving.You can stay at island resorts, snorkel for clown-fish among the coral, or even practice speaking whale on humpback-spotting tours. Seals, turtles and dolphins also cruise the colorful reefs. Between Cairns and the larger city of Brisbane, there's also the Whitsunday Islands if you're after some more exclusive resort offerings. The Qualia resort in the Whitsunday's offers one of the most exclusive (and expensive) hotel experiences in Australia. The Daintree rainforest to the north offers lush hikes through Australia's tropical north-east. Alice Springs
Alice Springs lies in the very centre of Australia, hundreds of miles away from anything. With its pubs and wildlife reserves, it's authentic outback Australia, but your main reason for visiting will be a bit of a drive.200 miles south-west of Alice Springs is Uluru, the largest rock on the planet. The sandstone behemoth is 600 million years old, and the ancient landscape around it offers the most authentic outback experience in the country. Aussies like to explore the the area in four-wheel drives and camper vans, but there's also a luxury hotel and plenty of bus tours. You can also take eye-opening tours with local Aboriginal guides, part of one of the oldest continuous civilizations on the planet. Darwin
In contrast to Alice Springs, the landscape surrounding Darwin is spectacularly lush, especially in the wet season. In Australia's tropical north, you can find ant hills 20 feet tall, crocodiles 16 feet long, and waterfalls 600 feet high.Again, the best way to explore is by hiring a four-wheel drive and heading out into the well sign-posted national parks. There are free BBQs, showers and toilets scattered throughout the area, and there's always a campground not too far away. You can escape the heat by diving into the waterholes and waterfalls throughout the park, but just make sure it's signposted as a croc-free-zone. The city of Darwin itself has great seafood, fresh tropical fruit and excellent local markets — there's also a Crocodile Farm near a suburb called Humpty Doo. The bushland and waterholes of Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National park are just a couple of hours drive away. Melbourne
If you can't stand hipsters, then Melbourne isn't for you. The lively city is known for its street art, small trendy bars and an overload of cultural heritage. There's a Melbourne museum, a science museum, an immigration museum, a Jewish museum, a sports museum, a racing museum, a film museum, a police museum, a railway museum and even a banking museum.Famous for it's coffee and lane-way culture, this is the city where you grab a micro-brewed beer at a rock gig, have a glass of red at the opera, or sip latte at an obscure gallery. The city also hosts 'the race that stops the nation' — the Melbourne Cup horse race — and the Australian Open tennis tournament. Melbourne demonstrates Australia's cosmopolitan city-life at its best. From grand colonial buildings and landscaped gardens to grungy bars and graffiti-strewn lanes, Melbourne has something for every type of cultural explorer.
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