3 week Australia itinerary East Coast

3 week Australia itinerary: highlights of the East Coast

In this 3 week Australia itinerary, we’ll explore Australia’s gorgeous east coast. Visit awesome cities, a rainforest, and go snorkeling.

East Coast Australia itinerary

How much can you see and do when you travel to Australia for 3 weeks? A lot! Ok, you’ll never have enough time to see the whole country (it’s also almost as big as all of Europe), but at least you can see the most beautiful highlights along the east coast.

In this article, I’ll share my 3 week Australia itinerary for a trip along the east coast of Australia. This East Coast Australia itinerary has a good balance of visiting many beautiful places and it’s also possible to take a little break every now and then.

Days 1 & 2: Relaxing in Clifton Beach

Clifton Beach
An empty beach and a perfect place to relax.

We start this 3 week Australia itinerary in Cairns, located on the northeast coast of Australia. When you fly from Europe or the USA to Australia, you’re probably really tired of all the traveling. So I highly recommend relaxing a couple of days after you arrive.

Close to Cairns, you’ll find a small village called Clifton Beach, which is a perfect place to relax. Here you’ll find a beautiful (empty) beach and I’m pretty sure you’ll see your first Australian wildlife here, like kangaroos, flying foxes, and cockatoos. If you want to relax, but a little more entertainment, it might be a good idea to check out Palm Cove, a town right next to Clifton Beach.

Perfect place to stay in Clifton Beach: Clifton Sands
Hotel tip Palm Cove: Hotel Grand Chancellor Palm Cove

Days 3, 4 & 5: Cairns

Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef - Cairns
Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef – Cairns.

From Clifton Beach, it’s easy to catch a bus to Cairns. The bus ride will take less than half an hour. This city of Cairns is very walkable and is in a perfect location to make some awesome tours.

Great Barrier Reef

Of course, you want to check out the Great Barrier Reef. Every day multiple boats will take you there, and you can either go diving or snorkeling. Check with your accommodation which tour they recommend or book a tour via Get Your Guide.

Tip! Cairns is one of the best places to start a liveaboard diving cruise. This way, you can see a lot more of the amazing Great Barrier Reef.

Daintree Forest & Cape Tribulation

Huge crocodile at the shore of the Daintree River
Huge crocodile at the shore of the Daintree River.

Another great day trip from Cairns is the tour to the Daintree Forest and Cape Tribulation (one of the oldest rainforests in the world). Here you will see some spectacular wildlife, like huge crocodiles. If you’re lucky, you might also see a Cassowary (one of the biggest and heaviest birds in the world). Booking a tour to the Daintree Forest is also very easy with Get Your Guide.

Hostel tip $: Travellers Oasis
Hotel tip $$: The Balinese

Days 6, 7, 8 & 10: Airlie Beach & the Whitsundays

Whithaven Beach - Whitsundays - Australia
Have you ever seen a beach so beautiful?

From Cairns to Airlie Beach you can either take a greyhound bus (12 hours). If you have some extra time, you can split this long bus ride when you decide to stay a couple of days in Mission Beach or Townville.

Airlie Beach is a cute small town with one big attraction: the Whitsunday Islands. Make sure to book a multi-day tour, because it will be the best experience of your trip. During the tour, you’ll explore the islands, go snorkeling, and visit the world’s most beautiful beach: Whitehaven Beach.

Hostel tip $: Backpackers by the bay
Hotel tip $$: Heart Hotel and Gallery Whitsundays

Days 11, 12 & 13: Brisbane

skyline of Brisbane
View of the skyline of Brisbane from Mount Coot-tha.

From Airlie Beach, it’s best to book a flight to Brisbane (your departure airport will be Whitsunday Coast Airport), because taking the bus will take about 24 hours.

Brisbane is a nice and chill city to stroll around, find small coffee joints, and go shopping. Right outside the city center, you’ll find some cool places, like Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (so many kangaroos and koalas!) and Mount Coot-tha (amazing viewpoint).

Hostel tip $: Breeze lodge
Hotel tip $$: Metropolitan Motor Inn

Days 14, 15 & 16: Sydney

Sydney Opera House
Visit the famous Sydney Opera House.

Sydney is just a 1,5-hour plane ride from Brisbane. There are so many fun things to see and do in Sydney, that you can easily spend a couple of weeks here. But if you only have a couple of days, you might visit the Royal Opera House for a concert, relax in the Royal Botanic Gardens, go for a hike from Bondi to Coogee Beach, or take the ferry to Manly.

Hostel tip Sydney $: Railway Square YHA
Hotel tip Sydney $$: Sydney Hotel CBD

Days 17 & 18: Blue Mountains National Park

Clouds in Blue Mountains National Park
Hiking in the clouds in Blue Mountains National Park.

From Sydney, you can take a train to Katoomba. This is the gateway to Blue Mountains National Park. This is a great place to visit when you like to go hiking. In addition, you can see many beautiful waterfalls in the Blue Mountains.

Hostel tip Katoomba $: Flying Fox Backpackers
Hotel tip Katoomba $$: Blue Mountains Heritage Motel

Read more: Hiking in Blue Mountains National Park (Australia)

Days 19, 20 & 21: Melbourne

Street art in Melbourne
Do you like to see some street art? Melbourne is the place to be!

Melbourne is the last stop of this 3 week Australia itinerary. This city is different from Brisbane and Sydney and looks and feels more like a European city. There are many epic things to do in Melbourne. There are lots of art galleries, historic buildings, street art, and plenty of places to eat something or get a drink.

Great Ocean Road

Twelve apostles - Great Ocean Road - Melbourne
The most famous rock formation along the Great Ocean Road: Twelve apostles.

Melbourne is also the gateway for exploring the Great Ocean Road. This is one of the most scenic roads in the world, with incredible views of the coastline. You can do a day tour, or just rent a car and enjoy this scenic drive for a couple of days.

Hostel tip $: Space Hotel
Hotel tip $$: Best Western Melbourne City

Read more: Top 5 things to do in Melbourne

How to get around?

You can do this 3 week Australia itinerary without renting a car or a campervan. Using public transport is really easy. Almost every tourist hotspot is easily accessible by bus. Busbud is a great website for booking bus tickets.

If you don’t like to spend too much time on buses, you can also opt for some domestic flights. For this itinerary, I had flights between the Whitsundays and Brisbane, from Brisbane to Sydney, and from Sydney to Melbourne. I usually check Skyscanner to find the best deals.

Of course, you’ll have more freedom when you’re traveling by rental car or RV. There are so many great places you can stop during your road trip.

Map of this 3 week Australia itinerary

Public transport: 800 kilometers by bus and 250 kilometers by train.
Domestic flights: 2400 kilometers (3 domestic flights of 1.5 hours each)

Best time for this 3 week Australia itinerary

I did this trip in July when it’s winter in Australia. For me, this was perfect, because the temperature in the northern part (Cairns and the Whitsundays) was perfect and not too hot. However, it could get chilly at night in Sydney (especially in the Blue Mountains) and in Melbourne, it was raining a lot. So I would recommend following this 3 week Australia itinerary between March and November, during the other months it can get really hot.

If you’d like to travel in the months of July or August, you can also turn this itinerary around, so it gets warmer during your trip.

Modifications for this 3 week Australia itinerary

Do you have more or less time to explore Australia? Here are some ideas to extend or shorten this itinerary.

Less than 3 weeks

You might want to skip Brisbane. It’s a fun city, but Sydney and Melbourne are more interesting.

More than 3 weeks

If you have time for a 4 week trip in Australia (or even more!), you could add these places to the itinerary:

  • Magnetic Island
  • Fraser Island
  • Nationaal park Lamington
  • Byron Bay

A personal note

For me personally, this was a perfect itinerary for my first time in Australia. I saw some beautiful landscapes and enjoyed every single moment. I also was able to get some relaxation time and had some extra time to do chores like laundry. I would’ve loved to make a trip to the red center as well, Uluru and Alice Springs, but didn’t have enough time and it was quite expensive. I will definitely go back to Australia to visit the center and the western side of the country. What would you add to this 3 week Australia itinerary?

Would you like to read more about Australia?

Get one of these amazing travel guides:

DK Eyewitness Australia

Lonely Planet Australia

Or check out one of these articles:

This article was published in October 2016. Last update: September 2021.

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As a girl from a small town in the Netherlands, I always dreamed of traveling. I thought it would always be a dream, but nowadays, I travel 6 to 8 months a year and I hike thousands of miles on the most beautiful hiking trails. On this website you can read all about my favorite destinations.

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