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Wondering where to go for a fun-filled road-trip weekend? The Blue Mountains offers a myriad of things to do, however, you won’t be able to see everything on one trip, but you’ll be able to see the main attractions and best parts if you know where to go, which is why we created A Weekend in the Blue Mountains – Road-Trip Guide! To help you understand a little about the region and some sites we’ve added a brief history section too!
Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, check sites before you visit, and for more information see the NSW Government website.
World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains is one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations. Aptly named, one theory suggests that the vapour (oil from the eucalyptus leaves) rises from the eucalypts, and results in a dark blue haze over the mountains. It’s the combination of oils, dust particles and water vapour that hits the sunlight and therefore creates an optical illusion of blue haze.
For centuries travellers have been visiting this region for the beauty of this magnificent landscape and for the healing benefits of the crisp, clean mountain air. Perhaps for that reason, there is an abundance of great places for foodies, whether you’re an adventurous hiker or someone who enjoys an easy stroll to a lookout, you’ll work up an appetite in this fresh mountain air, especially with so many amazing sights to see.
How to Get There & Where to Stay
Take the M4 motorway, which joins the Great Western Freeway, it’s about an hour and a half’s drive from Sydney to the Lower Blue Mountains.
Where would you like to stay? Are you after some style and five-star hotel comforts or are you after some outdoor adventure? The Blue Mountains has a great variety of accommodation options. And for the outdoor adventurer, camping sites and a multitude of walking tracks too. We have listed a few options to suit a range of budgets. We’ve also included a brief history of some places, and if you visit any of them, knowing a bit about their background can make it a little more interesting and fun.
There is a diverse range of great accommodation options in the Blue Mountains, we have listed three hotels (and two camping sites) which we have experienced over the years. Here are our favourites for a weekend road trip.
The Hydro Majestic
The Hydro Majestic in Medlow Bath, is a 10-minute drive from Katoomba – on The Great Western Freeway. Cleverly perched atop a cliff it overlooks the magnificent Megalong Valley. Recently refurbished, with art deco-inspired rooms, it also continues to capture the grandeur and majestic appeal of the Edwardian times.
The Hydro’s Wintergarden Restaurant serves a fine dining experience and a premium high tea, where you’ll be met with breathtaking panoramic views of the valley. Many drop in for just the high tea experience, and some for a coffee and the purchase of a souvenir in the Pavillion shop. Wander and explore inside this building and you’ll soon realise why this iconic hotel has remained in the limelight for so many years – for the ambience of its bygone era, while this is not a hotel to everyone’s taste, its history is captivating and well respected!
How Much? Rooms from $250 -$600
Heritage-listed Hydro Majestic was owned by retail magnate Mark Foy, he purchased the site in 1902 for the use of a hydropathic sanatorium (a place for the treatment of pain relief and other health issues such as tuberculosis) and opened its door in 1904. The hotel was once believed to have mineral spring baths constructed on-site in the nearby bushland, and was created as an exclusive health retreat.
The Casino Lobby (was used as a meeting hall or pavilion, and not a casino) is part of the entrance now, it’s iconic dome roof still remains, it was pre-fabricated in Chicago and shipped to Australia. Many famous performers would take to the stage in the Casino Lobby, including opera singer Dame Nellie Melba.
Adding to the ambience of this bygone era, in an unfortunate incident, Australia’s first prime minister Sir Edmund Barton died of a heart attack at the Hydro Majestic, which perhaps ironically increased the hotel’s popularity. This hotel would be frequented by the rich and famous for many years to come.
The Carrington combines luxury, history and grandeur with an old-world style – beautifully! They have incorporated affordable options for the discerning traveller too. This will be the first grand hotel you approach when you arrive in the town of Katoomba. It’s also one of the few hotels that has retained its original historic character, including the building and gardens.
Enjoy a fine dining experience or high tea in The Grand Dining Room, and be taken back in time – it is one of the last Victorian dining rooms still operating in Australia. Or for a little more fun, head to the Old City Bank Bar & Brasserie next door for some great Aussie pub food and beer (although next door, it is still a part of the premises). Its location in the town’s centre means you won’t miss any of the action here.
How Much? Traditional room $155 – Mountain Rejuvenate $500
During 1912, the owner of the Carrington, Sir James Joynton Smith, decided to build and open a bank on the premises, which became a branch of the City Bank of Sydney. During the 1930s it became the Carrington Saloon Bar. The hotel was forced to close during 1986, and was then renovated, it re-opened in 1992. The Old City Bank Brasserie was inducted into the Australia Hotels Hall of Fame, and has won many awards for the creation of good quality and innovative pub food.
The Carrington was built by prominent hotelier Harry George Rowell in 1883, and was once known as The Great Western, and was renamed ‘The Carrington in 1886, in honour of the then Governor of NSW Lord Carrington. It was a world-class establishment and soon became known as the honeymoon destination of choice.
At the rear of the Carrington Hotel, the old Katoomba power station was renovated into the Carrington Cellars & Deli, which opened in 2010. During 1912 it used coal and water to generate electricity to the Carrington and the region, where the excess would exit the tall chimney that can be seen high above the hotel today (Smith built the original Katoomba power station, and it was used until council built another in 1925). Later, The Carrington commenced making its own power again with the introduction of the co-generation plant. The Katoomba power station is a particularly significant feature because it provided the first supply of electricity to the Blue Mountains.
The Carrington was listed on the NSW State Heritage Register in 1999. The Carrington Hotel as a whole including its grounds and gardens is a rare surviving example of a Victorian and Edwardian grand resort in a town setting.
A five-star luxury resort and homestead, and as its name implies – Lilianfels Resort and Spa offers luxury, pampering and relaxation, in style. Situated in an elevated position overlooking the picturesque Blue Mountains National Park, it’s conveniently located adjacent to Echo Point and the main outdoor attractions of the area. And for the ultimate culinary experience, enjoy fine dining at Darley’s Restaurant, which won the Tourism Accommodation Association NSW Awards for Excellence Regional Restaurants of the Year for 2013.
How Much? Rooms from $450 – $600
Heritage-listed Lilianfels, was the original homestead of Sir Frederick Darley, who was born in Ireland, 1830. He met Lucy Forest Browne, who was born in Australia in 1839, while she was holidaying in England with her brother Thomas Alexander Browne, better known as the famous author Rolf Boldrewood. Federick and Lucy married in Hertfordshire in 1860.
Sir Federick Darley was knighted in 1887, and served five times as Lieutenant Governor of NSW, he was the sixth Chief Justice of NSW. In 1888 he purchased the land adjacent Echo Point and built a summer residence for his wife and seven children. Distinguished guests including royalty were invited to enjoy the summer residence, and nearly all accepted the Darleys’ hospitality. It was noted in the media when guests revelled in the beauty and location of this magnificent property.
Lady Lucy Darley was the founder of a society called the Fresh Air League. It was believed that Lillianfels was built in particular for their daughter who was ill with tuberculosis, for the health benefits of the mountain air. The house was named Lilianfels in Lilian’s honour, ‘fels’ is German for high land.
The Blue Mountains is renowned for its outdoor beauty and magical scenery, if you’re an outdoor enthusiast and want to absorb natures magical surrounds, here are two of our favourite camping sites:
The Euroka Campground is situated in the Blue Mountains National Park near Glenbook and the Nepean River. Here there are not only a variety of walking trails but tracks for mountain bikes along Oaks Firetrail. And for those that want to get a little closer to some of Australia’s indigenous history explore the Red Hands Cave track (see walking trails below). There are a multitude of tracks in and around this area. It is a peaceful spot surrounded by outdoor fun!
Katoomba Falls Tourist Park is a campground in Katoomba, in the heart of where all the action is, conveniently situated between Echo Point and Scenic World – you’ll have the best of both worlds here. If you like to be close to the action and enjoy walking to nearby attractions, this site is in the perfect location!
The main attraction and must-do experience in the Blue Mountains is Scenic World and Echo Point Lookout at Katoomba. Echo Point Lookout has amazing views of the much-beloved Three Sisters (top feature photo) and the Jamison Valley. Want to get even closer to the Three Sisters, from the Echo Point Information Centre there is a 45-minute walk that takes you to the first sister – The Three Sisters Walk. From Echo Point Lookout you can also take the Giant Stairway to Scenic World on a 4.7 km walking track, or take a 3-minute drive to Scenic World instead.
At Scenic World, if you’re not afraid of heights you can take a ride on the popular Scenic Skyway and marvel at the surrounding majestic views of the valley, and for a dizzying aerial view don’t forget to look down through the glass floor. For some other adventures; take the Scenic Railway down to the valley on the steepest incline railway in the world, and enjoy a pleasant walk through time viewing historical relics and information about the coal mining days (there is access to the 2.4 km Scenic Walkway).
Or take the Scenic Cableway, the steepest aerial cable car in the Southern Hemisphere – which travels to the valley floor to a lovely boardwalk (Scenic Walkway) through the lush and picturesque rainforest. Better still, do all four: Skyway, Cableway, Railway and the Walkway!
It is believed that the name Katoomba comes from a Gundungurra Aboriginal word, variously written as ‘godoomba’ or ‘kedumba’, meaning ‘water tumbling over a hill’ or ‘falling water’.
And the story of The Three Sisters, according to Aboriginal legend: the three rock pillars were once three sisters; Meehni, Wimalah and Gunnedoo. The three girls from the Katoomba tribe ran away with three men from the Nepean tribe. Due to tribal law, the girls were forbidden to marry, and so a battle ensued. The witch doctor from the Katoomba tribe wanted to protect Meenhi, Wimala and Gunnedoo from harm and so turned them into stone, with the intention to reverse the spell. However, the witch doctor was killed and unable to reverse the spell, and so remain the three sisters in stone formation until today.
Stopping Points & Cafes
There are many stopping points, however, you may just want to focus on a few of the main attractions. If you’re staying in Katoomba for example, you might want to have breakfast or lunch on the way in and just focus on one site of interest to investigate (or two depending on your time frame etc) and spend the next day exploring Scenic World and Katoomba. Here are some ideas.
If you’re an early bird, one of the first towns where you can grab a great breakfast is Glenbrook. The Church Glenbrook offers a great Gourmet BBQ menu for breakfast and lunch. The building was the original old Glenbrook Church, which many locals who had grown up in the area fondly remember, and is now heritage listed. There are many walks in this area too, we have listed a few below.
Drop into one of the most popular galleries in the Blue Mountains, The Norman Lindsay Gallery. Norman Lindsay, born in 1879, was an artist, writer and cartoonist. One of his most popular works was The Magic Pudding, a classic Australian children’s book, which Lindsay wrote and illustrated in 1918 – is still just as popular today.
The gallery is set in beautifully landscaped gardens, and on-site is also a peaceful garden cafe. Norman Lindsay’s life and works (including this property – his home), became world renown after the movie ‘Sirens’ was released in 1994.
Next stop Leura, you’ll not only find some great places to eat but shopping opportunities in Leura village too, this is the place to amble and investigate, every shop and cafe in this quaint village is a tourist drawcard. Red Door Cafe and the Lily’s Pad Cafe serves breakfast all day, and both provide lovely courtyards. Red Door provides gluten-free and vegetarian options, with healthy alternatives. Lily’s Pad offers housemade jams, chutneys, breads and cakes, and gluten-free options too. Or if you’re looking for a popular dinner spot (open for lunch too) try out the award-winning Leura Garage, cafe, restaurant and bar, and enjoy the ‘cool’ and bustling atmosphere of this beautifully renovated car garage.
One of the most visited tourist sites in Leura is the Leurella Toy and Railway Museum. It houses the largest collection of 20th-century toys, trains and associated memorabilia in the Southern Hemisphere. The 5-hectare award-winning gardens are filled with interactive displays. Leurella was built in 1903, and rebuilt between 1910 – 1914, after a fire had destroyed the original property. Leurella was originally owned by wealthy yachtsman and big-game fisherman, Harry Andreas, who lived in the house with his wife and young family.
Clive Andreas Evatt, high profile barrister, wanted to preserve the memories of his childhood and open this historic property to the public, which is where he spent much of his youth. To retain and open the homestead to the public the council gave him three options, to showcase it as; a house, garden or museum. Evatt and his wife Elizabeth launched the museum in 1983 in honour of his grandfather Harry Andreas. It is an example of a wealthy family home during the 20th-century.
Popular cafes and restaurants in Katoomba include the Old City Bank Brasserie (listed above in The Carrington), The Yellow Deli, Miss Lilian Teahouse and The Paragon Cafe.
Yellow Deli is also known as ‘a place to belong’ inspired by the themes of peace, love and happiness, it is definitely worth dropping in for the experience. A rustic cafe that has formed a spiritual community, and nicely incorporates a cosy atmosphere, especially if you’re searching for some warming or healthy foods on a cold day. See Yellow Deli’s website for menu options.
Miss Lilian Tea house is situated adjacent to the Three Sisters and Echo Point Lookout. With oriental style and cuisine, it is the latest dining experience to open in the area. Looking for a hip and fun vibe? Here you can dine under aesthetically pleasing birdcages while enjoying Asian decor. Situated in a convenient location, if you’ve worked up an appetite exploring the main sites – this is the place to visit!
The Paragon Cafe, heritage listed, was built from 1909 – 1940, and is one of Katoomba’s iconic eateries. With its quaint 20th-century style and its decadent fine chocolates, this was a popular stop for tourists for many years. After renovations during 2018, The Paragon re-opened its doors in 2019. It is believed to be Australia’s oldest and longest-running cafe. This site is nearby The Carrington. Keep an eye out for this one! (Currently, Februrary 2022, closed for renovations.)
There are a multitude of picturesque walking tracks in the Blue Mountains, including the ones at Scenic World (mentioned above). Here are some ideas to get you started.
In Glenbrook, two short walks are The Red Hands Cave Track and Jellybean Pool Track, which are both around a 30-minute walk. For a 2-hour walk, combine both of these walks, Glenbrook to Red Hands Cave (via Jellybean Pool).
For a waterfall experience head to Wentworth Falls to the Wentworth Falls Track. For more of a longer hike try the Grand Canyon Track which is a 5.4 km walk, and for another waterfall walk try the 1.5 km circuit – Katoomba Falls Round Walk, which starts from Scenic World.
Festivals & Events
Celebrate Yulefest in the Blue Mountains, commonly known as Christmas in July (many hotels include Yulfest celebrations, check hotel websites), and also a part of this event in Katoomba is the Winter Magic Festival, which is held in June.
And for a scenic stroll try the Leura Gardens Festival, held in October. Enjoy a variety of peaceful, brightly coloured and relaxing gardens throughout the town of Leura.
The Blue Mountains is a vast area, offering much to explore. Being one of the most popular weekend getaways from Sydney, it is also an easy road trip destination. (For more information on events see the Blue Mountains Australia website.)
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Shelley has published a variety of online articles. With a master’s in special education, this has allowed her to write in the area of education, through platforms such as The Huffington Post. Being an outdoor enthusiast, she has written for The Weekender Travel and currently writes for Kombi Lifestyle. She is keen to share her knowledge and enjoys writing informative articles that help the discerning traveller prepare for road trip holidays in Australia. Shelley is the founder of Kombi Lifestyle.