The Top 10 Things to do on the Gold Coast
From its dozens of stunning golden beaches, to its range of theme parks and dinner shows, to whale watching and rainforest tours, the Gold Coast is an entertainment hub has it all for holidaymakers. Combine this with the region’s famously beautiful weather, and it’s safe to say the Gold Coast is known as Australia’s holiday playground for good reason.
The Gold Coast’s variety is what makes it special – with elements that make it a destination where outdoor activities are viable almost all year round, and thus for people who are active or wanting to take part in some energetic fun, the Gold Coast’s things to do list is nearly endless. An average of 300 days of sunshine throughout the year means regardless of if you’re sticking to the coast, heading to the hinterland or looking for some indoor or evening entertainment, you’ll be spoiled for choice here.
But with so much to see and do, how does a visitor decide the best activities to take part in? Here, we break down the Top 10 Things to Do on the Gold Coast in detail:
Catch a Show at Jupiters Casino or Dracula’s
Location: Broadbeach, Gold Coast, QLD
The Gold Coast is lucky enough to have a casino despite not being a capital city, and Jupiters Casino provides plenty of entertainment both for those looking to try their luck and others wanting to take in some quality live entertainment. The Casino’s theatre recently underwent a multi-million dollar refurbishment, and it’s now the top spot on the Gold Coast for regular high-end performances of various kinds such as magic shows, live musical artists, dance troupes, cabarets and more.
Shows at Jupiter’s Casino run everywhere from one-night specials to multi-month marathons and are continually changing, so if there’s a show currently on that you may not be interested in, odds are in a matter of weeks there may be a new one that piques your interest. The variety is impressive, and the talents of the on-stage performers is obvious, and over previous seasons that content of the show has seen themes such as tap dance, Elvis-era Las Vegas tributes, Brazillian dance and acrobatics, and much more.
“Both standalone show tickets and combined dinner-with-show packages are available that can turn the show into a fully-fledged evening of entertainment.“
Dracula’s, meanwhile, is a long-running venue that provides a dose of more raunchy fun blended with humour and a touch of vaudevillian fun intended mainly for adults. Both standalone show tickets and combined dinner-with-show packages are available that can turn the show into a fully-fledged evening. The venue features a glam-horror theme (think Rocky Horror Picture Show) and combines burlesque-style entertainment with live rock music and quite good stand-up comedy performed by their talented cast.
Dracula’s also does surprisingly good food given the quantity of guests they have to present it to in a relatively short time; if you’re the type who doesn’t take yourself too seriously and enjoy live acts then it’s a great spot to go as a group.
Take a Jetboat Ride
Location: Surfers Paradise and Marina Mirage, Gold Coast, QLD
Taking a step away from the standard “relaxing cruise” sightseeing spectrum typical of most water-clad holiday destinations, the Gold Coast offers numerous opportunities for jet boat rides, which provides a more high-octane way of exploring the waters while garnering a dose of adrenaline as well. Heading out onto the Gold Coast broadwater, with a jet boat ride you’ll be able to take in the city skyline and surrounding islands and marinas while performing some extreme water-based stunts; think 360 degree spins, high-speed drifting and taking advantage of the boat’s construction for some “beach buzzing” as well.
It’s a fun activity that is enjoyable for most people as it isn’t “too extreme”, plus jet boating rides on the Gold Coast have the added bonus of providing great views of local landmarks including the likes of South Stradbroke Island, the Palazzo Versace hotel, and popular theme park Sea World. As a result, it’s the ideal activity for those who want to do some sightseeing but also have a little fun along the way.
“Jet boating is the ideal activity for those who want to do some sightseeing but also have a little fun along the way.“
Options for jet boat rides typically come in either 30 minute or 1 hour flavours, and if you’re thinking of taking part it tends to be a good idea to wear sunglasses – not only to protect from the glare of the sun off the water, but also shield your eyes from some of the salt spray that can make it hard to see clearly and properly enjoy the views. If a regular cruise is likely to be the cause for a snooze for you, then jet boating may instead be just what the doctor ordered.
Go Whale Watching
Location: Various departure points, Gold Coast
The Gold Coast is one of Australia’s premier whale watching destinations, and during the annual migratory whale watching season as the humpbacks come out to play there opens up the chance to take a tour and see them up close for yourself. Lasting from late May to early November each year, the whales make for a spectacular sight as they perform their regular trip up the east coast of Australia searching for warmer waters – and the Gold Coast’s seaside location makes it as good a spot as any to get out on the water and get a firsthand look as they breach, spout and relax.
The Gold Coast typically has a very high number of whales passing through, and with a 5 month whale season there are plenty of chances for visitors hop on board and take part. There are also a variety of whale watching operators available to choose from, and each has its own benefits – some offer longer trips, others include bonus lunches, or perhaps packages that combine with other essential Gold Coast experiences at a reduced price.
“The Gold Coast typically has a very high number of whales passing through, and with a 5 month whale season there are plenty of chances for visitors hop on board and take part.“
Over 10,000 whales pass close to the Gold Coast’s shores every season, and the city has a large, shallow bay that serves as an ideal location for the whales to rest and mingle on their way to the Great Barrier Reef. If you’re interested in doing some whale watching during your time on the Gold Coast, it’s a good idea to plan your trip in late May or early June.
Many of the operators who provide whale watching tours also offer “whale sighting money-back guarantees” or at least a free return trip if no whales are sighted as well, providing a bit of extra peace of mind if you’re thinking of booking.
Take a Cruise
Location: Various departure points, Gold Coast
Water is a central theme on the Gold Coast, and the beaches aren’t the only reason why – the city has a highly developed and quite scenic canal system that is actually larger than those of both Amsterdam and Venice combined. As a result, there are plenty of different cruises on offer that allow visitors to explore the city and its waters from a whole other vantage point – and whether it’s the ocean or the canals, on a sunny day (which the Gold Coast has plenty of) the colour of the water can be quite spectacular.
Cruises on the Gold Coast take part typically either within the canal system or out on the more open Broadwater (or sometimes both), and offer detailed commentary on local history and highlights which makes them a solid choice of sightseeing options for first-time visitors to the region.
“Cruises offer detailed commentary on local history and highlights which makes them a solid choice of sightseeing options for first-time visitors to the region.“
As far as cruises that are available, there are numerous: straight-up canal sightseeing cruises will let you explore this extensive system in style and comfort, with many providing lunch, snack or dinner options; crab-catching cruises allow you to try your hand at catching and cooking your own mud crab from the local river; sailing cruises make for a luxurious (but expensive) way to hit the water; and both nearby Wave Break and Stradbroke Island serve as great cruise/island combination destinations. However you choose to do so, seeing the Gold Coast from the water can bring you a whole different perspective on the city, making taking a cruise well worthwhile.
Hit the Bars or Nightclubs
Location: Majority centred around Cavill & Orchid Avenues, Surfers Paradise
The vibrant nightlife of the Gold Coast is another one of the popular drawcards for people to visit, and while there of plenty of nice dining areas/suburbs and shopping centres, the focal point of all this is without a doubt Surfers Paradise. “Surfers” is home to a wide array of nightclubs and bars that are simultaneously one of its biggest attractions and most controversial topics, with plenty of different clubs having come and gone over the years.
The majority of the Gold Coast’s nightlife is concentrated around the hub streets of Cavill and Orchid Avenues in the heart of Surfers Paradise, and each club offers its own take on the typical clubbing experience.
Other suburbs such as Broadbeach and Coolangatta to the south also offer additional nightlife options for those looking for an alternative to the main hub, and both have their own pluses and minuses in terms of atmosphere and price.
“The majority of the Gold Coast’s nightlife is concentrated around the hub streets of Cavill and Orchid Avenues in the heart of Surfers Paradise, and each club offers its own take on the typical clubbing experience.“
Various clubs specialise in both different combinations of age groups and music genres, with Top 40, RnB/hip-hop, indie and classic rock all on the table here. Other than the music, most clubs do offer a fairly standard experience, however there are various themed and event nights held throughout the year that can spice things up a bit.
While the Gold Coast has a bit of a reputation for alcohol-fueled violence, it’s not particularly worse than the nightlife districts of any other major city and if you don’t actively go looking for trouble you’ll most likely be able to avoid it. Long-time staple nightclubs on the Gold Coast include Melbas, Shooters, Sin City, The Avenue and various others; for a full, detailed look at what each club has to offer, check out our Gold Coast Nightclubs Guide for an in-depth breakdown.
Explore the Hinterland
Location: Approx. 45 minute drive from Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast
While the gold is what most people likely first picture when imagining the Gold Coast, it’s the green areas that round out the package and make visiting the region such a solid overall experience. All it takes is roughly a 45 minute drive from the heart of the glitz and glamour in Surfers Paradise and you’ll find yourself in the Gold Coast Hinterland, an oasis of greenery and scenery that feels like it’s a world away from the main tourism hub.
It’s a gem of an area that is still relatively untouched given its proximity to one of Australia’s top holiday spots, and features the likes of glow worm caves, cascading waterfalls, wonderful mountain views and verdant wineries all in a reasonably close distance of one another. The laid-back atmosphere and abundance of greenery on offer here may surprise new visitors, and may in fact turn out to be your favourite part of the trip to the Gold Coast after all is said and done.
“The laid-back atmosphere and abundance of greenery on offer here may surprise new visitors, and may in fact turn out to be your favourite part of the trip to the Gold Coast after all is said and done.“
All of this centres around the lovely Mount Tamborine and its various World Heritage-listed national parks which provide plenty of great vantage points for taking in the views that spread out into the distance beyond. There are numerous options available for exploring the Gold Coast Hinterland – you can drive yourself (it’s quite a scenic route) although the roads tend to be steep and windy, while there are also various tours – including on-road, off-road and the walking variety – which can take some of the hassle out of the adventure and take you directly to the winery or sightseeing area of your choice.
Horse riding in the Hinterland is also quite popular and provides plenty of chances for exploration around the scenic Natural Bridge area, allowing you to combine a dose of wildlife with your sightseeing (and always a hit with the kids).
There’s also the charming mini-village of Gallery Walk that features a range of quaint, boutique arts and craft stores producing everything from oil paintings to honey, and charming little cafes that allow you to kick back and revel in the greenery. If you’re looking from a break from the “typical” Gold Coast, then making the trip to the Hinterland is well worth the effort.
Hit the Beach
Location: Various locations along coastline, Gold Coast
If there’s one thing that the Gold Coast is famous for – its beaches – and with the huge stretches of sand on offer – around 57 kilometres in total – there are plenty available to choose from for those who love their surf and sunshine. Which beach you choose to hit will likely depend on a variety of things; where you’re living or staying, whether you’re bringing kids along, if you’re looking to swim or surf, and more.
Each of the main beaches on the coast, including Broadbeach, Burleigh Heads, Coolangatta, Currumbin, Duranbah, Kirra, Main Beach, Nobby Beach, Palm Beach and – perhaps most famously, Surfers Paradise – offer something slightly different, however all of them are of a universally high quality and exceptionally clean.
Gold Coasters take particular pride in their beaches, and if you come across a piece of litter on the sand it’s more than likely been dropped by a careless tourist than a local; as the beaches play a major part in drawing people in from all over the globe, you won’t find a dirty one in the entire region.
“Each of the main beaches on the coast offer something slightly different, however all of them are of a universally high quality and exceptionally clean.“
All of the beaches listed above on the Gold Coast are regularly patrolled by volunteer Surf Life Savers, and many offer some blend of public picnic and barbecue areas, nearby cafes and restaurants, and great walking tracks that make exploring the coastline for a dose of fresh air and scenery a pleasant experience. For a more comprehensive and detailed breakdown of each Gold Coast beach and what it has to offer, check out our Gold Coast Beaches Guide to help determine which beach on the “Goldy” is the best choice for you.
Go up the SkyPoint Deck atop the Q1 Building
Location: 9 Hamilton Ave, Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast
Most major cities have their iconic “towers”, and the Gold Coast’s answer to this is the towering Q1 Building and its viewing platform on the 77th floor named the SkyPoint Observation Deck. Venturing to the top of the tower offers some stunning 360 degree views of all the sights that the Gold Coast is famous for – think vibrant blue ocean, the Surfers Paradise skyline, lush green hinterland, and perhaps most of all, the endless kilometres of golden beaches below.
The SkyPoint deck serves as a great starting point for your visit to the Gold Coast as it will allow you to get your bearings and can be easily found right in the heart of Surfers Paradise. Be sure to bring your camera long if you’re making the trip up top, as you’re unlikely to find another viewpoint in the region that can compare.
“Be sure to bring your camera long if you’re making the trip up top, as you’re unlikely to find another viewpoint in the region that can compare.“
The SkyPoint Deck also serves as a bar/restaurant allowing visitors to get a bite to eat or drop to drink, so whether you simply choose to take in the views as most do or turn your visit into a full-blown dining experience is entirely up to you. As of recently, the SkyPoint now also offers a SkyPoint Climb experience that allows you to harness up and go outside the glass for an adventure that is equal parts stunning and adrenaline-pumping.
While it’s a little pricey if you’re simply heading-up-then-down, there is no other place on the Gold Coast that can offer views quite like the SkyPoint Observation Deck, making it a must-do.
Meet the Animals at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
Location: 28 Tomewin St, Currumbin, Gold Coast
One of the longest-running and most beloved attractions on the Gold Coast, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is the definitive place of choice for those who are looking to get a dose of family-friendly animal fun on the Gold Coast.
Previously called Currumbin Bird Sanctuary, the facility offers a full and great value day out with reasonable prices on tickets and a ton of the cutest and crawliest native Aussie and exotic wildlife. Currumbin Sanctuary features plenty of interactive displays and wide-open enclosures all set within a lush, cool eucalyptus and rainforest environment.
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is both easy to find and easy to get to, with a location just off the Gold Coast Highway at Currumbin – around 20 minutes’ drive form Surfers Paradise and with bus stops right on its doorstep.
“One of the longest-running and most beloved attractions on the Gold Coast, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is the definitive place of choice for those who are looking to get a dose of family-friendly animal fun.“
Families will be in their element here, as the park offers not only a great variety of animals but also its iconic little trains that take you around the park regularly – something kids love and that gives parents a chance to rest their legs. In addition, Currumbin Sanctuary also has a fun tree ropes course called the Green Challenge which is likewise a huge hit with the little ones at just a few dollars extra charge.
If you’re wanting to hand feed kangaroos, cuddle a koala, see wombats, echidnas, emus and more, then Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is your destination of choice on the Gold Coast.
Visit a Theme Park
Location: Various locations, northern end of Gold Coast
As the major feature that sets the Gold Coast apart from other popular holiday destinations throughout Australia, its theme parks are a huge drawcard for many people visiting from both interstate and overseas and are the major reason the city is such a popular spot for families. It’s not without reason – each of the theme parks is a quality attraction in their own right, and each one offers something slightly different to the next.
From the high-quality thrill rides of Dreamworld to everyone’s favourite film and cartoon characters at Movie World to the watery, aquatic fun available at both Sea World and Wet ‘n’ Wild, there’s a theme park on the Gold Coast for all age groups, interest types and weather conditions. While they’re best visited outside school holidays, each of the parks has gotten large enough over the years to help dilute queues somewhat, and the immense variety of rides and sideshows for all ages provides something interesting to see, try or ride at all times of day.
“Each of the Gold Coast’s theme parks is a quality attraction in their own right, and each one offers something slightly different to the next.“
While buying tickets to the theme parks isn’t cheap, there are numerous passes and package options available that often give greater value than standalone one-day entry tickets – options include passes for two parks in one day, unlimited entry for a few weeks, and even full-blown VIP style theme park packages that allow an entire year worth of unlimited entry. These passes come and go frequently and are seasonal in nature, so your miles may vary as to what is on offer at any particular time – check our Gold Coast theme parks section for an up to date listing of value passes for the parks.
Regardless of what your style of theme park is – and particularly if you have kids – if it’s your first time to the Gold Coast you’ll no doubt want to pay a visit to one of these high-quality entertainment attractions.