>  Attractions   >  Ultimate Gold Coast travel guide

The Gold Coast in Queensland offers plenty of fun in the sun and is home to some of Australia’s best beaches. We are lucky as the Gold Coast is just 40 minutes’ drive from our home in Brisbane and it is one of our favourite places to visit for a day at the beach or a longer stay. I spent all of my childhood holidays at the Gold Coast and still love visiting. There are plenty of Gold Coast things to do to keep visitors entertained, plus you’ve also got a thriving dining scene, cute craft markets, beautiful national parks, and trendy neighbourhoods to explore.

There’s also a lot more to the Gold Coast than Surfers Paradise. When you head south to sleepy Gold Coast destinations like Coolangatta near the New South Wales border, it’s hard to believe that glitzy Surfers Paradise is just 30 minutes up the road. Whether you’re looking to party the night away, enjoy a romantic escape with your partner, or have a fun holiday with the kids, you’ll find it on the Gold Coast. Here’s our ultimate guide to the Gold Coast, one of our favourite Queensland holiday destinations.

Surfers Paradise Beach
Surfers Paradise Beach

Gold Coast weather

Anytime is a good time to visit the Gold Coast and Gold Coast weather is lovely any time of year. It really comes down to what kind of holiday you want and what you’re planning to do (and how warm the water has to be for you to go swimming). Spring runs from September to November and offers sunny, dry days with a low chance of rain. The weather starts to heat up around this time, but September is usually too cold for swimming, particularly in the early part of the month.

With clear skies and top temperatures around 24 degrees Celcius, spring is the perfect time for enjoying the National Parks and walks on the beach. It is also ideal for sampling the Gold Coast’s many cafes, bars, and restaurants. Summer is hotter with temperatures in the mid 30s in the early part of the year. This is the best time for swimming and soaking up the sun, provided there are no cyclones further north as this means it will likely be windy and rainy and beaches could be closed.

Hilton Surfers Paradise
Surfers Paradise beach

Summer is peak season on the Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise in particular can feel extremely busy. Expect a lot of families around this time and eye watering prices if you want to stay in the heart of the action overlooking the beach. Autumn is similar to spring and usually warm throughout and suitable for swimming, although things are often getting chilly by April. If you aren’t keen on swimming, winter is generally dry with cloud-free days, no rain, and lovely crisp evenings.

Winter offers bargain prices, no crowds and plenty of specials when it comes to accommodation. If you stay mid week, it’s possible to find excellent accommodation deals along the coast in winter and enjoy a relaxing break with a focus on pampering, wining and dining for a bargain price. However, if you’re heading to the Gold Coast hinterland to enjoy fireside snuggles, winter is peak season for the romantic cottages and couple’s accommodation here. If you’re staying in the hinterland over the weekend in winter, you’ll likely be paying top dollar.

Where to stay on the Gold Coast

Many first-time visitors to the Gold Coast expect the entire coastal strip to be like Surfers Paradise. However, nothing could be further from the truth. One of the best things about the Gold Coast is there are lots of different places to stay, and each one is very different. We’ve stayed in lots of different areas on the Gold Coast and have some favourite spots and also some favourite hotels which we find ourselves returning to again and again. We’ve created a roundup of these below to help you choose the best Gold Coast area and hotel for you.

Surfers at Coolangatta
Chill out at Coolangatta

Hotels in Southport

The northern tip of the Gold Coast used to be famous for its dolphin shows but much has changed since Sea World moved here in 1972. When the world’s first fashion-branded hotel, Palazzo Versace opened here it captured the attention of aspirational travellers from around the globe. Palazzo Versace isn’t as flash (or as expensive) as it used to be but it’s still a popular hangout for beautiful people who come here to see and be seen, enjoy the famous Palazzo Versace High Tea, dine at the signature restaurant Vanitas, and visit the Aurora Spa. If you don’t want to pay to stay at Palazzo Versace, there’s the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort across the road or a selection of more modest apartment blocks stretching along the coast towards Surfers Paradise.

Vanitas at Palazzo Versace
Vanitas at Palazzo Versace

Hotels in Surfers Paradise

Surfers Paradise is the pulsing heart of the Gold Coast tourist strip. It is home to most of the Gold Coast’s bars and clubs and has more than its fair share of kebab shops and fast food outlets. The secret to enjoying the chaos of Surfers Paradise comes down to fully embracing it. The five star Hilton Surfers Paradise is located in the heart of the action in central Surfers Paradise and offers a choice of apartments or hotel rooms. This hotel isn’t located right on the beach but high floors offer stunning 180 degree views of the Gold Coast. 

Hilton Surfers Paradise pool
Hilton Surfers Paradise pool

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Vibe Hotel Gold Coast delivers with stylish budget accommodation in the heart of the action. This hotel is on the highway so it’s worth requesting a room on a higher floor one of the cheaper rooms overlooking the Gold Coast hinterland. voco Gold Coast at the southern end of Surfers Paradise is very well priced and offers hotel rooms with cheerful yellow and black colour scheme and excellent in-house dining at Social House, Waves Buffet Restaurant, and Clifford’s Grill & Lounge.

voco Gold Coast

QT Gold Coast at the northern end of Surfers Paradise offers a stay with a sense of fun, with funky retro-inspired rooms that include a mini-bar with old school games like pick-up-sticks and complimentary make-your-own lemonade. The JW Marriott Gold Coast Resort & Spa has a huge saltwater lagoon filled with tropical fish you can go snorkelling with. Spread over a hectare, this aquatic wonderland is the only one of its kind in the world and also has a waterslide, tumbling waterfall, rocky grotto, and multiple spas. It’s all about luxury and ocean views at Peppers Soul which is located directly across from Surfers Paradise beach. Here you can choose from 77 floors of one, two, and three bedroom apartments, most of which have uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean. If you can’t decide whether to stay at Surfers Paradise or Broadbeach, the Oaks Gold Coast Hotel offers the best of both as it’s smack bang in the middle of both.

Surfers Paradise Marriott pool
Surfers Paradise Marriott pool

Hotels in Broadbeach

Broadbeach is one of the Gold Coast’s most popular dining destinations and offers an excellent choice of hotels ranging from high end brands to cheap and cheerful apartments a few streets back from the beach. If you’re after a Broadbeach apartment, the AVANI Broadbeach Gold Coast Residences, Meriton Broadbeach, and Peppers Broadbeach offer high end accommodation with beach views (although these cost extra). The Star Gold Coast is the closest accommodation option to Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre and has high end hotel rooms with all the five-star mod cons. It’s also home to the Gold Coast casino and loads of Broadbeach dining options.

Executive Deluxe Room at The Star

French sophistication gets some sand between its toes at Sofitel Gold Coast Broadbeach where tea lights flicker in the lobby and flower arrangements fill the air with sweet perfume. There are also some oldies but goodies such as Sandpiper Apartments where I used to stay as a teenager. Sandpiper has been well maintained and offers good value accommodation with lovely ocean views.

Hotels in Coolangatta

Coolangatta is as close to you can get to the New South Wales border without actually being in New South Wales. Coolangatta and nearby Rainbow are surfers’ hangouts with 20 kilometres of world class surf breaks and a barefoot beachy vibe. If you need a hotel near Gold Coast airport, you can walk there from the cute La Costa Motel. La Costa is a lovingly restored ‘Highway Heritage’ motel. The original pale green 1950s facade remains as does the iconic neon sign but each room has been completely remodelled. Rydges Gold Coast Airport hotel is another top spot to stay in this area.

Experience the retro charm of La Costa

There are sea views galore at most of the accommodation options at the southern end of Coolangatta along Marine Parade. Reflections offers upmarket self-contained accommodation in high-rise towers, but you will need to book a minimum three-night stay. Oaks Calypso Plaza is a low-rise resort with two waterslides and a shallow lagoon pool, making it popular with families travelling with children aged 12 and under. It is easy to walk pretty much everywhere from here once you’ve parked the car. 

Oaks Calypso Plaza
Oaks Calypso Plaza

Mantra Coolangatta has renovated apartments and one of the lovliest reception teams we’ve come across on the Gold Coast. This is one of our favourite Gold Coast hotels for a family holiday. The only down side is prices have crept up and it’s not as affordable as it used to be. Near the northern end of Coolangatta beach you’ll find Blue C Coolangatta, an apartment complex tucked underneath the Kirra headland. This hotel is located slightly back from the beach but you’ll still get beach views from many of the apartments.

Gold Coast things to do

There are plenty of fun things to do on the Gold Coast, from high energy activities like indoor skydiving at iFly Gold Coast to exploring the Gold Coast’s markets or even whale watching during the cooler months. You’ll find plenty of things to do on the Gold Coast if it’s raining as well. The Gold Coast is Australia’s theme park capital, with four different ‘worlds’ to explore – Dreamworld, WhiteWater World, Sea World, Warner Bros. Movie World – plus the Wet’n’Wild waterpark. Buying tickets online in advance saves money and visiting mid-week avoids the crowds.

Walking at Burleigh Heads
Spot whales from Burleigh Heads National Park
Infinity will keep you entertained

At Surfers Paradise, you’ll find Infinity, a futuristic maze filled with special effects, optical illusions and more flashing lights than a 70s disco. Infinity is a good option for rainy days, especially if you have kids. Aquaduck is an amphibious vehicle that takes you for a ride through the Gold Coast streets before you splash into the Broadwater near Sea World and enjoy a leisurely cruise. If you are from out of town and want to go sightseeing this isn’t a bad option but it’s better for kids than adults. Touch the clouds at the Gold Coast skyscraper Q1 where a harness system lets you step outside the building to do the SkyPoint Climb. Opt for a twilight climb and you’ll be able to watch the sunset.

Hinterland Views from Skypoint Climb
Hinterland Views from Skypoint Climb

The Gold Coast has some stunning national parks to explore, from the dramatic, volcanic coastline hugging Burleigh National Park to the cool rainforest walks of Tamborine Mountain and blue-green lights of thousands of glow-worms at Springbrook. The Gold Coast is also a fabulous place to go surfing. If you’ve got more enthusiasm than experience, there are surf lessons available at most major beaches. If you know how to surf, you can hire a surfboard at one of the many hire spots up and down the coast.

Tamborine National Park
Tamborine National Park

Level Up at Broadbeach a fun retro gaming arcade which offers a trip to the 80s with games like pinball and plenty of modern games as well. If your kids love saving up their tickets for prizes, the ones on offer here are superb with goodies like high end razor scooters on offer.

Level Up at Broadbeach
Level Up at Broadbeach

Putt Putt Mermaid Beach has three novelty courses to choose from. We spent more than an hour playing the Jungle Trail course which kept us entertained without being too hard. While there are plenty of theme parks and other expensive things to do, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on the Gold Coast. In fact, there are loads of fun free things to do which cost nothing at all.

Gold Coast restaurants

Some of the best dining on the Gold Coast can be found at Broadbeach. Located on the mezzanine level of The Star Gold Coast, Kiyomi Japanese Restaurant features molecular gastronomy and encapsulates the Gold Coast’s new confidence as a dining destination. Across the Gold Coast Highway, you will find Moo Moo The Wine Bar + Grill Gold Coast, a steak restaurant where over 50 wines by the glass provide ample excuse for drinkers to corral themselves at the bar. The steaks here are excellent but they’re not exactly cheap.

Japanese inspired cocktails at Kyiomi
Japanese inspired cocktails at Kyiomi

Elk Espresso is a hip yet homely cafe decorated with flowers in glass jars, stencil art and eclectic, mismatched furniture. Try the breakfast salad served with poached eggs or treat yourself to brioche French toast topped with caramelised banana and vanilla mascarpone. Social Eating House lives up to its name with a shared plates menu and lively atmosphere that lends itself to socialising and good times. Large plates like char grilled Barossa Valley chicken with lemon, garlic and fresh herbs are simple yet satisfying with a side or two.  

Chargrilled octopus from Social Eating House

Mario’s serves Italian just like Mama used to make and has a lovely indoor/outdoor dining area, generous servings and staff who go out of their way to ensure everyone has a good time. You can’t go wrong with any dish here, but those featuring Queensland’s famous seafood are especially good. Just off the highway at Mermaid Beach, you will find Le Vintage Boutique Cafe, one of the original trendsetters on the Gold Coast cafe scene. This quirky retro-inspired cafe remains one of the best spots on the Gold Coast to escape the tourist crowds. Another Mermaid Beach favourite is Bam Bam Bakehouse with its fast-moving queue that often stretches into the adjoining park. Hearty dishes such as croissant French toast and bacon and egg soft-rolls piled high with hickory smoked bacon will keep you going all day.

Bam Bam Bakehouse
Bam Bam Bakehouse

The North Room across the road from Putt Putt Mermaid Beach has inventive Mod Oz dishes and service that’s as bright as a Gold Coast summer’s day. Whether you’re seeking a quick bite and something more filling, this buzzing restaurant delivers. For those craving something a little different from the usual bacon and eggs for breakfast, the Middle Eastern flavours at Canteen Kitchen should hit the spot. Take a seat in the dining room or make new friends at a communal outdoor table as you enjoy the all-day menu. The Fish House at Burleigh is widely regarded as one of best spots on the Gold Coast for an upmarket seafood meal. Here you can enjoy everything from Italian caviar to classic fish and chips overlooking the curling waves of Burleigh’s main surf beach.

Burleigh restaurant
Dining at Burleigh

If you want to hang out with the cool crowd and breathe in the fragrant scent of pine trees, head to the Burleigh Pavilion which has one of the best restaurant views anywhere on the Gold Coast. Surfers Paradise has a dubious dining reputation and is best known for its abundance of fast food joints. However, there are exceptions. Catch Restaurant at the Hilton Surfers Paradise offers high end Mod-Oz cuisine at a bargain price, especially if you opt for the dinner special.

Catch Restaurant
Catch Restaurant

Yamagen has been operating at the same location in Surfers Paradise since 1987. The iconic Japanese restaurant has since been transformed into a contemporary Japanese izakaya with a stylish twist and some of the best sushi on the Gold Coast. For traditional teppanyaki there is Misono Japanese Steakhouse, one of Australia’s largest teppanyaki restaurants. Despite its impressive size, this dining spot at the Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa regularly books out, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. If you feel like something lighter, there are some fabulous Gold Coast cafes to explore or you could enjoy a quintessential Gold Coast experience and have a meal at a Surf Club.

One more thing…

The Gold Coast is great to visit at any time of year except for mid-November to early-December when school leavers flock to the Gold Coast during ‘Schoolies’, a hormone fuelled rite of passage which celebrates the end of high school. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Disclosure: The writer has been visiting the Gold Coast since she was a child and loves it just as much now as she did back then. Her favourite area is Coolangatta, closely followed by Broadbeach where she holidayed as a kid.

Want to travel smarter and save money? Check out our tips for flying a low cost airline, keeping your luggage safe, visiting Europe in peak season, getting a great car hire deal, avoiding travel scams, saving money at the airport, staying at an Airbnb, finding cheap five star hotel deals, catching public transport overseas, staying safe in a big city, getting the best round-the-world airfares, making the most of a five star hotel stay, travelling during low season, visiting a theme park in peak season, packing a carry on bag, visiting a wine region, planning a romantic getaway, early morning flights, visiting the Great Barrier Reef, multigenerational travel, travelling in a motorhome, buying the best souvenirs, going on safari, visiting the Eiffel Tower, travelling with pets, holidaying with adult children, travelling with teens, and sleeping on a plane.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.