Perched on the top of the Great Dividing Range west of Brisbane, a lofty 700 metres above sea level, Toowoomba is affectionately known as the ‘Garden City’.
It’s a nod to the temperate climate that allows just about anything to grow here, and this is a destination that comes up roses for travellers on every level. The city is home to some excellent historical attractions and a wealth of exquisite period architecture, a vibrant arts and cultural scene, and plenty of eclectic eateries, cool cafes, bustling bars and colourful street art. And as you would expect, there’s always another gorgeous garden to lose yourself in.
Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Toowoomba. Book your stay with Choice Hotels.
8am: Do breakfast in a garden courtyard
This morning we’ll be focussing our attention on the area around gorgeous Queens Park, which lies directly east of the city centre. The Park House Café is a lovely spot to drop by for breakfast. If the weather’s fine, take a seat in the front courtyard and enjoy the dappled sunshine filtering through the tree cover along Margaret Street. Next door is the intriguing Old Toowoomba Court House (now known as De Molay House). This was also the site of the Old Toowoomba Gaol, and there are remnants of the lock-up’s foundations and cell blocks that are still visible.
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9am: Enjoy a walk in Queens Park
Queens Park covers just over 26 hectares and dates back to the late 19th century. If you’re up for a good walk, download the Queens Park heritage walking tour map from the Toowoomba City Council website, which will basically take you on a full loop around the park’s perimeter. Alternatively, head for the Botanic Gardens precinct in the north-east corner which will be of interest to most visitors. Take a peek at the endangered Wollemi Pine — one of the rarest tree species on the planet — which has its own security enclosure. If you happen to be visiting in the lead-up to the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers, you can expect the Botanic Gardens to be a blooming delight.
11am: Get carried away by carriages at Cobb+Co
One block up Lindsay Street from the park is the fascinating Cobb+Co Museum, which is home to the National Carriage Collection – a vast array of once horse-powered carriages, carts, coaches, buggies, traps and sulkies. Coach transport company Cobb & Co was an icon of the second half of the 19th century, and at its height, operated with franchises in various parts of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan. The proliferation of rail and the arrival of the automobile signalled the demise of horse-drawn transport, and a fair few of those no-longer-needed conveyances found a home here in Toowoomba. It’s a staggering collection, and a compelling way to pass a couple of hours.
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1pm: Soak up the views from Picnic Point
From the museum it’s a ten-minute drive to the Picnic Point Parkland and Lookout, which offers sweeping views of the Main Range and Lockyer Valley stretching towards Ipswich and Brisbane. There’s a handy orientation table at the lookout that will point you in the direction of various distant landmarks. Picnic Point also offers a network of walking trails, so if you’ve come equipped with good shoes, spend some time immersing yourself in the beauty of the bush. There’s a short walk that curves around past a feature waterfall and back up to the lookout. It’s suitable for all fitness levels. The café is a handy lunch spot if needed.
3pm: Seek some Zen in Ju Raku En
From Picnic Point, circle around the eastern and southern suburbs to one of Toowoomba’s horticultural highlights. The entrance to the Ju Raku En Japanese garden is tucked away on a suburban street behind the University of Southern Queensland grounds in Darling Heights. It’s a joint initiative of the university and Toowoomba City Council, and is a wonderfully tranquil space. Ju Raku En incorporates all the staples of a garden of traditional Japanese design, including a waterfall and stream, an expansive pond with islands and bridges, a bamboo grove and dry (stone) garden, various ancient looking stone lanterns, and maples that supply that essential splash of seasonal colour. This is an understandably popular spot for weddings.
5pm: Pull up a pew at Bar Wunder
You’ve been out and about all day, so time to return to the heart of town and freshen up. If you’re at a loose end before dinner, we happened to stumble across Bar Wunder in Ruthven Street during our visit and can highly recommend it for a pre-dinner tipple. It’s a relaxed retreat with a shabby chic vibe and a rear beer garden where pooches are made to feel more than welcome. The bar menu of southern-style bites may just prove too tempting.
7pm: Dine at The Rock
From Bar Wunder, head up Ruthven Street to The Rock – a stylish new gastropub that will suit all tastes. From great steaks served with your choice of rustic fries, salad/sauteed greens and Paris mash (fancy!), to pub classics, pizzas, and more substantial mains that draw on local produce and ingredients, you can’t really go wrong here. There’s also a creative cocktail menu and killer list of Scotch whiskies.
9am: Enjoy back alley bites for breakfast
We’ve given you gorgeous gardens; now it’s time for gritty laneways, and the Toowoomba CBD has plenty of treats in store for urban explorers. Start with breakfast and a great coffee at grungy Ground Up Espresso Bar. Their ‘back alley bites’ are a zingy option (consisting of vegemite, avocado, fresh tomato and tabasco on locally baked sourdough).
10am: Do a self-guided city walking tour
Two world’s collide in the Toowoomba CBD. Old world period gems like the former Post Office (dating back to the 1880s), the ornate Strand Theatre, the much loved Art Deco Empire Theatre, and the red brick City Hall (circa 1900), stand tall against modern architecture and popping street art. There’s plenty to see, and another guided walk from the Toowoomba Council website is the way to go. The Cultural and Legal Precinct Walk sounds a little dry, but covers most of the key period sights.
11am: Visit the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery
Wrap up your walk at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, which straddles the old and the new (the building is a bit of both). It hosts a permanent collection alongside temporary exhibitions, and there’s more amazing street art around the back.
1pm: Live the sweet life in Highfields
To see a little more of the surrounding region, plan an afternoon visit to the town of Highfields, about 20 minutes’ drive north of Toowoomba. The town is home to a sweet treat – The Chocolate Cottage Cafe – which doubles as a chocolaterie and café. Gaze at the delectable delights and make a purchase if your calorie count will allow. Otherwise just settle for a gourmet sandwich and coffee.
2pm: Step back in time at Highfields Pioneer Village
The Highfields Pioneer Village is your grandfather’s tool shed on steroids. Tucked away in the bush, this sprawling attraction is loosely themed around early European settlement of the region, but pretty much anything old would fit right in. We loved it. Explore the various sheds, shacks and shanties at your leisure, all of which are literally packed to the rafters with the remnants of yesteryear. The traditional damper tea (cooked in a stone oven and smeared with gooey golden syrup) served in the main pavilion is worth the few extra dollars on top of the entry price.
5pm: Get crafty at Fitzy’s
Back in town, wrap up your Toowoomba short break with a relaxed dinner and cold craft brew in the atmospheric Tapestry Bar at the front of Fitzy’s on Margaret Street. The bar menu offers a good selection of generously sized Aussie classics, or you can choose from the menu of the newer bistro area, located at the back of the building.
Need a place to stay?
Comfort Inn Grammar View is an easy stroll to everything Toowoomba has to offer, including magnificent Queens Park. The hotel offers modern accommodation across 32 guest rooms, including family, one bedroom and deluxe suites. In-house Vista Restaurant does Modern Australian cuisine with an emphasis on the freshest local produce.
Located on the southern side of Toowoomba, Comfort Inn Glenfield is set in landscaped gardens, and is in close proximity to the USQ campus and its Japanese garden. There are 51 well-appointed rooms, and free Wi-Fi is provided. Chrysdals restaurant is open six nights a week.
Econo Lodge Toowoomba Motel is conveniently situated on the approach into the city from Brisbane, and is just three minutes’ drive from the Visitor Information Centre. It has everything you’ll need for a comfortable and cost effective stay.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.