Ten of the best Australian destinations for history buffs

Australia’s Indigenous and European histories sit at opposite ends of the spectrum.

While the history of our First People is thought to be one of the oldest in the world, by global standards our European history is one of the shortest. But that doesn’t mean our past as a whole isn’t peppered with enthralling chapters and intriguing events. If you have an interest in the stories of days gone by, there are several Australian towns and cities that should be on your travel radar. 

Here are ten of the best Australian destinations for history buffs. Book your stay with Choice Hotels.

1. Sydney

There are Indigenous cultural centres in operation across the country, but one of the finest collections of artefacts can be found at the newly refurbished Australian Museum in Sydney. The First Australians galleries house body ornaments, tools, weapons, bark paintings and other forms of art and sculpture. This is an essential stop for anyone wanting to explore our history pre-European settlement.

Our oldest city is the obvious first port of call for a delve into the nation’s colonial backstory, and nowhere does the past come to life in Sydney like The Rocks. As you stroll the narrow cobbled streets, it’s hard to believe that this incredible piece of our past was nearly levelled by developers in the 1960s. The story of how Jack Mundey’s union green bans saved the precinct is just one that you’ll hear on The Rocks Walking Tour. It’s an absolute must do for history lovers. Also visit The Big Dig to see some of the oldest known remnants of colonial Sydney.

Need a place to stay?

Choice Hotels offers several places to stay in Sydney. Browse the options online and book direct for a Lowest Price Guarantee.

Ten of the best Aussie destinations for history buffs
First Impressions sculpture, The Rock. Image: Bigstock

2. George Town 

While Hobart is officially Australia’s second oldest capital city, tiny George Town on the eastern side of the Tamar River in Tassie’s north-east is considered by some to be the third oldest city in the country. Established in 1804, it was the initial choice of site for a second colony in Tasmania. That decision was later overturned in favour of the present site of Launceston. Despite some to-ing and fro-ing, George Town remained a quiet enclave and today it’s best known as a holiday retreat. Visit the George Town Watch House museum (housed in the old gaol) to learn more.

Need a place to stay?

Comfort Inn The Pier is an award-winning hotel located on the picturesque waterfront of York Cove in the centre of George Town.

Ten of the best Aussie destinations for history buffs
George Town is one of the oldest regional cities in Australia. Image: Tourism Tasmania/Chris Crerar

3. Fremantle

The port city of Fremantle, situated south of Perth, oozes history from every pore, and a stroll through the heritage centre ensures complete immersion in the past. See the Round House, the oldest building still standing in Western Australia (circa 1851), and drop by the Fremantle Prison, which dates back to the late 1850s. It’s notable for being constructed by convicts for convicts, and is regarded as one of the most complete records of convict life in the country. For that reason the prison was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2010. A range of tours and guided experiences are offered.

Need a place to stay?

Choice Hotels offers several places to stay in Perth. Browse the options online and book direct for a Lowest Price Guarantee.

things to do in fremantle
Visit Fremantle Prison. Image: Bigstock

4. Ballarat

It’s fair to say that revolution has never been big in Oz, but we came close on the goldfields of Ballarat in Central Victoria. The Eureka Rebellion by miners over corruption and the cost of mining licences in December of 1854 remains Australia’s only armed civil uprising. It was quashed by government forces in just 15 minutes, but the events drove reform and inspired a tale that would live on in folklore (and a musical). Visit the Eureka Centre in Ballarat East to see the remains of the iconic Eureka flag. The Sovereign Hill town recreation and outdoor museum brings life on the goldfields, well, to life.

Need a place to stay?

Choice Hotels offers several places to stay in Ballarat. Browse the options online and book direct for a Lowest Price Guarantee.

Best Ballarat attractions
Eureka Centre. Image: Visit Victoria

5. Toowoomba

Earlier that same year, another Australian legend was born in Victoria. Cobb & Co operated its first passenger coach service from Melbourne to the goldfields in 1854, and would go on to become one of the most successful transport companies of the age. According to the Cobb & Co Heritage Trail website, at its height the company had franchises in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan, and its coaches covered around 50,000 kilometres a week. Toowoomba in the Darling Downs west of Brisbane is best known for its blooms, but is also home to the Cobb+Co Museum’s National Carriage Gallery — a mind boggling collection of horse-drawn carriages and carts.

Need a place to stay?

Comfort Inn Grammar View offers a superb location – within walking distance of the CBD, Empire Theatre and Cobb+Co Museum. Enjoy a roomy deluxe, twin or two-bedroom family suite at the Comfort Inn Glenfield, which provides free Wi-Fi.

Ten of the best Aussie destinations for history buffs
Cobb+Co Museum, Toowoomba. Image: Adam Ford

6. Broken Hill

While ‘boom and bust’ has characterised the fortunes of many of Australia’s mining towns, Broken Hill in the far west of New South Wales is the longest continuously operating mining centre in the country. Established in the late 1880s on the back of the discovery of the Line of Lode – the world’s biggest lead-silver-zinc ore deposit – this remote outback centre has occupied a place in the Australian psyche ever since. With the wealth came a cache of stunning period architecture and in 2015 Broken Hill became the first city in Australia to be included on the National Heritage List in its entirety. Join the excellent Broken Hill Heritage Walk Tour, which departs weekdays at 10am (excluding the summer months) from the Visitor Information Centre.

You May Be Interested In: Dreamtime in the prestigious Bynguano Ranges (Mutawintji Heritage Tours, Broken Hill)

Need a place to stay?

Comfort Inn Crystal is located right in the heart of Broken Hill and offers easy access to the city’s key heritage sites and attractions.

Ten of the best Aussie destinations for history buffs
Broken Hill. Image: Destination NSW

7. Great Ocean Road 

Thousands of drivers navigate the twists and turns of the Great Ocean Road in regional Victoria very year, but many are probably unaware that beneath their tyres lies what is recognised as the largest war memorial in the world. The Great Ocean Road was constructed by Australia’s soldiers returned from World War I, both to link the isolated coastal towns of the south-west and to provide ex-servicemen with meaningful employment and engagement. The end result was dedicated as a permanent memorial to those who lost their lives in the conflict. Visit the Memorial Arch at Eastern View to learn more.

Need a place to stay?

Comfort Inn The International is located in the town of Apollo Bay, around an hour’s drive from the Memorial Arch.

Ten of the best Aussie destinations for history buffs
The Great Ocean Road is the world’s largest war memorial. Image: Visit Victoria

8. Darwin

Few Australian capital cities have a modern history as tumultuous as that of Darwin. The city was bombed numerous time by Japanese forces during World War II, but the first and deadliest attack occurred on 19th February 1942. More than 240 civilians and service personnel were killed, and eight ships at anchor in Darwin Harbour were destroyed. The Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility at Stokes Hill Wharf offers a gripping virtual reality presentation of the events of that day, and puts you on the deck of the ill-fated MV Neptuna moored off the original Stokes Hill Wharf, as the attack begins. It’s incredibly well done.

Need a place to stay?

Quality Hotel Darwin Airport offers contemporary accommodation, complimentary Wi-Fi and a free airport shuttle service. 

Ten of the best Aussie destinations for history buffs
Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility, Darwin. Image: NT Tourism

9. Cowra 

There were more than 20 prisoner of war camps in Australia during WWII, including one outside the town of Cowra in the Central West of New South Wales. Just after midnight on  5th August 1944, an estimated 1,000 Japanese POWs staged a mass breakout armed with improvised weapons. Today the Cowra Visitor Information Centre offers a compelling hologram presentation on the events of that night. Visit the site of the camp itself, along with the Japanese war cemetery (the only one in the country). The Cowra Japanese Garden is seen as a symbol of the reconciliation between Japan and Australia.

Need a place to stay?

Econo Lodge Alabaster is conveniently located on the approach into Cowra from Bathurst and offers well-appointed rooms and an inground pool.

Ten of the best Aussie destinations for history buffs
Cowra POW camp site. Image: Marj Osborne

10. Parkes

From Cowra, it’s just over an hour’s drive to the town of Parkes – home to the Parkes Observatory and its 64-metre radio telescope. As immortalised in the film The Dish, Parkes and the Honeysuckle Creek space tracking station near Canberra played key roles in broadcasting the first moon landing to audiences across the globe in July 1969. The Parkes Observatory Visitor Centre offers amazing views of ‘the Dish’, along with an exhibition of highlights from the telescope’s 60-year history.

Ten of the best Aussie destinations for history buffs
Parkes Observatory. Image – Bigstock

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.