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The drive from Sydney to Canberra can be done in as little as three hours, with the Hume Highway connecting from Australia’s biggest city to the tiny town of Yarra, from where the Federal Highway continues to the nation’s capital. But with enchanting towns, cool-climate wineries and spectacular waterfalls to discover along the way, why wouldn’t you take your time? Well, our 3-day Sydney to Canberra Road Trip Itinerary will make sure you’re seeing the best bits!
Stay in boutique guesthouses and B&Bs that are oozing with charm and discover the inspiring culinary creations of the Southern Highlands. You’ll learn about the people and industries that have shaped the region in the past while meeting the movers and shakers who are making regional New South Wales what it is today.
So if you have three days to spare en route from Sydney to Canberra, read on to discover our recommendations for what to see and do along the way. We’ll share with you our top picks for dining and accommodation, as well as some “extras” if three days on the road just isn’t enough!
Sydney to Canberra Drive: Day 1 – Sydney to Bowral
Stop 1: Australian Botanic Garden Mt Annan
1 hr 15 min | 70 km
Wedged between Campbelltown and Narellan on the outskirts of Sydney is the Australian Botanic Garden Mt Annan, which exhibits more than 4,000 species of native plants across its 416-hectare site. It has been designed across several themed areas that include the Wattle Garden, the Callitris Grove and the Kurrajong Arboretum, as well as the Woodland Conservation Area and the Lakeside Lawn.
Coincide your visit with one of the guided Australian PlantBank tours on Saturdays and Sundays, let the kids run loose in the playground or test your mountain biking skills on the single tracks. In addition to its picnic shelters and barbecue facilities, the Australian Botanic Garden Mt Annan also features an on-site cafe where you can grab lunch. While exploring the gardens, keep your eyes peeled for wallabies and kangaroos, as well as some of the more than 160 species of birds that have been recorded here.
Stop 2: Bowral
1 hr | 65 km
Once you’re back on the Hume Highway, it’s less than an hour’s drive to Bowral, which is renowned for its gorgeous gardens, independent boutiques and award-winning restaurants. Cricket fans shouldn’t miss a visit to the Bradman Museum, which celebrates the life and legacy of this local son, as well as featuring interactive exhibits that explore the origins of cricket and how the game has evolved over the years. Tour the International Cricket Hall of Fame to learn about the game’s legends, then enjoy a play in the cricket-themed playground that lies adjacent to the museum.
In the heart of Bowral are the Corbett Gardens where you’ll find an impressive display of colourful flowers and beautiful magnolia trees. While the gardens are magnificent throughout the year, they are particularly spectacular during the annual Tulip Time Festival, which has been igniting Bowral since 1911.
Take time to wander the charming streets of Bowral where you’ll find antique treasures, independent art galleries, secondhand bookstores and Australia’s oldest regional theatre, the Empire Cinema. A particular highlight in Bowral is Dirty Jane’s; a fabulous vintage shopping emporium filled with unique and handcrafted items for sale. It is the largest indoor market in the Southern Highlands.
Elevated views across the town are on offer from the Bowral Lookout, which forms part of the Mount Gibraltar Reserve, a former quarry that is now traversed by walking trails.
When it’s time to eat, you take your pick from the global eateries that cluster in Bowral’s centre, enjoy provincial cuisine in the eclectically designed Harry’s on Green Lane or discover the ever-changing menu at Merrigangs. Bowral is also home to several classic country pubs that serve bistro-style fare, such as the Scottish Arms Hotel and The Royal Hotel.
Where to stay in Bowral:
From historic lodges to comfortable motels and inspiring B&Bs, Bowral offers accommodation to suit all tastes. Settle into one of the elegant rooms at The Sebel Bowral Heritage Park, stay in the 19th-century homestead of Peppers Craigieburn or bunk down at the luxurious Berida Hotel. The former residence of Australian artist, Tim Storrier, has been transformed into Hopewood House, one of the Southern Highlands’ most inviting grand estates.
Sydney to Canberra Drive: Day 2 – Bowral to Bundanoon
Stop 1: Retford Park
5 min | 3 km
After a leisurely breakfast in Bowral at The Press Shop or Raw & Wild, make the short drive to Retford Park, which was gifted to the National Trust of Australia by James Fairfax in 2016. Admire its grand Victorian Italianate homestead and unique sculptural works as you explore the hedged gardens while keeping an eye out for the property’s resident family of emus. (N.B. Retford Park is open from Friday to Monday only).
Stop 2: Moss Vale
13 min | 11 km
From Retford Park, continue to the charming country town of Moss Vale, which offers no shortage of lunch options. You splurge with the degustation menu at Birch Restaurant, enjoy French-inspired cuisine with paired wines at Mount Ashby Estate or feast on wood-fired pizzas and hearty steaks at the Porterhouse Bistro. A stroll around town is the perfect way to walk it all off, taking in the picturesque Leighton Gardens and the heritage-listed Argyle Street Railway Bridge.
Stop 3: Fitzroy Falls
15 min | 16 km
In the afternoon, take a short detour to see Fitzroy Falls, which plunges dramatically into a valley within Morton National Park. Stop in at the award-winning visitors’ centre to learn about the rich Indigenous history of the region, then follow the short boardwalk that leads to the towering cascade. For those after a longer walk, you can follow the East Rim or West Rim walking trails, which are particularly impressive when the spring wildflowers are in bloom.
Stop 4: Bundanoon
25 min | 30 km
End the day in Bundanoon, a charming village that is renowned for its Scottish ambience and host to the annual Brigadoon Highland Gathering. You can dine on Italian fare at the Bottega B Ristorante or settle in with the locals at the historic Bundanoon Hotel, which is surrounded by two hectares of beautifully manicured gardens. A must-do evening activity in Bundanoon is the Glow Worm Glen Walk, which ignites with luminescent creatures after dark.
Where to stay in Bundanoon:
Despite its tiny size, Bundanoon is home to several atmospheric cottages, guesthouses and country inns where you can overnight, including Bundanoon Lodge and Fox and Hound. Kids will love meeting the animals at the Morvern Valley Farm Stay while adults can indulge at the luxurious Fulford Folly. Serene bush campsites are available at Gambells Rest.
Sydney to Canberra Drive: Day 3 – Bundanoon to Canberra
Stop 1: Goulburn
45 min | 63 km
Designated as Australia’s first inland city in 1863, Goulburn is bursting with history. Its claim as the Wool Capital of the World is signalled by the “Big Merino” (a massive sheep on the outskirts of the city) while the centre of Goulburn is clustered with beautifully preserved homesteads and churches.
Take a stroll to admire the soaring bell tower of St Saviour’s Anglican Cathedral or journey back in time to the mid-19th century at the Riversdale Homestead. Railway enthusiasts will love the Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre, which is home to the largest heritage operating roundhouse in New South Wales. Sweeping views across Goulburn are on offer from the Rocky Hill War Memorial, which stands as a tribute to those who served during World War I.
If you are looking for a fast-paced activity on your Sydney to Canberra road trip, Wakefield Park could be the answer. It is one of the very few privately owned motor racing circuits in Australia and is located just 13km south of Goldburn. You can try out a few hot laps with a professional driver in a V8 supercar or V8 Auscar, or even take your own car around the track on special No Speed Limit Days. They often have the special racing event’s on, so it is worth checking out ahead of time!
Stop 2: Gundaroo
55 min | 80 km
From Goulburn, drive south along the shores of Lake George to the Weereewa Lookout, from where you can enjoy panoramic views across this million-year-old endorheic lake. Then head west to the beautifully preserved colonial village of Gundaroo, which has been classified by the National Trust. It boasts exceptional dining experiences and is the ideal spot for lunch, with several picturesque wineries to discover.
A highlight is the seasonal menu at the 19th-century Royal Hotel at Grazing, which also offers a wide selection of local wines. If you’re visiting on the weekend, head to the family-owned Tallagandra Hill, a beautiful winery that offers French-inspired lunches accompanied by tastings of their wines. After lunch, stretch your legs with a stroll around Gundaroo to admire its gorgeous cottages and slab huts or enjoy an amble along the aptly-named River Walk.
Stop 3: Queanbeyan
35 min | 40 km
From Gundaroo, drive directly south to Queanbeyan, which serves as a gateway to the Snowy Mountains along the New South Wales border with the Australian Capital Territory. You can learn about the local history at the fascinating Queanbeyan Museum, explore along the self-guided Queanbeyan Heritage Walk or let the kids run loose in the playground of riverside Queen Elizabeth Park. If you’re visiting on a Sunday, don’t miss the local market where you’ll find artisan bread, in-season produce and handicrafts.
Stop 4: Canberra
20 min | 13 km
Your final destination is just a short hop across the border in the ACT, with central Canberra sprawling along the southern shore of Lake Burley Griffin. As the nation’s capital, it’s home to the National Gallery of Australia, the Australian War Memorial and the National Museum of Australia, as well as Parliament House where much of the country’s political action takes place.
After a long day on the road, you’re probably ready to refresh at your accommodation before heading out to discover the capital’s culinary delights. You can splurge on fine-dining modern Australian cuisine at Aubergine, feast on Lao-Thai street food at Zaab or sample the share-plate menu at the industrial-style Monster Kitchen and Bar.
Where to stay in Canberra:
Canberra offers no shortage of accommodation options, including convenient serviced apartments, mid-range hotels and heritage-listed properties. Sleep soundly in the designer rooms of QT Canberra and the Vibe Hotel or stay in the former home of Australian prime minister Ben Chifley at the Art Deco-style Hotel Kurrajong.
The best time to visit Canberra?
With its outstanding museums, eclectic restaurants and lively bars, Canberra really is a year-round destination. Even when the weather gets too hot or too cold, there is somewhere comfortable inside where you can retreat.
The most popular time to visit Canberra is during the annual Floriade festival, which takes place during Spring and October at the height of spring. Commonwealth Park ignites with flowering bulbs, accompanied by live music, cultural activities and art exhibitions. While the mornings and nights are cool during the spring months, the daytime temperatures are ideal for enjoying Canberra’s outdoor attractions.
In the summer months (December to February), Canberra experiences hot temperatures and little rainfall, which is perfect for water sports on Lake Burley Griffin. The mercury usually hovers around the high 20s (Celsius), with balmy nights that see alfresco diners spill onto the city’s sidewalks.
In March, the temperatures start to fall with the arrival of autumn and many of Canberra’s parks are ignited by the golden hues of the changing foliage. Canberra Day is celebrated on March 14 each year, with this public holiday marked by international sporting matches, live-music festivals and cultural events.
Canberra in winter (June to August) can be very cold, with temperatures dropping to between 1 and 12°C during the daytime and regularly dipping below 0°C at night. Snow falls in the nearby Australian Alps, with many people using Canberra as a stopover on their way to the ski slopes.
How to get to Canberra?
If you’re driving from Sydney, the Hume Highway begins in the suburb of Haberfield as the A22 and travels through Enfield, Greenacre and Liverpool before becoming the M31 at Prestons. From here, it bypasses numerous towns, including Campbelltown, Mittagong, Bowral and Moss Vale as it journeys southwest towards the city of Goulburn.
Shortly after Goulburn, follow the signs indicating the turnoff to Canberra on the Federal Highway (M23). This motorway passes the villages of Wollogorang, Collector and Sutton, then skirts the western shores of Lake George before arriving into the nation’s capital near Canberra Airport.
More time to spare? Consider adding these extras to your Sydney to Canberra drive itinerary:
Dharawal National Park
This little-known protected area nestles between the Hume Highway and the Prince Motorway to the south of Campbelltown and is an ideal stop for nature lovers. It takes its name from the Aboriginal people who lived here for thousands of years, with several of their shelters and artworks still visible today. Dominated by meandering creeks, heaths and swamps, the park is traversed by scenic hiking trails that take in waterfalls and natural swimming holes where you can enjoy a dip. Keen cyclists can ride the 10B Trail, which crosses Dharawal National Park from north to south, while birdwatchers will discover a wide variety of native species.
At just 10 minutes’ drive from Bowral, Berrima is another popular base for visitors travelling through the Southern Highlands. Stretch your legs on the self-guided Berrima Heritage Walk, which takes in the Regency-style Berrima Courthouse and the convict-built Surveyor General Inn where you can still enjoy a drink today. Independent boutiques and galleries occupy many of Berrima’s stores while the village’s rich history is showcased at the Berrima District Museum. If you’re passing through on a weekend, you can visit the National Trust-listed Harper’s Mansion, which is renowned for its cool climate gardens and family-friendly maze.
Illawarra Tourism Route
From Bowral, follow the scenic Illawarra Tourism Route, which will take you past Fitzroy Falls to Belmore Falls in Morton National Park. Stop for a selfie in front of Robertson’s “Big Potato”, then continue along the Jamberoo Mountain Road to Budderoo National Park. A highlight of this lush, rainforested area is Carrington Falls, which plunges more than 130 metres along the Kangaroo River. From Budderoo National Park, you can return to Bowral or head to coastal Kiama for a few days of swimming, fishing and beachside watersports.
Directly south of Queanbeyan is the Googong Foreshores, a heritage-listed area that centres around the Googong Dam. In addition to its 62-metre-high dam wall, it’s home to the photogenic London Bridge Arch, a natural limestone formation that has been created over thousands of years. You can easily spend a day at the Googong Foreshores bushwalking, mountain biking and fishing or spot some of the myriad bird species that come to rest and refuel here.
Located partway between Canberra and the New South Wales coast is the National-Trust-classified town of Braidwood. Its atmospheric colonial streets have been used as the backdrop for several iconic Australian films, including “Ned Kelly” and “The Year My Voice Broke”. In the heart of town is the Royal Mail Hotel, which was built in the late 19th century to serve miners working the goldfields of Jembaicumene, Majors Creek and Araluen. Today, it is artisans, craftspeople and designers that are doing a booming business in Braidwood, with plenty of galleries and studios to explore.
Near the southern end of Lake George is the historic village of Bungendore, which is clustered with beautifully preserved colonial buildings. Not to miss is the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery, a local institution where some of Australia’s leading furniture designers and woodworking artists showcase their wares. Antique stores, artisan galleries and cafes dot Bungendore’s atmospheric streets, with several of its buildings dating from the village’s establishment back in 1837.
Sydney To Canberra Drive: Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to drive from Sydney to Canberra?
The drive from Sydney to Canberra is 268km and equates to a total driving time of three hours.
What is halfway between Canberra and Sydney?
Moss Vale, Australia officially marks the halfway point between Sydney and Canberra, taking an average of 1 hour 30 minutes to meet at the centre point from either of the two cities. A great halfway meeting point is the town of Bowral, which lies about 15 miles from the exact midpoint of Moss Vale.
How much does it cost to drive from Sydney to Canberra?
The most cost-effective way to get from Sydney to Canberra is to drive, which costs on average $38 – $53AUD. You can travel from Sydney to Canberra by bus, train or plane however, these options can cost substantially more.
What is the distance from Sydney to Canberra by plane?
The flight distance from Sydney Airport to Canberra Airport is 236km / 128 nautical miles. The flight take approximately 46 minutes. Driving to Canberra from Sydney takes approximately 3 hours and covers a distance of 268km.
Are there many Toilet/ Rest stops on the Sydney to Canberra Drive Itinerary.
The RMS online Interactive Rest Area map is a fantastic resource that will help you plan toilet breaks, which may be especially important if you are driving from Sydney to Canberra with kids.