Once a rural summer retreat for Sydney’s gentry, Bowral is now the largest town in New South Wales’ Southern Highlands. At just 90 minutes drive from the capital (and only slightly further from Canberra), Bowral is not only a “dormitory suburb” for commuters working in the big cities but a popular weekend getaway destination.
It’s home to gorgeous country estates and trend-setting cafes while being at the heart of a flourishing wine-growing region. Bowral also holds strong ties to the legendary cricketer, Sir Donald Bradman, who grew up in the town before going on to stun the world with his batting abilities.
Whether you want to experience life for the wealthy in times gone by, trawl for antiques or satisfy your foodie dreams, here are some of the top things to do in Bowral.
How to get to Bowral
If you’re driving from Sydney, the journey to Bowral is 120 kilometres via the Hume Highway and can be completed in around one hour and 20 minutes. For those with more time on their hands, take the scenic Grand Pacific Drive to Shellharbour, then travel inland via the Illawarra Highway and over Macquarie Pass. This route is 175 kilometres and takes roughly three and a half hours.
There are a vast amount of fun things to do in Bowral, making it a worthy stop on a Sydney to Canberra road trip. From Canberra, the drive to Bowral is 177 kilometres and takes around one hour and 45 minutes without stops.
The train that connects Sydney to Canberra stops at Bowral railway station, with the journey from Sydney taking one hour and 36 minutes while the trip from Canberra is two hours and 26 minutes.
Things to do in Bowral this weekend
Visit the Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame
Celebrating Bowral’s most famous son is the Bradman Museum, which first opened in 1989 alongside an oval where he played many of his earliest cricket games. It now encompasses the International Cricket Hall of Fame where you can learn about the origins of the game and its legendary players, as well as the controversies that have left their mark on the sport over its decades of play. There are also exhibits dedicated to Sir Donald Bradman’s humble origins in the Southern Highlands and his test batting average of 99.94. After your visit, you can admire the heritage-listed Bradman Oval or let the kids run loose in the cricket-themed playground.
Tour the Southern Highlands Wine Region
With its mild temperatures and rich volcanic soils, the Southern Highlands is ideal for the cultivation of cool-climate wines, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is a relatively new wine-growing region, with the first commercial wineries established in the 1980s. More than 60 vineyards now dot the region’s stunning rural landscapes and there are around 15 cellar doors open to the public for tastings. Stop in at the historic Joadja Estate (the oldest winery in the Southern Highlands), learn about the sustainable practices used at the Tractorless Vineyard and explore the famous Berkelouw Book Barn at the Bendooley Estate.
Get your retail fix in Bowral’s boutiques
Bowral is dotted with upmarket boutiques and independent stores where you’ll find designer clothing, one-of-a-kind homewares and unique garden products. Head to the Green Lane precinct to shop for gardening gifts at the Potting Shed or pick up indoor plants and porcelain ware at The Orangery. In nearby Dirty Janes Antique Market, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to vintage goods while unique homewares are a feature of Barbara’s Storehouse. Bookworms shouldn’t miss the Bookshop Bowral, which will inspire your next literary adventure.
Admire the artworks of the Milk Factory Gallery
Situated in the heart of Bowral is this gallery and exhibition space, which was established in 2005 in a historic dairy depot. The lofty-ceilinged space provides the perfect setting for showcasing contemporary artworks across a wide range of disciplines, including painting, sculpture, woodwork, glass art and ceramics. Aside from solo exhibitions featuring the work of particular artists, the Milk Factory Gallery also presents group shows of photographic works, prints and etchings. Be sure to stop in at the gallery shop, which is well stocked with handmade gifts.
Free Things to do in Bowral
Relax in the Corbett Gardens
Bowral’s most famous green space dates back to 1911 when Mrs. Ada Corbett suggested that the local tourism association purchase a piece of disused land known as “Deadman’s Paddock” and turn it into a public park. It is now the centrepiece for the town’s annual Spring Garden Festival, which sees more than 75,000 tulips in full bloom. But Corbett Gardens is an inspiring place to visit throughout the year, with pathways fringed by mature trees and formal flower beds planted with seasonal displays.
Walk the Bradman Trail
The Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame serves as the start and finish point of the self-guided Bradman Trail, which takes in many of the sites associated with the legendary sportsman. Pick up a free map to enjoy the leisurely 1.7-kilometre route, which can be completed in around 45 minutes. Among the 10 stops (all of which are well signposted) are his childhood school, his first workplace and the two Bowral homes where he grew up. Also of note is the historic Empire Cinema on Bong Bong Street where Bradman was given an official farewell before departing for The Ashes Tour in 1930.
Hike through Mount Gibraltar Reserve
Located halfway between Bowral and Mittagong is this collapsed volcanic core, which is known affectionately by locals as “The Gib”. At 863 metres above sea level (the highest point between Sydney and Canberra), it offers magnificent views across the Southern Highlands. Mount Gibraltar Reserve has also been listed on the State Heritage Register due to its historical significance, with trachyte quarried here for 100 years and used to build many notable public buildings. Today, it is traversed by hiking trails that will appeal to all abilities, including the short Rim Track that connects many of the reserve’s lookouts. From the Mittagong Lookout, you can see all the way to Sydney on a clear day!
Photograph the cherry blossoms of Settlers Park
Home to the Bowral Vietnam War Memorial, Settlers Park lies along the Mittagong Rivulet in the town’s north. It marks the start of the Cherry Tree Walk, which was planted with 526 trees in the mid-1990s to commemorate each of the Australians who died during the conflict. Coincide your visit with Vietnam Veterans Day on August 18 or experience the cherry trees in bloom between late September and early October.
Things to do in Bowral with kids
Explore the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens
Sprawling across 15 hectares, the community-run Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens was established as recently as 2015, with landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean at the helm. While it is still a work in progress, several areas are complete and ready to explore, such as the magnificent Birch Grove and the bird-filled Winter Garden. Kids will love exploring the Meadow Labyrinth and the children’s playground, not to mention tracking down the 15 teddy bears that are hiding amidst the foliage. There is also a picnic shelter where you can enjoy lunch and an on-site nursery if you’re looking to spruce up your home garden.
Hit up the Highlands Entertainment Centre
Forming part of the Highlands Hub SuperCentre, this entertainment complex includes 10 tenpin bowling lanes, an 18-hole miniature golf course and an abundance of arcade games. It’s a great place to head on a rainy day, with a fully licensed on-site cafe where you can feast on sweet potato fries, burgers, hot dogs and Turkish-inspired gozleme. Ten pin bowling fans should coincide their visit with a Friday or Saturday evening when you can enjoy unlimited games between 5 and 8 pm.
Things to do in Bowral at night
Catch a movie at the Empire Cinema
Bowral is home to one of the oldest regional cinemas in Australia, the Empire, which celebrated its centenary in 2015. In 1930, it was one of the first country cinemas to install sound and it has since been recognised as one of the best independent cinemas in regional Australia. The Empire Cinema presents all the latest Hollywood blockbusters across its four screens, plus live shows from New York City’s Met Opera and London’s National Theatre. It really does have something that will appeal to everyone and is a great after-dinner entertainment option.
Spend an evening at the Imperial Hotel
For an affordable night out, hit up the Imperial Hotel, which dishes up pub classics and wood-fired pizzas in a family-friendly setting. In addition to a big bar, there’s a pool table where you can challenge your travel companions to a game or get to know the locals.
Things to do in Bowral: Eat
Despite being a small country town, Bowral packs a big punch when it comes to its dining scene. The town centre is clustered with trendy cafes such as The Press Shop where you’ll find great coffee and handcrafted teas, as well as the plant-filled Plantation, known for its freshly baked goods and all-day menu. Not to miss is the famous high tea at Dirty Janes, a vintage-style emporium and antique market on Banyette Street (be sure to book ahead on weekends).
People make the drive from Sydney just to eat at Biota Dining, which offers modern Australian fare featuring locally sourced produce. Romance is the order of the day at Onesta Cucina, a family-run Italian restaurant that offers a modern twist on classic dishes. Fusion Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese cuisine is on offer at The Bowral Asian.
Where to stay in Bowral
Also of note is the ivy-covered Berida Hotel, a charming manor house that is surrounded by landscaped gardens and boasts an indoor heated pool, spa and sauna. The former residence of Australian artist Tim Storrier has been transformed into the boutique Hopewood House, with four beautifully appointed rooms to choose from.
In the heart of Bowral is The Hidden Door, which comprises a beautifully decorated weatherboard cottage and an architect-designed townhouse. If you’re travelling on a budget, you can bunk down in one of the motel-style rooms at the Imperial Hotel or enjoy the old-fashioned hospitality at the Oxley Motel.
Other places to check out: Things to do in the Southern Highlands
While Bowral serves as a hub for the Southern Highlands, it’s also on the doorstep of several charming towns that are worthy of exploring. Within 10 minutes’ drive, you can easily be in the heart of Moss Vale, Berrima or Mittagong, each of which has its own character, history and attractions.
Roughly 10 minutes’ drive south of Bowral is Moss Vale, a picture-perfect country town surrounded by rolling farmlands and vineyards. Embark on a self-guided walking tour to take in its colonial heritage and landmarks, such as the 1914 Argyle Street railway bridge. Admire the seasonal floral displays of the Leighton Gardens or escape to the Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve, which encompasses a sprawling wetland that attracts an abundance of birdlife. Golfers can test their skills at the Moss Vale Golf Club, which boasts one of the most beautiful courses in New South Wales.
A 10-minute drive west of Bowral will see you in Berrima, a historic village on the banks of the Wingecarribee River. The Berrima Heritage Walk takes in the Regency-style Berrima Courthouse, which dates from the 1830s, and one of Australia’s oldest pubs, the convict-built Surveyor General Inn. You can spend an afternoon browsing the local galleries and stores or tour the National Trust-listed Harper’s Mansion before soaking up the tranquillity along the Berrima River Walk.
Less than 10 minutes drive north of Bowral is Mittagong, which is clustered with colonial sandstone cottages that now house hip cafes and antique stores. While exploring the historic streets, you can pick up vintage finds at the Mittagong Antiques Centre or check out the contemporary crafts on display at the Sturt Gallery, then mingle with the locals at the Mittagong Hotel. If you’re interested in the area’s industrial past, don’t miss a visit to the remains of the Fitz Roy Iron Works, which was the first of its kind in Australia when it was established in the 1840s.