Situated in the Central West of New South Wales, 302 kilometres from the densely populated city of Sydney lies Dubbo, a city abundant with rural Australian charm mixed with rich colonial history.
Dubbo is a town that refuses to be boxed in, so it is no surprise it is one of the most populated and ever-growing inland cities in New South Wales.
Whilst the Western Plains Zoo is considered the main attraction and undoubtedly what Dubbo is most famous for, there are lots more fun things to do in Dubbo than most people first think. Half a million travellers per year descend to Dubbo, each coming to revel in the rural farm-to-table eateries, breath-taking African Safari valleys and easily accessible family entertainment.
If you are planning a visit to outback New South Wales, there are enough fun things to do in Dubbo to fill a whole weekend – or even longer exploring the region.
How to Get to Dubbo
Where is Dubbo?
Dubbo is located in the Orana Region of New South Wales, approximately 399km northwest of Sydney. According to the latest census, it is the largest city in terms of population in the Orana Region, boasting a population of 36,919. Dubbo is a major transportation hub that connects other cities such as Brisbane and Melbourne.
Getting to Dubbo
Travelling by car or coach to Dubbo has never been easier because all roads really do lead to Dubbo! The journey from Sydney to Dubbo is roughly 390km and takes about five hours however, as Dubbo is so easily accessible it is a perfect opportunity to turn the journey into a road trip to some must-see destinations. Are you heading to Dubbo from Brisbane? Make sure you stop at the characteristic town of Lightning Ridge, which is 3.5 hours north of Dubbo (Amigo’s eccentric castle is a particular highlight). Heading to Dubbo from Sydney? The Blue Mountains are 3.5 hours from Dubbo and boast beautiful walks of varying difficulty to stretch your legs for the journey ahead.
It is possible to fly directly to Dubbo from a number of locations including Brisbane, Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne, Ballina, Bourke, Broken Hill and Walgett, connecting to Lightning Ridge. The approximate flight time from Sydney to Dubbo is one hour, with flights available throughout the week with various airline operators. Flights are in the region of $314 AUD.
Dubbo has its own train station making it a straightforward and affordable option, with tickets starting at around $30AUD. If travelling from Sydney to Dubbo you can expect the journey to take approximately 6 and a half hours, covering a distance of 289 miles. The train runs directly from Central Station in Sydney to Dubbo Train station.
When is the best time to visit Dubbo?
Whilst Dubbo enjoys pleasant weather all year round, December to March provide the optimum climate conditions for general warm-weather tourist activities. Aim to visit January – February for hot-weather activities such as swimming and watersports such as kayaking.
Best Things to do in Dubbo
1. Taronga Western Plains Zoo
There is no denying that Taronga Western Plains Zoo is one of the best things to do in Dubbo and one of the best zoos in New South Wales. As mentioned, it is the main reason a lot of tourists descend on Dubbo each year.
Echoing the landscape of an African Savannah, Taronga Western Plains Zoo is home to over 4,000 animals from more than 350 species. You won’t get an African safari experience quite like anywhere else in Australia.
What makes Taronga Western Plain Zoo so special is that it has been designed to allow visitors to get as close to the animals as safely possible, satisfying many people’s wildest safari dreams without flying overseas.
The open-range enclosure forms part of a 5-kilometre circuit that can be navigated by foot, car or electric buggy or bike (which can be rented at the entrance of the zoo).
An excellent option if you are looking for things to do in Dubbo with kids, who will never forget an exclusive close-up encounter with a Sumatran tiger or meeting the meerkats.
Open 9 am to 5 pm, 365 days per year. Tickets allow two days of the consecutive entirety which really allows you to absorb the entirety of the Zoo.
2. Old Dubbo Gaol
Head behind the bars of a rare piece of Australian history and experience 19th-century prison life at Old Dubbo Gaol. State heritage listed, this historic Gaol operated from 1874 until 1966 and, in that time 8 people were hanged for their crimes.
Although the corrective institution has long closed its doors to prisoners, the building preserves the heritage of colonial times and holds some gruesome artefacts. The cell blocks ring with voice recordings of prisoners hollering, which, although unsettling, indeed adds character to the whole experience. The knowledge gained from the tour is extraordinary, with well-presented information panels, making it one of the best things to do in Dubbo.
3. Western Plains Cultural Centre (WPCC)
Located in the old Dubbo high school, Western Plains Cultural Centre is one of the best things to do in Dubbo if you have creative blood running through your veins. It houses the Dubbo Regional Gallery, Dubbo Regional Museum and the community art centre, featuring a mix of indigenous artworks and contemporary pieces.
The Dubbo Regional Gallery explores a wealth of themes, such as Dubbo during the wartime period and famous Dubbo residents, with touring exhibitions which feature throughout the year.
The cultural centre aims to share local culture with visitors whilst finding new ways to bring art exhibitions to the Central West of New South Wales.
4. Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden
Compromising of five distinct garden spaces; the Sensory Garden, Biodiversity Garden, the Oasis valley the Wiradjuri Garden and Shyoen Japanese Garden, Dubbo Regional Botanic Gardens are perfect for a peaceful stroll.
The sensory garden is carefully laid out to emit an invigorating experience to enliven your senses by smell, touch, sight and sound, a great learning experience for kids!
The biodiversity garden showcases plants native to the local region of Dubbo, whilst the Oasis valley gardens are one of the newer gardens to have been developed and is home to dry rainforest species revealing how local bushland evolved from the cool forests of Gondwanaland.
Located within the ground of the botanic gardens is also a café and an adventure playground, making it a great place to take the whole family if you are looking for things to do in Dubbo with kids.
5. Shoyoen Japanese Garden
Experience a little slice of Japan at one of Dubbo Botanic Garden’s most peculiar gardens, the Shoyoen Japanese Garden.
Recognised as one of the most authentic Japanese gardens in Australia, the Shoyoen garden is full of religious symbolism and many culturally significant elements which include;
The waterfall, streams and lakes that run through the garden symbolise human existence, birth, growth and death.
The pond feature Japanese Koi or “living flowers” are they are culturally known.
The gardens also feature a tea hut “Chaoya”.
If you are looking for free things to do in Dubbo, the Shoyoen Japanese Gardens are a spectacular choice.
6. Dubbo Observatory
One of the major benefits of Dubbo being well isolated is the spectacular night skies, which can be studied in exhilarating detail at the Dubbo Observatory. If you are looking for romantic things to do in Dubbo, the Dubbo Observatory really ticks all the romance boxes.
This astronomical sanctuary utilises the best equipment, including a large 17inch telescope. There are different session types available including the standard “Night Sky and Telescope Viewing” package which consist of an hour-long session including a presentation for an experienced astronomer. If the viewing conditions are optimum you may see particular highlights including the planets Saturn and Jupiter!
Photography enthusiasts should ensure to bring their DSLR along, as Astro-photography opportunities are available
It is worthwhile noting that the shows take place outdoors where it can be very cold in the winter months and in the warmer months can be a haven for mosquitoes, so it’s important to wear appropriate clothing.
Also noteworthy, Children under 4 are not permitted due to the delicate nature of the telescopes.
Evidently seeing into the night skies is weather permitting, and details can be found on the website relating to what happens in the event of adverse weather.
7. Royal Flying Doctor Service Visitor Experience
Founded in 1928 by John Flynn, a reverend who now appears on the Australian $20 note, the Royal Flying Doctor Service provides a service to almost 300,000 people each year. A tour around the centre is not only one of the best things to do in Dubbo but also makes you appreciative of the magnificent job they do.
Whilst the Royal Flying Doctor Service has many bases around Australia, Dubbo facilitates an option for a far greater volume of tourists.
The visitor experience at Dubbo allows visitors to touch down into the world of heroic doctors, nurses, and pilots and immerse themselves in an interactive experience. A perfect blend of augmented reality, video clips of people who have benefited from the service, and real equipment is used to tell narratives of this life-saving service. Take a walk outside the centre to discover a replica aircraft, kitted out exactly like the ones used in daily service.
Not only is it interesting to find out more about the Royal Flying Doctor Service, but it also reinforces how remote some parts of Australia really are and how valuable it is to have medical experts just a plane ride away – it really can make the difference between life and death!
8. Dundullimal Homestead
Understood to be the oldest surviving slab house in Australia, Dundullimal was built before the Dubbo region was founded. The building reflects the practical yet essential element of rural 19th-century life in outback Australia.
If you are looking for dog-friendly things to do in Dubbo, then you will be delighted to know that dogs are welcome on the grounds providing they are on a leash.
Experience the serenity of the unique part of Australian innovative history and then head to the shed café for afternoon tea. The old machinery shed houses a tearoom, and you can see the various working areas vital for self-sustenance, including storerooms, a sunken cool room, a coach room and a blacksmith’s forge.
9. Tracker Riley Cycleway
If cycling around Taronga Western Plains Zoo has left you wanting more, the 13-kilometre Tracker Riley Cycleway is a perfect way to extend your cycle.
Named after Alec “Tracker” Riley, the first aboriginal tracker to reach sergeant rank in the New South Wales Police Force in 1941, the circuit lets you absorb the natural beauty of the Macquarie River foreshore. The circuit also takes you around some of Dubbo’s best visitor attractions such as Dundullimal Homestead and the Taronga Western Plain Zoo.
No bike? No problem. Visit the Dubbo Information Centre which can provide all the details for bike hire options in Dubbo.
10. Camp At Terramungamine Reserve And Rock Grooves
A site of immense cultural significance to the local Wiradjuri tribe, not only was this an important meeting place for the Tubbagah people but the rocks were also used to sharpen tools and spears. Located next to the Macquarie River, there are around 150 rock carvings on this site.
To appreciate the picturesque location and fascinating details left by the Tubbagah people, a night of camping is highly recommended. The campground offers basic facilities such as picnic tables and toilets and also access to the river to swim and kayak.
11. Dubbo Heritage Walk
No visit to Dubbo is complete without a stroll around the historic CBD. What started off as a village in 1849, a town by 1872 and a city in 1966, Dubbo is truly immersed in history. Expect to see many great landmarks such as the Milestone Hotel (built-in 1882) and the Old Dubbo Gaol.
Make sure to stop by the Dubbo Visitors Information Centre before commencing your expedition to pick up a brochure for the Dubbo Heritage Walk.
12. Wellington Caves & Phosphate Mine
When it comes to day trips in Dubbo, the Wellington caves and Phosphate mine is definitely not one to miss!
Situated approximately 45 minutes drive from Dubbo, The wellington caves is a complex cave system, providing an insight into natural history through a series of hypnotic limestone caves, rich in minerals and fossils.
Tours around the Wellington Caves complex are available daily and tickets are reasonably priced with under 5s going free, making the Wellington caves undoubtedly the best thing to do in Dubbo for young families.
There is also a visitor centre at Wellington Caves with BBQ facilities, a café and a fossil store to explore.
13. Narromine Aviation Museum
A perfect opportunity if you are looking for things to do in Dubbo when it is raining is to visit one of Australia’s most historic aerodromes at Narromine. Played out through photographs, records, artefacts and an actual aircraft, a century’s worth of aviation history awaits.
The displays are divided into three eras; 1916-1939 the time when what is now Australia’s oldest regional aero club, still active to this day, 1939-1945 A training base for pilots during WW2, of which 30% never returned and 1945 to the present day including Qantas pilot training and world-class gliding.
Narromine Aviation Museum is also home to the only flying replica of the 1907 Wright Flyer Model A!
Open 10 am-4 pm daily except Tuesdays. Adult tickets are $10AUD whilst kids are $5-$7AUD.
14. Dubbo Visitor Information Centre
If you are overwhelmed by the number of fun things to do in Dubbo, Head to the Visitor Information Centre. The staff at the centre are extremely knowledgeable about the local area of Dubbo and will be able to give you tips on attractions and events happening in the town.
Within the centre are facilities to relax and make use of the free shared Wi-Fi. There is also a water and charging station, as well as a children’s playground nearby.
15. Dubbo Farmers’ Market
Held on the first and third Saturday of every month (come rain, hail or shine), the Dubbo Farmers Market is a haven for local produce. It is one of the best regional events in Dubbo, so a must-visit if the dates match up with your own itinerary.
On offer is a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, plants, herbs, jams, wines as well as locally sourced meats and so much more.
If you head there early there will be all sorts of delicious breakfast options and freshly brewed coffee on offer before you start exploring the regional produce.
The market is held from 8 am to 12noon and offers a quintessential rural Australian village experience.
16. Aladdin’s Cave Bottlehouse
Fun things to do in Dubbo for kids are not hard to come by, and there is no exception when it comes to Aladdin’s cave bottle house, a yurt-style building constructed from approximately 3000 bottles.
Kids will enjoy looking at various items within the bottles such as photos, toys and treasures.
Nearby are extensive fairy-tale gardens that will keep the kids occupied for hours. A truly magical experience featuring all the fairy-tale greats such as Snow White, Thumbelina, Jack and the Beanstalk and the Three Bears.
The owners are very friendly and charge a small fee of $3AUD per Child and $6AUD per Adult.
17. Attend The Dream Festival
An exclusive festival in the Dubbo region, “DREAM” is actually an acronym for Dubbo Regional Entertainment Arts and Music.
From Light and Laterns to Music and markets, the DREAM festival celebrates all forms of creativity and captures the imagination of those who attend.
If you are looking for things to do in Dubbo with kids then the DREAM festival is a perfect activity for the whole family. Kids can attend their very own dreamland, which is a central hub for child-friendly entertainment and activities. Whilst there is an abundance of food stalls and bars for 18+.
The DREAM festival normally runs over the course of 10 days in October, which may be an important factor to consider when planning your Dubbo itinerary, should you want to attend the DREAM festival.