The complete backpackers guide to the Gold Coast
If you’re feeling the pull of the Gold Coast’s seemingly infinite stretches of white sand, glittering nightlife and abundant natural wonders, we can’t say we blame you. The Gold Coast is a favourite with backpackers thanks to the welcoming locals, perfect weather year-round, and countless budget-friendly things to do. Whether you’re looking to relax, restore, and awaken your senses in one of the world’s most biologically diverse natural playgrounds, or chase down an adrenaline-fuelled experience that takes your breath away, this backpacker’s guide to the Gold Coast has you covered.
What are you waiting for? The next wave has your name on it.
The Gold Coast caters to a wide range of budgets and accommodation preferences, with plenty of backpacker-friendly places to stay within “cooee” of its famous beaches. When choosing your accommodation, there are a few factors to keep in mind:
- Where is it located? It may be cheaper, but, if it’s out of town, you might have to pay bus fares to get to where you want to go. If you’re planning on hitting the beach, pick somewhere within walking distance (there are plenty of options). You’ll also be close to restaurants, shops and bars.
- What events and extras does the hostel offer? Some hostels provide body boards for you to take to the beach, free breakfast, or a full calendar of events, which are usually inexpensive. Keep an eye out for the experiences that are most important to you.
- Testimonials and reviews on traveller websites are a great way to see what other like-minded travellers have to say.
Here are a few of the most recommended choices:
Aquarius is close to the tram, and offers easy access to the local nightlife and beaches (the surf is just a short 10-minute walk away). The rooms are dormitory-style, and there’s a fully equipped kitchen and a barbeque area where you can mingle and meet your hostel mates.
Surfers Paradise YHA
With wide open verandahs overlooking the marina, bars and restaurants at your doorstep, SeaWorld just a few minutes walk away, and nightly activities including pub crawls, barbeques and movie nights, Surfers Paradise YHA at Main Beach offers plenty of experiences to keep you busy.
Located right across the road from Main Beach, the hostel is the perfect base to get out and explore the Coast, with free shuttles into the heart of Surfers Paradise. The YHA also caters to families, with a special family room rate available, and YHA deals on tours and experiences.
Downunder Hostel, Surfers Paradise
A classic hostel experience, and boasting all the mod cons, Downunder Hostel is the perfect base to explore the Gold Coast region. They offer free breakfasts, WIFI, and laundry services, and there’s an on-site cafe and nightly events and activities. Located in the heart of Surfers Paradise, Downunder is only 150 metres from the beach, and a two minute walk to the Q1 building. Downunder only accepts guests aged between 18 and 35 years.
Looking for something completely different? Escape the bustle of the city and pitch a tent deep in the bush or by the surf in one of the Gold Coast’s iconic camping spots.
Eat and drink
Explore the Gold Coast’s thriving brewery scene. It’s the perfect excuse to knock elbows with the locals and sample an ice-cold craft beer, all the while supporting a growing industry.
Balter Brewing Company, Currumbin
Gold Coast experiences don’t come more quintessential than a stop at Balter Brewing in Currumbin. Part laneway bar, part brewery warehouse, Balter was established by a group of pro surfers and local legends, including Mick Fanning, Bede Durbidge, Josh Kerr and Joel Parkinson.
With brewery tours and food trucks on a Friday night, Balter offers guaranteed good vibes all year round.
Burleigh Brewing Co., Burleigh Heads
Credited with kicking off the Gold Coast’s craft beer movement, microbrewery Burleigh Brewing Co., in the picturesque Burleigh Heads, embodies the soul of the Coast’s brewery scene.
Find a seat in the bustling taphouse and sample one of their award winning brews, with plenty of live music and food trucks to keep you occupied, or fill up a Growler and take a perfect drop of the Coast away with you.
Quick & Healthy Eats
Whether you’re after something fast, something nourishing, or both, there are a plethora of Gold Coast cafes and restaurants where family and budget-friendly plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian dining options abound.
Nude Sisters Whole Food Kitchen, Mermaid Beach
A vegetarian, wholefood kitchen with an all-day, breakfast-focused menu that includes the likes of tofu scramble, vegan cheesy fries, smoothie bowls, and organic coffee.
Specialising in raw cheesecakes that are free from gluten, refined sugar, and dairy, Nude Sisters is definitely one to track down if you have a sweet tooth.
The Cardamom Pod, Broadbeach
Both vegetarians and omnivores will love the fare from local favourite, Cardamom Pod. The spice-filled, locally sourced and organic vegetarian menu is based on Hare Krishna-style cooking and truly ignites the sense. Think rich curries, fresh salads, and raw desserts.
Hakataya Ramen, Surfers Paradise
Look beyond the unassuming vibe of Hakataya Ramen and you’ll find one of the best bowls of ramen outside of Japan. The menu offers incredible value for money, but the line out the door is testament to the quality of the produce. Order the tonkotsu soup (pork bone broth), which is simmered for 39 hours. They have mind-blowing pork dumplings and musubi (rice balls), too.
Lord of the Fries, Surfers Paradise
A hard day in the surf is best finished with a perfect bowl of fries, and now vegans and vegetarians can get in on the action. 100% vegan fast food spot, Lord of the Fries is serving up perfect French fries made from Aussie potatoes, as well as vegetarian hot dogs and burgers, all ethically produced and made without animal products. They also do a moreish dairy-free milkshake.
Pubs and bars
Sandbar, Surfers Paradise
A Gold Coast favourite for over 20 years, Sandbar has recently been refurbished and is a welcoming and cool bar and eatery located in the heart of Surfers Paradise. With a focus on craft beers – Sandbar boasts the largest range on the Coast – and a range of cocktail specials, there’s something for everyone here.
The menu is full of affordable Aussie favourites, with plenty of healthy options. Think poke bowls, gourmet burgers, fish’n’chips and breakfast staples. The sea breezes are complimentary.
Southport Surf Life Saving Club, Main Beach
Fancy settling into a meal with 70 kilometres of coastline for company? Surf clubs, which are found in almost every suburb on the Coast, are a great choice for a budget-friendly meal on the beach.
The Southport Surf Life Saving Club is no exception. Located on Southport Esplanade, it’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week. Enjoy one of the 12 local beers on tap and soak up the stunning views of Main Beach.
Bine Craft Beer Bar, Nobby Beach
Make some new friends and experience the hospitable spirit of the Coast at local favourite, Bine Craft Beer Bar. Live music, trivia, and an inviting pub-style menu with nightly meal specials contribute to the cosy atmosphere.
Komune Resort and Beach Club, Coolangatta
Recharge and relax at laid back beach club, Komune. Famous for their chilled Sunday sessions, challenge a friend to a game of volleyball or lay back in a bean bag and let the DJ carry you off across the water.
On the hunt for more nightlife? Check out this guide to things do with a friend at night in Surfers Paradise.
Whether you’re hunting down a spot on the sand, chasing some thrills, or looking to take in the nearby rainforests, the Gold Coast has plenty for backpackers to do.
With kilometres of golden sandy beaches stretching to the north and south, the Gold Coast really earns its name. While there’s no shortage of picturesque spots to while away an afternoon in the sun, finding the perfect spot to throw down a towel is an artform.
Tallebudgera Creek is one of the Gold Coast’s best-kept secrets, and the perfect spot if you are looking for somewhere to escape the crowds and get some quality you-time. Tucked between the Burleigh Heads National Park and Palm Beach, you’ll find locals and families kayaking, fishing, and taking a dip. Like all Gold Coast beaches, be sure to swim in the patrolled area and keep an eye out for any surf warnings – this beach can have strong currents and rips. (New bakery, Custard Canteen has recently opened nearby, so be sure to sample a flaky Portugese tart post-swim.)
If rolling waves are more your speed, you should venture to Kirra. The churning playground for some of the world’s biggest surfers, including Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore, don’t be surprised if you spot them here riding the surf breaks. The prime surfing spot is Kirra Point, famous for its long right-handers.
The Burleigh Heads foreshore is spotted with towering pine trees, making it a great place for a barbeque or a picnic. Or there are plenty of oceanfront dining options and funky cafes nearby. Try the breakfast at Commune, an organic, eco-friendly café with great coffee.
Haven’t been blessed with perfect weather? No worries. We’ve put together a guide to enjoying the Gold Coast in the rain.
Explore the rainforest
Beyond the surf and sand of the Gold Coast are a number of lush subtropical rainforests to explore. Spend a day or more hiking, climbing mountains, discovering waterfalls, or spotting incredible native species of birds and animals.
O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat has a free treetop walk made up of nine, 15-metre high suspension bridges in the Green Mountain section of Lamington National Park. It offers the perfect aspect to take in the natural wonder of the rainforest canopy around you. The Retreat is also home to the magical Lost World Day Spa, a completely indulgent way to end a day of hiking. Lamington National Park is World Heritage listed and considered Australia’s largest preserved subtropical rainforest. Choose from half-day or full-day walks to explore this ancient park.
You could also visit Tamborine Mountain, which is at the centre of Tamborine National Park. Here you’ll find amazing walking tracks that lead to pristine waterfalls and breathtaking views. Tamborine Mountain is home to a magnificent glow-worm cave, which has one of the largest colonies of these awe-inspiring creatures in the world.
There’s also a thriving local community of winemakers and artists. Visit the picturesque Queensland Wine Centre at Cedar Creek Estate Vineyard where you can taste award-winning wines.
Help the wildlife to thrive
Looking for an experience you’ll take with you long after your trip has ended? Why not become a volunteer at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
With short-term volunteering opportunities available in both the sanctuary and wildlife hospital, you’ll be doing your bit to support Australia’s conservation efforts, and with some species greatly affected by the ongoing drought and bushfire crisis, your help is needed now more than ever.
Learn to surf
Get Wet Surf School are so committed to helping you learn to surf that if you aren’t standing by the end of your first lesson, they’ll refund your lesson fee. With small class sizes and expert teachers, they can pay you enough attention to you to ensure you get the most out of your lesson. They offer beach surf lessons in a true locals spot, just a few kilometers north of Surfers Paradise at The Spit. Or, you can learn to surf in perfect controlled waves and heated water in the wave pool at WhiteWater World – perfect for winter sessions.
Get on island time
The Queensland coast is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and well preserved islands, and a day trip to explore them is one of the best things to do from the Gold Coast. Fraser Island, North Stradbroke Island, and Moreton Island are all well worth a day trip, or even an overnight stay.
Boasting water so clear you can see the starfish from the beach, Moreton Island is home to iconic ship wrecks which have become a snorkelling favourite.
No backpackers guide to the Gold Coast would be complete without encouraging you to experience the thrill of seeing the region by jumping out of a plane. Change your perspective and see the beaches and hinterland from a whole new angle as you take to the sky with Gold Coast Skydive. The only tandem skydive operation on the Gold Coast, their experienced instructors will guide you on an unforgettable 200 kilometre-an-hour freefall back to earth.
Chase thrills at the theme parks
If you’re thinking of taking on multiple parks, there are plenty of combination ticket deals available to get more bang for your buck. And if you’re keen to avoid the queues it’s best to steer clear of the theme parks during Australian school holidays, when the parks are particularly busy.
Go treasure hunting
Local markets are a great way to get a feel for the local wares and produce coming out of the Gold Coast region.
Watch the stars come out every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evening on the Esplanade at Surfers Paradise where over 100 market stalls pop up, selling everything from jewellery to memorabilia and fresh produce.
And on the first and third Sunday of the month, The Village Markets are held at Burleigh Heads. Full of quirky stalls selling unique or vintage fashion and quality handcrafted products, these markets are a celebration of the Coast’s most creative entrepreneurs. With a friendly atmosphere, live music and great coffee, it makes for a relaxed Sunday morning out. Don’t forget to bring cash, as many vendors are cash-only.
Want more backpacker-approved things to do on the Coast? Check out this list of free things to do on the Gold Coast.