Australia Is Finally Open to Tourists, and It’s Just as Gorgeous as Ever

Welcome back to Oz.

Australia just shared some great news: After more than two years of closed borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic—during which time Melbourne became the world-record holder as the city with the longest amount of time spent in lockdown—the Land Down Under is finally open to international tourism. Let the Men at Work play!

As of February 21, 2022, vaccinated travelers can once again seek out whatever OTC meds will knock them out for 24 hours and embark on that legendary day-long, layover-heavy journey with possibly the best payoff ever: adventures in the land of unrivaled sun and surf, exceptionally unique wildlife, famously friendly denizens, and expanses of deep red, sacred desert unlike anything else on the planet—all packed into an enormous island/country/continent (who knows!) beyond definition.

Here’s what to know before your next trip to Australia, including the country’s entry requirements and the best places to visit, from Sydney’s iconic seaside to the wild and wonderful Outback.

Covid-19 entry requirements for Australia

Except in extenuating circumstances, all international travelers to Australia must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. (Sorry, Djokovic.) You’ll need to provide official proof of vaccination, as well as apply for a travel visa, complete a Digital Passenger Declaration, and provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.

Before you book, also be sure to check state and territory arrival requirements; depending on your final destination, you may be required to complete border entry registration forms, undergo COVID-19 tests, or quarantine. For full information, click here.

birds eye view of an amusement park by a beautiful beach
A stroll down to St. Kilda Beach is essential. | Peter Harrison/Stone/Getty Images

Explore the Berlin of the Southern Hemisphere

Reserve the top spot on your itinerary for the state of Victoria’s laid-back capital, Melbourne, ranked amongst the world’s most liveable cities year after year after year. This is essentially Berlin by the Port Phillip Bay: Melbourne comes complete with the unique local fashion, focus on the arts, and notoriously excellent nightlife (see: Workshop, Cookie, Black Cat Fitzroy, Yah Yah’s, Revolver) boasted by its German counterpart—but this time, with sublime surf spots and weather that’ll get you frantically searching for a way to stay forever.

Hit Queen Victoria or South Melbourne Market. Indulge in the city’s rampant (to say the least) coffee culture on Lygon Street, wander the best of its quintessential laneways on Degraves Street, and grab some dim sim (yes—that’s dim sim, not dim sum). Also essential is a stroll (or tram ride!) down to palm-lined St. Kilda Beach to lounge by the blue-green ocean and go for a spin on the rides at the century-old, hard-to-miss Luna Park.

Of course, if this is your first visit, you’re probably excited to spot some of Australia’s iconic animals: your kangaroos, your emus, your koalas. If that sounds like you, make a beeline for the Werribee Open Range Zoo, where you can catch them at once. (Bonus round: For an extra-impressive show, head to Yarra Bend Park around dusk when thousands of fruit bats take flight all at once.)

person overlooking sea stacks by the ocean
The Twelve Apostles are just one (or rather, seven) of Australia's many natural wonders. | Westend61/Getty Images

Road trip on the Great Ocean Road

The gorgeous, 151-mile-long Great Ocean Road can technically be completed in about ten hours. But then, it’s unlikely you came all the way to Australia to rush through one of the world’s most beautiful scenic drives. Kicking things off in Torquay, just 1.5 hours from Melbourne—a town that’s rightfully earned its reputation as a surf capital, home to world-renowned Bells Beach and the Australian National Surfing Museum—you’ll go winding along the coast of Victoria, hitting points like Split Point Lighthouse, Lorne, and Apollo Bay.

On the final stretch, you’ll find Port Campbell National Park and the famous Twelve Apostles, a collection of (seven, despite the name) limestone sea stacks that jut out from the Southern Ocean and glow orange at sunset. Rent a car as far in advance as possible so that you can drive slow and thus better soak up the views.

a pool above the ocean
Sydney is all about being by the ocean. | Walter Bibikow/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Hit the sun-kissed shores of Sydney

At long last, your time to get a selfie by that damn pool at Bondi Beach has arrived. Jokes aside, all of Sydney’s most essential itinerary items take place by the water. Stop to ogle the Opera House, then keep it pushing onto The Rocks and its cobbled, historic laneways. One of the oldest parts of Sydney, it’s there you’ll find some of the best bars (Hotel Palisade for phenomenal views and Maybe Sammy, voted the best bar in Australia) and pubs (Lord Nelson and Fortune of War, two of Australia's oldest) around.

You’re also gonna want to spend plenty of time drinking at the Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf—or at any waterfront watering hole, for that matter—and dining out on Moreton Bay bugs, which look creepy to the uninitiated but actually taste good as hell. And when the time comes to actually get out onto or into the water, take a scenic ferry from Circular Quay to Manly Beach (and walk to North Head if you’re down to stretch those legs), or lounge on the long stretch of sand that is Cronulla Beach.

Also worth checking out, particularly for our arts-and-culture types out there: eclectic Newtown for great music venues, trendy bars, and solid nightlife, as well as the Australian Museum in the CBD (the country’s very first!) and the White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale.

a diver swimming past clown fish and coral
Go ahead, call him Nemo. | LuffyKun/E+/Getty Images

Day trip to the Great Barrier Reef

An attraction that requires no introduction, diving the 1,400-mile Great Barrier Reef is one of those iconic bucket list trips that sits on the same level as seeing the Pyramids and visiting the Galapagos Islands. Head to the coast of Queensland—aka quite a far way from P. 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney—and anchor yourself in Port Douglas or Cairns. Though high-speed cruises from Port Douglas can get you to the Outer Reef in under an hour, starting in Cairns is incredibly popular, promises a sweet scenic road trip, and will net you a fun full-day adventure at the Reef.

From either place, you can embark on world-class scuba diving tours that’ll take you beneath the ocean and into one of the world’s most diverse, vibrant ecosystems, home to more than 2,900 individual reefs, 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, giant sea turtles (leave them be!), and more aquatic delights. If you have time, journey to the Whitsunday Islands, a collection of 74 remote isles; although most are uninhabited, you’ll find everything from remote campsites to mid-tier getaways to luxury resorts scattered throughout, all with turquoise vistas straight out of your dreams.

Of course, we’d be remiss to mention the reef without mentioning its conservation needs. Unless you’ve been living under a rock Patrick Star-style, you’re likely aware that the Great Barrier Reef has faced a serious threat of bleaching—a phenomenon caused by warming oceans—over the course of the last several decades. Luckily, there are ways to get up close and personal with this natural treasure and help preserve it for future generations.

australia's giant uluru rock formation in the middle of the desert
Above all else, remember that the Outback is sacred land. | Martin Klima/EyeEm/Getty Images

Get a taste of the Outback in Alice Springs

It’s easy to say that you’re “dying to see the Outback.” But venture into Australia’s immense, mostly uninhabited, remote interior unprepared, and you’ll find that it’s often not a joke. Every year, ill-equipped tourists royally and tragically fuck themselves by heading inland without a plan, convinced a drive through the Outback is a casual, run-of-the-mill road trip when the reality couldn’t be more different. The land is vaster than you expect, more dangerous than you know, and much hotter than you could ever imagine. (Pray tell: If the characters from Mad Max barely survive out here, why would you think you could?)

If you like trips from which you’re certain to return, leave things to the professionals and book a guided tour of the Outback from Alice Springs—a bastion of Aboriginal culture and the gateway to the country’s red center. (You can get there easily with a flight from Sydney, Melbourne, or any other major Australian city.)

Surrounded by vast swaths of vermillion desert, Alice Springs is also the nearest large town to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, home to the monolithic Uluru Rock, one of the planet’s most recognizable natural wonders. Believed to have formed over 550 million years ago, this site is sacred to Indigenous Australians. That said, the number one thing to do here? Be respectful of the land and its original inhabitants.

woman enjoys a sunset view in a seaside national park with mountains in the distance
Enjoy sunset at the Hazards in Freycinet National Park. | Andrew Peacock/E+/Getty Images

Ferry out to Tasmania for art and animals

If you’re dying to see more exciting critters—including, of course, real-life Taz from Looney Tunes—book yourself a trip to Tasmania, home to some of the most diverse, vibrant flora and fauna you’ll see in your life. Strap on your sturdiest hiking shoes and set the bar high from the get-go with a challenging trek up Kunanyi/Mount Wellington. There are dozens of trails that’ll take you to the summit, all of which will deliver sweeping views out across the deep blue water, winding coastlines, and rolling mountains of Australia’s island state.

That’s just the beginning of your sojourn into nature: Book a tour to northwestern Tasmania to explore the ancient takayna/Tarkine Rainforest, or travel just north of Hobart to the shores of Freycinet National Park, whose green peaks, white sands, and crystalline waters might convince you that you’ve stepped into some sort of Endless Summer/Lord of the Rings crossover flick.

And when you’re done marveling at nature’s majesty, venture to Hobart. There, you can check out some man-made creations at the Salamanca Market, whose dozens of vendors come out to sell everything from craft goods to street food each Saturday, and Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art, arguably one of the best art museums in the world.

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Tiana Attride is Thrillist's Associate Travel Editor. She's been practicing The Nutbush in preparation for this very moment. Follow her on Instagram at @tian.a.