The Gold Coast's attractions are spread out, and whilst the new tram route is really useful, getting around can be a little time consuming if you don't hire a car or take tours, unless of course you are happy to just lounge by the pool or sit on the beach - if this is the idea, everything you need is within easy walking distance.
The nightlife of the Gold Coast is almost infamous, but it is not overbearing outside of "schoolies week", so if getting out for a drink is not your thing, don't let that put you off. If it is your kind of thing, you can have a great time in Surfers and Broadbeach.
All the essential information you will likely need before visiting the Gold Coast is below, so take a look and get ready for a trip to this stunning beachside destination.
Gold Coast Essential Info
Getting Around The Gold Coast
If you choose to stay in a beachside suburb, particularly Surfers Paradise or Broadbeach, you will find everything you need - shops, supermarkets, restaurants, small attractions - all on your doorstep within walking distance. Walking however is not much of an option for any of the larger attractions, including the theme parks and water parks, wildlife parks, hinterland, or many of the adrenalin filled activities.
Walking in Surfers Paradise © Tourism and Events Queensland
The G:Link is the Gold Coast's tram that operates along one line from Helensvale train station in the west (for connection to Brisbane), to the business district of Southport, then joining up with the coastal suburbs at Main beach before it heads south through Surfers Paradise and eventually terminating at Broadbeach South. Due to the long thin nature of the Gold Coast the tram is never far away, and it's really useful for getting between the areas mentioned.
More info here.
Translink operate the South East Queensland network of trains, boats (Brisbane), buses and the Gold Coast tram, and their tickets cover use of all modes of transport across 8 different zones. There are two types of way to pay - a single paper ticket bought from a machine, or by tapping on using the 'go card'.
Fares start at $4.90 for paper tickets but are discounted for the go card to $3.37 and off-peak at $2.70. Concessions are even cheaper. See fare prices at this link here. You will probably only need zone 5, or perhaps zone 6 if you go south to Burleigh Heads, Currumbin, or the airport.
The discount makes it worth getting yourself a go card, especially if you are planning on doing more than a couple of trips. Go cards can be bought at stations, including at the airport, and many retailers. You have to pay a $10 deposit that you can get refunded from any station, including at the airport, at the end of your trip. The cards can be topped up online or at fare machines that are located at several stations or at retailers.
There is a special tourist card available, called the 'go seeQ' card, which offers unlimited travel across train, bus, boat and tram, across South East Queensland, for 3 consecutive days ($79) or 5 consecutive days ($129). More info here.
Gold Coast Tram © Tourism and Events Queensland
The buses in the Gold Coast are really useful for reaching places that the tram can't, particularly the routes the run south of the tram terminus to Burleigh Heads, the airport and Currumbin.
The South East Queensland train network has a line that runs from Varsity Lakes at the southern end of the Gold Coast, via Helensvale (with a link to the tram), and on to Brisbane. From here you can change trains to get to other areas of Queensland.
More information on public transport in South East Queensland can be found on the Translink website.
A separate service from Translink, the Hopo service is a Hop-on-hop-off ferry that can be used as a nice river cruise too. It leaves every hour and has 5 stops - Surfers Paradise and HOTA, then further north stops in Southport, the marina, and at Sea World.
You can buy a day pass for $25 or a single two zone trip for $10.
More info here.
Cycling the Gold Coast © Tourism and Events Queensland
The Gold Coast is a great place to get around by bicycle. It has over 2400km of bikeways, it's flat, and the weather is always good for it. The foreshores of Surfers Paradise, Broadbeach, Miami and Burleigh Heads give you the chance to take your time and take in the ocean views as you ride.
Follow this link here and download the cities cycle guide for more information.
Nearang National Park is excellent for mountain biking - see our 'Things To Do' page for more info.
There are many places to hire a bike or e-scooter, especially in Surfers, with prices starting at $20 per day and delivery to your accommodation possible. Tours are also available.
Taxi / Uber
Uber operates in the Gold Coast via their app. Taxis are present too and can be hailed if their light is on, indicating they are available.
With many of the main attractions located outside the main tourist centre of Surfers Paradise, and public transport not being especially quick when transfers need to be made, having your car (or hiring one - see below) could be a sensible idea. The theme parks, the hinterland, national parks, and several of the smaller attractions are the most likely places you can access easily with a car. The traffic is never too bad and driving around is relatively easy.
Car Rental / Share car / Moped
All the major car rental companies operate on the Gold Coast. You can hire a vehicle across many suburbs, including at the airport and close to Surfers Paradise. You will find a few independent operators too.
There are no car share operators on the Gold Coast, but there are apps that allow you to hire people's private cars.
There are some Moped / Scooter hire shops in Surfers Paradise if you want to stick a helmet on and wiz around between spots on two wheels.
Shuttle Bus / Tours
Con-X-ion offer a shuttle bus service to the Gold Coast theme parks with pick-up from your hotel in various suburbs, including Surfers Paradise.
More info here.
Utilising tour companies is also a great option for visiting places like the hinterland and national parks.
Using tours and public transport alone, you could visit almost all of the attractions in the Gold Coast without needing to drive a car.
Gold Coast Food © Tourism and Events Queensland
Food In The Gold Coast
The Gold Coast has it's fair share of fantastic food. There are a multitude of restaurants in Surfers Paradise, Broadbeach, in every other suburban centre along the coastline, and in the hinterland.
For food with a view, try the restaurant in Q1 or the revolving four winds restaurant.
There are plenty of vineyards and farms you can visit, especially in the hinterland. See the list in the tips section on our 'Things to do' page.
Shopping Gold Coast © Tourism and Events Queensland
Shopping In The Gold Coast
Surfers Paradise has a large array of high street shops, tourist shops, and boutique shops along it's palm tree lined streets.
If you want a shopping mall, the Pacific Fair shopping centre in Broadbeach is right next to the end of the G:Link tram line, so easy to access, and it is large and modern. Further inland, Robina Town centre the other large shopping mall option in the Gold Coast.
For outlet shopping, Harbour Town is the place to go. It must be one of the largest outlet shopping centres in the country and is located on the northern side of the city.
There are plenty of beachside markets to check out. These include the Carrara markets, the largest permanent weekend market; The beachfront market in Surfers; the Art and Crafts markets held at Burleigh Heads, Broadbeach and Coolangatta; or the Green Marque Eco-friendly Twilight Markets. Follow this link for more info on markets in the Gold Coast.
For more info on shopping in the Gold Coast, try this link here.
Blues on Broadbeach © Tourism and Events Queensland
Events On The Gold Coast
There are several major events hosted on the Gold Coast and, whilst not exactly an organised event, 'Schoolies week' is the most well known of them. This is when school leavers descend on Surfers Paradise for a week of drunken fun. If you're not a school leaver, it's probably best to avoid the Gold Coast during this week which, due to differing school end dates in each state, can actually spread over a few weeks at the end of November and early December.
For other major events on the Gold Coast, there is the following: -
Blues On Broadbeach is a massive free blues music festival spread over 4 days in May. More info here.
The Gold Coast Open is professional surfing event hosted by the world surf league that takes place in Burleigh Heads during April or May.
The Gold Coast 600 is a supercar event that takes place on the streets of Surfers Paradise. The race was cancelled in 2021, so check the latest information for dates when the race returns in 2022.
The Gold Coast Film Festival takes place over two weeks in late April and includes a pop-up outdoor cinema. More info here.
The Gold Coast Marathon in July is well liked for it's nice winter temperatures and it's route that goes along the coastline. Several shorter length options are included too if you can't face the full marathon. More info here.
Theatre On The Gold Coast
The Gold Coast has a few venues for theatre events: -
HOTA (Home of the Arts) hosts a large range of productions from contemporary theatre, to dance, to science and kids shows.
The Star casino has a large theatre which hosts popular musical acts, comedians, and the occasional musical production.
The Gold Coast Little Theatre is a small 150 seat venue with community theatre productions of plays or musicals.
In addition to the above options, more tourist centred shows include the Outback Spectacular, Dracula's Cabaret and The Pink Flamingo. See our 'Things To Do' page for the details.
Nightlife On The Gold Coast
The centre of nightlife on the Gold Coast is Surfers Paradise, which is aligned to a youthful market and is famous for it's party scene, particularly during schoolies week, and has a few nightclubs to choose from. Broadbeach is another option and caters to a more mature crowd. You will find bars with fantastic views up and down the coastline of the city.
Note that having ID is a must for everyone for entry after 10pm.
The Gold Coast has fantastic weather all year round. Some may find it a little too hot in summer, but there is always some AC to be found, or a cool shaded spot where the breeze can help you out whilst you sip on a cold drink.
Note that temperatures in the hinterland will be a few degrees cooler.
More info here.
Best Time To Visit
With great year round weather and a permanent focus on tourism, any time is a great time to visit the Gold Coast. The only thing you may want to avoid, if you are planning to focus your trip around Surfers Paradise, is schoolies week, which is at the end of November and the start of December.
As a tourist on the Gold Coast, the main safety issues to look out for are to be careful about your alcohol intake if you are intending on enjoying the nightlife, and to be wary of the dangers whilst enjoying the water.
The waterways around the Gold Coast do potentially have Bull sharks in there, so save the swimming for the beach or the pool. If you do go in the ocean, pay attention to any warning signs and always swim between the red and yellow flags that outline swimming areas with lifeguards on duty.
Be careful of the sun too and remember to slip, slop, slap.
Several Aboriginal clans of the Yugambeh people, including the Kombumerri, Mununjali, and Wangerriburra, called this area their home prior to European arrivals in 1823.
The settling of the land by Europeans was attractive for the timber industry, with plenty of red cedar in the hinterland area, and as an outpost from nearby Brisbane. Nerang was established as the centre of the industry with Burleigh Heads and Southport following quickly after.
Surfers Paradise began life being called Elston. It was a failed farm that turned to ferrying tourists to the coastline prior to the construction of the Jubilee bridge in 1925. After more tourists came to the area, the name Elston was changed to match that of a hotel in the area - The Surfers Paradise Hotel - so as to better attract tourists. The town has never looked back.
Another name change occurred for the whole region as it was originally called South Coast. The name Gold Coast began to stick after initially being used as a derogatory term due to the higher prices for real estate and goods compared to Brisbane. The name was officially changed in 1958.
In 2007, the Gold Coast's population overtook that of Newcastle to become Australia's sixth biggest city.
Read more here.
Great Barrier Reef, Whitsunday's © Travel Unpacked
In addition to the potential multi-day trips mentioned in the list of 'Things To Do' - Brisbane and Byron Bay - the following options are a little further away, so could be the next stop in a trip across Queensland and beyond.
Sunshine Coast - North of Brisbane is the laid back equivalent to the Gold Coast. Here, like the Gold Coast, you will find the coastline fully developed, but without any skyscrapers in sight. Small towns and a relaxed atmosphere dot along the coast and end in the supremely popular and pretty town of Noosa. It also has a hinterland, Australia zoo, Eumundi market and excellent whale watching (in season).
Fraser Island - A few hours north of Brisbane, this popular sand island is large enough for you to spend a few days on. You can drive along the sand roads and beach (in a 4x4), explore the lakes, look out for wild dingoes and take part in all manner of bush activities. It is not really populated as it is a national park, but there are a couple of accommodation options, along with camping.
To get there, you need to take a short ferry ride from Hervey Bay, which can be done in your own 4x4 vehicle or on an organised tour. Hervey Bay is a fantastic place (maybe the BEST place) to go whale watching in August.
Outback Queensland - Queensland's outback is one of the most popular and interesting outback regions to explore in Australia and it begins just a few hours from the Gold Coast. Grab a car and drive west to Roma and continue from there to the outback towns of Charleville or Quilpie. North from there is Longreach, Winton on to Mt Isa. There are dozens of tiny towns along the way, loads of interesting landscapes and attractions, a great national park in the form of Carnarvon Gorge, lots of history and some great people to meet.
Coastal Queensland and Cairns - It's a long trip, but the road north through Brisbane allows for you to visit some stunning places, especially when you can get out on the water an experience the Great Barrier Reef, which follows the entire coastline. Highlights include the Sunshine Coast, Fraser Island, the Whitsunday islands, Townsville, Cairns and Port Douglas. Allow at least 10 days to do it all.
Coastal New South Wales and Sydney - Heading in the other direction, south, you will find another attraction filled coastline that leads to Sydney. Along the way you will pass through Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie. A week should be enough to do the highlights.
Need info on 'How to get to the Gold Coast?' or 'Where to stay?'
Go to the second page of our travel guide for the full run down.
Or, go to page 1 to discover all the 'Things to do'.