Exploring Townsville: North Queensland’s Biggest City

What to do in Townsville, Australia

Townsville is a quiet achiever, often overshadowed by the island on its doorstep – Magnetic Island – or its more touristy neighbour, Cairns. What people don’t often stop to see is that Townsville has a burgeoning food scene, plenty of natural activities in the city or short drive or boat ride away, and you’ll find people passionate about their home and North Queensland and excited to share it with you if you just talk to them!

Looking over my itinerary I noticed that after landing in Townsville I’d be heading straight for Magnetic Island – why weren’t we spending time in Townsville, the biggest city in North Queensland? Quickly sending off a few emails I managed to change my flights and make some new plans – one night in Townsville and a night out in the Paluma Rainforest nearby, perfect. While visiting the city for only a short time, it was more than enough to see just a few of the cities highlights.

How to make the most of your time in Townsville


Where to stay in Townsville

While in the city I stayed at the Hotel Grand Chancellor Townsville. Located within the iconic ‘sugar shaker’ building, the rooms are spacious, comfortable and offer a fantastic view across the city to the outlying islands. If you aren’t in the mood to go to the beach, head to the rooftop to make use of their pool deck, complete with BBQ facilities!

Located on Flinders Streets, in the heart of the city, you are within walking distance to great food and some of the must-visit highlights. Best of all, public transport is literally on your doorstep.


When to go to Townsville

With hot, humid summers and warm winters, Townsville hosts warm weather for much of the year and over 320 days of sunshine.

The best time to visit is between May and September where the days are warm, but evenings are cooler. The hottest time of the year is October through April where the weather can be a bit too intense for spending long days outside or in the water.

Magnetic Island Race Week is hosted at the end of August and there are plenty of New Years Eve celebrations along The Strand to usher in the New Year.


What to do in Townsville

Castle Hill

If you’re visiting Townsville you can’t miss Castle Hill. No, seriously – you can’t miss the giant hill located in the middle of the city. From the top are gorgeous views of the city and nearby islands, including the famed Magnetic Island.

For the fitness-focused, consider walking to the summit by road or along the hill-top rocky “goat track” which begins at the peaks parking lot. For those who prefer the comfortable way up, there’s also access for vehicles by the road.

Walk along The Strand

The 2.2km seaside foreshore known as ‘The Strand’ is good for a walk but there’s so much to do as well! Explore the restaurants – a personal favourite is Longboards Bar & Grill, take a swim at the Rockpool – a sea salt lagoon, or visit the Tobruk Memorial Baths if you prefer a pool instead of the sea.

If you have kids and it’s a warm day, the water park on The Strand could also provide hours of entertainment!


Visit Reef HQ and the Turtle Hospital

Experience the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet with a visit to Reef HQ, the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium! There are three areas to Reef HQ –  the Coral Reef Exhibit with around 120 species of hard and soft corals, the Predator Exhibit which is home to black tip reef sharks, hammerheads and giant trevally, and the Discovery Lagoon that offers a more hands-on experience at different times throughout the day. Also, Reef HQ hosts daily talks and tours, including a Shark Feeding Show!

One of the best experiences I had while in Townsville was visiting the Turtle Hospital at Reef HQ. The turtle hospital offers dedicated facilities to help cure sick or injured marine turtles while also educating the public. The turtles are treated for a variety of conditions including Floating Syndrome, which means they can’t dive for food and protection from predators. Another large female turtle had been hit by a boat and her shell had been severely damaged. The team at the hospital helps the turtles recover and rehabilitate with the hope of releasing them back into the wild.

Be sure to spend at least two hours here, there’s so much to see! For ticket prices, check Reef HQ’s website.

Visit Frosty Mango

Are you a fan on tropical fruit and ice cream? Then make a pit stop at Frosty Mango! The cafe, famous for their fruit-based ice cream and sorbet is incredibly popular with locals. There are dozens of flavours available, including plenty of tropical fruit varieties and bush tucker flavours you won’t see anywhere else. They also serve a small array of sandwiches and wraps.

Located 70km north of Townsville – about an hour outside the city – and 40km south of Ingham on the Bruce Highway, it’s quite a trek but you can easily make the detour if road tripping up to Cairns or out to the Paluma Rainforest.


Discover Townsville’s Military History

It’s not widely known that Townsville is home to Australia’s biggest army base or that Townsville was bombed during Japanese air raids during World War II. Thankfully, they missed their targets and only took out a palm tree! If you want to explore Townsville’s Military History I recommend taking one of the three tours offered by Townsville Military Tours.

If you visit Magnetic Island, you can also take the Forts Walk to see the observation points and gun encampments built to protect Townsville during the war. There’s also plenty of koalas along the walk so check the trees!

Cheer on the North Queensland Cowboys

Sorry AFL fans, that game has no place up North! In Queensland ‘football’ is NRL and North Queensland is proud to call the Cowboys their team. If there’s a game on during you visit be sure to get in on the action. The locals will have you walking away in blue and yellow in no time! Don’t have time for a game? Then take a quick visit to the Cowboys League Club for dining, drinking and the game on the big screen.


Spend 48-hours on Magnetic Island

Relax and unwind on Magnetic Island! The island may be small but has plenty of options for those wanting to relax, get in touch with wildlife or enjoy an adventure or two.

Read my guide on how to spend 48-hours on Magnetic Island and get planning!

Magnetic-Island-LongboardWhere to eat and drink


Light Bites

Eat + Drink




A Day Trip from Townsville

The Great Barrier Reef is often the most popular day trip from Townsville but if you head inland you’ll venture straight into the Paluma Range National Park, just a half an hour drive from the city.
The Paluma Ranges along with Wallaman Falls, Broadwater Creek, and the Dalrymple Gap all make up the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA). Declared in 1988, the WTWHA covers 8,990sq/km between Townsville and Cooktown. The area contains some of the oldest, continuously surviving rainforests on earth, many rare and endangered plants and animals, and areas with views that will amaze.

You can self-drive through the region, however, the roads are often quite narrow with many sharp bends. I joined Hidden Valley Tours on an overnight tour into the National Park’s Highlands and a platypus tour to see the shy natives. If you’re self-driving, accommodation and short tours can be arranged with Hidden Valley Cabins.

Townsville shouldn’t be overlooked on a trip to North Queensland. The history and natural beauty here is fascinating. I’d love to come back again and explore more of the area, and think you should too!

Let me know in the comments:

Do you prefer to relax or get active when on holiday?

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Planning a trip to Top North Queensland? Check out these posts:

48-Hours on Magnetic Island

What to do in Townsville, Australia

City Lane and Townsville’s ‘Bar with Balls’

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My trip to Townsville was arranged by
Tourism & Events Queensland and  Tourism Townsville North Queensland.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.

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  • Reply
    Lauren Meshkin
    February 4, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Wow, awesome! Thanks for sharing, I’m definitely bookmarking. Also… that drink looks amazing, haha.

    Happy travels 🙂

  • Reply
    February 5, 2015 at 3:21 am

    Such an informative post! Thanks 🙂
    Looks like the city has a lot to offer!

  • Reply
    louisa klimentos
    February 5, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    Some British backpackers call Townsville ,Dullsville.I guess it is too quiet for them ,however Townsville has alot more to offer than they think.Great post

    • Reply
      April 15, 2015 at 10:27 am

      I can see why it might not be the right place for backpackers, and with Cairns a short drive away and Magnetic Island on their doorstep, there is definitely a place for partying.

      There’s a Base Hostel on Magnetic Island that is well known for their party atmosphere.

  • Reply
    February 10, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    Townsville definitely one place I’d like to make it too. I’ve only seen Frasier island and WhitSundays.

    • Reply
      April 15, 2015 at 10:40 am

      You’ve seen two other very beautiful spots in Queensland that I’d love to visit.

      I hope you can make it to Townsville soon. 🙂

  • Reply
    John P
    February 23, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    Very good information really, here are some more info about this beautiful place

    I also liked the annual greek & italian festivals & civic theatre, historic waterfront on Ross Creek. If you are looking for entertainment at evening, find Flinders Street East night club in beautiful heritage building. There are more things in Townsville than you assume.

    • Reply
      April 15, 2015 at 11:41 am

      Thanks for your tips John. I really appreciate you taking the time to share them 🙂

  • Reply
    March 1, 2015 at 6:24 am

    I’ve never been but I would love to go! I’d definitely be adventuring more than relaxing.

  • Reply
    March 10, 2015 at 12:20 am

    Australia has so many things to do. There are so many things defined through this blog! And photographs shared are amazing which definitely make visitors not to miss the place. Townsville has its own attractions that inspires tourists to visit this place.

  • Reply
    March 11, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Really detailed. Thanks for this guide. I am particularly interested in the turtle hospital and Magnetic Island.

  • Reply
    Kalvin Moore
    April 15, 2015 at 6:00 am

    Good Morning
    As The Owner of T.U.B.E first of all Thank you for the mention in your write up!!

    You have written a brilliant review of our Amazing City so Thank You and we hope to see you again soon!!

  • Reply
    April 15, 2015 at 8:43 am

    thank you for accurately depicting Townsville! Something I find very few travellers and even locals do!! Townsville truly is beautiful

  • Reply
    April 16, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Being a former Townsvillian myself for 15 years, you make my hometown sound amazing, which it truly is!
    A handy little hint though, if you can’t handle oppressive heat, be sure to visit in Winter, when it truly is God’s country!

    • Reply
      April 27, 2015 at 3:08 pm

      Thanks for the information Megs! I should have included that the heat, for at least half the year, is pretty intense!
      Hope you get to visit your hometown again soon. It’s a truly beautiful place. 🙂

  • Reply
    48 Hours on Magnetic Island - What to Do and Where to Go
    April 29, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    […] For more ideas be sure to read my What to do in Townsville! […]

  • Reply
    May 24, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Hi Nicole ,
    Living in Townsville for the last three years (formerly Brisbane) This year was unseasonably hot and dry to be exact driest wet season since records have been kept.
    Townsville being 150 years old there is plenty of heritage stuff to look at if that is your thing, including the R.A.A.F museum at the airport enter via Ingam Road
    Billabong Sanctuary is one you missed out on is plenty of great animals to see and is also very educational.
    Turtle watching at A.I.M.S. Australian Institute of Marine Science both a short drive south of Townsville from November as they come ashore to lay their eggs
    As for the back packers opinion of Townsville it is not set up the same as Cairns and Airlie Beach a lot drive between those two and spend a few days here. For the family traveler or the retired couple Townsville has a lot to offer as only we can in our own laid back style
    Great post Nicole hope you come back soon and explore some more

  • Reply
    Exploring the Paluma Range National Park
    May 29, 2015 at 10:00 am

    […] Want to know what to see in Townsville? This post will help! […]

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    April 25, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    […] What to do in Townsville: Exploring North Queensland’s Biggest City […]

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