I’ve called the Gold Coast my home in between travels since 2013, where I’ve worked as a tour guide, travel agent, hotel receptionist and on many tours desks. I get asked for recommendations daily as I’ve experienced almost all the attractions on The Gold Coast (and there is so much to do!).
The one mistake tourists and travellers often make is they think the small suburb of Surfers Paradise is ‘The Gold Coast’. When in fact it is just a small tourist hub of the coast, a central place to stay with copious accommodation options to choose from (if you haven’t already, make sure to check out my full guide to 20+ Attractions in Surfers Paradise before reading on).
However, there are plenty of activities and places to see on the Gold Coast beyond Surfers Paradise, which is why I’ve put together this list of attractions, with my honest personal reviews to guide you on your next trip to Australia’s Gold Coast. Enjoy!
Main Theme Parks
The Gold Coast is well known for it’s theme parks, and I get theme park ticket questions more than any other enquiries so here are all my tips.
Warner Brothers Movie World
Movie World is like ‘Hollywood on the Gold Coast’. Here you’ll find all the Warner Brothers themed show rides, shops, restaurants and you’ll get to meet many of the characters from Warner Brothers cartoons such as Tweety, Bugs Bunny, Scooby Doo, Batman and Wonder Woman to name a few. There’s also a 4D Cinema inside, as well as stunt car shows, and as of recently it’s home to the tallest, longest and fastest roller coaster in the Southern Hemisphere! Movie World is probably my favourite theme park of them all.
Location: Oxenford (20 minute drive inland from Surfers Paradise)
Sea World is where you’ll find a lot of animals that live in or near the sea, such as all kinds of fish, sharks, polar bears, penguins, sea lions and dolphins. A must see when in Sea World is the Sea Lion and Dolphin Shows where you get to see the animals do cool tricks that their trainers have taught them. Inside Sea World you’ll find water-themed show rides and a Jet Ski Stunt Show that’s not to be missed. You also have the opportunity to pay a little (as in a lot) extra to swim with the dolphins.
Location: Main Beach (10 minute drive North of Surfers Paradise)
Wet’n’Wild is a massive water park full of swimming pools, water slides, water-themed show rides and a giant wave pool. It’s the ideal place to cool down on a hot Summer’s day.
Tip: Movie World, Sea World and Wet’n’Wild are all owned by the same company so you can get really good value combo deals that include unlimited entry to all of these theme parks. They also own an Australian themed park called ‘Paradise Country’ that’s popular for international visitors and is included in some combo deals.
Location: Oxenford (20 minute drive inland from Surfers Paradise – next to Movie World)
A new addition to Wet’n’Wild is the Wet’n’Wild Buggy Adventure Park where you can strap yourself into a buggy and ride it around a bumpy obstacle course. The Wet’n’Wild Buggy experience isn’t included in a Wet’n’Wild entry ticket although you don’t actually need an entry ticket to the theme park to do this activity, so it’s quite affordable (and fun).
Dream World & White Water World
Similarly to the other theme parks, Dream World has it’s own movie-themed aspects and it’s own water park..only different. Rather than being Warner Brothers themed, Dream World has Pixar Animations themed shops, restaurants, show rides and characters such as Woody from Toy Story, James P. Sullivan from Monsters Inc, or Shrek walking around the park.
Dream World has it’s own version of a water park called White Water World. It is very similar to the Wet’n’Wild theme park only with different water slides, swimming pools and water-themed show rides. Dream World is also home to the reality TV show’s Big Brother House, Australia’s largest Lego Store, Wiggles World and the Dreamwork Experience which has a lot of fun and activities for kids.
Location: Coomera (25 minute drive inland from Surfers Paradise)
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
If you’ve never seen koalas or kangaroos then I highly recommend visiting the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. And while you’re there you must get a photo with a koala. There are also many shows you can see such as the Free Flight Bird Show (amazing), sheep sheering, crocodile, reptile and bird feeding, and Aboriginal Dance Shows. There’s also a little train that takes you around the park.
To make things clear, the difference between a zoo and a sanctuary is that in a sanctuary wild animals and birds are protected in their natural habitat, rather than in captivity in an artificially created habitat. What I love about Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is that any money accumulated (such as admission ticket fees) goes back into maintaining the sanctuary and it’s Wildlife Hospital there. Buy your Currumbin Wildlife tickets here.
Fact: The hospital admits over 10,000 sick, injured and orphaned wildlife each year as a free services to the community.
Location: Currumbin (30 minute drive South from Surfers Paradise)
Game Over is an indoor games park and home to Gold Coast’s indoor go-karting arena. Theres a lot of fun to be had here for kids and adults with activities such as rock climbing, laser tag, zip lining and a virtual reality experience. The team at Game Over also host parties and corporate events here. Book your Game Over experience here.
Location: Helensvale (20 minute drive inland from Surfers Paradise – take the Movie World exit on the motorway)
One of the newest attractions on the Gold Coast is Top Golf, located right next to Movie World and very quickly becoming the ‘go to’ social place for locals too. It’s like a driving range but a lot more fun (even if you’re like me and hopeless at golf) because you have certain targets to hit that you get points for. There’s also a bar there so a really fun activity in the evening, and the food served while you play is absolutely delicious – you can even order off the breakfast menu! Buy your Top Golf tickets here.
Location: Helensvale (20 minute drive inland from Surfers Paradise – right next to Movie World)
Holoverse is the World’s First Holographic Entertainment Centre. It’s like a ‘holographic universe’ meaning you go into different ‘worlds’ and see everything as a 3D hologram made out of light in front of you.
The difference between holograms and virtual reality is that with virtual reality you put screens over your eyes and see what the screen shows you, whereas in a hologram room characters jump through the walls, you can walk around them to see them from all angles as though they’re actually there with you in the real world. It’s pretty amazing how quickly technology is developing these days. Buy your Holoverse tickets here.
Location: Nerang (10 minute drive North from Surfers Paradise)
The Escape Hunt
There’s also The Escape Hunt, which is best played in a group where you ‘enter a world of mystery’, get locked in a room where you need to work together to solve challenges in order to finish the game and escape within the time limit. It’s actually a lot harder than it sounds, and heaps of fun (especially after a few pre-drinks 😉 ). Book your Escape Room experience here.
Location: Southport (10 minute drive North from Surfers Paradise)
Superbee Honey World + Surf World
Superbee Honey World is where you can literally watch the whole process of making honey from flower, to bees, to bee hives, to honey in a jar. The professional beekeepers explain and demonstrate the whole process, which is very interesting and educational.
And right next door is Surf World, which is a not-for-profit museum dedicated entirely to surfing.
Location: Currumbin (30 minute drive South from Surfers Paradise)
Tropical Fruit World
Another attraction on the Gold Coast (that’s technically is in NSW just after the Queensland border) is Tropical Fruit World. It’s a farm where many different kinds of tropical fruit are grown. A tractor ride takes you around the farm while you taste and learn all about the fruit. Then there’s a boat that takes you along the natural river, and if you’re lucky you might spot some turtles. On the farm you’ll also see farm animals as well as kangaroos and emus. Buy your Tropical Fruit World tickets here.
Location: Duranbah (45 minute drive South from Surfers Paradise past the QLD/NSW border)
Tip: If it’s sunflower season stop at ‘Farm & Co’ on the way to see thousands of gorgeous sunflowers.
And another unreal attraction, that’s also technically not part of the Gold Coast but just had to be included in this list, is Crystal Castle. It’s worth the drive past the border to see some of the tallest crystals in the world and walk around the peaceful park where you can literally feel the crystal energy. It’s also not to far from Byron Bay so it most definitely be tied in with a day trip to the hippie beach town of Byron. Buy your Crystal Castle tickets here.
Location: Montecollum, NSW (1 hour 15 minutes minutes drive South from Surfers Paradise)
Happy Coach Tours
Speaking of Byron Bay, the famous Happy Coach Hippie Bus now operates from Surfers Paradise taking you on a day trip to Byron Bay and Nimbin. We did a very similar day trip on the Happy Coach with Where’s Mollie Global Travellers event last year, you can watch the video from the day here.
Water Sports & Activities
Jet Ski Safaris
Or if you prefer a little more adrenaline, why not join a Jet Ski Safari and zoom around the Gold Coast Broadwater? This is honestly in my opinion one of the funnest activities to do on the Gold Coast. There are different tours you can do depending on your budget, how much time you have or how much fun you want to have. I recommend doing the tour that takes you all the way to Tipler’s Cafe on South Stradbroke Island for a lunch break before zooming back to Main Beach. Book your Jet Ski Safari here.
Fact: There is no license required to join a Jet Ski Tour however it is illegal in Australia to hire a Jetski on it’s own without a licence.
Location: Gold Coast Broadwater to Stradbroke Island but departing from Mariner’s Cove in Main Beach (10 minute drive North from Surfers Paradise)
If you’ve never been parasailing before I urge you to give it a go at least once. The first couple of seconds are really fun as you start to fly into the air behind the boat, until you realise how high you’re actually hanging in the air! But once you look around you and see the amazing views you get used to the height and everything becomes so peaceful (similarly with hot air ballooning).
A friend and I went parasailing with a company called Gold Coast Water Sports who also offer a fly boarding experience and jet skiing. Tours depart from Sea World Resort and you don’t have to be staying at the resort to book. You can even hang around the resort pool afterwards. Book your parasailing adventure here.
Location: Gold Coast Broadwater but departing from Sea World Resort at Main Beach (10 minutes drive North from Surfers Paradise)
Australia’s most popular diving locations are at The Great Barrier Reef, however the Gold Coast also has a few pretty awesome dive sites, and recommend booking a dive with Gold Coast Dive Centre. We dived with them at Wave Break Island and although the visibility wasn’t the best the day we went we still saw pufferfish, eels, stone fish, rays, and even found Nemo! Book your Scuba Diving experience here.
Location: Wave Break Island but departing from Mariner’s Cove (10 minutes drive North from Surfers Paradise)
Wake Boarding & Knee Boarding
If you’re into wake boarding or knee boarding but don’t have a boat or a driver then head to the Gold Coast Wake Park. Situated on a beautiful lake next to Coomera River is a world class wake boarding attraction and you’ll be amazed at how well thought out it is. Wake boarding and knee boarding here is much harder than it looks and not really my thing, but I managed to push myself out of the comfort zone to give it a go and did a whole big half a lap! *laughs* Book you Wake Boarding experience here.
Location: Oxenford (30 minute drive inland from Surfers Paradise – take the Movie World exit on the motorway)
If you visit the Gold Coast you must have to take a trip with san diego whale watching during watching season (May to November) you can’t not go out to sea to spot the magnificent Majestic Humpback Whales. Each year when the waters get colder in Antarctica, around 1200 humpback whales migrate all the way up to the warmer waters in Northern Queensland for mating and breeding.
I’ve been Whale Watching with a few of the companies on the Gold Coast and have always had an incredible experience, though the best one in my opinion is Sea World Whale Watching. When onboard grab your complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits while you cruise out into the ocean for around 3 hours or so in search for whales. There is a biologist onboard giving excellent commentary throughout the journey, and immediately pointing to whales tails as they reach above surface. If you’re lucky you may even see the whales jump out of the water showing off their bellies. Or when I went we also saw a school of playful dolphins that followed our boat around during the cruise.
Location: ‘Out at Sea’ but most boat tours depart from Mariner’s Cove at Main Beach (10 minute drive North of Surfers Paradise)
Sunset Cruise With Sailing In Paradise
The Gold Coast has some on the most stunning sunsets and almost every night the sky turns pink. Every Sunday night the luxurious Sailing In Paradise catamaran heads out along the Gold Coast Broadwater to witness the Surfers Paradise skyline put on a spectacular show. You’re greeted with a welcome drink onboard as you literally sail into the sunset over the horizon. It’s a beautiful way to end the day and enjoy the present moment, pretty romantic too.
Sailing In Paradise also organise private tours, birthdays or hen parties. I had my hen’s party on their catamaran and had the best night ever. I’ve also worked on a their boat a few times as a photographer and deck hand so I know the crew and can almost guarantee they will look after you.
Gold Coast Gondolas
Now here comes the most romantic thing you can do on the Gold Coast, seriously! Pretending you’re in Venice with the ultimate luxury private dining experience on a Gold Coast Gondolas cruise around the broadwater with your special someone. Do I need to say any more? Book your Gold Coast Gondola experience here.
Location: Departs at Mariner’s Cove in Main Beach (10 minute drive North from Surfers Paradise)
Fishing or Crabbing Tours
If you’re into fishing you can join a fishing charter or hire a boat at Mariner’s Cove in Main Beach. Or for crabbing join the ‘Catch a Crab Tour‘ in Tweed Heads (near the QLD and NSW border).
South Stradbroke Island
South Stradbroke Island is the Gold Coast’s getaway island destination. Find yourself amongst nature with wallabies hopping about, or on the secluded beaches of the island. I recommend cruising there with a company called Gold Coast Adventures as they take you to McLaren’s Landing Eco Resort and provide a full buffet lunch, live entertainment for the day and optional activities such as snorkelling, paddle boarding or seaplane flights while you’re there.
Tip: Go on the Cloud9 Sea Plane flight while you’re there!
North Stradbroke Island
A little bit further North on the map is North Stradbroke Island, which is much larger and is in fact the second largest sand island in the world (after Fraser Island). It’s so much fun 4WDriving on the beach and seeing all the gorgeous natural landscapes and wildlife on the island. You can’t really go to North Straddie on your own unless you have a 4WD and know exactly where to go, so the best way to experience what North Stradbroke has to offer is on a guided tour. I highly recommend taking a day trip to North Straddie with Coastal Island Safaris.
We loved how it wasn’t like a typical regimented tour where you’re rushing from one place to the next, with Coastal Island Safaris you really get to enjoy each place and feel fully present. It’s very personalised, plus you get to enjoy a typical Aussie BBQ on the beach! Book your North Stradbroke Island experience here.
Even further North is Moreton Island, which unlike the natural North Stradbroke Island it’s more of a holiday destination. It has similar landscapes to Straddle but apart from 4WDriving you can see plenty of fish when you go snorkelling and clear kayaking around the ship wrecks at Tangalooma. There are huge sand dunes on the island where you can go sand boarding, and another things that makes Moreton unique is all the star fish on the beach. Moreton Island is a bit further away but it is definitely do-able to see in one day and there are a couple of tour companies that operate day trips including Adventure Moreton Island and Sunset Safaris (the one I did and recommend).
Gold Coast’s Hinterland
Hinterland is ‘the remote areas of a country away from the coast or the banks of major rivers’ and we have a lot of it on the Gold Coast.
Springbrook National Park
Springbrook National Park is big area of the Gold Coast’s Hinterland and is famous for the Natural Bridge (cave and waterfall), Purling Brook Falls and glow worms that you can only see at night.
Tip: If you have a car then you don’t need to join a tour to see glow worms. Simply drive to here at night time and see glow worms for free. But if you don’t have a car and would prefer a tour guide to tell you all about the area then book your Glow Worm tour here.
Location: Springbrook National Park (about 1 hour drive inland from Surfers Paradise)
Mount Tamborine is a touristy neighbourhood situated on Tamborine Mountain in the Gold Coast’s Hinterland. There are many activities to do here such as the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk, explore the Man-Made Glow Worm Caves, the Tree Top Challenge (park with zip-lining) and see some stunning waterfalls. Either drive here yourself, or book a day tour here.
If you want to camp here then I recommend Thunderbird Park (we took our van here for her first overnight trip). There are many activities you can also do at the campsite including checking out the Thunderegg Crystal Mine, the horse riding, zip lining, mini golf and more.
Tip: When at Mount Tamborine I highly recommend having lunch at The Polish Place. They have the best ‘pierogi’ in Australia. And if you’re keen for a proper English meal, go to Fox & Hounds pub for dinner.
Location: Mount Tamborine (45 minute drive inland from Surfers Paradise)
Lamington National Park
Lamington National Park is another big area of the Gold Coast’s Hinterland (probably not as touristy as the others). It’s the place to go if you truly want to get away from the city life and immerse yourself with nothing but nature and rainforests. The drive here is stunning with beautiful look outs and there are plenty of hikes you can do in the area.
Tip: Stop to see the Alpaca Farm in Canungra on the way.
Location: Lamington National Park (around 1.5 hours drive inland from Surfers Paradise)
4WD Hummer Safaris
Hiring a 4WD Hummer to take you all around the Hinterland has got to be the most expensive tour you can do on the Gold Coast. We haven’t done it as it doesn’t look like it would be worth the money but I’m sure it would be an unforgettable experience.
Location: all throughout the hinterland (depending on which tour you choose)
Helicopter Tour of the Gold Coast
This is quite a surreal experience and oh my gosh the Gold Coast is absolutely stunning from the sky!
I highly recommend booking with Professional Helicopter Services and flying for at least 20-25mins from Coolangatta to the Spit and back. It’s a perfect amount of time to see everything along the coast.
Location: Coolangatta Gold Coast Airport (40 minute drive South of Surfers Paradise)
Tip: If you don’t want to have to drive all the way to Coolangatta for take off, you can do shorter helicopter tours taking off from Mariner’s Cove in Main Beach (10 minute drive from Surfers Paradise). Book your helicopter tour here.
Gold Coast Adventure Flights
Now this is definitely still on the bucket list. Gold Coast Adventure Flights offer thrilling aerobatic flights where you get to experience what it would have been like to be a World War II combat fighter pilot and do barrels rolls (as in go upside down with the plane!) You can book your adventure flight here, and if you do it be sure to let me know how it was.
Location: Gold Coast Airport (40 minute drive South from Surfers Paradise)
Hot Air Ballooning
Hot Air Ballooning has got to be on everyone’s bucket list. A 3am start to see the picturesque sunrise views of the Gold Coast’s Hinterland from a hot air balloon is 100% worth it. We booked our Hot Air Ballooning Tour with Hot Air Balloon Gold Coast who do an amazing job to make it a memorable experience. The hot air ballooning is followed by a champagne breakfast at the famous O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards as part of the tour. Book you Hot Air Ballooning experience here.
Location: Beaudesert (about 1 hour drive inland from Surfers Paradise)
An extreme sport you can do on the Gold Coast is Skydiving! There’s a company called Gold Coast Skydive that offer skydives in Coolangatta, and a company called Skydive Australia where you get to skydive over Byron Bay. Gold Coast Skydive is significantly more expensive because of the fact that they take off from Gold Coast’s International airport so there are high fees involed, whereas Skydive Australia have their own airport in Byron. We went skydiving with Skydive Australia over the beautiful Byron Bay and highly recommend it (they even offer free transfers so it’s a no brainer). Book your skydive here!
Location: Gold Coast Airport (40 minute drive South from Surfers Paradise) / Byron Bay (1 hour 30 minutes drive from Surfers Paradise)
Australian Outback Spectacular
Brought to you by the same company that created Sea World, Movie World and Wet’n’Wild, the Australian Outback Spectacular is an Australian-themed show that’s a must see, especially if you’re visiting from abroad. When you arrive you’re given an ‘outback hat’, an opportunity to have professional photos and some time at the bar before the area opens. Once inside you get seated and the food + drinks start arriving in an organised manner. The show itself is like a musical, sharing a bit of Australian history, with animals playing a big part throughout the story, especially horses doing incredible stunts with their riders (which I thought was the most impressive part). Book your tickets here.
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Location: Oxenford (30 minute drive inland from Surfers Paradise – next to Movie World)
Spirit Of The Red Sand
The Spirit Of The Red Sand theatrical show is a brand new show at Beenleigh Historical Village (between Gold Coast and Brisbane). It’s super impressive watching re-enactments of Australia’s dark history and seeing what really happened to Aboriginal people when the European settlers invaded this land. This Aboriginal cultural experience is one I recommend everyone to do to, especially if you’re Australian. After the show you’re treated with a deliciously filling dinner! The team at Spitit Of The Red Sand offer free transfers to and from the event. Book your tickets here.
Draculas Cabaret Restaurant & Theatre is also very popular among visitors to the Gold Coast. It is a very entertaining show for mature audiences where you experience loud live music, partial nudity, unrestrained comedy, wild staff and supernatural themes. Your entry ticket includes a ghost train ride into the theatre and a 3-course dinner, with cocktails and all kinds of beverages available to purchase once inside. I found the show to be hilarious and the acrobatics very impressive. Although it was a great date night, I’d definitely recommend coming with a group if you have the opportunity. And be sure to book here in advance as it does book out!
Location: Broadbeach (15 minute drive South from Surfers Paradise)
Illusions Magic Show in Hope Island
Another cool show to see on the Gold Coast is Matt Hollywood’s Illusions Magic Show. Matt Hollywood is a ‘5 Time Champion of Magic’ and ‘Australian Entertainer of the Year.’ During the show you will see all the typical magic tricks you’d expect to see from a good magician such as cutting people in half, getting out of a locked cage with a time limit, etc. Yet there was one trick Matt Hollywood did that really struck me where I thought how could this be possible and it was ‘the flying table’ – you’ll have to see it to believe it. Book your tickets here.
Location: Hope Island (35 minute drive North of Surfers Paradise)
What’s On Now?
Besides the permanent attractions, the Gold Coast is Queensland’s events and entertainment capital with many events happening throughout the year. Get all the info on what’s happening during your visit here.
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