Beyond the hectic high-rise of Australia’s cities, pretty regional towns and villages show a different side to the country. Here are 15 beautiful country towns to visit in NSW.
Christina and I have been travelling through country towns and exploring the far-away places of Australia for over 20 years. And I tell you what, it’s never boring.
Every town has a different feel to it. Every village has something new to offer.
And of course there’s the eternal hunt for that holy grail – the best pie in Australia!
There’s nothing we love in the midst of a road trip more than pulling up to a little country town and strolling down leafy streets mounted with metal awnings and flagged with ornate facades.
We love peering in through the windows of the old pub on the corner, poking a nose in through the bakery doorway and admiring the Akubras on display at the general store.
We love seeing what’s become of the old bank or if the town hall has retained its overlord magnificence. We love finding out the secrets each town keeps for its locals – a favourite cafe, the best restaurant, a hidden scenic spot or a key historic moment.
These are secrets that come to you almost before you ask. It’s the way small towns work. We love it.
15 beautiful country towns to visit in NSW
As we travel through New South Wales, watching the landscape change slowly around us, Christina and I are always on the look-out for a promising spot to stop.
Every chance to get off the freeway and slow our trip down – it’s a mix of extending our time travelling and satisfying our thirst for new experiences.
1. Bundeena – 1h10m S of Sydney
This often overlooked little beachside town is surprisingly close to Sydney. But being tucked away on the edge of the Royal National Park, it feels like you’re a lot further away.
It’s a beautiful drive through the bushland of the national park down into the town. Alternatively, you can get the train to Cronulla and the 35-minute ferry across the bay to Bundeena.
The string of shops near Horderns Beach offer good coffee and a bite to eat, though Jibbon Beach further round is where the locals prefer to go. At the far end is a collection of ancient Aboriginal rock carvings through a short, easy bushwalk.
Bundeena means ‘noise like thunder’ in the local Dharawal language – probably from the sound of the waves crashing at Horderns Beach.
2. Mittagong & Bowral – 1h15m SW of Sydney
With a wealth of ace bakeries and cafes (the region is home to the National Annual Pie Festival) and tremendous civic pride, these two pretty towns of the Southern Highlands are well worth visiting.
The Southern Highlands is also a developing wine region with some surprisingly good Pinots and other cool-climate medium-bodied reds.
The Gundangara gave Mittagong and Bowral their names meaning ‘little mountain’ and ‘high place’ respectively.
3. Blackheath – 1h25m W of Sydney
A quaint little Blue Mountains village a few Ks past Katoomba, Blackheath and its art deco buildings is exactly what you want in a getaway in the mountains.
Stay at the Parklands Lodge and Spa for that extra level of comfort and luxury you’ll need after a hike through the bushland from nearby Govett’s Leap, and don’t forget to check out Scenic World back in Katoomba for a completely different view of the mountains.
4. Berry – 1h50m S of Sydney
Normally, when the freeway bypasses little country towns like Berry, it’s the death knell for tourism there. But for this little place it’s made a huge improvement.
During weekends and holidays, endless lines of traffic would clog the pretty high street. Now, visitors to the town – of which there are still plenty – can enjoy a peaceful pie or a donut from the famous food truck while they stroll Queen Street with its colonial buildings and art deco frontages.
You’re also only a couple minutes’ drive from sweeping Seven Mile Beach and its rolling surf. In the hills surrounding Berry, the beautiful romantic Mount Hay Retreat is the perfect spot to relax at the end of a busy day exploring.
5. Kangaroo Valley – 2h SSW of Sydney
Tucked into the vale of the Kangaroo River, this tree-filled little village has so much character. After a dramatic drive down through the forest into the valley, you find the pioneer settlement amidst the trees and fields.
You feel so close to nature here. It’s so tranquil.
And if you arrive from the west, you’ll be welcomed by the sight of the historic Hampden Bridge – a Victorian wooden suspension bridge with imposing crenelated stone towers either side.
6. Maitland, Morpeth and Lorn – 2h5m N of Sydney
Maitland has long history with impressive facades and an entertainment district right on Hunter River. We were very impressed with the dining options in Maitland.
Lorn is a pretty little town on the other side of the river with perhaps the best bakery we’ve ever been to.
As for Morpeth some 15 minutes out, this little one-street town has an amazing history that once made it one of the most prosperous settlements in the colony.
7. Port Stephens – 2h45m NNE of Sydney
One of our favourite spots on the NSW coast, this beachy peninsula has lots of little towns worth visiting.
Strangely overlooked and under-visited (though nearby Novocastrians have long known about it), Port Stephens is that perfect mix between relaxed, secluded beachside escape and fully functioning town with all the facilities for an easy break.
We’ve written a lot about Port Stephens over the years, but here’s our Essential Guide to get you started.
8. Milton – 2h50m S of Sydney
This fun, pretty spot in the Shoalhaven is close to the South Coast beaches and has plenty of great eating options like Pilgrims and Flour Water Salt – not to mention Rick Stein at Bannisters in nearby Mollymook.
Milton’s comfortable, easygoing vibe is reflected in its eclectic architecture that goes back to its founding in the 1860s.
If you have time, it’s definitely worth taking a trip to neighbouring Ulladulla to visit Cupitt’s Estate winery. The cheese platter they do there is the perfect match with the delicious wine and stunning scenery.
9. Mudgee – 3h20m NW of Sydney
If there’s an easier country town to fall in love with, I’d like to see it. Mudgee – apart from having an incredible range of top quality local wine and food – has to be the friendliest place in the country.
We stayed at the Mudgee Homestead Guesthouse, which is home to the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in. For real!
Mudgee gets its name from a degradation of the Wiradjuri Aboriginal term ‘Moothi’ meaning ‘nest in the hills’ – the perfect name for this beautiful little town.
10. Jugiong – 3h20m SW of Sydney
This quaint country town on the banks of the Murrumbidgee retains a lot of its pioneer and gold-rush past in its buildings and aesthetic. It’s a favourite of Canberrans travelling to and from Victoria, and we can see why.
In particular, the Long Track Pantry is worth the detour off the Hume Highway on its own. Delicious home-made breakfasts and lunches, not to mention jams and local crafts from the shop behind.
The Wiradjuri People named Jugiong, which means ‘valley of the crows’ in their language.
11. Scone – 3h25m N of Sydney
Scone (say it the way that rhymes with ‘stone’, never the other) is impressively the horse stud capital of the country and 2nd biggest in world.
Much of this beautiful old colonial town is – as you’d expect – horse-based and the Scone Annual Horse Festival every May fills the town with excitement – not to mention cowboys, blacksmiths, rodeo riders and polo players.
You can check out our guide on where to stay and where to eat in Scone here, but make sure you drive around the outskirts of the town to see the rolling hills where so many champion thoroughbreds started life.
12. Orange – 3h35m W of Sydney
My advice is to arrive in Orange hungry and thirsty.
The town itself boasts some stunning colonial architecture, beautiful parks and some amazing places to eat and drink. Something that locals take very seriously.
Orange is the only wine region in Australia that’s designated by altitude – from 600m above sea level up to the top of Mt Canobolas. Anything below that cannot be considered Orange wine.
There are so many wineries to visit here it’s almost overwhelming. But here are 7 wineries to get you started. And if you want more of an idea of what to do, we have a quick guide to the town to help.
13. Young – 3h50m WSW of Sydney
The mixture of colonial, art deco and modern facades through the main streets shares the heritage out amongst the functional nature of Young.
But to its spry sounding name and pretty town centre, Young adds the title of Cherry Capital of Australia to its list of amiable assets.
And if you’re in town during cherry season, picking your own fruit or simply finding boxes piled high with glowing deep red fruit is a real treat.
14. Corowa – 6h SW of Sydney
Sitting on the river border of Victoria, this Riverina village has an abundance of old yet well-kept buildings, an excellent Sunday market in the park and a beautiful whisky distillery that also makes chocolate.
The distillery – Corowa Distillery – is also one of the best places to come for lunch or breakfast. You can read more about the distillery here.
Corowa gets its name from the local Bangerang Aboriginal language. It’s a degradation of the word ‘currowa’, which either refers to the local curra pine trees or a word meaning ‘rocky place’.
15. Newrybar – 8h N of Sydney
In the hills above Byron Bay, this town has so much personality. Tree-lined streets of timber-frame houses and cute little shops with a sense of humour create a chill rural vibe in a place not so far from the tourist hub of northern NSW.
And don’t forget to eat at least once at Harvest.
Newrybar is a Bundjalung word meaning ‘place of climbing vines’, which seems to fit with this little town that’s so at one with the leafy nature all round it.
But these are just a few of the gorgeous little towns scattered across New South Wales.
It’s good to take notice of guides like this one, but it’s also sometimes worth just closing your eyes and pushing that pin in to see where your next adventure will take you.
I bet you’ll find somewhere beautiful.