From surfing at Surfers Paradise, to enjoying theme parks, to whale watching, to spending a day in the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, here’s our guide to the best things to do on the Gold Coast in Australia.
We’ll start with the best free things to do, followed by fun things that cost money and food recommendations.
It’s no big secret that I LOVE the Gold Coast!
I’m pretty lucky that my partner grew up here, meaning he has 35 years *cough* plus a little bit more *cough* local knowledge under his belt.
In the 4 years that I’ve lived here with him, he’s shown me so many great spots that I probably would never have found otherwise.
Gold Coast is a trendy, bustling metropolis sandwiched between some of Australia’s most beautiful beaches and some wonderful national parks.
The best thing is the amazing outdoor lifestyle it has on offer and the fact that it can cater to pretty much any budget.
Looking for a cheap and cheerful holiday? Well there are tons of free things to enjoy in the Gold Coast!
Or would you rather live it up and spend some hard earned cash? Don’t worry, in Gold Coast, you can do it all.
READ MORE: Check out our epic guide to the best things to do in Brisbane!
Table of Contents
- The Best Free Things to Do on the Gold Coast
- What to Do on the Gold Coast That’s Not Free
- Where to Eat in the Gold Coast
The Best Free Things to Do on the Gold Coast
Despite Australia being quite an expensive country, there’s actually tonnes of great free things to do on the Gold Coast!
Here’s my list of the best free Gold Coast attractions to help you get the most out of your trip.
Beaches, Beaches And More Beaches
Need I say more?
With sparkling white sand and a clear blue ocean, the beaches are definitely the top Gold Coast attractions.
The Gold Coast really has some of the most picturesque and cleanest beaches I’ve seen in my life.
Surfers Paradise and Main Beach are two of the best Gold Coast beaches located in the CBD.
Gold Coast, and Australia in general, have amazing facilities along every beach and you’ll often find spots with free barbecues, public showers and playgrounds for the kids.
If you’re into surfing or paddle boarding the Gold Coast is the place to be and you’ll be hard pushed to find a stretch of beach without at least a couple of people out there in the waves. Definitely spend a day in Surfers Paradise, and check out the quieter beaches around like Burleigh Heads.
Not into surfing with a board? Why not try a bit of body surfing?!
It’s free and a lot of fun! You’ll be pretty surprised how far you can “surf” a wave into shore with nothing but your body.
If you’re interested in swimming away from the ocean, the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre has real swimming pools for doing laps and playing with kids.
Swimming and enjoying the water on the Sunshine Coast is one of the best free things to do in the area.
Visit the Parklands
In addition to beaches, the Gold Coast also has some of the most well-equipped parklands around.
You never have to go far to find a great spot to walk around, sit and have a picnic, watch the kids play at the park or cook yourself up a bbq.
Many of the parks also have sport courts and other facilities.
The one we visit frequently in Robina has basketball courts, soccer pitches, bowls greens and tennis courts.
A particular favourite of ours, now that we have a toddler in tow, are the Broadwater Parklands.
Located right on the beach, they have some great play areas with an inflatable pillow (which seems more popular with the adults than the kids some days) as well as a shallow water play area.
Hollindale Park and Phillip Park located near the Gold Coast Seaway are also lovely.
Between beaches like Surfers Paradise and parks like Broadwater Parklands, there are so many free things to do.
Fancy a swim but not confident in the surf? Or looking for a spot with calmer water for the kids?
Tallebudgera Creek is where you want to be! There is calm, shallow water that’s perfect for little people or unconfident swimmers and, as always, great facilities.
It’s easily one of the best free things to do on the Gold Coast.
Springbrook National Park
An easy hour drive from the main highway, Springbrook National Park makes for a great day trip from the Gold Coast. Take your time winding through the beautiful countryside to enjoy some of the sights.
One of the biggest draws here is Natural Bridge and the glow worm cave! The perfect easy hike for beginners or little legs, the natural bridge circuit is only about 2km.
Hiking boots aren’t a necessity for this track, a good pair of sneakers will do just fine.
Make sure to go in the late afternoon to take the walk up to the top of the waterfall and look down the drop first.
Then sit and one of the benches and enjoy a picnic lunch whilst you wait for the sun to go down.
After dark is when the real magic happens. You can take a quick walk down into the glow worm cave where the roof is full of glow worms that look like beautiful twinkling lights.
If you’re lucky you may even see some bio luminescent funghi along the edge of the path!
Whale Watching from Point Danger
Yes, you could pay for a guided whale watching tour by boat, which is definitely a cool experience for the whole family.
However, if budget is an issue and you’ve got a keen eye, you don’t need to fork out top dollar to go whale watching in the Gold Coast.
Between June and October, take a walk up one of the steep hills, like Point Danger Lookout in Coolangatta and keep an eye on the horizon.
You might be rewarded with a whale sighting.
Humpback whales are the most common to see. Just seeing these magnificent creatures out in the ocean is one of the best free things to do on the Gold Coast.
Look out for the spouts of water from their blowholes, it’s the easiest way to pick them out.
Weekend Farmers Markets
This one may be a little hard to keep “free” as you’ll find so many great stalls at the farmers markets.
Whether it’s homemade crafts and gifts or beautiful fresh produce from the surrounding Gold Coast hinterland, there will be something for everyone.
It might be hard to resist, but just browsing is one of the best free things to do on the Gold Coast so I’m counting it.
One of our favourite markets is Village Markets in Burleigh Heads. But there are so many to choose from, you’re sure to find heaps of great options close by.
Lamington National Park
One of the most beautiful national parks within a short drive from the Gold Coast is Lamington National Park.
Full of lush forests, rolling hills, and waterfalls, this is a fantastic opportunity to explore nature with the whole family.
Moran Falls is a highlight of the park. You can watch the sunset from the top of the falls and look out over the valley, which is one of the best free things to do in the Gold Coast.
What to Do on the Gold Coast That’s Not Free
While some of the best Gold Coast activities are free, there’s a whole range of awesome attractions that do cost money when you’re wondering what to do on the Gold Coast.
Don’t worry, these are well worth it!
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
The wildlife sanctuary is one of our favourite attractions to visit in Gold Coast.
My partner has fond memories of visiting when he was a kid and now we love enjoying the experience with our daughter too.
The sanctuary is a sprawling maze of semi open enclosures where lemurs may jump across the path and you can feed kangaroos, cuddle koalas or maybe even have a rogue lorikeet land on your shoulder.
It’s super cool to get up close and personal with these incredible animals. And it’s the perfect place for a fun afternoon with kids.
Best of all the sanctuary is a non profit organisation and all proceeds get put straight back into wildlife programs, including their own veterinary clinic.
There is also a treetop challenge for older kids who want to have fun climbing and soaring through the forest.
Take a look at my full Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary Review for more information.
Paradise Country offers a similar experience. Paradise Country is an Australian farm experience that is fun for families and kids.
Learn to Surf!
A trip to the Gold Coast just wouldn’t be the same without trying your hand at surfing! It’s one of many traveler’s favorite Gold Coast activities.
There are so many quality surf schools all along the coast, so you’ll have no problem finding one whichever suburb you’re staying in.
My partner has been an avid surfer since his teens so he was always keen for me to take lessons and I can’t believe I put it off for so long!
It’s so much fun and chances are you’ll manage to stand up and surf a wave during your very first lesson.
The Gold Coast’s waves are perfectly suited to beginners because of all the super safe and small beach breaks with consistent surf year round.
Surfers Paradise and Main Beach are two popular spots for surf lessons in the Gold Coast.
Mount Tamborine Wine Tasting
If you’re starting to get a bit tired after all the activity why not try something a bit more relaxing like a guided wine tour.
If you don’t fancy a guided tour, Witches Falls winery offers a bit more of a casual option where a member of staff will guide you through a tasting and you can create your own cheese platter to accompany.
This is a fantastic opportunity to relax and unwind after a morning of exploring the surrounding hinterlands.
For stunning views of the Gold Coast from a new perspective, a boat cruise is the perfect activity.
There are a number of small tour groups who operate sunset cruises on the calm broadwaters and surrounds.
The tours only accept small groups so they are very intimate and relaxing and the perfect romantic evening for a couple.
Most of the trips include sparkling wine and appetisers with the option to add a seafood dinner at an extra cost.
Make sure to check out the luxury super yachts as you cruise past the Southport yacht club.
Then keep an eye out for pelicans and if you’re really lucky you may even get to spot dolphins pop up alongside the boat.
If you’re feeling a little too relaxed, go for something a bit more exhilarating and check out the Gold Coast’s famous theme parks. With four main options, the city has some of the best theme parks on the east coast of Australia.
Choose from Warner Brother’s Movie World, Dreamworld and Wet’n’Wild, or spend a long weekend exploring them all.
Movie World and Dreamworld are the best theme parks for adults and slightly older children rather than little ones.
Movie World is also a great option for film buffs who want to experience rides centred around their favourite movie characters.
Dreamworld is perfect for the thrill seekers with it’s “Big 8 Thrill Rides”, and it’s one of the best Gold Coast theme parks.
Finally, Wet n Wild is the go to waterpark in Queensland!
Let’s face it, who doesn’t love a day at the waterpark during the Gold Coast’s blazing hot summers! The kids prices make it affordable as well.
There are shallow water play areas, calm swimming spots, thrilling kamikaze drop rides, raft rides and aqua racers. It’s pretty much impossible to leave the park without a huge smile on your face.
Whitewater World is another fun water park on the Gold Coast.
Also, Topgolf Gold Coast isn’t exactly a theme park, but it’s similar because it’s an entertainment center full of fun activities that caters towards adults.
So if you don’t have kids but still want the thrill of a theme park, try golfing and drinking at Topgold Gold Coast.
Editor’s Note: We do not recommend visiting Sea World due to their refusal to stop animal stunt shows.
Ride In A Hot Air Balloon
An incredible way to treat yourself in the Gold Coast is booking a hot air balloon tour.
It’s pretty pricey, costing around $250 for a full day experience. You could even lash out and spend $450 on a hot air balloon ride combined with wineries.
So this activity may not be for travelers on a budget. But if you’re looking for an unforgettable experience, this is one of the top things to do in the area.
Many people have riding in a hot air balloon on the bucket list, and doing it over the gorgeous hinterland is the perfect place to go for it.
Where to Eat in the Gold Coast
Now that you’ve made your Gold Coast list of things to do, it’s time to figure out where to eat.
And after surfing in Surfers Paradise or whale watching or having a blast at a theme park, you’re sure to be hungry.
There’s a whole range of awesome places to eat and drink on the Gold Coast, from award-winning restaurants to chill, super cheap cafes.
Here’s my recommendations of the best places to eat on the Gold Coast.
Best Cafes on the Gold Coast
It would almost be a crime to take a trip to Gold Coast and not take the time to enjoy its café culture.
The Gold Coast’s café scene is huge and wherever you go, you’ll find cafes offering delicious food and coffee amongst super trendy décor.
Yard Café, Nobby’s Beach
This is my favourite café on the Gold Coast! I love the breakfast, the coffee is great quality and the atmosphere is relaxed.
It’s one of my favourite spots to take my laptop and get some work done away from the house.
It also has a great little play area in the open air section at the back, which always manages to keep my daughter entertained for a while.
- Address: 17 Lavarack Rd, Mermaid Beach
Elk Espresso, Broadbeach
Elk has been a popular spot for years!
It’s probably one of the Gold Coast’s best cafes, so you may have to wait for a table on weekends.
Think uber trendy industrial décor and concrete with a splash of mint green furnishings.
The seasonal menus are always bursting with delicious options and they have a great selection of coffees to try.
Breakfast panna cotta anyone?
- Address: Oasis Shopping Centre, Shop G044/2 Charles Ave, Broadbeach
BSKT, Nobbys Beach
Another super trendy spot in Nobbys Beach, BSKT caters to the health conscious customer.
They offer a huge selection of delicious healthy meals and breakfasts, with a favourite of ours being the pancakes.
Again, great coffee and they have a separate coffee counter, which opens extra early, so it’s the perfect spot to grab a coffee on the go during your morning stroll along the beach.
- Address: 4 Lavarack Rd, Mermaid Beach
This is one of the best spots to get a coffee and a bite to eat on the Gold Coast Highway and it’s a bit of an institution in the area.
Commune has a bright and funky interior and serves up some delicious cakes, snacks and meals with a healthy twist.
All their coffee is made with Campos coffee, which is a firm favourite of mine and one of the reasons I keep heading back there time after time.
- Address: 1844 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads
Best Cheap Eats, Gold Coast
The Gold Coast can seem expensive to eat out but, with so many great places to tempt you, it’s hard to resist.
I’ve had to become pretty savvy and find the spots that serve great food at a reasonable price.
If you haven’t visited before, it may feel impossible but there are some great, affordable, options to be found.
The best way to find some budget friendly food is to check out one of the Gold Coast’s many surf clubs. They offer great pub style meals at affordable prices.
There are so many you can guarantee, wherever you choose to stay, there will be one close by.
The best thing about the surf clubs is they always have fantastic views, perched right on the shoreline.
This is my absolute favourite place to eat at the moment. Govindas is a vegetarian restaurant and takeaway run by Hare Krishna volunteers and the food is delicious and fresh.
They always have a great range of options and a very good sized meal will only set you back between $10 and $15.
As soon as you see the place, you’ll realise just how popular it is as there always seems to be full tables and a queue to be served.
Don’t be put off though, it’s well worth the wait!
- Address: Shop 1/20 James St, Burleigh Heads
Miami Marketta is a must on any visit to the Gold Coast.
It’s a trendy, street food style event held every weekend and it’s very popular with the locals.
Tucked away a couple of streets back from the main highway, it’s unusual to see too many tourists here and it really is a hidden gem.
They showcase delicious international dishes from local businesses and have a great bar serving cocktails and a great range of beers.
There’s live music from local artists and it starts early between 4pm and 5pm, making it family friendly as well.
- Address: 23 Hillcrest Parade, Miami
Feel Like Treating Yourself?
Sticking to a budget is great but sometimes you just want to treat yourself a bit.
Luckily many of the Gold Coast restaurants are worth the money.
I would definitely recommend trying out Hellenika in Nobbys Beach. They serve mouth watering Greek cuisine with a modern twist and it’s one of the most popular restaurants on the Gold Coast.
It’s fine dining standard food but in a relaxed atmosphere and the recent renovation has the place looking better than ever.
My advice would be to try one of the table banquets, as they really let you get a taste for everything.
Make sure to ask the staff to serve you wine to compliment the dishes and you’ll end up with a beautiful meal.
- Address: 2235 Gold Coast Hwy, Nobby Beach