While there are more than a million hectares of bushland in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage area, many of its most spectacular natural attractions – such as the iconic Three Sisters – are found in the Katoomba area, the commercial hub and wild heart of the Blue Mountains.
Located just 90min by car or two hours by train from Sydney, here you’ll find a range of accommodation, from heritage hotels to secluded cottages, as well as great restaurants, cosy cafes and a range of touring options, making it an accessible base for in-depth exploration of this wilderness playground.
Get the heart pumping
The ridgeline heading west is dotted with quaint villages, from Leura with its cherry tree-lined shopping strip, to bohemian Blackheath. Breathtaking bushwalks unfurl from every town, with easy clifftop strolls like the Prince Henry Cliff Walk to Leura Cascades or more challenging hikes such as the calf-burning Grand Canyon Track.
Before heading out, call into the Blue Mountains Heritage Centre near Govetts Leap for maps, information and expert advice as well as fascinating local history and art displays. Get a birds-eye view of the Jamison Valley from the Scenic Skyway at Scenic World, before descending into the Jurassic rainforest on the world’s steepest railway.
Adventure tours reveal a side of the Blue Mountains that few get to experience. Scale the heights or abseil into deep, shadowy canyons with Blue Mountains Adventure Company or High N Wild Australian Adventures; or take an immersive bushwalk with Tread Lightly Eco Tours.
The Blue Mountains are rich with indigenous heritage, showcased at the new Gathering Place amphitheatre at Echo Point. For a journey into the region’s European history, visit the museum at Mount Victoria, a former staging post for horse-drawn coaches; or take a stroll through the glorious cool-climate gardens and Art Deco buildings of Everglades House at Leura.
For a high-tech, interactive journey through the area’s social history, visit ‘Into the Blue’ at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre before checking out its gallery space featuring the work of local artists. Wander through Katoomba’s back lanes to admire colourful murals on the Street Art Walk; or head to Faulconbridge where the Blue Mountains’ most legendary artist, Norman Lindsay, lived and worked for more than 60 years.
You’ll also find many restaurants and bars nestled in historic venues throughout the Katoomba area. Enjoy fine dining at Darley’s Restaurant in the century-old Lilianfels; or enjoy a classic High Tea at the grand Hydro Majestic Hotel, served with spectacular views of the Megalong Valley.
Getting there and where to stay
The Katooma area is around 90min drive from Sydney via the Great Western Highway, winding through villages such as Glenbrook, Springwood and Wentworth Falls. Alternatively, take the “road less travelled” via the Bells Line of Road, passing through the verdant apple-growing farmland of Bilpin. For a leisurely, stress-free way to travel, jump on a train at Central Station and admire the distant escarpment views as you make your way to Katoomba Station.
To capture the historic ambience of the Blue Mountains, book a room at one of the beautifully-restored grand hotels dating to the turn of the 20th century, such as the Hydro Majestic or the Carrington Hotel. You can also stay in heritage guesthouses, quirky self-contained cottages or secluded cabins in remote Megalong or Kanimbla valleys.