Impossible! Australia is so vast that in 1 week, you'll only be able to get in a small corner of it -- perhaps one city or a few of the natural wonders. It will be memorable, nevertheless, and careful planning will maximize your time and allow you to see some of the major sights.
Use the following itinerary to make the most out of a week in Australia, but make sure you don't exhaust yourself trying to cram everything in. Australians are a laid-back lot, generally, and in some places the pace is relaxed. And that's just the way to enjoy it. One week provides barely enough time to see the best of Sydney, which for most people is the entry point to Australia. (Luckily, you'll have a spectacular introduction to this great city: You may well get a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House from the air as your plane comes in.)
If you have only a week and want to head farther afield, there are two main choices, depending on your interests. The Great Barrier Reef is a "must" for divers, but don't forget that you must allow time either side of your reef trip for flying. There are no such problems with Australia's other icon, Uluru, in the heart of the Red Centre. This triangle, of course, is something of a cliché, but it still gives you a complete Australian experience. Realistically, you will have to choose between the Reef and the Rock, or choose not to scuba dive while you are in Queensland.
Day 1: Arrive in Sydney
Check into your hotel and spend whatever time you have upon arrival recovering from the almost-guaranteed jet lag. If you arrive in the morning and have a full day ahead of you, try to stay up. Hit the nearest cafe for a shot of caffeine to keep you going. Head to Circular Quay, and from there, get a fantastic view of Sydney Harbour Bridge before strolling to the Sydney Opera House and soaking up some history at The Rocks. If you have time, take the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly beach and round off a fairly easy day with fish and chips. Then head to bed for some much-needed sleep.
Day 2: Explore Sydney
Start with a ride to the top of the Sydney Tower to experience Sydney’s highest open-air attraction, Skywalk, a breathtaking 260 m (853 ft.) above Sydney. Harnessed onto a moving, glass-floored viewing platform that extends out over the edge of the tower, you can view all of Sydney’s landmarks, including the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour, and even the Blue Mountains beyond. Don’t worry, it’s not actually as scary as it sounds. For an introduction to Australia’s wildlife, head to Taronga Zoo or the Sydney Aquarium. If you have time to spare, another great choice is Featherdale Wildlife Park, but keep in mind it’s about an hour and a half from the city center. If you enjoy museums, put the Australian Museum, the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour, and the interactive Powerhouse Museum on your list for the day. For an insight into Sydney’s beginnings as a convict settlement, visit the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, a convict-built prison. Finish off your day with a twilight (or later on weekends) BridgeClimb up the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Day 3: The Blue Mountains
Take the train from Central Station to Katoomba for a day, exploring the beauty of the Blue Mountains—only 2 hours from Sydney. Once there, jump on the Blue Mountains Explorer bus , which allows you to hop on and off wherever you please. There are also many day-tour operators running to the Blue Mountains from Sydney. Whichever mode of transport you use, don’t miss the spectacular Three Sister rock formations, best viewed from Echo Point Road at Katoomba. Make sure you also spend some time at Scenic World , where you can ride the world’s steepest railway into a valley full of ancient rainforest, and come back up on a cable car—among other adventures that kids especially will enjoy. At the end of the day, head back to Sydney and have dinner somewhere with a view of the harbor.
Day 4: Cairns, Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef
Take the earliest flight you can from Sydney to Cairns—flight time is 3 hours—and check into a hotel in the city, which on such a tight schedule will make getting to the major attractions quicker and easier than staying on the out-of-town northern beaches. Explore the city a little and see some wildlife—including a massive saltwater crocodile—in the bizarre setting of the Cairns Wildlife Dome, atop the Hotel Sofitel Reef Casino. You will have the rest of the day to head out to visit the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. If you are not going to the Red Centre, this is a great place to learn about Aboriginal culture and life, albeit in a theme-park kind of way. You could spend several hours here, or save the visit for the evening, when Tjapukai by Night tours offer a different look at traditional ceremonies, including dinner and a fire-and-water outdoor show.
Day 5: A Day Trip to the Reef
Day trips to the Great Barrier Reef leave from the Reef Fleet Terminal. The trip to the outer reef takes about 2 hours, and once there, you will spend your day on a pontoon with about 300 people. Experienced divers may prefer to take a day trip with one of several dive charter companies that take smaller groups and visit two or three reefs. The pontoons of the big operators also offer the chance to take a scenic flight—a truly spectacular experience. Divers must spend another 24 hours in Cairns before flying. If you are content to snorkel, ride the glass-bottom boats, and soak up the sun, you will be able to fly the next day. After returning to Cairns, take a stroll along the Esplanade and eat at one of the busy cafes and restaurants that line the strip.
Day 6: Kuranda, a Rainforest Village
Waiting out the day after diving (you can’t fly for 24 hours after you’ve been on a dive) can give you a chance to discover another aspect of Australia—its rainforests. Take a trip to the mountain village of Kuranda aboard the steam train along the Kuranda Scenic Railway, past waterfalls and gorges. In Kuranda, explore the markets and the nature parks and maybe take a Kuranda Riverboat Tour, which runs about 45 minutes. Return on the Skyrail cableway, which carries you over the rainforest (you can get to ground level at a couple of stations on the way) to the edge of Cairns. The views are sensational. This is a big day out!
Day 7: Cairns to Sydney
In the morning, head to the airport for your flight to Sydney. Unless you are lucky enough to have an international flight directly out of Cairns, you will spend most of your last day in Australia returning to Sydney. With the time you have left in Sydney, treat yourself to dinner at a restaurant overlooking the harbor, with its bridge and Opera House illuminated. It’s a sight you’ll carry home with you.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.