This coastal city has little in the way of sandy beaches or surf, but it does have shady parks, charming colonial buildings, and a boardwalk-flanked waterfront Esplanade with a terrific man-made beach and picnic facilities. The historic town center has thrived recently, with an influx of lively eateries and bars. There are also some excellent museum and a world-class aquarium. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service has an office on Magnetic Island, but Townsville Enterprise's information kiosks in Flinders Square and the useum of Tropical Queensland (MTQ), on the mainland, are the best sources of visitor info about the island.
This restaurant sources terrific organic and tropical produce for its seasonal modern Australian menus. Even though the menu changes seasonally, it always features fresh seafood and premium Australia meats: free-range chicken, Victorian spring lamb, Western Plains pork, Sunshine Coast crab, Coffin Bay oysters, and North Queensland seafood.
A Touch of Salt
This Modern Australian eatery ticks all the boxes: location, service, ambience, food, and wine. Mains are divided into "sea," "earth," and "land." The tempura soft shell crab is a standout "sea" dish; a "land" selection might include confit duck leg with plum glaze; and an ever-changing "earth"list of vegetarian options might be pumpkin-almond ravioli. Small but artfully presented desserts taste as good as they look. There's also an excellent, largely Australian wine list.
The Australian Hotel
An atmospheric beer garden, live music, and good-value pub-style meals are the main draws at this refurbed colonial-era hotel. The hotel also has a large public bar, a lounge bar, a gaming room, and a bottle shop. Classic Aussie meals, served indoors or alfresco, are more about quantity than innovation, but service is prompt and friendly, and good-value daily specials come with a beer or glass of house wine. The building, circa 1888, is worth a visit in itself: with a beautiful bull-nose veranda and original iron-lace work, it's a classic example of Townsville colonial architecture.
Townville's historic Post Office now houses this sociable brewpub, which serves light "tavern-style" meals and produces their own boutique beers on-site at the microbrewery. The owners have combined modern finishes to the building's original design, incorporating old post-office fittings, such as the main bar, once the stamp counter. The big Sunday brunches are deservedly popular.
Jupiters Townsville Hotel & Casino
Dominating Townsville's waterfront, this high-rise casino-hotel complex is an entertainment hub: luxury hotel, two restaurants, a trio of bars, regular live shows, and 300-plus slot machines and 20 gaming tables. If you choose to stay over, the 198-room hotel has well-appointed rooms, suites, and an apartment, as well as a day spa, pool, and gym.
Monsoons Bar & Grill
Drink, dine, and mingle with the locals on the sun-drenched riverfront deck of this laid-back bar on Flinders Street's nightlife strip. There are billiard tables, arcade games, plasma TVs, Friday-night specials (including A$5 bar snacks), and live acoustic sessions on weekends.
Mad Cow Tavern
Centrally located and perennially popular, the Mad Cow attracts a youthful, boisterous crowd of locals and travelers with live music and DJs, good bar service, an upbeat atmosphere, and relaxed, friendly staff. Regular competitions keep patrons keen.
The summit of pink-granite monolith Castle Hill, 1 km (½ miles) from the city center, provides great views of the city and Magnetic Island. While you're perched on top, think about the proud local resident who, with the aid of several scout troops, spent years in the 1970s piling rubble onto the peak to try to add the 23 feet that would make Castle Hill a mountain, officially speaking—which means a rise of at least 1,000 feet. These days, most people trek to the top along a steep walking track that doubles as one of Queensland's most scenic jogging routes.
This 22-acre sanctuary shelters wombats, dingoes, wallabies, endangered bilbies, snakes, lizards, and numerous birds, such as cassowaries, emus, kookaburras, and cockatoos. There are 10 wildlife shows per day, including crocodile and cassowary feedings, venemous snake presentations, and turtle racing. Thrill-seekers can book a personal croc-feeding experience, with or without souvenir photo.
Reef HQ Aquarium
Come eye-to-eye with sharks, rays, giant trevally, and green sea turtles at the Reef HQ Aquarium. It houses a 200,000-gallon predator tank and a vast aquarium, open to the elements, populated with 120 species of hard and soft coral, as well as sea stars, spiky urchins, sponges, and more than 150 species of tropical fish.
Museum of Tropical Queensland
Centuries-old relics from the HMS Pandora (the ship sent by the British Admiralty to capture the mutinous Bounty crew) which sank in 1791 carrying 14 crew members of Captain Bligh's infamous ship, are among the exhibits at this repository of the region's maritime, natural, and indigenous history. There's a fun introduction to North Queensland's culture and lifestyle, a shipwreck exhibit, and the ecology-focused Enchanted Rainforest. Displays of tropical wildlife, dinosaur fossils, local corals, and deep-sea creatures round out a diverse public collection.
A stroll along Flinders Street from the Strand to Stanley Street takes you past some of Townsville's most impressive turn-of-the-20th-century colonial structures. Magnetic House and several other historic buildings along the strip have been beautifully restored. The grand old Queens Hotel is a fine example of the early Victorian Classical Revival style, as is the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, circa 1885, originally a bank. Tattersalls Hotel, circa 1865, is typical of its era, with wide verandas and fancy wrought-iron balustrades; today, it houses the rambunctious Molly Malones Irish pub. Once the town's post office, what's now The Brewery had an impressive masonry clock tower when it was erected in 1889. The tower was dismantled in 1942 so it wouldn't be a target during World War II air raids, and re-erected in 1964. The Exchange, Townsville's oldest pub, was built in 1869, burned down in 1881, and was rebuilt the following year.
Offering shade and serenity less than a mile from the CBD, Townsville's colonial-era botanic gardens occupies 10 verdant acres at the base of Castle Hill. Bordered by frangipani (plumeria) and towering Moreton Bay fig trees, whose unique dangling roots veil the entry to the grounds, the gardens are a wonderful place to picnic, stroll, or amuse the kids. There are play areas, a hedge maze, formal rose garden, fountains, and a lovely rain-forest walk. A compact aviary houses bright-plumed peacocks, lorikeets, and sulphur-crested cockatoos.
Townsville Town Common Conservation Park
Spot wallabies, echidnas, dingos, goannas, and hundreds of bird species at this terrific wetlands conservation park. It's crisscrossed by walking and biking trails and dotted with bird blinds and a wildlife-viewing tower. You can take the easy, hour-long Forest Walk to see kingfishers and honey-eaters, or the Pallarenda to Tegoora Rock circuit for wetlands overviews. The 5-km (3-mile), two-plus-hour-long trail from Bald Rock to Mount Marlowl is worth the uphill trek for the regional panorama at the summit. Most trails start from Bald Rock parking lot, 7 km (4½ miles) from the park entrance on unpaved roads.
This is the highest sheer-drop waterfall in Australia. In the surrounding Girringun National Park, ancient rain forests shelter rare plants and animals that include the endangered southern cassowary, platypus, and musky rat-kangaroo. You might also spot eastern water dragons, saw-shelled turtles, and crocodiles. The park is the start of the Wet Tropics Great Walk, suitable for experienced hikers. For day-trippers, there are two spectacular lookouts and some scenic short walks, such as the 45-minute Banggurru circuit along Stony Creek's bank, or the steeper, two-hour walk to the base of the falls.
Dubbed Australia's Cleanest Beach, this palm-flanked stretch of sand—lined with jogging tracks and cycleways, picnic-friendly parklands, and hip beachfront bars—has swimming enclosures and a long pier perfect for fishing. The beach and its permanent swimming enclosure, Strand Rock Pool, are fitted with temporary nets during box-jellyfish season, November–May. Free, kid-friendly Strand Water Park, open on weekends, is patrolled by lifeguards; the Rock Pool is closed every Tuesday and Wednesday for maintenance except in holiday periods. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; toilets. Best for: swimming.