The Best White Christmas in Europe

Soll, Austria.

Are you dreaming of having the best white Christmas in Europe? I know we are!

Experiencing a European White Christmas, is on the bucket list for so many of us based in the Southern Hemisphere. Who doesn’t want to experience the magic of a white Christmas, the lights, the snow, the markets, the beauty.

Soll, Austria for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by me (Love To Travel, Stay-Eat-Do)!

While living in London in my earlier, pre-kids years, I was fortunate enough to have my first European white Christmas; and, it truly was as awesome and as magical as I hoped it would be. I bought a 7 day ski package and stayed in a beautiful town called Soll, where we literally had the Austrian Alps at our doorstep. The town was lit up at night, festive during the day and had an exquisite Christmas feel – it was perfect. The people were friendly, the local food was amazing and the apres-ski was fun! Snow did not fall on Christmas day, however, we had the best of both worlds – freshly fallen snow the day before and beautiful blue skies to ski the Austrian Alps – all day long! Soll is just a short trip from Innsbruck (read more below) another buzzing and magical town at Christmas, with so many unique opportunities, including tobogganing and a visit to the 1964 Winter Olympics bobsleigh run.

There are some magnificent parts of Europe you can visit for a white Christmas experience. Be inspired by these fabulous contributions on where to spend your first or perhaps your next European White Christmas – I know we will need to have many European Christmas trips to be able to have all of the experiences on our bucket list!

Innsbruck, Austria for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Laura from Travelers Universe.

Innsbruck at Christmas, Travelers Universe.

Whenever I think of a white Christmas I’m taken back to Innsbruck, Austria. I don’t think I’ve seen so much snow in one place ever in my life! My husband and I arrived in Innsbruck on a cold December day. There was no snowflake in the air so we were slightly disappointed (although the city was charming regardless). When we woke up the next morning, however, Innsbruck was covered in a fluffy layer of snow. It was surreal!

We then took the cable car up the Nordkette and spent the whole day at 6,250ft playing in the snow and sipping hot chocolate while enjoying the views. It was the best Christmas present we could ask for!

Back in Innsbruck, we visited the markets (truly some of the best Christmas markets in Europe), walked under humongous Swarovski crystals, tried to spot all the fairy tale characters decorating the streets and warmed ourselves up with steaming cups of mulled wine.

Of course, eating is an important activity at any Christmas market, so we also took care to stuff our faces with delicacies like roasted chestnuts and hot doughnuts with Sauerkraut.

As for accommodation, I recommend you to find a hotel in the Innenstadt because you’ll be within walking distance of all the attractions, including the Nordkette Cable Car station. Bonus points if you book a room with views of the Alps (it shouldn’t be difficult!).

Salzburg, Austria for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Sara Miller at Journey of Doing.

Salzburg at Christmas, Journey of Doing.

Nestled at the foot of the Alps is Salzburg, Austria. Whether you visit the chapel where Silent Night was first performed, take a sleigh ride, or visit the many Christkindlmarkts, there is no more magical place to spend a white Christmas in Europe.

I recommend staying in the aldstadt (Hotel Goldgasse and Hotel Goldener Hirsh are my favorites!) to truly experience the magic of historic Salzburg. You easily will be able to explore the Christmas markets in Residenzplatz and Domplatz before taking the funicular up to Hohensalzburg Fortress for the beautiful views (and another Christmas market). When you come down the Moschburg, stop at St. Peter’s Abbey for the most serene sight in Salzburg’s old town.

By then you’ll be ready to warm up from the cold. Head to Getreidgasse, Salzburg’s famed shopping street and stop at Sporer to try traditional schnapps. If that’s not your style, Café Tomaselli is a short walk away and offers delicious coffee and cake.

If it’s too cold or too wet to take the bus to the Hellbrunn Palace and Christmas market, you can learn to make traditional Austrian Christmas cookies and apple strudel through this delicious hands-on cooking class. In addition to taking the leftovers home, you will also enjoy a delicious goulash soup for lunch. Other traditional restaurant recommendations are Zum Zirkelwirt and Gasthof Wilden Mann.

In the evenings you can take in a classical concert, join the ice skaters behind Residenzplatz, or continue your shopping at the Christmas markets. Salzburg is beautifully lit in the evenings; don’t forget to take a stroll through the romantic Christmas lights.

Rovaniemi, Finland for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Diana from The Elusive Family.

Rovaniemi at Christmas, The Elusive Family.

Rovaniemi, known officially as the hometown of Santa Claus is one of the most unique Christmas experiences in the world.  It sits in the middle of Finland in the region known as Lapland, and draws in thousands of visitors year-round.

In the winter there is an abundance of winter activities and things to see and do. Husky sledding is one such experience.  Husky dogs pull visitors on a sleigh ride across the white snowy countryside for miles and show off their endurance and dedication.  Husky riding is a family friendly activity and many tour operators provide this experience, ranging from 15 minutes to several hours.

Riding on a reindeer sleigh is another wonderful experience for families and this can happen on a reindeer farm, or out in the countryside.  One great place to do reindeer sleighs for smaller family members is at Santa Claus Village.  Santa Claus Village is a top accommodation to stay at as well as it has reindeer, huskies, and Santa’s on site.  It is also very easy to book excursions in Lapland directly from the hotel.  When we went to Lapland with our kids our experience at Santa Claus Village was amazing and we were able to have a wonderful holiday, particularly since the Village accommodates families incredibly well.

Northern lights tours, ice fishing, ice floating and numerous other activities are available in Rovaniemi. Rovaniemi is a very unique family experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity for experiencing a magical experience with your family.

Reykjavik, Iceland for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Ania from The Travelling Twins.

Reykjavik at Christmas, The Travelling Twins.

Last year we visited Iceland in December and found ourselves in Reykjavik for seven weeks in the middle of last winter almost by accident. But that’s another story.  What we experienced when we were there was the most lovely Christmas with children ever. We were house-sitting for a family who has kids roughly the same age as ours. The place was already decked out with everything but the tree before we arrived.  We settled in, and fed the contents of a box of Christmas CDs into the stereo, and did some research about what to expect. No Santa Claus.

On our first foray into the centre of Reykjavik, we found a great illuminated model of a pussy cat – how sweet!  The information panel located by its rather sharp claws told us that this is the cat that eats lazy children. Hmm.  We then discovered that our house would be visited on the thirteen nights before Christmas by as many trolls, the sons of a fearsome ogress.  We had better learn each brother’s likes and habits and leave an appropriate gift for him, and so it went on. It turned out that the Yule Cat and Yule Lad myths are embedded into everything during December.  Of course, our kids, and we bought into all of this. As Christmas drew near, we met more and more friendly natives falling over themselves to explain to us what we had to do and eat and see. There is a free skating rink erected in the middle of the old town where we spent another delightful evening, soaking up the Christmas spirit.

We had a very cosy family Christmas enjoying these different traditions.  We saw the Northern Lights at last, swam in geothermally heated water, and ate a delicious Christmas dinner of lamb.  Then as the New Year broke, we sat in the middle of the most astonishing firework display we had ever witnessed. We were in the middle of it simply because all our neighbours for miles in every direction had invested in what seemed like megatons of explosives and pyrotechnics.  The show continued not for hours but days – that’s one of the strangest facts about Iceland – they spent the enormous amount of money every year on fireworks. 

Want a different Christmas and an exhilarating new year?  Go to Iceland and soak up the local traditions.

Switzerland for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Roger Timbrook from Expert World Travel.

View over Lake Lucerne, Mt Pilatus, Expert World Travel.

Switzerland is an absolutely stunning destination for a white Christmas, for oh so many reasons. First of all, it is filled with mountains, so that alone makes the experience that much more picturesque and dramatic. Even if the weather is not playing along and the now in the cities is yet to fall, you can always head uphill and get yourself a truly white experience!

Some of the best places to go during the Christmas period are actually the cities like Lucerne, Geneva and Zurich. Why? Because they are filled with wonderful Christmas lights on all the main streets, and, of course, fun Christmas markets. The markets are great because they have enticing stalls with wonderfully warm comfort food and handmade delights to buy as presents. Be on the lookout for Gluhwein, a hot spicey wine drink, and other warm cheesy offerings like Raclette, and Fondue – Swiss classics you should be sampling anyway. Oh, and Zurich itself, the financial capital of the county, puts up a giant Christmas tree in the middle of their market too. But not just any old tree, it’s filled with Swarovski crystals, from head to toe! So, it’s worth making a detour to see that alone.

And if you want to take things a step further and head up into the mountains, “white Christmas” takes on a whole new meaning. Everything is white, as far as the eye can see. And that also means you can partake in all sorts of snow and ice-related activities like ice skating, tobogganing and even skiing and snowboarding if you are so inclined. Such Swiss mountain gems as Zermatt, Saas Fee, Davos and Crans Montana are worth spending putting on your bucket list. After all, there is nothing better than having a white Christmas in the mountains surrounded by snow!

Copenhagen, Denmark for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Derek Hartman from Robe Trotting.

Copenhagen at Christmas, Robe Trotting.

I moved to Copenhagen a few years ago from Philadelphia. I’m looking forward to my fourth Christmas there this year. When it comes to the Christmas holiday, Copenhagen, Denmark is a fabulous and festive place to enjoy the Christmas season. With warmer temperatures over the last few years, a Copenhagen white Christmas may be rare. However, when there is a dusting of snow in the city, it is remarkable. There are also adorable Christmas markets, gorgeous decorations all over the city and the Christmas magic of Tivoli Gardens.

The best area to stay and access all the Christmas majesty is Copenhagen’s Nyhavn neighborhood. Nyhavn is the name of the iconic Copenhagen harbor with pastel merchant houses and quaint cafes. There are many Airbnb and hotel options in the area. The streets here are crisscrossed with hanging lights and evergreen boughs. It’s also close to one of the best Christmas markets in Kongen’s Nytorv. The Christmas market there is beautiful. You can walk around the vendors and shop for keepsakes while drinking glogg. It’s a famous Scandinavian winter-time drink – warm mulled wine with raisins and almonds stirred in. In Kongen’s Nytorv you’ll also see the Hotel D’Angleterre. It’s a gorgeous hotel where the facade is covered with LCD screens and turned into a Christmas advent calendar. 

Another winter highlight is Copenhagen’s famous amusement park, Tivoli Gardens. It’s a must-see attraction any time of year, but it’s magical at Christmas. The decorations, light displays, and Christmas vendors make it a spectacular stop. There is also a fabulous Christmas cabaret each year at one of the theatres inside of Tivoli. This show is an annual holiday season tradition for locals and the only English-language feature of the year. 

If you’re looking for a Christmas season winter getaway, consider Copenhagen. There’s no shortage of holiday fun and beauty. The Danes love Christmas. Even a workplace Christmas party is like nothing I’ve experienced outside of Denmark. You can see more about their Julefrokost (Christmas party) in this post about my biggest surprises after moving to Denmark.

Freiburg, Germany for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Hannah Golton from Hannah’s Happy Adventures.

Freiburg at Christmas, Hannah’s Happy Adventures.

Freiburg is a beautiful city nestled at the foot of the black forest. I was fortunate enough to spend a year living and working in Freiburg. I must say, I fell completely in love with the city. Christmas was my favourite time of year. The city is regularly covered with a blanket of snow and the nearby mountains are transformed into a winter wonderland. Temperatures regularly reach lows of -10°C, so be sure to wrap up warm before heading out to explore.

While the German Christmas markets are on the smaller side, they offer a more authentic local feel and are significantly cheaper. Several markets are littered throughout the city centre. My personal favourite is the market centred around the Munster. The cathedral provides the perfect backdrop for a festive Christmas evening. Enjoy a mulled wine with amaretto, or perhaps a scrummy bratwurst. The best place for German food in Freiburg is MartinsBrau. I spent many evenings here. I recommend ordering schnitzel with pan fried potatos and a mushroom sauce.

After exploring the city, It’s now time to enjoy the surrounding mountains. I recommend visiting Schauinsland. Take tram line two to Dorfstrasse, then switch to bus 21 which will take you to Schauinsland Tal-bahn. Take the cable car to the top to go sledging, skiing or hiking. Moreover, the restaurant at the top offers stunning views and a delicious marshmallow hot chocolate – exactly what you need after a day in the snow!

I’m in no doubt that you will love Freiburg just as much as I did. If Freiburg interests you check out the top 10 things to do in the city here. Where to stay in Freiburg? Budget: Black Forest Hostel; mid-range: City Hotel Freiburg; or, luxury: Novotel Freiburg Am Konzerthaus.

Berlin, Germany for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Smita Bhattacharya.

Berlin at Christmas, by Smita.

Berlin at Christmas time is bone-chillingly cold, but I believe, also the best time to visit. The Christmas markets in Germany are quite something else. Nothing else compares; the best place to start enjoying it is in Berlin.

Start with a free Sandeman tour of the city to get your orientation. Enjoy the sights of Brandenburg Tor, Checkpoint Charlie, Alexanderplatz, and the famously quirky, 1.3 km long East Side Gallery. Stay or visit the Kreuzberg neighborhood. Kreuzberg, formerly a part of West Berlin, has transformed from being one of the poorest quarters in the late 1970s to one of the city’s cultural hot spots today. It is home to a large migrant population and also to the city’s hippest clubs and restaurants. Eat at Curry 66 (on Grünberger Str. 66) along your way—best currywurst ever. Or go to the Currywurst museum for a tutorial on the invention of the city’s favorite dish and learn about its evolution over the years.

Finally, the best part of the trip, the reason you came. Go to WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt, arguably the best Christmas market in Berlin. It’s a party at these Christmas markets, I swear. They charge 1 or 2 to get in, and inside the revelry is infectious, especially after a glass or two of Glühwein or Eierpunsch, the glasses which you can keep as a souvenir. Then pick up currywurst or bratwurst and watch a choir perform on stage or a group of people dance madly or buy a locally handmade goodie from the stores which look like straight out of a fairy tale. That’s a white Christmas you’re never going to forget.

London, England for The Best White Christmas in Europe. Recommended by Coni from Experiencing the Globe.

London at Christmas, Experiencing the Globe.

When you think of a white Christmas in Europe, London doesn’t come to mind because usually there’s no snow, but let me tell you, it absolutely makes up for it with decorations and vibe. Winter Wonderland is the  most Christmas-y place on earth! Hyde park dresses up for the holidays in green and red, creating a magical place that will turn even the Grinch into a Christmas fan. There you’ll find delicious food, beautiful ornaments, fun games, the UK’s biggest open-air ice rink, and you’ll be able to visit the jaw-dropping Ice Kingdom that features  an ice bar. Fun for kids and adults alike!

If you want to get into the celebrations without going over the top, head to Victoria Park’s Winterville. A bit outside the city centre,  you’ll find less tourists and just as much charm. If all you want is great food and maybe to get a present or two, your place is the Christmas Market of the South Bank. For shopping, go to Oxford street. The street itself is full of lights, and the store windows are works of art. Visit in the evening for a full /wow/ effect. If you want to get into the festivities royal style, visit the palaces in London and around it. Hampton Court has an ice-skating rink just in front of the palace, giving you the perfect photo opportunity for a Christmas card (or Instagram post!). For a more meaningful experience, attend mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’m not religious at all, but I spent a few hours before midnight handing coffee to people on the street waiting to get inside the church, and I got to marvel at the incredible choir singing in my favourite building in London. It’s a perfect way to spend Christmas in a foreign city!

Two Days in Vientiane.

A visit to Laos, without exploring is Vientiane, is an incomplete trip to Laos. Although we had travelled to other South East Asian countries prior to going to Laos, this capital city instantly told a different story. Vientiane is the largest city in Laos and sits on the bank of the Mekong River, overlooking Thailand. There are aspects that are impressive and glamorous – the palaces and the temples; however, there is a rich feel of history and devastation which must be acknowledged and honoured.

We stayed in the heart of Vientiane, at Champa Garden Hotel, which is in walking distance to many local restaurants, the Mekong River and the night markets. We love being able to explore by foot as much as possible, despite the pair of little legs we have on board with us these days! We love to eat in local restaurants, the friendly faces in Laos were so welcoming, we often returned for a repeat dining experience and were so happy to see the owners faces light up when they remembered us from the night before. As well as walking, we enjoy the fun of a Tuk-Tuk, so on our first night in Vientiane we travelled out to Kong View Restaurant and Bar where we watched the sunset over the Mekong River and Thailand, this was such an incredible way to start our adventure, one of those ‘pinch yourself moments’. We spent three nights in Vientiane and loved being able to take our time to wander the streets, find a playground for the kids, travel by local bus outside the city centre, navigate our way around some of the tourist spots and one of the highlights for our boys was seeing Monks, of which they had heard so much about in the lead up to our trip.

Day 1 – The Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan)

For us, going to the Buddha Park, was a full day outing! Getting to the Buddha Park was an adventure in itself and one we’re very proud to be able to say we surprisingly managed, without having to go to ‘Plan B – get a taxi’. We navigated our way to Talat Sao Bus Station and somehow managed to get on the correct bus out to the Buddha Park. It was an unsealed, bumpy road and what we imagined would be an easy one-way 25km trip, ended up an hour and a half each way on a not-so-comfortable ride; that said, the experience and adventure was worth it in the end!

The Buddha Park is an open-air sculpture park which was founded in 1958 by a monk and local sculpture artist, who studied Buddhism and Hinduism. The park features an incredible array of statues of Buddhas, Hindu gods, dieties, demons and animals from both beliefs. One of the highlights of the park was the large pumpkin structure near the entrance where the opening was made to look like a demons mouth, with a ladder inside taking you to the top where you had panoramic views of the entire park. The 40 metre reclining Buddha was also very impressive. We took a picnic lunch as there was plenty of space to pull out a rug, however, there is also a cafe at the back of the park serving light refreshments.

Day Two – C.O.P.E. Visitor Centre, Patuxai Victory Monument and Pha That Luang.

C.O.P.E. Visitor Centre

Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. Since the foundation of C.O.P.E. in 1996, the organisation has helped thousands of people with mobility related disabilities; allowing and enabling mobility and dignity. It is estimated that 50,000 people have been injured or killed, to this day, as a result of the UXO incidents since 1964; C.O.P.E. have worked hard to support survivors; as well as to provide prosthetic and orthotic devices, clubfoot treatment, physio and occupational therapies and related surgical procedures.

The Visitor Centre was eye opening for all of us, an education for our children but a reality to all of us, the trauma and devastation that individuals in Laos have and continue to experience is very apparent. A brilliantly set up museum and free to wander through, it is definitely worth a visit. The exhibits cover the history of UXO, how C.O.P.E. works to assist the people of Laos and improves the quality of life of individuals to go on and live a valuable life.

An interesting fact – the need for prosthetic has increased since helmets for motorbikes has been introduced – more people are surviving accidents, however, not without injury.

Patuxai Victory Monument

Patuxai, a war monument, was built between 1957 and 1968. The Patuxai has been dedicated to those who fought in the fight for independence from France. It is also commonly known as the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane as it resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Pha That Luang

From Vientiane

WITHIN LAOS: Get yourself on a bus to Vang Vieng for some great fun, adventure and natural beauty. Or fly to Luang Prabang for great culture, French inspired Laos food, city exploration, relaxation and just generally a fantastic time!

OUTSIDE LAOS: Fly or get a train into Thailand to experience more South East Asian greatness!

Coffs Harbour – The Best Things To See And Do.

There is so much to do in and just outside Coffs Harbour – food, beaches, attractions, adventure activities, walks and so much exploration. The first part is focused on sites and delights within very close proximity to central Coffs. Be sure to keep reading until the end, as I think some of the real treasures are well worth a short drive!

Coffs Harbour Fishermans Co-Op

If you are seafood lover, you cannot go to Coffs Harbour and not get yourself a meal from the Fishermans Co-Op. It is situated in the heart of the Coffs Harbour International Marina, surrounded by other cafes and restaurants, boutique shops, ample car parking and is directly next to the walk way which takes you over to Mutton Bird Island. We shared the seafood basket for two and a serve of fish and chips, it was not only fresh and delicious, but an enormous amount of food. After lunch, we meandered towards the Island, enjoying the beautiful clear waters, spotted thousands of fish of a range of sizes and came across a spectacular spot to swim and snorkel.

Charlesworth Bay Beach

Just a short 10-minute drive north from the Coffs Harbour Marina, you will find Charlesworth Bay Beach, a quiet little beach with most divine coloured rocks and stones of all sizes in the water. Such a fabulous time can be had exploring the rocks and pools and splashing through the waves.

Dolphin Marine Conservation Park

We all had the best time at Coffs Harbour Dolphin Marine Conservation Centre! It is a small centre which offers an intimate, up close experience with some beautiful marine animals. We saw a range of fish, turtles, fed penguins and fish, received kisses on the cheek from a dolphin, were mesmerised by the grace and wow’d by the seal and dolphin display, all along with a strong message, to save and care for our marine life. For more information on the conservation, education and how they care for the beautiful animals, have a look at their website – it is excellent. Our family ticket was close to $100, however, once we were there, we got to experience all of the above mentioned ‘add-ons’ for no additional price, which is a real bonus – keep an eye out for a $10 off voucher in one of the tourist mags! Food was available to purchase at the well priced cafe, there was a sausage sizzle available, picnic tables and grass space for you to also bring a packed lunch. When the boys are older and more confident in the water, we would love to bring them back for a swim with the dolphin experience – there is so much to do and see at this beautiful little conservation park.

Sealy Lookout Bruxner Park, Sky Pier

Do yourself a favour and take the 6km drive off the Pacific Highway (north of Coffs Harbour) through the banana plantations and into the lush green Orara East State Forest. We had the most crazy weather the day we visited, tropical rains, sunshine, cloud and rainbows! Sealy Lookout is 310m above Coffs Harbour and the view is spectacular, giving you great perspective of the area, including the Solitary Islands Marine Park; on a clear day you can see 100km to the south. The Sky Pier itself is an impressive structure, it projects 21.6m from the original lookout. A novel idea for our boys, they were most excited by the size of it given there was “nothing holding it up at one end”. There are toilets, picnic tables and the day we were there, there was also a coffee van! For the adventurous individuals, the Tree Tops Adventure Park is close to the Lookout and does look like a lot of fun, our kids thought it looked a bit scary, maybe when they’re a bit bigger!

Big Banana

Big Banana, Coffs Harbour

You cannot miss the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour! It is located roadside heading north on the Pacific Highway, not only can you not miss it visually, but you have also got to go in and have a look around. To be honest, it was far more impressive than I was giving it credit for prior to going! There is so much to do there, so much flexibility in buying tickets for the different attractions, which is fantastic for families traveling on a budget! There is lots of parking behind the Banana and the entire complex has a very happy and friendly atmosphere. The choices of attractions are endless – a cafe, water park, cheese-making, ice skating, laser tag, toboggan rides, race slides and so many more! There really is something there for everyone, even if it is just a cheesy photo in front of the Coffs Harbour icon!

Harbour Side Markets

Harbourside Markets, Coffs Harbour
Lunch time at the Harbourside Markets

Every Sunday from 8am until 2pm, the Coffs Harbour comes alive for the Harbourside Markets. You will find the Jetty foreshore covered in marquees and bustling with people – rain, hail or shine; rain, as it was on the day we visited! I love a market and I had heard great things about this one so I wasn’t missing out – despite the soggy ground, enormous puddles in the roof of the marquee we chose for lunch and the need for an umbrella when we didn’t have one! The market was bursting with creative arts and crafts, local produce, live music and a variety of cuisines on offer for lunch. Their motto ensures a quality unique experience for everyone locally made, locally grown. We loved our Mexican and African for lunch, the boys had their usual market favourites!

Now grab yourself a car and enjoy the greatness that surrounds Coffs Harbour. There are beaches a plenty, so many to enjoy and explore; or head inland and discover some little Australian gems.

Bellingen

Bellingen

Bellingen, just 30 minutes south from Coffs Harbour you will find ‘Mello Bello’ and it is exactly that! A very cool, bohemian style country town; Bellingen is a must for any food lovers, the choices of eateries are endless!

The Old Butter Factory Shopping Village, located next to the golf course, is a fabulous stop on the way into town. The Café is in a beautiful old building with high ceilings as well as outdoor table settings; the choices for meals were extensive, family friendly, easy parking and lots of space for kids to wander if they are of curious mind. The boutique stores within the village consisted of leather, homewares, woodwork, gift ware and a lovely community gallery.

We were in serious food heaven in Bellingen and we found it so difficult to choose where to spend our afternoon. The very chic, 5 Church St, won out and served us the most amazing homemade cakes to share – the chocolate beetroot was rich and delicious, but the carrot cake with a hint of ginger was the winner for us – divine! The coffee was also spot on and the kids hot chocolates were served so beautifully, it made them feel very special.

We planned our visit to Bellingen on our way through to Dorrigo National Park (see below for more info!), although we could have spent more time at both places, it was a great way to see a couple of spots in close proximity in the same direction from Coffs Harbour.

Dangar Falls, Oxley Wild Rivers National Park & Dorrigo National Park

Dangar Falls
Dangar Falls, Dorrigo National Park

We love rainforests and waterfalls, so as an add-on for our visit to Bellingen, a trip to Dangar Falls was a no-brainer. You’ll find the Falls located just 1.2km north of Dorrigo, the car park is at the top of the falls and there is a small lookout from there, giving you a spectacular front-on view from above. There is a mostly-made walking track to the pool of the falls, it is not a difficult walk, however, there are some stairs and slippery un-made tracks at the bottom. We were fortunate to visit just after some heavy rainfall in the area, so there was plenty of cascading water to enjoy. Back at the car park there is a toilet block, playground, plenty of room to picnic and a little way along the walking track, you’ll find a labyrinth. If you’re there in Spring time, you will be lucky enough to see the cliff lines filled with wildflowers. A trip to Dangar Falls, through Dorrigo National Park is well worth it and will not disappoint.

Dorrigo National Park is located just an hour from Coffs Harbour, you will find the beautifully rich, World-Heritage listed Gondwana Rainforest, Dorrigo National Park. You could simply spend days exploring the natural wonders – walking tracks, waterfalls, wildlife, lookouts and picnic areas. The drive up the mountain through the rainforest was stunning; steep and maybe a little narrow in parts but lush, green and very fresh. 

Coramba Hotel

If you are looking for a great country pub to have a meal, look no further than the Coramba Pub, a 20-minute picturesque drive north west from Coffs Harbour. The food was fabulous, the kids serve of fettucine bolognaise was enormous and wholesome, the service was great, and the beer garden comes with spectacular countryside views and lots of room for kids to run around. They have lots of specials including a $12 lunch menu where there was certainly no compromise on quality! It was quiet and had a relaxed casual feel, a fantastic spot to take the family for a great affordable pub meal. The Coramba Pub advertise regularly on their Facebook page, look out for their specials and special events which often feature live music.

Woolgoolga

Twenty-five minutes north of Coffs Harbour, you will find the fun, upbeat, casual, family friendly, coastal town of Woolgoolga. We were welcomed to the town with a big “Welcome to Woopi” by a local as we walked onto the beach. We instantly fell in love with the laid-back feel to the place that is known by the locals as Woopi. Surfing, jet skiing, beach cricket, rock pools, body boarding, walking tracks, free barbecues, a beach side playground and caravan and a main street full of cool cafes and coffee spots – it is any wonder it is a popular place to visit. White Salt came highly recommended to us as a lunch stop, so White Salt it was; melt-in-your-mouth seafood, fat chips and amazing potato scallops.

From the patrolled beach, head south along the 1.7km stretch of Woolgoolga Beach and make your way to the Woolgoolga Lookout; the expansive views north and south of the Headland are simply stunning. We were fortunate enough to see sail boats out on the water and enjoyed the company of some lounging kangaroos alongside the walking tracks. During the whale season it is a prime vantage spot for seeing humpbacks cruising by. You can also access the Lookout by car and enjoy some shorter walking trails from the car park. Woopi also features the Woolgoolga Lake where you can practice your skills on a stand-up paddle board or kayak.

Heading south from Coffs Harbour?

Be sure to stop in at Port Macquarie, there are so many more fabulous places to visit, things to do and beaches to enjoy!

The best things to do in Port Macquarie

Bago Maze and Winery

Twenty-five minute drive from Port Macquarie

A visit to Bago was one of our most favourite outings from Port Macquarie. We love food, wine and a bit of fun adventure – this visit had something for everyone, in fact more than that, it was fantastic! We loved getting lost in the 2km well cared for hedge maze, enjoyed a picnic we’d packed on the massive grassed area under a shady tree, us adults sampled the cheese platter featuring local cheeses, followed by some tastings of the unique range of whites, reds and fortified wines; all of this while the boys ran around on the grass and in and out of the cubby house. They have live music once a month and Baba Lila Handmade Chocolates is also onsite! You cannot go wrong with a visit here!

While you’re on the road to or from Bago, take the short drive into the Burrawan State Forest, the home of the ‘Old Bottlebutt’. Enjoy the 600m rainforest loop to see the ancient Red Bloodwood tree, which is astonishingly the biggest recorded species of it in the world. Our boys were highly amused by the name, if you need to convince your kids to take the extra trip, tell them the name of the tree, it worked for us!

Dunbogan

Thirty-eight minute drive south of Port Macquarie

We instantly fell in love with this beautiful coastal town on the Camden Haven Inlet. The quiet town has stunning views of the river, loads of picnic spots, a well constructed walking path and the fabulous Dunbogan Boat Shed and Marina. We loved our coffee experience at the Boat Shed so much, we returned the following day to hire a boat to explore the river and enjoy a picnic lunch on the water. You can also hire kayaks or a SUP and they are fully stocked for all of your fishing needs. When you visit, make sure you have a look at the thousands of fish, if the light is shining nicely, you will see some beautiful coloured fish. They also have frequent visits from some dolphins, we missed out on seeing them but we were guaranteed they are around!

Hat Head

Fifty-nine minute drive north of Port Macquarie

If there was ever a beach town to visit for a complete unwind, low key, family, beach town getaway on the mid-north coast – this place would be it! About an hours north of Port Macquarie, through the Macleay Valley, you will find the most exquisite beach town, Hat Head. We fell in love with this place, whole-heartedly, in fact, I believe it may be our new favourite beach in Australia – a big call given how many amazing beaches we have here!

Hat Head Gap was simply stunning – rocks to scramble and climb, lookouts, crystal clear waters, walking paths and views to die for! We walked from the Gap to Connor’s Beach, we were the only ones on the track and beach the entire time we were there – we felt like we were on a deserted island! Our only regret, we didn’t carry our picnic lunch! Instead, hunger set in and we had to find the somewhere else to park ourselves – what a shame (*insert SERIOUS sarcasm*) – we found the main swimming beach!

Oh my! The beautiful gentle waves were beach-magic for our boys to play in, in fact it is the first time they have braved ‘the deep’. The water was clear, the temperature was perfect, you could surf, swim, SUP, float or play! The town itself consists of a holiday park, several holiday rentals, a general store, boat access and a fish cleaning area, the pristine Korogoro Creek and the native surrounds of Hat Head National Park.

Crowdy Head

Fifty-six minutes south of Port Macquarie

The coastline along the mid-north coast of Australia, is undoubtedly stunning. We would recommend a trip to these two beautiful spots about an hour south of Port Macquarie. The unexpected stops are quite often the best, aren’t they? We were headed into Harrington for a pub meal for lunch by the river, only to be stopped due to the desperate plea to go to the toilet by one of our boys. Arriving in Crowdy Head, conveniently there were public toilets and Sunsets Cafe, attached to the Crowdy Head Surf Life Saving Club. We had a sensational feed in a stunning location. It surprised us that there was even a cafe open, it was that quiet. Apart from a lonely stand-up paddle boarder out on the sea, we were the only ones at the beach – it was heavenly!

We visited the Crowdy Head Lighthouse and were completely ‘beach-struck’ to the south, where we could just see masses of sand and surf! The Lighthouse also boasts a great spot for sighting whales during the right season. Needless to say, we had to go check it out! Harrington Beach State Park is a great spot for 4WD and for having a quiet beach to yourselves! The boys loved running around, in and out of the massive waves, building sandcastles and running from the crashing waves! We loved the extensive sand, water and tranquillity!

North Brother Mountain

Thirty-three minute drive south of Port Macquarie

North Brother Mountain is located in the Dooragan National Park and offers some stunning views of the area in Camden Haven Inlet, Camden Haven River and down to Crowdy Head in the south. For a challenging walk, you can access the Laurieton Track at the base or you can drive to the car park at the top of the mountain where you will find toilets, picnic tables and some easier walking tracks for the whole family. The vast views from the top were stunning, even on an overcast day like we had. We enjoyed the trails of the rainforest loop which took us to several other look outs to enjoy views to the north west and west of the mountain. It is well worth the trip to gain some perspective of the area and the spectacular outlook.

Miss Nellie’s Cafe

Twenty-five minutes south of Port Macquarie

The home of homemade greatness, Miss Nellie’s Cafe boasts a beautiful setting, in the small country town of Kendall; if you’re a sweet tooth, it is a sure stop! It is only minutes off the Pacific Hwy, so if you’re driving past, do yourself a favour! We were very impressed with the great service, dedication and commitment to their business. We were introduced to ‘ruby chocolate’ for the first time and were given a thorough explanation upon service. The ruby chocolate cheesecake was divine – it has a sweet yet sour flavour. Miss Nellie’s is a country-style cafe, serving homemade cakes, delicious coffee, light meals, a kids menu and cosy comfortable table and chairs indoors and outdoors.

Koala Hospital

Central Port Macquarie

You will find the Koala Hospital in the Macquarie Nature Reserve, a beautiful green natural parkland. Established in 1973, the Hospital came together as a place to rescue, care for and treat injured or unwell koalas; staffed by a number of paid professionals as well as 200 volunteers. They have 14 intensive care units (8 outdoors) and 33 rehabilitation yards which include large gum trees where they learn to climb again as part of the rehabilitation programs.

Our boys were very concerned about the cuddly koalas and were very intrigued to hear some of the stories as to why they were each there. Some were due to being in car accidents, dog attacks, chlamydia, fires. Each enclosure had a story about why they were there, as well as explanations about the process of how they’re released into the wild. This little guy (pictured) is a repeat offender, he was back this time with a bacterial infection in his eye. If you’ve got young kids like we do, they will be entertained by the fun facts dotted around the hospital – do you know how many poos does a koala do every day?

Tacking Point Lighthouse

Eleven minutes south of Port Macquarie centre

Tacking Point Lighthouse, Little Bay and Lighthouse Beach. The Lighthouse, is Australia’s thirteenth oldest and is situated just 8km south of Port Macquarie. We drove to the stunning headland, however, you can actually walk the full distance along the coastal walk from Town Green Foreshore in Port Macquarie – this will definitely be on my to-do-list next time we visit the area. From Tacking Point Lighthouse you will enjoy panoramic views of the mid-north coast of Australia. To the south you can wander down to Lighthouse Beach (see below), to the north you can explore the rugged coastline and rocks of Little Bay. We had hours of fun at Little Bay climbing over the rocks, searching for starfish, crabs and fish and watching the crashing waves of the expansive Pacific Ocean.

Lighthouse Beach has an extensive 7km stretch of sand, a brilliant location for those of you, like me, who love to walk on a beach. Simply stunning coastline! We entered the beach near to the impressive Watonga Rocks, where there was more than enough exploration opportunities for the boys and so much for us adults to sit back and appreciate. The squeaky sand, shells and array of coloured rocks that wash in make a beach wander very enjoyable. What was even better was the rare sighting of any other person, we felt like we had the whole beach to ourselves.

Hasting River and Town Beach

Central Port Macquarie

We just love exploring a town on foot. After parking our hire car in the main hub of Port Macquarie, we wandered to find a nice spot to have a picnic lunch. We walked straight towards Hasting River and followed the very colourful and creative rock art along the path all the way to Town Beach Park. We were fortunate enough to spot two dolphins gracefully swimming along finding their feed, they’re such beautiful creatures!

River side, we found a fabulous cafe called Little Shack, they made a great coffee (with the choice of two different brands of soy milk) and offered a relaxed and trendy stop for food and drinks. The Park included a very popular skate park, playground, path suitable for bikes, blades and feet! Town Beach itself offered spectacular coastline, patrolled beach, rocks for the kids to scramble over and pools to splash in; as well as beach side parking, toilets and the very convenient, yummy and well priced Salty Crew Kiosk.

Shelly Beach

Seven minutes south of Port Macquarie

Yet another one of the several beautiful beaches along the Coastal Walk from Port Macquarie Town Beach to Tacking Point Lighthouse. If you are intrigued by a bit of wildlife, get yourself to Shelly Beach and keep an eye out for a goanna! We were lucky enough to have this beauty wandering around under our feet while we were eating lunch (note the kids were sitting on top of the table!). There are picnic tables, a toilet block and plenty of parking to go with this lovely little beach. We loved exploring all over the rocks, looking for sea life, splashing in and out of the rock pools and enjoying another part of natures playground.

Where to stay in Port Macquarie

We loved our stay at Ultiqa Village Resort. It is the home of 32 luxury three-bedroom bungalows. The Resort has an indoor swimming pool, sauna, clubhouse, gym, tennis courts, mini-golf, canoeing on the lake and fish feeding. There are BBQ facilities, outdoor lounges, free WiFi, games rooms and board games/puzzles/toys/DVDs all available from reception. Our bungalow offered us more than enough space for the four of us.

Amenities were at our finger tips reducing expenses while in Port Macquarie. This enabled us to cook and do laundry with ease, allowing us to enjoy outings and special treats. The lake area had a lovely feel, very relaxing in the mornings and full of life later in the day. Our evenings consisted of fish feeding for the kids and happy hour by the water on a picnic blanket. The Resort was very family friendly and the service was impeccable, staff attending to our needs very efficiently. We would definitely look to stay there again on a return visit!

Heading north from Port Macquarie?

Do yourself a favour and arrange some time in Coffs Harbour. There is so much on offer for the whole family on the coast and inland.

Coonawarra Wine Tour

Coonawarra Wine Region

For the best of the Coonawarra Wine Tour, look no further than the masters themselves – Coonawarra Experiences.

The Coonawarra Wine Tour Specialists

We had the most fantastic wine experience while holidaying in the Coonawarra region as a family. Simon and Kerry, owners of Coonawarra Experiences, collaborate with local businesses to be able to provide their guests with the best of the Coonawarra.

The Coonawarra Highlights Winery Tour

Our choice Coonawarra Experience was the Highlights Winery Tour, which was a generous 4 hour tour visiting four different cellar doors. Simon took us on tour for the afternoon; he was very friendly, full of conversation and we loved hearing his own story and all about their journey to get to where they are now. Our two boys, aged 5 and 6, were suitably entertained with totem tennis, toys, colouring, blocks to play with and made some new friends along the way. Simon and Kerry tailored our tour to suit our group needs.

Coonawarra Wineries On Tour

Our day began at Brands Laira, where we enjoyed the perfect lunch, delighting on the local produce platter, in the cellar. They even made up a mini platter for the kids to share, which was a really nice touch and they loved it!

A great highlight for all of us was a photo opportunity at the Coonawarra Railway Siding which was built in 1898 and is a great landmark for visitors to the area to get yourself a great photo for the memory book.

Coonawarra Railway Siding

On our Coonawarra Experience Highlights winery tour we also visited Wynn’s Estate, Raidis Estate and Rymill Winery. We had the most memorable experience, tasting some beautiful wines, making some purchases and we loved the relaxed yet professional approach from Simon. We were introduced to many of the winery employees, had fascinating conversations about wines, vines, specialities, processing procedures and the Coonawarra Region itself. It is very unique to be able to explore a wine region, on tour, with children (and at a good price) – we love being able to explore and share as a family, so this was perfect for us. We’re so grateful that there are services such as this which allow us as parents, to be able to enjoy the things we love – with the kids in tow.

Accommodation for your Coonawarra Wine Tour Experience

Simon and Kerry were the perfect hosts. Their accommodation was clean, well presented, functional and well maintained. They were easy to communicate with, very accommodating, helpful in all aspects of our trip, super friendly and were fantastic with our kids.

Contact Coonawarra Experiences to see what great accommodation options they have on offer. Simon and Kerry work collaboratively with a number of other fabulous local businesses to give you the finest regional experience.

A Coonawarra Experience; Alexander Cameron Suites Experience; Mayura Station: Coonawarra Motor Lodge.

Coonawarra Experience OFFER just for you!

Penola Township

Contact Simon and Kerry directly on 1800 861 190 mention this blog post on Love To Travel, Stay-Eat-Do and you will receive a 10% discount on your full or half day tour booking with Coonawarra Experiences.

Penola and the Coonawarra Region

During our stay in Penola, we explored a number of other wineries, which were all unique in their own way. Being the Parker’s we had to visit Parker Coonawarra Estate, the boys found this to be particularly exciting! We had a lovely tasting at Zema Estate while we were out on the bikes one day; a great stop into Bellwether Wines, this was one of our favourites, mainly for the uniqueness of the cellar door, the cottage garden and play area outside.

Walk or Cycle in Penola, Coonawarra Region

We enjoyed cycling around Penola itself, the town is full of lovely little streets. Our favourite of course being Penola’s hidden gem, National Trust Petticoat Lane which retains some original gardens and cottages from the 19th century. A stop in at the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre is worthwhile to learn some of the history of Mary MacKillop and the foundation of Australian Sisters of Saint Joseph in 1866. If you are a building lover, find St. Mary the Virgin, Anglican Church in Penola, where the foundation stone was laid January 8th 1872 and opened for worship in July 1873.

The Lions Club have constructed a great path which you can use for bikes or on foot out to the Greenrise Arboretum. It is an easy ride from the Penola township, starting on some back streets heading towards Mt Gambier, keep an eye out for the Lions Club track! It is perfect for families, roughly a 5km round trip, depending on which end of town you are staying. There is a BBQ area at the other end of the arboretum which you’ll find by wandering through the nice paths created. Camping is available by donation at the Penola Coonawarra Information Centre.

From Penola

Head towards the coast to beautiful Robe.