Australia travel

Guide to Byron Bay, Australia

July 27, 2020

Byron Bay is a beach town in New South Wales, Australia known for gorgeous beaches, outdoor activities, cute cafes and healthy restaurants.

It is a bit of a backpacker’s paradise meets hippie hangout with gentrification seeping through its edges. That description probably makes you want to stay far away doesn’t it? So why did I end up loving it so much when I visited in November?

I arrived one afternoon off the Greyhound Bus from Coolangatta, ready to soak up some more sunshine and great beaches. The town is located just two hours down the coast from the Gold Coast. I spent about 5 days total here. Originally, I was heading further down the coast by bus to Port Macquarie. But when bushfires closed the road and cancelled my bus, I then stayed longer here before heading to Sydney a day early. There are certainly worse places to get stuck while travelling!

As I disembarked the bus, I became one of many shrugging on a backpack and setting off in search of my accommodation. Over the next few days, I became immersed in this beach town, checking out its cute restaurants, shopping, lazing on the beach, and doing all types of outdoor pursuits. Here’s what I got up to and my recommendations for your own trip to Byron Bay.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase.

Hiking to Cape Byron Lighthouse

It’s a long hike, but totally worth it. After some avocado on toast for breakfast at my Airbnb, I started my first morning in Byron Bay by hiking up to the iconic lighthouse. You will definitely feel like you’ve had a workout after this.

The path forms a loop through forests, alongside cliff tops with stunning views. I started my hike at the Captain Cook lookout and picnic area, climbing upward on The Pass side of the loop. In the winter, these cliffs are known to be good for whale watching. On the way, you’ll pass the most easterly point in mainland Australia before continuing to hike steadily upward to reach the Cape Byron Lighthouse.

The white brick lighthouse was opened in 1901. It sits high above the sea on a cliff and the view from the top is spectacular. There is a cafe and some seating to rest at the top and enjoy the view.

View of Tallow Beach from the lighthouse

Luckily, it’s all downhill from here. The rest of the loop is an easy hike through the forest and takes you back to your starting point on lighthouse road. You can find a map of the route and more information here.

Surfing

Byron Bay’s surrounding beaches are known for surfing and the waves are great for beginners and more experienced boarders.

As I hadn’t been properly surfing in about eight years, I felt like I needed a refresher. And no longer used to regularly being in rougher seas, I wasn’t too keen on going on my own. I signed up with Let’s Go Surfing Byron Bay (which also has outlets in Bondi, Lennox Head and Maroubra). I headed over to the Wreck Surf Shop to meet up with the group and instructors. We all hopped in a van and went to one of the beaches that had good but gentle surf (Tallow Beach). The only downside is there were a few other groups around at the same time and it was hard not to surf into other people!

Beaches

Byron Bay’s beaches are beautiful and are one of the main draws to this gorgeous coastline. Main beach is the most popular because of its location along the town centre. One of the most striking features is the half-submerged ship wreck peaking out through the waves. There’s usually some good beginner surf waves, but like most of Australia, please be mindful of the rip currents, they are strong.

The Pass is another popular beach for both surfers and families. The surf can be quite rough here so probably not a good spot for beginners. Another I would recommend is Tallow Beach which was perfect for a morning of gentle surf. The last beach I visited was Tyagarah Beach while on horseback. It seemed very quiet and secluded. Just don’t be surprised by the fact that apparently clothing is optional at this beach!

Shopping and exploring the town

Byron is definitely one of those places you can just spend a few hours walking around its streets, window shopping and just taking it in. I remember sitting with a bubble tea one afternoon just people watching. There will likely be an old man on a street corner hula hooping while singing and shaking fruit shaped maracas, random people will suddenly start busking outside cafes, and Chris Hemsworth will probably either run past you on his morning jog or walking his dog (spotted him a few times). Yeah, it’s a weird place, but people also seem quite happy just being themselves here.

There’s quite a few independent clothing shops and plenty of surf shops in the area. I picked up a couple of dresses and browsed quite a few local boutiques. You’ll find casual and more luxe shops but all have a very bohemian beachy vibe. Find some inspiration here.

Horseback riding

Maybe one of the reasons I liked Byron Bay was that I did so many things that I used to love but hadn’t done much since I lived on the Outer Banks.

I cycled down to Zephyr, a stables on the outskirts of Byron Bay that does trail rides through the woods and out to the beach. Despite being paired with a rather cheeky horse called Ranger, it really is something you don’t forget how to do. They offer a few different tours and I chose the forest to beach tour which last about an hour and a half. It winds through the subtropical forest and out to a gorgeous secluded beach. I loved riding along the shoreline and cantering along the beach.

And because you can’t take your phone with you, your guides take loads of photos for you and then airdrop them to you after the ride.

Getting around Byron Bay

I think the best way to get around Byron Bay is by bike. The town centre and surrounding area all has great bike paths. My airbnb host lent me a bike to use during my stay. But there’s plenty of places around the town to rent a bike.

And even though I actually hadn’t ridden a bike in years either (another one I haven’t done much since I was younger, I find most bikes are too big for my 5’0 frame), I managed to fit onto one of my hosts’ bikes and was not intimidated by riding it around. I recommend having a look at a map of the local area. Some of the main streets are difficult to navigate among the pedestrians but there’s short cuts you can take to bypass this.

Getting to Byron Bay

Byron Bay is located about 12 hours by Greyhound Bus from Sydney and about 4 from Brisbane. I got to Byron Bay in around two hours from the Gold Coast. Leaving, I planned to take an overnight bus to Sydney. However, the road was closed as a result of the fires, so I bought a last minute flight.

The nearest airport is Ballina. There’s direct buses from Byron to the airport. The airport is really tiny, normally I always arrive 2-2.5 hours before a flight but I think you’d only need about an hour to an hour and a half. I got there about two hours before my flight and was stuck in the main entrance for at least half an hour (where there is nothing). But hey, no long security lines!

Where to eat in Byron Bay

By the end of my stay I was starting to think it was impossible to find bad food here. But perhaps I’d just gotten good recommendations of my local Airbnb host. Not only was everywhere I ate delicious, but most places serve up health-conscious dishes. Expect cool cafes and little street food style eateries. Great coffee isn’t hard to find and you’ll find acai bowls on every corner. Here’s some places I’d recommend tucking into during your time in Byron Bay.

  • Chihuahua – A street food style Mexican joint tucked into Feros Arcade with fabulous tacos. I particularly recommend the fish taco.
  • Foxy Luu’s – Great Asian street food. I stopped here for some bao buns, which I can be quite picky about but loved the ones here
  • Bay Leaf Cafe – iconic brunch spot known for locally and sustainably sourced ingredients
  • Combi – another well known brunch spot known for its coffee, fresh juices, and superfood bowls
  • Byron Fresh Cafe – I had lunch here one of the days in Byron with a massive healthy salad with lots of halloumi
  • Orgasmic Not far from the Main Beach, this little eatery serves up what is probably the best falafel I’ve ever had
  • Craft Beer at Stone & Wood or Byron Bay Brewery Both have great local brews.

Day trips from Byron Bay

Nimbin and Minyon Falls are popular day trips from Byron Bay. As the falls are on the way to Nimbin, its possible to see them both in one day. Nimbin is a town known for its alternative lifestyle culture and is a famous hippie destination. It is located about an hour away from Byron Bay.

Minyon Falls is a 100 metre waterfall. Make sure to bring or wear your swimwear as you can go swimming at the base of the waterfall. But also make sure to take some hiking shoes to explore around the walking tracks.

It’s also possible to get to the Gold Coast in just two hours and visit some of the great beaches. A greyhound bus runs to Coolangatta a few times per day. Read my guide to the Gold Coast here.

Staying in Byron Bay

Like I said, this area is popular with backpackers so yes there’s lots of hostels to choose from. I’ve heard good things about the local YHA hostel and stayed with another of the brand with good results in Sydney.

Now I’m an incredibly light sleeper. And being in my 30’s and with hostel stays coming up in Sydney (and originally Port Macquarie), plus so many outdoor activities planned, I said no to the hostels. I choose an Airbnb with a local host instead. But Byron Bay has just about every type of accommodation. Find Byron Bay accommodation here.

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