The Gold Coast is one of Australia’s most popular holiday destinations, drawing millions of visitors to its shores to bask in the sun, sand, surf, shopping, and theme park fun all year round. If you’re planning a short trip to the city (or are studying there and need a little weekend activity inspiration!), read on for our guide to getting the most out of a weekend on the Gold Coast.

When You Arrive

The first thing you’ll want to do when you arrive on the Gold Coast is get a go explore card. These tourist cards cost just $10 per day for unlimited travel on buses and trams on the Translink network. You can buy them from 7-Eleven stores and selected retailers, where you can also load up your pass for up to eight days of travel. Just remember to touch on and off each time you use a bus or tram.

Friday Night

Start your Friday night off at the iconic Beachfront Markets in Surfers Paradise. Join the crowds and wander through over 100 stalls overflowing with clothes, unique souvenirs, food, jewellery, and more.  

For dinner, cross the road and indulge in any of the restaurants and cheap eateries scattered throughout Surfers Paradise. We recommend heading to the Surfers Paradise Beergarden for dinner and live music. With a friendly atmosphere, a burger joint, full bar, and the best local and international acts on the Gold Coast, it’s a fun introduction to the city.

Saturday Morning

The Gold Coast loves its cafés, and you can find many of them located in Surfers Paradise. Start your day off with a delicious breakfast; Elston, Lot 1 Coffee, Bumbles, Cafe Alfons, and Sandbar are popular choices. Or, try out the tourist favourite Crazy Cat Café if you like cats with your morning coffee!

The Gold Coast is famous for theme parks, and you’d be missing out if you didn’t visit at least one of them. Buy a single day pass to Warner Bros. Movie World, Sea World, Wet‘n’Wild or Dreamworld and spend the day discovering what makes the Gold Coast the hub for thrill rides and shows in the Southern Hemisphere.

Otherwise, if wild animals are more your thing, head to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Here, you can meet native Australian animals including koalas, kangaroos, bilbies, crocodiles, Tasmanian devils, dingos, wombats, echidnas, emus and more. The sanctuary also puts on several shows throughout the day.

Saturday Afternoon

After a day at the theme parks or hanging out with animals, wind down with a late lunch of fish and chips on any of the beaches along the Gold Coast. Main Beach, Surfers Paradise Beach and The Spit are some of the most popular spots for Instagram-worthy beach snapshots. Try Peter’s Fish Market on the Broadwater, Fish Mongers at Burleigh Heads, or Two Wise Fish at Mermaid Waters for the best fish and chips you’ll ever eat.

Saturday Night

For something a bit different, try out Miami Marketta for dinner. As the Gold Coast’s original street food night market, it’s a multicultural feast for the senses, with stalls serving authentic street food from as little as $10 a plate. The market has a laidback, rustic atmosphere, and the long communal benches make it easy to meet new friends over dinner while chilling under the fairy lights and listening to the live band. Miami Marketta has free entry and is open from 4pm to 11pm on Saturdays.

Later in the night, head to Surfers Paradise to experience the notorious Glitter Strip. Hit the most popular clubs in the area for a nonstop party of live music, affordable drinks, dancing, and DJs. Shooters Nightclub, Melbas on the Park, SinCity, The Avenue, Cocktails and Elsewhere Bar are all situated within walking distance of each other in the heart of Surfers Paradise. Platinum Nightclub and Love Nightlife are also top choices in nearby Broadbeach.

Sunday Morning

Wake up and take a walk through Burleigh Headland National Park. With a circuit to suit all abilities, you can wander through bushland, rainforests, mangroves, creeks, and stretches of pristine coastland for spectacular scenic views of the city and ocean. Grab breakfast at one of the many cafes along James Street. Social Brew is a favourite local hangout with organic food and great coffee.

Later, why not learn to surf like a local? Go Ride A Wave offers two-hour surf lessons for beginners in Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach. Most lessons are offered at 10am and 1pm.

Sunday Afternoon

No trip to the Gold Coast is complete without a visit to one of the city’s major shopping destinations for some last-minute retail therapy. Catch a bus to Harbour Town Outlet Shopping Centre for huge discounts on designer brands. Or, check out Pacific Fair Shopping Centre and Robina Town Centre for boutique and department shopping, state-of-the-art cinemas and promenade dining.

Cavill Avenue in Surfers Paradise is a famous shopping strip for bargain-hunting. Visit Cavill Mall and browse the gift shops to grab a souvenir or two before heading back to the airport and catching your flight back home.