The Blue Mountains, NSW, travel guide and things to do: Nine must-do highlights


For decades, Australians have gripped the safety bar of an open-air railcar and screamed with delight as it plunged 310 metres through a tunnel into the Jamison Valley. The latest train delivers even more of a thrill as riders choose between the old 52-degree incline or tilt it to a scarier 64-degrees. Opened 70 years ago, the Scenic Railway is the mountains' biggest attraction. A fierce bushfire at Ruined Castle rock formation directly across the valley forced it to close for five days in January, however, all three rides and the 2.4 kilometre walkway at the valley floor are open for business. Those wanting a more leisurely descent can take the Cableway, while those who love heights should climb aboard the glass-sided, glass-floored Skyway to travel 270 metres above the valley for brilliant views of the Three Sisters, Mount Solitary and Orphan Rock. See


There are many contenders for this category (Echo Point and Sublime Point to name two) but it's hard to go past Govett's Leap for the sheer expansiveness of the views. And their magnificence. The vista across the Grose Valley to the sandstone escarpment beyond can luckily be seen from two lookouts (Govett's Leap and Evans), so no-one misses out on this spectacle of winding gorges and canyons carved eons ago when the Grose River coursed through the land. Govett's Leap itself ("leap" is Scottish for waterfall), drops 180 metres to the base of the cliff. It was named after William Govett, a NSW surveyor, who "came across the spot" in 1833. Various walking trails head off from the lookout including the Pulpit track. See


Guest houses and B&Bs abound but one hotel can truly wear the overused mantle of iconic - the Hydro Majestic. It not only dominated the ridge line high above the Megalong Valley but also the psyche of anyone who holidayed in the mountains in the 20th century. Opened in 1904 with great fanfare as the Medlow Bath Hydropathic Establishment by flamboyant retailer Mark Foy, the spa hotel soon morphed into party central as wealthy Sydneysiders flocked to the mountains to celebrate in Gatsby style. Fortunes waned over the decades (it even served as an army hospital in World War II) until it was restored to its Art Deco brilliance at a cost of $30 million and re-opened in 2014. Today its stunning design and lush décor echo Foy's dreams of a "palace in the wilderness". Afternoon tea in the Wintergarden comes with knockout views of the valley below. See


Hikers and leisurely strollers are spoilt for choice with the Prince Henry Cliff Walk, which covers 7 kilometres and delivers the trifecta of sights – sandstone formations, waterfalls and magnificent views. Although the entire trail can take up to four hours, walkers can drop in and out anywhere along the way. It follows the cliff line from Scenic World at Katoomba, travels east to Echo Point and Leura Cascades and finishes at Gordon Falls. Along the way are 20 lookouts and a couple of picnic grounds. Hardy types might like to tackle the 998-step Giant Stairway, which branches off at Echo Point and descends into the valley.  See



One of just a handful of Good Food Guide hatted restaurants in the mountains, Darley's mixes the old-world charm of its heritage location with superb food. Part of Lilianfels Resort and Spa, the restaurant occupies a century-old homestead built by former NSW Chief Justice, Sir Frederick Darley. Views from the verandah take in the sculptured gardens and diners feast on five or seven-course degustations (there's a vegan option too) in beautiful rooms furnished with antiques, marble fireplaces and ornate chandeliers. It's historic but far from stuffy; arrive early for a walk around the gardens and have a drink in the adjoining library bar. Window seats should be reserved in advance, and yes, it's a pricey night out. See


You'll get more than a hot drink when you book a table at Bygone Beautys Treasured Teapot Museum and Tearooms. Purveyors of porcelain will be in heaven viewing this Leura establishment's collection of 5500 teapots, accrued by owner Maurice Cooper and former co-owner Ronald Hooper. It all began in 1974 when Hooper stumbled across a 19th century geisha girl tea-set and embarked on a crockery crusade. Following renovations to the 1917 building, the adjoining museum was added to the tearooms. Devonshire Tea (tea and scones with jam and cream) and two luxurious high-teas, served by a waiter in top hat and tails, are on offer. Loose leaf teas in decorative caddies are also for sale. See


"Everything old is new again" is a bit of a mountains' mantra. Vintage shops abound, 19th and early-20th century buildings are cherished and once a year Charleston dancers throng to the Roaring 20s festival. For a taste of Jay Gatsby's lifestyle for a few hours or a day, take a spin along the cliff-top roads with Blue Mountains Vintage Cadillacs. Co-owner Donald Millar will pick you up in one of his three LaSalle Cadillacs. His blue Landau Cabriolet with a fold-down rear roof provides plenty of room for a picnic basket, while the red 1929 Phaeton Convertible makes a statement parked outside the Hydro Majestic. The hotel will provide picnic hampers and passengers should feel free to dress up! See


Katoomba is said to have the highest concentration of artists in New South Wales. Many of their works are featured in galleries along Katoomba Street. Start at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, which houses an art gallery, the World Heritage "Into the Blue" exhibition and a wonderful library opening onto a courtyard with escarpment views. Afterwards wander downhill to Gallery One88 to browse two levels of artworks and have a coffee before popping in next door to Rex-Livingston Art +Objects studio and Platform Gallery, Australia's first feminist gallery. See


Motorists tend to whoosh past the village of Woodford on their journey to the Upper Mountains. But it's well worth  taking a photo of the Woodford Academy, the oldest surviving complex of colonial buildings in the region. Built between 1832-34 as an inn, the buildings had various functions and owners over the decades. What began as the Woodman Inn, later became a private residence with its purchase in 1868 by Sydney merchant Alfred Fairfax. In 1907 distinguished scholar John McManamey established the Woodford Academy, a school specialising in the classics for boys from reputable families including Tom Sulman of the famous Sulman Art Prize family. The  Academy is currently closed, although the other mountains' National Trust property - Norman Lindsay's Gallery at Faulconbridge - re-opened in early July. See


Bushfires swept through the Bilpin area in December and torrential rains followed soon after. A drive along the Darling Causeway and Bells Line of Road brings the fierceness of the summer bushfires to reality, even though new growth has begun. While the much-loved Tutti Frutti café in Bilpin was destroyed, Bilpin Fruit Bowl (home of legendary apple pies) escaped the blaze and the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens Mt Tomah was only slightly singed. Visitors can picnic in the gardens (the onsite restaurant is currently closed) and later head down to the new Hillbilly Cider shed to enjoy a paddle of four ciders, including the popular Sweet Julie, a drop made from apples of the same  name. See

Caroline Gladstone travelled courtesy of the Escarpment Group, Blue Mountains Vintage Cadillacs and GalleryOne88.