There’s a diverse range of things to do in Toowoomba and being only 90-minutes from Brisbane it’s no surprise that it’s a popular road trip destination in Queensland’s south-east.
Toowoomba is a regional city well known for its gardens and parks, it’s lush farmlands make it a productive food bowl with plenty of attractions for foodies and a large number of lakes and national parks add to its popularity.
Toowoomba is both the name of the city and a region in the Darling Downs. The city itself sits roughly in the centre at the eastern border adjoining the Lockyer Valley, it’s rural properties, lakes, national parks and bushland continue north past Crows Nest and Cooyer to Yarraman, west along the Warrego Highway and south on the Gore highway past Yandilla and Millmerran.
What to do in Toowoomba
1. Picnic Point Park and walking tracks
As you drive over the hill into Toowoomba from the Lockyer Valley you’ll see a large flag above you to your left, that is Picnic Point and is a great park, collection of walking tracks, lookout and picnic spot.
The view’s out over the ranges and valley beyond are quite spectacular on a clear day from both the lookout and several of the walking tracks. Have an icecream or coffee from the kiosk at the top or bring your own picnic to enjoy in the park. I’d also recommend heading down to the waterfall.
2. Ju Raku En Japanese Garden
The Japanese Gardens are adjacent to the university in Toowoomba and they are one of the top examples of a public Japanese stroll garden in Australia.
The late, well-respected Professor Kinsaku Nakane of Kyoto designed and name the gardens and ensured that despite our harsh climate, the selection of plants gave the full impact of the changing seasons and that the garden looks its best all year around. I have to admit to personally loving spring and autumn here but I do love the blossom and coloured leaves in Japan too.
There are extensive stroll paths throughout the space giving it the feeling of being much larger than it actually is. There are also a variety of covered seating areas in the garden to take a picnic or you can bring a blanket and sit on the grassy bank overlooking the pond.
3. Toowoomba Flower Festival
Spring is a highlight on the Toowoomba calendar each year for the carnival of flowers together with the food and wine festival. Many parks and gardens around the city and planted out in anticipation of the even looking absolutely stunning when September rolls around.
Public gardens like Laurel Bank Park and the Botanic Gardens always put on a colourful display, private gardens are also often at their best together with popular stops like the Japanese Garden and Picnic Point. Bonsai displays, the parade and many other feature events fill the calendar on a floral front but the food and wine aspect are equally important with most cafes and restaurants in the city joining in in some form.
4. Street Art walking trail
The street art is one of the reasons we strongly recommend incorporating a visit to Toowoomba when you’re in Queensland south east. We’ve been fortunate to see many great collections around Australia but this remains one of our favourites.
You’ll find information for planning your street art walking tour together with extensive photo galleries of the artists work in our posts on the Toowoomba Stree Art and an earlier one on the First Coat festivals when most of them were commissioned.
5. Laurel Bank Park
Laurel Bank Park is a garden oasis near the centre of town, it’s a fabulous sight in all seasons but this old wisteria tunnel provides some welcome cool shade during a hot spring day and the perfume is fantastic.
There’s a children’s playground, manicured garden beds, established old trees, seating and plenty of spots to spread out a picnic rug on the expansive lawns. if you are looking for the free gas BBQ’s they are in the gazebo near the play area.
There’s a scented garden is popular all year around the large oaks and deciduous trees provide shelter for the mass display of tulips each year and plenty of autumn colour in season.
6. Queens Park
The 25 hectare park was opened to the public in the late 1800’s and is a popular spot with locals and visitors to the city. The impressive avenue of Campor Laurel trees is one of my favourite features, they were planted in 1888.
The park could really be considered an arboratum with its well thought out design now presenting an impressive tree lined structure to the grounds, many of the trees are well over a century old now. The extensive deciduous collection is a real feature of the city and it’s well worth timing your visit to coincide with the fall colour.
7. The Botanic Gardens
Co-located with Queens Park on the corner of Lindsay and Campbell Streets is the Toowoomba Botanic Gardens. The gardens are a riot of seasonal colour throughout the year with heavily planted beds featuring spring bulbs and blossom, summer colour and the drama of autumn leaves.
The dramatic geometric beds are a strong feature of the space and the colourful plantings are part of the parks history dating back to Richard Ross Harding, the second curator of the park.
8. Art gallery
The Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery is situated in the centre of town and was established in 1937 although it moved to its current site in 1994. It houses 3 permanent collections and a variety of temporary or visiting pieces throughout the year.
Some of these temporary displays explore a different medium such as the bonsai exhibition hosted during the Carnival of Flowers.
9. Book at show at the Empire Theatre
The Empire Theatre in Toowoomba was originally opened in 1911 but after a major fire in 1933, it was rebuilt in the popular Art Deco style of the period with intricate detailing inside and out but retaining the 2 remaining walls of the original building. More recently in 1997, a modern addition expanded the facility with 350 additional seats, the latest equipment, bar area and foyer.
The theatre has a jam-packed calendar of performances if you are looking to attend an event but you are also able to arrange short tours to appreciate the beauty, architecture and function of the heritage building. The aesthetically blending of the 3 very different design eras while preserving a distinct boundary between the styles required by the heritage listing has been achieved beautifully.
10. Cobb and Co Museum
The museum is part of the Queensland Museum Network and features an extensive array of pioneer carriages and early horse and buggy transport. It’s well put together with detailed info boards and labelling throughout.
The museum provides an insight into the history of the region as well as the crafts and skills of the era from blacksmith to leather, wood and metalwork.
11. Stroll the heritage trail
The heritage city has a lot to offer those who enjoy immersing themselves in the architecture and history. There are 8 self-guided heritage trails you might want to explore during your time in the city.
The central city area is the cultural and legal district walking tail, it includes City Hall, the faithfully restored art deco styled Empire Theatre and the gothic styling of St Lukes Anglican Church dating back to the late 19th century.
12. Buy from local producers at the farmers markets
Each Saturday from 7 am until lunch time the local farmers and producers set up in the farmers markets beneath the windmills adjacent to the Cobb and Co museum and botanic gardens.
You’ll find a good selection of seasonal produce, local meats, honey, herbs, eggs, handmade goodies and artisan bread. You can also grab a coffee and treats on the go to enjoy as you browse through the offerings.
13. Head out on a foodie trail
There is a lot of great fresh produce, wines and artisan products produced in Toowoomba and the surrounding regions so you are going to want to search out some of them. Some great places to start include:
- Take a drive out to Bunnyconnellen in Crowsnest, a picturesque spot to sip the Bunny wines and sample the olives and olive oils.
- Chase down some Hampton Blue organic blueberries and raspberries at the farm gate or local farmers markets.
- Drop by the Farmers gate stall at MacBeth Farms for fresh, seasonal rhubarb, pumpkins and avos.
- Treat yourself to a wine tasting and picnic basket in the gardens of Preston Peak winery.
14. Ravensbourne National Park
This gorgeous tract of national park rainforest is about an hours drive from central Toowoomba or 2 hours from Brisbane. It was established in 1922 and at 440 hectares in size is now well regenerated amongst the surrounding rural areas with a diversity of flora and fauna.
There are two day-use areas with picnic tables, shelters, wood-fired BBQ and toilet facilities. There are also 4 bushwalking tracks that vary from the 15-minute cedar block track with signboards that introduce you to the park and rainforest to the 6.2 km Buaraba Creek that weaves its way through the rainforest, into open eucalypt forest and down into the shady creek area. Pick the track that appeals to you or easily complete all 4 if you are feeling more energetic as they each offer something a little different.
The 1.7 km rainforest circuit has a dense under canopy of ferns, tree ferns and vines while the 3.4 km Palm Creek circuit crosses the creek dense with Piccabeen Palms and many native orchids and epiphytes including the giant Staghorns.
You’ll likely spot both red necked and swamp wallaby amongst the trees and around the picnic areas and this is a great park for the bird watchers with sightings including the Satin Bowerbird, Catbird, Log Runners, Noisy Pitta and Black-breasted Button-quail.
Before you leave it’s well worth following the road down to the end where you’ll find Gus Beutel Lookout with a panoramic view of the Great Dividing Range and Lockyer Valley.
15. Lake Cressbrook and Perserverance
Lake Perseverance is a major water supply for the region and is beautiful but you can’t access this one for boats or swimming and it only has a small picnic stop. If you continue on a little further down the road you’ll come to Lake Cressbrook, just under an hours drive from central Toowoomba, it’s just as beautiful and has all the facilities you could need.
Lake Cressbrook is well set up for recreation with both camping and day use areas and a boat ramp. The day use areas have picnic tables, many with shelters, BBQ’s and toilets, the camping area is excellent for $8 per person per night. There is a clean toilet block, great camp kitchen area and well laid out camp sites including some suitable for mid sized caravans.
One of the things I love about Lake Cresswell is the huge population of kangaroos that are milling around, big goannas and plenty of birdlife. The lake is beautiful and both boating and fishing are allowed, if you have kayaks it would be perfect. There is also a 7.5 km walking trail around the lake edge that loops back through the bushland. It starts in the day-use area near the boat ramp and passes by the camping area so you could also start from there.
Where to eat in Toowoomba
Sadly there are a few businesses in the hospitality industry that didn’t make it through 2020 and we noticed on our most recent visit that a couple of old favourites had gone. A few we would recommend you stop in at are listed below and we’ll be making a few extra trips out this way again soon to try out more options and hopefully be able to expand the list again.
Ground Up Espresso is a long term favourite tucked away in a narrow alley at 501 Ruthven St. The walls on both sides are decorated in the street art murals the city is known for.
It’s pretty much always busy but we seem to get lucky and have never waited long for a table despite its popularity with locals and any visitors that know it’s there. There are a few tables outside and more indoors, in the winter they also have a basket of blankets available so you can cozy up in the fresh air while you enjoy their excellent coffee and meals.
Their breakfasts, brunches and treats cabinet are good quality and they’ve recently dedicated a section of the cabinet to the Bakers Duck, a fabulous local bakery that would normally need you to be queuing by 7 am for the crowd favourites but now you can also get them at Ground Up with your morning cuppa. The strawberry cheesecake danish is super popular but I’m always going to side with the almond croissant in that debate!
For lunch or dinner we like Urban Grounds which is only slightly out of the city centre and adjacent to Laurel Bank park. They’ve got a large outdoor seating area, extensive cafe menu and are after my heart with an all day breakfast option which I’ll never be able to resist.
We’ve really enjoyed the food and service here, even during the venue restrictions they’ve made visitors feel welcome and the food quality and presentation hasn’t been impacted.
Where to stay in Toowoomba
Tweeters Country Getaway
If you are looking to get a bit more rural and a great base for discovering the many National Parks in the area, Tweeters Country Getaway is an interesting option just north of Crows Nest.
Kid’s will be entertained by the collection of adorable and attention-loving farm animals, couples will discover solitude in nature around the property and a glass of wine as the sun goes down over the gorge is not to be missed. I understand they’ve recently added a plunge pool to cool off in the summer heat that enjoys a similar view to the outdoor bar and will be a welcome addition as the humidity rises.
In the city itself, Toowoomba offers a range of accommodation options. One of the popular choices are the Quest Apartments, they are centrally and conveniently located. I’ve used Quest extensively for business travel in both New Zealand and Australia and find them a good consistent option with the extra space and facilities an apartment offers.
For those that prefer the B&B style and for the personality of the heritage city to shine through there is Vacy Hall, Toowoomba’s Grand Boutique Hotel located amongst beautiful gardens in a stately old home, tastefully decorated and with a variety of rooms and suites.
We hope we’ve shared some ideas for your next visit and encouraged you to spend a little time getting to know the regional city of Toowoomba its surrounding countryside and nature areas.
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