Family Road Trip - Sydney to Canberra Road Trip

Sydney to Canberra Road Trip Itinerary

A road trip from Sydney to Canberra offers an incredible opportunity to explore Australia’s southeastern region.

From arguably the country’s most dynamic and enthralling city to the nation’s capital, this journey takes you through diverse landscapes, charming towns and world-famous attractions.

During the Sydney to Canberra drive, you’ll have the chance to immerse yourself in the rich history, indulge in delicious cuisine and soak in the natural wonders that define this part of Australia.

At every turn, discoveries and unforgettable memories are waiting. So pack the car, map out your route and prepare to embark on an adventure you’ll remember for a long time.

Plan an Australian road trip graphic

What is the Distance Between Sydney to Canberra?

Driving Sydney to Canberra means covering a distance of 285 km at its most direct route via the M31. If you drive non-stop, it should take 3 hours and 10 minutes to complete.

DriveDistanceEstimated Drive TimeWhere to Stay
Sydney to Blue Mountains61 kms (38 miles)55 minutesSydney
Blue Mountains to Campbelltown59 kms (37 miles)45 minutesCampbelltown
Campbelltown to Bowral64 kms (40 miles)50 minutesBowral
Bowral to Goulburn79 kms (49 miles)55 minutesGoulburn
Goulburn to Lake George53 kms (35 miles)40 minutesBungendore
Lake George to Bywong11 kms (7 miles)6 minutesBywong
Bywong to Canberra24 kms (15 miles)25 minutesCanberra
Estimates only; times will vary based on traffic and road conditions

Alternatively, you could choose to go the coastal route which will take you along the M1. If you do this, it is a longer journey that will take around 4 hours and 45 minutes, covering a distance of over 350 km.

However, you can swim, surf or sunbathe at beautiful beach towns like Kiama, Jervis Bay and Batemans Bay before veering inland to Canberra. In this itinerary, we will focus on the inland route with a few must-see detours.

How Long is the Drive from Sydney to Canberra?

Depending on your route, you can quickly drive from Sydney to Canberra in just a few hours.

However, to do this would mean missing out on many of the journey’s highlights.

Therefore, it is worth taking at least two days to complete the journey – three if you undertake the coastal route. Although, really, the longer you can set aside for either, the better.

Best Time of Year to Drive from Sydney to Canberra

A road trip from Sydney to Canberra is possible year-round, as it is a short and primarily hassle-free drive.

For those travelling on the M31, the best time to undertake it is spring (September to November). The scenery is magnificent at this time, particularly the tulips, which are resplendent in bloom.

If you plan to visit some beaches along the coastal route, it’s best to do so between February and April or September to November, with fewer storms and better scenic views.

But really, you can start your Canberra road trip any time of the year – though remember to bring plenty of warm clothing with you if you head off in winter (temperatures in the ACT are well known for dipping below freezing!)

Best Stops on a Sydney to Canberra Trip

As mentioned, you can take the coastal route on your Sydney to Canberra drive. However, we will focus on the best things to see and do on the most direct course via the M31.

If you take this route, here are some of its main highlights:

Blue Mountains (1 night) 

Before you set off on your drive to Canberra, the Blue Mountains are worth visiting. Whilst the Blue Mountains can be tackled as a day trip from Sydney, they make a brilliant addition to this scenic road trip through New South Wales when you have your own wheels.

Going there will involve a detour along the M4 towards Glenbrook. But you should not miss the opportunity to explore this UNESCO World Heritage-listed region’s stunning landscapes, ancient rock formations and breathtaking vistas.

AU Sydney to Canberra Road Trip - Bowral

One of the top attractions in the Blue Mountains is the iconic Three Sisters, a rock formation that provides a mesmerising backdrop for photos and exploration. Kids will love hearing the local Aboriginal legends surrounding these majestic peaks. 

But for an even more immersive experience, take a scenic cable car ride or hike down the Giant Stairway to get close to the rock formations.

The Blue Mountains also offer an array of family-friendly walking trails suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Whether you choose the easy and picturesque Federal Pass or the thrilling Cliff Walk, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Watch for wildlife sightings, including colourful birds and curious kangaroos.

For a unique adventure, hop aboard the Scenic Railway, the steepest incline railway in the world. Kids will be thrilled as they descend into the lush Jamison Valley, surrounded by pristine rainforest almost vertically!

Also, be sure to explore the charming townships of Katoomba or Leura, where you’ll find delightful cafes, boutique shops, and even toy stores that cater to little ones.

On leaving the Blue Mountains, take the A9 to Campbelltown, where you can rejoin the main inland route to Canberra.

Campbelltown (Few Hours)

Campbelltown is about a 50-minute drive out of Sydney. It is worth stopping here for its blend of outdoor adventures and cultural experiences.

AU Sydney to Canberra Road Trip - Dharawal National Park

One of the highlights for families is the Australian Botanic Garden, a sprawling 416-hectare space with beautiful gardens, picnic areas and walking trails. Kids can explore the themed gardens, including the fascinating PlantBank and the Australian Rainforest Garden, where they can learn about native flora and fauna interactively and engagingly.

The Campbelltown Arts Centre is an excellent place to check out for a dose of history and culture. The centre hosts various exhibitions and workshops throughout the year, allowing children to engage with art and unleash their creativity. The arts centre also has a Sculpture Garden where kids can marvel at unique artworks and enjoy the outdoor space.

Additionally, the town is also the gateway to Dharawal National Park. This picturesque parkland features bushwalking trails, cycling tracks and picnic areas.

Bowral (1 Night)

Located just under halfway between Sydney and Canberra, the charming town of Bowral offers a delightful blend of natural beauty, exciting attractions and family-friendly activities.

Nestled within the picturesque Southern Highlands region, it is known for its stunning gardens. One of the best is Corbett Gardens, a magnificent public garden bursting with colourful flowers and manicured lawns. 

AU Sydney to Canberra Road Trip - Bowral

Kids will love exploring the winding paths, playing in the open spaces, and enjoying a picnic surrounded by vibrant blooms. The annual Tulip Time Festival in September showcases an incredible display of tulips, attracting visitors from near and far.

Another must-visit destination is the Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame, dedicated to the sport of cricket. Here, children can learn about the game’s greatest-ever batsman and the history of cricket through interactive displays, memorabilia, and engaging exhibits. They can even test their cricket skills in the dedicated indoor cricket net area.

Families can also enjoy a leisurely stroll or bike ride along the picturesque Wingecarribee River Walk, which offers scenic views and picnic spots. The nearby Centennial Vineyards provides a beautiful setting for a family-friendly winery visit, where parents can indulge in wine tasting. At the same time, children enjoy the open spaces and a game of bocce.

For a unique experience, the Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures offers a treetop walk and zipline tour amidst the lush rainforest canopy. Kids can immerse themselves in nature, spot local wildlife, and enjoy panoramic views from the elevated walkways.

Bowral also boasts a range of family-friendly eateries, including cafes and restaurants with kid-friendly menus and outdoor seating options.

Goulburn (Few Hours)

Goulburn, situated about a 2 hour and 15-minute drive from Sydney, is Australia’s first inland city.

It is an excellent place to stop for food as it boasts several family-friendly cafes and restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat or enjoy a sweet treat. In addition, it also has a nice range of attractions and activities that cater to children of all ages.

AU Sydney to Canberra Road Trip - Big Merino

One of the most popular is the Big Merino, a giant sheep-shaped landmark that captures the attention of young ones. Kids will delight in posing for photos with this iconic structure and learning about the significance of the wool industry in the region.

For animal lovers, the Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre is a fantastic place to explore. Kids can hop aboard the heritage trains, learn about the history of railways and even ride a miniature train through the grounds.

The Rocky Hill War Memorial and Museum is another noteworthy attraction. The museum provides insights into Australia’s military history through engaging exhibits and artefacts. Children can also climb the memorial tower, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Should the kids need somewhere to run around, Belmore Park is a beautiful green space with playgrounds, picnic areas and walking paths.

Lake George (Few Hours)

For a day out in nature, there is no better place to visit on your Sydney to Canberra drive than Lake George.

AU Sydney to Canberra Road Trip - Lake George

Located just half an hour from Canberra, this large intermittent lake provides a picturesque setting for families to explore and enjoy.

The highlight of Lake George is its stunning scenery. Surrounded by rolling hills and with the lake itself reflecting the changing colours of the sky, it creates a serene and mesmerising atmosphere. Families can take leisurely walks along the lake’s shore and enjoy the tranquillity of the surroundings.

The lake is also home to various bird species, making it a paradise for birdwatching. Children can observe different breeds of waterbirds, including ducks, swans and herons and learn about the importance of preserving their natural habitats.

Lake George is also popular for outdoor activities such as fishing and boating, which allows you to take in scenic views from a different perspective.

Picnic areas and barbecue facilities are available around the lake, providing the perfect opportunity for families to enjoy a meal together amidst the tranquil surroundings.

If you want a deeper understanding of the area’s history, visiting the Lake George Historical Museum is recommended. The museum showcases artefacts, photographs and displays depicting the lake’s cultural significance and role in the region’s development.

Bywong (Few Hours)

The term ‘hidden gem’ is often overused, but in the case of Bywong in NSW, it’s quite a justified way of describing it.

Situated in the picturesque countryside, just five minutes from Lake George, it offers a serene environment for families to enjoy quality time together.

AU Sydney to Canberra Road Trip - Tulip Top Gardens

An area of outstanding natural beauty, Bywong is also home to various farms and orchards, offering family-friendly activities such as fruit picking and farm visits. Kids can enjoy the experience of picking fresh produce straight from the trees or petting friendly farm animals, creating memorable and hands-on learning experiences.

For a unique and educational experience, a visit to the Cranky Rock Nature Reserve is a must. The reserve features an impressive collection of balancing rock formations formed over millions of years through natural erosion. Children can learn about their formation through interpretive signs along the walking trails whilst marvelling at these geological wonders.

Bywong is also renowned as a foodie’s paradise, offering restaurants and cafes that serve some of the best cuisines in regional NSW.

  • Our complete guide to family things to do in Canberra coming soon!

More Tips for Road Tripping Sydney to Canberra

  • The M31 is often referred to as the Hume Highway.
  • Speed limits are rigidly enforced in Australia; do not exceed the posted limit, or you’ll risk big fines.
  • If this is your first time hiring a car and driving in Australia, make sure you pop over to our top tips for first-timers to understand more about the road rules and driving conditions you can expect to encounter in Australia.
  • Want to continue your road trip on to Victoria? Follow along with this scenic Canberra-Melbourne road trip itinerary.
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