Choose the Best Blue Mountains Day Tour
There are so many Blue Mountains day tours available that it is hard to choose which itinerary on offer is best for you, especially when you don’t know much about the area. Today, I will go over a few points to help you find the best Blue Mountains tour for your travel style.
With few international visitors, many operators are offering limited tours outside of school holidays and weekends. Bookings are recommended.
The Blue Mountains HOHO bus has resumed with limited services in peak periods.
Let’s start with the basics
Why YOU Should visit the Blue Mountains
Almost every Sydney itinerary you read mentions a visit to the Blue Mountains. Is it by far the most popular day tour from Sydney, even with locals, but what makes it so popular?
Well, for a start:
- The Blue Mountains is a UNESCO World Heritage site – it joined the register in 2000
- There are ten national parks featuring waterfalls, sheer sandstone cliffs and vast regions of dense forest.
- Pretty mountain villages full of cute shops and excellent cafes are dotted along the cliff tops.
- Spending the day in the Blue Mountains makes a nice contrast to the harbour and beaches in Sydney.
How far is it from Sydney city to the Blue Mountains?
The central town of the mountains is Katoomba; it is approx. 120km west of the city. To reach the main sites, you will spend approximately 2 hours on the road between Sydney.
Who should you take an organised day tour?
While it is possible to explore the mountains by public transport it is not the best option for everyone, for some travellers tours are the best choice.
- Tours are perfect if you have not had time to research things to see and do in the Blue Mountains.
- Tours are great if you only limited time to see the region as you won’t waste time working out how to get from A to B.
- Going on a tour is a good idea if you want to go hiking. If you not experienced in hiking or bushwalking as we call it here, a tour can give you the confidence to take a walk in the forest and see more than you might if you go it alone.
- Tour companies spend considerable time putting together itineraries that will meet visitors needs, whether you are a photographer or adventure traveller. Their experience will mean you get to the right parts of the mountain for your needs.
If you love research as much as I do or travel on a budget, I have written a guide to help you have a fabulous day in the Blue Mountains using public transport. And another with three self-drive itineraries. You need to be a bit more organised if you choose these options.
What types of Blue Mountains day tours are available?
You can pretty much find a tour to suit every type of traveller;
- Tours with limited amounts of walking that to stop briefly at the key attractions to take photos
- In-depth tours that provide detailed information on flora and fauna of the region
- Hop on hop off tours with the option to choose to spend extra time in the places that interest you most
- Tours for adventurers that including canyoning or abseiling
- Tours that include a couple of hours hiking as part of the itinerary
- Tours with an indigenous focus
- Four wheel drive tours
Blue Mountains Tours FAQ
How long does the average Blue Mountains tour last?
Tours usually run for between 9-10 hours. Most tours leave the city by 8.30 am and return at about 6 pm.
What is the difference between the small group tours and the larger tour buses?
Tours operate on either full-size buses or minibuses (often 18-21 seats). Minibuses can get around the mountains more efficiently. Having smaller groups means less time to load everyone on and off the bus at each stop, so generally, these are my preference.
What is included in a Blue Mountains day tour?
While all tours are slightly different, the majority include the following stops.
- Echo Point – home of the Three Sisters, the iconic Blue Mountains landmark
- Blue Mountains villages – either Katoomba or Leura are usually included in most day tours
- Featherdale Wildlife Park – Many tours make their first stop at Featherdale on the way up to the mountains. Located about an hour west of Sydney, this relatively small animal park offers a chance to get up close and personal with a full range of native Aussie animals. I am a big fan of Featherdale, and it makes sense to visit it on the way if you have not had your fill of Kangaroos and Koalas. However, it does cut into your time in the mountains, so you need to be aware of that. The usual time spent here is about an hour.
- Scenic World is included in many tours. Entry to the 3 “rides” here, the railway, skyway and the cableway is usually an optional extra although a small number include it in the cost. If your tour spends time taking all three rides, then it can cut into your time exploring the bushland as the queues here can be significant. Some tours stop here and allow you to choose one or all of the rides. Others include a bushwalk at the base of Scenic World and the railway back to the top.
- Some tours return to Sydney via Olympic Park and the transfer passengers to a ferry for a cruise back to the city.
Things to know before you book your Blue Mountain tour
Do you want to spend 1 hour at the wildlife park?
If you have already been to the zoo or seen Aussie animals in other places, then you might prefer a tour that does not spend an hour at Featherdale.
Do you want to spend time bushwalking in the mountains?
Lots of tours spend only 30-45 mins walking in the bush. Others offer a walking opportunity in a couple of places. Make sure you find the right fit for you.
Do you want meals included?
A sit-down lunch can eat into your time exploring, and depending on the tour, it can be pretty pedestrian and not a highlight of your day.
Do you need to book ahead?
If you are visiting in December or January, it is advisable to book your tour in advance as tours do sell out. Weekday tours are limited at present, so booking is the best way to be certain you will not miss out. If you book via Get Your Guide, you are offered a 24 hour cancellation period.
Should you add a Jenolan Caves visit into your day?
Short answer – no! If you only have one day a Jenolan Caves tour, it will mean your time enjoying the Blue Mountains themselves will be very short. However, they are a great addition to a two-day itinerary.
Our Favourite Blue Mountains Tours
These are predominantly small group tours of between 6-21 guests. I believe tours on larger buses are not the best way to experience this area unless you do the HOHO bus and explore on foot in between stops.
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Small-Group Day Tour – Anderson Tours
Limited to between 12-20 passengers and using excellent guides, this tour covers a lot of ground, but you don’t feel too rushed.
Unlike most tours, this one visits Featherdale on the way home, so fewer groups are at the park. You make your return to Sydney by ferry from Parramatta, which for most of the year gives you a harbour sunset on the way home.
The tour includes:
- Three rides at Scenic World
- Short guided bush walk
- Lunch at a local pub
- Fantasea cruise from Parramatta to Circular Quay or Darling Harbour
This tour is top-rated and often books out in advance.
Check out the full details and get current prices.
Blue Mountains Scenic Day Tour- FJ Tours
Another great operator, FJ Tours, has been running successful tours for almost 20 years. They rate very highly on Tripadvisor and offer several alternatives so you can decide which things you want to add or leave out of your tour.
A standard day tour includes
- Admission to Featherdale Wildlife Park
- Three rides at Scenic World (Cableway, Skyway and Railway)
- Cafe lunch in Leura
- River cruise back to the city
Hop on Hop off Bus – The Blue Mountains Explorer
The HOHO Bus has recently had a makeover, and they have added extra stops, reduced the time between buses and announced that kids will now ride free!
The HOHO allows you to reduce the total cost for your day in the mountains by taking public transport from Sydney to Katoomba.
• Unlimited hop on hop off all-day
• Live Commentary
• Full-colour Guide Book with maps and walking guides
• Extend your pass FREE when staying in the Blue Mountains (Up to 3 days)
• 37 Stops
• 45 Minute frequency (This is the perfect time for each stop)
These tours allow you to set your own pace and choose the things you want to spend most time seeing.
They also offer a Boomerang Pass that is a single 90-minute loop, a great option for anyone not up to much walking or those who want an overview of the sites.
You can also book your own bus for your family or group.
The ticket comes with an excellent guidebook that lists information about the area and the various bushwalks available from each stop. The bus drivers get fantastic feedback for their informative commentary and regularly go out of their way to make sure the passengers are happy.
You can buy just the HOHO ticket or add Scenic World entry, saving you time queuing when you arrive. This is particularly valid in summer when lines can be quite long at the ticket offices.
Find out more about how this works here — currently running on weekends and school holidays only.
Blue Mountains Hop on Hop off & Scenic World Rides Passes are valid for one day from the first activation; check prices and details here.
Sunset Tour with 2 hours of bushwalking – Wildlife Tours
I have always liked how Wildlife Tours do things differently and offer experiences that others don’t. Their Blue Mountains tour is no exception.
This ten-hour tour leaves the city after the peak hour rush making it perfect for anyone who is not keen on rising early. Staying in the mountains until after sunset gives you a chance to watch the afternoon light change over the bushland and capture beautiful photos of a 3 Sisters sunset.
The tour includes:
- 2-hours of guided bushwalk
- Learn about the Aboriginal history of the region
- Explore Wentworth Falls
- A light picnic lunch
- spotting native animals in the late afternoon light
- Late return to Sydney
This is the perfect day out for anyone wanting to spend more time outdoors than at organised attractions.
Offered three days per week (Sun, Tues, Thurs) from January. Check out the reviews and prices here.
Sunset Photography Tour – Picture Me Tours
If you like the idea of the afternoon tour but would like to focus on photography, this is a great choice. The 10-hour tour with a later start means you will be in the mountains for both golden hour and sunset at the Three Sisters. With groups set at a maximum of 8 people, there is no time wasted getting people on and off the bus.
There are options to take two bushwalks to Wentworth Falls and Leura Cascades or, if you prefer spending some time at Scenic World.
The tour includes:
- Golden hour and sunset in the mountains
- Bushwalking or Scenic World time
- Experienced photographer/guide
- Small group – 8 or less
- Light pub meal on the way home
Your guide will help you capture great shots of the wildlife and waterfalls and take you to lesser-known spots for some unique shots.
Currently operating Thursdays from Dec 30 2021 – Check out the reviews, availability and prices here.
The Blue Mountains 4 Wheel Drive Tour – Beyond the Blacktop
If you want to experience the Blue Mountains by getting off the beaten track, read on. This tour starts in the Blue Mountains, so perfect if you stay overnight in the area or need to be on an early train from Sydney.
You will go off-road exploring spots that can only be reached by four-wheel drive.
- Aboriginal rock art,
- off-road wildlife spotting
- The Zig Zag Railway
- Lost City
- Lunch at a local pub
- Private access to 270-degree mountain views.
This tour runs with a minimum of 2 participants only on weekends- Check prices and details here.
Ultimate Blue Mountains Private SUV Tour
With a similar itinerary to many of the main offerings, this tour is an excellent choice for families or groups travelling together. A private tour can save you money.
Depending on your group, this tour can be accommodated in either an SUV or a minivan.
- Complimentary Morning Tea – Cookies, Fresh Fruit, Soft Drinks and Bottled Spring Water
- Hotel pick up and drop off
- Entry Fee’s to Scenic World, Cable Car and Scenic Railway
- Entry Fee’s to Featherdale Wildlife Park
Suitable for children (Child seats available) and those with limited mobility.
Check the price and availability of this tour.
Looking for something different?
Perhaps with a helicopter flight? Check out the full range of Blue Mountains tours with prices.