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 am going to go over a few points that will help you find the best Blue Mountains tour for your travel style.
With no international visitors, many operators are offering limited tours outside of school holidays and weekends. Bookings are recommended.
The Blue Mountains HOHO bus is no longer operating but will hopefully resume when borders reopen.
Let’s start with the basics
- Why should you visit the Blue Mountains?
- How far is it from Sydney city to the Blue Mountains?
- Who should you take an organised day tour?
- What types of Blue Mountains day tours are available?
- My Favourite Blue Mountains Tours
- Small-Group Day Tour – Anderson Tours
- Blue Mountains Day Tour with 3 Scenic World Rides and a Cruise- FJ Tours
- Sunset Photography Tour – National Photo Training College
- Join a Hop on Hop off Bus – The Blue Mountains Explorer
- Sunset Tour with 2 hours of bushwalking – Autopia Tours
- The Blue Mountains 4 Wheel Drive Tour – Beyond the Blacktop 4WD Tours.
- The Blue Mountains for Foodies – Gourmet Getaways
- Private Tours
- Overnight Hikes and more extended tours in the Blue Mountains
- Looking for something different?
Why should you 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 World Heritage-listed area; in 2000 the Blue mountains were listed as a UNESCO Heritage site.
- The area includes ten national parks and features waterfalls, sheer sandstone cliffs and vast regions of dense forest.
- There are several pretty mountain villages full of cute shops and excellent cafes.
- 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 are going to spend approx — 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 if you are travelling 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 3 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 that include a couple of hours hiking as part of the itinerary
- Tours with an indigenous focus
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 and have smaller groups means less time spend loading 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 consider when choosing your Blue Mountain tours.
- Do you want to spend 1 hour at the animal 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
- If you are visiting in December or January, it is advisable to book your tour in advance as they do book out.
- If you decide to add a Jenolan Caves tour, know that your time in the Blue Mountains themselves will be very short.
My Favourite Blue Mountains Tours
These are predominantly small group tours of between 6-21 guests as I believe tours on larger buses are not the best way to experience this area unless you are doing the HOHO option and exploring on foot in between stops.
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Small-Group Day Tour – Anderson Tours
These small group tours with Andersons are very popular with an 86% excellent rating on TripAdvisor. Limited to between 12-20 passengers and using excellent guides this tour covers a lot of ground but you don’t feel too rush. Unlike most tours, this one visits Featherdale on the way home, so there are fewer groups 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.
Currently operating and 25% off – Check out the full details and get current prices
Blue Mountains Day Tour with 3 Scenic World Rides and a Cruise- 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)
- River cruise back to the city
This tour is currently operating on Wednesdays and Saturdays with more dates added soon for the summer holiday period – Check for more details and get the current tour price
Sunset Photography Tour – National Photo Training College
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 that 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 to capture great shots of the wildlife and waterfalls and take you to lesser-known spots for some unique shots.
Currently operating Friday, Sunday and Monday – Check out the reviews, availability and prices here
Join a 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 just 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 lots of information about the area, and also the various bushwalks available from each stop. The bus drivers get excellent feedback for their informative commentary and regularly going 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.
Sunset Tour with 2 hours of bushwalking – Autopia Tours
My first introduction to Autopia tours was in the early 1990s when I joined one of their day tours out of Melbourne. I have always liked how their trips do things a little 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 to capture beautiful photos of a 3 Sisters sunset.
The tour includes:
- 2-hour eco-guided bushwalk
- light picnic lunch
- spotting native animals in the late afternoon light
- Late return to Sydney (8 pm in winter and 10 pm in summer)
This is the perfect day out for anyone wanting to spend more time in the outdoors than at organised attractions.
Daily availability from January. Check out the reviews and prices here.
The Blue Mountains 4 Wheel Drive Tour – Beyond the Blacktop 4WD Tours.
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 are staying overnight in the area or you will 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 is running with a minimum of 2 particpants – Check prices and details here
The Blue Mountains for Foodies – Gourmet Getaways
If you love good food and would like to eat your way around the sites of the Blue Mountains this is the tour by Gourmet Getaways is for you. I was recently a guest on the tour, and I had a top day out. It leaves Sydney earlier than most which was great for beating the crowds. We arrived a good hour before most other buses.
After over 100 visits to the mountains, the guide was able to show me a couple of spots I had never seen before. I was super impressed with my day out and highly recommend this tour.
The tour includes:
- Hearty breakfast in a Blue Mountains village
- Time for a visit to Scenic World or a bushwalk at the Three Sisters (your choice)
- A stop at a local producer to see and taste their delicious and wholesome treats
- A progressive lunch served over 3 stops
- Epic Blue Mountains lookout that most buses don’t visit
- Lunch prepared while you take a 30-minute walk to another spectacular view
- Dessert at yet another hidden lookout that I had never seen!
- Cider tasting in Bilpin on the way home
- River cruise back to Sydney
No one leaves this tour hungry lol.
Check prices and reviews here – Not currently available.
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 actually save you money.
This tour can be accommodated in either an SUV or a minivan depending on your group.
- 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 price and availability of this tour
Group Day Hikes – Valley of the Waters or Ruined Castle/Scenic Railway
This tour is for keen hikers who want to spend their day walking one of the Blue Mountains best-known walks.
- There are two options offered between 7-13kms
- Walks are an average grade, although some guests call them hard, so it depends on your level of fitness.
- These are not suitable for anyone without a reasonable level of fitness and a love of stairs.
- The tour includes morning tea and lunch
If you want to get a decent amount of bushwalking done, then this tour is a great choice. Walking alone can be dangerous, and while most of the trails in the mountains are well signposted, it is not always easy.
Not currently available – check back in 2021 – tour details and prices
Overnight Hikes and more extended tours in the Blue Mountains
I have spent ages checking out overnight hiking options and feel really comfortable recommending Freeland Hiking and their overnight tour to the Ruined Castle.
The tour includes 8km of walking on day one, an overnight camp and a 14km hike on day two. This is a walk for seasoned walkers rather than beginners. You also have to carry your own 10kg pack. If you are someone who loves hiking and travelling solo, this is the perfect way to have a great and safe Blue Mountains experience.
Besides being one of the prettiest tracks in the mountains this tour is really well run. I really like this company because of the standard of service they offer
- Quality backpacks – the packs you wear are designed to distribute the weight with 80% on the hips and only 20% on the shoulders. This means that you almost (almost) don’t realise it’s on. The guide checks each person’s fit to make sure you are good to go. This can make a huge difference in how much you enjoy your walk.
- Great food – there are no dehydrated, tasteless meals. Each meal is freshly prepared and is filled with fresh veggies and lots of flavours. Dinner is three courses, lunch is great with fresh vegetables, and everyone also gets a hand prepared trail mix of nuts, dried fruits and chocolate. There is also fresh coffee in the morning, too – not instant!
- Passionate and knowledgeable guides – Sara runs the walks and is passionate about the plants and wildlife in the mountains. She gives you enough info to feel a connection with the mountains and learn how to identify native plants. She also has a great sense of humour!
Check out details of the tour here.
Looking for something different?
Perhaps with a helicopter flight? Check out the full range of Blue Mountains tours with prices.