10 great reasons to visit Byron Bay

There's more to this northern NSW town than its beautiful beaches. With great food, natural wonders and fab weather, it’s clear why it's such a drawcard.

The Byron Bay lighthouse and surrounding landscape.
  • Louise Southerden
  • September 2019

The laid-back, earth-loving spirit is alive and well in this beachy northern NSW town but there is so much more to the beloved destination than surf, sun and plant-based eats.

Be lured by a poetic name

Sailing by in 1770, Captain James Cook named Australia’s easternmost cape after vice admiral John Byron, grandfather of the poet Lord Byron. A hundred years later, European settlers named several streets in the village after English poets such as Keats and Wordsworth, adding to the confusion. Of course, the area already had a name: Cavanbah, the local Arakwal word meaning “meeting place”, which might explain why Byron Bay – as it became known in 1894 – has such an all-welcome, inclusive vibe about it.

Don’t just be a beach bum

Beyond its pretty beaches, there are dozens of ways to experience the region’s natural beauty. Walk the track to Cape Byron Lighthouse, looking out for dolphins along the way, then head inland. Byron’s hinterland often feels like a local secret – it can be discovered on scenic drives through bucolic villages such as Federal, by swimming under Minyon Falls in Nightcap National Park or even hot air ballooning over farmland.

The Minyon Falls in Nightcap National Park.
Swim under the stunning Minyon Falls in Nightcap National Park.

Hippies are welcome. So is everyone else

Byron Bay was originally a workingman’s town with sand mining operations, a meatworks and even a whaling station. The arrival of the first surfers started to change Byron and later the 1973 Aquarius Festival in nearby Nimbin cemented the area as counterculture central. While you’re never too far from crystal therapy and tarot readings, it’s now also a hipster haven dotted with upscale boutiques and trendy lifestyle precincts such as Habitat Byron Bay opens in new window.

And despite becoming more popular in recent years, Byron is still an earthy, give-way-to-pedestrians place where people have time to chat and smile at strangers. Its hippie heart is intact – and infectious.

There’s more on offer than mung beans

While there are plenty of vegan eateries – try No Bones opens in new window– the region is also home to a sophisticated food scene with venues like Beach Byron Bay opens in new window and Raes Dining Room opens in new window. An ethos of sustainability underpins most things though, whether it’s the native ingredients used at Harvest Newrybar opens in new window or the hyper-local produce at The Farm opens in new window restaurant.

It’s still a country town

Byron might have a big heart but it’s a surprisingly small town – the population hovers around 9000. It’s also conveniently compact and flat, making it easy to walk or ride a bike around. Byron Shire, on the other hand, is home to about 34,000 and includes townships such as Mullumbimby, Bangalow and Brunswick Heads – all about 20 minutes from Byron Bay by car – as well as outlying suburbs such as Suffolk Park and Belongil (handy to know when booking accommodation in “Byron Bay”).

Surfing rules

Look around and you’ll see sun-bleached hair, sandy feet, surfboards on cars, surf schools and surf shops on every corner… In Byron, where salt-scented air ruffles the tops of the Norfolk pines, everyone either surfs, wants to learn or just loves the sea.

Surfers at a beach in Byron Bay during sunset.
With no shortage of beaches, Byron Bay is the perfect destination for surfers.

It’s perfect – anytime of year

If Byron were any further north, it’d be in Queensland, which makes it a swim-all-year-round destination. Plus, it’s less busy outside summer. Cape Byron shelters Main Beach, Clarkes, The Pass and Wategos from winter’s chilly southerly winds, while between June and November, migrating whales pass closer to shore here than anywhere else on the east coast.

You don’t have to be a backpacker

Sure, Byron is a budget destination with several hostels, including the newly refurbished Byron Bay YHA opens in new window but there are plenty of swanky options, too. Byron at Byron, a Crystalbrook Collection Resort opens in new window is set amidst sub-tropical rainforest while Elements of Byron opens in new window offers beachfront luxury in spacious private villas. Boutique options in town include Bask and Stow opens in new window, 28 Degrees opens in new window and The Bower opens in new window, while high-end health retreats such as Gaia Retreat & Spa opens in new window are slightly further afield.

It’s eco-minded

Caring for the planet is part of daily life in Byron, with locals and visitors alike getting involved – whether it’s supporting the Thursday farmers’ market, local sustainable eateries or the Plastic-Free Byron opens in new window initiative. The world’s first solar-powered train also launched here in 2017.