Backpacker's Guide to Byron Bay
Updated: Nov 27
Byron Bay is really popular among backpackers, especially those traveling the East Coast of Australia. It’s at the bottom of the East Coast between Sydney and Brisbane. It's the home of the Hemsworths, and many celebrities came for a trip while I was there in the summer.
It’s an adorable town with gorgeous beaches, cute boutiques, nice restaurants, fun day trips, and a colorful nightlife. On the East Coast you’ll come across many beach towns, but Byron balances many activities while still feeling quaint and personal.
Fair warning, there is a reason that backpackers call it the “Byron Bubble.” People will visit Byron for a few days, get caught up, and stay for weeks or months. I was supposed to visit for three days and ended up staying in Byron Bay for about five weeks.
Give yourself extra time to explore and enjoy everything this cute little beach town has to offer. Here's my guide for visiting Byron:
The hostels in Byron are pretty pricey, but they are a great way to meet people. Also, the town is so small that most other accommodation options are outside of the main area. If you’re looking for a hostel, here are my rankings.
Surf House is my personal favorite hostel. First of all, it is by far the best location. It’s right by the main beach, next to the best bars, and in the middle of town. The facilities are super nice, they have a great rooftop bar, and you can even rent surfboards.
My biggest selling point for Surf House is that they have the nicest hostel kitchen I have ever seen, complete with air fryers, ovens, and actually sharp knives. If you’re looking for a nice drink, you can also go upstairs to their rooftop bar.
Wake Up! Byron Bay
The Wake Up hostel is also very nice. It’s very friendly, has nice facilities, and they host events regularly. They’re right on Belongil Beach which is much quieter than the main beach. They also offer free surfboard rentals.
However the location is quite inconvenient. It’s about a 20-minute walk into the town. They offer shuttles, but it’s still a pain if you need groceries or need a ride home at the end of the night. Besides that, it’s a nice place and it tends to be pretty social.
Like most YHAs in Australia, the one in Byron is decent but not very social. YHAs are a very reliable option because the facilities are consistent, and they have wifi and work spaces if you’re a digital nomad. However, it’s a bit harder to meet people and they don’t have age caps.
Arts Factory Lodge
People love Arts Factory and this is because it is a borderline cult. Just kidding… kinda. It’s a very indulgent hostel where people don’t really wear shoes, sleep in tents, and stay for months. However, it is also the most social hostel by far. People get really close really quickly, and it’s super easy to meet other travelers.
I opted to stay in nicer hostels like Surf House and Wake Up, but I still visited the Arts Factory a few times to socialize and attend the weekly talent show.
I heard that Aquarius was pretty nice, but nothing to really write home about. It has a pretty good location. The main caveat is that they have a restaurant and bar on the premises, so no one is allowed to have their own food or drinks. Byron Bay isn’t very cheap, so being forced to eat out all the time can really add up.
Things to Do
Life in Byron Bay centers around the beautiful beaches. Here’s a breakdown:
Wategose: My personal favorite beach. The walk from the town is really pretty and you go through the trees and get a great view of the ocean. It’s absolutely stunning. They have free public barbecues, so we cooked food there a few times.
Main Beach: The most convenient therefore the most popular. It’s a nice place to take a quick dip if you’re in the town, but it’s usually really crowded and it’s not that nice.
Tallows: Tallows faces East, so it can be a nice place to watch the sunrise if you’re staying nearby. It’s also a topless beach if you’re looking for a full tan.
Belongil Beach: This beach is right by Wake Up. It’s a bit quieter, so it’s a nice place to tan and lay out in the sun. The waves are great if you’re into surfing and there are a lot of dogs for some reason.
The lighthouse is a hike from the town, but it has really beautiful views of the beach and cliffs. If you go in the morning, you can see dolphins.
The best time to go to the lighthouse is at sunrise. I’m not a morning person, but it’s a really magical sight. It’s best to get there 30-40 minutes before the sun is supposed to rise so you can enjoy all of the colors.
Kayak With Dolphins
Go kayaking with dolphins for an unforgettable Byron morning. You are guaranteed to see dolphins. If you don’t, you can go kayaking with them again for free. Sign up here.
The shopping in Byron Bay is dangerous. There are so many cute boutiques all over the town, and they have great clothes. It’s a great place to buy a swimsuit, especially because Australian brands are great quality but really expensive in any other country.
Store highlights include:
Ghanda: Everyone shops at Ghanda. It’s like Zara in New York City. You’ll see people wearing Ghanda designs all over the East Coast. They always have big sales and a lot of their designs are very bright, colorful, and summery.
Stoked Byron: Expensive but they have great quality bikinis.
Cotton On: There are Cotton Ons all over Australia so it’s not the most unique. However, if you’re looking for something basic, they have affordable options. Keep an eye out for their inflatable beach pillows. You’ll use it every time you go to the beach. I’m obsessed with mine.
Learn How to Surf
If you want to learn how to surf, there are a few better places than Byron Bay. Surf lessons are the best way to get the full experience without worrying about renting gear.
Stone & Wood Brewery
You can get Stone & Wood beers all over Australia, so it’s always fun to see a distillery. The Lord Byron Distillery is nearby. If you’re looking for koalas, one lives in the tree outside the distillery.
You’ll need a car to get to Minyon. The falls are absolutely gorgeous. There’s a hike you can do to get to the bottom, but we enjoyed the view from the top and had a picnic in the park.
Most travel sites recommend the more convenient Killen Falls, but I thought Minyon was way more impressive. If you don't have a car, sign up for a guided tour that comes with transportation, gear, and local recommendations.
Nimbin is the hippie capital of Australia. They have lots of cool, natural souvenirs. I’ve also heard there’s a cool skatepark. It’s a very odd place to spend the day, but it’s definitely an experience. This tour will include your transportation and a local lunch.
Brunswick Heads is only a 15-minute drive from Byron, but it’s a good break if you’re sick of the small town. They have drum circles and other hippy dippy events.
No Bones has been one of my favorite meals in Australia so far, mostly because it is so unique. It’s a tapas style vegan restaurant that cooks the most realistic meat imitations I have ever had. I thought it was a mind-blowing experience.
The restaurant is really cute and a bit more upscale, but it still wasn’t too expensive. I recommend the fried chicken and the tuna.
This is the restaurant attached to the Wake Up hostel. They have really great pizzas and breakfast options. At night they have live music and serve drinks.
There are a lot of celebrity sightings at Treehouse. When I was staying at Wake Up, apparently Ed Sheeran was there. The Hemsworths have also been known to eat there fairly often.
There are Sushi Hubs all over Australia, but the one in Byron has a special place in my heart. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a really great grab-and-go lunch for a good price. My friends and I loved going there in a pinch and bringing sushi to the beach.
If you’re in the mood for pizza, check out Trattoria Basilico.
Casa Luna is my personal favorite. It has a very club European vibe and everyone dances. It’s best on the weekends and on Thursdays they have a Latin dancing night. Lover's Lane is similar.
As the name suggests, the Beach Hotel is right on the Main Beach. On most weekends, Beach Hotel will host DJs. They get surprisingly big names, so follow their Instagram to stay up-to-date.
Also, on Sundays, Beach Hotel is a local favorite. Bands play live music and everyone dances. It’s really cute, and you can go back and forth for a swim super easily on nice days.
They only have the Secret Garden parties over the summer. They’re typically on Thursdays and Fridays and they feature DJs, fire dancers, and other performers. You have to pay a cover and I’d recommend getting there really early because the queue can get insane.
Great Northern Hotel / Piano Bar
People only refer to the Great Northern Hotel as the Piano Bar, and backpackers are obsessed with it. Basically there are two pianos, you can request songs, and everyone sings along. As you go up and down the East Coast, everyone who has been to Byron Bay talks about it.
It’s probably the most reliable during the week, but it isn’t my favorite. On the weekends they tend to have a pretty big cover if you go after 10pm.
If you’re looking for a hospitality job, you’ll have better luck before December. As I said, backpackers love Byron Bay. A lot of people on WHVs are looking for hospitality jobs and it isn’t a huge town. It gets pretty competitive and by February it was near impossible to find a hospitality job.
DO NOT GO NIGHT SWIMMING. It’s so dangerous everywhere in Australia, but because Byron is full of tourists it’s more common that people decide to swim at night. This is how tourists die in Byron and on the Gold Coast. The riptides get really dangerous, especially if you’re under the influence. A tourist died when I was in Byron and they couldn’t find her body because a shark ate it.
On the topic of wildlife, there are also dangerous eastern brown snakes in the area. They’re very venomous. No one I know has encountered one but they do live in the area.
During the day the waves aren’t too crazy. However, if you aren’t a confident swimmer, stay between the red and yellow flags so you’re in the lifeguard’s view.
A lot of people are looking to extend their stays in Byron. If you’re looking to get a break from hostels, it’s common for people to find a group for an Airbnb rental. Obviously getting a more private place is a much bigger commitment, so pick and choose carefully (especially if you’re a girl).
If you’re looking for some natural souvenirs but can’t go all the way to Nimbin, you can also go to the Arts Factory. Just talk to the people staying there and don’t ask reception.
Byron can get a bit dodgy at night depending on where you're walking. I wouldn't recommend walking around alone at night, and there aren't Ubers after midnight or 1am. It's still far safer than most major cities, but just be aware of your surroundings.