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Canberra to Sydney Drive: Your ultimate road trip guide

Linden Brown

From quintessential country icons to the tender touch of the sun in ancient valleys, this trip is more than a route – it’s a passage through local stories and startling views into Australia’s soul. 

Whether you’re doing the Canberra to Sydney drive or Sydney to Canberra drive, pop the top or roll down the windows and get set for an unforgettable adventure. 

Make it even better with a fun new ride – search for a Canberra car rental or a Sydney car rental, and you might even find your dream car.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

What’s so special about driving Canberra to Sydney?

beach shore under cloudy sky
Photo by Andy Hutchinson / Unsplash

The Canberra to Sydney drive might be a little over three hours out of your day. But if you make the most of it, it’s not just a drive. It's a string of incredible experiences that go together like a Hunter Valley Shiraz and some sharp Cheddar. 

You start in Canberra, charming and familiar, and land amongst Sydney’s vibrant energy. Or you could take the reverse route. 

But it's what's in between that'll grab you.

On the road trip between Sydney and Canberra, you'll pass through quirky towns where everyone's got a story to tell. Think hot pies in Goulburn. Country hospitality in Berry. And hidden ocean views at Jervis Bay that only the locals know about. Get ready to roll down the windows and soak in the changing scenes – from bustling country pubs to secluded, silent beaches.

And let’s not forget the stories you’ll take back. 

Make it new again on your return trip (the Sydney to Canberra drive)

a couple of trees that are next to each other
Photo by Ch P / Unsplash

Getting home: think of it as flipping the script. 

Only this time, why not take the inland route? You’ll discover history that the books don’t tell us about. See some local art in that creative little village. Enjoy a yarn at the bar and spot some rare wildlife further away from the city buzz.

Or there’s magic in retracing your steps. Enjoy secluded coastal walks that make you feel like the last people on earth. 

Marvel at the NSW Southern Highlands in their misty morning glory, or visit the quirky art galleries of tiny towns you missed.

Consider a theme this time – like pie shops or high tea offerings dotting the route. Make it a quest. This is where you'll find the unexpected: a roadside stall selling homegrown tomatoes or a vintage shop in a sleepy town. You’ll pull into Canberra with a whole new set of stories.

How far is the Canberra to Sydney drive?

Sydney to Canberra distance: 286 km
Sydney to Canberra drive time: About 3 hours and 15 minutes

The drive from Sydney to Canberra is 286 km direct, or roughly 3 hours and 15 minutes of driving time. But you can add a lot of distance by meandering to some of Australia’s most fascinating places. 

Let’s look at a few of our favourite routes for a Sydney to Canberra road trip.

Itinerary: drive from Canberra to Sydney

a man sitting on a cliff overlooking the ocean
Photo by Deeva Sood / Unsplash

Four great routes let you do the Canberra to Sydney drive. Or you can take them in reverse, driving to Canberra from Sydney. 

  • Direct route: 3 hours 15 minutes driving
  • Scenic coastal route: 5 hours driving
  • Heritage and nature trail: About 4 hours driving
  • Explorer’s trail: 7 hours driving

Each route holds its own surprises, from quiet teahouses to breathtaking and iconic landscapes, making the Sydney to Canberra drive as delightful as it is diverse. Whether you’re in for the stories, the speed, or the scenery, there’s a route just for you. 

And remember, if you’re taking the reverse route (starting in Sydney and driving to Canberra) just reverse the order of these itineraries.

Direct route via the Hume Highway

Driving time: About 3 hours and 30 minutes
Distance: Approximately 280 km

This is the fastest way to swap Canberra’s cultural hubs for Sydney’s skyline. But fast doesn’t mean dull. Cutting through the heartland of New South Wales, you can make memorable pit stops at places like Goulburn to see the Big Merino or the historic town of Berrima for a quaint village vibe and a bite of the local pastries.

Coastal route

water waves on black rock
Photo by Simon Maisch / Unsplash

Driving Time: About 5 hours
Distance: Around 350 km

This is your route if you're not in a rush and love the ocean. Dip your toes into the crystal waters at Jervis Bay and enjoy fresh-caught seafood. 

Visit Kiama’s famous Blowhole and the scenic Grand Pacific Drive, passing through the Royal National Park before reaching Sydney. If you have the time, here’s how we would break it up.

Day 1: Canberra to Jervis Bay

Make your first leisurely stop in Braidwood, a National Trust-classified town, for a bite at the historic bakery and browse antique stores. 

Then head towards the stunning beaches of Jervis Bay and make a slight detour to Point Perpendicular for an awe-inspiring view off the beaten path. Consider a stop at Hyams Beach to see the whitest sand in the world.

For EV drivers, charge up at Vincentia Marketplace. Spend your afternoon on a dolphin-watching cruise, or rent a kayak at Huskisson to explore the mangroves at Currambene Creek. Stay overnight in Jervis Bay at a cosy guesthouse, soaking up the laid-back beach vibe.

Day 2: Jervis Bay to Kiama

Leave early from Jervis Bay for a visit to the Kiama markets if it's the weekend. Grab some fresh berries or the locally famous olive bread. Explore the famous Kiama Blowhole or try the Kiama Coastal Walk. 

Enjoy lunch at Kiama’s cafes, and an overnight stay in a charming B&B. Dinner at The Hungry Monkey offers delightful burgers and views.

Day 3: Kiama to Sydney

Your first stop from Kiama is Wollongong. Recharge your EV at the Crown Street Mall charging station and enjoy a seaside lunch at Diggies Café, known for its fresh, local produce.

Continue to the spectacular Royal National Park and take in the breathtaking coastal views. Visit the Figure Eight Pools to marvel at nature with fewer crowds. Grab a coffee at the Audley Dance Hall Cafe before you hit the road again, or stop at the Flying High Cafe in Stanwell Park to watch the paragliders while you eat.

Drive from there towards the city skyline as it comes to life against the darkening sky.

Heritage and Nature Trail via the Southern Highlands

a large body of water with some clouds in the sky
Photo by Jack McCracken / Unsplash

Driving time: About 4 hours
Distance: Approximately 300 km

Dive into the charm of the Southern Highlands on this Canberra to Sydney drive. Explore the historic towns of Bowral and Mittagong, where you can enjoy antique shopping and visit the Bradman Museum for a slice of cricket history. Don’t miss the Fitzroy Falls in Morton National Park for a spectacular nature walk. 

If you have a couple of days to take it all in, here’s how we would do it.

Day 1: Canberra to Bowral via Goulburn

Leaving Canberra, your first stop is the mysterious Lake George, where legends of its disappearing waters intrigue scientists and tourists alike. From there, head to Goulburn. Stop for coffee and stretch your legs at the historic Goulburn Waterworks Museum

And after Goulburn, drive to Bowral to visit the Bradman Museum – a tribute to the cricket legend. Check into a charming hotel and have dinner at Biota, known for its focus on local produce and fine dining. Head for an evening stroll through Corbett Gardens.

Day 2: Bowral to Sydney

Spend your morning exploring Bowral’s antique shops, then head to Mittagong for lunch at Shaggy Cow – the modern Australian menu is a local favourite. From there, Sydney calls with an easy drive along main roads.

Explorer’s Trail via Lithgow

brown rock formation near green grass during daytime
Photo by Henrique Felix / Unsplash

Driving time: Approximately 7 hours
Distance: About 500 km

This route blends history, nature, and viticulture, winding through some of New South Wales' most scenic and culturally rich areas. Deep dive into Australia's heritage and enjoy the natural beauty along the way.

Day 1: Canberra to Bathurst via Cowra

Start with a visit to the peaceful Japanese Gardens in Cowra, then head to Bathurst. Tour the Motor Racing Museum or take a ghost tour at the old courthouse – you’ll hear stories that aren’t in the history books. Overnight in Bathurst, enjoying local dining.

Day 2: Bathurst to Katoomba

If they’re open, journey from Bathurst to the Jenolan Caves for an early morning tour of this ancient limestone network. The drive there is marvellous, too, with unexpected wildlife sightings.

If the caves are closed, visit the Lithgow Blast Furnace ruins early in the morning for a slice of history, then drive to Katoomba. Spend time at Echo Point looking out over the majestic Three Sisters. Take a ride on the Scenic Railway – a thrilling descent into the Jamison Valley. You could also explore the lesser-known Ruined Castle walking track, which offers solitude and panoramic views across the valley.

Day 3: Katoomba to Sydney

Enjoy a misty morning walk in Katoomba, then head to a local cafe for a cuppa and chef-prepared breaky. Head down the mountain to feel Sydney’s buzz when you’ve had enough of relaxing in the lush, historic surrounds of the Blueys.

Must-see stops on the Canberra to Sydney drive

a view of a valley with mountains in the background
Photo by Anthony Gomez / Unsplash

From world-famous views to local favourites, the Canberra to Sydney drive takes you to some fascinating places – where the journey pauses, the car engine quiets and the stories begin.

Stop quickly while driving direct

  • Goulburn: Discover the historic Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre.
  • Berrima: Visit the Berrima District Museum and explore its colonial history.

Take in the coastal route

  • Royal National Park: Hike to the Figure Eight Pools for a stunning natural sight.
  • Kiama: Watch the dramatic Kiama Blowhole.
  • Jervis Bay: Relax on the white sands of Hyams Beach.

Discover the Southern Highlands

  • Bowral: Discover the Bradman Museum, dedicated to the cricket legend.
  • Fitzroy Falls: Marvel at the spectacular waterfall in Morton National Park.

Explore inland

  • Katoomba: Stand in awe at the Three Sisters lookout.
  • Jenolan Caves: Tour these ancient limestone caves.
  • Bathurst: Check out the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum.

Now, if you have more time on your Canberra to Sydney drive or are coming home, here are five more places that will keep you talking long after you return.

Kangaroo Valley

Between Bowral and the coast, Kangaroo Valley is loved for its lush landscapes and the historic Hampden Bridge. It’s here that the noise quiets, and time seems to slow.

Belmore Falls

Near Fitzroy Falls, Belmore Falls is less crowded but equally breathtaking. Well worth a stop – and have your camera ready!


On the way to Goulburn, explore Taralga’s rustic charm and historical buildings. A great spot to stretch your legs and take in some famous Aussie hospitality.

Wombeyan Caves

Near Mittagong, these caves are a quieter alternative to Jenolan with stunning karst landscapes – limestone slowly eroded over millennia by water.


Just off the Federal Highway on the way to Canberra, stop at Some Cafe, where local produce is the star of their rustic, delightful menu.

Planning and driving tips: 10 tips to road trip like a pro

Before you do the Canberra to Sydney drive, there are some things you need to prepare.

Prepare your car

Give your car a good once-over before you leave. Check the: 

  • Oil
  • Brakes 
  • Tyres (including the spare and tools to change it). 

And fill it up with petrol or charge your EV. 

Create the playlist

Craft your playlist with songs that set the tone. Or, tune into local radio stations in new towns for a little while.

Pack smart

Bring a mix of snacks and lots of water, but leave room for fresh local finds you might pick up along the way. Keep a cooler handy.

Include safety gear

You should always carry five things in your car in case of emergency.

  • Torch
  • Batteries
  • Plenty of water (enough for a couple of days)
  • First aid kit
  • A blanket

And remember that mobile service might be spotty in remote areas, so always download maps offline.

Use tech wisely

Make sure your GPS is updated. Use apps to find local stops on your route. Apps like Waze or Google Maps alert you to popular stops and show reviews. 

black vehicle head unit
Photo by Heidi Fin / Unsplash

Be flexible with your plan

While a plan is helpful, some of your best memories from the Sydney to Canberra drive will come from spontaneous detours. Spot a sign for a scenic view? Consider taking a quick drive.

Document your trip

Start a photo journal or keep a travel diary. Capture the quirky things. 

Respect the locals

When you stop in a smaller town, take the time to engage with locals. You’ll learn a bit about their way of life, enriching your experience.

Review the road rules

Speed limits and regulations can vary from state to state, so familiarise yourself with local driving laws to avoid unwelcome surprises.

Relax and enjoy

We saved the best ‘till last. Our best tip for road tripping? Enjoy the ride. It's your adventure on your terms.

Final word: Make your Canberra to Sydney drive even better

You’re all set for an incredible road trip. But do you know how to make it even better? 

Pick up your dream ride and hit the road in style. Find a Canberra car rental or a Sydney car rental, and the open road is yours to explore.

Discover more Sydney day trips or our favourite weekend getaways from Sydney for more inspiration.  


Where is the best place to stop between Sydney and Canberra?

Goulburn is a great midway stop. Known for its historical significance and the iconic Big Merino, it's perfect for stretching your legs and grabbing a bite at local bakeries or cafes.

How long does it take to drive from Sydney to Canberra?

Wondering how far it is Sydney to Canberra? The direct drive from Sydney to Canberra typically takes about 3 hours and 15 minutes and covers approximately 286 kilometres. Where possible, you should aim to stop at least once during the trip to take a break (which helps keep you safer when you begin driving again).

Is Canberra a day trip from Sydney?

Yes. Canberra can be a day trip from Sydney, especially if you start early and stick mainly to the direct route. However, an overnight stay might be preferable to fully enjoy the fantastic stops along the way. If you get a car hire Canberra to Sydney, you should book it for at least two days.

Where is halfway between Sydney and Canberra?

The town of Goulburn serves as a practical halfway point between Sydney and Canberra, offering a good break for refreshments and a stretch. Stopping to refresh and have a break on your road trip from Sydney to Canberra is important for road safety.

Is Canberra closer to Sydney or Melbourne?

Canberra is closer to Sydney than Melbourne. The drive from Canberra to Sydney is about 286 kilometres, whereas from Canberra to Melbourne, it's approximately 660 kilometres. Discover more about the Melbourne to Canberra drive.