Ascend to new heights when you visit Australia’s highest city, Armidale, NSW.
Surrounded by rolling hills and breath-taking natural landscapes, Armidale is a picturesque city nestled in the New England Range of Northern NSW. Located about a kilometre above sea level, the city experiences four distinct seasons during the year while still benefiting from the gorgeous sub-tropical weather for which the region is known. Read on to learn a little more about Armidale’s history and our recommendations for activities, food, and accommodations while visiting the city.
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A quick look at the history of Armidale
Before colonial settlers moved to the Armidale area it was home to the Indigenous Anaiwan tribe. Then, in 1839, George James Macdonald, a Commissioner of Crown Lands and head of the local Border Police, chose to establish his barracks at the site now known as Armidale. The Armidale Post Office, a heritage-listed building designed by James Barnet, opened in April of 1843 and is still in operation today.
Soon after the town was formally established in 1849 to serve the surrounding farming community, gold was discovered at Rocky River and Gara Gorges. The resulting gold rush of the 1850s greatly increased Armidale’s population and importance in the region. And in the 1860s, the famous outlaw Fred Ward, a bushranger nicknamed Captain Thunderbolt, was known to frequent the area and is buried in the neighboring town of Uralla.
Through the early to mid-1900s, Armidale was the centre of the movement for a separate New England state. In an effort to have the city be top of the list for consideration as a new state capital, adherents of the movement helped establish the second teacher’s college in New South Wales and the University of New England. However, after the defeat of a referendum for separation in 1967, interest in creating a new state began to wain.
Exploring the culture of Armidale
Today, Armidale is the economic and cultural centre of the Northern Tablelands region. Much of life in the city revolves around the University of New England, though its pastoral roots are still quite strong. Additionally, as the seat of both the local Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops, Armidale is often referred to as the Cathedral City. There are numerous heritage sites throughout the city, along with three museums, and a variety of parks and public spaces.
Speaking of Armidale’s pastoral roots, each year the Australian Wool Fashion Awards, also known as the Fleece to Fashion Awards, is hosted in the city. These awards are meant to showcase the best use of wool, which is a big part of local industry, in fashion. Armidale also puts on the New England Wool Expo, which features many pastoral-themed activities along with wool fashions, handicrafts, and demonstrations.
What to do in Armidale
The Self-Guided Heritage Walk is a great way to get to learn about the history of Armidale firsthand. The walking tour will take you to see the two magnificent cathedrals, along with a number of the thirty-five different heritage-listed buildings in the city. Finish up your tour at the Armidale Folk Museum, which is open daily from 11 am – 2 pm, for a detailed look at life in Armidale’s early years. You can pick up a copy of the Self Guided Heritage Walk from the Armidale Visitor Information Centre open seven days per week.
While Armidale has eight different museums, all worthy of exploration, the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) is a must-see. NERAM is one of the best regional art galleries outside the main metropolitan cities in New South Wales. The museum houses over 1,000 Australian paintings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Howard Hinton and Chandler Coventry collections. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am – 4 pm, with the on-site restaurant Six Counties open from 8 am – 3 pm on the same days.
© Destination NSW
You can also use Armidale as your base for exploring the local countryside and national parks. There are a number of popular scenic country drives through the area, one of which is Tourist Drive 19. This local road trip is a 86km loop that will take you from Armidale to Petersons Armidale Winery & Guesthouse, then on to Dangars Gorge, and finally to the town of Uralla before returning you to Armidale.
There are also several national parks and nature reserves in close proximity to Armidale. Just to the north of the city of the Armidale Pine Forest, which is a popular spot for walkers, mountain bikers, and horse riders. Then there are New England National Park and Cathedral Rock National Park, which are located just over an hour’s drive east of the city. Both parks offer a multitude of options for experiencing the wonder of the great outdoors.
Want more things to do and see in Armidale? Check out the Armidale Tourism website.
Where to grab a bite to eat in Armidale
Armidale has a wide variety of great places to eat that feature cuisine from all over the world. The following are just a few of the many wonderful eateries for visiting foodies to explore.
Azka Restaurant, formerly Cattleman’s Grill, features a delectable modern Australian dining experience and was voted a Reader’s Choice for 2021 for the Australian Good Food Guide. The menu consists of Mediterranean-inspired dishes created using the finest locally sourced ingredients. It’s located in the Rydges Armidale hotel, along with the Wine & Tapas Bar, and is open for breakfast and dinner daily.
Looking for your morning caffeine boost? Café Patisserie is a charming French-inspired cafe that offers the best coffee and pastries in town. They have a wide selection of freshly baked pastries, cakes, quiches, and pies, along with sweet crêpes and savoury galettes. The cafe is located on Rusden Street and is open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday through Sunday.
If you’re looking for a modern pub experience, it’ll be worth your while to check out the Whitebull. Situated within a renovated 1870s country hotel, there’s a main bar perfect for watching sports and having a pint with your mates, a casual dining area with both low and high seating options, and a Steakhouse that offers an indulgent dining experience. The Whitebull is open every day usually from about 10:00 am until late.
Where to stay in Armidale
Want a high-end place to stay close to the center of town? The Rydges Armidale is a highly rated hotel at 4.5-stars that offers a range of stylish rooms, 24-hour reception and room service, along with a plethora of other amenities sure to please any traveler.
Looking for something a little cozier? Petersons Armidale Winery & Guesthouse is an elegant B&B set in a 1911 homestead. The Guesthouse features seven well-appointed rooms & suites, with king-sized beds, antique furniture, and ensuites bathrooms, five of which have full-sized spa baths or claw-foot tubs. All rooms include a complimentary country breakfast, cooked fresh to order.
Need convenient accommodations that are budget-friendly? Country Comfort Armidale offers their guests country hospitality at its finest. Amenities include off-street parking, spacious rooms with free Wi-Fi, and complimentary tea and coffee-making facilities. The hotel is centrally located just across the street from the heritage-listed Central Park.
How to get to Armidale
Looking to take a road trip to the New England High Country? Armidale is about halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, so the drive from either should take less than six hours. You could also take an eight-hour train ride direct from Sydney if you want to see the countryside without having to drive. Otherwise, Rex Airlines flies to Armidale on a daily basis directly from Sydney. During the week there are two flights daily, while there is one flight per day on Saturday and Sunday.
See the map below for details on how to travel to Armidale and book your flight at rex.com.au.
Ready to visit Armidale? Don’t forget to tag TrulyAus in your adventures @trulyaus on Instagram and Facebook! Check out our article Australia’s highest things for other high-altitude destinations.