Fuel Stop: Katoomba has a few good cafes, but my tip for lunch is actually in Leura: the Alexandra Hotel, which is LEFT and left again into the little path, along the train line. Good and plentiful portions of decent pub food at good prices with the option to dine in the garden on a good day.
Duration: All Day or several days. Start the day early (like 8am/9am) as it’s a 2 hour train trip one way. Trains run about every half hour or even just hourly, and are also the best way to do the Katoomba to Leura leg, one stop, so check the timetable on TripView and plan it well.
Note: Do this on a good weather day, and I’d recommend on a weekday. It gets crazy busy on weekends with everyone heading up to the mountains, especially in summer when the air is usually cooler. The Blue Mountains are called ‘blue’ because of their eucalyptus trees, and the oil scattered in the air breaks the light and gives it a misty blueish glow.
I’d suggest you set out as early as possible (trains start from around 4:20am from Central). If you leave just after 8am, you’ll get to Katoomba around 10:15. Catch a 686 bus at the bus stop in front of the Carrington Hotel on Katoomba St (beware, often very full, especially on weekends you may have to wait for another service to even get on) direction “Echo Point/Scenic World”. Get off at Echo Point. The bus will stop at Waradah Aboriginal Centre, and my tip is to avoid the crowds taking pictures in front of other people and head straight to the Spooners Lookout. You will have the viewing platform towards the famous Three Sisters almost to yourself.
Walk the 200m back to the bus stop and wait for the next bus to Scenic World. Check with the driver as some buses do head straight back to Katoomba. Now, Scenic World is something you should do once, and it’s expensive, so I leave it up to you, but if you’re up here for the first time, stop there and spend a few hours there. They have a cafe. If you’ve seen the Three Sisters, or if you’re afraid of heights, the free dangling Skyway or Cableway can be skipped. The Walkway is nice, and if you have a need for speed, do the Railway. It’s the steepest incline railway in the world. Pre-purchase tickets on their website to avoid queuing.
I personally skip the Scenic World experience and after viewing the Three Sisters for free without dangling from the sky, I usually happily catch the bus back direct to Katoomba from the Three Sisters (ask if there is one if one via Scenic World pops up), and get off at the bottom of Katoomba St (Stop:Katoomba St After Waratah St) and grab a coffee at quirky (but American) Yellow Deli and walk up (good for the heart), but feel free to catch the bus all the way back to the station.
There are infrequent direct buses 685 or 690K from the same bus stop Katoomba St After Waratah St direct to Leura (direction North Wentworth Falls or Springwood), if the timing works better for you than the bus/train combination, but do check the timetable regardless.
Check the train timetables towards the city and if you walked/bussed it back to the station, catch the next train service one stop back towards the city, to Leura, and head there for lunch at the Alexandra Hotel mentioned above. It’s good. And it’s Australian, and great value for money. Once you’ve finished a potentially lateish lunch, make sure it’s not 5pm yet, as most things close early around here. At least have a wander down Leura Mall as far as Megalong St, and up on the other side. There are some nice quaint shops around here, and also some cute courtyards.
Check the train times, have a last coffee and head back to the big smoke. Can’t blame you for falling asleep on the 2 hour train trip after all that healthy mountain air.
A few days in the Blue Mountains
If you’re staying overnight in Leura or Katoomba, or want to see more than the highlights, I recommend considering a bus ticket from one of the tour companies, such as Blue Mountain Explorer Bus or the Trolley Bus. Both have fairly similar and reasonably frequent tourist inspired itineraries. A highlight on these is the Everglades Garden (to which the Explorer Bus only goes infrequently in the mornings – but gives you a huge discount on the admission, but overall the Explorer is more frequent). If you decide for the Trolley, buy your ticket on arrival at Katoomba, as it is cheaper.
You can get to Everglades Gardens also on the 695 bus. Check timetables.
Or grab a map and do some bushwalking – for the more adventurous, there are some spectacular sights and waterfalls to be discovered!