There are several options on how to get to the Blue Mountains from Sydney, for a day trip or preferably longer. As we have discussed in previous articles, the Blue Mountains are a vast area and there is much to explore.
A Day Trip is not ideal, however, if staying over a night or two is just not an option, a Blue Mountains Day Trip can get you into the heart of things quite quickly.
On a Blue Mountains Day Trip, our advice is to not try and see too much all at once, it’s better to do a few things well. We have some suggested activities in other articles, with our unique Insider Tips.
There are three main options on How to get to the Blue Mountains.
- Public Transport – Train
- Do it Yourself – Car
- Organised Bus Tour
In this article we will look at each option, give you our Insider Tips and provide some useful links.
How to get to the Blue Mountains by Train.
There is a reasonably efficient train system to the Blue Mountains on the appropriately named Blue Mountains Line of the State transport system, Transport NSW.
Depending on the time of day, the trains can be quite crowded with both commuters and tourists, but you should always be able to find a seat.
Trains leave from Central Railway Station, the hub of all trains in Sydney. It’s often just referred to as “Central.” Depending where you are coming from, you can get to Central via Train, Bus, Light Rail, Car or on foot. It’s at the Northern end of the Central Business District (CBD.)
You will need to get an Opal Card for travel on the Train. This will give you access to all Bus, Train, Light Rail and Ferry services of Transport NSW. You can get single use tickets for some trips, but with the Opal Card, fares are slightly lower and they are also capped daily and weekly so you can save even more. For instance the Sunday cap is currently just $2.60.
This is an excellent information sheet
Note – The Opal Card does not work on any private bus services or specific tourist bus services like the Explorer Bus.
The Platform for the Blue Mountains Line can vary so check the sign boards.
We strongly suggest you download the free TripView app. This is the official Transport app and once you get your head around it, it becomes very useful. There are some other useful apps listed in the document linked above.
Track work is a fairly constant thing through the train network and sometimes requires passengers to use a bus for some sections. This tends to happen on the weekends, they would prefer to disrupt tourists than the regular commuters, so check the app where they should be listed.
The Trip time also varies as there are a number of Express trains. Most trains stop at most of the Mountain villages, the Express trains skip a few stops on the way across to the foot of the Mountains.
Transport NSW has an excellent website where you can check the exact current timetable.
Note – The Blue Mountains Line has a different schedule on Saturday & Sunday, than during the week.
How to get to the Blue Mountains – Insider Train Tips
Because most of the trains start their journey from Central Station, they are often sitting at the platform for a while before they leave. They are accessible for most of the time before departure, so feel free to get on and relax in the carriage when you get there.
I prefer to sit closer to the front of the train, as people arriving close to departure time tend to get on the closest carriages which are those at the back, which therefore tend to be more crowded.
I also prefer upstairs on the left hand side. This gives you some nice views down into the stunning Glenbrook Gorge when you first start climbing up the hill.
How to get to the Blue Mountains by Train – Highlights
If you have time check out the beautiful Central Station opened in 1906. There are some magnificent features and quite often historical displays. Check out the carved mural in what is currently the fast food court. At time of writing the gift shop is getting an upgrade but if you are a train buff, they usually have a good selection of unique books, DVD’s etc.
Like at any big railway station around the world, keep an eye on your possessions and be aware of what’s going on around you
Just as the train pulls out , look out of the right hand side windows to see the fascinating gothic styled Mortuary Station from the 1860’s. This was built to take funeral parties out to the vast Rookwood Cemetery on a special train.
On your left you will see the huge old Railway Workshops of Eveleigh, now a thriving arts and innovative business hub.
The train then passes through the inner west, allowing a peek into the backyards of the rows of terrace houses, some fairly unchanged since they were built in the late 1800’s
After you push further west, through Strathfield then Parramatta things start to open up a bit, you’ll even see some pockets of farmland, slowly getting taken over by Sydney’s unstoppable growth.
The Nepean River really marks the bottom of the Mountains. This major River almost encircles Sydney. It comes from the Southern Highlands 80 kms well south of Sydney, meanders past Penrith here in the west, merges with others, becomes the mighty Hawkesbury River and finally hits the ocean north of Sydney’s Northern Beaches at Broken Bay.
The other interesting point for the history buffs, the spot where the train crosses the river is just a few hundred meters from the actual spot where the explorers Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth crossed the river before finally making their way through the Mountains, the first Europeans to do so. Local Aboriginal tribes had of course been moving back and forth through the Mountains for thousands of years before that.
The train then begins it’s climb up the Mountains. On modern trains you hardly notice the couple of steep sections, but they were major challenges when the line first opened. Different routes were attempted, a Zig-Zag was constructed and then a large Viaduct.
Another point some people mention or are surprised about is that the Blue Mountains are not massive, tall geographical features. People who have experienced the mountains of Europe or the North American Rockies, are sometimes a bit perplexed. On a couple of occasions I’ve run into tourists at our local shops asking “where are the Mountains?” However once you are here, have experienced the green, the clear air and the unique features and lifestyle, most people are thrilled they made the effort to get up here.
Most people visiting by train tend to aim for Leura or Katoomba and then explore from there. You can then either walk the town, jump on a local bus or get tickets on the Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing “Explorer Bus” service.
At the time of writing , Uber is not strong in the Mountains.
Taxis are available at most major stations.
How to get to the Blue Mountains By Car
Driving yourself to the Blue Mountains is a good option and of course gives you many options once you are there.
The M4 is the road you need. This basically heads due West from Sydney, slicing it’s way through the sprawling Western Suburbs, across the Nepean River at the foot of the Mountains and then it merges into the Great Western Highway to take you up and through the Mountains.
It officially starts at Strathfield, but there is currently plenty of work going on connecting it to other tollways.
Yes, there are Tolls, so check with your hire car company or Toll provider about how to handle those.
You can actually travel a lot of the way out on the older Great Western Highway, avoiding some of the Tolls, but the many traffic lights along the way will really cut into your time and patience, especially if you are doing just a day trip.
The signage to the Blue Mountains is fairly good but following along on a smart phone app could be a good idea. Note – “Blue Mtns” is used on some signs as an abbreviation.
The Speed Limits are clearly marked, but they do jump up and down as you pass through most villages on the way up the hill.
Also watch out for School Zones. These run from 8 – 9.30am and then from 2.30 – 4pm on School days. They are pretty clearly marked with signs and often flashing lights, but they are often policed with quite hefty fines.
Keep to the left and stick to the leftmost lane unless passing. The road is somewhat notorious for speeding drivers and trucks but you’ll be fine if you keep alert.
At time of writing the Glenbrook Tourist Information Centre is being rebuilt. This is on your left when you get up the first major hill. It is clearly marked and worth a stop to pick up current brochures, maps, what’s on etc.
Parking is generally fairly easy around the Mountains, though there are Time Restrictions at many places. The very popular Three Sisters precinct has metered parking spaces, the only ones in the Blue Mountains.
An approach some people use is to drive up, then park at the Katoomba Railway Station car park, and then either use the Explorer Bus or local busses to get around.
Alternatively, you can get to the top of the Mountains via the Bells Line of Road.
This is a more leisurely and scenic approach for those with a little more time. There’s plenty to explore along the way and you’ll avoid some of the traffic and eyesores of the Great Western Highway.
The road takes you up from Richmond in Sydney’s North West fringe up to Bell deep in the Mountains, where you can then cut across the Darling Causeway to Mount Victoria or proceed on to Lithgow.
Day Trip to Blue Mountains on a Bus Tour
The other easy option for a day in the Blue Mountains is to take a Bus Tour. There are plenty of options.
Most Tours start either at Central or Circular Quay and some pickup from the Major Hotels.
On the positive side, you will be guaranteed a comfy seat and relaxing trip up and hopefully some interesting commentary on the way.
The negative side is that you will be rushed. This is a fairly common comment in a lot of the forums and feedback that you read in the travel forums. The Tours pack a lot of features into the trip, you will see this, see that etc, so that they can sell the tickets. But to get to all of those and to allow for any delays they like to move through them all at a fairly brisk rate.
Several of the tours also include a ferry ride back to the city from Parramatta, down the river and into the Harbour.
It really boils down to if you are a Bus Tour type of person or not.
Blue Mountains Insider – Bus Tour Tip
Another thing to look out for, is do they stop at Featherdale Zoo as part of the trip? If you have already been to Taronga Zoo or Sydney Zoo, you probably don’t want to take a tour that spends much of your precious time there. Alternatively if you haven’t got up close to some wildlife, it may be a good option for you. Featherdale is very well regarded and highly rated.
In summary, however you get to the Blue Mountains, do a bit of research first, plan what you can comfortably do in the time that you have and enjoy whatever you decide to do.