Katoomba developed as a popular mountain resort town in the early 20th century, with holidaymakers taking advantage of the train services along the current line from Sydney. The town reached an early heyday in the period between the world wars, attested to today by the numerous examples of art deco architecture and shop fronts along the main street of the town.
Today it serves as the main base for travellers to the Blue Mountains, and the main gateway to the two most popular tourist spots at Echo Point and Scenic World. It has the most shops with all the supplies you need, tourist offices, motels, transport restaurants and even some nightlife. However, it has lost the quaint village charm to Leura, its immediately adjacent neighbour to the east.
Katoomba is located just off the Great Western Highway, and is a well signposted destination. Parking is available in town, with timed parking on the street. Parking fees are charged at Echo Point and availability is limited, so if you are also visiting Scenic World, consider parking there in its large car park, and walking to Echo Point from the Scenic Skyway terminus.
Katoomba Station is at the northern end of the town centre. Train services run from Sydney via its western suburbs on a mostly hourly basis. From Sydney Central the adult fare is a maximum $8.30 (each way), and the Opal Card can be used for the trip (with its discounts and fare caps).
From the train station the 686 bus goes every 30 minutes during the day from Katoomba Station to Scenic World and Echo Point. You can use your Opal card on the service.
Alternatively, you can take one of two Hop-on-hop-off services.
Blue Mountains Trolley Tours charge $25 for a day's hop-on/hop-off (around 9AM to 5PM) but ask nicely at their sales office near the train station and you may get stamps for extra days for free. Their ticket office is across the street from Katoomba railway station. The regular bus departs each hour and goes to Leura, along the canyon edge to Three Sisters, Echo Point, Scenic World and back also stopping at some resorts, golf courses and museums. The starting point for Trolley's buses is outside Carrington Hotel, around the corner from the ticket office. The Trolley Tours HOHO ticket also allows you to take the 686 bus (which they call the 'express trolley').
- Echo Point. A 'must see' for any visitor to Sydney, there are spectacular views of the Three Sisters rock formation from this lookout. There are a lot of tourists, although the platforms are well structured to give you a great view. There are numous walking trails from here, include a 30 minute walk to the Three Sisters themselves. Free, although parking at $5 an hour..
- Scenic World, corner of Violet St & Cliff Drive, ☎ +61 2 4782 2699, fax: +61 2 4782 5675, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Scenic Skyway and Scenic Railway have been part of a visit to the Blue Mountains for as long as any Sydneysider can remember. The scenic railway is a really steep caged railway, and gives quite a thrill. The front seat is best if you can get it. The scenic cableway is much more sedate as descends down into the forest, and although it is common to do the railway down and the cableway back, if you want to enjoy the ride and not just the view, you'll have more fun just taking the railway both directions. Recent renovations to the railway have made it not quite as scary as it once was. Down in the valley you can walk on boardwalks along in the rainforest, the avalanche and see some mining remnant artifacts. There can be crowds on weekends, but you'll still get on okay. There can be school groups too, so just have a cup of coffee and wait for them to do their thing. $10 each way.
- Bushwalking in the valleys, including longer walks to the Ruined Castle (an eroded mountain) and Mt Solitary. Watch out for large, noisy lyrebirds scratching up food on the ground. If you're not prepared for bushwalking in the mountains, stick to walks along the cliff base, or connect with a guide. Good shoes, a bottle of water and some sun protection are highly recommended.
- The Edge cinema, 225 Great Western Highway, ☎ +61 2 4782 8900. The main attraction is a 38-minute giant screen movie about the Blue Mountains, called Wild Australia: The Edge. This is an amazing show about the stunning scenery and the rainforest, filmed from an "adventure sports" and "conservation" viewpoint; not at all tacky or "touristy". The cinema also screens other giant screen films and conventional movies including classic films, so be sure to check the schedule before making the trip.
- Avalon, 8 Katoomba St, ☎ +61 2 4782 5532. W-Su. A stylish restaurant in the dress circle of the old Savoy theatre with beautiful views down the valley. It is moderately expensive, but they have generous servings and huge desserts. Friendly yet unobtrusive staff and a classy atmosphere. Mains cost up to $25.
- Cafe Zuppa, 36 Katoomba St, ☎ +61 2 4782 9247. Daily 7AM-11PM. Zuppa has an art deco interior, friendly staff, good food in generous portions at affordable prices.
- Isobar Cafe, 40 Katoomba Street, ☎ +61 2 4782 4063. Has nice food and drinks, friendly staff and a good atmosphere.
- Paragon, 65 Katoomba St, ☎ +61 2 4782 2928, fax: +61 2 4782 4744. Lovely food and friendly staff.
- Common Ground café, cnr Katoomba St and Waratah St. Excellent personal service, fairly nice prices for delicious food. Ambiance is cosy and private. Sometimes live music. Ask them about their community. Have the best hot chocolade in town. Great for lunch or dinner.
- Clarendon Guesthouse, 68 Lurline St. Has a licensed entertainment restaurant that features live music, comedy and theatre.
Traditional pubs, less heavy on live entertainment than the Clarendon, cluster around Katoomba railway station. The nightlife is this area is not fantastic - by 9PM on a Friday night the streets are almost empty - but those looking for a drink should try:
- The Carrington Piano Bar, also known as the Saloon Bar. The most upmarket of the pubs, it contains rather less drunken young people than the others on the average Friday or Saturday night. Sometimes has live piano music. It also has an excellent restaurant upstairs.
- The Carrington Main Bar is the 'default', stock-standard Katoomba pub, generally known as the 'Carrington' or just the 'Carro'. It's located just opposite the train station and taxi stand. Poker machines, beer, pies, more beer. It has a recently-renovated nightclub upstairs (with a separate entrance fee) called 'Baroque', which features live music on many nights.
All live music venues in Katoomba publish advertisements listing their upcoming attractions in the entertainment section of the Blue Mountains Gazette, which is published on Wednesdays and can be bought at newsagencies.
- Blue Mountains YHA, 207 Katoomba St, ☎ +61 2 4782 1416, fax: +61 2 4782 6203, e-mail: email@example.com. Reception open 7AM to 10PM.
- No. 14, 14 Lovel Street, ☎ +61 2 4782 7104, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A relaxed, homely hostel with polished floors, cosy fires, clean and tidy, with a leafy veranda with valley views. It is family-run and the friendly staff will gladly provide you with all necessary information about the blue mountains. Free internet, tea and coffee. Only 10 minutes walk from town center, 5 minutes from the railway station. There are four-bed-dorms, twin and double rooms, all are centrally heated for those chilly mountain nights. Dorm: $26, Double: $75.
- The Flying Fox Hostel (350 metres from railway station), ☎ +61 2 47 824226, e-mail: email@example.com. A small, friendly hostel with a laid back atmosphere. Garden, outside fireplace. The owner knows the mountains well and helps plan walks. Dorms and private rooms. Guest kitchen. Free wifi, breakfast, tea and coffee.
- Hotel Gearin Backpackers Hostel, Katoomba, 273 Great Western Highway, ☎ +61 2 4782 4395, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Katoomba, Blue Mountains. True Aussie Style Pub Lodging.
- 3 Explorers Motel, 197 Lurline Street, ☎ +61 2 4782 1733, 1300 721 733 (reservations local rate call), fax: +61 2 4782 1146. All rooms in this small motel have queen sized beds, private bathrooms, and televisions. There are also a small number of "spa suites" with two or three private rooms and a two person spa. Rates for two people per night are $96 Sunday night to Thursday night, $106 Friday night and $136 Saturday night for a double room; and $155 Sunday night to Thursday night, $175 Friday night and $205 Saturday night for a spa suite. Call the reservations number for special deals if staying both Friday and Saturday nights.
- Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa, 5-19 Lilianfels Ave, Echo Point. An historic country house hotel set amidst two acres of manicured gardens. It's a short walk from Echo Point, and some of the rooms have spectacular views of the Jamison Valley. Has its own restaurant, Darley's.
- The Carrington Hotel. This historic (built 1880) hotel has friendly staff and exudes charm. It is located right on Katoomba's main street and a short walk from the train station. Some of the rooms have breathtaking views of the valley. The formal dining room has great meals. Unfortunately, it lacks a modern elevator, and has too many steps for guests arriving with luggage. Still, a great choice if you like old-world charm and a choice location over modern convenience.
- Jenolan Caves – further west, with guided bus tours from Katoomba
- Leura – neighbouring town to the east that merges with Katoomba
- Medlow Bath – five minutes by car or train to the west/north