Sydney to Canberra Drive

The drive between cosmopolitan Sydney and Australia’s capital city of Canberra is one of the most popular road trip routes in New South Wales. The two cities are separated by less than 300 kilometres of fast highways with plenty of good attractions and stops along the way. This makes it a popular route to travel and ideal for a short city break. Along the way you’ll pass by charming and historic towns, some spectacular vistas and the beautiful Southern Highlands. While much of the route is along major highways, it’s easy and highly recommended to take a few detour and explore the back country. While the route can be completed in as little as 3 hours, we’d suggest taking a day or two to experience some of NSW’s most picturesque and friendly towns. Read on to find out everything you need to know about the Sydney to Canberra drive, including distances, stops and the best places to visit on the way. 

How Far is the Drive from Sydney to Canberra?

The driving distance from Sydney to Canberra is approximately 286 kilometres (178 miles) via the most direct route. The distance is based on leaving central Sydney and driving all the way to Central Canberra. This route takes you along the M5, M31 (Hume Highway) and M23 (Federal Highway). The straight line distance between the two cities is 247 kilometres or 153 miles. 

Sydney cityscape and harbour from above
Spectacular Sydney Harbour is the starting points for this road trip to Canberra.

How Long Does the Drive from Sydney to Canberra Take?

The drive from Sydney to Canberra typically takes around 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete. This driving time is based on a non-stop journey between the two cities using the most direct route. If you’re travelling at peak times of the day or during the holidays, the 286 kilometres between Sydney and Canberra can take considerably longer to cover.  Allow for at least one extra hour if you’re travelling at peak times or during poor weather conditions. 

What's the Best Driving Route Between Sydney and Canberra?

The best driving route between Sydney and Canberra is also the most direct route. While the route primarily follows major highways, there’s plenty of opportunities to hop off the highway and explore the many attractions along the way. These include waterfalls, historic towns and lakes. 

We’ve provided a summary step by step guide to the route below, however be aware it doesn’t incorporate any stops, other than a break in Goulburn. It’s easy enough to add in additional stops along the way and most attractions aren’t far from the highway. 


  1. Starting in Sydney: Your road trip begins in the central Sydney, an area known for its iconic landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. From here you’ll head south out of town along the M1. 

  2. Leaving Sydney: The route from Sydney goes via the Hume Highway (M31). As you leave Sydney, you’ll pass through the picturesque Southern Highlands region, characterized by rolling hills, charming towns, and lush countryside.

  3. Goulburn: About halfway through the journey, you’ll reach the city of Goulburn, known for its rich history and heritage buildings. Consider making a stop here as there are plenty of good places to eat. If you’ve got the time you can also explore attractions such as the Goulburn Historic Waterworks and the Big Merino, an iconic giant sheep statue.

  4. The Federal Highway: Continuing on the journey, you’ll transition onto the Federal Highway (M23), which leads directly to Canberra. This highway takes you through the scenic countryside, offering beautiful views of rural landscapes and occasional wildlife sightings.

  5. Pass by Lake George: Along the way, you’ll pass by Lake George, a large intermittent lake known for its unique beauty. Depending on the time of year, the lake may be filled with water or appear as a vast grassy plain.

  6. Arriving in Canberra: After driving for approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes, you’ll arrive in the nation’s capital, Canberra. You’ll find an array of attractions here including Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial, National Gallery of Australia, and the beautiful Lake Burley Griffin.

Is the Drive from Sydney to Canberra Easy?

The drive from Sydney to Canberra is generally considered to be relatively easy. The majority of the journey is along well-maintained highways, specifically the Hume Highway (M31) and the Federal Highway (M23). These roads are designed to handle high volumes of traffic and are regularly patrolled for safety. The route is well-signposted and well-lit making navigation straightforward.

Aerial view of the Parliament building in Canberra
Laidback Canberra is the final destination for this road trip in NSW.

Best Places to Stop Between Sydney and Canberra

Southern Highlands

The Southern Highlands are the first possible stop along the way. Nestled amidst rolling hills and picturesque countryside, this region offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and quaint towns. It’s easy to immerse yourself in the charm of towns like Bowral and Berrima, with their boutique shops, cosy cafes, and historic buildings. You can also explore stunning gardens, indulge in locally produced food and wine, and enjoy the tranquil ambiance of this idyllic setting. 

Fitzroy Falls

A visit to Fitzroy Falls is one of the best detours on this road trip. This captivating natural attraction offers a great blend of natural beauty and outdoor adventure. After a short hike you can witness the dramatic plunging waterfalls amidst a backdrop of lush greenery and rugged cliffs.


A stop in the historic city of Goulburn is highly recommended. Known for its rich heritage and charming architecture, Goulburn offers a fascinating glimpse into Australia’s past. You can explore the beautifully preserved historic district, which features Victorian-era buildings and grand churches. You can also discover the city’s railway heritage at the Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre, where you can admire vintage locomotives and learn about the region’s railway history. And don’t miss the opportunity to snap a photo with the iconic Big Merino, a towering monument to the country’s wool industry.

With its unique blend of history, culture, and quirky attractions, Goulburn is a delightful destination that adds a touch of nostalgia and character to the trip. Even better, it’s perfectly located at the midway point of the drive. 

Lake George

Located along the Federal Highway, Lake George is a scenic spot where you can take a break and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Depending on the season and water levels, the lake can present different appearances, from a glistening body of water to a vast grassy plain.


The small historic village of Collector is also worth a visit for its quaint charm. You can explore the villages bushranger history at the Bushranger Hotel, indulge in local food and wine at some of the nearby wineries, or browse through the unique antique shops.


Just before reaching Canberra, you’ll encounter Queanbeyan, a small city located on the border of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Visitors come to explore the Queanbeyan Art Gallery, enjoy various recreational activities at the Queanbeyan River, or visit the historic Queanbeyan Museum.

Aerial view of the spectacular Fitroy Falls in NSW
Spectacular Fitzroy Falls is just a short detour off the main road trip route.

Alternative Ways to Travel from Sydney to Canberra

While driving is the most popular way of travelling between Sydney and Canberra, it’s not the only means of travel. In fact there’s plenty of different ways to travel, although you do lose the flexibility of travelling in your own vehicles. Here are the most common ways to travel between Sydney and Canberra other than travelling by car.


The train is a convenient and comfortable option for traveling between Sydney and Canberra. NSW TrainLink operates regular services on the Canberra-Sydney line. The journey takes around 4 hours, and trains depart from Sydney’s Central Station, stopping at various stations along the way, including Goulburn. Several trains depart daily and the journey costs around $45.


Several bus companies provide regular services between Sydney and Canberra. Companies include Murrays and Greyhound with multiple departure points in Sydney, including Sydney Airport. The journey duration varies, but the journey can be completed in as little at 3 hours and 30 minutes. Across the different provides there’s hourly departures throughout the day. Tickets start at $20, but you’ll need to book ahead and travel at inconvenient times to secure these rates. 


If you prefer a quicker option, you can also opt for a domestic flight from Sydney to Canberra. Several airlines, including Qantas and Virgin Australia, operate daily flights between the two cities. Flight duration is approximately 55 minutes, making it the fastest option for travel between the two cities. 

Best Time to Drive from Sydney to Canberra

There’s no bad time to drive between Sydney and Canberra. The areas temperate climate generally means you won’t experience any extreme weather or difficult road conditions. As the majority of the route is along major highways, you’ll also find that the route is well-lit and well-signposted. This even applies to driving at night when the traffic is lighter. However by travelling at night, you do miss out on the scenery and the stops along the way.

The only major recommendation we can provide is to try and avoid the rush hour in Sydney. The city and it’s sprawling suburbs are the area where you’re most likely to hit traffic and extend your drive time. Therefore try to avoid rush hour where possible. If you can travel on the weekend it’s even better as traffic is much lighter. 

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