Enjoying an envious location sandwiched between Sydney and the Blue Mountains, Penrith is the adventure town you didn’t know you needed to discover, writes Ellen Hill.
Penthouse suites and a rooftop bar; an emerging foodie scene and craft brewers galore.
Pullman will open a five-star hotel this year and Australia’s first indoor snow resort is about to rise from a horse paddock.
This isn’t Sydney. It’s not the Gold Coast or Melbourne.
This is Penrith, deep in the Western Sydney heartland of New South Wales where footy players are demigods, Westfield is the pinnacle of retail, wealth is monopolised by the steel cap boot and the heat haze from the roofs of suburbia melds with the fiery horizon on a blistering summer’s evening.
Overlooked for years as a fringe town you drove past from Sydney to the world-famous Blue Mountains, Penrith is transforming into Australia’s shiniest, newest tourist destination.
Until now, Penrith has barely had anywhere to lay your head at night.
Now there are plenty of reasons to veer off the motorway and pause for at least one night.
Plonked in the middle of town, attainable luxury brand Astina Suites rises above the red roofs, the industrial zones and shopping strips.
Hotel guests mingle with glitzy young locals for cocktails and canapes in the Mediterranean-style, open-air rooftop Theo’s bar while the sun sets over the Blue Mountains across the Nepean River.
The suites are huge, and in-house guests can use the rooftop pool and function room, techno gym and Recovery Studio with float tank, spa, sauna, steam room and ice baths.
On the other side of town, the serviced apartments at Quest Penrith are within steps of the railway station lift and a few paces from trendy eateries and sophisticated bars, the shopping mall and cinemas.
The local council has styled the region as “the adventure capital of NSW”, and the flat expanse it sits on lends itself to the title.
Whitewater rafting and canoeing have been at Western Sydney Lakes since the Olympics in 2000.
Cable skiing, wakeboarding and knee boarding; aqua and land golf; and iFly indoor skydiving have been at the Penrith Panthers site for decades.
On the Nepean River, school rowing teams scud the surface as the heritage-style Nepean Belle Paddlewheeler chugs into the gorge and jet skis weave around them all.
The Great River Walk is an easy 6.4km stroll or bike circuit taking in both sides of the river. Picnic under a shady tree and follow the path along the eastern bank. If you’re lucky enough to visit in spring, pick mulberries to munch on while you meander.
An immersive VR experience, indoor climbing walls, axe throwing and escape rooms have cropped up, and Zambi Wildlife Retreat retirement sanctuary for animals is in nearby Wallacia.
Not previously known for its culinary diversity, the Penrith palate is expanding.
Along with a profusion of gourmet burger joints, you can tuck into authentic moussaka and yemista at Avli Greek Restaurant on the outskirts of town and alitas de pollo and chicharones picante at Checho’s Mexican in the main business strip.
There are sleek bars and nightclubs like Allan Grammar, Duck Duck Goose and Elton Chong in the main shopping strip, family favourites on the city fringe, chic venues along the riverbank and trendy offerings in surrounding suburbs.
The Log Cabin mega pub is on the eastern side of the new Yandhai walk bridge that straddles the river and popular Emu Hall and Laughin’ Boy eateries are on the western side.
There is a growing proliferation of craft breweries, with Rusty Penny Brewing leading the pack.
Mates Matt and Mark turned their garage hobby into a thriving micro-business in 2016 and recently shifted into a massive tasting room, partnering with a gourmet barbecue business Smokin Hot ’n Saucy.
Penrith has also long had a cultural underbelly, with the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre and Lewers Gallery mainstays for years.
The Q Theatre in The Joan has premiered many new Australian plays and launched the careers of the likes of Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, Knives Out), who first trod the boards professionally there in 1990.
By the time the first plane touches down at the new Western Sydney International Airport at the end of 2026, Penrith will have a 140-room Hilton-owned Garden Inn Hotel and a 1000-seat convention centre.
There are plans for movie studios, a heliport, golf course, waterways, a lake run and lakeside beaches at the Western Sydney Lakes site.
Winter Sports World, with real snow, indoor ski run, snow play area, ice climbing, a 4.5-star 170-room hotel, restaurant and cafes is expected to open in 2027.
Penrith is a newly created unexplored destination with an unfolding story to keep you returning for more. When the airport opens it won’t be a local secret for long.
Penrith is located approximately 60 minutes from Sydney International Airport. It can be accessed by bus and car along the M7 and M4 motorways, or by train from Sydney’s Central Station in 47 minutes.
For more things to do in Penrith, see visitpenrith.com.au