The Blue Mountains , located immediately to the west of the sprawling metropolian area that is Sydney, is one of the most accessible areas of (relatively unspoilt) highland natural beauty in New South Wales, Australia. Although not particularly high for a mountain range, the Blue Mountains is nonetheless renowned for its uniquely majestic scenery, for its cultural attractions, and for its relatively tranquil, alternative mode of life.
Up in the mountains are the cities of:
In the lower mountains..
The Blue Mountains is most famous for its three National Parks and other sites of natural beauty:
When the Europeans arrived in Australia, the Blue Mountains had already been inhabited for several millennia by the Gundungurra people who are now represented by the Gundungurra Tribal Council Aboriginal Corporation which is based in Katoomba. It is a not for profit organisation representing the Gundungurra traditional owners, promoting heritage and culture and providing a support for Gundungurra people connecting back to Country.
Although not especially high, the Blue Mountains cliffs were sufficiently challenging to prevent European explorers from penetrating the inland of New South Wales from Sydney for some time. Attempts to cross the mountains began in the very early 1800s and it was not until 1813 when Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson found a way across the mountains by following the ridges rather than the watercourses.
Once the route was found, roads, railway and development followed rapidly. The roads and railways today follow almost exactly the route taken by the original explorers. A visit to many of the scenic vistas, cliffs and waterfalls in the mountains will give you some appreciation of the challenges anyone would face trying to follow the rivers and creeks across the mountains.
The Mountains are a major weekend destination for Sydneysiders, but also have a passionate local community. Making your way up involves passing through many villages. Each with its own centre, and residential area around it.
The lower villages are almost an extension of the Sydney urban area, but the higher you go the more a mountain way of life becomes evident.
Locals of the Blue Mountains tend to be:
The Blue Mountains locals have resisted much development - you'll only find two fast food restaurants (McDonalds/Burger King) between Glenbrook and Lithgow.
If you stay long enough to get to know the place, you'll find an interesting mix of 1860, 1960 and last year.
The temperature can be up to 10°C colder than on the coast during the day, and even colder overnight. There is probably only one or two days of snow every one or two years, but there are many more winters days where it feels like it might snow!. An open fire can be nice on a winters evening.
The main visitor district of the mountains centres around Katoomba, with Echo Point (Three Sisters), Scenic World, Wentworth Falls and Leura all within a few kilometres each direction. The towns of Blackheath and Mount Victoria are smaller tourist centres in their own right, only around 15 minutes drive from Katoomba. Jenolan Caves are a significant distance further, over an hour to drive from Katoomba.
Travellers visiting Sydney are often faced with the dilemma of how best get to the mountains to spend a day or a couple of days. It is quite possible to visit for a day, and to see many of the main sights.
There are no scheduled commercial flights to the mountains. The closest airport is Sydney.
Take the M4 out of Sydney, then continue as the M4 becomes the Great Western Highway (A32) on Lapstone hill. Sydney to Katoomba is 103km and takes about one hour and fifty minutes in good traffic. The traffic is much worse leaving Sydney on a Friday night, or returning to Sydney on a Sunday afternoon. Your travel time can double. After a long weekend (public holiday), traffic can come to a standstill coming down the mountains into Sydney in the afternoons.
The are two major roads into the Blue Mountains. The Great Western Highway is the main route that leads to Katoomba. The Bells Line of Road is the alternative road north of this that comes from Windsor Road. The two roads are joined at Mount Victoria by the Darling Causeway. This forms a loop road which you can do in either direction. The Bells Line of Road is more narrow and winding, but provides for a less tourist motorway like experience. There are several cafe's, resturants, and fruit orchards along the Bells Line of Road. Total ascent/descent on either way from the Sydney basin is approximately 1000m.
Hiring a car from Sydney to spend a day or two in the mountains is a popular option for visitors to Sydney, however an issue often encountered by people staying the city centre is that car rental companies along the city strip generally close before 6pm, and can have queues when they open at 9am. This can make for a very short day in the mountains. The alternative is paying for an extra days car hire, and for overnight parking in the city for two nights, which can add considerably to the cost.
CityRail  trains run every hour or two to the Blue Mountains from Sydney Central, and can also connect at major stations along the way, like Parramatta. Trains run every hour or so as far as Mount Victoria and usually every second one will proceed to Lithgow. While the train will get you to the mountains, you need to determine how to get around when you get there, as there are a number of locations that you won't be able to reach without a car. That said, most of the main towns in the Blue Mountains are linked together by the rail line, and the prime tourist spots are walkable or accessible by visitor friendly bus services. See how to Get Around below.
There are dozens of tour companies operating one day tours to the Blue Mountains from Sydney. Some operate smaller groups of around 14 to 21 people on a mini bus. This tends to give passengers a slightly more personal experience due to a better guide to passenger ratio. To get to the most unspoilt parts of the Blue Mountains and feel surrounded by a World Heritage listed National Park, you need to travel slightly off the beaten track aboard a 4WD guided tour. A number of companies operate chartered tours that offer tour guides and coaches with modern facilities (toilets, air conditioning).
Once you get up the mountains, it is easy to get around the mountains by car, and congestion or parking is generally not a problem in getting around. The Great Western Highway (A32) crosses the Mountains east to west, and most places aren't far from it. Expect to pay for parking at Echo Point (The Three Sisters) at $4 per hour, but everywhere else should be free of charge. There are large free multi-storey parking lots at Scenic World.
It's worth considering that nearly all car rental companies do not allow you to take their cars off of the sealed roads. This is unfortunate as one of the great benefits of a self drive tour of the Blue Mountains is being able to enjoy some of the lesser known lookouts off the beaten track.
By hop-on hop-off bus
There are also two hop-on hop-off bus services available.
You can purchase a link ticket with the train that includes the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus and the train fare to Katoomba from any Cityrail station. If you are travelling as a family the family fare saver, where only the first child pays, means that you should only buy a link ticket for one child, and buy the other child ticket on the bus.
Consider how much time you have, and what you want to see. HOHO buses will generally cost more money than local buses, especially if you have a MyMulti ticket which includes the local buses. They can only get you to various lookouts and places of interest in the Katoomba and Leura area. You can see some great views over the Jameson Valley but you are not able to see views and lookouts in the Grose or Megalong Valley's.
By local bus
You can get to some stunning view points near Katoomba and Leura falls using regular bus service. Buses stop right outside the train station. Visit Blue Mountains Bus online  for the timetable. Most popular visitor destinations are serviced, but service frequency can drop to every couple of hours on Saturdays and many routes don't run at all on Sundays.
Opal card will cover the local bus in the mountains - buy one from a ticket reseller or a train station. Cash tickets are sold on the bus.
If travelling between towns in the mountains (like from Katoomba to Leura, Blackheath, Medlow Bath, or Mount Victoria), train is also available. Trains generally run every hour or so, more frequently during peak times.
There are literally hundreds of walking opportunities in the mountains, from short 1km trips to lookouts, to multi-day walks, and the famous Six Foot Track from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves. They will have all the details at the visitor information at Echo Point.
The Blue Mountains area and surrounding national parks contains many hundreds of the world's most magnificent sandstone slot canyons. Many are in wilderness and world heritage protected sites, which makes them fairly unique in the world. Adventure companies based in the mountains like High'n'Wild and Blue Mountains Adventure Company offer guided day canyoning trips through some of the more popular canyons such as Empress, Grand Canyon, Claustral, Rocky Creek, Wollangambe, and Whungee Whengee. With all gear being provided. It is possible to canyon on your own (guidebooks are available, such a Canyons Near Sydney), but it is only advised for those with the appropriate level of technical skill and equipment. If you visit the Valley of the Waters at Wentworth falls, you can often see commercial canyoning companies abseiling Empress Falls from around 1pm onwards.
There are many accommodation options in the Mountains.
There are a number of walks you can take in the mountains to experience them, where the tracks are well marked and well traversed. You can walk from Echo Point to the Scenic Railway, down the steps at the Three Sisters, and take the Scenic Railway back to the top. These walks have mobile reception, and you will have no problem following the tracks. There are shorter walks at Echo Point too. Check at visitor information.
If you are bushwalking any further, you should prepare for the possibility of getting lost in the bush. People get lost regularly, it gets cold overnight, and visitors and mountain locals have died when they have lost the trail, and become disoriented. Personal locator beacons are available free of charge from Katoomba Police . Let someone know your route, and when you will be back. Take a mobile phone (not always in range) and a GPS.
Leaving Katoomba by car at 4 PM on a Sunday will likely get you stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic from Leura down the hill. The traffic usually does not clear until around 6 PM.