Bowral is the largest town in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, about ninety minutes southwest of Sydney. It is the main business and entertainment precinct of the Wingecarribee Shire and Highlands. At the 2016 census, the population of the Bowral area was 12,949.
In the past, Bowral served as a rural summer retreat for the gentry of Sydney, resulting in the establishment of a number of estates and manor houses in the district. Today, it is considered a "dormitory suburb" for commuter Sydneysiders, though it is 136 km away from the city centre. Bowral is often associated with the cricketer Sir Donald Bradman.
Bowral's history extends back for approximately 200 years. During the pre-colonial era, the land was home to an Aboriginal tribe known as Tharawal (or Dharawal). The first European arrival was ex-convict John Wilson, who was commissioned by Governor Hunter to explore south of the new colony of Sydney. Other people to traverse the area include John Warby and botanist George Caley (an associate of Joseph Banks), the Hume brothers and later famous pioneer explorers John Oxley and Charles Throsby. Governor Lachlan Macquarie of the New South Wales colony had appointed 2,400 acres (9.7 km2) to John Oxley in a land grant, which was later incorporated as Bowral.
Gardens and European plants flourished from 1887, when citizens of Bowral started planting deciduous trees to make the area look more British. This legacy still lives on throughout Bowral. Notably, the oaks at the start of Bong Bong St are a characteristic that makes Bowral distinct from other rural towns, giving it strong autumn colour. The town became somewhat affluent, as many wealthy Sydney-siders purchased property or land in the town and built grand Victorian weatherboard homes.
Bowral has an oceanic climate (Cfb), enjoying warm summers and quite cool to cold winters. Frost is common during winter although temperatures rarely fall below −5 degrees Celsius. Snow falls occasionally, and falls in excess of 15 cm have been recorded. Historic maxima and minima have ranged from 40.9 °C (105.6 °F) on 4 January 2020 to −11.2 °C (11.8 °F) on 11 July 1971.
Bowral is noted for its boutiques, antique stores, gourmet restaurants and cafés.
Bowral is the setting for Tulip Time at the Corbett Gardens, a springtime celebration with a profusion of tulips and other flowers planted in the town centre. A comprehensive private not-for-profit botanic garden includes a mix of exotic, native, and endemic species including a shale woodland, the endangered ecological community endemic to the site.
The town has a Vietnam War Memorial and Cherry Tree Walk, constructed along the Mittagong Rivulet that flows through the town. Along a walking/cycle track beside the stream are planted 526 cherry trees, each dedicated to a soldier who died in the service of his country.
Bowral and surrounding region was proclaimed a book town in 2000, having numerous bookshops and associations with many literary figures including P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins novels, Arthur Upfield, and many others.
First held in 2016, each spring, Bowral hosts a popular cycling event: "The Bowral Classic", which draws hundreds of participants to compete. There are multiple races ranging from 35 km to 160 km.
The Bong Bong Picnic Races, commenced in 1886, attracted crowds of up to 35,000 but were suspended in 1985 and resumed in 1992 as a members-only event. The event attracts around 5,000 people and is held annually in November, as well as other events during the year.
Bowral is also home to a few vineyards and cellar doors and is close to Mittagong, the winery centre of the Southern Highlands. There are 60 vineyards in the Southern Highlands, which is a recognised cool-climate wine district. Wineries around Bowral are listed in the Southern Highlands Wineries Index.
The town is served by the Bowral and District Hospital, which also serves the Southern Highlands region. Founded in 1889, it is the only hospital operated outside the Sydney metropolitan area by the South Western Sydney Local Health District.
Bowral also has access to a private hospital operated by Ramsay Health Care, which includes short and long stay facilities although it lacks an emergency department.