Sydney is simply one of the best places to visit in the world. Why might you ask? Well, this down under destination offers a staggering array of things to do. From swimming with dolphins and bush walking in beautiful parks, to bargain hunting at weekend markets and high-end dining; there’s something for everyone in this city of sun, sand and surf. So still wondering, what to do, check our top 50 must do’s and start planning your trip to Sydney today!
Catch the Manly Ferry from Circular Quay, Sydney Harbour to Manly
Catching the ferry to Manly, a seaside resort on Sydney’s north-east shore, is a perfect way to get an introduction to city life by the sea. On the way you’ll soak up excellent views of the iconic Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, and once you reach Manly there are plenty of things to keep you busy.
There’s the local Four Pines brewery to check out, indigenous rock art to view, trying one of its many cafés for lunch or souvenir hunting. You may just want to take it easy and spend the day of swimming and relaxing on Manly Beach, or stroll to secluded Shelly Beach for a snorkel with the fish.
Depending on the time of year Manly plays host to a number of exciting annual events, so keep an eye out for the Manly Food and Wine Festival, the Manly Jazz Festival and the Manly Surf Life Saving Carnival amongst others.
Tickets for the Manly Ferry can be purchased at a few places. The Sydney Ferries ticket outlets at Circular Quay and Manly, the ticket machines at Circular Quay and Darling Harbour or at the café on board the Manly Ferry.
Ferries to Manly run daily from Circular Quay, there’s either a fast (15 minute) or slow (30 minute) service. If you want good photo opportunities then try and grab a seat outside in the front as it has the best view.
For further information about fares, passes and attractions visit the Sydney Ferries website.
Sydney Harbour Cruise
There’s no better way to experience Sydney’s beautiful harbour and stunning skyline than to take a cruise around the harbour, whether it’s by public ferry or organised cruise.
There are varying opinions on whether a Sydney Harbour Cruise is worth the money but it depends on what you’re after. Generally the advice is to take a ferry because they’re cheaper, you get to mix with the locals, and you can go to more out of the way places.
So if keeping it cheap is your first priority, then check the Sydney Ferries website for suggested itineraries. You’ll see the same iconic harbour sights, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, and spend much less.
If budget isn’t a problem then you might want to consider an organised harbour cruise because it lasts longer, you get a commentary and often refreshments are included in the price.
Captain Cook is one of the better known tour operators and offers reasonable prices. For day trips there’s a ‘Harbour Highlights’ Cruise from $30 which takes in all the famous sights and has a commentary. Or if you prefer, a ‘Hop On Hop Off Harbour Explorer’ 24 Hour pass from $39, which lets you visit up to eight habourside attractions.
The harbour lit up at night is just magic, so a Captain Cook’s ‘Cocktail Cruise’ from $39 could be worth it if you’re in Sydney for a special occasion.
For more information on Sydney Ferries and Captain Cook’s cruises visit their websites.
Catch a Sydney Ferry from Circular Quay, Sydney Harbour to Darling Harbour
There are so many things to do at Darling Harbour that a visit will definitely be on your list. Just save a few things for a rainy day!
Darling Harbour is home to some of Sydney’s top attractions such as the Sydney Aquarium – one of the largest aquariums in the world, the Powerhouse Museum for history and culture buffs and Sydney Wildlife World, which exhibits Australia’s exotic outback and rainforest creatures.
If it’s night life you’re looking for, it’s hard to beat the sheer variety of entertainment and dining options at Darling Harbour. The Star City Casino presents a variety of shows at its Lyric and Star Theatres. There’s also a range of free entertainment every week and events such as the Australia Day spectacular, a Jazz & Blues Festival and the Hoopla acrobatic and street theatre festival are hosted at Darling Harbour every year.
For highly recommended dining and bar options try Astral restaurant in the Star City Casino, Zaafran for superb Indian cuisine, Helm Bar, Oscars Lounge Bar or Georges at King Street Wharf.
Or if you want some time out, take a stroll through the Chinese Garden of Friendship or wander along the foreshore of Cockle Bay. There are plenty of open spaces at Darling Harbour to chill out and relax as well as being entertained.
Getting to Darling Harbour is easy and inexpensive with ferries running daily from Circular Quay to King Street Wharf or Pyrmont Bay Wharf. To save time, it pays to check which activities are nearest to the wharf you need to alight at.
The Sydney Visitor Centre at The Rocks has information and advice on what to see and do. Also ask about the Darling Harbour Experience Pass if you’re going to be in Sydney for an extended break. The pass offers entry to most attractions, and includes lunch at a discounted rate.
Walk from Manly Ferry Terminal (Manly Wharf) to Shelly Beach
If you’re spending some time in Manly then the two km walk from the ferry terminal to Shelly Beach is well worth it. This sheltered, tranquil paradise is great for swimming and snorkeling, and quieter than the larger Bondi, Manly or Coogee Beaches.
Shelly Beach is directly opposite Manly and the walk is a gentle meander from the bustling port. Look out for the Cabbage Tree Eco Sculptures, small representations of views, nature, art and food along the path. You’ll also come across the Fairy Bower Baths, triangular shaped pools where you can sunbathe, swim or paddle protected from the waves. If you fancy a coffee stop there’s Bower Cafe/Seafood Restaurant and also Sea Poppies, which provides B&B accommodation.
Shelly Beach, so named because it used to be covered in shells, faces west so it’s naturally secluded from the elements and a great spot for a relaxing swim. Its shallow, clear waters are also perfect for snorkeling and you’ll be rewarded with abundant marine life swimming about.
There are a few café and restaurant options at Shelly Beach if you’re feeling peckish. Le Kiosk restaurant serves delicious seafood and steak dishes, and are open daily for lunch and dinner from 6pm on Monday to Saturday. Or if you’re more in the mood for fish and chips for lunch, head to the Sandbar Café which also provides take-aways.
To walk off your lunch head up to the cliff top for inspiring views across to North Head, then follow the path back to the Manly wharf to catch a ferry back to Circular Quay.
North Head, Manly
In the mood for a little history and great views? Then visit North Head, one of Sydney’s most spectacular landmarks. This sandstone headland juts out southeast of Manly and is almost four square km’s in area.
To get there walk to Shelly Beach, then trek the one km long paved pathway that will take you up into Sydney Harbour National Park. Along the way you’ll be able to read interesting information about the local flora and fauna and take in some great beach views.
North Head encompasses a number of fortifications and tunnels used during World War One and Two. To learn about Sydney’s military history you can take a guided tour with the National Artillery Museum every second Sunday of the month (you’ll have to book for these). Alternatively take a self-guided tour by picking up a visitor’s guide from the Gatehouse Visitor Centre, open 10am – 4pm. On Gunner’s Walk you will be able to see many local plants and birds such as banksias, flannel flowers, little wattlebirds and perhaps the Eastern Water Dragon (a lizard).
The North Head lookout on the promontory boasts some of the best views of Sydney and also up towards the Northern Beaches. It can get pretty blustery up there so make sure you dress warmly and hold on! Look out for migrating whales as they make their way along the coast.
Sydney Harbour Bridge and Bridge Climb
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Sydney Harbour Bridge is the widest long span bridge in the world. The ‘coat-hanger’, as it is affectionately known, is a crucial thoroughfare for all modes of transport between the city and northern shores of Sydney.
If you’re staying on the city side, a quick trip across on foot lets you check out North Shore attractions at Milson’s Point such as Luna Park, or the Olympic Swimming Pool. It also has a range of eateries and shopping venues. Nearby Kirribilli is a lovely place to visit for a spot of shopping and/or lunch.
The pedestrian pathway starts at Gloucester Street and Cumberland Street stairs in the Rocks area.
Not for the faint-hearted, the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb has been described as “expensive but worth every dollar”.
Strictly speaking there are three guided ‘climbs’ you can undertake: The Express Climb, The Discovery Climb and The Bridge Climb. The Express Climb is just over two hours long and the fastest option, The Discovery Climb offers architectural insight into the bridge’s structure and for panoramic views of the harbour, choose The Bridge Climb.
All climbs can be done at dawn, day, twilight and night. Prices range from approximately $200 – $300 depending on climb and time of day. For a less expensive option you can pay $9 and go up one of the south pylons which has a museum and viewing platform.
Open Air Cinema (and Moonlight Cinema)
Imagine watching a movie under the stars with a backdrop of Sydney harbour in front of you. One of the most popular things to do in Sydney during summer is attending the St.George Open Air Cinema. Recently the event has taken on a festive atmosphere with film-goers keen to make the most of the evening with pre-film dinner and drinks at the harbourside bar and restaurant. Although there is a 1,800 seat grandstand, the popularity of this event means you’ll need to book online well in advance.
The Open Air Cinema is next to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Fleet Steps, just south of Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. You should book for a night that has a film you really want to see as the view is so magnificent it will take all your efforts to concentrate on it!
Alternatively if the views are just too distracting, there is also the Moonlight Cinema in Centennial Park, Paddington which shows recent releases from Tuesday to Sunday, 7:00 pm – 11:00 pm. You can rent a bean bag or bring your own chair. Food is available but it’s best to eat beforehand and just bring your own snacks.
There’s limited parking at Centennial Park so using public transport is easier. For buses, catch Route 380 or 382 from Oxford St, or Route 378 runs regularly between Central Station and Bronte Beach with a stop at Centennial Park. For trains, catch one to Bondi Junction and connect with the 355 bus that stops on Oxford St near the Woollahra Gates to Centennial Park.
Palm Beach, Whale Beach and Bilgola Beach
The beautiful Northern Beaches of Sydney are situated on a bushy peninsula that stretches for 30km and encompasses 22 golden sand beaches, three national parks and many lakes, bays and basins.
It’s well worth spending at least a day exploring this area, especially if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Palm Beach is the most exclusive and northern beach. Its idyllic surroundings and expensive real estate have attracted numerous well-known Australian celebrities and personalities. It’s also the location of Aussie soap “Home and Away”. Tourist amenities are plentiful at Palm Beach so once you tire of star-spotting you could rent a boat, swim in the 50 metre ocean pool, have lunch at the Boat House on the wharf or trek up to Palm Beach lighthouse.
For pure sun and sea enjoyment, stop off at nearby Whale or Bilgola Beaches which each have their own merits. The restaurant at Whale Beach ‘Jonahs’, has great ocean views and first class service, while Bilgola Beach is a quiet, relaxing haven surrounded by rainforest.
If you don’t want to rent a car, then you can opt for the cheap bus or not-so-cheap seaplane, depending on the state of your finances. The bus takes around 60-80 minutes and, though a winding trip, you can get off and on and explore other areas at your leisure. The seaplane leaves from Rose Bay and takes around 12-15 minutes to Palm Beach. If you want a taste of the celebrity lifestyle then take the plane, it’s a better look than descending from a bus.
Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens
Don’t forget to put a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens on your list. A stroll through the greenery and a cool, refreshing drink at the Botanic Gardens Restaurant & Café is a perfect way to relax on a hot Sydney day.
This 30 hectare oasis right in the heart of the city offers interesting themed garden areas such as the aboriginal Cadi Jam Ora: First Encounters Garden, sculptures, fountains, rare plants, a Tropical Centre and much more. You’ll also be able to see some Australian fauna: possums and flying foxes, waterdragons, Australian birds, butterflies and many others.
Guided tours of the gardens leave daily at 10.30am from the Visitor Information Centre and at 1pm Monday to Friday (except during the summer months).
If 30 hectares seems like a lot to traverse, especially if you have little ones, then you can take a scenic train tour for a reasonable price courtesy of the Choo Choo Express. Check the website below for times and prices.
Another section of the Royal Botanic Gardens you might consider visiting is Government House and grounds, open 10am – 4pm daily. Admission is free and you can have a guided tour if you want.
Don’t forget to check out the Gardens shop which sells unusual souvenirs, Australian native food and has a range of cosmetics.
For quick and easy transport, the closest train stations to the Royal Botanic Gardens are Circular Quay, Martin Place or St James.
10. Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and Point
Don’t sit in one place for too long in Sydney otherwise you’ll get a chair carved into a rock and named after you. This is what happened to Governor Macquarie’s wife, Elizabeth in the 1800’s (Lachlan Macquarie was the Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821).
Apparently Mrs Macquarie enjoyed the views from the headland so much her husband had some convicts carve a chair for her into the rock. Some also say she was homesick for England and looking for fleets to arrive from the motherland with supplies and news.
Whatever the true story, Mrs Macquarie’s Point certainly commandeers some of the best harbour views in Sydney. Forget quiet contemplation though if you’re expecting to be alone during the day. It is stop number 5 on the Sydney Explorer bus tour, so it pays to go early in the morning or in the late afternoon.
To reach Mrs Macquarie’s chair you can catch a train or ferry to Circular Quay, and then it’s a 5 minute walk if you cut through the Royal Botanic Gardens, or you can do a longer walk for 20 minutes along the foreshore.
The regular bus service stops at the Art Gallery, a 15 minute walk away.
11. Taronga Zoo
Taronga Zoo has the largest collection of Australian wildlife in New South Wales. The bushy hillside location of Taronga Zoo on the North Shore makes it unique and special, not only for its native and exotic animals, but for the breath-taking views of Sydney.
To get to Taronga Zoo, catch a ferry from circular quay and then take the Sky Safari cable car or bus to the top. A Zoo Pass combines return ferry rides, cable car/bus, and admission fees in one handy ticket. You can save 10% if you purchase a Zoo Pass and there are other specials to be had as well so keep an eye on the website.
If you’re in Sydney for a short trip and can only spare a few hours then its best to book online, plan what you want to see and download a map from the website.
If you’ve got longer to spend at Taronga then you’ll want to check out all the highlights, especially the koalas, platypus habitat, new Great Southern Oceans section, Asian elephants and seal and bird shows.
Taronga also has several other opportunities to better appreciate and understand the wildlife it looks after.
The popular “Roar & Snore” gives visitors a chance to experience zoo life first hand by camping overnight in a safari tent and a behind the scenes tour to meet a creature the next day. Other encounters include being a keeper for a day, getting up close and personal with an owl and feeding a giraffe.
Don’t miss Sun-Herald Twilight at Taronga in summer which keeps the atmosphere jumping with a series of weekend concerts running from January to March. Concert tickets give free entry to the Zoo from 3pm on the day of the show.
If you are at the zoo in summer don’t forget your sunscreen, this much loved Sydney zoo can get hot when you’re walking between exhibits!
12. Bondi Beach
No trip to Sydney is complete without a visit to the iconic surf beach of Bondi. Not only does Bondi have smooth golden sands and lazy rolling breakers, it also boasts 130 plus cafés and restaurants. It’s a place where you can feel ‘the pulse of Sydney’ and there’s enough to do to make a day of it.
Bondi is a popular place, being just 8km from the city centre, so if you want some beach action but also to avoid bumping elbows with your neighbour, then morning and late afternoon are the best times to visit in summer.
Respect the lifesavers who are there for a reason, as are the red and yellow flags. Although it’s reasonably safe to swim, the sea can have surprise rips and stingers. Kids might prefer the salt water sea baths at either end of the beach if you arrive and the sea is too rough.
At Bondi bring your best see-and-be-seen attitude. If you’re seriously into shopping then check out Campbell Parade, Hall St, Gould St and Glenayr Ave. Here you’ll find designer boutiques and an array of eclectic shops such as Tuchuzy, Purl Harbour, Alfie’s Shop and Puf ‘n Stuf retro clothing.
The walk from Bondi to Bronte is another popular activity. Along the way you’ll pass sea-sculpted sandstone and go through Tamarama Beach (aka “Glamarama”) where tanned locals strut their stuff).
Bondi Beach is a 20 minute drive from downtown Sydney, you can also bus (there is a 24 hour bus service running between Circular Quay and Bondi) or catch a train to Bondi Junction then bus.
13. Nielsen Park / Shark Beach
Nielsen Park, and accompanying Shark Beach, are two of Sydney’s best kept secrets. Located in the exclusive eastern suburb of Vaucluse, they are somewhat away from the main drag so not as well known or frequented with tourists.
Bring your own picnic and relax under the Morton Bay figs, or there is also a café and kiosk if you want to buy something to eat. The best times to go are during the week when there is hardly anyone about and you have the place to yourself.
Don’t let the ‘Shark’ part of Shark Beach put you off as shark nets actually make it one of the safest harbour beaches in Sydney for swimming. If you still don’t want to take your chances then settle in on the fine, golden sand and watch the Manly ferries passing by. Incidentally, Nielsen Park is the best place for viewing the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race on Boxing Day. The yachts sail through this part of the harbour to South Head before turning south towards Tasmania.
Exploring the park is worthwhile as it has some of the best vantage spots overlooking the city, there is also a fine walking track from Nielson Park to Rose Bay offering scenic harbour views.
14. Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach Walk
If you’re in Bondi and have some time to kill, why not take a leisurely stroll from Bondi to Coogee Beach? This popular scenic walk takes around three hours to complete. It traverses beach, rocks and hillside but is well paved and manageable for most people.
The clifftop trail starts at the northern end of Bondi Beach in Notts Avenue. However if you have time, check out the views of iconic Bondi from panoramic Ben Buckler Lookout in Ramsgate Avenue, or visit the Bondi Pavilion in Queen Elizabeth Drive.
The Bondi to Coogee pathway is carved out of sandstone and a well-known track for joggers and dog walkers alike. It passes through Tamarama Beach, Bronte Beach, Clovelly Beach and Gordons Bay, before ending up in impressive Coogee Beach. Any of these spots are perfect to stop at for lunch or a swim, so don’t forget to take your togs and your sunscreen. Sheltered Clovelly Beach and Gordons Bay are great for snorkelling and diving.
Some of the best views of Sydney can be seen from Waverley Cemetery just before Clovelly Beach, and keep an eye out for dolphins and whales swimming offshore.
Once you reach Coogee Beach stop for a drink at the Coogee Bay Hotel in Arden Street. When you’re ready to leave buses 372, 373, or 374 connect regularly with the city.
15. Balmain – Pub Crawl
Mention the words ‘pub’ and ‘crawl’ and you’ll be quickly introduced to the inner-west Sydney surburb of Balmain. It’s been said that nowhere else in the southern hemisphere can you visit such a large number of pubs in such a small area.
Located next to the pretty sounding suburbs of Rozelle and Birchgrove, Balmain’s working class roots have given rise to a hefty number of historical hotels. And all are easily visited on foot, hence making Balmain a popular place for a pub crawl.
Here are just a few to give you an idea of numbers: Cat and Fiddle Hotel, Dick’s Hotel, Dry Dock Hotel, Exchange Hotel, Forth & Clyde Hotel, Kent Hotel, London Hotel, Mort Bay Hotel, Norfolk Pines Hotel, Pacific Hotel, Riverview Hotel, Royal Oak Hotel, Shipwright’s Arms Hotel, Star Hotel, Town Hall Hotel, Volunteer Hotel and the West End Hotel.
Popular pubs and bars to include on your crawl are: Welcome Hotel, Monkey Bar, The London, The Royal Oak, The Attic and The Exchange.
It pays to plan your route as many of the pubs located off the main drag close at midnight and you’ll literally be left high and dry if you plan on a big night.
Organised historic pub tours are available through www.balmainpubtours.com.au for $40, drinks not included. Note: this isn’t a pub crawl as such so you might down more history than beers.
Balmain is just a 10 minute ferry ride from Circular Quay or you can catch a cab.
16. Luna Park
Looking for something to do with a group of friends or that’s kid friendly? Then head to Luna Park at Milsons Point on Sydney’s North Shore for a day or night of screaming fun.
Luna Park is a fully restored 1930’s amusement park with spectacular views of the harbour, and offers plenty of fun experiences for all ages. Sydney’s favourite playground has rides such as: Wild Mouse, Tumble Bug, Rotor, Tango Train or take a trip down memory lane with the antique steam Carousel.
Luna Park is free to enter, you can either pay as you go for which rides you choose or purchase an Unlimited Rides Pass for peak and off-peak prices.
Weekends and school holidays are understandably the busiest times so if you don’t have a kid in tow then you might want to plan accordingly. Evenings are good times for photo opportunities as the lights come on when dusk falls and create a magical, romantic atmosphere. Also one of the best views of the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House is from the Ferris Wheel that soars 40 metres into the sky.
To get to Luna Park you can bus, car, ferry or catch the train to Milson’s Point. Visit www.131500.com.au for details on transport information.
17. Opera House
Sydney Opera House is a world heritage site and one of the most unmistakeable icons of Australia. A view of its shining white sails from any angle, land or sea, is a must for the photo collection.
Designed by a Danish architect called Jørn Utzon, the Opera House started construction in 1959 and opened in 1973. It has been likened to many things including orange segments, turtles mating and a typewriter stuffed with scallop shells.
Whatever your views on the Opera House, there isn’t any doubt about its ability to function as a world class entertainment venue. It hosts 2,400 theatre, dance, musical and operatic events annually and boasts six auditoriums.
If you’re interested in the Opera House’s history and construction there are one hour audio-guided tours, which run daily from 9am – 5pm. There are also two hour early morning backstage tours that include stories about the stars that have performed at the Opera House and a peek inside their dressing rooms.
To appreciate the full magnificence of the Opera House’s acoustics you should take a tour during the day and then buy a cheap seat for an evening performance.
Check the website or look out for the free monthly ‘What’s On?’ brochure which has upcoming listings. If you want to buy a small reminder to take home there is a souvenir shop and Opera House Market on the concourse.
18. Opera Bar Sydney
The Opera Bar or ‘the greatest beer garden in the world’ as it has also been described, is one of the best places to go to experience a glamorous atmosphere and Sydney’s beautiful skyline and harbour.
Situated in the forecourt of the Opera House on the lower concourse, the Opera Bar has uninterrupted views of Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge. It can accommodate everyone from large groups, or those wanting a special dinner.
Don’t expect dining or drinking to be cheap here as you’re paying for the view but it’s very worth it. The Opera Bar has indoor or outdoor seating and offers a range of dining options from breakfast and brunch to late night dinner reservations. It has a varied selection of food, wine and cocktails.
As it is one of Sydney’s hot spots, and they don’t take reservations (except weekday lunch bookings for groups of 10 or more), the Opera Bar can get busy. Their policy is to just come in, find a table and order food and drinks at the bar.
Opening hours are seven days a week from 11.30 am. They also have nightly live music from 8.30pm and 2pm on weekends.
19. Sydney Swans AFL Match
To experience the buzz of one of the most popular sporting events in Sydney, grab some cheap tickets to a Sydney Swans football game at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Sydney siders love their Aussie Rules football, which consistently ranks as the number one summer sport. Due to a number of high profile players joining their ranks, and winning the the AFL premiership in 2005, the Sydney Swans have boosted the popularity of this sport in recent years.
Aussie rules football is a lot like rugby but you’ll be forgiven if you don’t pick up all the quirks of the game after one match. All it’s important to know is that a game is two hours long and has three breaks in which it’s customary to swill a beer and eat a pie.
For those of who do want to know the ins and outs then here’s a basic outline. Teams consist of 11 players each who try to move the ball through the other team’s goal to score points. Players are allowed to use any part of their body to move the ball, i.e kicking, handballing and running.
However there are rules about ball handling, you have to bounce it on the ground if you’re running, and you can’t be caught holding it. You’re also not allowed to throw it. Once a player has managed to sort all that out and actually scored some points then he’ll be doing well.
For tickets to a Sydney Swans game you can book online at www.ticketek.com.au or in person at any Ticketek outlet.
20. Day trip to Hunter Valley
Discover the fertile wine-growing region of Hunter Valley just over two hours’ drive north of Sydney. A day trip to visit one, two or many of the wineries here is well worth it if you’re interested in sampling or purchasing some local wine.
To make the most of your day you might want to take one of the many tours available, or have a non-drinking driver. Though drinking too much could give you an excuse to stay overnight at one of the picturesque towns that make up Wine Country: Pokolbin, Broke, Rothbury, Lovedale or Mount View. If you are driving, the area is well sign-posted with grape symbols but it pays to have a good map or GPS system so you don’t get lost. Then again, it would be another good reason to stay overnight.
If you are purchasing wine, buy from the smaller distilleries as their wines are harder to find in the city. Many of the larger distilleries in Hunter Valley charge above retail prices, and you should be able to buy it cheaper in Sydney or online.
Summer, or harvest time, is the best season to visit Hunter Valley when there is a flurry of grape-picking activity. In the evenings many international and local entertainers put on shows and relaxing with a local wine in hand is the perfect way to end your tour. For a more thorough explore of this scenic region you may want to consider staying a couple of days.
21. Bare Island
Take a step back into colonial history with a trip to Bare Island in the eastern surburbs of Sydney near Botany Bay. This funny little place was so named by the first settlers because it looked more like a grassy knoll than an island.
In 1885 the colonialists decided to get serious about defending their newfound land from the Russians, who were supposedly about to attack. So they built a fort on Bare Island to protect the ‘back door’ route into Sydney. Unfortunately they used dodgy concrete and the whole thing fell to wreck and ruin before it was finished.
These days Bare Island is visited more by scuba divers than invading Russians. It’s one of the most popular dive spots in New South Wales due to the surrounding reefs teeming with colourful marine life such as: sea horses, sea dragons, Indian Fish, seals and grey nurse sharks.
However, if you want to have a look at Bare Island itself and learn its secrets you’ll need to take a guided tour. These are run on Sundays at 1.30pm, 2.30pm or 3.30pm. Tickets are available from La Perouse Museum but the good thing is you don’t need to book. The other good thing is you won’t get your feet wet, as there is a 100 year old footbridge from La Perouse to Bare Island.
For information on how to get to Bare Island check the Transport Information Website for bus, train or ferry timetables www.131500.com.au
22. Centennial Park Sydney
An oasis in the heart of a bustling city, Centennial Park was created in 1888 so the resident Victorians could go joyriding in their carriages. These days the park is still very Victorian in outlook with its formal rose gardens, ponds, grand avenues, statues and historic buildings. You can even ride a horse there, but sadly without a carriage.
Walking, biking, jogging, rollerblading are popular activities with a dedicated bike lane running the perimeter and plenty of other tracks to choose from as well. The walking/jogging circuit is approx.3.5km. If that all sounds too profoundly energetic then make like the Victorians and bring a picnic and laze around under native trees or feed the ducks in the pond. There is also a restaurant and a café in the centre if you’d rather someone else did the cooking.
In 1901 Centennial Park was the site of the inauguration of the Australian Federation, so after lunch you might like to check out the commemorative Federation Pavilion. Or if you’re there in the evening you could attend the Moonlight Cinema. The website has a map for getting around the park if you need it.
Centennial Park is one of the three parks that make up the 360 hectare Centennial Parklands, there are also Moore Park and Queens Park. Centennial Park is a short easy walk from the bus stops at Oxford Street, Avoca Street and Anzac Parade.
23. St Mary’s Cathedral
If churches with sizeable steeples are your thing then you definitely won’t miss St Mary’s Cathedral, the largest church in Australia. Situated in the midst of Sydney’s CBD this inspiring landmark can be seen from every direction. The first catholic service was held here in 1833 and it’s still going strong with its 75 metre spires finally erected in 2000.
Even if you’re not a church goer, a visit to St Mary’s to appreciate the architecture and history of the cathedral is very worth it. If you’re on the way to the Art Gallery or Botanic Gardens then get off the free bus at St James station and you’re within walking distance of all three.
The best approach on visiting is from the corner of Park and Elizabeth streets, as you will have glimpses of the cathedral through the trees. Another tip is to visit in the early morning and late afternoon, when the sun streams through the stained-glass windows.
Inside St Mary’s you’ll find soaring arches, a mosaic crypt floor, and a memorial to fallen soldiers. Not least it’s a quiet beautiful place to soothe your frazzled nerves if you’ve done too much sight-seeing in a short amount of time.
Check the website for normal mass times and also special times, i.e. Easter and Christmas.
Also don’t forget to check out the light show if you happen to be in Sydney at Christmas, it is said to be superb.
24. Clovelly Beach, swim with a groper
Get up close and personal with one of Clovelly Beach’s blue gropers on a day of snorkelling fun. The calm, shallow waters at Clovelly Beach make it easy to view groper, stingrays, bream and lots of other fish.
Unusually for a beach it has been concreted down either side to provide easy access in and out of the water. This gives it the appearance of a submarine base or a polar bear’s lair at the zoo but if you’re not a big fan of sand in your togs then you’ll appreciate it.
The maximum depth of the inlet is around 5-6 metres in which it is perfect to snorkel with the fish to your heart’s content. It also has shallower areas for kids or adults who only want to get their feet wet. There is a swimming pool inset into one of the concrete flanks if the water is too rough. The more adventurous can try scuba diving in Gordons Bay Underwater Nature Trail across from the (free) car park.
There are a few shops at Clovelly including the SeaSalt Café, and a BBQ area if you fancy some sausages. Just don’t cook up any of the groper. Apparently there was a very friendly one which swam about in Clovelly for years but he got speared by a tourist.
Just 8 km from the central city, Clovelly Beach is easily reached by car, bus or you can walk from Bondi Beach.
25. Sydney Weekend Markets – Bondi, Balmain, Paddington, The Rocks
In the weekend Sydney teems with market stalls. If you’re looking for souvenirs then you’re sure to find something indisputably Aussie in one of them. Here are just a few but check out marketsandstallholders.com for a comprehensive list.
The Bondi Market is infamous for being the place where up-and-coming fashion designers display their wares. If you want to be ahead of the rest then check out the Bondi Market open every Sunday at the Bondi Beach Public School in Campbell’s Parade. You’ll also find handmade jewellery, arts, crafts, homewares, and retro items.
Open every Sunday, 10am–5pm: Campbell’s Parade, Bondi
This lively, feel good market is located at St Andrew’s Church in the western surburb of Balmain. There are a range of stalls selling everything from home-made mango chutney and Indian silk, to silver jewellery and antiques. It also has organic fruit and veges and an on-site plant nursery.
The easiest way to get there is to catch a ferry from no. 5 wharf at Circular Quay to Darling Street Wharf, then take a bus to Gladstone Park and the Market.
Open every Saturday, 8am-4pm: St Andrews Church, Cnr Curtis Rd and Darling St, Balmain
Just a short walk from the CBD is the popular Paddington Market with over 250 stalls. Browse through the wide range of locally made goods for sale, including jewellery, art, original designer clothing and knick knacks. There are also lots of food stalls from including Thai, Himalayan, Aussie BBQ and fresh juices and cakes.
Open every Sat, 10am–5pm: 395 Oxford Street, Paddington
The Rocks Market
At The Rocks Market you can browse til your heart’s content and get your fill of sunshine and sea at the same time. Even though it’s close to the CBD it still has a slower feel and lots of options if you’re into original designer clothing, jewellery and art.
Open every Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 5pm: The Rocks, near Circular Quay
26. Lunch at Cottage Point Kiosk
The great thing about Sydney is that you don’t have to travel too far to get off the beaten track. Just 40 minutes north of Sydney is Cottage Point Kiosk, a perfect place to stop for lunch before you explore the region’s flora and fauna, or track down aboriginal rock art.
Located at the entrance to the intriguingly named Coal and Candle Creek, in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Cottage Point Kiosk looks out onto a picturesque bush and river setting. Visitors return here time and time again to enjoy the peacefulness and beauty of the surroundings.
Food wise it offers surprisingly fine fare at reasonable prices. Dishes such as fish curry and Aussie black mussels are popular choices as is the Kiosk’s home-smoked salmon. Also no packaged bakery goods here, all the scones, cakes and muffins are home made.
Cottage Point Kiosk is open every day from 8am to 4pm. To get there you can fly by seaplane, ferry from Palm Beach or drive to Kuring-gai National Park.
Cruises from Palm Beach leave at 11am daily and return at 3.30pm. Or there is a twilight cruise leaving at 5.30pm and returning at 7.30pm. See www.palmbeachferry.com.au for details.
Accommodation is available if you want to stay overnight but you will need to book.
27. Sydney Helicopter Flight
Joy riding over Sydney in a helicopter perhaps might not be the cheapest activity but it certainly has its appeal. Sydney Helicopters and Blue Sky Helicopters both offer scenic flights around Sydney taking in the major iconic sights.
Sydney Helicopters’ Icon Flight from Parramatta is 25 – 30 minutes long. It swoops along the Parramatta River and takes a trip over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, past the Opera House and the Botanical Gardens before heading back to the heliport. Blue Sky offers a 30 minute City to Surf trip over the Northern beaches, Opera House, city and harbour bridge and returns via Darling Harbour. The same flight is available at sunset. You may be able to get discounted rates if you book on the internet so it pays to compare companies.
If you’re interested in something a little different, try the Helicopter Pub Tour, Whale Watching or Luxury Spa flight. Blue Sky also offers an aerial photography flight with company founder Mark Fitzimmons with a pre-flight lesson and objectives briefing included.
Sydney Helicopters operates from its own Heliport at Parramatta, while Blue Sky is situated at Sydney. Prices vary depending on the length and type of flight you want. A basic city tour is around $150 – $200 per person, while a full day adventure tour can be up to $995 per person.
28. Bradley’s Head
One of the best areas for doing a bit of light bush walking is on Bradley’s Head on the North Shore. There are several forest tracks to choose from and, as it isn’t one of the usual tourist attractions, you’ll be relatively undisturbed, apart from the odd Kookaburra or lizard.
To get there catch a ferry from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo. Instead of turning left to go to the zoo, turn right and go up the hill. This is a very scenic part of the harbour so your efforts will be rewarded at every turn with views of the harbour, Opera House and bridge. There are also lookouts, Aboriginal carvings, beaches and historic sites, such as Athol House where you can stop for a drink and something to eat. Picnic areas and benches are available if you want to bring your own lunch.
The walk from Bradley’s Head to Chowder Bay takes approximately 1 hour 45 minutes and, if you like, you can download an audio-guide onto your ipod or phone from the national parks website.
If this sounds too techy, then grab a free brochure from the park office in Cadman’s Cottage in The Rocks if you’re passing. Remember to take your sunscreen and plenty of water if it’s a hot day.
29. Ghost Tours
If you’re into things that go bump in the night, then Sydney can definitely give you some frights. The Quarantine Station and the Rocks both have ghostly goings on that you’ll want to check out.
Quarantine Station or ‘Q Station’ for short, was a holding area for immigrants on North Head during the 18th and 19th centuries. Passengers were kept there for several weeks until the threat of contagious disease was past. Unfortunately some of them didn’t make it out of Q Station to experience the new life they were seeking.
Today Q Station is the focus of a Ghost Tour operation which offers a range of tours from spirit investigation with specialised equipment, to family tours and also an overnight stay (you have to bring your own bedding for that one). The Adult Ghost Tour is 2 ½ hours long and features the most haunted buildings such as the hospital, morgue, and the shower block. However if you’re short on time (and nerves) try the 45 minute Wharf Wander which gives you an interesting rundown of the history of the station, and those who worked there.
There are a couple of essentials to note with Q Station Ghost Tours, you have to book and you have to wear appropriate footwear, i.e. flat, enclosed walking shoes. There are quite a few steep inclines and dips on the tours. And you don’t want to be wearing stilettos if you’re constantly jumping out of your skin.
The Rocks Ghost Tours
This fully interactive tour takes place at The Rocks in central Sydney, departing from Cadman’s Cottage on a nightly basis. Perhaps more entertaining than spooky, if you’re into history and exploring the lesser known nooks and crannies of The Rocks, then you’ll enjoy this tour.
Again, make sure you book and wear comfortable walking shoes as there are a lot of stairs. They will provide you with a waterproof poncho if it’s raining though.
Tours are two hours long and start at 6.45pm from April to September and at 7.45pm from October to March.
30. Check out a Sydney harbour island – Fort Denison, Shark Island, Garden Island
Sydney Harbour is home to a number of fascinating tiny islands that have a story or two to tell about early Sydney history. Check them out on a day trip, or participate in the Sydney Harbour Island Hopping event that takes place in October.
If you hear the sound of guns coming from Sydney harbour then don’t panic. It’s just the daily 1pm salute on Fort Denison, an island just north of the Botanical Gardens. This tiny fort was constructed in the mid 19th century to protect the harbour from foreign attackers. Previously the site was used a place to confine convicts and called Pinchgut Island due to the rations they received of bread and water.
These days Fort Denison boasts a great café so you’ll be sure to get a decent meal. There’s also a museum if you want to learn about Sydney’s early history from Aboriginal times, or you can take a guided tour (visit the Sydney Harbour National Park Information Centre, located in The Rocks ).
To get there you can catch a ferry courtesy of Captain Cook Cruises from Circular Quay Wharf 6. The ferry also makes a stop at Shark Island.
Contrary to what you might think, Shark Island isn’t named because of any nearby sharks swimming about. It’s called that because it’s shaped somewhat like a shark. In fact it has such shallow waters any sharks are liable to get beached if they swim too close.
Originally used as an animal quarantine area and naval storage depot, this tiny 1.25 hectare island is a public reserve with lovely swimming beaches, picnic areas, a gazebo and shady grassed areas. It’s perfect if you want to escape the city and feel like you’re on your own private island.
Captain Cook Cruises and Matilda both run ferry services to Shark Island from Circular Quay, or the energetic can hire a canoe and paddle to it from Rose Bay.
You’d never think that Garden Island was actually an island by looking at it now. The island is the base of the Royal Australian Navy, and over time the port was extended until it joined the mainland at Potts Point, a north-eastern suburb of Sydney.
Garden Island originally was where the first settlers grew their vegetables and fed the colony, hence the name. The northern part of the island has public access for walks and benches to sit and look over the harbour. Sydney Ferries also run a service to Garden Island.
31. Day Trip to Blue Mountains
Are the Blue Mountains really blue? To find out you’ll just have to go there and see for yourself.
The Blue Mountains are a World Heritage Site 65 km west of Sydney and one of its most popular attractions. There are lots of things to see and do in this scenic area including: the Three Sisters, the Jenolan Caves, the Everglades Garden in Leura, Echo Point, Wentworth Falls and the Zig Zag Railway and Jamison Valley in Katoomba.
There are many bus tours that go to the Blue Mountains so pick the one that is right for you. A knowledgeable guide can make history come alive and add an extra dimension to the experience, especially if you get to boil up some bush tucker tea or throw a boomerang. One of the disadvantages to booking a tour though is the weather. If it looks like rain you’ll probably want to give the Blue Mountains a miss until the weather clears, as you won’t be able to fully appreciate the scenery.
Alternatively if you want to do a self-guided tour, the Blue Mountains is a two hour train ride from Central Station or 90 minutes by car. Staying overnight won’t be a problem either with many historic inns, hotels and guesthouses scattered throughout the area.
32. State Theatre
If you’re near Market Street in the central business district then check out one of Sydney’s most beautiful historic buildings, the State Theatre. This grand old dame was opened in 1929 and was used primarily as a picture theatre showcasing blockbuster premieres. In the 1990’s it hosted a variety of live music acts such as Shirley Maclaine, Shirley Bassey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Harry Connick Jnr, and musicals such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.
These days the State Theatre has been lovingly restored to her former glory. The ornate interior features Gothic, Italian and Art Deco design and has a four tonne chandelier, said to be the second largest on the planet.
State is one of Sydney’s best theatre and event venues, where you can experience the lavishness of a bygone era. If you can’t manage to gatecrash a cocktail reception or an awards ceremony, then the State Theatre stages a variety of shows and musicals throughout the year and also hosts the Sydney Film Festival every year in June.
After you’ve stepped back in time, then fast forward to now with trendy Statement Bar and Lounge situated underneath the theatre. Statement is a contemporary, stylish new venue, perfect if you’re looking for somewhere to have drinks and/or a light meal before heading upstairs for a show.
33. Baha’i Temple day trip
For a peaceful day trip out of the city then consider a visit to the Baha’i Temple in Ingleside, near Garingal National Park.
At forty metres high, the simple and beautiful Baha’i temple is one of the largest in the southern hemisphere. As well as being large it’s also situated on the highest point in the area so it’s pretty hard to miss.
The temple has nine sides and is designed to symbolise the founding principle of the Baha’i faith, that mankind is all one and should live in unity. Baha’i teachings are taken from all the major religions of the world including Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism.
Inside it has a seating capacity of 600 so don’t worry that you won’t be able to find a place to sit if you’re after some quiet contemplation, meditation or prayer. It is truly a welcoming place for all people no matter what your faith, race or nationality.
The nine hectare grounds also offer a tranquil oasis for a soul searching wander. If you are interested in finding out more about the Baha’i beliefs there is a visitor centre with a bookshop, or a Sunday service with readings from the sacred text.
The Baha’i Temple is located on 173 Mona Vale Road, Ingleside.
34. Govinda’s Restaurant
For a night out that’s a little different try award winning Govinda’s Restaurant in Darlinghurst, near Kings Cross. Govinda’s is a bit quirky, it has a Movie Room where you can stretch out on a futon and watch a movie after you’ve eaten dinner.
Dinner consists of an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet which features dishes such as vegetable curry, Indian dahl soup, lentil pie and lots of salads and condiments. If it’s a warm night you can sit on the balcony and people watch on Darlinghurst Road.
After you’ve filled up at the buffet make sure you leave room for Govindas cheese cake, chocolate mousse or apple crumble. Or if there’s just no room, try their famous mango and strawberry lassi (fruit yogurt drink).
Perhaps management were worried about the health risks of people leaving on such full stomachs, so they came up with the concept of the Movie Room. After dinner you can watch one of three movies and digest in comfort. No shoes allowed though, so if you don’t want cold tootsies bring a pair of socks.
There’s an option to eat afterwards if you go to an early movie, or if you eat before allow at least half an hour before the movie starts.
Bookings are recommended as Govinda’s is a popular spot. Check the website for contact details.
Address: 112 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst near Kings Cross Station.
35. Afternoon Tea at Gunners Barracks
Treat yourself to afternoon tea at Gunner Barracks near Chowder Bay on the North Shore. These historic military quarters were constructed in 1873 and refurbished into a high end restaurant in 2005. Gunners Barracks offers al a carte dining as well as scrumptious morning and afternoon teas.
For high tea you can choose from a variety of menus; traditional sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, and cakes etc. Or for something more filling try a menu featuring samosas and petite quiches. The service is top-notch here, you can expect to have waiters hovering with silver teapots and delivering food on fine china plates.
One of the best things about Gunner Barracks, apart from its delicious food, is its bushland location on Georges Head. With Harbour Terrace seating you’ll be treated to stunning harbour views, wide blue sky and visits from cheeky Kookaburras trying to pinch your cakes. In winter you can snuggle up with outdoor heating, complimentary blankets and steaming cups of tea.
Although there’s no dress standard as such, you might want to tidy yourself up a bit if you’ve been at the beach. It’s more a place you’d go if you want a girls’ day out, a venue to take your in-laws or a special occasi