Best Things To Do in Sydney
Sydney's famous beaches are some of the city's most popular attractions for locals and visitors alike. Although they can get crowded on warm Aussie days, beaches like Coogee, Bondi and Manly cannot be missed. And if you'd rather take to the water, exploring Darling Harbour or Sydney Harbour by boat is a must. Sydney Harbour also offers prime views of some of the city's most famous landmarks, including the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There are plenty of museums to explore, too, such as the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Australian National Maritime Museum, while the Royal Botanic Garden and The Rocks neighborhood are ideal for a leisurely stroll.
Updated March 5, 2019
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The Sydney Harbour Bridge stands next to the Opera House as one of the city's most iconic landmarks. Lovingly called the "Coathanger" by locals, this towering structure is one of the world's largest steel arch bridges. And while you can capture stunning pictures of the bridge from one of Sydney Harbour's ferry boats, for an unforgettable experience, sign up for a bridge climb through BridgeClimb Sydney. Ranging from nearly two to nearly four hours in length, the bridge climb provides visitors with panoramic views of the Harbour, the Sydney skyline and the Opera House.
Although some former visitors complained of the high price tags, many said the bridge climbs are the best way to experience this iconic attraction, calling it a must-do experience. While climbs are offered throughout the day every day, travelers recommend scheduling a climb at twilight, which will give you three different views – daylight, sunset and nighttime – in one. If you're afraid of heights, reviewers still suggest you consider the experience as the staff is well-trained to help you overcome your anxieties.
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Many visitors say that Sydney Harbour's 150 miles of shoreline and more than 30 square miles of water make it the most beautiful natural harbor in the world, and they just might be right. Blue water laps up to sandy shores over which landmarks like the Royal Botanic Garden and the Sydney Opera House preside. Another iconic site, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, towers above the harbor's waters. But for the best view of Sydney Harbour, travelers must pay a visit to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, which sits at the tip of one of the area's peninsulas.
Overall, former visitors rave about the harbor, noting that the ferry rides are scenic and that there are plenty of shops and restaurants to explore nearby. For even more picturesque views, try taking a ferry at sunset when the sky comes alive with an array of colors. The harbor's attractions also come alive during Sydney's New Year's Eve celebrations, and in May and June when the annual Vivid Sydney color festival takes place.
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Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the sailboat-inspired structure – submitted during an international design contest held in 1956 – features more than one million tiles on its four roof shells and six theater and music venues with top-notch acoustics. Bold purple carpeting and sweeping views of Sydney Harbour and the Sydney Harbour Bridge also await visitors in the Sydney Opera House's foyer, while a picturesque boardwalk – complete with a trendy bar – sits outside.
While watching a music concert or opera performance is a must for those willing to splurge during their visit, a more affordable option that many visitors recommend is one of the Opera House's two tours. Offered daily (select event days excluded) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the main tour takes travelers on a one-hour walkthrough of the iconic Sydney structure. Another tour option is the backstage tour, which is offered at 7 a.m. and includes breakfast and a two-hour behind-the-scenes look at the property's various venues. Whichever you choose, visitors rave about the well-informed guides.
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At first glance, Manly Beach, which is located about 10 miles northeast of downtown Sydney, may be just as crowded and active as other area beaches like Bondi and Coogee. However, this sprawling shoreline draws tons of praise from beachgoers, in part because of its distance from the city and prime surfing waves. Those who are hoping to swim, though, may want to venture elsewhere since these waters are known for their rough waves. Former travelers also suggest arriving early if you're planning a weekend trip and want to beat the crowds.
Within the immediate area, visitors can enjoy all sorts of amenities, including restaurants and cafes, bush walks, playgrounds, barbecue areas, shops and public restrooms and showers. Most Sydneysiders and visitors prefer getting to Manly by way of the Circular Quay to Manly ferry. (Manly Wharf sits about six blocks from the beach.) There are also two "fast ferries," which get visitors to Manly from Circular Quay in about half the time of the regular Manly Ferry (though it'll cost you more). Various buses will also get you to the area, though there is no direct bus route from Sydney. Four public parking lots – which offer up to two hours of free parking – are available near the beach as well. For more information about Manly Beach's activities, boutiques, eateries and events, visit the neighborhood's website.
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Earning its name from the sandstone rocks that line Sydney Harbour, this neighborhood is as quaint as it is cool. Its cobblestone streets and 19th-century buildings are oh-so charming, but the shops, pubs, restaurants and galleries are very fun and very au courant. Plus, its prime location next to attractions like the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge makes this trendy neighborhood extremely convenient for tourists.
Though the neighborhood offers plenty to explore any day of the week, on weekends, the area features an arts and crafts market (Saturdays and Sundays) and a foodie market (on Fridays). Some prior visitors caution that the market items can be a bit pricey, but they also note these goods are a more unique alternative to the stereotypical Sydney souvenirs found in other parts of the city. Other visitors simply enjoyed exploring the area and checking out the historic architecture.
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Though it's a bit smaller than its better-known northern counterpart Bondi, Coogee Beach is the quintessential spot for those looking to soak up some sun and swim in Sydney's famous waters. Snorkeling is also a popular pastime here, and the scenic, nearly 4-mile Bondi to Coogee coastal walk is a must. Plus, the eateries along the shore give beach bums several places to refuel.
Thanks to its less crowded atmosphere, picturesque setting and calmer waters, beachgoers (especially those traveling with children) raved about their time at Coogee, calling the beach gorgeous and a great place to watch the sun set. According to recent visitors, the food is also top-notch. However, despite the perk of free parking, spaces are limited, so plan to arrive early if driving.
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Darling Harbour is a pedestrian district filled with a number of entertaining things to do. For instance, you'll find the largest film screen in the world at the LG IMAX Theatre Sydney, as well as the Australian National Maritime Museum and the Harbourside Shopping Centre. Multiple kid-friendly attractions and the city's convention center are also found here, not to mention some delectable cafes and restaurants.
Travelers who visit the Darling Harbour area rave about the abundance of shops, activities and restaurants offered, calling it vibrant and lively place to visit. An ideal hangout for families, couples and solo travelers alike, many note that this bustling harbor community is better than its more well-known counterpart, Sydney Harbour. Make sure to check out the district's various street performances, and on Saturdays, stay for the 9 p.m. fireworks show, which is free to view and receives tons of praise.
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Founded in 1816, the 74-acre Royal Botanic Garden abounds with bright and colorful flora and fauna. The park is broken into multiple areas, including the Australian Rainforest Garden and the Palm Grove, which is home to the tallest tree in the gardens. Another popular area is the Palace Rose Garden, which houses nearly 1,800 roses and is a well-known Sydney wedding venue. Recent visitors also said the view of the Harbour Bridge is another highlight here.
According to some previous travelers, a visit to the Royal Botanic Garden provides a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Food from the property's two restaurants and two cafes also receives high praise, especially the Botanic Gardens Café's picnic boxes.
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In 1810, Governor Lachlan Macquarie commissioned a bench for his wife, and the city's convicts obliged him by carving Mrs. Macquarie's Chair out of a sandstone rock overlooking Sydney Harbour. To this day, the landmark remains a top attraction thanks to its location, which provides picture-perfect views of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge within a single frame.
It's not surprising, then, that visitors rave about the photo-ops here. Although it can get crowded at times, many say it's well worth the visit, especially for special events like the Sydney New Year's Eve fireworks show and the Australia Day Harbour Parade. Several also recommend arriving in the morning to get the best lighting for your photos.
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Bondi Beach is best known for its gnarly waves, which make it one of the top surfing destinations in the world. But if you're not ready to hang 10, don't fret. Bondi is also nice for strolling, sunbathing and swimming. Despite its popularity (and its plentiful souvenir shops and surf and fashion boutiques), Bondi maintains an alternative, edgy feel. Topless sunbathing is allowed here as well, though it's mostly limited to areas without children.
Almost universally, visitors said the 6-mile trek to Bondi is a must and that the beach is one of the most beautiful in the world. To claim a prime spot on the sand, arrive early. Many former visitors also recommend setting aside time for one of the region's coastal walks. Both the Bondi to Coogee walk and the Bondi to Bronte walk offer superb water views and relaxing spots for picnics.
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Situated in the same park complex that houses the Royal Botanic Garden and Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, the Art Gallery of New South Wales features a variety of indigenous, colonial and contemporary art collections. Everything from photography and Pablo Picasso paintings to aboriginal art and Tang dynasty ceramics can be found here. Additionally, several free artist talks and demonstrations are held throughout the year.
Recent museumgoers said the Art Gallery of New South Wales is a must-see, with a great collection and excellent exhibits. Popular pieces include the museum's indigenous paintings and iconic European works by artists like Diego Velázquez, Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. The free tours and on-site cafe and restaurant, which offer seasonal fare in casual settings, are also a hit with past visitors.
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Located in Darling Harbour, this gem of a garden is a little breath of fresh air in the city. The Chinese Garden of Friendship was built as a symbol of friendship between Sydney, New South Wales and the city of Guangzhou in the province of Guangdong, China (sister cities of sister states), to mark Sydney's bicentennial in 1988. Recent visitors called it a serene and beautiful place to relax.
Designed and built by Chinese landscape architects and gardeners, the walled garden follows the Taoist principles of "Yin-Yang," the opposing yet complementary and balanced forces, and "Wu-Xing," the five elements or phases – wood, fire, earth, metal and water. As you wander, you'll encounter waterfalls, lakes, exotic plants, pavilions and hidden pathways. Three daily tours, included with admission, are a great way to learn about the garden.
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Considered one of the world's most significant convict locations, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was once used to house convicted men and boys brought to Sydney from Great Britain. After Great Britain stopped transporting prisoners to Australia in 1840, convicts were moved to Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour and the former barracks were converted into the city's Female Immigration Depot. The Hyde Park Barracks Museum also served as a hostel for orphan girls fleeing the Irish Potato Famine and an asylum for elderly women before shutting its doors in 1886. After its closure, the historic building lay in shambles until an extensive restoration began in 1975. Now the property operates as a museum and archeological treasure.
According to recent visitors, the museum's interactive exhibits successfully paint a picture of what life was like as a convict in Sydney. Upon entering the museum, you'll be given an iPad and headset featuring audio performed by actors. As you make your way through the museum, the iPad can detect your location and offer information on what you're seeing (there are no informational placards, only visual displays). The museum says its audio guide is recommended for visitors 8 and older.
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Since 1821, a cathedral has been in this spot, but the St. Mary's you see today was constructed starting in 1868, with work continuing until 1928, though its spires were not added until 2000. (The first chapel was destroyed in a fire.) The Gothic Revival-style cathedral is home to gorgeous stained-glass windows and a crypt with a stunning mosaic floor depicting the Creation, as well as bishops' tombs and occasional special exhibits. Recent visitors called the cathedral a beautiful and impressive place to see, noting its architecture and stained-glass windows as highlights.
While it's free to visit the cathedral, there is a small fee (AU$5 or about $3.50) to visit the crypt (open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday). There are free guided tours of the cathedral offered every Sunday following the 10:30 a.m. Solemn High Mass. To get to the cathedral, you can take the train to the St. James, Museum or Town Hall stops, all of which are less than a 10-minute walk away. For more information, visit the church's website.
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No harbor city would be complete without a maritime museum, and Sydney's is one of the best. Here, you can view exhibits about everything from fish X-rays to pirates, but that's just scratching the surface. The standout at this maritime museum is the ships docked in Darling Harbour. All are open to museumgoers to board and explore. Notable vessels include the HMAS Vampire, a destroyer ship; the HMAS Onslow, a submarine; and the Akarana, an 1800s racing yacht.
Families that have visited the Australian National Maritime Museum praised its diversity of activities for kids. The museum's guides offer a wealth of knowledge about each of the docked ships, and inside, children can participate in an array of kid-friendly events and activities, themed arts and crafts projects and interactive activity trails. And because of the abundance of exhibits offered, many previous museumgoers felt the AU$32 (or about $23) admission fee was more than justified.
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