14 best things to do in Sydney

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  • Post last modified:June 24, 2024
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There’s an endless amount of things to do in Sydney. Every time we have visited, we have discovered new ones. Despite that, there are some that we keep finding our way back to. These are our top 14 things to do in Sydney, and what you need to know to best experience them.

1. Conquer Sydney Harbour Bridge

Massive 53,000 tonnes of steelwork — assembled with six million hand-driven rivets before opening in 1932 — rise high over the water, unavoidably catching your attention. The question is not if but how you should experience majestic Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Walking across is free. An elevator and stairs on Cumberland Street, opposite The Glenmore Hotel, lead to the eastern pathway, from which you can absorb the scenery at your own pace. The 1.5-km, 30-minute stroll over to the northern elevator and stairs is spellbinding.

Along the way, South Pylon Lookout allows you to enjoy even loftier vistas. However, it requires walking up some 200 steps and paying an entrance fee.

You can pedal across Sydney Harbour Bridge too. The bike path is on the bridge’s western side.

Yet for the most adrenaline-pumping outing, sign up for the iconic BridgeClimb. At the towering landmark’s summit, 134 m above the water, unobstructed 360-degree views of Sydney Harbour await.

Majestic Sydney Harbour Bridge towering high above the deep-blue water
How will you tackle Harbour Bridge?

2. Appreciate the finer things in life at the Sydney Opera House

First, feast your eyes on the exterior of the Sydney Opera House, eye-poppingly designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon. The “wow”-evoking roof structure features sail-shaped shells and over one million ceramic tiles in glossy white and matte cream, contrasting the blues of the harbour and the sky.

Then, step inside for a guided tour: The general one-hour tour covers the essentials; the Backstage Tour offers a more intimate experience.

To crown the occasion, eat and drink while soaking up a breathtaking harbour view (there are several venues) and, of course, attend a show. See what’s on at the Sydney Opera House during your visit.

The Sydney Opera House, in glossy white and matte cream, framed by the deep-blue Sydney Harbour
Be wowed by the sail-like Opera House.

3. Get two for one at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

In 1810, convicts carved a chair in the rock at the tip of a Sydney Harbour peninsula for the governor’s wife, Elizabeth Macquarie, who used to watch boats come and go. Have a look for yourself: The stony gesture of love, aptly called Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, is still there.

But since Mrs Macquarie’s days, the skyline has changed dramatically. Gaze northwest to see today’s main number: Harbour Bridge powerfully rising behind the Opera House.

There’s no better vantage point to take in both at the same time.

The Sydney Opera House backdropped by Sydney Harbour Bridge through lush vegetation at Mrs Macquarie's Chair
Capture two icons from one spot.

4. Smell the flowers in the Royal Botanic Garden

Seek respite from the CBD’s hustle and bustle in the 30-hectare Royal Botanic Garden, within steps of the Opera House. Established in 1816, it’s Australia’s oldest botanic garden, holding over 27,000 plants from around the planet.

To gain more insight than simply roaming on your own can generate, join a guided tour. Free 1.5-hour walks depart from the visitor center daily, passionately teaching about the history, plants and sights.

Couple strolling along a peaceful pathway in the Royal Botanic Gardens
Kick back in Sydney’s heart.

5. Find new angles at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

At the botanic garden’s south end, the Art Gallery of New South Wales grabs your attention with its neoclassical temple-like front. Enter to find impressive collections spread across two main buildings and an art garden. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art plays a central role, engaging international contributions transcend national borders.

You can access most of the exhibitions for free, so you have nothing to lose by stopping by.

The neoclassical facade of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, characterized by its stately pillars
Art Gallery of New South Wales — a temple of art.

6. Step back in time at Hyde Park Barracks

Some 162,000 convicts were transported to Australia between 1788 and 1868. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hyde Park Barracks began its operation with 589 convicts in 1819 and housed many, many more before it became an immigration precinct in 1848.

Wander from room to room led by an audio guide sharing bone-chilling stories about torture and despair. Then, feel encouraged by the dreams of a better future — and that you didn’t have to pay a cent to visit.

Gate to the red-brick Hyde Park Barracks
Listen to stirring stories at Hyde Park Barracks.

7. See The Rocks where modern Sydney began

Be enchanted by the original Sydney neighborhood, established upon the arrival of European settlers in 1788. Simply roaming around The Rocks, brimming with timeless cobblestone streets and narrow laneways under the heights of the ever-changing CBD, is a fine experience in its own right.

Still, elevate the ramble by savouring something to drink at one of the neighborhood’s many historic pubs. The Fortune of War claims to be Sydney’s very oldest, while The Glenmore stands out for its not-to-miss rooftop space.

Saturdays and Sundays mean extra reasons to linger around. The Rocks Market presents stalls with everything from locally-designed clothing and jewellery to delicious bites and beverages.

People walking on cobblestoned laneway in The Rocks
Roam around historic The Rocks.

8. Blend diverse pleasures at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Directly on the water in the Rocks, the free Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (closed Tuesdays) displays modern artworks with a focus on domestic talent. If you visit with someone who has yet to develop an appreciation for art, use the top-floor cafe as bait. Its rooftop terrace commands brilliant views of Sydney Harbour.

The Circular Quay entrance at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
Ascend to the top for a rewarding sight.

9. Photograph eye-catching Hornby Lighthouse

The South Head Heritage Trail is a big small (1 km) stroll showcasing the beauty of Watson Bay. Start at the northern end of Camp Cove Beach and pass Lady Bay Beach before arriving at the tip of South Head, where the red-and-white striped Hornby Lighthouse and magical surroundings create unlimited photo opportunities. Capture Sydney Harbour to the west, Middle Head and North Head to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the east.

The best way to get here? Take the ferry to the Watson Bay terminal, putting you 10 minutes’ walk from the trailhead.

10. Revel in legendary Bondi Beach

Uncover the allure of Sydney’s most famous beach. The golden sand entices swarms of visitors year round; the water is holy territory for surfers, zoned to cater to both newbies (keep to the north) and pros; the Iceberg Pool welcomes the public for a swim or drink; the myriad of restaurants serve flavours from around the globe; and the 6-km Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk is the place for an oceanfront saunter, jog or run. Although it gets crowded, even in winter, Bondi Beach is a bucket-list destination that needs to be experienced.

People engaging in recreational activities, including walking, sunbaking and surfing, at Bondi Beach
Don’t miss Bondi Beach (here on a winter day).

11. Hold your hat on the Manly Ferry

Lean back and succumb to one of the world’s finest commutes, the ferry ride between Circular Quay in the CBD and Manly in the outer harbour. It’s overwhelming and slightly unreal to slowly glide past Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The rest of the journey, involving passing picturesque coves, beaches and sailboats with the wind in your hair, is nearly as epic.

Note that there are two operations: The original 30-minute ferry and newer 20-minute fast ferry — both are superb.

The Manly fast ferry arriving at Circular Quay in Sydney Harbour
Catch the Manly Ferry.

12. Pick sides under the pines at Manly Beach

From Manly Cove, where the ferries anchor, it’s a 10-minute walk through The Corso, a relaxed pedestrian mall, across the North Head peninsula to Manly Beach. This 2-km sand strip lined by towering Norfolk Island pines is a haven for sunbakers and surfers alike. With a treat from one of the nearby eateries, spread a towel in the pine-tree shade and get ready to pick sides in Sydney’s friendly beach rivalry: Is Manly or Bondi the number one?

Beachgoers enjoying a warm summer day on Manly Beach, Sydney
Unfurl a towel on Manly Beach.

13. Get your pulse going on the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk

A city trek of the highest order, the 10.3-km Spit Bridge to Manly Walk knows how to keep things interesting. Along the trail, golden beaches, ancient aboriginal sites and tranquil harbour overlooks beckon you to pause. For maximum enjoyment, bring your swimsuit and a picnic and make a full day out of it.

14. Find inner peace in the Blue Mountains

Just an hour’s drive west of Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, the jaw-dropping Blue Mountains offer World Heritage scenery defined by its dramatic rock escarpments and thick eucalyptus forest. A day trip allows you to tick off some of the best viewpoints, like the legendary Three Sisters, take a hike below the rim and drink hot chocolate in the cute town of Katoomba. According to us, it’s the perfect complement to the action-packed Sydney Harbour.

Strayaguide's Marie hiking under a rock escarpment in the Blue Mountains
Marie on a Blue Mountains adventure.

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