It’s little wonder that Sydney is Australia’s drawcard city for both overseas and local tourists. Sydney offers an array of activities from art and culture and a vibrant foodie and nightlife scene to the sun and surf of its famous golden beaches. The city attracts more than 16-million tourists every year with its sunny summer days and mild winters.
With such a long list of things to keep you busy, where should you start to hit the best of the best? We’ve compiled this ‘locals verified’ list of the 25 Top Things to Do in Sydney to help you:
1. Admire the views from Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney’s famous Harbour Bridge sits at the centre of life for most Sydney-siders and is recognisable the world over. The world’s longest steel-arch bridge also incorporates a scenic walking path. The easy walk across is just 1.5km (1 mile) from one end to the other. Along the way, sweeping views of Sydney Harbour, as well as the experience of walking a world icon, are your reward.
Local tip: Don’t fancy climbing to the top of the bridge but still want 360-degree views? Visit the Pylon Lookout on the southern end of the bridge. Here you’ll enjoy some of Sydney’s best panoramic views for a fraction of the price.
Recommended site: http://www.pylonlookout.com.au/
2. Dine in style at Circular Quay
Circular Quay is, of course, best known for being the home of the Opera House. But serious foodies will also find an array of fantastic dining options to suit every taste.
Most notable is Quay, which was awarded 3 Hats (similar to Michelin stars) by the Australian Good Food Guide 2020. Situated above the Overseas Passenger Terminal, Quay faces directly toward the Opera House across Circular Quay.
Other superb options at Circular Quay include 2-hatted restaurants Aria and Bennelong, located inside the Opera House. Don’t miss local favourites Customs House Bar, Bekya Middle Eastern Kitchen and Settlement on Quay.
Local tip: Ask for a window seat and time your reservation to catch the sun setting over Sydney Harbour from your table.
Recommended site: https://www.goodfood.com.au/
3. See a show at the Opera House
It’s near impossible to think of Sydney (or Australia) without conjuring up images of the iconic Sydney Opera House. While the sparkling white ‘sails’ are majestic to behold from the outside, the real magic lies inside. The Opera House is a hive of activity, and there’s always plenty of productions from which to choose.
Local tip: Double up your experience with a pre-show drink at the Opera Bar. Stay until after dark to capture the Opera House illuminated beautifully at night.
Recommended site: https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/events/whats-on.html
Bonus: During COVID-19, Sydney Opera House is offering a 2020 Digital Season packed full of awesome Opera House shows available from your living room – https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/digital/season.html
4. Get hands-on with Australian animals at Featherdale Sydney Wildlife Park
There are few better ways to spend a Sydney day than cuddled up with a koala or hand-feeding kangaroos. Featherdale Sydney Wildlife Park boasts NSW’s most extensive collection of koalas, as well as just about every other species of Australian wildlife.
But Featherdale has no feeling of a zoo – forget animals kept behind glass. Sure, some of our more notoriously ‘irritable’ friends live in open-air exhibits; but, this is more for their comfort and still allows a close-up view of the curious creatures. You will find little wallabies roaming freely, plenty of koalas lazing sleepily up in trees and quokkas more than happy to have their smiley selfie taken with you. You can even have your photo taken with a koala or join in one of the many other animal encounters on offer.
Aside from koalas and kangaroos, Featherdale is also home to wallabies, wombats, cassowaries, emus, kookaburras, dingoes, echidnas, lyrebirds and hundreds of species of birdlife.
Local tip: Choose an early morning visit – this will get you there both before the tour buses arrive and while the wallabies and kangaroos are still hungry, ensuring you get maximum hand-feeding success!
Recommended site: https://www.featherdale.com.au/animal-encounters/
5. Soak in the sun, sea and surf at Bondi Beach
No visit to Sydney is complete without dipping your toes into the water at the famous Bondi Beach. Whether you make the trip to swim or to soak up the rays, the atmosphere is sure to be buzzing, as always. Bondi Beach attracts locals and visitors alike and is generally busy every day. But don’t let that deter you, Bondi has plenty of sand and sea to accommodate everyone! As the saying goes – the more, the merrier.
For a different (but equally iconic) Bondi experience, visit the famous Bondi Icebergs Club. Just $9 you will gain entry to their ocean pool and sauna to laze away your day. Make sure you grab your iPhone out for a shot of one of Sydney’s most Instagram’d pools.
Local tip: Tear yourself away from the sand and follow the pristine coastline down to Tamarama Beach. This short section of the iconic Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk will take you just 20-minutes. Bonus: the stunning scenery will make you forget you’re even exercising at all.
Recommended site: https://www.bonditocoogeewalk.com/bondi-tamarama-walk.html
6. Cruise the Harbour like a local
There’s no better way to explore Sydney Harbour than by boat. Take a break from pounding the pavement and enjoy Sydney’s iconic landmarks from a whole different viewpoint aboard a local ferry. Grab an Opal card from a range of vendors, jump aboard and see where the sea takes you!
Local tip: Ride the F1 or the MFF (Manly Fast Ferry) to the iconic northern beaches suburb and explore this lively area for less than $8pp each way.
7. Take the perfect Sydney Instagram shot at Mrs Macquarie’s Point
Have you even visited Sydney if you don’t post the Opera House and Harbour Bridge on Instagram? Mrs Macquarie’s Point has you covered with the perfect selfie angle to capture both of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks. Early mornings you’re likely to find avid photographers eager to snap the ideal sunrise photo over the harbour. At weekends you’ll see brides precariously navigating the rocks striving for the ultimate wedding photo. You know a spot is a good one when it’s a hit with both locals and visitors alike!
Local tip: Plan your visit for the morning for the best sun direction for shots facing the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
Recommended site: Find inspiration for your shot – https://www.istockphoto.com/au/photos/mrs-macquaries-point?mediatype=photography&phrase=mrs%20macquaries%20point&sort=mostpopular
Bonus: Want to seriously elevate your Sydney Insta-game? Check out our list of Best Instagram Spots in Sydney, here.
8. Meander through history at The Rocks
The Rocks area is well-known for being the first site of European settlement in Sydney Cove. Nowadays, the charm of yesteryear continues to shine with cobblestone laneways, heritage-listed buildings and artefacts galore. You’ll find plenty to explore here including Sydney’s oldest residential house, Cadman’s Cottage. Stop by The Rocks Discovery Museum, housed in an 1850s-era restored sandstone warehouse, for an in-depth look into the area.
Local tip: Visit Saturday or Sunday for The Rocks Market. The famous market is home to over 200 stalls producing and selling locally-made homewares, fashion, accessories, photography, arts, crafts and jewellery.
Recommended site: https://www.therocks.com/shop/the-rocks-discovery-museum
9. Spend a day at Darling Harbour
You can easily spend a day exploring Darling Harbour, a cosmopolitan hub of activity close to Sydney’s bustling CBD. The area is home to an array of shopping and dining options which will keep both adults and children alike happy.
Some local favourites include the Star of the Show ferris wheel, the National Maritime Museum, the stunning Dockside Pavilion, Madame Tussaud’s, Sydney Sealife Aquarium and WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo.
Local tip: Schedule in a rest stop at the Chinese Garden of Friendship. This stunning display is a tranquil paradise which feels wholly removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.
10. Soak up the outdoors at Royal Botanic Gardens
Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens is located just a few minutes’ walk from both the CBD and Opera House.
Established in 1816, the Botanic Garden is home to thousands of species of Australian native and international plants. Younger visitors will love riding the Choo Choo Express train winding throughout the garden. For adults, high tea beside the flowers at The Calyx is always a winner.
Local tip: If you’re short on time, join one of the many guided tours to be taken straight to the highlights. On some of these guided walks, you can also explore the Aboriginal use of native plants and taste some bushtucker.
Recommended site: https://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/visit/
11. Immerse yourself in history at Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Among some of Sydney’s oldest buildings, convicts laid the foundations for these barracks in 1817-1819. Here, they housed fellow convicts from England sentenced to serve their punishment in the newly colonised New South Wales. Stepping into Hyde Park Barracks is a genuinely immersive transportation back in time. The sandstone building is now UNESCO Heritage Listed.
Local tip: If you enjoy your Hyde Park Barracks experience, be sure to check out other Sydney Living Museums such as The Mint, Elizabeth Bay House, Museum of Sydney or Susannah Place.
Recommended site: https://hydeparkbarracks.sydneylivingmuseums.com.au
12. Visit majestic St. Mary’s Cathedral
Driving through Sydney’s southern CBD, you won’t be able to miss the stunning sandstone Gothic Revival architecture of St. Mary’s Cathedral. Standing on the site of Australia’s first Catholic chapel, St. Mary’s stands 107m long with a ceiling height of 22.5m and a nave 24.3m wide. But the outstanding architectural piece-de-resistance is the front towers and spires which soar over 74m in height.
Inside the Cathedral, you’ll admire the stained-glass windows hand-crafted in England from 1881 onwards and the brightly-coloured mosaic floors.
Local tip: If you happen to visit Sydney during December head on over to St. Mary’s after dark to admire the dazzling Cathedral Christmas Light Show projected onto the front of the building.
Recommended site: https://www.stmaryscathedral.org.au/
13. Shop up a storm at Paddy’s Markets
Paddy’s Markets is a Sydney institution and, despite various changes to location, has been for over 150 years! Adjoining Chinatown in Haymarket you’ll find over 1000 stalls inside the complex. You can pick up an array of imported goods at bargain prices, from fashion and accessories to souvenirs and gadgets.
Local tip: Visit close to lunchtime, as you’ll also find excellent budget-conscious international food options on offer.
Recommended site: https://paddysmarkets.com.au/paddys-haymarket-2/
14. Explore Manly
Just as east-Sydney has Bondi Beach, the northern suburbs have Manly. Manly is famous for its sandy beaches and big waves which attract surfers from around the world. The 4-kilometre stretch between Freshwater Beach and Shelly Beach is known as the Manly-Freshwater World Surfing Reserve.
While at Manly take a stroll along the Norfolk Pine-lined beach reserve and pop over to famous Manly Corso. Established in 1854, the Corso remains central to Manly life as a hub of eating, shopping and outdoor activities.
Local tip: Why not take a surfing lesson at one of the world’s best surf beaches with Manly Surf School.
Recommended site: https://www.manlyaustralia.com.au/info/thingstodo/manly-corso/
15. Head on up to North Head
While you’re at Manly, continue just 10 minutes’ drive up the road to North Head. Enclosed within the Sydney Harbour National Park area, North Head forms the northern-most edge of the Harbour. Between the North and South Heads is the entrance to Sydney Harbour from the Pacific Ocean.
Local tip: Take your binoculars for a view back across the Harbour to the city. See what landmarks you can spot amongst the panoramic skyline view.
Recommended site: https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/lookouts/north-head
16. Let your inner child loose at Luna Park
If you’re up for a bit of adventure to break up your day, head to Luna Park at Milson’s Point. A visit to Luna Park is worth it just to get a photo under the entrance! Inside the park, you have your pick of Ferris wheel overlooking Sydney Harbour (beautiful at sunset), the new Volare wave swinger or the hair-raising Wild Mouse rollercoaster. Of course, there’s all the usual classics, too, including dodgem cars, a carousel and slides.
Local tip: Skip the line and pre-book your tickets online to avoid wasting time and get straight into the action.
Recommended site: https://www.lunaparksydney.com/
17. Take a dip in an iconic ocean rock pool
One of the unique aspects of Sydney’s beaches is the beloved ocean-side rock pools. Over 100 rock pools line the coast of NSW, and Sydney is home to some of the most stunning among them!
Taking a dip in one of the iconic ocean rock pools is a must-have Sydney experience; and, best of all, most are free to the public and continue to be widely used by locals.
Some of our favourite free ocean pools include Bronte Baths, Mahon Pool Maroubra, Wylie’s Baths Coogee, Fairybower Pool Manly and Malabar Ocean Pool.
Local tip: Choose an early-morning visit for a relaxing swim and watch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean.
18. Indulge your inner Home and Away fangirl (or boy) at Palm Beach
If you grew up revelling in the lives of Summer Bay locals, a visit to Sydney’s northern Palm Beach is your chance to experience the iconic outdoor locations of the popular Home & Away TV show. Imagine putting yourself onto the set of the Surf Club for real!
Not a Home & Away fan? You won’t be disappointed along the beautiful coastal roads to Sydney’s most northern point.
Local tip: Lace up your hiking shoes for a walk up to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse. You’ll be smitten with the 360-degree views over Broken Bay, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and the Central Coast.
Recommended site: https://www.facebook.com/homeandaway/
19. Catch a match at the SCG
Sydney-siders love sport and are die-hard fans of their favourite local teams. From AFL (Australian football) to cricket and rugby the SCG plays host to hundreds of sporting events every year. For a real Sydney experience head off to a game, revel in the atmosphere and enjoy an electrifying evening out. You may even find you’ve taken on a new team for yourself!
Local tip: Grab a bite to eat pre- or post-game at the nearby Entertainment Quarter. You’ll find plenty of options, including Blackstar Pastry, where you have to try their unique watermelon-strawberry cake.
Recommended site: https://www.scgt.nsw.gov.au/sydney-cricket-ground/
20. Laze on the sandy banks of Sydney Harbour at Milk Beach
Sydney’s quiet, little harbour-side beaches are perhaps one of the city’s most well-kept secrets. One of the most beautiful of these is Milk Beach.
Milk Beach is located at the harbourside suburb of Vaucluse and within the confines of Sydney Harbour National Park. Access to the beach is limited, so you’ll have to carry your beach gear a short walk from your car to the beach. But boy, is it worth it! Milk Beach is a quiet beach known mostly to locals of the area. Its harbour location means it’s a perfect spot for a relaxing no-waves dip or for kiddies to have a splash. And while you’re drying off on the sand, you’ll be blown away by the views back toward the Harbour Bridge.
Local tip: For the closest parking to Milk Beach drive to Carrara Road closest to Tingara Avenue. From here it’s just a 300m walk to Milk Beach.
Recommended site: The Hermitage Foreshore Walk passes by Milk Beach. It is one of Sydney’s best-loved hikes and will reward you with some stunning scenery – https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/hermitage-foreshore-track
21. Eat, drink and shop in style at the Queen Victoria Building
Affectionately known by locals as the QVB this impressive sandstone structure stands as one of Sydney’s most iconic buildings. Following its construction in 1898, the building has enjoyed a long and varied history. Nowadays it is an upmarket hub retail hub.
As you enter the QVB, you’ll be impressed by the exquisite Romanesque architecture and the glorious stained-glass windows. People-watchers will be happy to sit at a café to soak in the atmosphere while sipping a coffee. Shoppers will delight in the many upscale brands on offer including Furla, Michael Kors and Coach.
Treat yourself to a unique experience with a touch elegance at The Tea Room QVB, one of Sydney’s best high teas. If something with a little more kick is your style, Reign at the QVB serves superb wines, Champagnes and cocktails in a ‘royal’ setting.
Local tip: Reach QVB easily by train, disembarking at Town Hall Station. The station is located at the bottom floor of the QVB.
Recommended site: www.qvb.com.au
22. Breathe in spectacular ocean views at The Gap
The Gap became famous early on in European settlement for its easy access to spectacular ocean views. It’s easy to see why those impressive views remain popular today. Breathe in the salty ocean air while taking in the panoramic views across the Tasman Ocean from atop The Gap’s tall sandstone cliffs.
Local tip: While in the area enjoy the coastline along the South Head Heritage Trail. This easy 1km loop track also passes by the Hornby Lighthouse and Lady Bay Beach.
23. Admire Aboriginal rock engravings at Bondi Golf Club
Sadly, many Aboriginal historical artefacts around Sydney were lost in the 250-years since the European colonisation of the area. However, you will find some impressive rock engravings just a short distance from Bondi Beach.
At the Bondi Golf Club, a large rock beside the ocean cliffs features engravings of a whale, humans, mundoes and fish. Unfortunately, some of the original engravings were gouged out again by the local council in the 1960s. However, you can still see some of the original work. These engravings are a must-see site to get up close to the historical artwork of Australia’s First Peoples.
Local tip: Please be sure to treat this site with respect and don’t cross the roped-off area onto the rock. These carvings are irreplaceable examples of the art and spiritual beliefs of Sydney’s indigenous people.
Bonus: Read more about Aboriginals, the first people of Australia on our blog, here: https://dailysydneytours.com/australia/the-first-australians-aboriginal-people-of-australia/
24. Sample a pint at one of Marrickville’s excellent microbreweries
Craft brews (and the drinking of them) have become one of Sydney’s most loved pastimes. No other area of the city is home to more of Sydney’s favourite microbreweries than the inner-west suburb of Marrickville.
Marrickville lies just 7kms from Sydney’s CBD and is easily accessible by train. Affordable warehouse rents and new artsy-type residents of Marrickville has attracted craft brewers to set up comfortable residence in this area. Sydney locals and visitors reap the ‘amber’ benefits.
Choose to sample just one, pop into a few or embark on a craft brewery pub crawl. Some of our favourites, include The Grifter Brewing Co., Batch Brewing Co., Wildflower Brewing and Blending, Sauce Brewing Co. and Stockade Barrel Room.
Local tip: Once you’ve craft beer’ed to your heart’s content, head on down to Poor Tom’s Gin Hall. Look carefully to spot the roller door entrance to this boutique gin bar and enjoy the small-batch gins they’ve been perfecting since 2015.
Recommended site: https://craftbreweries.com.au/marrickville
25. Get full-frontal with the Opera House at Kirribilli Point
One of the most iconic Sydney shots, of course, if the Opera House ‘sails’. But, this famous landmark is also stunning from across the northern side of the harbour, front-on. While a bit off the typical tourist route, you won’t regret making the trip over to Kirribilli to see the Opera House from a different angle.
Kirribilli is not as difficult to access as it might seem, either. Ferries depart regularly from Darling Harbour and Circular Quay to Kirribilli. Alternatively, you can simply stroll there across the Harbour Bridge and enjoy your scenic trip.
Kirribilli is the northern suburbs’ oldest area and full of great cafes and restaurants. Many of these offer outdoor dining and stunning water views – the perfect spot to rest your feet for a while.
Local tip: Plan your visit on the weekend to coincide with the famous Kirribilli Market. Depending on the date, you’ll find a variety of local foods, plants, fashion, arts and more.
Recommended site: https://kirribillimarkets.com/market-dates
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