I grew up in the southern suburbs of Sydney and regularly caught the train into ‘town’ as we called Sydney. I even worked in a number of office buildings with amazing views over the harbour. Even though I am currently residing in Melbourne every visit I make to Sydney I am always enamoured by how wonderful and beautiful my home town is. Sydney is like no other city in the world I have visited. From fun things to touristy things, here are my 12 best things to see and do in Sydney.
Best time to visit Sydney
You can visit Sydney anytime, that spectacular harbour doesn’t change. Over the summer months the heat can be stifling but you can cool off at one of the many beaches. While in winter you will need a woolly coat while enjoying the sights and sounds of Sydney.
Getting around Sydney
Sydney is serviced by public trains and buses. Get yourself an Opal card and get going. If you are limited for time you may want to take the hop-on hop-off SydneyBigBus. This will give you a good grounding of the things to see and do in Sydney before you decide which ones you want to spend more time at. Get your ticket here.
Sydney Harbour is often the focal point of any trip to Sydney. Afterall there is so much to see and do in and around the harbour. To make the most of your time in Sydney Harbour read our blog ‘Sightseeing Sydney Harbour’ specifically written about exploring the harbour area. I cover exploring The Rocks, climbing the Bridge, visiting the Opera House, walking through the Botanical Gardens and sitting at Mrs McQuarie’s Chair here. And if you are in Sydney for New Year’s Eve the harbour is the place to be. The fireworks are spectacular.
However, Sydney is more than just the Harbour. Here are other things to see and do in Sydney.
Take a cruise around the harbour
If you haven’t had enough of the harbour then you might want to take a cruise and enjoy the sights from the water. There are morning coffee cruises and lunch and dinner cruises. You can book a ticket on a cruise here. If you don’t want to go on a cruise then take a ferry from The Quay to the zoo, to Manly or one of the other spots and get some great views of Sydney from the water. Boats are leaving from the wharfs regularly.
Get a birds eye view at the top of Sydney Tower
Sydney Tower is Sydney’s tallest building and stands at 309 metres. It is as tall as the Eiffel Tower and twice as high as the Harbour Bridge. It offers amazing panoramic views of the city from its Skywalk at the top. Take the lift to the observation level for a 360-degree view of the city. You could splurge on a meal at one of the revolving restaurants. I suggest you choose a clear day or evening. To book your ticket to the top of the tower you can purchase a ticket here.
Hang out at a beach
Cronulla Beach – where I spent many a summer
Beaches are synonymous with Sydney, and Sydney has a number of them, around 100 in fact. And they vary in size from a few metres to several kilometres. They are found all along The Pacific Ocean coastline, in the harbour, bays and rivers. Some have waves while others don’t. But they all have a strong beach culture where locals and tourists flock to surf, swim, fish and enjoy an ice-cream and/or cold beverige in one of the cafes or restaurants that align the shore.
Bondi Beach is the most famous Australian beach. It is one of Australia’s most loved beaches and you could enjoy a swim there then sit in one of the cafes and restaurants and watch the locals and tourists pass by.
Manly Beach is another popular beach to visit. Catch the ferry from Circular Quay for the 30-minute picturesque ride across the harbour. You will sail past the Sydney Opera House and out towards Sydney Heads to Manly. As you embark from the ferry you might want to visit the Manly Oceanarium or simply stroll the esplanade and take in the beachside atmosphere. Enjoy the local beach-side vibe and maybe stay to enjoy the kick-ass nightlife! If you stay, make sure you get the last ferry home or will be stuck in Manly overnight! Or you could walk from the wharf to the Quarantine Station at North Head which is the northern head Sydney Harbour Heads.
There are however, other beaches to visit. I grew up a short distance from Cronulla Beach which is about an hour on the train south of Sydney. I may be biased but Cronulla is a great beach. In fact it is a number of beaches all linked to create one great big beach. There are areas to surf, fish and there are rock pools to swim in. You can also walk along the promenade enjoying the water views or pop in to one of the many eateries to enjoy some ‘fish and chips’.
If you go to one of the beaches ensure you swim between the flags. Also ensure you have a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, your swimmers, a towel and some water and food. The sun is harsh and you don’t want to spend the rest of your time in Sydney as red as a lobster you might try at one of Sydney’s famous seafood restaurants.
Learn to surf
If it is a dream to learn to surf now is your chance. Most of Sydney’s beaches offer surfing lessons. Choose your beach, then choose your lesson. If you would like a surf lesson at the iconic Bondi Beach then book your 2-hour lesson here.
Undertake a coastal walk
Sydney has a number of stunning coastal walks. Cronulla has the promenade that you can walk to Bass and Flinders for fabulous views over to The Royal National Park, the oldest national park in Australia. Other notable walks providing breathtaking views are the two-hour Bondi to Coogee walk, Rose Bay to Watson’s Bay, Chowder Bay to Balmoral Beach, the Jibbon Beach Loop Track and the Manly to Spit Bridge walk.
Enjoy Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour is a harbour adjacent to the centre of Sydney. It has become a recreational pedestrian precinct for locals and visitors to enjoy. There are many things on offer to see and do including visiting Madame Tussauds, the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium and the Australian National Maritime Museum. Plus there are loads of shops and eateries to enjoy. Plenty of accommodation here too.
Have a meal in China Town
Most cities have a China Town and Sydney is no exception. Sydney’s China Town is located in Haymarket between Central Train Station and Darling Harbour. It is well worth a visit. There are many restaurants to have an authentic Chinese meal as there are many classic Chinese dishes on the menu to satisfy your hunger. And you may be lucky to experience a festival if there at the right time of the year. There are also a number of markets and shops to visit to find a special Chinese gift such as a brightly coloured traditional kite.
Visit the animals at Taronga Park Zoo
See giraffes with a backdrop of Sydney
Spending a day at the zoo is a great day out. Now not everyone wants to see animals in a zoo however, what makes Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo so special is the backdrop, that of Sydney Harbour from the ‘other side’ of the harbour. Not everywhere you can take a photo of giraffes with Sydney in the background! Take the ferry from Circular Quay across the harbour to the zoo. This in itself is exciting to see Sydney from the water. You can book a ticket to the zoo here.
Explore Hyde Park
Hyde Park is the oldest public park in the entire country of Australia. It covers 16 hectares of land that is much loved by local city workers soaking up the sun at lunchtime to many visitors. As I said, it is the oldest park in the country and was gazetted as a public park in 1810 by Governor Macquarie. It didn’t look like it does today until 1927 when the architect Norman Weekes won a competition to beatify the area. The park is divided in to the northern and southern sections by Park Street and a central avenue cuts through the park from Macquarie Street to the ANZAC Memorial. You might want to throw a coin in the remembrance pond outside of the memorial. A number of regular cultural events occur in the park including the Sydney Festival every January.
See the museums
Like most major cities, Sydney has a wide variety of museums. There are art museums, history museums, galleries, museums of weird things and everything in between. Most in the city are also free or have a small entrance charge, making it a great inexpensive activity while in the city, particularly if it is wet or too hot outside.
One of my favourites is the Hyde Park Barracks. It is set in old convict barracks from the 18th century. It does an amazing and extremely interesting job of chronicling colonial life in Sydney.
Some of my other favourites include The Rocks Discovery Museum (local history), Australian Museum (natural history), Art Gallery of New South Wales (modern art) and the Australian National Maritime Museum.
Shop till you drop
Sydney has some great shopping areas to buy local souvenirs to high class fashion. One of my favourite shopping areas is the Queen Victoria Building, otherwise known as the QVB, near Town Hall Train Station. Even if you don’t like shopping you can marvel at the incredible 19th century architecture of the building which is right across the road from the Town Hall.
You may wish to visit The Strand Arcade that is a heritage-listed Victorian-style retail arcade located at 195-197 Pitt Street. It is between the Pitt Street Mall and George Street other notable shopping areas. There is also the MidCity Shopping Centre to check out.
Get a bargain at the markets
Sydney has some amazing markets to find many bargains. There is a variety of them ranging from hand-made clothes of new fashion designers to food plus everything else in between.
My favourite markets include Paddington Markets where you can obtain art and craft from edgy designers and artistic traders. Lovers of seafood, like me, will enjoy the fish market where you can grab your catch of the day. There is also the Bondi Farmers Market for market fresh produce. If you want vintage clothes, interesting local handicrafts and delicious food from food stalls then head to Glebe Market. If you like antiques, clothing, DVDs and everything in between then you might find what you are looking for at the Rozelle Collectors Market.
So these are some of my most favourite things to do and see when I am in Sydney. I hope you enjoy them too!
Hi. I’m Sharyn and welcome to my blog on living, working and playing in Australia. I’ve been travelling all my life thanks to my dad who worked for an Australian airline. I’ve travelled with my family, as a single person, in a couple, with friends and now with my own family. My travels in Australia have inspired this website and my travel guide Live Work and Play in Australia. Read More.