Things to Do in Sydney
Its sparkling waters and iconic sights draw visitors from all over the world who wish to enjoy the beauty and excitement of the harbor. On any day, Sydney Harbour is dotted with sail boats and ferries which stand out on the vibrant blue waters. With nearly 150 miles (240 kilometers) of shoreline, the harbor is a breathtaking expanse awaiting the exploration of its visitors.
A visit to Sydney Harbour will not disappoint, as the area is home to many of Sydney’s top attractions and offers some of the city’s best activities. A must-see (and impossible to miss) structure of Sydney Harbour is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which you can cross or climb for stunning views. Within walking distance are the Taronga Zoo, the historic Rocks area, Circular Quay, and the famous Sydney Opera House.
To get the best views of the harbor it is recommended that you enjoy a cruise through its waterways, and perhaps stop off at one of the many islands that Sydney Harbour embraces.
Located in the beautiful and iconic Sydney Harbour, the Sydney Harbour Bridge overlooks the magnificent blue waters that help to make the Harbour a spectacular sight.
Nicknamed "The Coathanger" because of it's steel arch-based design, the Harbour Bridge boasts 8 traffic lanes, 2 railways and a pedestrian and bicycle lane, transporting both locals and tourists from the Central Business District (CBD) to the North Shore.
Visitors interested in getting the best view from the bridge can do so with the help of the BridgeClimb. Climbers can choose to climb either the outer arch or the inner arch of the bridge for spectacular views and an unforgettable experience.
The bridge also plays a special part in the annual New Yearâs Eve fireworks displays, where hundreds of spectators travel from near and far to gather on the shore and on the water to watch the festivities each year.
Now named for its shape and the image it brings to mind, Shark Island was once referred to as “Boambilly” by Australia’s aboriginal people. The island was previously the site of an animal quarantine and naval depot, but today travelers flock to its shores for recreation.
Settle in under shady trees and enjoy one of the island’s many well-kept picnic sites, or explore the rocky passes and handmade grottos along Shark Island’s beaches.
With its Georgian sandstone buildings, narrow alleyways, historic pubs, and regenerated warehouses, The Rocks is one of Sydney’s oldest and most popular precincts. Set back from Circular Quay, it was one of the earliest parts of Sydney to be settled. Formerly a raffish area, today this city-center quarter has been gentrified and given a good polish.
You’ll find Sydney’s oldest pubs here, a vibrant weekend street market specializing in handicrafts, historic Cadmans Cottage, the Sydney Observatory, Museum of Contemporary Art, and a swag of shops and boutiques. Some of Sydney’s best restaurants are also here, including Sailors Thai, Altitude, Neil Perry’s Rockpool, and Doyles at the Quay. The best way to get a feel for The Rocks is to just follow your nose down 200-year-old cobbled laneways like Playfair St, Mill Lane, and Nurses Walk.
Located in northern Sydney, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is the second-oldest national park in the country and a favorite among campers, hikers and nature lovers. Its lush rainforest landscape, quiet creeks and mountain passes lead visitors to forget Ku-ring-gai Chase is still within Sydney city limits, but its incredible views, thick mangroves and scenic drives make it the perfect escape from center city hustle.
The park is on the Australian National Heritage List, and travelers often wander its well-kept walking paths that wind through the Australian jungle. Driving may prove the easiest way to navigate the area, but many visitors prefer to call upon bicycles and horses to explore. An ideal day trip, Ku-ring-gai Chase offers public picnic spaces, paddle and sailboats and scenic overlooks like the Barrenjoey Lighthouse.
What is now a popular destination for history buffs once served as a defense facility that kept watch over the bay. Fort Denison Island, located northeast of the Royal Botanic Gardens, was where some of the most gruesome acts against convicted felons took place.
Today, travelers can wander the grounds of this recently restored island and see the gibbet where criminals were hanged. Explore the fort built to protect the island from invaders and climb the historic Martello Tower, the only one of its kind in the country. The island is home to an informative museum, as well as a number of landmarks that illustrate its dark and violent past.
More Things to Do in Sydney
Originally inhabited by aboriginal people who fished the waters off the South Head peninsula, Watsons Bay was later named for Seaman Robert Watson, whose fleet once docked in the bay’s protected shores. The quiet, mostly residential area attracts history-loving travelers looking to explore the World War II relics here, like the Sydney Harbour anti-submarine boom net designed to prevent underwater attackers from entering the inlet. But perhaps the biggest draw to Watsons Bay is the legal nude beach at Lady Bay, where travelers can strip down to the buff and soak up the sun. The less bold can still enjoy the area’s other beautiful beaches, such as Camp Cove, and the scenic coastal walk along South Head.
The eastern Sydney suburb of Watson’s Bay is more than just a charming fishing town—it’s also home to one of the most stunning views found anywhere in all of Sydney. At the cliff top viewpoint known as the “The Gap,” walkers are treated to a 360° panorama of Sydney’s Harbor and coastline. For all of its natural beauty, however, The Gap has a somewhat morbid history that is occasionally more famous than its view. In 1857, the Dunbar sailing ship was aiming for the Sydney Harbor entrance, but misjudged the entry point and was shipwrecked on the rocks.
All of the 122 passengers aboard perished in the grisly wreck, except for one sailor who would end up tending a lighthouse along Australia’s coast. The Gap is also infamously known for its high number of suicides, with hundreds of Australians having leapt from the cliff to the icy waters below.
When Sydney’s original European settlers arrived in Sydney Harbor, they sustained themselves by planting a garden here at Garden Island. Today, after land was reclaimed and filled in with rocks, Garden Island is now a point that juts out into the harbor, and houses the Royal Australian Navy’s eastern fleet of ships. During World War II, a Japanese mini sub infiltrated the harbor and sank an Australian ship—resulting in the death of 21 sailors from the Australian and British navies. Much more history is outlined in depth at the Royal Australian Navy Heritage Center—a fascinating museum here on Pott’s Point that’s a must for history or war buffs. Once finished perusing the Heritage Center, which is fantastically free of charge, take a stroll through the gardens and grounds that are hidden behind the museum, where BBQ grills and views of the harbor make the perfect spot for a picnic.
Coogee Beach is a family favorite, a sheltered arc of golden sand lapped by blue waves and patrolled by surf lifesavers in their red and gold. For a really safe swim, dip your toe in the walled ocean baths, protected from the strong Pacific waves.
The welcome blue waters of Coogee Beach mark the end of the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, and the stretches of lawn shaded by Norfolk pines offer an inviting spot to rest under. Bring a picnic, fire up the BBQ or replenish flagging energy at the string of beach cafes and chichi restaurants bordering the beach.
This unique landmark—a massive rock fashioned into a cozy bench—was carved from sandstone in the early 1800s by Gov. Lachlan Macquarie for his wife Elizabeth. As the story goes, when the weather was warm and the sun high, Mrs. Macquarie loved to relax at the point of this scenic peninsula and stare out over the ocean.
Today, travelers enjoy a leisurely walk to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair from the iconic Opera House or wander over to this historic attraction after a visit to the nearby Royal Botanic Garden. In a bustling city that’s alive with energy, the stone bench offers visitors a perfect place to unwind, relax and take in the some of the best views of Sydney Harbour.
St Mary's Cathedral is one of Sydney’s oldest and grandest buildings. Built on land given to the Catholic Church during the earliest days of colonization (1820), the original church was almost completely destroyed by fire and later rebuilt in its current form. The building that stands on Sydney’s central College Street today was constructed from Sydney sandstone and is regarded as one of the finest examples of an English-style Gothic Cathedral in the world.
There are many notable architectural features in the Cathedral’s design, which was only fully realized 100 years after the architect William Wardell’s death. Most notable is the Cathedral’s local sandstone interior and façade, its beautiful stained glass windows (especially the three rose windows at the entrance and the huge chancel window), and the high central nave.
Australia is home to some of the world’s cutest and most dangerous animals – and you can find them all under one roof at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo. Housing hundreds of unique Aussie critters, the zoo takes you on an adventure trail through the many different habitats of Australia introducing you to the animals that live in each. You can expect to see kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and a family of adorable wombats, as well as the decidedly less cuddly snakes, spiders and crocodiles; including Rex, a huge saltwater croc.
You’ll gain a greater understanding of the sheer size and diversity of Australia’s animals and landscapes as you follow a trail through the Butterfly Tropics, Gumtree Valley, Daintree Rainforest, Wallaby Cliffs, Kangaroo Walk-About, Kakadu Gorge, Nightfall and Koala Encounters.
The continental city of Sydney offers travelers options that go beyond the strictly Aussie. The Chinese Garden of Friendship, modeled after the private gardens of the Ming Dynasty, is just one of the multicultural experiences this jewel by the sea has to offer.
Opened in 1988 and designed by Sydney’s sister city of Guangzhou, the garden is a nod to the Chinese culture and heritage that already exists in and around Darling Harbour. The lush gardens, tranquil ponds and scenic waterfalls pay homage to the friendship between Sydney and Guangzhou. Travelers can wander between ornamental pavilions and babbling brooks before settling lakeside to enjoy peaceful reflection. Hot tea and traditional dim sum are also served at the garden’s teahouse.
The tallest freestanding structure in Sydney - measuring just over 1,000 feet (305 meters) tall - the Sydney Tower boasts Australia’s loftiest observation tower for terrific views. You can see all across Sydney from atop the Sydney Tower, all the way to the Heads washed by the ocean, to the Blue Mountains on the far horizon.
You can also see the tower from far away, as it’s one of the most visible of Sydney’s landmarks viewed from afar. Sometimes known by its former names of Centrepoint or AMP tower, the Sydney Tower was built in the 1970s.
Areas open to the public include the observation deck, providing 360 degree views from its panoramic windows 820 ft (250 m) above the ground. Dinner or lunch at the buffet or a la carte restaurant is a stunning experience, and the Skywalk open-air tour will literally take your breath away.
Hyde Park is Australia’s oldest park and a welcoming green space in the heart of Sydney’s city center. Divided into northern and southern sections by Park Street, Hyde Park contains several important monuments and statues, themed gardens, water features, the Archibald fountain and the ANZAC Memorial Building and visitor center.
Although gazetted as a public park (common) in 1810 by Governor Macquarie and named after Hyde Park in London, today’s park was not recognizable in its current form until 1927, when architect and landscape artist Norman Weekes won a competition to beautify the area. Prior to this, the park was used as a sports field, a racecourse and a venue for bareknuckle fights! The tiled central avenue that cuts through the park from Macquarie Street to the ANZAC Memorial is lined with Hill’s Figs and is a lovely place to seek shade on a hot day.
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