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.
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.
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.
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 of 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!
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.
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 ever 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 idealin 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.
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.
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 that 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 WILDLIFE Sydney Zoo.
Local tip: Schedule a rest stop at the Chinese Garden of Friendship. This stunning display is a tranquil paradise that 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 from both the CBD and Opera House.
Established in 1816, the Botanic Garden is home to thousands 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.
11. Immerse yourself in history at Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Among 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 New South Wales. Stepping into Hyde Park Barracks is 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.
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 spectacular Cathedral Christmas Light Show projected onto the front of the building.
13. Shop up a storm at Paddy’s Markets
Paddy’s Markets is a Sydney institution and, despite various location changes, 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.
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 the 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.
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.
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.
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 accessible 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.
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 hosts hundreds of sporting events every year. For an authentic 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.
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 in 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 mainly known 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.
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 of 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 on the bottom floor of the QVB.
22. Breathe in spectacular ocean views at The Gap
The Gap became famous early on in European settlement for its easy access to stunning 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, undoes 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.
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 have attracted craft brewers to a 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’s 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.
25. Get full-frontal with the Opera House at Kirribilli Point
One of the most iconic Sydney shots, of course, is 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 various local foods, plants, fashion, arts and more.
Best things to see and do in Sydney: My 13 favourite things
I grew up in the southern suburbs of Sydney and regularly caught the train into ‘town’ as we called Sydney. I even worked in several office buildings with fantastic 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 hometown 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 deciding which ones you want to spend more time at.
Sydney Harbour is often the focal point of any trip to Sydney. After All, 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 The Rocks, climb the Bridge, visit the Opera House, walk through the Botanical Gardens, and sit 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.
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, Manly or one of the other spots and get some great views of Sydney from the water. Boats are leaving from the wharves regularly.
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 fantastic 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.
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 ice cream and a cold beverage 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 famous 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 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 visit, make sure you get the last ferry home or will be stuck in Manly overnight! Or you could walk from the pier to the Quarantine Station at North Head, the northern head of 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 fantastic beach. It is several 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 into 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, 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.
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 address. If you would like a surf lesson at the iconic Bondi Beach, book your 2-hour lesson here.
Sydney has several 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 Spit Bridge walk.
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 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.
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 several markets and shops to visit to find a special Chinese gift such as a brightly coloured traditional kite.
See giraffes with a backdrop of Sydney.
Spending a day at the zoo is a great day out. Not everyone wants to see animals in a zoo; however, what makes Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo so unique is the backdrop 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 port to the zoo. This in itself is exciting to see Sydney from the water.
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 did today until 1927 when the architect Norman Weekes won a competition to beautify the area. The park is divided into 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. Several regular cultural events occur in the park, including the Sydney Festival every January.
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 free or have a small entrance charge, making it a great inexpensive activity while in the town, mainly 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 a unique and exciting 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.
Sydney has some significant shopping areas to buy local souvenirs for 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 building’s incredible 19th-century architecture, which is right across the road from the Town Hall.
You may wish to visit The Strand Arcade, 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.
Sydney has some fantastic markets to find many bargains. There are various 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, 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!