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.
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
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.
Often nicknamed “Paddo” by locals, Paddington is a suburb of Sydney that features a nice mix of culture, history and shopping opportunities. Known for its colonial architecture and beautiful balconied buildings, Paddo has long been a local favorite. And although the population of this district is quite meager, at just over 11,000 people, it packs a massive punch when it comes to activity.
In general, one could divide Paddington into four even more distinct districts. Five Ways is a bit of a village within a village and home to some of the best foodie spots in the Sydney area. Paddington Markets, as the name points at, is a massive flea market that takes place at the Uniting Church grounds. William Street is the art designer's district in which some of Sydney's top up-and-coming designers have their shops, and all of it is tied into Oxford Street, which runs the entire length of Paddington and is lined with shops, boutiques, cafes and eateries.
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.
Located in bustling Circular Quay, historic Customs House stands on the spot where modern Australia was founded. This is the site where the famous First Fleet came ashore in 1788, to establish a British penal colony in a land very far away. When the building was constructed in 1845, it was built in a classically Georgian style that’s exceptionally well preserved today, and simply the exterior is a sight in itself in the middle of Circular Quay. All the way up until 1990, Customs House served as the Customs Service headquarters for anyone entering the country, but today is a popular public space for just lounging and killing some time. On the top story, a café looks out over Circular Quay and is a nice place for grabbing a coffee, while the Sydney Library and it’s 400,000 books are open for viewing below. There’s free wi fi throughout the building—which is somewhat of a rarity in Sydney—and there’s even a miniature replica of the city in a glass atrium in the floor.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Sydney’s best sights are lining the beaches or harbor, but in the case of popular Observatory Hill, this elevated perch in the heart of downtown is one of the city’s best spots. For one, visiting the park is totally free—as are the sweeping views of the harbor and Sydney’s Harbor Bridge. Make the 20-minute trek from The Rocks and pack along a picnic, relaxing and sprawling out on the grass with a panoramic view of the harbor. The uphill climb to reach the park tends to thin out the visitor crowds, and thereby makes it a local favorite for watching the sun go down.
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.
The famous wax museum, Madame Tussauds, with its incredibly life-like wax figures of famous people, can be found all over the world. Sydney was added to the list when this location opened its gates in 2012.
Australians and visitors from all over the world can take the opportunity to stand next to their favorite glitz and glamour star. From TV personalities, famous sport players, musicians, actors and A-List celebrities to world leaders, scientists and the key players in world history –the wax museum lets visitors meet a wide range of personalities from different fields and time periods.
In addition to international celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Barack Obama and Michael Jackson, Madame Tussauds in Sydney also makes an effort to include local personalities. The history zone is filled with founders and well-known names from the times of colonial Australia. In addition, next to Kylie Minogue, you can also find the stars of the Australian sports and media scene.
The foundations of Sydney were built on convict labor, and the Hyde Park Barracks are where criminals who were sentenced to live out the rest of their days in Australia were housed. Opened to hold male convicts working on the government projects and later to house orphan girls escaping the Irish famine, it was after that also used as a female immigration depot, an asylum for impoverished women and a courthouse. All through history, it was the place where people in Australia certainly did not want to end up. Now, as a museum, the barracks tell the stories of those unlucky enough to pass through its doors.
The building itself was also built with convict labor, after it was decided that housing the criminals in one place would improve productivity as well as their moral character. The structure looks nothing short of imposing with its massive shingled roof standing above a simple, durable façade of sandstock brick.
The steps of this iconic building in the heart of Sydney’s central business district serve as a popular meeting place for both travelers and locals, but it is what’s found within its walls that make a visit worthwhile.
Built in the 1880s, this sandstone structure is the political powerhouse of the city, housing the Sydney City Council chamber and the offices of the lord mayor, the deputy lord mayor and the city’s councilors. But what catches the eye of most visitors is the building’s Sydney Town Hall Grand Organ, the world’s largest pipe organ. Two-hour guided tours include a look at Centennial Hall, the Lady Mayoress’s Rooms, the Reception Room and the former site of the Old Sydney Burial Ground, in addition to a stop at the world-famous organ.
While visitors to Sydney do have the option to venture into the outback in search of Australia’s natural wonders, the Australian Museum, located in the heart of Sydney’s central business district, makes getting up close with the wild a whole lot easier.
Wander through air-conditioned hallways filled with more than 40,000 artifacts, including examples of rare native minerals and exotic tropical birds. An all-access pass grants entry to even more galleries filled with ancient archaeological wonders and indigenous Australian artifacts. Popular cultural exhibits also delve deep into the nation’s aboriginal roots and link contemporary time to the far off past. Wildlife fans should be sure to check out the quirky Surviving Australia exhibit, which showcases the country’s weird and wild through six distinct sections that illustrate animal adaptation and survival.
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