15 of the BEST Things to Do in Sydney (with Photos & Travel Tips)
If you’re here you are either looking for the best things to do in Sydney because you’re planning a trip to Australia or you’re already in Sydney and need some travel tips now!
One of the most recent places we were able to visit during our year on the road is the beautiful Australian city of Sydney. We had the opportunity to spend a few weeks here, visiting the beautiful beaches, seeing famous sights like the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and roaming the neighborhoods—eating and shopping our way around the city.
And if you are planning a trip or researching about this great country make sure to check out my other travel guides for Australia; Planning the Perfect Yarra Valley Weekend Getaway, Bondi Beach Australia: Surfing, Swimming, Sunshine, Shopping & Sunsets, and The 7 Best Stops Along the Great Ocean Road.
About Sydney Australia
Sydney is the state capital of New South Wales, located on the east coast of Australia. It’s a city on par with San Francisco, Chicago, and even New York City. It has an abundance of neighborhoods, friendly people, good food, world-quality museums and gardens and some of the best beaches in the world.
Host to the 2000 Summer Olympics, the infrastructure is set up for tourists, and they come each year to the tune of millions. And I can see why with all this city has to offer. So let’s look at 15 of the best things that you can do while in this world-class city.
The Best Things to do in Sydney
1. Relax on Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach is located about 30 minutes outside the city center of Sydney. Its white sand stretches along the Pacific Ocean in a crescent shape and is home to some of the country’s greatest waves and surfers, as well as massive crowds—both locals and tourists. This means that you will be competing for a spot during peak times (summer, weekends) and working on your tan on Bondi Beach is one of the MOST popular things to do in Sydney.
The beach itself is only 1 kilometer long but the current changes dramatically from one end to the other. For a gentle surf—good for families and those wanting to play in the water—head to the north end of Bondi. Experienced surfers ride the waves at the south end, which has a hazard rating of 7. Strong swimmers and neophyte surfers take up the middle. There are also two ocean pools on both sides of the beach; one is for families and the other is the famous Bondi Icebergs POOL.
If you’re an experienced surfer, you can rend a board from a local shop and catch some waves. But if you’re a novice, you’ll want to take lessons from a local surf school, which knows the ins and outs of Bondi Beach and will keep you out of harm’s way.
The beach is home to a number of events throughout the year, including the Festival of the Winds (a kite flying contest) and the City to Surf Run (much like San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers). You’ll even find the shore popular in the wintertime when temperatures plummet. This is due to the annual Bondi Winter Magic Festival (usually held the whole month of July). There’s plenty to see and do, including having some fun on the temporary ice rink that is set up on the beach.
Want to know more about the best things to do in Bondi Beach? Check out my guide Bondi Beach Australia: Surfing, Swimming, Sunshine, Shopping & Sunsets.
2. Swim in an Ocean Pool
You’re probably seen one of these epic pool photos! And chances are you really want to see one of these pools in person and better yet you want to swim in one of these ocean pools and capture your own photo of it! That is the reason this is number two on the list of the best things to do in Sydney!
These saltwater pools sit right on the ocean and allow you to swim safely in ocean water, protected by the walls of the pool. You’ll still feel the spray of the ocean as the waves crash against the sidewalls during high tide. You can try Bronte Baths at Bronte Beach (see #3), Mahon Pool, which is actually carved into the rocks of the beach, Coogee Women’s Baths (girls only), and the most famous of all, Bondi Icebergs Pool.
3. Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk
There’s a popular coastal walk that runs from Bondi Beach to Coogee. This is really one of the most popular things to do in Sydney. We’ve must have walked this gorgeous path 3 times over the time we were here.
Overall it is 6 kilometers and takes about 2.5 hours. But the walk from Bondi Beach to Bronte Beach is only an hour round trip and you’ll get to see some amazing sights along the way.
Take in the Icebergs Bondi Beach Pools, walk along the coastline, past Tamarama Beach—reportedly where the “beautiful” people hang out—and down to Bronte Beach. This small beach is popular for both swimming and surfing, with picnic tables and barbecues available for a nice day trip.
Bronte is also home to the Bogey Hole. The Bogey Hole is a heritage site that consists of a large bathing hole that was constructed in 1820 out of the rock shelf at the base of the cliff. While it fell into disrepair over the years, the government undertook restoration and it is now accessible and the perfect place to take a safe dip and overlook the ocean.
4. Get a Birds Eye of the City from Sydney Tower
The Sydney Tower, also known as the Sydney Tower Eye, is a 30-year-old skyscraper that houses the Centrepoint Shopping Center. It is the tallest structure in the city. At the top are the Observation Deck, a skywalk, restaurants, café, and an amazing 420 windows!
Of note, to us, as Californians are its construction, which is capable of withstanding earthquakes as well as extreme wind conditions. It’s actually considered one of the safest towers and buildings in the world. Finding out how it was constructed was amazing.
The Tower is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and you ascend the building via a double-deck elevator. Here you can wander the Observation Deck or, for the ultimate experience, take a Skywalk Tour. The tour, which lasts 45 minutes, allows you to step out onto the skywalk to get a full view of the city. Guides point all the famous sits, best vantage points, and where to take the best photos.
We decided just to do the Observation Deck and admire the view. We spent about an hour here and it’s very close to the Queen Victoria Building so you can do both at the same time. Even though it was quick this was one of our favorite things to do in Sydney because of the amazing views!
5. Take the Ferry to Manly Beach
Manly Beach, one of the locals’ favorite Sydney beaches, is accessible only via a 30-minute ferry ride. Part of the charm of the beach is the ferry ride itself, which gives passengers a bird’s-eye view of Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, both striking in design and which are destinations worthy of a visit. The ferry ride makes for some great photo opportunities, which we took advantage of.
The beach itself is 3 kilometers long with soft sand perfect for sunbathing. (You can even rent lounge chairs and umbrellas!) If you’re a surfer, there are usually plenty of waves to take advantage of, or if you want to become a surfer, there’s even a surf school that can provide lessons.
Adjacent to the beach is The Corso, a pedestrian-only main street which houses restaurants, café’s, boutiques and gift shops. There are also surf shops, where you can pick up beach necessities and supermarket that will allow you to pick up a picnic lunch to share on the beach. This was one of the most interesting things to do in Sydney because it gives you a different perspective of this gorgeous city!
6. Stroll The Royal Botanic Garden
The Royal Botanic Garden is more than just some pretty flowers; it’s the oldest scientific institution in Australia that dates back to 1816. Part of the governor’s Domain, it is situated adjacent to Sydney’s central business district and overlooks the Sydney Harbour. It’s also a good viewing point for the Sydney Opera House and one of the most relaxing things to do in Sydney.
Encompassing an impressive 74 acres, the Garden is divided into four sections: the Lower Gardens, Middle Gardens, Palace Gardens and the Bennelong Precinct. Each section contains different structures, bodies of water, and multiple types of gardens. I’d recommend that you take a tour with a volunteer guide, available daily at 10:30 a.m.
But if time is short, I highly recommend the Rainforest Garden, the Palace Rose Garden, and the Fernery, which is set in a walled garden that is both serene and cooler in temperature. Also of note is the Calyx, a living art gallery with eye-popping color and design, all made out of plants.
7. Visit the Art Gallery of NSW
Like the aforementioned Royal Botanic Garden above, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is located within the Governor’s Domain in Sydney, near Sydney Harbour. Opened in 1874, admission is free. So it’s not surprising that over a million visitors a year make their way here to see everything from Aboriginal to Asian art, photography, contemporary art as well as temporary rotating exhibits. The variety of artwork is truly amazing, particularly that of local artists.
Free guided tours are available, as are podcasts you can download as your tour the facility. Tours are typically aimed at one section of the gallery and a listing is available online.
8. Photograph the Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House is an iconic structure known the world over. Jutting out on Bennelong Point on Sydney Harbour, its multiple shelled roof is unlike any other building in the world. You will, no doubt, want to photograph this magnificent site. There are several vantage points that will give you the best angles:
Photograph the Sydney Opera House from Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair: This is not a chair, per se, but a rock outcropping that was carved into the shape of a bench by convicts over 200 years ago. Named after the wife of Governor at that time, it is located on a small peninsula between Bennelong Point and the Garden Island peninsula. Here you can sit and get a full-on view of the Opera House, with the soaring Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.
Photograph the Sydney Opera House from a Ferry: Probably your best, and least obstructed, view for photographing the Opera House is from a ferry in Sydney Harbour. You’ll find nine different routes and 38 wharves to catch a ferry from. (I recommend an Inner Harbour Ferry.)
Photograph the Sydney Opera House from Dawes Point: If you head to the northwestern side of town, you’ll come upon Dawes Point, a suburb of Sydney. There’s a grassy area located under the Harbour Bridge that provides a perfect photo opportunity. Stand at the black wrought iron fence at dawn to capture a great shot.
9. Have a Drink and Enjoy the View
This is multitasking at its laziest. Head to one of these local watering holes, each of which has an amazing view.
The Bucket List: This bar overlooking Bondi Beach has a room called the Fishbowl that is a half moon of windows and there’s nary a bad seat. This is where you want to be, sipping a cocktail and watching the sunset. They’ve got cocktails by the glass and by the pitcher, as well as some unusual selections designed by their mixologist.
Opera Bar: Here you will be able to gaze upon the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge, the harbor itself, and at night, a city skyline completely lit up. The bar/restaurant itself is located on the water’s edge, a stone’s throw from the Opera House. They offer daily entertainment, indoor or outdoor seating, and a full complement of craft cocktails.
Icebergs: This is one of the coolest places we saw in Australia and a definite must-do on any list. Formed by the Bondi Icebergs Winter Swimming Club over 100 years ago, this clubhouse and restaurant, pool, and sauna are open to the public. The pool actually sits on the edge of the cliff overlooking Bondi Beach and the ocean, and it’s not uncommon to have the waves crash into the cliff and send spray up to the pool. So sitting in the clubhouse and having a drink overlooking such a spectacle is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Try to get there at sunset for something even more spectacular.
Coogee Pavilion: Just outside the city, this three-story bar and restaurant affords the perfect view of Coogee Beach, especially if you manage to get a seat on their rooftop deck. There you will feel the ocean breeze on your face and get a 270-degree view of the beach. Try a drink made with one of their cold-pressed juices or order a carafe of Australian wine that’s served in a chemistry flask. There are also some nice bar snacks to be had, in addition to wood-fired pizzas.
10. Go Shopping at the Queen Victoria Building
Located in the central business district is an ornate 19th-century building aptly named the Queen Victoria Building. Taking up a whole city block, this landmark houses a marketplace that outshines any shopping mall back home.
There are six levels of shops and eating establishments. As you ascend each level, the stores get more exclusive and pricier. There are chain stores and boutiques, and you’ll find apparel, jewelry, art, and gifts for everyone on your list. To top off your shopping excursion, enjoy a traditional high tea in the Tea Room on the top level, located in what once was a grand ballroom.
11. Explore The Rocks Neighborhood
The Rocks is a Sydney neighborhood, not unlike the Mission in San Francisco or Soho in New York. Located adjacent to Sydney Harbour, this neighborhood provides a great walking tour, with historic buildings, a huge weekend outdoor market, art galleries, an old fort, one of Sydney’s oldest pubs, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. You don’t need a lot of time to explore this neighborhood, just an afternoon to enjoy a leisurely meal.
This is also a great location to photograph the Sydney Harbour Bridge and even the Opera House. This is a quick thing to do in Sydney.
12. Ferry from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay
While any ferry trip around the harbor is great, the one from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay is one of the best. It’s only a 20-minute ride, but you’ll find the views and photo opportunities endless. You’ll see boats racing around the harbor, and have a good view of the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. If you can, stop off in the village of Balmain for a quick bite or a leisurely stop in one of their quaint pubs.
13. Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge
We didn’t get to do this while we were there but I read many of the reviews and a few locals we talked to also recommended it so I thought I would include it in this list as one of the best things to do in Sydney. If you’re not afraid of heights then the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is a must-do activity.
The basic bridge climb takes about 3.5 hours, encompasses 1,332 steps—half of it an uphill climb—and costs $263-403AU ($194-297US). You’re harnessed up and clipped in, so there is no danger of falling, and once you reach the top, you’ll have “360 degrees of unforgettable.” You can see the boats traversing the harbor, the Opera House, as well as all the traffic below you.
14. Enjoy Brunch Near the Beach
Bruch seems to be a big deal in Sydney, not as much as a big deal as in Austin but still worth including this best of list post!
Trio Café: Talk about yum! This Bondi Beach café serves up comfort food with a Mediterranean twist that is plated like its being featured in Gourmet magazine. Our Trio Breakfast Burrito was a deconstructed version, with the lightest, fluffiest eggs, chorizo chili, salsa, and tortillas on the side.
There wasn’t anything on the menu I wouldn’t eat. They had corn fritters, shakshouka, chilaquiles, mango and lime buttermilk pancakes, and so much more. Oh, and their coffee drinks are not only delicious but works of art as well.
Bluewater Café: Located at Manly Beach, this café is a local’s favorite. Everything is made in-house from scratch, so you get some really delicious and fresh food, but it won’t come cheap. Their full-on English is $24AU or about $18US. But their selection is amazing, from a Morning Bruschetta to Tuscan Eggs, and there are even vegan options. They squeeze their own juices, and have some killer combinations. (Their Refreshing Pink with watermelon, coconut water, and lime is truly refreshing.)
15. Eat Some Delicious Food!
Good food abounds in this capital city, but here are two places that we really enjoyed and wanted to share with you!
Bondi Hardware: This quirky place, which was originally a hardware store, serves some interesting cocktail and has a menu that’s meant to be shared. There are small shares like crab cakes, coconut chicken sliders and kingfish ceviche taco, as well as larger shares like beef cheeks, dug leg confit and grilled marlin.
Try their margarita three ways or one of their specialty drinks like Vin d’Hardware or Pepo.
Drake Eatery: This is considered a modern restaurant offering a rotating menu based on the availability of produce and the season. While it serves breakfast lunch and dinner, we took advantage of it at night because the dishes on that menu are meant to be shared and we can taste a lot more that way! It’s an interesting menu, with chicken liver parfait, thyme gnocchi, duck croquettes, pork belly and other equally delicious items. Well worth your time.
Sydney Travel Tips
Traveling to Sydney can be a little overwhelming, with it being such a big city it’s difficult to decide where to get started. I’ve share 15 of the best things to do in Sydney I also wanted to share some travel tips.
Best Time to Travel to Sydney: The land down under is on an opposite season schedule from the States. Christmas is in the summertime, and the middle of the year it’s blustery cold with winter. So choose your timing when coming to visit. Because of the beautiful beaches, you’ll want to try and come during late Spring, Summer or Fall—mid-October to mid-May.
Sydney Weather: Springtime brings temperatures from 51-73 degrees with some humidity. Summer is when the humidity is noticeable, about 65%, but the temperatures are 65 to 78 degrees. In the fall, the weather is similar to spring, with fairly low humidity. Wintertime is when you’ll see the most rain, with temperatures in the high 40s to about 65 degrees.
The Sydney Airport: Sydney International Airport is about 5 miles outside of city center and many major international airlines fly here, including Delta, United, American, and VirginAtlantic. Quantas, Australia’s national airline, flies from major U.S. hubs like San Francisco, Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York.
Transportation in Sydney: You won’t likely need a car while in Sydney, as they have a very efficient transportation system, consisting of trains, buses, and ferries (my favorite way to travel here!). There’s also an abundance of light rail lines, airport links, and those ubiquitous sightseeing buses. Taxis and Uber are also available.
Depending on how much time you have in Sydney you can add some or all of these activities to your travel schedule. These are some of our favorite these things to do in Sydney, Peter and I did all of these things (except one) so I know you’ll enjoy them!
Here’s to Stylish Travels,