Top Things to Do in Sydney (The Ultimate Guide)
Sydney is Australia’s largest and most popular city, visited by millions of international travellers each year.
What sets Sydney apart from other international cities are the beautiful and world-famous Harbour, the unique landmarks such as the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, a near-perfect climate, a stunning coastline with countless beaches and also the thriving arts and culture scene.
If you’ve never been to Sydney before, you will no doubt be overwhelmed by the huge number of tourist attractions this amazing city has to offer. To make it easier for you to create your own personal itinerary, we’ve made a list of the best things to do in Sydney and surrounds.
1. SYDNEY WALKING TRACKS
Number 1 in our list of top things to do in Sydney is doing a few famous walking tracks. Hiking in and around Sydney is by far the best way to fully enjoy and appreciate everything this beautiful city has to offer. You can walk the beaches, the mountains, the bush, and of course the magnificent Harbour.
Sydney is home to countless walking tracks, some very challenging, others short and easy. Here are some of the most impressive walking tracks in Sydney that every visitor should do.
Bondi to Coogee Walk
The 6km hiking trail between Bondi and Coogee is perhaps the most famous walking track in Sydney. Tourists from all over the world as well as local Sydney-siders come to Sydney’s east coast every day to enjoy some of Australia’s best beaches, the most amazing ocean views and lots of parks and cafe’s on the way from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach.
If 6km is a bit too much, the shorter Bondi to Bronte walk is just as pretty.
Manly Scenic Walkway
The Manly Scenic Walkway is a stunning 19.5 km coastal walk that takes you from the Spit Bridge to Manly with a side-trip around historic Manly North Head.
The first part of this hike is the famous Spit to Manly walk, a 10km coastal adventure that brings you the best of Sydney’s north shore. The second part is the North Head Walk, a 9.5 circuit trail around Manly North Head that gives you a good taste of Sydney’s rich military history.
Get ready to be overwhelmed by panoramic Sydney Harbour views, picturesque bays and secluded inner Harbour beaches as you conquer one of Sydney’s finest coastal walks.
Watsons Bay Walk
The Watsons Bay Walk is a scenic walking trail around Sydney South Head. Starting and ending at beautiful Watsons Bay, this popular circuit walk brings you past pretty Camp Cove Beach, historic Hornby Lighthouse and a huge sea cliff that goes by the name of The Gap.
If time permits, you can stroll further south along Old South Head Rd for more panoramic ocean views as part of the Federation Cliff Walk.
If you planned to have fish and chips somewhere in Sydney, Watsons Bay has some of the best!
2. EXPLORING THE SYDNEY CBD
When visiting Sydney for the first time in your life, you will be amazed by the great variety of unique tourist attractions located in and around the CBD. Let’s go through the most important ones so you know where to go to next time you’re coming over to Australia’s most beautiful city.
Located on the western outskirts of the CBD, Darling Harbour is Sydney’s largest recreational and pedestrian precinct with a great number of attractions for the whole family. From waterfront dining and regular fireworks displays to huge playgrounds and exciting museums, Darling Harbour is one of Sydney’s top tourist destinations.
Highlights are the Sydney Aquarium, the Australian National Maritime Museum, Madame Tussauds, the Wild Life Sydney Zoo, the Chinese Garden of Friendship and the Darling Quarter Kids Playground.
Darling Harbour is conveniently located only a few moments away from Town Hall train station and Chinatown.
Situated just north of Darling Harbour, Barangaroo is Sydney’s newest dining, shopping and business precinct featuring state-of-the-art skyscrapers, a great variety of retail shops and restaurants and a brand new headland park.
Barangaroo will also soon be home to a 275-metre casino, hotel and apartment tower that will transform a once neglected industrial site into a thriving entertainment hub.
Barangaroo Reserve is a new Sydney Harbour foreshore park with excellent picnic opportunities and walking tracks boasting panoramic Sydney Harbour views. The best way to get to this beautiful headland park is by following the walking trail from Darling Harbour to Barangaroo that continues on to Barangaroo Reserve. From there you can easily cross over to The Rocks via Dawes Point.
Once a notorious convict settlement, The Rocks is now a popular tourist destination with friendly pubs, historic real estate, cobbled lane-ways, artisan markets and a calendar packed with great events. The best way to enjoy one of Sydney’s oldest neighbourhoods and learn more about Sydney’s colonial history is by doing a self-guided walk that takes in all the highlights.
The Rocks can be easily accessed via Barangaroo Reserve or Circular Quay train station.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Opened in 1932, the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge is arguably one of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks. Not only does it have the best looks, it’s also an incredible piece of superb engineering. Also known as the Coathanger because of its arch-based design, the 134m high Sydney Harbour Bridge connects the Sydney CBD with the North Shore.
Feeling adventurous? Enjoy unforgettable panoramic views of the Sydney CBD skyline and the Sydney Harbour by climbing the bridge!
Sydney’s main ferry terminal, Circular Quay, is conveniently situated right in front of Circular Quay train station, marked by Sydney’s two most iconic landmarks, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
Circular Quay is a major gateway with Sydney ferries transporting tourists as well as locals to other parts of Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River, including Manly, Watsons Bay and Taronga Zoo. The Circular Quay area is also home to some of Sydney’s most renowned restaurants, such as Quay and Aria.
Sydney Opera House
Opened in 1973, the Sydney Opera House is not only one of Sydney’s top tourist attractions, it’s also considered one of the most famous and distinctive buildings from the 20th century. The Opera House is now a multi-venue performing arts centre with several theatres, rehearsal studios, two main halls, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops.
Keen to go watch a show? Check out the Sydney Opera House calendar of upcoming events and shows.
Royal Botanic Garden
Established in 1816 and 30 hectares in size, the Royal Botanic Garden facing Sydney’s beautiful skyline, is Australia’s oldest botanic garden and scientific institution. Popular with tourists as well as with local office workers, the Botanic Garden is home to a huge collection of plants from all around the world with a focus on Australia and the South Pacific.
The best way to access the Royal Botanic Garden is via Circular Quay and the Opera House.
3. ISLANDS IN SYDNEY HARBOUR
What makes Sydney such a beautiful city is without a doubt its famous Harbour with lots of lookout points, walking tracks and secluded beaches to be discovered.
Sydney Harbour is also home to some of the most fascinating islands that all too often get ignored. Not only are these hidden gems a playground for photographers, they have also played an important role in Sydney’s tumultuous history.
Located right in the middle of beautiful Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo Island is a UNESCO World-Heritage and National Heritage Listed island with an incredibly rich history. Not only did Cockatoo Island serve as a shipbuilding yard and Commonwealth naval base for many years, it was also once an infamous convict island.
Catch a direct ferry from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island, score a free map from the visitor centre and start exploring the raw atmosphere of this fascinating and unique place. You can even stay overnight by booking a luxury tent on the large camping ground or bring your own hiking tent for a cheaper option.
Part of the Sydney Harbour National Park, Goat Island is another historic, 300m wide sandstone island located west of the Harbour Bridge. Over the years, Goat Island has served as a source of sandstone for Sydney real estate, a gunpowder store, a water police station, and much more.
You can experience the rich history of Goat Island and enjoy the panoramic Harbour views by doing a guided tour with National Parks and Wildlife Service.
4. TRENDY SUBURBS CLOSE TO SYDNEY
While Sydney itself may be one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, there are some really trendy suburbs close to the CBD that are also more than worthy of a spot on your go-to list.
Located just west of Darling Harbour, Pyrmont is a bustling suburb with fine dining restaurants, a world class casino and the famous Sydney Fish Market.
The Star is Sydney’s premier entertainment destination with five star accommodation, lots of restaurants, bars and cafes, a nightclub and of course the casino. The 2000-seat Sydney Lyric theatre within The Star is a great place to see musicals, concerts, opera and ballet performances.
The popular Sydney Fish Market is the largest market of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and offers both tourists and Sydney-siders the opportunity to enjoy lots of delicious fresh seafood in a pretty waterfront location.
Located 4km south-west of the Sydney CBD, Newtown’s main attraction point is King Street, a vibrant strip of designer boutiques, specialty shops, vintage stores, historic pubs and lots of restaurants and cafes.
Newtown is only a 10min train ride away from Sydney Central Station.
Small theatres, art galleries, fine dining restaurants, hipster cafes, fashion boutiques, great pubs and of course the hugely popular Bourke Street Bakery.
You can experience all of this and much more in Surry Hills, a trendy inner Sydney suburb only a few minutes away from Central Station.
5. POPULAR SYDNEY BEACHES
Number 5 in our list of top things to do in Sydney is visiting one or more beaches.
Sydney is blessed with literally hundreds of beautiful beaches. World-famous beaches such as Bondi and Manly, but also secluded beaches that not too many people know about. When you’re visiting Sydney as a tourist, going to at least one of those beaches is an absolute must, so you can experience first-hand what the Sydney beach culture is all about.
Regarded by many as the most iconic beach in Australia, Bondi Beach is a must-visit for every tourist visiting Sydney. From excellent surf conditions and beautiful white sand, to trendy cafes, great shopping and scenic walking tracks, Bondi Beach has something for everyone any time of year.
To fully enjoy the beauty of Sydney’s coastline, make sure you do the Bondi to Coogee walk, a 6km coastal trek that will leave you breathless.
Getting to Bondi Beach is easy. Buses regularly connect Bondi Beach with the Sydney CBD as well as with Bondi Junction which also has a train station.
Located only 6km south of Bondi, Coogee Beach is like a smaller version of Bondi Beach but just as appealing and perhaps a bit more charming. With beautiful lookout points at both ends of the beach, make sure to wander around and take some great photos.
The main strip on Coogee Bay Road has an excellent collection of trendy cafes and restaurants, while the park area just behind the beach is perfect for a picnic. And with two famous pubs/restaurants – the Coogee Pavilion and the Coogee Bay Hotel – only meters away from the beach, a good feed and a casual drink is another reason to head to this pleasant Sydney beach town.
If you think that the best Sydney beaches are all in the eastern suburbs, you’re wrong! Sydney’s northern beaches are just as exciting as their eastern rivals, with Manly Beach standing out as one of the most popular Sydney tourist destinations.
The best way to get to Manly Beach is by ferry. The scenic ferry trip between Circular Quay and Manly is a tourist attraction in itself and is the perfect way to experience the true beauty of Sydney’s famous Harbour.
While it’s great to spend a day at one of the famous Sydney beaches, you will most likely have to share the beach with thousands of other sunbathers. Good news, as Sydney also has lots of smaller, more secluded beaches scattered along the coast as well as inside the Harbour.
Check out our list of best secluded beaches in Sydney if you want to escape the world and have a beach all to yourself.
6. GREAT SYDNEY MUSEUMS
Just like other famous international cities, Sydney is home to some top quality museums that are worth a visit. Below are just a few of these museums for when you need a relief from the hot Sydney sun. Please note that some of these museums, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, are free.
Museum of Contemporary Art (Circular Quay)
If you’re a fan of cutting-edge Australian and international modern art, a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) on the western side of Circular Quay is an absolute must. Housed in an impressive art deco building right at the waterfront, the MCA is dedicated to exhibiting, collecting and interpreting the work of today’s contemporary artists.
Australian Museum (Hyde Park)
Established in 1827, the Australian Museum (AM) is in fact the oldest museum in Australia, boasting a collection of almost 20 million objects related to Australian culture and history. Conveniently located on William Street, right at the edge of Hyde Park, the Australian Museum is a great attraction for both adults and children.
Australian National Maritime Museum (Darling Harbour)
Opened in 1991 as part of the redevelopment of Darling Harbour, the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) is now Australia’s national centre for maritime collections, research, exhibitions and archaeology. Besides six permanent galleries, the ANMM also hosts an ever-changing program of temporary exhibitions and a fleet of historic craft at its wharves in Darling Harbour.
Museum of Sydney (CBD)
Situated in the heart of the CBD and built on the remains of Australia’s first Government House, the Museum of Sydney explores contemporary and colonial Sydney. Explore the tumultuous history of Sydney from 1788 (arrival of the First Fleet) until today through pictures, objects and modern digital media techniques.
Powerhouse Museum (Ultimo)
Located in the inner west suburb of Ultimo, on the edge of Darling Harbour, the Sydney Powerhouse Museum is a converted electric tram power station with a great variety of science focused artifacts and exhibits. A nice way of getting to the Powerhouse Museum is by following the Goods Line from Central Station.
Sydney is also home to a great number of historic houses, gardens and museums looked after by Sydney Living Museums. Their purpose is to enrich people’s lives with Sydney’s living history and to preserve these precious places and their collections for future generations.
Find more information about these historic museums here.
7. PLACES TO EAT IN SYDNEY
With lots of international influences, Sydney is home to a diverse range of cafes and restaurants. Here are some ideas for where to fuel up while exploring Sydney.
One tip: stay away from touristy restaurants in Darling Harbour and Circular Quay. While the food is certainly not all that terrible, you do end up paying a premium because of the popular location.
Eating out in Sydney is certainly not cheap, especially compared to many neighbouring Asian countries. But luckily, there are still loads of good cafes and restaurants where you can have a decent feed without breaking the bank. Here are a few ideas:
1. Sydney Chinatown Area
Located in Haymarket, between Central Station and Darling Harbour, Sydney’s Chinatown is a bustling precinct with loads of restaurants, shops, supermarkets and cafes. While Chinatown’s main pedestrian mall on Dixon Street is nice to walk through, it’s also very touristy and perhaps overpriced. It’s therefore recommended to look a bit further away in the Chinatown area for a good feed.
2. Surry Hills
This trendy suburb close to Central Station has a large variety of restaurants, cafes and pubs where you can indulge on great food. Surry Hills is also home to the famous Bourke Street Bakery with the best pastries, cakes and coffee.
3. Pitt Street Westfield Food Court
While a food court may not appeal to everyone, the food court in the modern Westfield Sydney on Pitt Street is home to some very exciting eateries that serve up great food.
4. Kensington Street in Chippendale
Tucked away on the edge of Central Park, the hipster Kensington Street precinct in Chippendale is one of Sydney’s newest lifestyle and dining destinations. The highlight is Spice Alley, a tiny laneway with six hawker-style eateries covered by a ceiling of glowing lanterns.
Australia is home to a number of international chefs with a great selection of fine dining restaurants located in Sydney. If money is no issue, the following eateries won’t disappoint:
Sydney’s award-winning Aria restaurant, run by Australian chef and restaurateur Matt Moran, presents Modern Australian haute cuisine in a unique glass-walled dining room. Aria is at Circular Quay facing the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
Included in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants since 2009, Quay is located within the Overseas Passenger Terminal in The Rocks, facing the Harbour Bridge. Specialising in contemporary Australian cuisine, Quay has a number of famous signature dishes.
3. Rockpool Bar & Grill
Located in the art deco City Mutual Building on Hunter Street in Sydney CBD, Rockpool Bar & Grill serves up perfectly wood fire grilled meats and seafood. Rockpool also offers an extensive wine list with more than 3,000 wines, a full bar of spirits and a great variety of bottled beers.
Owned and operated by world renowned chef Tetsuya Wakuda, Tetsuya’s on Kent Street serves a unique mix of Australian, Japanese and classic French cuisine. Tetsuya’s signature dish, a slow-cooked Tasmanian Ocean Trout, apparently is the most photographed dish in the world. Who wouldn’t like to try that?
8. SHOPPING IN SYDNEY
This one may be a bit of a cliche, but we really wanted to include shopping in our list of top things to do in Sydney.
Whether you’re on the hunt for that new fabulous dress or just searching for the best souvenirs to bring home, Sydney has a great variety of shopping streets, malls, markets and boutique shops to choose from. Here are some of the best places to go shopping in Sydney.
Pitt Street Mall
Sydney’s most famous shopping mall, Pitt Street Mall, is actually a relatively small shopping strip but most large Australian retailers have their flagship store there. From Pitt Street, you can walk underground to other shopping havens, such as the historic Queen Victoria Building (QVB) on George Street.
The modern Westfield Sydney, located beneath the famous Sydney Tower with an entrance facing Pitt Street, is an upscale world class shopping center with an excellent variety of shops. The top class food court is also worth visiting if you’re feeling hungry.
Sydney’s famous Paddy’s Markets is a huge multi-storey building in Haymarket, close to Central Station, where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, clothes and lots of cheap gifts and souvenirs. Just strolling through the markets is an experience in itself, but be warned, it gets very, very busy during weekends.
Queen Victoria Building (QVB)
Built in the 1890’s, the Queen Victoria Building (better known as the QVB) is one of the most iconic landmark buildings in the Sydney CBD. After having undergone several major renovations, the QVB is now one of Sydney’s most popular shopping destinations offering a great variety of fashion boutiques, jewellery shops, cafes, restaurants and much more.
Westfield Bondi Junction
Opened in 2003, Westfield Bondi Junction is a large, upmarket shopping mall located in the centre of Bondi Junction with around 500 different stores across six levels. The centre also boasts four levels of car parking, several restaurants and food courts, a large cinema and free WIFI.
Traveling to Bondi Junction is easy with a short train trip from Central or St James station in the Sydney CBD. Alternatively, regular buses travel between Bondi Beach and Bondi Junction.
9. NATIONAL PARKS CLOSE TO SYDNEY
A visit to Sydney is not complete without going to at least one of the famous national parks located only a short drive away from the city.
One of the most popular weekend-getaway destinations in greater Sydney and New South Wales is the Blue Mountains region, a World Heritage listed site only 90 minutes away from the Sydney CBD.
The Greater Blue Mountains consists of seven National Park areas and is home to a large number of beautiful lookout points, dramatic sandstone cliffs, walking tracks, deep canyons, waterfalls and picturesque towns.
Find more information about the Blue Mountains region here.
Royal National Park
Established in 1879, the heritage-listed Royal National Park just south of Sydney consists of 16K hectares of breathtaking natural scenery with dozens of walking tracks, waterfalls, beaches and lookout points.
Find more information about hiking in Royal National Park.
10. THINGS TO DO FOR KIDS
Coming to Sydney with young children? Not to worry, Sydney has some excellent entertainment options for kids so that they can enjoy this beautiful city as much you will. Here is a quick list of top things to do in Sydney for kids:
- Darling Harbour:
Visit the Sydney Aquarium, the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Wild Life Sydney Zoo, the Chinese Garden of Friendship and the Darling Quarter Kids Playground.
- Taronga Zoo:
Against the backdrop of the Sydney Harbour and city skyline, Taronga Zoo in Mosman is a memorable day out for both adults and kids.
- Manly Sea Life Sanctuary:
Situated only minutes away from the Manly ferry wharf, the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary is an exciting as well as an educational tourist attraction.
- The Sydney Tower Eye:
Enjoy the best views from the second tallest observation tower in the Southern Hemisphere including an exciting 4D cinema experience.
- Luna Park:
Located right next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Milsons Point, Luna Park is a restored 1930’s amusement park with lots of fun rides. Catch a ferry from Circular Quay or walk across the bridge from The Rocks.
- Australian Museum:
Take your kids to the Australian Museum and get up close and personal with skeletons and life-sized models of dinosaurs. The museum also has fun interactive displays.
While perhaps not the most efficient or affordable, public transport in and around Sydney can get you to most of the tourist attractions and beyond in comfort. Trains and buses will get you to all the major Sydney CBD tourist attractions, while most of the Harbour destinations such as Manly, Taronga Zoo and Watsons Bay are serviced by ferries. The Blue Mountains is serviced by the Blue Mountains train line.
You can use most of Sydney’s public transport, such as trains, buses and ferries, with the Opal card, an electronic ticketing system based on a “pay-as-you-go” concept. The biggest perk of the Opal card is the Sunday travel cap, allowing travellers to use unlimited public transport for only $2.60 for the whole day. Opal Cards can be purchased online as well as from retail outlets at Sydney Airport, train stations and from news agencies and convenience stores.
Read more information about how to get around in Sydney by public transport on the City of Sydney website. Use the Trip Planner to get exact details about how to get from one destination to another in and around Sydney.
Hopefully this guide into top things to do in Sydney has given you some great ideas for your next holiday to Australia. Here is a list of useful websites and other resources that can help you make the most of your time in Sydney:
- Where to stay in Sydney – best hotels and locations
- Major events in Sydney
- Opera House calendar
- Historic museums in Sydney
- The Rocks visitor information
- Public transport information
- Public transport trip planner
- Opal card information