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15+ of the Best Things To Do In Sydney

This guide to the best things to do in Sydney will show you the highlights and help you plan your stay. Sydney is packed with great things to do and many are inexpensive or completely free. There are so many attractions to choose from that I had to narrow down my list to find the 15 best places to visit in the beautiful city of Sydney.

Blessed with an extraordinarily attractive location on the east coast of Australia, Sydney wraps itself around its splendid harbour offering stunning coastal scenery with beautiful beaches, sparkling white sands and deep blue oceans. Sydney is famous for its remarkable UNESCO World Heritage-listed Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

Like much of Australia, Sydney has wide-open skies and bright, sunny days for most of the year. The temperate climate, mild winters and comfortable way of life have attracted visitors and immigrants from around the world. As a result, Sydney enjoys wonderful cultural diversity, fabulous food, and excellent coffee.

I’ve lived most of my life in Sydney and there are so many great places to visit here. If you’re staying for just a few days these are my suggestions for the best things to do in Sydney.

Covid-19 travel restrictions have eased in Australia but may still apply. Check with your local government for the latest travel information.

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The Best Things to do in Sydney

Visit Sydney Cove & Circular Quay

Circular Quay is one of the best places in Sydney to visit and one of the first places you’ll go. It’s a public transport hub where trains and buses meet ferries and cruise ships. It’s the gateway to Sydney Cove and there’s a hum in the air. Wander around and watch the ferries come and go to different locations around the harbour and enjoy the street performers and the vibrant atmosphere.

From Circular Quay it’s just a short walk along the promenade to the Sydney Opera House, The Rocks and the Royal Botanical Gardens. It’s a great place to begin exploring Sydney Cove and the Harbour foreshore.

TIP:  From the Cahill Expressway behind Circular Quay there are great views over Circular Quay, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. You can access the walkway from the Botanical Gardens, from the stairs in Macquarie Street or take the elevator near Circular Quay railway station.

Where to eat around Circular Quay

There are lots of cafes around Circular Quay where you can sit and enjoy the buzzing atmosphere and watch the world go by. I can recommend the following:

The Guylian Belgian Chocolate café is located on the promenade to the Opera House. It’s best for coffee & cakes but I’ve enjoyed lunch here.

The Opera House Bar and café – In front of the Opera House the location is absolutely fabulous! It’s one of the best places to visit in Sydney.

On the other side of Sydney Cove, next to Circular Quay is the MCA Cafe at the Museum of Contemporary Art. There’s a sculpture garden and the cafe has Opera House views. It’s a lovely spot for lunch or a coffee.

Continue to The Rocks for a meal at one of the Old Sydney Pubs like The Harts Pub.

See the Sydney Opera House

Visiting the Sydney Opera House is at the top of the list of the best places to visit in Sydney. Soak up some culture and enjoy an Opera or a concert in a spectacular setting at the famous Sydney Opera House. There are a variety of performances to choose from but make sure you stop for a drink at the Opera Bar. It overlooks the harbour and has an unbeatable view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay.

I still get a thrill of excitement walking from Circular Quay to the Opera House, especially at night. When the city lights up after dark the view is simply stunning.

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House, Australia

To see inside the performance spaces at the Opera House you have to buy a concert ticket or book a tour. On a guided tour you will learn about the history and the unique and exceptional design of the famous building. Or take a look backstage at the places normally hidden from the public on the Beyond the Stage Sydney Opera House Tour.

**The Sydney Opera House is currently being renovated but there are performances still running. The renovations will create a better acoustic and give improved sound to audiences and performers and the work is due to be completed in 2022.

Book your ticket at the box office on the first floor. It’s just up the stairs as you enter the building or better still, book online in advance.

Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney is famous for its Harbour Bridge, one of the most famous attractions in Sydney. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932 and connects the North and South sides of Sydney Harbour.

There are superb views of the bridge from many vantage points around the harbour and the city. You can walk beneath the bridge at Pyrmont and on the other side of the harbour at Milson’s Point. It’s fun to walk, drive or catch a train across the bridge and you can even explore inside the pylons that support the bridge.

But the best way to acquaint yourself with the Sydney Harbour Bridge is to climb it. The 360° panoramic views from the top are unbeatable!

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge

Stroll through the Royal Botanical Gardens

If you continue walking around Bennelong point past the Opera House you’ll come to a green oasis. Visiting the Royal Botanical Gardens is one of the best things to do in Sydney. The Gardens are located right on the waterfront in a stunning part of the city and you can wander through the gardens and enjoy the beautiful landscape. Take a picnic, eat at the café or book a fancy meal at the restaurant.

The harbour views are superb from the Botanical Gardens and during the Festival of Sydney in January, there’s an open-air cinema at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. I highly recommend taking a picnic, a bottle of wine and relaxing with a few friends before watching a movie on a warm Summer evening.

PHOTO TIP: You’ll get great photos from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair anytime but the sky is best at sunset. Watch the sun slip behind the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge from this lovely spot.

Sydney Australia
Sydney Australia

Visit The Rocks

Another of the best attractions in Sydney is The Rocks. It’s one of the oldest parts of Sydney and was built by convicts. The Rocks is full of colonial history. Look out for convict-hewn sandstone blocks covered with pick marks in buildings, streets and stairways. Stroll around the Rocks and visit the heritage-listed Cadman’s Cottage on George Street. This tiny sandstone residence dates back to the first settlers in the colony and was once a sailor’s home.

Stop off at the Argyle Art Centre, watch some glass blowing and enjoy shopping for local art & crafts. If you walk from Circular Quay around the harbour to Pyrmont and climb the stairs, you’ll be directly underneath the harbour bridge. Take a guided walking tour of The Rocks and enjoy the historical stories and anecdotes about the area.

TIP: Visit on the weekend and you can shop at a vibrant and colourful open-air market. The Rocks weekend market is packed with artisan stalls, local crafts and street food and is great for souvenir shopping.

Take a Sydney Harbour cruise

A Harbour Cruise is one of the best things to do in Sydney and a great way to see gorgeous Sydney Harbour.

The Hop-On Hop-Off harbour cruise is a handy way to see the sights from Sydney Harbour over one or two days but there are lots of other great cruises to choose from.

Relax in style with a 3-course meal as you cruise around Sydney or jump on a party boat or even a speed boat if you’re more adventurous. If you’re a history buff or just curious, you may like to board a 19th-century square-rigger and cruise on a Tall Ship around the harbour. The Tall Ships are replicas of the ships that sailed in the first fleet that sailed to Australia.

Ferry at Circular Quay Sydney
Circular Quay Sydney

Ride on a Sydney Harbour Ferry

One of the best things to do in Sydney is to take a ride on a passenger ferry. You can enjoy spectacular views of Sydney Harbour for a fraction of the cost of a cruise. Strategically choose your spot when you board the ferry and have your camera ready. As soon as you leave Circular Quay you’ll be treated to wonderful views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

There are many different ferry routes and some fabulous destinations. Here are a few of my favourites:

Visit Manly

Manley is one of the best places in Sydney to visit by ferry. It takes about 30 minutes to reach Manly from Circular Quay. On the way, you’ll pass Fort Denison and then the heads at the harbour entrance. You’ll notice the swell increase as you pass the open ocean.

When you reach Manly, wander through the shops to the beach where you can enjoy a relaxed lunch, a swim and a stroll along the promenade.  

The Manly Ferry departs from Wharf 3 at Circular Quay every 30 minutes during the day.

Visit Taronga Zoo

If you want to meet some of Australia’s unique native animals, Taronga Zoo is one of the best places in Sydney to visit. Introduce yourself to a kangaroo or a koala at Taronga Zoo and enjoy a scenic ferry trip on the harbour to get there. From the ferry wharf, you can walk up the hill to the zoo or take a ride in a cable car.

Visit the cuddly koalas who sleep during the day and eat leaves from the eucalyptus gum trees or watch kangaroos and wallabies hopping around. There are platypus, emus, wombats and even Tasmanian devils in the various enclosures. Taronga zoo is doing its bit to conserve native species with its breed and release programs, and you can also see endangered species from around the world. There are fabulous views from different vantage points inside the zoo and lots of amazing animals to see.

Bradleys Head Sydney
Bradleys Head Sydney

Walk from Bradley’s Head to Chowder Bay

Taking a walk around the beautiful Sydney Harbour is one of the best things to do in Sydney. This lovely walk starts from the ferry wharf at Taronga zoo and follows the harbour shoreline around Bradley’s Head to Chowder Bay. You can enjoy the gorgeous coastal scenery, with million-dollar harbour and city views. This easy, scenic walk has a well-maintained track. It’s 4km one way and takes around 3 hours to return.

TIP: Bradley’s Head is a beautiful spot to watch the sunset over Sydney Harbour.

Visit Luna Park, Milsons Point

Luna Park is a heritage-listed amusement park on Sydney’s north shore just a 4-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay. The location of Luna Park, right underneath the harbour bridge is a big drawcard and it’s in one of the most scenic spots in Sydney. At Luna Park, you can ride the big dipper and marvel at the views as you hold on for dear life or simply stroll around the foreshore to pretty Lavender Bay & Wendy’s Secret Garden.

PHOTO TIP: One of the best things to do in Sydney is to visit the Jeffrey Street wharf for stunning sunset views of the harbour. It’s on the north shore almost directly opposite the Opera House and almost underneath the harbour bridge. It’s a photogenic spot. After dusk, the city lights up and it’s a lovely place to be on a summer’s evening.

best things to do in Sydney Luna Park
Luna Park Sydney

See Watsons Bay

Watsons Bay is one of the best places in Sydney to visit by ferry. The scenic ferry ride to Watsons Bay takes 15 minutes from Circular Quay. From the wharf, it’s a short walk along the South Head Heritage trail to the colourful Hornby Lighthouse at the mouth of Sydney Harbour. Walk around the point and take a dip at the beach. You can also enjoy fish & chips by the wharf or dine in style at Doyles, one of Sydney’s oldest seafood restaurants.

“The Gap” is another great spot to stop and watch the waves crashing against the rocky cliffs. The scenery here is wild and beautiful and The Gap is now famous as a suicide spot. There are high fences and surveillance cameras to stop people from jumping over the cliff to oblivion. It was also the site of a shipwreck in 1857.

Relax at Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach is Sydney’s most famous stretch of sand. Slap on the sunscreen, pack your swimmers & join the summer throngs at beautiful Bondi Beach in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. Relaxing and swimming at the beach is one of the most popular things to do in Sydney.

Become a Sydney surfie or a beach babe and learn to surf at iconic Bondi Beach.

TIP: If you’re on a budget take your surfing lessons at Maroubra Beach

Bondi Beach Sydney
Bondi Beach Sydney

Walk from Bondi to Coogee 

Walking along the clifftop from Bondi to Coogee is one of the best things to do in Sydney. With open ocean views, a rugged coastline, beaches, cafes and parks, the walking track from Bondi Beach to Coogee is popular with locals and visitors alike. The 6-kilometre walk takes 2 -3 hours one way.

Worth a visit: “Sculpture by the Sea” in March 2022. Local sculptors and artists exhibit their works on the clifftops. Walk along the path and enjoy the artwork and the views. It makes a lovely day out.

Enjoy the view from the top of the Sydney Tower

if you don’t mind heights, one of the best things to do in Sydney is to take the lift to the top of the Sydney Tower. There are 360° panoramic views of Sydney and beyond from the viewing deck. Indulge in a special sky feast at the revolving restaurant at the top of the Sydney Tower and watch the view change as you relax and enjoy your food.

Enjoy a Helicopter Ride

Inject the wow factor into your visit with a chartered helicopter flight for an aerial view of Sydney Harbour. Rise above the city & the traffic and appreciate Sydney’s stunning landscape and coastal location from the air. It’s surely one of the most exciting things to do in Sydney.

Where to stay in Sydney

My top pick for a few days in Sydney would be to stay in The Rocks next to Sydney Cove and right on Sydney Harbour. This is one of the best locations in the city and you can enjoy the views and the history of the oldest part of Sydney.

The Rocks

Budget:  Sydney Harbour YHA is in a fabulous location on a hill in The Rocks near Circular Quay with numerous public transport options and a rooftop terrace with a stunning view. From the hostel, it’s just & a short walk to Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the Botanical Gardens.

Mid Range:

The Rendezvous Hotel is in an upmarket location at The Rocks and has clean, comfortable rooms a gym and a pool.

 Rydges Sydney Harbour has a fabulous location near the cruise terminal at Circular Quay. It has rooftop views, a pool and is close to public transport.

Luxury:

The Four Seasons Hotel has one of the best locations in Sydney near Circular Quay. Guests love the service at this popular five-star hotel and the reviews are exceptional.

The five-star Shangri-la Hotel has a superb location at Circular Quay next to The Rocks and gets excellent reviews for its five-star service and wonderful harbour views, especially the amazing nighttime views from the Blu Bar.

The Rocks Sydney
Sydney Australia

Sydney CBD

Further away from the harbour there is a choice of hotels in the shopping & central business district for those hoping to spend a bit less on accommodation.

Budget: Sydney Central YHA, located around 4km away from the harbour near Central station, is another good option for travellers on a budget. Central station is a transport hub for trains and buses and it’s just a short walk to Chinatown for a selection of delicious fresh food options. Catch a train or a bus from Central Station to Circular Quay and the Opera House.

Mid Range: The Sydney Hotel QVB gets excellent reviews for its location near the historic Queen Victoria Building and the shopping arcade in the centre of Sydney next to Town Hall station. It’s a newer hotel and good value for money although the rooms are on the small side.

Luxury: The Meriton Suites Sussex Street get exceptional reviews and the Hilton Sydney is another popular luxury option in a great location near Town Hall.

Travel Essentials

#1. A Travel Guide for Sydney or Australia. I rarely travel without my trusted Lonely Planet Guide.

#2. Travel Insurance – I always use World Nomads so I can concentrate on enjoying my trip without worrying about something going wrong.

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18 Comments

  1. I cannot wait to get back to Australia. I have family in Perth and we’ve only been to WA! My cousin used to live in Bondi Beach doing remote work – super jealous. The views will never cease to amaze me! What a beautiful city!

  2. Ah, I love Sydney! So many memories reading this. It has so much to offer with its beautiful gardens, river and beaches. Not to mention the weather! Would love to go back and do some more exploring – quite fancy the sound of that helicopter ride!

  3. I was planning to travel to Australia this year but now it is completely closed 🙁 But I will wait and when I’ll be able to travel there I will use you list 🙂 thank you for sharing

  4. This made me very nostalgic! My sister has lived in Sydney for 30 years & I have visited the city & most of these spots many times over the years. Seeing the Opera House & the bridge never stops being a thrill. I love the sound of the walk at Bradleys Head – not one I have heard of before but will definitely check it out next time I’m there…when we’re allowed back 😉

  5. I’m a Sydney local and you’ve definitely captured some of the most wonderful things to do to get a taste of our beautiful city!

    1. Thanks Emma! I’m a local too and I found it pretty hard to narrow down the best things for a short stay as there’s so much to see & do in Sydney….you really need a week or more (or a lifetime)

  6. Ah, this made me miss Australia so much! Such a great list of things to do in beautiful Sydney. I can’t wait to go back to Aus, hopefully, it will be safe to travel again soon 🙂

  7. I just love Sydney and have been to most of the places. I can’t wait to explore the rest gain someday.

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