10 unmissable activities in Sydney

First stop on the itinerary for many tourists visiting Australia, Sydney is without a doubt the most beautiful city in the country. Its extraordinary geographical location, between the Blue Mountains to the west, the Pacific coast to the east and this fabulous bay around which it stretches, makes it one of the most photogenic cities in the world! From the iconic Opera House to the beaches of Bondi and Manly, here is my selection of 10 unmissable activities in Sydney.

1/ Take pictures of the Opera House

Along with Uluru, it is undoubtedly THE symbol of Australia. Like the pyramids of Egypt or the Statue of Liberty, it is one of the most iconic buildings in the world. I bet that you’ll never forget the moment you’ll see it for the first time! Its shape seems to suggest the sails of a ship, but the reality is quite different. Its architect, the Danish man Jørn Utzon, found his inspiration in peeling an orange: if you put all the roof structures together, you will get a perfect sphere.

The Sydney Opera House at sunset

From its promontory on Bennelong Point, in the heart of the harbour, it irresistibly attracts all eyes… and camera lenses! The most famous viewpoint to admire it is at Mrs Macquaries Point. Day or night, the panorama from this platform over the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge is extraordinary.

But the view is also quite spectacular from The Rocks, the historical district of Sydney, or from Kirribilli, across the bay, with this time the bridge to the right and the skyline of the CBD in the background. This is actually where the Prime Minister official residence is located, which means that he’s lucky enough to enjoy this fabulous sight from his balcony…

To know more about the fascinating history of the Opera, have a look at my article “36 views of the Sydney Opera House”!

2/ Walk across the Harbour Bridge

If the Opera didn’t exist, this bridge would probably be as famous as the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco. But if its famous steals (most of) the spotlight, the Harbour Bridge still remains an architectural masterpiece. Despite its nearly 52,000 tonnes (7 times the Eiffel Tower!), its graceful shape gives off an astonishing impression of lightness.

It measures a total of 1149m in length from one bank to the other, which I strongly encourage you to travel on foot! The exceptional view over the bay, the city, and the Opera below is well worth this little effort.

The most courageous can also try to climb it up to its summit, 134m above the bay, from where the panorama must be breathtaking! If like me you don’t feel that bold but still would love to have a better view, the south-east pylon is open to public, with an exhibition about the construction of the bridge inside and an observation deck on top.

3/ Hike from Bondi to Coogee

Bondi Beach is certainly the most famous beach of Australia… but also one of the most crowded during summer! Between swimmers and surfers, it’s not always easy to find some space to lay on your towel. Without forgetting the numerous walkers eager to hike the gorgeous 6-kilometer coastal path leading to Coogee a little further south!

The trail starts just above the Bondi Icebergs Club, famous salt-water open-air swimming pool. It continues along a coastline of exceptional beauty, from one cove to another, sometimes at the top of quite impressive cliffs. The landscape is stunning, the vegetation lush, and you can easily forget that you are in a city of more than 5 million inhabitants!

The path also goes through the huge Waverley cemetery. I doubt that the people buried there can appreciate the view, but there are definitely worse places for eternal rest!

There are no direct tram or train to the beaches of Bondi and Coogee, but they can easily be reached by bus from the CBD. The best way to use public transport in Sydney is to get the rechargeable Opal card, which allows you to use indifferently buses, trams, trains and even ferry.


4/ Explore The Rocks, the historical district of Sydney

The colonial history of Sydney begins in 1770, when the British explorer James Cook first landed in Botany Bay, in the southern part of the nowadays city. 18 years later, the Captain Arthur Phillip who commanded the First Fleet decided to settle around Sydney Cove, today’s Circular Quay, where the first buildings got erected.

Many of the sandstone houses built in the early 19th century are still standing today. They form the district of The Rocks, nestled at the foot of the Harbour Bridge. Wandering through its narrow cobbled lanes allows you to take a step back in time and to imagine how life was like 200 years ago, in the very young colony of New South Wales. At the corner of Argyle Street and Kent Street is Sydney’s oldest pub still in operation, the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, built in the 1830s.

The entire district also offers gorgeous views over the Opera House. Finally, make sure to climb up Observatory Hill, great spot to watch sunset and with a stunning panorama over the Harbour Bridge.

5/ Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens

Located next to Circular Quay and stretching all the way up to Mrs Macquaries Point, the Royal Botanic Gardens cover an area of 30 hectares in the heart of Sydney. The very first british farm on australian ground was created here in 1788. This is also where the Government House is located, residence of New South Wales’ governor since 1843.

This large, peaceful and shaded park offers a very appreciable moment of greenery just a stone’s throw from the constant bustle of Circular Quay. Take the time to stroll along its paths to relax, admire the tropical vegetation and come across a few ibises… but also several impressive spiders!

6/ Take the ferry to Manly

In most of the main metropoles around the world, people take buses, trams or trains to commute to work. In Sydney, they take the boat! 10 lines of ferry crisscross the bay, stopping at not less then 39 different stations. Even the worst of Monday mornings can’t be that bad when the day begins with a view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge…

It’s possible to take part to a harbour cruise, but for a much lower price you can also take the ferry connecting Circular Quay to Manly, at the north-east extremity of the bay, in less than half an hour. Emotion guaranteed when sailing next to the Opera!

Once in Manly, meander along The Corso, the pedestrian avenue between the bay and the coast. When you reach the main beach, head to the right and follow the very pretty path along the ocean until Shelly Beach. You’ll probably see a lot of huge and foreboding lizards along the way: it’s a colony of Eastern Water Dragons.

If the weather is good, I strongly encourage you to catch the ferry back to the city at sunset time. The sight of the dark silhouettes of the Opera and the Harbour Bridge against an orange sky is absolutely breathtaking…

7/ Take a ride in the attractions of Luna Park

Located on the north side of the harbour, almost at the foot of the Harbour Bridge, Luna Park is a Sydney institution. And for good reason, as it first opened in 1935, almost a century ago! It survived different periods of closing and renovations, but it managed to keep a vintage atmosphere and the Sydneysiders are very attached to it.

Unlike Luna Park in Melbourne, you can walk freely within its grounds, but you’ll have to purchase tickets for the attractions. It’s up to you to see if you’ll be tempted by a roller coaster or bumper car ride… But even without trying one of the 23 attractions, this slightly kitsch and outside of time park is worth the detour!

8/ Go shopping at the Queen Victoria Building

Built in the 1890s, the Queen Victoria Building or QVB is one of the most beautiful buildings of Sydney. Measuring not less than 190m in length and 30m in width, its neo-roman architecture contrasts deeply with the modern buildings surrounding it. Inside, dozens of mainly luxury shops and boutiques are spread over several floor.

Even if shopping is not your cup of tee (or if the prices are out of your budget!), the QVB is worth a visit, at least to admire the richness of its decorations. Unmissable too, the Queen Victoria statue, which has adorned the square in front of the south facade of the building since 1987. Its history is quite original. It was built in Ireland in 1908 and was first exposed in Dublin. But as the country gradually gained independence, this symbol of British royalty began to become embarrassing. It was removed from its original location and stored in different warehouses, before being completely forgotten. It was only in the 1980s that it was found again, after a long investigation, and offered to Australia!

9/ Sunbath on one of the 100 beaches

I haven’t been able to find the exact number, but according to all the sources I consulted, Sydney has not less than a hundred coves and beaches. Few cities in the world can boast of being home to so many! The most famous of all, a must for any traveller discovering Sydney, is of course Bondi Beach and its Californian vibe. The coves along the path from Bondi to Coogee are also splendid: Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly…

It’s also impossible not to mention Manly Beach again, ideal for a surf lesson, and its neighbour Shelly Beach. I particularly like this one, surrounded by palm trees, which gives it a surprising tropical atmosphere. Further north, the so-called “northern beaches” are apparently magnificent and much less crowded, but I never had the opportunity to go there myself.

Finally, I was really taken with the district of Vaucluse, to the east of the harbour, and the small coves along the coastline of Nielsen Park. The view over the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the skyscrapers of the CBD in the distance is stunning, and it is also a perfect place to admire the sunset.

10/ Spend a day in the Blue Mountains

Sydney is surrounded by gorgeous places, where there is no shortage of activities of all kind: the Royal National Park on the southern edge of the city, the white-sand beaches of Jervis Bay a little further, or the Hunter Valley wine region to the north… But if there would be only day trip to do outside of Sydney, the Blue Mountains are in my opinion unmissable! Advantage, if you don’t have a vehicle, you can even take the tram to Katoomba, the main town of the park.

This mid-mountain range which peaks at an altitude of 1189m was long considered impassable by the first Europeans. It’s easy to understand why today when contemplating this landscape of high cliffs and deep canyons covered with a thick eucalyptus forest. They are the ones who give their name to the mountains: they release a sort of haze which tints the horizon with a bluish colour.

The most famous viewpoint is the Three Sisters in Katoomba. The alignment of these three rocks overlooking an ocean of eucalyptus is truly splendid. But it is also the most crowded lookout, and parking in the surrounding streets is extremely expensive ($2.50 for only 15 minutes!).

Countless hiking trails crisscross the park, from easy strolls to much more arduous hikes with significant elevation changes. I can recommend the Overcliff Track near Wentworth Falls, of intermediate difficulty and which offers several splendid panoramas, including over the waterfall of the same name.

Finally, the viewpoints of Evans lookout and Govetts Leap lookout (my personal favourite) in Blackheath are almost as spectacular as the Three Sisters, but with the huge advantage of being way less frequented. Make sure to not miss them!

I also could have included to this list, among other things, the many great museums of Sydney (especially the Australian Museum), the strolls around Balls Head Reserve and Berry Island Reserve, or whale watching tours during their period of migration (between May and November)… There are so many things to do in Sydney and its region! And you, what are your favourite activities? Please let me know in the comments!

No responses yet

Leave a Reply