Iconic landmarks, stunning beaches, and a diverse cultural scene come together to create a city like no other. Embrace the coffee-fuelled, sun-loving, food-obsessed good life with our guide to the best things to do in Sydney.

By: Mark | Last Updated: 22 Feb 2024 | Jump to Comments & Questions

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Sydney is a dynamic city with impressive natural beauty, iconic landmarks, and world-renowned attractions.

As a cosmopolitan city with an enviable coastal lifestyle, Sydney is designed with the good life in mind.

Top-quality restaurants overlook world-class beaches. Bustling city streets give way to peaceful green parklands. The café scene is thoroughly devoted to supporting the social lifestyle.   

I’ve lived in Sydney for 2 years, finding the best Emerald City has to offer. Here’s our guide to the best things to do in Sydney.

1 – CLIMB SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1932, is a globally renowned landmark.

This steel arch bridge spans approximately 500 meters across the harbour, connecting the Central Business District (CBD) to North Sydney. It carries four railroad tracks, a highway, and two pedestrian walkways. Its imposing presence dominates the city’s skyline.

The climb over the steel arches of the bridge to reach the summit offers stunning panoramic views of the city and the harbour.

Book – tickets in advance at bridgeclimb.com.  

2 – SEE A SHOW AT THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

Sydney Opera House is another iconic landmark in the city.

This 20th-century architectural masterpiece, with its series of large concrete shells resting on a giant podium, is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. Situated on the edge of a point that extends into the harbour, its elegant sail-shaped curves appear to float over the waves below.

Attending an event at the Opera House is a must-do when visiting Sydney. There are several venues within the building and a diverse programme with something to suit everyone.

On a beautiful Sydney evening, the Opera Bar is our choice for a great way to end the night. The stunning views of the Opera House in the background are a bonus.

3 – HIT THE SURF AT BONDI BEACH

Sydney is blessed with beautiful beaches, but none quite compare to Bondi. It’s consistently ranked as one of the world’s best city beaches, and we agree.

While the large crowds could be a deterrent, we love the vibe at Bondi.

There’s a wide expanse of powdery white sand, the water is clean and refreshing and the friendly party vibe makes it a great place to hang out.

Bondi is easily our favourite beach in Sydney.

At the southern end of the beach, Icebergs Pool is another iconic place to swim in Sydney. The pool is situated at a corner of the beach where the surf breaks against the pool walls.

4 – PERUSE THE WHITE RABBIT GALLERY

Private collector Judith Nielsen has amassed over 3,000 pieces of contemporary Chinese art. Every six months, the White Rabbit Gallery curates a selection that focuses on a particular theme.

The collection explores political, social, and cultural issues. It’s the world’s most significant collection of Chinese contemporary art.

Works represent the expression of life from a Chinese point of view in paintings, installations, and thought-provoking murals. It was one of the highlights of our last trip to Sydney.

Free Guided Tours – To learn more about the artists and the personal risks they faced for their art, time your visit with one of the free tours that begin at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm. Tours last 45 minutes, and entry is free.

5 – TAKE THE FERRY TO MANLY

Taking the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly is one of the unmissable experiences in Sydney.

This charming suburb sits on a promontory that separates Sydney Harbour from the Pacific Ocean.

The ferry departs from Circular Quay every 20 minutes and takes approximately 30 minutes. It’s a splendid way to reach Manly with picturesque views of the city, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Opera House.

There’s plenty to keep you occupied in Manly. Read our guide about the best day trips from Sydney including great brunch options, cool bars, and of course, the best beaches in Manly. .

6 – KAYAK TO STORE BEACH

Store Beach is one of our favourite slices of paradise in Sydney. It’s a small hidden beach, tucked into the harbour, just a short distance from Manly.

Surrounded by national park bushland, this narrow strip of golden sand is only accessible by water. As a result, it’s much less crowded than other beaches in the area giving it a remote tropical feel.

The best way to get to Store Beach is via kayak, which can be hired from the Manly Kayak Centre located right next to the ferry terminal in Manly.

It takes around 30 to 40 minutes to kayak to Store Beach from the Kayak centre. Single or double kayaks can be rented by the hour.

Two hours is enough time to kayak there and back with a half-hour stop on the beach.

7 – IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM

Located on the edge of Hyde Park, the Australian Museum offers a fascinating insight into the natural history of the country. An excellent layout means you can cover the highlights in an hour or spend half a day exploring every corner.

The museum owns over 18 million objects, but a cut-down selection of 200 of the most interesting are in the Westpac Long Gallery.

Downstairs, you’ll find 100 objects from Aboriginal, Melanesian (Pacific Islands from New Guinea to Fiji), and Egyptian cultures. Upstairs, there’s an exhibition dedicated to 100 people who have helped shape modern Australia.

We loved the extended collection of Melanesian masks, headdresses, totem poles, and armour in the Ritual of the Pacific Islands room.

8 – TAKE A SIGHT-SEEING CRUISE ON THE HARBOUR

One of the unmissable things to do in Sydney is to get a boat out on the harbour. While local ferries radiate out from Circular Quay, there is a wide range of cruises that combine spectacular views with an unforgettable experience.

sydney opera house from the harbour bridge
SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

9 – HIKE FROM ROSE BAY TO WATSONS BAY

The harborfront hike from Rose Bay to Watsons Bay is a wonderful mix of green oasis, golden sands, and grand houses.

It takes about 2 hours to wind in and out of beautiful coves along the way.

There are wonderful hidden beaches surrounding Nielsen Park, a great swimming spot at Parsley Bay Beach, and the houses overlooking the water in Vaucluse are magnificent.

We finished at Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, which has a nice bar overlooking the water.

Ferries from Circular Quay run to both Rose Bay and Watsons Bay every 30 minutes.

Vaucluse sydney
VAUCLUSE

10 – THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS & THE DOMAIN

The Royal Botanic Gardens and a tranquil retreat with lush rainforest trails, succulent gardens, and vibrant flowers.

The fernery and palm house and beautiful and you can grab a coffee at one of the shady cafes.

Take a stroll outside the gardens in the Domain and soak in the stunning views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.

For a refreshing swim, head to the Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool, one of the best harbourside pools in the city. Arrive at dawn to capture photos in lovely light and see the dedicated swimmers getting their morning workout in.

11 – SYDNEY HARBOUR STAGE

One of the great experiences in Sydney is to see an open-air performance on the Harbour.

Fleet Steps, near Mrs Macquarie’s Chair in the Domain provides an unsurpassed backdrop to theatrical events held throughout the year.

Throughout January and February, movies are in the harbour. Find out what’s on at World’s Most Beautiful Cinema

Opera Australia holds performances on Fleet Steps where you can watch a critically acclaimed opera under the stars.

Check out what’s on and buy tickets on the Opera Australia website.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales, located on the edge of the Botanic Gardens, is the main gallery in Sydney that we think you shouldn’t miss.

Originally housed in a 19th-century neoclassical building, the gallery doubled its footprint in 2022. The new bright and modern space features works from indigenous and international artists.

The showstopper at the gallery is the decommissioned oil tank, built during World War II. It has been converted into a 2200 square meter space for rotating installations.

The old building houses 20th-century galleries showcasing Australian and international artists, as well as a range of temporary exhibitions.

Admission to the gallery is free, and you can easily spend 2-4 hours exploring the collections.

13 – WALK OVER SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE

We highly recommend walking from the Botanic Gardens to Milsons Point, a route that collects many of the most iconic viewpoints in the city.

Start at the Art Gallery of NSW, then pass Mrs Macquarie’s Chair to the Opera House.

Next, make your way along Circular Quay, around Dawes Point, and then up onto the Harbour Bridge.

Follow the pedestrian walkway over the bridge to Milsons Point for amazing views over the harbour. On the other side, drop down to Luna Park and then head over to Wendy’s Secret Garden.

Allow about 2 to 2.5 hours.

sydney opera house from the harbour bridge
THE WALK TO MILSON’S POINT

14 – SWIM IN AN OCEAN POOL

There are many excellent places to swim around Sydney Harbour.

Swimming pools perched above the waves, natural harbour pools, and ocean lap pools pounded by the surf. Here are a few of our favourites:

  • Icebergs – On the southern edge of Bondi, Icebergs is the iconic Ocean Pool of Sydney, part of the very swish Icebergs Restaurant.
  • Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool – Just outside the city, the Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool is where local Sydneysiders come for their early morning exercise.
  • Murray Rose Pool – A harbour pool protected by a shark net with grassy banks for sunbaking, the Murray Rose Pool is a popular after-work spot.

15 – HAVE LUNCH AT WATSONS BAY

There are few better spots for lunch on the harbour than Watsons Bay. This thin stretch of sand, backed by beautiful houses, has three excellent eating options.

For great seafood in a stunning setting, head to Doyles on the Beach. You’ll need to make a reservation in advance. The best approach is to call them and ask for a table in the front or outside on the upstairs balcony.

Next door is the buzzy Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, which serves pub food on the large front terrace.

For an even more casual option, grab your fish and chips from the takeaway stand on the wharf.

How to get there: The ferry from Circular Quay runs every 30 minutes, takes 30 minutes, and drops you right outside the restaurants.

16 – HIKE THE COASTAL PATH FROM COOGEE TO BONDI

The hike from Coogee Beach along the coastal cliffs to Bondi Beach is one of the best days out in Sydney.

It’s a relatively easy 6-kilometre walk with around 200 metres of ascent and descent.

The trail passes several lovely beaches with cafes and bars to stop and have a rest. Our packs are Clovelly Beach, Tamarama and Bronte.

Finish up with a beer on the beach in Bondi as the sun goes down.

17 – EXPLORE THE ROCKS & CBD

Sydney’s City Centre comprises the Central Business District (CBD) and the Rocks. Both are ideal destinations on a rainy day with plenty of indoor activities to enjoy.

Strand Arcade // Completed in 1891, the Strand Arcade is a magnificent building. It houses high-end artisanal shops, including Haigh’s Chocolates, which is my favourite chocolate anywhere in the world.

Queen Victoria Building // The Queen Victoria Building, a 19th-century heritage-listed building with five floors of shops, provides a grand setting for the usual range of stores. Don’t miss the Art of Dr Seuss on the top floor.

The Contemporary Art Museum // Located in Circular Quay, the Contemporary Art Museum has a permanent collection comprising nearly 5,000 pieces. Entry is free.

Wharf Theatre // The Sydney Theatre Company, housed in the Wharf Theatre perched on Dawes Point, has an excellent reputation. The waterside bar is also a great spot to enjoy sunset drinks. Check the performance schedule at the Sydney Theatre Company.

18 – VISIT THE CHINESE GARDEN OF FRIENDSHIP

The Chinese Garden of Friendship is a heritage-listed tranquil oasis in the heart of the city. Step inside and be transported to a world filled with waterfalls, exotic plants, and traditional Chinese architecture.

Designed to create a sense of balance and harmony, winding paths lead through the gardens adorned with carved pavilions, statues and ponds. Delicate flowers and carefully positioned rocks have been designed to reflect the principles of Fen Shui.

The highlight is the Teahouse where you can enjoy a traditional tea overlooking the garden

19 – TAKE THE FERRY TO TARONGA ZOO

Taronga Zoo provides a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s most iconic wildlife. Situated on the shores of Sydney Harbour, the zoo is home to over 4,000 animals, representing over 350 species.

The Great Southern Oceans exhibit showcases a variety of marine life including seals, penguins, and sea lions.

Some of our highlights were the cute red pandas, the koala grove, and the critically endangered Sumatran tigers.

The views across to Sydney Harbour are some of the best in the city. One of the best ways to capture them is on the Sky Safari cable car – a scenic aerial ride over the zoo with breathtaking views along the way.

20 – TAKE A SEAPLANE TO LUNCH ON THE HAWKESBURY RIVER

There aren’t many cities where you can hop on a seaplane, take a twenty-minute flight over iconic landmarks, and then land on a river for a magnificent dining experience in a remote wilderness. But there aren’t many cities like Sydney.

Sydney Seaplanes depart from Rose Bay and fly to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. They have one of 10 landing locations on Hawkesbury River each with a superb restaurant.

It’s an unforgettable experience that allows you to take in iconic views of Sydney before enjoying one of the finest restaurants in the country.

We ate at Cottage Point Inn and the food, service and location were all top-notch.

It’s not cheap, but if you’re celebrating a special occasion, it’s a unique thing to do in Sydney and won’t disappoint.

21 – TAKE IN SYDNEY FROM A ROOFTOP BAR

A great way to see Sydney Harbour and the iconic buildings that surround is from one of the many rooftop bars in the city.

  • Blu Bar on 36 – To be completely honest, Blu Bar is seriously lacking in atmosphere with a stale corporate vibe. Unfortunately, it has one of the best views of Sydney.
  • Aster – The stylish and exclusive Aster Bar at the top of the Intercontinental Hotel has excellent views over Sydney (both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge are visible). There’s a $75 minimum spend per person on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Skyfeast – Skyfeast is a rotating restaurant serving international dishes at the top of Sydney Tower. The focus is less on the food and more on the excellent 360-degree views of Sydney.
  • Glemore Hotel – The Glenmore Hotel has a relaxed pub feel but the views are not as good, and you can only see the harbour from a few seats. But there’s a great vibrant atmosphere that doesn’t hurt the wallet so much.

22 – NEIGHBOURHOOD DINING IN POTTS POINT & ELIZABETH BAY

The inner-city suburbs of Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay are leafy upscale neighbourhoods with a mix of historical and modern architecture vying for prime space on the harbourfront.

In addition to being the native habitats of Sydney’s wealthy elite, Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay has some of the best dining in Sydney. It was our go-to neighbourhood for outdoor pavement dining in quiet streets with up-market eateries in boutique hotels.

Here are a few suggestions.

  • Lady Chau – Lady Chau is casual Vietnamese dining on a charming leafy street in the heart of Potts Point, just near Kings Cross Station. Their vermicelli salad was one of the best I’ve ever had.
  • Ezra – The cool blend of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours come together with style in this Israeli restaurant set in a charming terrace house.
  • Fei Jai – The Cantonese classics like Xiao Long Bao and crispy duck wontons are excellent at Fei Jai but the salt and pepper tofu was next level.  
  • Piña – It’s Sydney-style brunch at Piña with innovative twists on classic dishes and excellent coffee. The eggplant and tomato with pine nuts was delicious.
  • Bar Sopra – This small wine bar has a great position in the heart of Potts Point with an extensive cocktail list and a menu of mouth-watering bites.

23 – DAY TRIP TO A NATIONAL PARK

Sydney is surrounded by a ring of National Parks.

In just over an hour, you can wander amongst deep forests in the Royal National Park, hike to hidden beaches in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, or look for waterfalls in the Blue Mountains.

There is great wine tasting in the Hunter Valley to the north and road trips along the Grand Pacific Highway to the south.

All our favourite excursions are on our day trips from Sydney guide.

blue mountains, sydney day trip
BLUE MOUNTAINS

MAP | THINGS TO DO IN SYDNEY

Most of Sydney’s top attractions are centred around the area between the Central Business District (CBD) and inner south-eastern suburbs towards Bondi Beach.

Our map includes all the top things to do in Sydney that we have included in this guide.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


WHERE TO STAY IN SYDNEY

Sydney offers a wide range of accommodation options for visitors, ranging from luxurious hotels to budget-friendly hostels. We recommend staying centrally near the Central Business District (CBD) or in one of the nearby suburbs.

CBD

MEGABOOM CITY HOTEL

It’s not easy to find a good value hotel in the city centre but no frills Megaboom City Hotel provides good clean rooms in an excellent location at a decent price.


THE ROCKS

PARK HYATT

The five-star Park Hyatt is the premium address in Sydney. Sitting right under the Harbour Bridge and across from the Opera House it has everything you could need from opulent rooms and private balconies to a spa and gym.


OUR PICK

POTTS POINT

SPICERS POTTS POINT

There are lots of boutique hotels in Potts Point, but Spicer Potts Point is our pick. The number 311 bus heads into the city from the doorstep or it’s a thirty-minute walk through the Botanic Gardens.


WATSON’S BAY

WATSONS BAY BOUTIQUE HOTEL

Watsons Bay is a thin stretch of sand backed by a couple of great restaurants. The Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel has chic comfortable rooms, many with excellent views. It’s 30 minutes into the city centre by ferry.


MORE GUIDES

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