For the best views of the Sydney Opera House, jump on a boat!
Sydney is one of Australia’s most popular tourist cities and it is a great starting point for those who are travelling along Australia's famous East Coast.
Sydney is best known for its iconic landmarks - think of Sydney and you instantly think of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Sydney also has some of Australia's most famous beaches, with Bondi and Manly drawing beach-goers and surfers from all over Australia and the world.
Whether you are arriving in Sydney before taking a road trip along Australia’s East Coast, heading to the Red Centre or setting off on a cruise, make sure that you spend at least a couple of days exploring Sydney and everything this vibrant city has to offer. There are so many great things to see and do in and around Sydney, and if you’ve not been to Sydney before, it can feel overwhelming, so I’ve put together my top 15 things to see and do in Sydney if this is your first time in the city.
If you prefer to have someone else do the planning, check out my full Sydney 4 day itinerary, where I’ve shared everything I got up to in 4 days exploring Sydney, with a day by day break down.
If you are travelling to Victoria, you might also find my 4 day itinerary for Melbourne, Australia helpful!
15 great things to see and do in Sydney, Australia
1. Have brunch with a view in Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour was one of my favourite places in Sydney’s CBD (Central Business District). There are so many bars, cafes and restaurants all around the edge of the harbour and it’s a really popular spot for a long leisurely brunch or lunch with a gorgeous view over the water.
There are also many boat trips which leave from Darling Harbour, so if you prefer your champagne brunch out on the water, this is a great option for you!
If you’re on a budget, then Harbourside Shopping complex is a great place to grab a low-cost meal or snack in the food court - take it out onto the water’s edge for a better view!
You’ll also find the Australian National Maritime museum and Sea Life Aquarium on the edge of the harbour too.
Views across Darling Harbour in Sydney
2. Visit Darling Quarter - a great urban park in Sydney’s CBD
Just set back from Darling Harbour is Darling Quarter, where you’ll find Tumbalong park, a large green area with a kids playground and water feature. Surrounding the park are various street food stalls, takeaways and cafes. There’s also an ornamental Chinese water garden with a small tearoom.
Darling Quarter is a really great place to take a break from walking around the city and just sit and watch the world go by.
3. Head to Darling Square - one of Sydney’s top spots for speciality shops and independent food outlets
Darling Square is a modern shopping area centred around a lawn. Small independent shops, cafes and takeaways surround the square and branch off into small lanes. This is a great vibrant area to wander around and shop for something a bit different.
Street food outlets and shopping lanes in Darling Square
4. Admire the architecture of the Sydney Opera House
This is an obvious one, I mean, how could you visit Sydney and not see it’s most famous landmark?! Located at one edge of Circular Quay, the Opera House is one of the most visited attractions in Sydney and is a really unique and impressive building. The Opera House is even more beautiful at night, and occasionally there is a light art installation, where light patterns are projected onto the sail of the Opera House.
Some of the best views of the Opera House are from the water, via a boat trip or ferry.
An art installation projects onto the sails of the Sydney Opera House
5. See the Sydney Harbour Bridge
This one goes hand in hand with the Opera House, as it is located on the opposite side of Circular Quay.
For the best view of the Harbour bridge, stand in front of the Opera House looking over the water - or even better, have a drink at the bar outside the Opera House!
You can also get a great view of the bridge standing just underneath it at Hickson Road Reserve.
6. Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge
If just looking at the Harbour Bridge is not enough for you, then book tickets to climb the bridge for an adrenaline rush with sweeping views of the harbour! This is one of the most popular tourist activities in Sydney, so book in advance.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge
7. Walk up to Sydney Observatory Hill Park for one of the best viewpoints over Sydney Harbour Bridge
The hill park in front of Sydney has one of the best viewpoints across the whole Harbour. You’ll look down onto the Sydney Harbour bridge and can also see across the Luna amusement park - an old fashioned theme park in the North of Sydney.
Tip: Visit this viewpoint at the end of the day for gorgeous sunset views.
8. Relax in Sydney's Royal Botanical Gardens
Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens are a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the busy-ness of Circular Quay. Wander around the rose gardens, succulent gardens and greenhouses or just enjoy relaxing in the open space or with a picnic by the lake.
9. Walk to Mrs Macquarie's Chair for views of the Opera House
Mrs Macquarie's chair is a viewing point in Sydney’s Botanical Gardens which offers fabulous views across the bay towards both the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. This is one of the best viewpoints for the Opera House in Sydney and is a pleasant walk around the botanical gardens to reach it.
Looking across to the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge from Mrs Macquarie's viewpoint
10. Stroll around The Rocks - one of Sydney's most historic neighbourhoods
The Rocks is a small neighbourhood by the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The historic lanes of The Rocks are full of independent cafes, boutique shops and some of Sydney’s oldest pubs. If you can time your visit with the weekend, then you’re in luck as The Rocks hosts an open air market every Friday-Sunday where locals sell artisan coffee, homemade food and crafts. It is Sydney’s original market and definitely worth a visit if you can.
11. Relax at Barangaroo Reserve
Barangaroo park is a lovely parkland which sits along the water, near the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Here you’ll find walking and cycling tracks plus lots of places to sit and admire the view. A great place to visit if you’re looking for a bit of peace and quiet.
12. Spend the day at one of Australia’s most famous beaches - Bondi beach
When you think of Sydney beaches, Bondi beach will most likely spring to mind. It has earned the title as one of Australia’s most famous beaches due to its pristine white sand, plentiful restaurants, bars and proximity to Sydney’s CBD (which is just a short bus ride away).
Bondi beach is a popular surfing spot and it also houses Australia’s oldest swimming pool, the Bondi Iceberg.
Bondi Beach, Sydney
13. Walk the Bondi - Coogee Coastal path
The Bondi - Coogee coastal path is not just the best thing to do in Bondi, but it is also one of the best things to do in Sydney. This coastal path stretches for 6km and offers gorgeous views out to the ocean. There are several swimming pools you can stop off at along the way to cool off as well as many cafes, so take a leisurely stroll and have lunch or brunch on your way!
14. Take the ferry to Manly
There are so many great day trips from Sydney, and Manly is a great option if you don't want to travel too far. Manly is a beachside suburb in North Sydney and only a short ferry ride from Circular Quay, making it one of the best places to go for a day trip from Sydney.
Manly is best known for hosting the World Annual Surfing Competition, which started back in 1964, making Manly a popular destination for surfers ever since. The town of Manly has a laid back vibe, full of surf shops, cafes and restaurants and a stroll along the coastal path is a great way to spend a couple of hours.
The Manly coastal path is a beautiful walk
15. Take a trip to the Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains are an area of rugged landscape and mountain ranges in New South Wales, to the west of Sydney. Known for its dramatic scenery, wildlife, waterfalls and viewpoints, the Blue Mountains are a must see for any hiker visiting Sydney. From Sydney, it is just a 2 hour train ride to the Blue Mountains, making it a popular destination for a day trip or short break from Sydney. See my post on how to spend a couple of days hiking in the Blue Mountains.
Views over the Blue Mountains, just 2 hours out of Sydney
How many days do you need in Sydney?
Sydney is a big city and there’s so many great things to see and do. If you are visiting Sydney for the first time, I would recommend spending 3-5 days in the city. This will allow you enough time to see the best places in Sydney, without feeling like you are rushing around. I stayed in Sydney for 4 days (5 nights) and felt that it was a good amount of time - to see how I spent that time, see my full 4 day itinerary here.
When is the best time to visit Sydney?
Sydney is a great destination to visit all year round. The peak season is between November - March, this is when the weather is at its hottest and Sydney hosts celebrations over Christmas and New Year. This time is also the most expensive time to visit. The shoulder seasons on either side (September - November and March - May) are great times to visit as you still have pleasant, warm weather but without as many tourists and the prices are slightly lower.
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