The Best Things to do in Manly Beach, Sydney, Australia

The 15 Best Things to do in Manly Beach (Sydney, Australia)

Hop on the ferry from Circular Quay by Sydney’s famous Opera House, and within half an hour, you can be sunning yourself on the golden sands of Manly Beach. This Sydney suburb is part of the Northern Beaches region stretching along the New South Wales coast, and it’s the perfect place to trade city life for the great outdoors!

You can snorkel or dive in the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, walk the coastal trail to North Head for blistering views over the entrance to Sydney Harbour, or take a spooky ghost tour of the old Quarantine Station once the sun has set. There’s a quirky museum and art gallery, a great local brewery, bike tours, and many more Manly Beach activities for you to enjoy, too.

With so many things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. That’s why we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Manly Beach for you. Stick to these fun and unique Manly Beach bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this gorgeous Sydney suburb!

The 15 Best Things to do in Manly Beach, Sydney, Australia

1. Sunbathe on Manly Beach

Best Things to do in Manly Beach, Sydney: Manly Beach

The Sydney suburb of Manly is best known for one thing – its beach. Manly Beach is one of the best strips of golden sand in New South Wales, and it’s a 30-minute ferry ride, or less, across the harbor from Circular Quay in central Sydney.

Step off the ferry at Manly Wharf, and it’s just a five-minute stroll through the town to reach the esplanade. This long boardwalk stretches along Manly Beach, and here you’ll find cafes, bars, pubs, and surf shops overlooking the sands.

The beach itself is some 3 kilometers (2 miles) long, starting by the cliff tops of North Head, which mark the entrance to Sydney Harbour, and running north toward Manly Lagoon and the unique Manly Wormhole. The beach is overseen by the Manly Life Saving Club, and while the waters can be rough for swimming at times, they’re perfect for surfing.

In fact, Aussie surfing is said to have begun on Manly Beach. In 1964, the first surfing world championships were held here, and before this, Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku pioneered the sport on Manly Beach and nearby Freshwater Beach in 1914. And if surfing’s not your thing, then why not kick back and sunbathe on the sand, or strap on a mask and fins and hit the snorkeling spots? 


2. Hit Manly’s Other Beaches

Manly Beach, Sydney Bucket List: Other Beaches

While Manly Beach, the suburb’s namesake, is the most well-known and arguably the best beach in town, there are plenty of quieter spots where you can escape the crowds. Visit Manly, and you’re spoiled for choice with miles of beaches awaiting you along the coastline here.

A short walk along the coast path south of Manly Beach quickly brings you to Shelly Beach, a much smaller strip of sand that overlooks Cabbage Tree Bay. Shelly Beach is much more protected than Manly Beach, and it’s become a popular snorkeling, diving, and swimming spot. 

On the other side of the headland, you can visit Little Manly Beach, where a series of protected seawater baths are great for swimming and paddling around in. Nearby, Collins Beach sees few of the crowds at Manly Beach, while Store Beach and Quarantine Beach are perfectly located within the grounds of Sydney Harbour National Park. 

To the north, Freshwater Beach is equally as spectacular a place to spend the day. For Aussie surfers, it’s also as historic as Manly Beach. One of the top Manly Beach attractions, this was a favorite haunt of Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian surfing pioneer who popularized the sport in Australia. 


3. Snorkel at the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve

What to do in Manly Beach, Sydney: Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve

Snorkeling or diving at the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve is one of the top things to do in Manly Beach. Situated between Manly Beach and Shelly Beach, this marine refuge is home to at least 160 different species of marine life, with biodiverse terrain ranging from rock pools to sandy sea floors.

The aquatic reserve reaches a depth of around 12 meters (39 feet) in places, and with easy walk-in access from the sheltered shores of Shelly Beach or from the southern end of Manly Beach, it’s seriously popular with Sydney’s divers. Stick to the rocky reefs by the shore and you might see cuttlefish and crustaceans, while the sandier areas of seagrass are often hiding rare nurse sharks! 

You can sign up for diving trips or rent equipment from Manly’s dive shops (including Dive Centre Manly), providing you have the requisite open water certificates. If not, consider joining a dive program here or renting a mask, snorkel, and fins and hitting up the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve at your own pace. 


4. Learn to Surf at Manly Beach

Cool Things to do in Manly Beach, Sydney: Learn to Surf at Manly Beach

Manly Beach is one of the world’s most iconic surfing destinations. This is where surfing was introduced to Australia, and it’s where the first surfing world championships were held in the 1960s. 

But while Manly Beach has long been a firm favorite among the pros, if you’ve never hit a swell before, it’s also an excellent place to learn how to surf. The Manly Surf School has been teaching budding surfers for three decades, and they’re now the largest surf school anywhere in Sydney.

They offer daily lessons throughout the year, utilizing not just Manly Beach but the whole coast of the Northern Beaches region to ensure you’re learning in the best and most suitable conditions. You don’t need any experience and can choose between group and private lessons. 

Uniquely, Manly Surf School doesn’t just cater to beginners. As this is the home of the world surf championships, the school also provides teaching programs aimed at making the jump to an intermediate level or from intermediate level to pro. Whatever your current skill set is like, you really can up it at Manly Beach!


5. Hike the Manly to North Head Walk

Unique Things to do in Manly Beach, Sydney: North Head

The North Head Walk is one of the top things to do in Manly Beach. This short but dramatic coastal trail is just over 8 kilometers (5 miles) long, and it takes in the best sights and lookouts between Manly Beach and North Head, the headland that marks the entrance into Sydney Harbour. 

The trail is a great way to explore North Head, which is protected as part of the wider Sydney Harbour National Park, which extends along much of the coast and headlands of the harbor. Starting at the southern end of Manly Beach, you’ll first walk along the coast to Shelly Beach, where you’ll have great views of Cabbage Tree Bay.

The Shelly Headland Lookouts offer even better views along the coast before you walk inland toward the Barracks Precinct. Here you’ll find old gun emplacements and memorials, a reminder of the strategic location of North Head as the entrance to one of the world’s deepest natural harbors. Next up is the Fairfax Walk to spectacular lookout points at Yiningma and Burragula, where you’ll have the best views over Sydney Harbour.

The route then heads back toward Manly Beach via Collins Beach, but before this, you can explore the old Quarantine Station as part of the walk. From 1828 to 1984, this entire headland was cordoned off as a quarantine zone, where anyone arriving by boat was processed or quarantined before they were allowed into Sydney. 


6. Be Spooked on a Q Station Ghost Tour

Fun Things to do in Manly Beach, Sydney: Quarantine Station

Q Station – or the Quarantine Station – is one of Manly Beach’s most notorious historical sights. Taking up a large portion of North Head, a quarantine station was first built here at the entrance to Sydney Harbour in 1828. 

The quarantine station existed until 1984, when it was finally closed down, but the historic buildings have been largely preserved as part of “Q Station,” a unique initiative that includes a hotel, restaurant, and bar within Sydney Harbour National Park. 

Yes, you can stay the night in the old cottages and isolation rooms that once held quarantine arrivals hoping to start a new life in Australia. But better yet, you can even join an after-dark ghost tour of Q Station, which just so happens to be one of the best things to do in Manly Beach! 

Be warned: a ghost tour isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll be guided around the darkened quarantine station and through the eerie cemetery at night, where gravestones tell tales of accidents and hauntings. Paranormal seekers will be in their element, as your guide embellishes stories of apparitions and ghosts that just can’t be explained.

If that’s not for you, then we’d recommend joining the daily history walks (which take place during daylight hours!) instead.


7. Visit the Manly Art Gallery & Museum

At first glance, it might seem that a visit to Manly Beach is all about the outdoor sights and activities, but that doesn’t have to be the case. For something a little different (or on your day off from surf school!), why not drop into the excellent Manly Art Gallery & Museum to soak up some culture?

Located just a few minutes’ walk away from Manly Wharf, the Manly Art Gallery & Museum has been a creative and historical center since it first opened its doors in 1930. In fact, this is the regional creative center for all of the Northern Beaches district, so don’t be surprised at the quality of art and depth of the exhibitions on display. 

The Manly Art Gallery & Museum hosts an ever-changing carousel of galleries and artists, so check the website for an updated calendar to see what’s on during your stay in Manly. Past events include exhibitions that tell the stories of migrants and refugees, environmental art in the Northern Beaches, sculptural narratives, and much more. If you’re looking for artsy Manly Beach activities, this place is a must!


8. Have a Drink at the 4 Pines Brew Pub

Manly Beach, Sydney Bucket List: 4 Pines Brew Pub

The tall Norfolk pine trees that line the coast are one of the most iconic Manly Beach sightseeing attractions. The pines have been part of the view for decades, and they’ve even inspired one of Sydney’s most famous beer makers, the 4 Pines Brewing Company

Founded in Manly in 2006 by father and son team Steve and Jaron after a surf session on the beach, the 4 Pines Brewing Company produces an impressive range of craft beers that are now sold over much of Australia. At the 4 Pines Brew Pub in Manly, you can visit the original microbrewery where it all began and enjoy the freshest beers in the company’s home pub.

Classic beers you can try include the Pacific Ale, the Hazy Pale Ale, Indian Summer Ale, and the Pale Ale, alongside others like the Nitro Stout and Aussie Wheat Beer. The microbrewery also produces specials, experimental runs, and niche beers, too, so you’ll be able to try the best and newest brews at the pub in Manly. 

Check out the events schedule for a full list of their live music sessions, and give the menu a browse if you fancy trying a few Aussie pub classics like Chicken Parmies and Fish and Chips! 


9. Take the Ferry from Circular Quay

Must do things in Manly Beach, Sydney: Ferry

Manly Beach is located on the northern shores of Sydney Harbour, with a spectacular location that encompasses the northern headland marking the sheltered entrance to the harbor itself. Manly Wharf is a constant buzz of boating activity because while you can drive or take the bus here from Sydney, the best way to arrive is by boat.

You don’t even need to have your own yacht to enjoy the scenic journey across Sydney Harbour because taking the local ferry is one of the best things to do in Manly Beach. Few public ferry rides are quite as dramatic as this, and from Circular Quay, where ferries depart regularly, you’ll have a spectacular view of iconic Sydney sights like the Sydney Opera House as you travel eastwards. 

You’ll pass Bradleys Head Lighthouse, Shark Island, and Hornby Lighthouse before arriving at Manly Wharf. The journey time varies, but the fastest ferries take just 18 minutes from point to point.  


10. Explore Watsons Bay

Best Things to do in Manly Beach, Sydney: Watsons Bay

When you’re standing at the lookouts on North Head, look south across the entrance to Sydney Harbour, and you’ll spot Hornby Lighthouse, which has guided ships through the gap since it was built in 1858. 

Hornby Lighthouse is located on South Head, which is part of the wider Watsons Bay area. From Manly Wharf, you can hop on a fast ferry or water taxi, cross the harbor, and start exploring Watsons Bay in less than 15 minutes. 

By the landing point in Watsons Bay, you’ll find small beaches and coves, yacht clubs, boutique hotels, cafes, and bars. Save them for the return, because, first, it’s a short hike from the wharf to Hornby Lighthouse. Along the way, you’ll pass Green Point Reserve, Camp Cove Beach, and historical landmarks like old cannons and military batteries that are all part of the South Head Heritage Trail! 


11. Complete the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk

Best Things to do in Manly Beach, Sydney: Spit Bridge

If you’re in love with Manly’s beautiful harborside views and attractions, then we recommend completing the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk. This gorgeous walking trail is around 11 kilometers (7 miles) each way, and at a leisurely pace – stopping for coffee, snacks, and photo opportunities – it takes around 3 hours to complete. 

The trail connects Spit Bridge with Manly Wharf, but rather than simply taking the most direct route between the two, this trail takes you the long way around Dobroyd Head. You don’t need to be particularly fit, although good shoes are recommended, as you’ll be walking on a mixture of sand, gravel, and tarmac (the route is rated as a Grade 3 walk). 

From Spit Bridge, follow the coast east toward Clontarf Point and Castle Rock Beach. You’ll pass Aboriginal cave engravings as you round Dobroyd Head, from where Manly Wharf will be in sight. Keep going, and before you know it, you’ll be enjoying a drink on Manly Beach!


12. Tackle the Hike from Manly Beach to Bondi Beach

Unique Things to doin Manly Beach, Sydney: Bondi Beach

There’s no doubt that Manly Beach and Bondi Beach are two of the most iconic beaches to be found anywhere in Australia. For surfers, sun lovers, and beach bums, these are two bucket list-worthy beaches to visit, and hitting them both up during your stay is easily one of the coolest things to do in Manly Beach. 

In fact, if you’re up for a challenge, you can even tackle the long-distance hike between the two beaches. The route starts or ends at Manly Beach, incorporating public footpaths, coastal paths, and harborside trails into its length. 

Cool Things to do in Manly Beach, Sydney: Bondi Beach

The total distance is around 80 kilometers (50 miles), and this distance can be divided into multiple sections. Depending on how fast you walk (or run!), it could take anywhere from two to seven days to complete in its entirety. You can also shorten sections by hopping on buses and ferries.

Along the way to Bondi Beach, you can explore Sydney Harbour National Park, cross the Spit Bridge, visit Taronga Zoo, check out Circular Quay, explore Watsons Bay, and much more. With so many options, you really can make this hike your own and see the best sights in Manly Beach, Sydney, and Bondi Beach at the same time. 


13. Rent a Bike and Cycle the Northern Beaches

Fun Things to do in Manly Beach, Sydney: Cycle the Northern Beaches

The Northern Beaches were made for cycling, and renting a bike is one of the most fun things to do in Manly Beach!

To get started, you can rent a bicycle or join a guided bike tour with the help of Manly Bike Tours, the suburb’s dedicated bike company. Cycling the 6.5-kilometer (4-mile) esplanade that runs from Shelly Beach to Manly Lagoon is a fantastic warm-up, but there are many more miles of cycle paths for you to explore.

From Manly Beach, it’s around 11 kilometers (7 miles) to Narrabeen Beach. Follow the seafront, and you can visit Freshwater Beach, South Curl Curl Beach, Dee Why Beach, Long Reef Headland, and many more spectacular coastal stops along the way. If you’re up for a longer ride, it’s around 32 kilometers (20 miles) north from Manly Beach to Barrenjoey Lighthouse – and then the same distance back again!

If you prefer getting off-road, then you’ve got loads of mountain biking trails within reach of Manly Beach, too. One of the most popular is the 13-kilometer-long (8 miles) Manly Dam Bike Track, while local company Joe’s Mountain Bike Tours organizes excursions further afield into Sydney’s nearby bushland and national parks. 


14. Find the Secret ‘Manly Wormhole’

Manly Beach, Sydney Bucket List: Queenscliff

At the northern end of Manly Beach, rocky sea cliffs separate Manly from Freshwater. This area is known as Queenscliff, and the secret tunnel hidden deep in the rocks offers one of the most unique Manly Beach activities. 

The Queenscliff Tunnel connects one side of the cliffs to the next. Running for around 50 meters (164 feet), it’s said to have been carved out of the rocks in 1908 by local fishermen needing a quicker connection between beaches.

Find the “secret” entrance, keep your head low, and as you walk through Queenscliff Tunnel, you’ll soon understand why the locals have nicknamed it the “Manly Wormhole!”


15. Check out the Manly Dam

Must do things in Manly Beach, Sydney: Manly Dam

A visit to the dam is one of the most unique things to do in Manly Beach. The Manly Dam dates back to 1898, and its intuitive architectural design has seen it heritage-listed for its contribution to local life over the decades (it’s the primary water supply for the Northern Beaches region!).

The Manly Dam is home to a beautiful state park and water reservoir. If you’re looking for outdoorsy Manly Beach activities, you can kayak or canoe on the freshwater lake, waterski, swim, or simply enjoy a lakeside picnic in the sunshine. 

Manly Warringah War Memorial State Park is also home to several miles of bush trails, many leading to historic Aboriginal camps that were used long before Europeans arrived in the area. Take a bush walk or rent a mountain bike and tackle the Manly Dam Bike Track!

There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Manly Beach, Sydney. What’s your favorite thing to do in Manly Beach?


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Author

  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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