With its iconic skyline, bustling harborfront, and beautiful beaches, there are few cities in the world that make life as easy to live as Sydney.
Australia’s most populous city, the capital of New South Wales was the first British colony to be founded in Australia in the late 18th century. It’s expanded since into a sprawling metropolis that reaches from the Pacific Ocean to the Blue Mountains, but with its planned streets and excellent transport systems, this is one easy destination to traverse!
Take in world-famous sights like the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Observatory Hill, then explore the local history and culture at the Australian Museum or the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Don’t forget – Sydney truly is made for urban-beach life. You’re just a short journey from the beaches and coastal swimming pools of Bondi and Manly, where you can swim and surf in the Pacific Ocean with the Sydney skyline behind you.
With so many things to see and do in Sydney, you might not know where to start. To help you out, we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Sydney for you. Give these unique Sydney bucket list recommendations a try, and there’s no doubt you’re going to have an incredible time exploring this Australian city!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Sydney
1. Watch a performance at the Sydney Opera House
From Circular Quay, you’ll love the world-famous view of Sydney’s two most famous landmarks: Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. The skyline is one of the most identifiable in the world, but rather than just admiring the view, why not actually watch a performance at the Sydney Opera House, too?
The Sydney Opera House was first opened in 1973, and since then, it’s become renowned as the city’s premier performing arts venue. The exterior is a work of modern beauty, but the inside performance areas are equally as stunning, adding a modern touch to traditional opera.
While weekend operas will likely sell out fast, you can often find last-minute tickets mid-week, with an ever-changing operatic lineup from Opera Australia (the current opera being performed is La Traviata).
If operas aren’t necessarily your favorite, then don’t worry, because the venue also hosts musical theater (including The Phantom of the Opera) as well as classical and contemporary music concerts.
2. Be awed by the views from the Sydney Harbour Bridge
If you dare to make the climb, then you’ll find the best views of Sydney Harbour are from the tall steel spans of the city’s famous Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Rising to a dizzying height of 134 meters above the water below, Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of Sydney’s most recognizable landmarks. Known to the locals as “The Coathanger” (for its resemblance to a coat hanger), you can strap into a harness, don your hardhat helmet, and follow BridgeClimb guides to the top of the steel archways.
There are several routes to the top that you can book through BridgeClimb, and you’ll be accompanied by an expert guide the whole time. The most popular is “The Summit,” a route that takes you along the highest archway and up some 1,300 steps to the very middle of the tallest steel span (and then back down again).
“The Summit Insider” is the alternative route, which takes you through the dense network of metal walkways in the lower arch and then to the top of the highest arch. The latest experience is called the “Burrawa Climb,” which will see you led to the summit by an indigenous tour guide as you learn about Sydney’s Aboriginal history and culture along the way.
3. Join a walking tour of The Rocks
If you love soaking up the history and heritage of a new destination, then one of the best things to do in Sydney is a walking tour of The Rocks.
The Rocks is arguably Sydney’s most historic district. Overlooking the southern shores of Sydney Harbour, The Rocks is within walking distance of the CBD and Circular Quay. Sitting in the shadow of Sydney Harbour Bridge, here you’ll find historic streets that date back to the city’s founding as a penal colony in 1788.
The Rocks’ early history is that of convicts, sailors, and soldiers because it was a place lived in and visited by the ruffians of the new colony. Times have changed, and now The Rocks is one of Sydney’s most prestigious areas. You’ll love the great restaurants and bars (Sydney’s oldest pubs are found here), not to mention the weekend food market, and it’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature without leaving the city.
The area is a maze of history, and the best way to explore is by joining a walking tour of The Rocks, which you’ll find run regularly throughout the week.
4. Explore the floral delights of the Royal Botanic Garden
Ghostly Garden Tours, Aboriginal Bush Tucker Tours, and Nature Therapy Walks are just a few of the fascinating tours and walks that regularly take place at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney.
This is one of the most famous Sydney sightseeing attractions, and it’s far more fascinating than just the plants and flora that are found here. The Royal Botanic Garden is a place to escape the bustle of Sydney’s CBD. It’s a place of lush vegetation, rare flowers, and curious plants, and an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature without leaving the city.
It’s a heritage-listed attraction, too, with a history dating back to 1816, when the local government established gardens on the site of Sydney’s first European-made farm. You’ll love learning about all of this and more as you explore the gardens, which are located in the Circular Quay area of Sydney.
5. Enjoy the views from Observatory Hill
Rising high above The Rocks is Observatory Hill, one of the best places in Sydney to take in the views and enjoy the scenery!
Observatory Hill is the highest point in the city’s central area, and so it was on this site that the first British colonists built a fort to look over the burgeoning settlement in 1800. As the decades passed, the need for a fort armed with cannons dissipated, and so the hill was instead used as a signal station, a telegraph relay point, a school, and most famously of all, an observatory.
Observatory Hill is home to many of central Sydney’s most historic buildings, including the remains of the fort and the telegraph station. The observatory is now an interesting museum where you can learn about the astronomical work that was completed here from the 1850s through to the late 20th century.
Best of all is the panoramic view from the hilltop. While Observatory Hill is now dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers, you’ll love the sweeping vista down toward the harbor that takes in an iconic view of Harbour Bridge below!
6. Delve into the past at Australia’s oldest museum
One of the most interesting sights in Sydney is the Australian Museum, which just so happens to be the oldest museum in Australia. Despite the relatively young age of the modern Australian nation, the Australian Museum also happens to be the fifth-oldest natural history museum in the world!
The museum dates back to 1827, just a few decades after the first British colonists had established Sydney. It was intended to be a depository for the unique natural specimens and fossils that were being uncovered, and in 1849, a purpose-built museum was constructed in order to house the growing collection.
The beautiful sandstone building has been expanded on several occasions to accommodate more wings and galleries, and you can spend hours losing yourself among the exhibits and exhibitions found inside the Australian Museum.
The galleries focus on three main things: nature, science, and culture. That’s a broad range to cover, particularly when Australia has a natural history dating back millions of years!
You’ll find dinosaur skeletons, including life-size depictions of the tyrannosaurus rex and the stegosaurus. There are extensive galleries showcasing the abundance of flora and fauna that call Australia home, including extinct species such as the Tasmanian tiger. And there are fascinating exhibitions that explore Australia’s indigenous history, a must for anyone who wants to learn about Aboriginal culture.
If we haven’t convinced you to visit yet, then you will be when you learn that there’s no charge for entry, making this one of the best free things to do in Sydney!
7. Peruse centuries of art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales
Dating back to 1871, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is one of Australia’s oldest and best art museums. The gallery started as a club and society for Sydney’s growing community of art lovers and is now one of the nation’s most prominent artistic institutions.
Today, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is located within a grand sandstone building with a beautiful neoclassical facade on Art Gallery Road. You’ll love the Greco-Roman pillars that mark the entranceway, and you’ll love the seriously extensive depth of art history that awaits you inside.
The Art Gallery of New South Wales features a broad spectrum of art from across the world. Older pieces include European works such as Aesop by Jusepe de Ribera, which is thought to date back to the 1600s. There are works by Goya, Detaille, Ford Madox Ford, and so many more in the permanent collections.
But this art museum also has a huge focus on indigenous art. You’ll find the dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection is like no other in Australia, with some of the oldest pieces dating back to the late 19th century.
The art gallery also features a fascinating exhibition that showcases these older Aboriginal works alongside European and Australian artwork of the same time period, offering a previously unseen insight into the clash of cultures and peoples that rocked Australia.
General admission to the Art Gallery of New South Wales is free, although you may need to book and pay for tickets if you’re interested in visiting one of the many ever-changing temporary exhibitions or events.
8. Embrace Sydney’s multicultural side at the Chinatown Markets
Every Friday, from 4 pm until late in the night, the streets of Chinatown are filled with the tantalizing aromas of delectable street food as the Chinatown Friday Night Markets open for business!
Sydney’s Chinatown Markets is a Friday night staple, and it’s the best place to embrace the city’s multicultural side. Start on “Little Eats Street,” where you’ll have a hard time choosing between Hong Kong-style dim sum or a Vietnamese banh mi. If you can’t decide, then why not go for sushi or ramen instead?
Once you’re all fueled up, you’ll have the energy you need to browse through the 50+ stalls that feature local designers and artists, as well as traditional products from Sydney’s many Asian communities.
9. Take the public ferry to Manly
Exploring Sydney doesn’t have to be expensive, and some of the best things to do in the city are also some of the cheapest! One of the top things to do in Sydney is the Manly Ferry, which offers a cheap and cheerful ride across the harbor.
The Manly Ferry is part of Sydney’s integrated public transport system, and it’s been ferrying passengers across the harbor since the route first opened in 1855. It’s not only a convenient way to cross the harbor, but it’s historic and it’s spectacularly scenic.
The ferry departs regularly from Circular Quay, close to the Sydney Opera House. During the half-hour journey to Manly, a Sydney suburb on the opposite side of the harbor, you’ll have the most incredible views of Sydney’s skyline, including the iconic landscape of both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.
On the other end, you’ll love exploring Manly, where you can spend all day visiting the local beaches. Manly Beach is the most popular, but you can follow walking trails south to Shelly Beach and then onto Sydney Harbour National Park.
10. Soak up the urban beach vibes at Bondi
Few cities in the world evoke urban beach vibes as much as Sydney. Although the CBD and historic districts like The Rocks are all located away from the coast itself, you’re just a short bus or ferry ride away from some of the most iconic beaches in Australia.
You’ll find one of those beaches at Bondi, a place made famous by its surf scene and lifeguards (who always seem to be featured on television beach shows!). The name Bondi comes from a local Aboriginal word for “surf,” and with its crashing waves and rip curls, you’ll soon understand why it was given this name!
You’ll love the white sands of Bondi Bay, and if you’ve ever wanted to learn how to surf, then this is the place to do it. Bondi is also known for its art deco architecture, while you can also take a swim at the picturesque Bondi Icebergs Swimming Club, which is built into the rocks overlooking the ocean.
If you’re feeling active, then you can walk from Bondi Beach to Bronte Beach, following the 4-kilometer coastal walking track between these two beautiful beaches.
11. Hike the South Head Heritage Trail to Hornby Lighthouse
One of the best Sydney attractions is the Hornby Lighthouse, a coastal landmark overlooking the Pacific Ocean that we know you’re going to love hiking to.
Hornby Lighthouse is located within Sydney Harbour National Park. It was built in 1858 at the end of a prominent but dangerous headland that marks the entrance to Sydney Harbour. You can hike the short but spectacular South Head Heritage Trail, which leads from Camp Cove to the lighthouse.
It’s a distance of less than a couple of kilometers each way, but save plenty of time to soak up the views and the history. Hornby is one of the oldest lighthouses in Australia, and it’s still in operation today. This is where Sydney Harbour meets the Pacific Ocean, and on a clear day, you might even spot a few whales cruising along the coast!
12. Whale watch on the Pacific Ocean
On a fast catamaran, it’s a short 15-minute boat ride from Sydney Harbour to the open ocean. The city’s proximity to the vast Pacific Ocean means that when you’re staying in Sydney, one of the best things to do is a whale watching tour.
Whale watching season is between May and November, as the coastline close to the city welcomes the Southern Migration. This annual movement of whales sees tens of thousands of humpback whales traversing the east coast of Australia as they move from the cold waters of the Antarctic to warmer tropical waters in the north.
They’ll often stop off to feed in bays and coves close to Sydney, and your boat captains will know exactly where to find them!
13. Watch a match at Sydney Cricket Ground
Aussies love their sports and cricket is one of the nation’s favorite pastimes. If you’re not from a cricket-loving nation, then the sport might come across as unusual, but there’s no better place to embrace the cricket-loving atmosphere and to learn the rules than Sydney!
Sydney Cricket Ground is one of the largest cricket stadiums in the world, with a capacity of 48,000 fans. It’s also one of the oldest, with a history dating back to 1848. This is one of Australia’s premier sporting grounds, and the stadium hosts prestigious international test matches and one-day internationals.
If you’re unfamiliar with cricket, then we recommend booking tickets for a T20 game. This is the fast-paced version of the game, taking a few hours for a match rather than the five days it takes to complete a Test Match (yes, five days!).
14. Take a day trip to the stunning Blue Mountains
Sydney might be Australia’s most populous city, but you’ll love how easy it is to escape the urban and discover the local nature and dramatic scenery. One of the best places to visit is the Blue Mountains, where you’ll find a spectacular outdoor destination that’s just a day trip away from the city.
The Blue Mountains are part of the Great Dividing Range, a huge mountain range that separates coastal New South Wales from the interior. The area is vast, but for a taste of the scenery, we recommend heading to the town of Katoomba.
Here you’ll find the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre as well as many of the area’s most iconic lookout points and tourist attractions. You can even take the scenic Blue Mountains train line from central Sydney direct to Katoomba.
Katoomba sits atop the Jamison Valley, a deep gorge that cuts through the mountains. You can walk to lookout points overlooking the gorge (including Echo Point), where you’ll have panoramic views of the scenery below.
You can then take the world’s steepest funicular down to the valley floor, where there are bush walks to waterfalls and rock formations and even more outrageously dramatic scenery to explore! If you don’t feel like making the journey on your own, you can always hop on one of the many popular Blue Mountains tours that depart from Sydney.
15. Be one of the first people in the world to celebrate the New Year
Sydney hosts one of the most iconic New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world. As the city counts down to midnight, be prepared for a spectacular fireworks show that lights up famous landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge!
It truly is a celebration like no other, and if you have the opportunity to experience it, you’ll also be one of the first people in the world to celebrate the New Year. Although Sydney isn’t the first destination to bring in the New Year, the city does sit in the GMT + 10-time zone. This means that unless you know anyone in New Zealand or the Pacific Islands, you’ll have bragging rights as one of the first to experience the 1st of January.
Sydney’s New Year’s Eve celebrations are predominantly focused around the harbor area, and you can watch from vantage points at Observatory Hill, Circular Quay, The Rocks, and many more equally iconic locations. You could even join a deluxe harbor dinner cruise or splash out and hire a boat for a truly unique experience and one of the best views of the New Year’s celebrations and fireworks display!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Sydney. What’s your favorite thing to do in Sydney?
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