There’s no denying that Sydney is a beach town. From the calm waters of the port’s refined beaches to the rougher waves of coastal beaches like Maroubra, the warmer months are spent undressing, dressing and diving. But it’s not all about surfing in Harbor Town. The city is vast and varied, home to great museums, boutique galleries, cultural walks, high-end shopping, grimy street art, and manicured public parks and gardens.
Read our experts’ recommendations for the best attractions, while our guides are dedicated to Sydney’s best hotels, restaurants, bars, nightlife, beaches and shopping, plus what to do for free and how to spend a weekend in Sydney.
Climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge
The Sydney Harbor Bridge is one of Sydney’s most recognizable sights; What you may not know is that there are multiple ways to get to the top. A twilight climb shows Sydney in all its sunset glory. If you’re here in June, try Vivid Climb. It ends with a dance under the stars on a 1970s-inspired dance floor at the top.
Insider tip: If you feel like taking your time to explore the famous steel structure, do the three-and-a-half-hour Bridge Climb. If you like more speed, sign up for Express Climb, with fewer steps and stops.
Contact: bridgeclimb. with
Nearest subway: circular pier
Join a walking tour of Aboriginal heritage
There is much more to Sydney’s oldest district than the history of those who settled it. Sydney’s Indigenous history unfolds on this 90-minute walking tour led by an Indigenous guide. The concept of ‘Dreamtime’ (the Aboriginal belief system of the origin of the world, its creation and the history and interconnectedness of all its life forms), traditional plants and objects, and how the culture of Aboriginal people ties into the modern landscape of Sydney are among the many topics covered.
Insider tip: Ask about Dream Time Identity, a special smoking ceremony in which Dream Time Guardians are invited to watch over the participants throughout their time in Australia.
Nearest subway: circular pier
Explore the Sydney Tower
The city’s highest point, the Sydney Tower rises 268 meters above the ground, exactly twice the height of the Harbor Bridge. The 360-degree views extend westward to the Blue Mountains, northward across the Harbor Bridge, eastward along the headlands and out to the Pacific Ocean, and southward to the shores of historic Botany Bay.
Insider tip: Those feeling more adventurous should take the 45-minute SKYWALK guided tour along the glass-floored observation deck outside the Sydney Tower (those with vertigo don’t need to sign up). Booking tickets online is significantly cheaper than buying at the door and you’ll avoid the lines.
Nearest subway: City hall
Visit the Australian Museum
The Australian Museum – the oldest in the country – has been at the helm of Australian history, research and education for nearly 200 years, with exhibits on Indigenous Australia, Australian archaeology, Pacific cultures and world culture. The museum houses 10 complete dinosaur skeletons, eight life-size models and Australia’s largest collection of minerals.
Insider tip: If you’re traveling with kids in tow, head straight to level two for the excellent (and enclosed!) under-five area. For the more aficionados, check out the museum’s Roar and Snore program; children and their parents spend the night with the dinosaurs.
Royal Botanical Gardens
Located right on Sydney Harbor and adjacent to the Sydney Opera House and the Central Business District, the Royal Botanic Gardens is a perfectly located 30-hectare oasis. The land on which the gardens are situated was once home to the Gadigal people. This important story is told through guided tours in which participants can seek and eat traditional foods from the native forest. The new exhibition space, The Calyx, houses the largest vertical green wall in the Southern Hemisphere.
Insider tip: There are free guided walks that run daily and explore both the heritage of these iconic gardens and the varieties of plants.
The New South Wales Art Gallery
The NSW Art Gallery houses an eclectic mix of Western, Contemporary, Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island, Pacific and Asian art. There are also regular lectures, film screenings and events, and two restaurants to choose from, including celebrity chef Matt Moran’s, Chiswick at The Gallery.
Insider tip: The gallery can get very busy when the big exhibitions are happening. After 2pm on weekdays is a good time to visit as all school trips are over.
Prices: Free entry to the permanent collection
Catch a show at the Sydney Opera House
Hugging the end of Bennelong Point is Australia’s best-known building, the Sydney Opera House. Designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon in 1956, the ‘candles’ are created from over a million white tiles. Catch a concert at the Concert Hall if you can to experience the dramatic cathedral-like interiors and superior acoustics. Or take a tour of the house; tours last approximately one hour.
Insider tip: Get the most out of the house by seeing a show there. Arrive early and head to the patio for a bowl of sashimi from the Opera Kitchen and a glass of Riesling from the Opera Bar. Find a spot along the harborside, with The Bridge on your left and The House on your right. A perfect night in Sydney.
Contact: sydneyoperahouse. with
Nearest subway: circular pier
Explore like a local
Owner of Local Sauce Tours, Justin Steele runs a range of small-group tours – from hidden downtown bars to food safaris through Chinatown and Newtown. Steele is a born traveler and has a savant knowledge of Australian history, which he peppers throughout his walks. All are designed to inform and familiarize guests with local areas and include food and beverage samples.
Inside tip: Chinatown was especially hard hit during the Sydney lockdown. The Aussie Chinatown Tour looks for the small family businesses that have suffered the most and are often overlooked, even by locals.
Watch a movie at the Golden Age Cinema
This 60-seat Golden Age Cinema used to be the screening room in the former Paramount Building and has been artfully renovated with dark green walls and mahogany seating filling in its original Art Deco curves. The cinema shows both current and old gilded art films and is worth going to the bar even if you don’t have an old movie stub in your pocket.
Insider tip: Choctops are made by local Messina ice cream legends and the popcorn comes in three flavors: sriracha and lemon, sea salt or chocolate. There is live music in the bar on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Nearest subway: Central Station
north of sydney
Ride the Ferris Wheel at Luna Park
Luna Park occupies the privileged harbor frontage, situated on picturesque Milsons Point and nestled under the north tower of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Be sure to bring your camera if you’re going up on the Ferris wheel. Bring a packed lunch and snacks; the food offerings are crappy hot dogs and fish and chips, and you’ll be fighting the seagulls for the exclusive rights to your lunch.
Insider tip: Buying tickets online and at least a day in advance will save you a few dollars. And take the scenic route – the best way to get there is by ferry from Circular Quay.
Contact: lunaparksydney. with
Nearest subway: Milsons Point
Get out of town – to the Blue Mountains
Once an elegant escape for wealthy colonial types escaping the summer heat, the Blue Mountains continue to be a big draw for those who love the great outdoors. It is a 55 mile (90 km) journey from Sydney and easily accessible by train and bus. The mountain range, escarpments, plateaus and valleys are home to waterfalls, natural pools, bush walks, hiking trails and the famous Três Irmãs rock formation.
Insider tip: Stop by the Norman Lindsay Gallery in Faulconbridge; this is where the Australian artist and enfant terrible lived and where much of his work is displayed.
Embark on a ferry ride across Sydney Harbor
A day in Sydney Harbor is non-negotiable and the ever-reliable ferries are the best way to explore the many pockets. The Captain Cook Cruises Hop On Hop Off Rocket Ferry offers a flexible two-day pass that includes a 90-minute guided cruise with eleven stops. From Taronga Zoo to Watson’s Bay, Barangaroo, Fort Denison and Shark Island; hop on and off to explore many of Sydney’s best-known attractions.
Insider tip: If your visit falls between May and November, consider the Whale Watching Cruise. In partnership with Taronga Zoo, the tour consists of a day at the zoo followed by a departure from Sydney Harbor to observe the annual migration.
Contact: Captaincook.com.au; transportnsw.info
Nearest subway: circular pier
Ah Bondi, the queen bee of Sydney’s beaches. Take a stroll along the boardwalk, grab an ice cream, find a spot on the sand and stretch out. The north end is popular with young families, mostly due to the enclosed rockpool, and there’s a great view of the entire beach from up the grassy hill. At the southern end of Bondi, you’ll find the Bondi Icebergs Club, which is home to one of the city’s best-known ocean pools. An AUD$9 (£5) entrance fee will give you all-day access to the pool and sauna and unlimited people watching.
Nearest subway: Bondi junction