Sydney is the largest city in Australia and by many accounts, the most spectacular. As it sprawls along the East Coast and as far as the foothills of the Blue Mountains, Sydney offers a diverse landscape and activities for all. The Sydney lifestyle is very much open onto the outdoors and celebrates nature in every way. To ensure you don’t miss out on the essential sights, I have a list of the best things to see and do in Sydney. I’ve been living in Sydney since 2002 and most of the sights are familiar to me. However, I enjoy revisiting them from time to time, things change, renovations happen and there is always something new to discover.
The Rocks is the original neighbourhood, where Captain Phillip established the Sydney Cove colony in 1788. Being to close to Circular Quay and the CBD, The Rocks is a lively area rich in history. The ideal way to discover it is by taking a self-guided tour. Check out my blog post here for the full tour. My fascination for The Rocks comes from the mix of contemporary and ancient neighbourhood. The parks, the houses, the businesses are all part of a wider and intriguing story.
The Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House is probably the most iconic symbol of Sydney. The shape of its sails and its location on Bennelong Point make for fantastic photo opportunities. You can also take a tour, attend a show or dine at one of its cafes and restaurants. I have a soft spot for attending operas there, it’s always a special occasion. If you are new to opera, don’t hesitate to try at the Sydney Opera House. Whilst the acoustics of the opera hall are not perfect, it is a very approachable experience thanks to the use of subtitles.
The Opera Bar
Right at the foot of the Sydney Opera House, the Opera Bar is an ideal location to unwind over cocktails and finger food after a busy day exploring the many sights on offer. The views over the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are beautiful and Circular Quay is a bustling tourist and transport hub. I especially like to bring overseas guests to the Opera Bar, because all the best sights of Sydney are there and the food is really good.
The Royal Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens are a haven of greenery and calm in the middle of a bustling city. Take a walk around Farm Cove and reflect at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. There are beautiful curated gardens, free guided tours, a scenic train tour and several cafes and restaurants. Personally, I find the walk around Farm Cove quite a moving experience. The shape of the cove is as the First Fleet found it and it’s a peaceful walk up to Mrs Macquarie’s Point.
Most Australians firmly believe their country have the best beaches, and I have to agree with them. The most iconic one in Sydney is Bondi Beach, with its unique vibe. To me, Bondi Beach is where you can touch the pulse of the Australian beach culture. Whilst it does get busy with tourists, the colours of the surf are always a fantastic sight.
Bondi Beach is easily accessible from the city by regular bus services.
Bondi to Coogee Walk
A wonderful characteristic of Sydney is its rugged coast. It is well preserved and accessible for walks of different grades. I thoroughly recommend the Bondi to Coogee Walk, however there are many others available. On the Bondi to Coogee Walk, I am always reminded of how extraordinary the Sydney lifestyle can appear to overseas visitors. There are so many houses with ocean views, it is a great testimony of how the coast and the ocean are part of life here.
Take a Ferry
To take in the grandeur of Sydney Harbour, the best thing to do is to take a boat. There are many cruising options, however a ferry ride is an authentic way to travel at a very reasonable price. Although I have been a Sydneysider for many years, I have never been on a tourist cruise. You see, there is no real need for it when you have this sort of commute available.
Take a Day Trip
There are many things to discover beyond Bondi and Sydney Harbour. Whether you are looking for a secluded camping spot for a night at The Basin or are looking to escape the city for a day in the Blue Mountains, there are many options for discovery and adventure. Find out about my favourite day trips here.
Visit a Market
Australians love food and shopping, and markets are both a shopping and social occasion. The sunny weather is also a blessing for this activity. I have a selection of food markets and handmade markets for your review. If you visit a market when in Sydney, you will get to enjoy a part of the outdoor lifestyle, complete with delicious coffee, which is a very important part of life here.
Take on the Harbour Bridge
Another unmissable visual icon of Sydney, the Harbour Bridge is a feat of engineering and offers fantastic views over Port Jackson. Whether you walk from one end to the other or take a BridgeClimb, taking on the Harbour Bridge is an unforgettable experience. If you are looking for fantastic views on a budget, read about the Pylon Lookout here. The Harbour Bridge has to be one of favourite sights in Sydney, I really love the fact that you can approach in different ways, depending on your ability, time and budget.
Taronga Zoo has spectacular views of Sydney Harbour and a rich collection of animals. There is an area dedicated to the Australian wildlife, which means you can familiarise yourself with some unique creatures. Coming from Europe, where I remember some zoos being sad places with forlorn animals, I have to say I feel a bit more comfortable visiting an Australian zoo. I still have a strong preference for seeing animals in the world, however, there is more space and the climate is more appropriate for the wildlife here.
Attend an Outdoor Festival
The Sydney lifestyle is very open onto the outdoors. People spend a lot of time living and socialising outside, enjoying picnics, lying on the beach, taking a walk or playing sports. Sydney has some unique and free outdoors celebrations, designed to enhance the existing nature or architecture. Australia is not so much a destination for museums, but you can enjoy rich cultural experiences outside.
Sculpture by the Sea is a contemporary art exhibition that takes place every October, on the Bondi to Coogee walk. Check out my post here for more information.
Vivid Sydney is a growing winter outdoor festival where various landmarks and decorated with light. Light installations are set up across the city and other places. Vivid Sydney is a marvellous experience and you can read about it here.
Finally, Sydney welcomes the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival every March. Click here for more information.
New Year’s Eve Fireworks
Attending the New Year’s Eve fireworks is the experience of a lifetime. Sydney welcomes the new year in the most spectacular fashion. The Harbour Bridge and Sydney Harbour light up in the grandest fireworks light show. If you ever have the opportunity to attend this unique experience, don’t miss it. There are plenty of vantage points available for viewing.
I have been attending the New Year’s Eve fireworks for years now and it’s a great privilege. I especially love the fact that it’s a free event, and millions of people can really celebrate the event by just being there.
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Do you have suggestions for the best things to see and do in Sydney? Please let me know in the comments below.