Top 12 Things to Do in Sydney

By Hana | Nov 21, 2019
Oceania > Australia > New South Wales > Sydney > Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney is not like any other big city that you've ever visited before. Along skyscrapers, busy streets, rush hours and traffic jams, you can also find here many national parks reachable within an hour from the CBD (Central Business District) to find solitude in nature, there are countless beaches nearby to enjoy the fun in the sun, green public parks with barbecues everywhere, which are free to use and the overall vibe feels more relaxed and laid-back, almost like in a small town. People are friendly and helpful, sun is almost always shining and you can't help yourself, but smile.

Sydney used to be my home for almost 5 years and there are many reasons why I love it so much and why it will always have a special place in my heart. I put together top 12 things to do for travelers to enjoy it in its fullest with everything it has to offer!

1. Circular Quay & the Rocks

Sydney Harbor is without a doubt the most beautiful harbor in the world. I loved strolling around Circular Quay and The Rocks, getting lost, enjoying the bustling atmosphere, getting some take-away food to eat it on the sun and then protecting it from rude seagulls that try to steal it right from my hand. :D

The Rocks is the oldest part of Sydney with little alleys, hidden restaurants, sandstone churches and Australia’s oldest pubs. In the 70-ties it was meant to be torn down to build new modern area with business buildings and luxury apartments, but luckily citizen action got it preserved. It is one of my favorite parts of the city with its weekend markets, museums and endless possibilities to eat! For great views of Sydney Harbor you can head up to the Sydney Observatory Hill Park or if the weather is bad, I loved hitting the museums, especially Museum of Contemporary Art with many interesting exhibitions throughout a year.

2. Taking a Ferry to Manly or Watsons Bay

Manly is the second most popular beach in Sydney after Bondi. It is a suburb on the north shore with charming promenade, small cafes with delicious food, weekend markets and if your Australian dream includes learning how to surf, this is the right place to try.

Watsons Bay is harbor-side eastern suburb with breathtaking views of the city. You can have a lunch in the famous Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel or just take fish and chips from any shop and eat it on the beach, then head to Hornby Lighthouse and take a short walk to The Gap National Park, an ocean cliff with views to Manly and Pacific Ocean.

Views from the ferry to Manly

Views from the ferry to Manly

3. Take a Walk to The Other Side of Harbour Bridge

For me, this is a must when in Sydney. The walk is easy and it gives great opportunities to see Opera House and the harbor from different perspective. For $15 AUD ($10 student admission) you can go up 200 stairs in the first pylon, learn something from the incredible history of Harbor Bridge (trust me, it really is incredible), and enjoy the views of the city from above.

4. Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs. Macquarie Chair

Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney are for free, ranging from the Opera House curving around Farm Cove all the way to Hyde Park and St. Mary’s Cathedral, they cover the area of 30 hectares. It is a gorgeous park, where you can just lie down and watch cockatoos flying around or bring your picnic basket and blanket and have a lunch on the fresh.

Mrs. Macquarie Chair is part of the Botanic Gardens, located right on the other side of the Farm Cove. It is probably the most Instagramable spot of Sydney with the best view of the two most iconic landmarks in one shot.

5. Markets in Glebe & Kirribilli

Saturdays in Sydney are best spent wandering around markets with green juice in hand, talking to stallholders about their unique designs, retro clothes or hand-made crafts, picking up some delish food and enjoying the atmosphere. There are plenty of markets every weekend to choose from in Sydney but so far Glebe and Kirribilli are my favorites.

Glebe market is held in the grounds of Glebe public school and it is one of the most popular Sydney markets with its large grassy area, live music, vintage fashion and lots of interesting food. And I am not saying this just because you can also find Slovak people here selling our traditional “buchty” (sweet baked buns usually filled with jam or poppy seeds).

Art, Design and Fashion market in Kirribilli is held only every second weekend, so make your research before hitting the train to the other side of the bridge. This Sydney’s oldest market has really Instagram-worthy views over north end pylons of Harbor Bridge and it is the right place to get unique gifts, fresh produce, vintage, recycled and artisan goods.

6. Food

I love food, it’s not a secret! J And even though Sydney’s food scene may not be as famous as Melbourne’s, it is still colorful, surprising, delicious, and gives you so many options. You can find here cuisines from all around the world (even Slovak restaurant is here!), fine dining, pubs with $1 hot-dogs and local beer, ice-creameries, bakeries, cool brunch spots, hidden bars with cocktail menus thick as books, fresh seafood, food trucks and my personal favorite – food markets! Several times a year Hyde Park transforms into one massive picnic where people can get together and enjoy often unusual looking dishes on the fresh air. Because if food was prepared and eaten on the fresh air, calories don’t count! J More articles about my favorite food spots in Sydney are about to come in the section “food”.

7. Beaches <3

Just imagine... It is January and temperatures are rising over 35 degrees Celsius. It is sunny, hot and humid, perfect day to hit a beach. Packing my towel, sunscreen (never forget the sunscreen!), water bottle, sunnies and swimmers, looking forward to dip into the cold water and enjoy cooling ocean breeze while listening to waves crashing against the rocks. My only problem is which beach to choose?

Sydney is blessed with some of the finest and most famous beaches in the world. There are over 100 beaches in the city and close surroundings which makes Sydney number one when it comes to beach life. Despite the popularity among tourists and locals, water and sand are remarkably clean. At the most popular beaches you will find restaurants, bars and cafes as well as barbecues to pack a hamper and have a picnic lunch. The beach watch is always present and some beaches have rock pools where you can swim without fighting with big waves.

8. Sydney Opera House

If you like Sydney Opera House or not, it is one of the most famous and distinctive buildings in 20th century and you have to admit that Sydney’s skyline would not be the same without this iconic landmark. Sitting at the Bennelong Point over viewing Sydney Harbor, the House hosts 3000 performances every year with an annual audience of two million people, plus two hundred thousand people take a guided tour of the building.

I have always enjoyed going to theater so naturally when my parents came to visit, we wanted to experience the real purpose of Sydney’s most famous building and went to see Mozart’s opera - The Magic Flute. The performance was not anything like I have ever seen before. The stage was full of lively colors and funky costumes, the music was enchanting and whole show was magical. During the break and we had a glass of champagne and later that night we grabbed some nibbles and cocktails in the Opera Bar.
If you are travelling to Sydney, I would definitely recommend paying a visit here, either as a tour or seeing a performance.

9. Coastal Walks

Australia has magnificent coastline. Its beauty will never stop to amaze me. Coastline of New South Wales is washed by the Pacific Ocean and it varies from the south to north, with the city of Sydney “somewhere in the middle” idyllically set on the most beautiful harbor of the world. J If you are planning your trip to the land down-under, make sure you spend at least a day hiking and discovering the rough beauty of Australian coast, with its steep rocks going deep into the ocean, huge waves crashing against them and I swear that if you stare long enough, you can imagine how the surface cracked millions years ago and Australia become the only country in the world that is surrounded only by water.

There are plenty of coastal walks to choose from in Sydney, but the most popular one is definitely Bondi to Coogee. It is 6 km long, easy track from one famous beach to another, revealing other smaller, maybe not so popular but definitely not less attractive beaches. It does not matter if your start on Bondi and make your way to Coogee or the other way around. If you start on Bondi, you can reward yourself with a cold beer or a cocktail on the rooftop of Coogee Pavillion and if you start on Coogee and finish off on Bondi, you can go for Messina gelato or park in The Bucket List right on the beach.

10. Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour is an entertainment quarter of Sydney. From first light to starry nights, there’s always something going on here.

When we moved to Sydney we used to live in Chinatown for a while, which is located right next to Darling Harbour. I liked going out with no plans and then finding out that there is something exciting happening, like free screening of Dirty Dancing while lying down on bean bags and (secretly) drinking wine from a bottle on Valentine’s day, Lunar markets with lots of food for Chinese New Year (at the time we lived in China Town, the markets used to take place in Tumbalong Park in DH but since 2016 they are located in Pyrmont Bay Park), ice skating in winter months or fireworks every Saturday at 9 pm during summer.

In Darling Harbour, apart from many restaurants, bars and clubs, you can also find Maritime Museum with perfect replica of Captain Cook’s ship, Chinese Garden of Friendship, where you can hire a traditional Chinese costume for the day, Wild Life with all the amazing animals of Australia, Sea Life with under water tunnel made of glass where you can watch sharks from very close, Madame Tussauds Museum and much more!

11. Whale Watching

Every year from May to November whales are migrating around Sydney coast, making their way north to the Coral Sea where they mate and then heading back south to Antarctica for the southern hemisphere summer. Every year there are hundreds of whales passing by and if you are lucky enough you can see them having fun in the cold waters, breaching, tail slapping, lunging…

We had the best experience with whales on a cruise and you can read the whole story very soon on the blog.

12. Vivid Festival

I definitely prefer warm summer over cold winter month but decreasing temperatures in Sydney bring every year Vivid - Festival of Music, Lights and Ideas and that is something I am always excited about. J Vivid is free outdoor exhibition of lightning sculptures and installations that lasts for 23 nights during May and June and it takes place all over city of Sydney and few other suburban areas.

The whole city changes into one large unique open air art gallery with interactive light installations, 3D projections on public buildings, innovative statues...
As it is Festival of Music, Lights and Ideas, Vivid also hosts live music program in the iconic Opera House and other bigger or smaller venues around Sydney (for the concerts and shows you will have to buy tickets on Vivid website).

Vivid is where art, technology and music intersect and it turns Sydney into a light wonderland.

Inside of the Cathedral of Light during Vivid Festival

Inside of the Cathedral of Light during Vivid Festival

These are my selection of top 12 things to do in Sydney and reasons why I love it so much! I hope you'll find them useful when planning your trip here. If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments below and I will try to answer them... :)

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Written by Hana
Hello! My name is Hana and I am from Slovakia, however I haven't lived there for over 5 years now. After I finished university I moved to Australia with my husband where we lived for almost 5 years. Currently we are based in Japan, where I teach English, work as tour a guide and write a blog about our adventures abroad.

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