If you do want to splurge a little, then by all means go right ahead. Sydney offers some wicked activities like hot air ballooning, harbour-side helicopter rides, and fantastic dinner cruises which will see you enjoy the somewhat luxurious side of the great outdoors.
Budget or no budget however, there are a few absolute must-do’s when visiting Sydney. In the local lingo, we’d call them ‘rites of passage’; fun stuff that everyone must do if they really want to feel like they’ve ‘done’ Sydney. We promise not to send you bankrupt…if you promise to at least tick a few of the following boxes on your next Sydney vacation.
Deal. So here’s our best things to do in Sydney list…
Watch the sun set over Sydney Harbour
This one may be a no-brainer but you’ll be surprised how taken visitors get by the extravagant restaurants, big cruise liners and whatnot that they end up focusing all of their energy and attention (not to mention their budget) on doing something really extraordinary on Sydney Harbour in order to enjoy its world-famous skyline turn crimson red every day.
Relax, take a chill-pill…the only extravagance here should be the view, don’t go messing it all up, diluting the experience by adding yet another activity on your list. If you want to absorb the ambience at leisure then may we suggest you start mid-afternoon by taking a relaxing stroll through the Botanic Gardens eventually making your way to the front of the Opera House for amazing Circular Quay views. As the sun starts to set, you can either sit on one of the strategically placed benches along the marbled walkway, or grab a seat at Portobello Cafe’, just below the steps to the Opera House on the right, and enjoy a delicious glass of vino. The rest, as they say, will be compliments of Mother Nature. And those nifty architects who built this striking harbour all those years ago. Enjoy.
Climb the Harbour Bridge
When the BridgeClimb first started operating, every single Sydneysider gasped. No, it was not in ‘here-comes-the-tourist-rip-off’ horror, but rather in ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ amazement. Climbing the Harbour Bridge is not cheap, granted, but it also rates as the best thing to do in Sydney, and all those who have hmmmd and errrrrrd about the expense and relented swear it’s worth every single cent. We concur.
For a mere $200 you could feel like you’re on top of the world doing something often rated as bucket-list worthy. The hour-long preparation is nerve-wracking, the climb surprisingly easy and the views and experience gifted spine tingling to say the least. Here are some insider’s tips: the very best time to choose would be, funnily enough, at twilight, however this little bonus will bump up the prize by a further $100. Ouch. Instead opt for the very last walk before twilight which is actually just as good, as the sun will start to set when you are at the very top of the bridge, and the twilight group will be ascending. By the time you start descending, the city’s lights will start flickering and you will enjoy a sensational sunset regardless. The only downsides to this climb is #1 the grey jumpsuit is the least attractive thing you’ll EVER wear, and #2 you can’t take a camera up, so if you do want photos of you with the Sydney skyline in the background you’ll need to fork out another $30 for the professional pics. Bummer dat.
Cash-strapped backpackers can always opt for the Bridge Pylon Lookout, which actually boasts superb views in its own right. Entry fee is just $11 PLUS you get to take your own photos, which is a bonus.
When we said the best thing to do in Sydney is walk, we really meant it. There are three marvellous coastal city walks you can do when visiting, all of them easy to reach with public transport from Sydney’s centre. The most popular is of course the Bondi to Coogee Beach Walk, which comes alive in summer with a fab splattering of totally random sculptures, some easier to decipher than others. While most walkers tend to converge on the Bondi to Bronte stretch, step it longer and include the cliffside cemetery, and the last stretch to Coogee, which in our humble opinion is the best part of the entire walk. The walking trail stretches for six kilometres and should take you about an hour to complete; four if you include photo and ice cream stops!
Take the ferry to Manly (tick) and resume your walking pace on the striking Manly to Spit Bridge Scenic Walk. This particular stretch offers plenty of chances to go off-track exploring into the suburb’s wild, wild, north and offers a couple of simply sublime outlook points. Considering the distance (almost 10kms) and the few eateries along the way, allocate at least half a day to this walk.
The third impressive walk is also on the northern side of the Bridge, starting at the Cremorne Ferry Wharf and ending in Mosman Bay. The Cremorne to Mosman Bushwalk is well signposted and, considering there are some steep stretches, could take a leisurely walker upwards of an hour to complete. This is by far the least tourist filled walk and is mostly frequented by local ‘northerners’ who use it as their daily exercise routine. We promise they won’t mind sharing it one bit. Take the ferry to Mosman from Circular Quay, but get off at Cremorne Point. Enjoy the long and splendid walk all the way around to Mosman Bay, where you can either catch the ferry back into town, or the bus up to Mosman’s shopping strip for a spot of great retail therapy.
Go wild at Taronga Zoo
There are far too many things we love about our Taronga Zoo; from the brilliant ferry ride, to the ‘Roar and Snore’ overnight camping adventure and the plethora of world-class animal enclosures, a day out at the zoo is regarded by many as the ideal way to spend a day out in Sydney. Cuddle koalas, get splashed by cheeky seals, and come see why the giraffes here are regarded as the happiest on earth. The city view from the top of the zoo is to die for! The only thing not worth dying for is the atrocious cafe’ food on offer here. This is one Sydney mystery we still can’t figure out: how can a cafeteria stuff up a $10 hot-dog? Anyway, bring your own packed picnic and you’ll solve that issue splendidly. Buy a Taronga Zoo Combined Ticket at Circular Quay, which includes the ferry ride entry to the animal park, and cable car ride from one end of the zoo to the other.
Hold your breath at the Sydney Aquarium
Contrary to popular belief, dugongs are not ugly! They’re rather flabbery and cute to be honest, and you can get real close to one at Sydney’s Sea Life Aquarium . There are only two dugongs on display in the country and they’re both here, along with fairy (or furry) little penguins, huge scary toothy sharks, wrinkly crocodiles, lots of tropical reef specimens and a whole host of super cool enclosures for you to visit. The walk–through tunnels will see you glide under sting and manta rays and gift a truly unique sea life adventure. Next to California and South Africa’s we’d rate this among the best aquariums in the world and, if you want to feel real close to a great white without pooping your pants, then this is the place to head to.
Sea Life is located right at the end of the Cockle Bay Wharf and can get very busy with school groups and hordes of local visitors. Opt for a discounted ticket ‘after 5pm entry’ and at least you won’t have the school groups to contend with.
Learn to surf in Manly
There’s this great old bloke who goes surfing in Manly with his dog at 6am every single morning. Apparently he’s been doing this for 30-odd years, although it’s safe to assume it’s not with the same dog. Now, this dog makes surfing look super easy, but seen as though he has four legs and a rather low point of gravity you soon start to realize what an art form surfing really is.
If you’re game and willing to get smashed about by the wild surf, head to Manly and take a personalized surfing lesson (or several) with one of the guys at the Manly Surf School, an absolute Sydney institution which has been helping uncoordinated people balance on slippery waxed boards since 1963. The instructors here will boast that they can make anyone go from floppy turtle to stand up surfer in just one single lesson and, although this may not have been quite spot-on with us, we do admit to being somewhat clumsy on terra firma at the best of times, so maybe it really was our bad. Splurge on a private lesson for the best value for money experience and book your slot during low tide to make it an easy and painlessly fun experience. Next…get a dog and do it all over again.
Visit the Hunter Valley
As hard as it will be to tear yourself away from the city, do plan to spend a day out exploring the Hunter Valley, the wine-growing region north-west of Sydney. Some visitors chose to hire a car and go on a self-drive exploration and, whilst we normally would also chose this over an organized tour, the wine-tasting portion of the day will kind of be ruined by the driving requirement. To this end, book a seat on an organised wine tour of the Hunter, and let someone else worry about Sydney’s strict drink driving laws.
The Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine growing region, and home to some splendid quaint villages set among gorgeous surroundings. The guys at Boutique Tours organise small group outings, will take you to some of the best known as well as smaller family-run vineyards and ensure that their itinerary is varied enough to accommodate all tastes and desires. If you do have time up your sleeve, consider spending a night around Pokolbin and visit the charming little villages dotted along the way.
Visit the Blue Mountains
Sydney’s westerly mountain range may not be all that high, but it is most definitely very blue. The stunning hue which emanates from the evaporation of eucalyptus oil of the forest below is quite spectacular, and a sight not to be missed. Whilst there are plenty of companies which run day trips from Sydney, this is the one place we’d recommend you travel to independently. Hire a car in town, head down George St towards the M4 and take the freeway all the way past Penrith and up to Springbrook. The highlights here are the Wentworth Falls Lookout, the Echo Point Lookout (where you’ll get sweeping valley views as well as prime seats right opposite the famous Three Sisters Rock Formation), Katoomba’s Scenic World (where a cable car will take you right to the temperate rainforest at the bottom of the valley) and the pretty town of Leura, renowned for its hand-made chocolates and antique shops.
On the way back down to Sydney, don’t forget to stop by the Glenbrook entrance of the National Park. Just a kilometre or so into the park you’ll find a clearing where kangaroos and cockatoos converge every afternoon, just as the sun starts to set.
Catch a sleazy strip show at the Cross
Let’s get back to the city! Once you’ve spent a couple of days relaxing in Sydney’s premier natural escapes, it may be time to get back into the action. What better way to do that than to experience the sleaziest yet funniest corner of Sydney: King’s Cross. The city’s red light district used to be a no-go zone for goody-two-shoes up until 10 years ago, yet is now home to some rather trendy bars and cafes as well as the obligatory strip clubs. The Cross has certainly gone through some major transformations, starting off as the city mecca for theatre goers in the early 1900s before turning into the hub of all sorts of seedy organized crimes after the Second World War.
Nowadays, some of the city’s edgiest nightclubs are found here and Victoria St is now an eclectic mix of posh bars, sex shops and an infinite array of girly (and boy) bars. Stroll down here on a Saturday night and you’ll no doubt be ‘enticed’ by bouncers who would just love for you to go into their club, buy an overpriced drink or two, and watch a couple of extremely talented young ladies do all sorts of amazing things with ping pong balls.
Watch an open air film
Travel to Sydney during summer and you’ll be privy to the city’s most loved festival: the Festival of Sydney’s open air cinema. Screenings are on every night of the week in some of the most gorgeous spots around Sydney, including Centennial Park, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, Bondi and the Botanic Gardens. Coming along with a blanket, a bottle of wine and a fully stocked esky (that would be a cooler box) to watch the latest blockbuster under the stars is by far one of the most enjoyable Sydney activities of the year.
Visit the Festival’s website to book tickets and checkout all the amazing shows the city puts on during the summer months.
Blue Mountain’s Three Sisters