When you think of Sydney, you probably picture the city’s harbor — with the parabolic curves of the Sydney Opera House, the majestic arch of the Harbour Bridge, and the skyline of the Central Business District towering above it all. But there’s much more to the harbor than the picture-perfect panorama you’d recognize from postcards. In fact, it occupies over 150 miles (240 kilometers) of pristine shoreline and encompasses a massive waterfront playground complete with white-sand beaches, famous attractions, and beautiful hidden gardens. Of course, when you first arrive, you should take the obligatory snapshot of the Opera House — but once you’ve checked that off your list, read this guide to discover the other activities and attractions at Sydney Harbour waiting to be explored!
Take a stroll along the Circle Walk
Want to see it all, get your daily steps in,and keep your wallet tucked away? Then the Sydney Harbour Circle Walk is the activity for you! This circular route stretches 16 miles (26 kilometers) around the harbor — winding along the bay, through the bush, and across city streets, all while offering gorgeous views of the water and the skyline beyond. The entire path can be covered in a day, though most visitors decide to tackle it in chunks. If you’re not sure what you want to do during your stay, this is a great place to start — so take a stroll and see what catches your eye!
Escape the bustle at Sydney Harbour National Park
Australia knows how to protect its public lands. Case in point: the country has over 500 national parks! And, luckily for you, there’s one right on the harbor itself. Sydney Harbour National Park covers the islands and shorelines within the harbor’s bounds, offering plenty of opportunities for coastal walks, quick dips in the water, relaxing on the beach, and taking in the view. If you find the busy energy of the harbor a little overwhelming, take a moment to breathe in the fresh air at this national park.
Catch some offshore thrills with Ocean Extreme
Most whale-watching tours involve calm and enchanting encounters. They’re beautiful forays into open waters that allow sightseers to witness the majestic creatures as they breach through the gentle waves… but Ocean Extreme is not most whale-watching tours. There, you’re guaranteed not only to spot whales and dolphins in the harbor, but also to have adrenaline pumped emphatically through your veins. Aboard a 21-person Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) with a 300-horsepower engine and an unrestricted speed permit, you’ll zip out into the harbor to search for whales and enjoy the coastal scenery, all while doing your best to hang on! Don’t believe us? Just hear it from Will Smith.
Test your fear of heights at the BridgeClimb
Anyone can stand on the ground and take a photo of the impressive Sydney Harbour Bridge, but not everybody can say that they got to see the city from atop the iconic landmark. At BridgeClimb Sydney, that can become your reality! BridgeClimb guides you up the 1,332 steps to the “summit” of the famous bridge, which offers a breathtaking panorama of the harbor and the city beyond. Terrified of heights? Opt for the BridgeClimb sampler instead, as it brings visitors along the inner arch to a vantage point just halfway up the bridge. Either way, you’re guaranteed to be rewarded with an unforgettable experience. Just don’t look down!
Pick up a few souvenirs at the Rocks Market
Often the best way to experience the local energy and atmosphere of a city is through its open-air markets — and Sydney is no exception. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, you can meander the cobblestone streets of the Rocks Market and survey its one-of-a-kind kiosks that offer everything from artisan jewelry to local delicacies and handcrafted sculptures. More of a gourmand? Visit the Rocks from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays for the Friday Foodie Market, where you can sample a variety of local treats that are sure to satisfy your tastes. Bon appetit!
Unleash your inner child at Luna Park
Recognizable from the rosy-cheeked face that guards its entrance, Luna Park is Sydney’s very own Coney Island. In fact, this small collection of amusement park rides and attractions situated on the harborfront is named and designed after the original Luna Park, which opened on Coney Island back in its heyday in 1903. With stomach-churning names — such as the Devil’s Drop, the Tango Train, the Hair Raiser, and the Whirly Wheel — the rides at Luna Park are sure to get your heart rate up. And, when it’s time for lunch, you can eat at the Deck, a surprisingly sophisticated eatery tucked away within the park. If you can’t secure a reservation, opt for some southern-fried buttermilk chicken or sticky pork ribs from the Hungry Horse restaurant instead — but we suggest waiting until after you’ve taken a spin on the Tumble Bug.
Catch a show at Sydney Theatre Company
If you consider yourself a fan of the theatrical arts, you can’t leave the city without seeing a performance by the Sydney Theatre Company (STC). The STC is Australia’s premier drama company and offers a seasonal program that includes local productions, classical plays, and new works from around the world. Having launched the careers of some of Australia’s most well-respected actors, including Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, and Rose Byrne, the STC is known across the globe for its unparalleled commitment to the arts.
Ride in to BarCycle
Equal parts bar, café, and full-service bike shop, BarCycle is one of the hippest spots on the harbor. Conceived by ex-professional cyclist Alberto Talone, the unique shop offers both an eccentric menu and an expert-run cyclist workshop, meaning you can roll in off the harbor for a refreshment. Whether you’re looking for an order of eggs benedict, a cappuccino, a mojito, or a tune-up on your Schwinn, you’re always welcome at BarCycle!
Cover photo by Dan Freeman