I realised recently that I’ve blathered on about Sydney a fair bit but never written about what it is I like to do there. So I’m going to address that today. Without further ado, here are the top 10 activities in Sydney that I’d recommend to a friend.
Sidenote: I apologise that a lot of these photos look like they were taken on a potato. That’s because they were. A lot of these photos were taken on my early trip(s) to Sydney, back when we all did touristy activities together and I had an awful camera. Nowadays when I visit I just hang out in my sister’s house and play with my niece and nephew 🙂
Visit Taronga Zoo
Taronga Zoo is one of Sydney’s top attractions, and it’s easy to see why. The zoo is well laid out, with stunning views of the water, Harbour Bridge and Opera House, and crucially has a strong emphasis on conservation. It’s a great day out with loads on throughout the day, a play area for children, and a wide variety of animals to see.
Getting there is pretty easy; you can catch a dedicated ferry from Circular Quay, or there are buses if you’re already on the North Shore. I’m not going to pretend this is a cheap activity; tickets to the zoo go for $46 per adult on the gate (slightly less if you book online) so it’s not something to do if you’re not that fussed about animals. To minimise your expenditure, and particularly if you have dietary requirements (they’re not hugely well catered for), I’d recommend bringing your own picnic. There’s a great covered picnic area that you can use, just be prepared to fend off the overly keen birds.
I’d recommend catching the cable car which is included in the price of your ticket and heaps of fun, and if there’s one thing you take away from this, go and see the bird show. Just trust me.
Chocolate by the Bald Man aka Max Brenner is a chocolate shop. That’s all you need to know.
My personal favourite is the chocolate lick; maximum chocolate hit for minimum cost, plus it’s gluten free. If you can splurge, do. It’s worth it!
Me and my chocolate lick at Manly ferry wharf. What can I say, chocolate makes me happy.
Walk past the Opera House and through the Botanic Gardens
I’m counting this as one activity because I always do them together. If you make your way to Circular Quay (most things start from there, so it seems) you can walk around to the Opera House, taking in the sights as you go.
Circular quay is in the foreground, I’m guessing you can spot the Opera House, and the Botanic Gardens are at the back to the right.
Once you’ve snapped as many selfies as you can stomach, off you go around to the Botanic Gardens which are just next door. I have a particular soft spot for the Botanic Gardens having got engaged there, but everyone else I know loves them too.
You can do a short walk or a long walk, take one of the free guided walks that are offered throughout the day, or just sit and have a picnic whilst enjoying uninterrupted views over the water to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. It’s just a gorgeous place.
Take the ferry to Manly
The Manly Ferry is the cheat’s boat tour of Sydney. You’ll see all the sights for a fraction of the cost of a guided tour. The trip takes about half an hour on the old school boats, or you can go on the speedy catamarans (but I don’t think the trip is as enjoyable).
Once you get to Manly you can enjoy both harbour and ocean beaches, visit the small aquarium or the markets, and enjoy all the great food and drink options they have along the esplanade. You can also visit the Max Brenner located in the ferry wharf and tick two items off at the same time 🙂
Visit the Blue Mountains
A visit to the Blue Mountains can be done in a day, especially if you’ve hired a car. It’s about a 2 hour drive, or if you opt for public transport it’s upwards of 2h 15 by train from Central Station.
There are a few towns in the Blue Mountains worth visiting; most people head to Katoomba to see the iconic Three Sisters rock formation from the lookout there. At the lookout there’s also a vertical train which is quite fun, and some boardwalks around the bush.
Two of my sisters may well kill me for posting this (to be fair, it’s not like I look smashing myself). The other one will have a good laugh. Here are three sisters, posing in front of the three sisters. Chortle, chortle.
I’d also recommend the Everglades Historic House and Gardens, which are beautiful even in the winter with gorgeous vistas out over the mountains and cute fountains to enjoy.
I hear the Jenolan caves are great, too. I have also heard that the little mountain towns make for a fantastic romantic break destination, with all sorts of beautiful hotels with stunning views available. That’s not something I’ve done so I can’t comment, but to be honest it sounds fabulous.
Take a trip to Palm Beach
I have always loved Palm Beach, ever since I went there as an awkward 10 year old and an ever so slightly less awkward teen. It started off because of Home and Away, let’s be real, but soon became a love in its own right because it’s just such a beautiful beach.
If you can, take a short drive up to the Bible Gardens. There you’ll find the most breathtaking view out over Palm Beach, and a beautiful garden space in which to sit and contemplate.
I’d also recommend walking up to Barrenjoey lighthouse, which you can see perched up on the top of Barrenjoey head in both photos above.
It’s not the easiest walk so you’ll need sturdy shoes, but the views at the top are definitely worth it.
Go to the Art Gallery of New South Wales
The Museum of Sydney is good too, but quite a bit smaller. I also enjoyed the Justice & Police Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and the Sydney Jewish Museum which I think is a particular hidden gem. I’m keen to visit the Australian Museum post refurbishment, too. As you can tell, I like museums.
However, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is my favourite. It’s located in The Domain, which is right next to the Botanic Gardens so you could move seamlessly from one to the other. It’s got a good collection of works ranging from those done by early settlers to traditional Aboriginal art. If you’re expecting the Tate you’ll be disappointed, but to me this gallery is all about the stories behind the works. To find out about these stories I’d recommend the free guided tours; check their website for details. They’re extremely informative and you can go on as many as you like, which I may or may not have done.
Tour the Hunter Valley
If you like wine, you’ll love this. A bus will pick you up at some ungodly hour from your hotel and drive you to a selection of vineyards in the Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s famous wine producing regions. You can mix in a stop at a chocolate shop or some gardens if that’s more your thing, before being bussed back to your hotel. It’s a great way to sample a variety of wines and get to see some of the countryside outside the city. Also you don’t have to worry about driving.
Top tip – if breakfast doesn’t go well for you at stupid o’clock in the morning, make sure you pack snacks. Drinking on an empty stomach and then sitting in a minibus for a few hours will probably go as badly as you’d think it would.
I think you can tell what kind of a state we’re all in here. Including the photographer. Again, sorry family…
Alternatively, I hear there are some great B&Bs in the area if you wanted to make a mini-break out of it…
Have a cocktail on top of
Centrepoint Westfield Tower
Being up high is cool. I don’t know why, it just is. The renamed Westfield Tower has a revolving bar and restaurant at the top that gives you a fabulous view of the skyline at any time of day, although personally I think getting your party frock on and sipping a drink of your choice whilst the twinkly lights gradually go past is a pretty great way to do it.
If you want to splash out on dinner, go for it, but I think the best views are actually from the bar area.
Bondi to Coogee walk
Ok so I have to admit to only having done half of this walk myself. However, I very much enjoyed the half that I did do. The walk is so famous it even has its own website, so for more details head here. Essentially, it’s a beautiful 6km coastal walk which you can do in sections if that suits you better. I’ve just spotted that some sections have suffered storm damage and are closed at the moment, so check on that before you set off. You’ll need good shoes, plenty of sunscreen and water, no matter what time of year you go.
So those are my top 10 activities in Sydney . Have you been before? Do you live there? What would you add?
And because this seems to be something I do now, I’m going to share three things I’d skip. This may be controversial. Hold on to your hats and feel free to disagree with me in the comments…
Skip It: The Rocks
The Rocks is usually found on most visitors itineraries, as it’s the oldest part of Sydney. However, if you come from anywhere with history that goes back further than 200 years, I think you’ll be disappointed by the ‘historic district’. It’s all actually fairly new.
The Rocks from above – it’s the area in between the Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay. It’s pretty enough for a wander around, but unfortunately you’ll mostly find expensive souvenir shops and tourist friendly restaurants. If that’s for you then great, but it’s not really for me.
Skip It: Bondi Beach
There are better beaches in Sydney, I’m just putting it out there. Unless you’re doing the Bondi to Coogee walk, this is one place I’d skip.
It’s quite far and relatively difficult to get to from the centre of Sydney, and the suburb of Bondi isn’t actually that nice. If you’re looking for a great beach, I’d recommend a day trip to Manly instead.
Sydney Aquarium SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium
I love animals. I’m a big fan of conservation, having studied it at university. What I do not love is animals of any kind being used to make a profit. SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium is owned by Merlin Entertainments, a for-profit company. Whereas Taronga Zoo will use all its profit to fund its conservation efforts, the aquarium uses only some of its profits for conservation efforts. The rest is just corporate profit. I don’t mean to get all Blackfish on you, but something about that makes me uncomfortable. I have to admit I did visit way back in the day, and it was quite cool to walk through the underwater tunnel and see sharks having a rest directly above you, but unless a place spends its profit on conservation and focuses on indigenous wildlife, I’m not interested in spending my money there. That’s just me.
Let me know what you think – which would you do, which would you skip?
I’m away traversing North America at the moment, so apologies if I’m slow to respond to comments!