I’ve been living in Sydney for the past 8 months and so I’ve done a fair bit of sightseeing here. Checking out the iconic landmarks, visiting museums, going for beautiful hikes, doing a few walking tours. I’m still exploring new things every week. Sydney is an amazing city.
Even though my list of Sydney travel tips is still growing and I’m not leaving this place for another 4 months I decided to write this blog post for those of you who are planning to explore the city for a few days and need some inspiration for what to see & do.
This 4 day planning is based on my own experience. While I feel like it covers the most famous sights in Sydney there’s lots more to explore. I will also cover more in blog posts to come, so you know.. you might wanna subscribe ;)
A good place to start your first day in Sydney is the southern entrance of the Royal Botanic Gardens, close to St. James Station. Take your time to explore the park and walk up along the water to Macquarie’s Chair, from which you’ll have a good view over the Sydney Harbour. The Botanic Gardens is a great place for a picnic or simply to walk around and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
- There are free guided tours through the Botanic Gardens every day.
Exit the Botanic Gardens near the Sydney Opera House and turn right to walk around the building. Here you’ll also have a good view over the Harbour Bridge. Walk up and down the stairs in front of the Opera House and stroll along the promenade towards Circular Quay. From here it’s possible to take a ferry to different places like Manly or Darling Harbour (see day 3 & 4), watch street artists perform on the weekends or book one of the many tours.
- The Museum of Contemporary Art is located near Circular Quay and free for all visitors. They also offer free guided tours every day. While you’re there go up to the MCA café on the 4th floor for some great harbour views.
The oldest part of the city is located near Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge and is called The Rocks. This is the place to go if you want to learn all about the fascinating history of Sydney. Visit The Rocks Discovery Museum (free entry) or Susannah Place Museum (entry fee $8). My favorite way to explore The Rocks is by doing a free guided tour by I’m Free Tours. This tour starts at 6PM every day and takes you to some of the most interesting places in The Rocks, such as The Big Dig archeological site and Observatory Hill (great city views!). The best thing about the tour are the many stories about convicts, murders and bank robberies that took place in this part of town.
- If you have an hour to spare before or after exploring The Rocks, take the stairs up to the Harbour Bridge for the Sydney Harbour Bridge Walk, which is free and offers a spectacular view over the city and the Opera House. The stairs up to the bridge are located in Cumberland St. opposite Gloucester St.
Take a bus to the famous Bondi Beach and explore the beach for a while. My honest opinion? I don’t think it’s that spectacular. Sure the water is beautiful and it’s a nice walk up and down the shore. There are a few food cafe’s and some art work here and there. But compared to other beaches in Australia it’s not that special. But hey, of course everyone wants to see it when they come to Sydney! ;) Just try to avoid it during the weekends.. especially in spring and summer time.
Walk the path up some stairs to the south end of the beach near the Bondi Icebergs Pool and start The Bondi to Coogee Walk. This walk takes about 2 to 3 hours and offers some of the best coastal views in Sydney, passing the beautiful Bronte Beach and Clovelly Beach and ending the walk in Coogee. All the beaches & bays have very different characteristics which makes this walk so impressive and diverse. There’s just something about coastal walks.. especially the ones in Sydney.
From Coogee take the bus to Bondi Junction train station, from which you can take a train to Town Hall in the city center. Or take a bus straight from Coogee to Town Hall. Both will take about 30 to 40 minutes. From Town Hall it’s only a short walk to Darling Harbour.
Darling Harbour is home to some of Sydney’s most popular attractions, which in my opinion are highly overrated to say the least. Spending money to watch exploited animals living in captivity in both the Sea Life Aquarium and Sydney Wild Life Zoo is not exactly my definition of good entertainment.
I rather spend my time strolling along Cockle Bay Wharf, King Street Wharf and Darling Quarter. The last one being THE place to go if you have kids by the way. There is an amazing playground with impressive water park and even a fun carousel. Your kids will not get bored here.
Take the bus to Watson’s Bay. Make a quick stop at Dover Heights to enjoy a spectacular view over the city with the tall buildings, Opera House and Harbour Bridge in the back.
After a short stop hop back on the same bus towards Watson’s Bay and get off at the start of the Sydney Harbour National Park (Military Road). Follow the track leading up the stairs on the left and back down to Cliff Street again. Walk down Cliff Street towards Camp Cove beach which marks the start of the South Head and Hornby Lighthouse Walk. Walk this track up and down in a loop (about 1,5km) and take in the beauty of the place. The sound of the ocean hitting the big rocks, passing the point where the ocean meets the harbour. The iconic red and white Hornby Lighthouse halfway along the trail. This is one of my favorite places to go in Sydney and you’ll know why when you get there!
Walk back down Cliff Street to Watson’s Bay Wharf and take the ferry to Circular Quay. From the ferry you’ll have a great view over the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and CBD.
Hop off the ferry and take the train (or free bus 555) from Circular Quay to Town Hall. Here you’ll join a Sydney Sights Free Tour. After doing all the I’m Free tours at least once I’m still ama zed at how good these tours are, considering it’s free (except for the tip that the guides absolutely deserve at the end). The guides know a lot about the area and are very experienced and very good story tellers! The tour takes approximately 2,5 to 3 hours and there’s always a short toilet/food break.
For a spectacular end to this day walk to the iconic Sydney Tower, which is located on top of the Westfield shopping center on Pitt Street Mall and is the highest building in Sydney. There are a few different ways to go up to the Tower Eye. If you’re looking for the ultimate Sydney Tower experience you can do a Skywalk, which costs $50 if you book online (walk up price $70) and surely offers you the best views over the city. It includes a 45 minute guided tour around the outside of the building, instead of watching everything from behind the big windows. You can even look down through the glass floor viewing platform.
If, like me, you don’t want to spend $50 and rather watch everything from inside you can just go up to the Observation Deck, which costs $18,55 online (walk up price $26,50). I promise, the view is still amazing!
There’s one more way to go up the tower though that many visitors don’t know about and one that doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money (it can, but that’s totally up to you!). Up in the Tower Eye is the 360 Bar and Dining. You can go up here for free, but they expect you to spend at least $20 per person, which isn’t that much compared to the admission for the Observation Deck and considering the fact that it also gets you 1 or 2 drinks. The view is just as spectacular, with big windows everywhere and the bar slowly turning around 360 degrees.
Head over to Circular Quay and catch a ferry to Manly. The 30 minute ferry ride itself offers great views over different parts of the Sydney Harbour. Once you get to Manly cross the street and take a stroll through Manly’s famous shopping street, The Corso. This street will lead you straight to Manly beach. A beautiful beach and if you’re lucky (like I was a few weeks ago) you’ll get to see dolphins coming very close to the shore!
Walk to the right and enjoy the beautiful scenery on your way to Shelly Beach. You might even spot a few water dragons on your way there. Shelly Beach is popular with scuba divers and snorkelers. I’ve been told that it’s also the only west facing beach on the entire east coast of Australia.
Walk back passed Manly Beach and the Corso to Manly Wharf. Make sure you rest somewhere along the way. Because Manly Wharf marks the start of the 10km long Manly to Spit Bridge walk. So take a few drinks & snacks and turn right when you get to the Wharf.
The Manly to Spit Bridge walk is without a doubt my favorite coastal walk in Sydney so far. It has everything: spectacular coastal views, some bushwalking, beautiful beaches, great picnic spots. Just follow the Manly to Spit signs. The walk will take you about 4 hours, with a few steps here and there, but nothing too serious.
To be honest, the photos above don’t do the beauty of this walk enough justice. I’m planning on writing a blog post soon about this walk with better photos and a video, which I will also upload to my youtube channel.
At the end of the walk you can catch a bus from the Spit Bridge back to Wynyard Station in the city. From there it’s only a short walking distance to Circular Quay and the Opera House.
The Opera Bar is my favorite place in Sydney to meet friends, have a drink and enjoy some live music. Especially on a warm summer night, next to the water while enjoying the city lights and Opera House nearby. I would say a perfect ending to your stay in this pretty perfect city!