With an impressive harbour and glittering coastline, even upon first impression, Sydney is pretty brilliant. Delve further into the city, and you’ll find yourself in a destination that hosts a wealth of outdoor activities, diverse art, music and a food scene that rivals any other global city.
While, naturally, the city comes with its own list of touristy must-do’s, there’s also so much more on offer for those willing to venture off the beaten path. So, where exactly should you venture to on your first time in Sydney? Below, we’ve put together a list of the top ten things to do when you travel to Sydney – a humble list of suggested activities, but also enough to ensure that you’ll be planning follow up adventures not long after your return home.
Marvel at the Sydney Opera House
It might sound cliche, but one simply does not travel to Sydney without making a visit to the iconic Sydney Opera House.
Famous for its white-sailed roof, the well-known Australian architectural icon, which was designed by Jorn Utzon and opened to the public in 1973 (after a 15-year build), is well worth visiting. There are daily guided tours available for $42AUD, which are well worth the cost, as it gives you a whole new appreciation for just how challenging the structure was to design and erect.
If you don’t quite have the time to fit in a guided tour, you’ll be sure to catch glimpses of the Opera House from around the city; or if you’re really lucky, you might even catch a glimpse from the plane as it comes in to land. Failing that, one of our favourite Sydney travel tips and city pastimes is to enjoy a glass of chilled Australian bubbles at the outdoor Opera Bar as the sun sets and the harbour waters lap up alongside the dock – bliss!
You can get a real ‘behind-the-scenes’ experience of the Sydney Opera House on a privately guided tour with a Local Specialist when you travel with Trafalgar on the Australian Highlights Tour.
Uncover Sydney’s History in the City’s Oldest Area; The Rocks
Filled with quaint narrow lanes, colonial buildings, sandstone churches and some of the country’s oldest pubs, The Rocks is Sydney’s oldest neighbourhood and was the first to be settled following the arrival of the First Fleet in Australia in 1788.
Amongst some of the many activities on offer in this area, these are some that you must do during your first time in Sydney:
- Trace the steps of history at The Rocks Discovery Museum, which is brimming with artefacts and interactive exhibits.
- Step back in time while visiting Susannah Place, four preserved terraced houses that were built by Irish immigrants in the 1840s; and, Cadman’s Cottage, Sydney’s oldest surviving residential building that was constructed way back in 1816.
- Grab a bargain at the weekend at The Rocks Markets. Every Saturday and Sunday between 10am and 5pm, the quaint, charming cobblestone laneways come to life as the streets become filled with market stalls. Here, you can find local fashion, handcrafted jewellery, independent artists, artisans and food stands, plus, if you head down to The Rocks on a Friday evening, you can enjoy the tastes and smells of the food market.
Hit The Beach!
Sydney is synonymous with beaches and surfing, so it’s only natural that you spend some time enjoying what’s on offer; whether that be learning to surf, or sunbathing! The city is home to more than 100 beaches, so there’s definitely no shortage of choices available either.
From Palm Beach (where the popular Aussie soap drama Home and Away is filmed) and Manly in the north, to the famous Bondi and Coogee towards the south, you’ll feel like a local in no time as you learn to navigate the waves. Thankfully, all of the beaches are easy to get to using public transportation, and there are several restaurants and surf stores that line them all. Really, you’ll be struggling to find excuses as to why you’d ever need to leave!
Meet with Bondi Beach local surf lifesavers and gain insights into surf lifesaving and the history of Bondi on the Contrasts of Australia Tour with Trafalgar.
Take the Ferry to Manly
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and embark on the short trip to Manly, a small suburb in the northern part of Sydney, famous for its wide beach, big surf waves and lively nightlife.
Getting to Manly is easy too – from Circular Quay, it’s a 30-minute ferry ride that offers some of the best views of the harbour and surrounding areas, including the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
Walk the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Like the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of those Sydney landmarks that you just need to see in person. Opened to the public in 1932, the bridge was a government employment project during the Great Depression. The project took almost 10 years to complete, and at the time of opening, it was the world’s largest steel arch bridge.
There are a number of ways in which you can enjoy this impressive landmark, including embarking on a simple stroll over the bridge, kayaking, sailing or ferrying the calm waters beneath it, or, for the real adrenaline junkies, you can climb up the bridge on a bridge climb tour.
Escape to the Blue Mountains
Taking around two hours to reach (via car or train) from Sydney, The Blue Mountains is home to some of Australia’s most stunning natural attractions, Aboriginal rock art and charming country villages.
If you’re a lover of the outdoors, you’ll fall head over heels for this area, where you can expect to be enchanted by the surrounding natural beauty as you set foot to explore one of the many walking tracks that loop around the verdant valleys, craggy cliffs and sandstone ridges blanketed by native bushland. Or, for after-dark adventures, head to the Jenolan Caves, where you spot glow worms underground, or indulge in a luxurious wilderness retreat.
It doesn’t matter the weather; the outlook could be cloudy and shrouded by clouds, or glimmering sunsets, one thing that is for sure is that the endless blue haze vistas of the Blue Mountains will never cease to take your breath away.
Enjoy wine tastings at the Hunter Valley
165km north of Sydney is the beautiful Hunter Valley, home to a number of world-famous wineries, delicious gourmet restaurants and tranquil country towns. Easy to get to from Sydney (cars, buses, trains and even planes are options), then once you’re there, you’ll be picked up and dropped off at your accommodation by wine tour buses.
It goes without saying, when you visit the Hunter, you must make your way around the various wineries, enjoying the sips on offer, as well as the locally made cheeses to accompany your beverage. Then, when the time comes to satiate your appetite (wine tasting is hungry work, right?), you’re spoiled for choice with several multi-award-winning dining options.
Or, if you’re opting for an experience a little more special, take to the skies for a sunrise hot air balloon over the rolling hills of vineyards, followed by a delicious champagne breakfast.
Discover the Museums
Similar to any major city, Sydney is home to a wide variety of museums and galleries. Here, you’ll find an array of art museums, history museums, galleries, museums of the strange and everything in between.
Few amongst many, here are some of our favourite galleries and museums, perfect for travellers’ first time in Sydney:
- Hyde Park Barracks
- Art Gallery of New South Wales
- Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
- Australian National Maritime Museum
- White Rabbit Gallery
- The Rocks Discovery Museum
- Australian Museum
- Powerhouse Museum
- Sydney Jewish Museum
Enjoy the Great Outdoors on a Coastal Walk
If you’re an avid photographer or keen hiker, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to wander along one of Sydney’s many coastal walks. Meandering across clifftop paths, past stunning sands, bays, rugged rocks and tide pools, pursuing a coastal walk adventure is a great way to take in the natural, breathtaking beauty of Sydney and its surrounds.
Many people choose to follow the 2-hour Bondi to Coogee track, so we’d advise to avoid this walk on weekends. Otherwise, some favourites include:
- Spit-to-Manly walk
- Rose Bay to Watson’s Bay
- Jibbon Beach Loop Track
- Chowder Bay to Balmoral Beach
Take Your Tastebuds on a Culinary Adventure
While Melbourne may get a lot of the culinary accolades in Australia, Sydney also has an impressive culinary scene too. For gastronomy enthusiasts, Sydney is home to some fine-dining favourites including Quay, Rockpool, Sepia and The Bridge Room.
However, if fine dining isn’t your style, there are also countless amounts of brilliant dining options all throughout the city that cater to all palates and budgets. Very difficult to narrow down, but here are some favourites:
- Red Lantern (Vietnamese)
- Tetsuya’s (Japanese French Fusion)
- Glass (Brasserie)
- Moo Gourmet Burgers
- Infinity at Sydney Tower
Have you travelled Down Under and explored the city of Sydney? Or, are you hoping to visit Sydney soon in the future? Let us know in the comments! Or, visit our website to learn more about how you can travel to Sydney with Trafalgar.