Sydney has long been one of Australia’s most iconic cities and many would argue its merit as the nation’s cultural capital is thanks to instantly recognisable sights like the beautiful Sydney Opera House.
However, a trip here also means a world of possibilities outside the city limits and you’ll be hard pressed to find a region with more to offer than the area surrounding Sydney.
With genuinely unparalleled beauty in every direction, you can head up into the mountains or relax on one of the countless gorgeous beaches.
You can take river cruises and marvel at Australia’s famed wildlife or you can immerse yourself in culture on aboriginal heritage trails.
You can partake in every extreme sport imaginable or you can sample some of the finest cuisine in the country.
Sydney truly is a gateway to endless possibilities – so check out this handy guide to find out where to start.
1. Palm Beach
Famous nationwide and indeed, around the globe, for its stunning golden sand, sweeping coastal views and world-class surf, Palm Beach is an ideal and convenient city escape to unwind in the sun.
Thanks to its location on the popular Northern Beaches, the area also happens to be a hotbed of activity.
You can hire a boat to whisk you round the turquoise waters, hike around the sand dunes near the Barrenjoey Lighthouse or play a relaxing game of golf.
If you work up an appetite, there are countless places to whet your appetite, including the highly recommended Boathouse where you can indulge in the freshest of seafood.
2. Royal National Park
Boasting the title of the second oldest National Park in the world, the Royal National Park combines pristine beaches with cliff-fringe forest peppered with valleys and rivers – creating a veritable haven for nature lovers and adventurers.
If you want to push into the heathland, then hiring a canoe and heading up the Hacking River is a favourite option, or if you want to stick to the coast, you can hike the expansive cliff network.
Whether you travel with a guide on The Royal National Park Coastal Tour or you explore by yourself, the attractions are truly endless, with everything on offer from whale-watching to bushwalking to snorkelling, fishing and surfing.
3. Hunter Valley
A couple of hours away from Sydney, you’ll find not only an area of gastronomic prowess and a unanimously agreed upon foodie haven, but also a prime hiking destination popular with nature lovers.
Hunter Valley is a fertile valley famous for its fresh produce such as cheeses and oils and is full of excellent restaurants offering succulent tasting menus.
To work up your appetite however, you can embark on World Heritage-listed nature trails like Wollemi National Parks or the Hunter Valley Gardens.
Here you can find eucalyptus fields, kangaroo populations and much more.
4. Blue Mountains National Park
A beautifully surreal destination for a day trip, the Blue Mountains National Park gets its name from the blue haze that lies over the mountains as a result of the hundreds of thousands of eucalyptus plants gently releasing their scented oil into the air.
The area is a vast expanse of unspoiled wilderness, packed with gorges, hiking trails, eucalyptus forest and aboriginal rock paintings.
A guided tour will teach you all about the various flora and fauna as well as the legendary aboriginal stories whereas an unguided tour will give you the chance to explore the various attractions and breathtaking viewpoints at your own pace.
5. Manly Beach
A mere 30 minutes by ferry from Circular Quay, you’ll find the beloved beachfront suburb of Manly Beach, where the water is deep blue and feasting yourself on fish and chips is mandatory.
This coastal community offers everything you could want when it comes to classic Australian beach culture, including excellent waves to surf, beachfront shops, malls and restaurants, not to mention a gorgeous beach to bask on.
A veritable hotbed of beach activity that is irresistibly close to Sydney, you’ll be tempted to come back to Many Beach over and over again.
6. Hawkesbury River
Forming the boundary of the Ku-ring-gai National Park, the Hawkesbury River was one of the first settled rivers in Australia and to this day still has some original farms dotted along its banks.
A tour along the river will take you past various small villages and its highly recommended to explore the towns of Richmond or Windsor to explore their markets, galleries, listed buildings and rich histories.
7. Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Incredibly, less than an hour away from Sydney lies one of the Australia’s most historically significant national parks, on account of its Aboriginal heritage.
The deep-rooted cultural roots here can be experienced as you trek through the bush on the Aboriginal Heritage Walk where you’ll discover ancient rock paintings, engravings and handprints at numerous indigenous sites.
As well as this, the area is without a doubt, stunningly beautiful and you can soak up the panoramic views from places like West Head Lookout.
8. Port Stephens
Home to more than 20 beaches, Port Stephens Bay is a marine playground twice the size of Sydney Harbour, comprising of an enormous stretch of golden sands and bushy coastline.
Whether you want to swim with dolphins, go on a whale-watching cruise, snorkel or partake in watersports, it’s all possible thanks to the Great Lakes Marine Park that resides in the Port Stephens area.
If you’re looking for photo opportunities, then head up to one of the famed viewpoints such as Gan Gan Lookout or Tomaree Headland lookout where you’ll be rewarded with incredible panoramic views off the beautiful coastline.
Beloved capital of the nation and filled to the brim with cultural attractions, Canberra is a meticulously designed city with quirky aesthetics in mind and countless activities to keep you entertained.
From fantastic museums, galleries and gardens, Canberra exhibits all the characteristics of a popular and prospering capital.
You can actually view its deliberate design from the summit of Mount Ainslie, where you’ll notice the geometric array of colorful parkland fanning out from Lake Burley Griffin at the center.
At three hours from Sydney, an overnight stay might be in order but it’s also a wonderful place just to spend the day.
10. The Southern Highlands
A vast area containing a great many popular destinations, The Southern Highlands are known for their incomparable beauty full of spectacular waterfalls, gorges swathed in lush green rainforests and valleys teeming with native Australian wildlife.
In fact, this is one of the area’s highlights as you can find everything from kangaroos to wombats to platypuses and possums here.
A great way to truly appreciate the breathtaking majesty of the area is to head up to Morton National Park, which contains some of the region’s best lookout points.
11. Tobruk Sheep Station
One for either sheep lovers or those looking to get a rare insight into traditional rural Aussie culture, Tobruk Sheep Station is located in the picturesque Hawkesbury River Valley and once you arrive, you’ll be treated to a day filled with boomerang throwing, sheep-shearing and herding and a host of other activities that demonstrate the life of an Australian ranch hand.
Ideal for families, you can also enjoy an Australian barbecue and learn how to bake traditional bread over a crackling fire.
12. Kangaroo Valley
Though kangaroos can be found here, the name is a slight misnomer owing to the fact that the highlight of this region a couple of hours south of Sydney isn’t in fact kangaroos, but the rich gastronomic culture that exists here.
From wine tasting at the Yarrawa Estate Winery to the Flavours of the Valley Foodie Trail where you can sample or learn gourmet cooking, the fertile lands perfectly lend themselves to a number of mouthwatering experiences.
For something a little more active, you can also kayak down Kangaroo River or embark on a horseback ride through rainforests and open plains.
The verdant green coastal cliffs of Kiama provide the perfect place to escape from the city for a few hours and provide a wonderfully picturesque backdrop to the many rocky shores, private beaches and rivers below.
Though you can keep yourself entertained wandering around this beautiful region, you can also partake in a number of activities like kayaking tours, outdoor rock climbing and dolphin watching cruises.
One of the highlights of the area however, is the Kiama Blowhole, which creates a majestic fountain of water propelled out of a blowhole in the side of the cliff.
14. Mermaid Pools
The Mermaid Pools are a series of idyllic pools and springs fed by rivers from the Tahmoor Gorge deep in the Australian bush.
Reaching them is an adventure in itself as you need to navigate steep rocky platforms and steps to get there, but it’s well worth the effort once you arrive.
An undisputed highlight is the stop at The See Through Pools which are ideal for swimming in due to the clarity of the water and the unobstructed views of the underwater rock formations.
15. Stanwell Park
Most famously known for being the location of the first box kite flight, Stanwell Park is now a hotbed of paragliding and hang gliding activity, concentrated around Bald Hill.
It’s a wonderful place to spend the day and enjoy lunch outdoors while watching the various aeronautical enthusiasts float around.
The moderately light hike along the Wodi Wodi walking track is also an ideal option for those looking to enjoy some coastal views and if you’re tempted, you can also make your way down to one of the golden beaches for a swim.