Sydney is Australia’s answer to New York: a cosmopolitan a hive of activity, which never sleeps, but also boasts gorgeous beaches, fantastic weather and mild winters. Sydney has over 4 million residents, making it Australia’s largest city, and is also the most touristed destination in the country, attracting over 32 million visitors per year.
The city is very multicultural, so the food on offer is delicious, and it’s also a fantastic shopping destination. The various suburbs have very different atmospheres, so you’ll find something for everyone in this tourist paradise.
Lets explore the best things to do in Sydney:
1. See a show at the Opera House
The Opera House may be the first thing to come to mind when you think about Sydney, or indeed Australia.
The world-heritage listed building is stunning in person, and it is illuminated beautifully at night.
There’s always plenty of events and shows going on in the Opera House and the surrounding area, and you can also tour the opera house or enjoy a tasty meal inside the premises.
Recommended tour: The Sydney Opera House Tour
2. Stroll Darling Harbour
The Darling Harbour is a popular recreational complex adjacent to Sydney’s city centre, with breathtaking river views and plenty to keep you well-fed and entertained.
There’s a massive variety of attractions in the Harbour, but some favorites include the serene Chinese Garden of Friendship and its lovely teahouse, the Carousel, the National Maritime Museum, and the beautiful Dockside Pavilion.
There’s also a vibrant nightlife scene in the harbour, the excellent Harbourside Shopping Centre (including laser tag), an aquarium, a Madam Tussauds and much more.
It’s best to dedicate at least a day to the Harbour to see as much as possible of this Sydney icon.
3. Get a local perspective with a free walking tour
The “I’m Free” walking tours are a great way to get to know Sydney.
Guided by passionate volunteering locals who want to share their love of the city with you, they’re a wonderful way to get a deeper understanding of the sights that you’re seeing and the history and meaning behind them.
There’s 3 tours per day, and what you’ll learn on the tour makes for a great starting point from which to explore the city.
4. Visit the iconic Paddy’s Markets
These markets have been a Sydney institution for over 150 years.
Paddy’s is the biggest market in Sydney, with over 1,000 stalls between the Haymarket and Flemington locations.
You’ll find very reasonably priced souvenirs, bric-a-brac and general fun items, as well as a great atmosphere and tasty food.
5. Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach is one of Australia’s most famous beaches, and a popular hangout for Sydney’s beautiful people, as well as local and international celebrities.
It’s always busy here, but usually not too busy, and the atmosphere is exciting.
The surrounding suburb has some great retail and dining options.
Bondi Beach is on the Australian Heritage List, and is also noteworthy for holding the Guinness World Record for the largest swimsuit photo shoot, with 1010 bikini-clad women taking part.
6. Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge
This iconic bridge is another of the most well-known symbols of Sydney, and is one of the world’s few climbable bridges.
You’ll be prepared with health and safety essentials, and any weather-appropriate gear that you’ll need for the climb, and venture out on your climbing adventure with a group of other climbers and an experienced Climb Leader.
The view during the climb is exceptional, and it’s a truly different way of experiencing the bridge! You’ll find more information here.
7. Have dinner at Circular Quay
Circular Quay is known for its excellent gourmet dining options, and the views of the crystal-blue Sydney Harbour waters are truly stunning.
Some particularly delicious options include ARIA, the Sydney Cove Oyster Bar, Yayoi Garden and Tapavino; there’s also budget options such as Banh You Vietnamese Street Food, burgers at City Extra or the weekly meal deals at the Ship Inn.
8. Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens were established in 1816, making them the oldest botanic gardens in Australia, as well as the oldest scientific institution.
They recently celebrated their 200th birthday with a series of popular commemorative events throughout the year.
Various guided and self-guided tours are available, and the Choo Choo express offers a quick, scenic way to get around the gardens.
You’ll learn many interesting facts about Australian botanical history, as well as being able to enjoy plenty of gorgeous plant-life! The Royal Botanic Gardens are only a few minutes’ walk from the Sydney CBD and the Opera House, and are one of Sydney’s most touristed attractions with over 5 million visitors per year.
9. Enjoy a touch of Australiana with a Home and Away tour
One of Australia’s most best-loved exports, Home and Away is a TV soap opera that has been running since 1988, making it the second-longest drama series in Australian TV history; you can catch it on Channel 7 at 7pm from Monday to Thursday, for 45 weeks of the year.
The show is sold to 80 countries worldwide, and is particularly loved in the United Kingdom.
Home and Away is set in the fictional Summer Bay, and filmed largely in Palm Beach; fans of the show will recognize many of the sights of Summer Bay, and you may even be there while filming is being done! Palm Beach boasts stunning scenery – clear-blue waters and pristine white beaches – so it’s also a lovely spot to relax and rejuvenate.
Recommended tour: Official Home and Away Tour to Summer Bay
10. Get an adrenaline rush at Luna Park
Luna Park is worth visiting for the so-kitsch-it’s-cool entrance alone; it makes a hilarious photo backdrop.
If you’re into amusement park rides, you’ll have a great time here: the Wild Mouse is perfect for that terrifying-yet-awesome rollercoaster thrill.
On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for a romantic dinner, then Luna Park is perfect too – you can actually enjoy first-class dining inside a ferris wheel carriage on Sundays.
There’s also a Coney Island area, inspired by the actual Coney Island in the US: it’s an old-school funhouse with sideshow games, a mirror maze, and traditional retro fun.
Skip-the-Line ticket available: Luna Park Sydney: Unlimited Rides Pass
11. Visit the picturesque seaside town of Manly
Manly is a relaxed beachside suburb, a short (and gorgeous!) ferry ride away from Sydney’s city centre.
It’s extremely popular with locals and tourists alike – a whopping 8 million visitors per year! – and it’s ideal for beach and water activities such as beach volleyball, running, kayaking, scuba and surfing.
Manly also boasts excellent al fresco dining options, a lovely museum, a sea life sanctuary, and even a shark-diving experience! Various guided walking tours by knowledgeable locals are also available.
Available tour: Snorkel Tour at Manly, North Sydney
12. Take a cruise or ferry around the lovely Circular Quay and Darling Harbour
Cruising past the opera house and enjoying the stunning views of the water is a wonderful way to relax after a long day of pounding the pavement.
There’s various sightseeing cruises available, many of which are catered, but if you’re on a budget, you can enjoy the same views at a much cheaper price via public transport: a trip from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour is under $4.
13. Go museum-hopping
As you’d expect from Australia’s largest city, Sydney is home to some world-class museums that offer a fascinating insight into the city’s past, present and future, as well as interesting collections from all over the world.
The Australian Museum has a great natural history collection – get up close with all of Australia’s scariest nasties, but without the whole risk-of-death thing.
The Powerhouse Museum has a focus on science, design, innovation and technology, and the fun exhibits range from steam-engines, to life in the 80s, to an awesome dancing robot that will fight for its right to party.
The Hyde Park Barracks Museum are a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site that provide an oft-depressing step back into history, having previously been first a convict barracks and then an asylum for women.
It’s a reminder of a cruel way of life that would be considered terrible by today’s standards; but it’s also wonderfully refreshing and full of hope when you consider how far we’ve come.
14. Check out Sydney’s famous nightlife
Sydney is known as one of the southern hemisphere’s best destinations for nightlife, and for good reason.
In particular, Oxford Street (the centre of Sydney’s gay area) has many popular venues that cater for gay, straight and mixed crowds; some popular venues elsewhere include Chinese Laundry and Home. (There’s also plenty of bars and clubs in Kings Cross, but the area can be very seedy at night, so it may be best avoided.)
15. Go sports-mad at the SCG
Sydney loves its sports, and you’ll notice how passionate the locals are about their favorite teams.
The SCG is the place to catch a game with your new Sydney-sider friends: there’s something going on most weekends, and the venue plays host to a wide variety of sports including cricket, rugby and AFL. Even if you’re not into sports, it’s fun to breathe in the palpable excitement at a game, and you may even want to buy some souvenirs for your sporty friends back home.
16. Get in touch with nature at Garigal National Park
Garigal is a protected national park in the North Shore region of Sydney.
Only 20km from the CBD, it’s a gorgeous oasis just a short trip away from the hustle and bustle, and it’s a popular weekend getaway for locals.
The national park is huge, at 2202 hectares, and the park trails are very popular with walkers, hikers and cyclists; the Cascades are particularly lovely.
You’ll find exquisite scenery here, as well as interesting local flora and fauna; there’s also 100 ancient Aboriginal sites recorded within the park, including cave art and rock engravings.
17. Combine bar-hopping with history on the Sydney Historic Pub Crawl
Pubs have played an important part in Sydney’s culture since the early days of European settlement. The 4-hour historic pub crawl will take you to four of the oldest pubs in the city, as you learn about the sometimes-seedy, always fascinating history of the area: gang life, brothels, unsolved murders and more.
Sydney is a city that is rich in stories, and the pub crawl is a great way to get familiar with some of the stories from the underbelly of society.
Book online: Sydney Historic Pub Crawl Walking Tour
18. Get close to koalas, giraffes, penguins and owls at Taronga Zoo
Taronga Zoo is a short ferry away from Sydney’s city centre, but it feels like a different world.
This well-kept zoo is home to a diverse range of animals, and is passionate about conservation, sustainability and public education.
There’s also a sky-high ropes adventure course, offering gorgeous views of Sydney Harbour.
It’s quite a large zoo, but the zoo train and the Sky Safari will help you get around in comfort.
It’s also possible to sleep the night at the zoo in safari-style tents.
Book online: Taronga Zoo Tickets
19. Go on a spooky ghost tour
Another side of Sydney that people don’t often come into contact with (literally or figuratively!), a ghost tour is a great way to learn about the spooky bits of Sydney, which was originally founded as a convict colony.
Several different companies offer ghost tours, where you’ll hear true stories of murders, suicides, hangings and more.
One of these tours is of Quarantine Station, a location which was used to isolate people believed to be carrying contagious diseases.
It is believed to be one of Australia’s most haunted sites, and tour options include an “extreme ghost tour” working with real paranormal investigators.
Recommended tour: Haunted Sydney Ghost Tour
20. Get nostalgic at the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace
The Hayden Orpheum is a gorgeous little piece of cinema history, and a window into the picture theatres of your grandparents’ era.
This cinema has been operating since 1935, and you can catch the latest flicks in plush 30s luxury.
The retro neon signs out the front are also a blast from the past, and a cute photo backdrop to boot.
Some movie sessions even start with a theatre organ being played; while these were very commonplace in the era of silent film, very few are still playing in cinemas today, so it’s quite a unique, enchanting experience.
The Picture Palace sometimes hosts themed movie nights, so it’s worth taking a look at their website to see if there’s something special on.
21. Step back in time at Elizabeth Farm
Elizabeth Farm is Australia’s oldest homestead, set in the grounds of a re-created 1830s garden.
It is an ‘access all areas’ living museum, with no barriers or locked doors: it truly feels like walking around a home in the early 19th century.
Elizabeth Farm is an interesting insight into the lives of early European settlers through the story of the MacArthur family which inhabited the home.
Various tours are available, including a tour by candlelight, and a family tour.
There is also a tearoom on site, where you can enjoy Devonshire tea.
22. Enjoy a beautiful panoramic view from the top of Sydney Tower
The Sydney Tower Eye is the highest point in Sydney, from which you can see 360-degree panoramic views.
It’s lovely both during the day and in the evening; it’s particularly worth coming shortly before sunset so that you can enjoy the daytime and the night-time views, but there’s never really a time when it’s not a wonderful sight.
The Tower is open every day of the year, and you can also sign up for a SKYWALK tour of the outer perimeter.
Tip: this is included in the Ultimate Sydney Pass
23. Taste the freshest catch of the day at Sydney Fish Market
Australia is known for its delicious seafood, and the Sydney Fish Market is a great place to find exceptional quality.
As well as a delight for your tastebuds, it’s also got a great atmosphere, and behind-the-scenes tours are available.
There are several cafes and restaurants onsite, as well as a sushi bar and a Chinese seafood restaurant specializing in yum cha.
24. Visit The Rocks
The Rocks is the first site of European settlement in Australia, and is rich in history; it was particularly important first as a convict site and then as a working-class part of town.
It’s also home to Cadman’s Cottage, the oldest residential house in Sydney.
The Rocks is also well-known for its markets, cobblestoned laneways, and the stunning views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
You’ll find several excellent art galleries in this area, and great dining options.
25. Check out Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island is an island located in the middle of Sydney Harbour, easily accessible by ferry.
Parts of the island have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, as one of 11 historical sites that form the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property.
The Australian Convict Sites are the best surviving evidence of the convict transportation and forced labour used to build Australia as a European colony.
The convict precinct of Cockatoo Island is a sometimes shocking testament to the appalling cruelties of convict life.
The island also has a fascinating maritime history, which continued until 1979, and was used as a reform school.
As well as being historically fascinating, the island is also gorgeous, and a popular camping spot.
There’s also a giant chess board outside the Visitor’s Centre.