Sensational Sydney: The Best Things to Do Down Under
Known for its iconic Opera House and dazzling harbor, Sydney has much more to offer if you know where to look. | By Keith Austin | February 22, 2023
Like many Australians, Sydneysiders (a native or inhabitant of Sydney) make the most of their days off, whether going for a dip at one of the city’s many beaches, meeting friends for a cafe brunch or playing a sport. Here are our suggestions for the best things to do while staying in Sydney:
High and mighty: Climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for a bird’s-eye view of the city
Rock role: Visit Circular Quay — a Sydney travel hub for trains, buses and ubiquitous ferry rides
The new wave: Surfing is a way of life in Sydney so join in the fun by taking some surf lessons
Life's a beach
Iconic Bondi Beach is just a 15-minute drive from the city’s Central Business District (CBD) and well-serviced by public transport. More than just a broad crescent of pristine sand, it’s a laidback village full of cafes, casual restaurants and surf shops.
If the open ocean isn’t your thing, head to tranquil Cloey, short for Clovelly, where the beach itself is a smidgen of sand at one end (as well as a saltwater pool) and the ocean is prevented from full access by a tumble of rock at the other.
Want to avoid the tourist influx? Five miles (8 kilometers) south of Bondi Beach is the beachside suburb of Maroubra, which boasts 2/3 of a mile (1 kilometer) of golden sand right by Malabar Headland National Park. Stop by the beach promenade for a quick bite and some retail therapy.
Getting out and about
The 3.7-mile (6-kilometer) walk along the clifftops between Bondi and Coogee beaches (Coogee is very family-friendly) is a great way to get the lay of the land without getting your feet wet.
For the more adventurous traveler, the 50-mile (80-kilometer) self-guided Bondi to Manly hike covers the entire jigsaw-like Sydney Harbour foreshore, ending at the surf haven of Manly Beach. Two-, three-, four-, five- and seven-day itineraries are available, depending on your time, fitness level and hiking enthusiasm.
If you prefer to get your steps in while browsing the local shops, then Sydney is your dream destination. There are plenty of small local markets in the city that sell arts and crafts, second-hand goods or local produce (in the Glebe, Bondi and Paddington areas, among others), but the five-story Queen Victoria Building in the CBD, listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register, takes the cake for architectural beauty and history. Finished in 1898, this Romanesque Revival building is a shopping and dining mecca.
Where Sydney eats and drinks
This is a city that punches above its weight when it comes to cuisine. Bennelong, Quay and Aria all overlook the harbor and are consistently voted among the best restaurants in Sydney. These three, though, are simply the hardy perennials of a restaurant scene that keeps changing, innovating and reinventing itself — and they all have epic views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to boot.
Head to the Inner West to experience where Sydney really comes alive at night. Whether it’s a pub and brewery crawl, dinner in a funky bistro or live music in a grungy hotel, this is where the locals party. Newtown, a diverse bohemian neighborhood, is one of the best-known night spots but Marrickville has been knocking it out of the park in recent years with multicultural restaurants, popular craft breweries and a thriving arts and music scene.
Consistently voted one of the funkiest new neighborhoods in the world, former working-class Marrickville is home to the tiny but hip music venue the Gasoline Pony and the hole-in-the-wall Alex ‘n’ Rolls, an unassuming Vietnamese cafe that offers possibly the best banh mi (a short French-style baguette sandwich) in Sydney.
For excellent food with the bonus of a beach view, head to the Icebergs Dining Room and Bar at the Bondi Icebergs Swimming Club. Savor the showstopping panorama across Bondi Beach, especially at sunset.
See the sights
New York has Central Park while Sydney has Centennial Park and the Royal Botanic Garden. Centennial Park is popular with families, cyclists, horse riders and local sports teams. Meanwhile, the Royal Botanic Garden, down toward the harbor, is famous for exotic plants and flowers.
While in the area, take a stroll to the Heads, the magnificent sandstone promontories that form the 1.2-mile-wide (2-kilometer-wide) entrance to Sydney Harbour. Called simply North Head and South Head, they are an eye-popping introduction to the geography of this amazing harbor.
Sydney’s cultural highlights also include the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia at Circular Quay, the Art Gallery of New South Wales in the Domain area and the Aboriginal Cultural Tour at the new Barangaroo precinct. Prefer performance art? Pick up tickets to a concert at the Sydney Opera House for an inside look at the iconic Sydney landmark.
No matter how you choose to plan your stay, your visit Down Under can be enjoyed in a multitude of ways and will leave a lasting impression for years to come.
Keith Austin is a former Sydney Morning Herald travel editor who has crisscrossed the world since the first time he threw on a backpack in his early 20s and flew to Israel and Egypt - and ended up hitchhiking back across Europe to his home in London. Based in Sydney for the past 27 years, he is now a freelance travel writer and the author of three books for young adults.