Tourist Attractions in Sydney
Sydney the oldest, biggest, and most beautiful of all Australian cities, lies amid a seductive intermingling of land and sea. Glide along the glittering harbor on a ferry, see the white sails of the Opera House gleaming in the sunshine, admire the graceful arch of the Harbour Bridge, and it’s hard to imagine this vibrant state capital of New South Wales was once a convict colony. In 1788, it was at Sydney Cove where Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet, established the first British colony in Australia.
Today, you can explore Sydney’s fabled history in the narrow, cobbled laneways and historic buildings of the Rocks and the city’s excellent museums, where you can also learn about the Gadigal aboriginal people, who once thrived on this land. Sydney still fizzes with the adventurous spirit of its settlers. You can climb the harbor bridge, surf the green-barrel breaks at Sydney’s golden beaches, or fly over the city on a scenic tour. Wildlife-rich wilderness areas surround the city providing appealing day trip possibilities.
1 Sydney Opera House
One of the world’s great icons, the Sydney Opera House is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the star attraction on the glittering harbor. This graceful building, shaped like shells or billowing sails, perches on a finger of land surrounded by water. Snap a photo while gliding by on a harbor cruise, relax at one of the restaurants, stroll around its exterior, or take an organized tour of this magnificent structure, which encompasses theaters, studios, exhibition rooms, a concert hall, and cinema. Book a Sydney Opera House Guided Walking Tour to learn about the history and get a behind-the-scenes look at this famous building. This is a flexible ticket that allows you to join any one of the tours throughout the day, departing every half hour from 9am to 5pm. Avid photographers head to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair for one of the best photo opportunities. Note that the building is currently undergoing a $202-million upgrade, slated for completion in early 2021, but it will continue to operate during the restoration.
2 Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge or “Coathanger,” as locals call it, was the city’s best-known landmark prior to construction of the Sydney Opera House. Supported by massive double piers at each end, it was built in 1932 and remains the world’s largest steel arch bridge, connecting the harbor’s north and south shores in a single curve rising 134 meters above the water. Along its length run two railway lines and eight lanes for road traffic, the direction of which can be varied according to traffic flow. Increasing bridge traffic encouraged construction of a harbor tunnel in 1992 to ease congestion, but motorists can still drive over the bridge for blue-water views. Pedestrians can stroll across on walkways or join a guided ascent through BridgeClimb for a breathtaking panorama of the city and harbor. To learn about the fascinating history of the bridge’s construction, visit the museum in the southeastern pier.
Daring souls who want to climb to the 135-meter-high summit can book the Sydney BridgeClimb. This is a spectacular opportunity that takes groups of up to 13 people on an approximately 3.5-hour climb to the top of the outer arch. Tours run throughout the day, beginning with a dawn climb and ending with a night climb. 1.5-hour Sampler Climbs and 2.25-hour Express Climbs are also available.
3 The Rocks
On a tongue of land protruding into Sydney Harbour, the Rocks historic area was once home to the Gadigal aboriginal people and later became the country’s first site of European settlement. The name of the Rocks comes from the rocky coast on the west side of Sydney Cove, where the convicts pitched their tents. Today, more than 100 heritage sites and buildings jostle along the narrow streets, including Sydney’s oldest surviving house, Cadman’s cottage , built in 1816.
First stop should be a visit to the Rocks Discovery Museum , which traces the area’s fascinating transformation from traditional aboriginal lands to convict slum to tourist hot spot. Afterwards, wander around the narrow cobbled streets with their souvenir shops, restaurants, cafés, and aboriginal and contemporary art galleries, or shop at the market stalls. Guided tours run the gamut from aboriginal heritage walks to photographic excursions and nighttime ghost tours.
4 Harbor Cruises from Circular Quay
Built by convict labor in Sydney Cove, bustling Circular Quay is now home to the city’s main ferry terminal. Thousands of commuters flood the area at peak hours, cafés and restaurants line the waterfront, and street performers entertain locals and visitors along the sunny walkways. One of the most popular things to do here, and the best way to appreciate Sydney’s sparkling waterfront setting, is to hop aboard a harbor cruise, like the popular two-hour Sydney Harbour Coffee Cruise. Ferries also depart from here to prime spots, such as Manly , Watsons Bay , and Taronga Park Zoo . During the annual winter migration, the Sydney Whale-Watching Cruise take passengers out past Sydney Heads to view these magnificent creatures.
You can easily walk from Circular Quay to other top attractions. Head south along the waterfront promenade to the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Botanic Gardens , and a short walk to the north leads to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Rocks historic area . To the west, the free Museum of Contemporary Art , housed in an Art Deco building, displays cutting-edge, and often controversial, exhibitions.
5 Darling Harbour
A hub for tourists and locals alike, Darling Harbour is a waterfront pedestrian precinct packed with shops, restaurants, museums, exhibitions, and entertainment venues. Families will love Madame Tussaud’s; the WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo; and the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium , which contains the world’s largest collection of Aus tralian marine creatures. The SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium Entrance Ticket is a great way to get ahead of the crowds and it also offers discounts on other attractions. Powerhouse Museum offers interactive exhibits on science, technology, design, and history, while nautical-minded history buffs can board a replica of Captain Cook’s ship, Endeavour, at the Australian National Maritime Museum . Younger children will love the carousel, playground, and water park. An IMAX and 9D theater, harbor jet boat rides, simulated flights and racing car adventures round out the exciting attractions. Those seeking a tranquil patch of green amid all the excitement can slip into the Chinese Garden of Friendship and sip tea among the willows and koi ponds.
6 The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney
A tranquil oasis amid the hustle and bustle of the city, the Royal Botanic Garden at Farm Cove lies a short and scenic stroll along the waterfront from the Sydney Opera House . The gardens were established in 1816 and encompass 30 hectares of themed gardens with towering trees, palm groves, orchids, ferns, and flocks of fruit bats. Visiting the gardens is one of the many wonderful things to do in Sydney for free. Among the highlights are the Palace Rose Garden , which includes some 1,800 roses, and the Glasshouse Latitude 23 and Fernery , brimming with tropical foliage, begonias, and orchids. For the less energetic, a hop-on, hop-off train tours the grounds. After exploring the gardens, you can relax at the café or restaurants, or enjoy a hillside picnic with beautiful harbor views.
Surrounding the gardens is the Domain , a popular event venue, with open green space and sports areas, and while you’re visiting the gardens, you can enjoy views of Government House , the official residence of the governor of New South Wales.