It may come as a surprise to international visitors but Sydney is not actually the capital city of Australia. However, it is understandable why people think it is because there are soo many beautiful and iconic attractions that are associated with the city. Sydney is the largest metropolitan city of Australia on the east coast with a rapidly growing economy and population and its harbour side location is a huge draw for visitors.
If you haven’t already visited Sydney then here are 10 reasons to persuade you to visit this beautiful city soon.
10. Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves
The Blue Mountains are located 2 hours drive west of Sydney and are made up of one million hectares of sandstone cliffs, forests, canyons, waterfalls and lookout points. The mountains are world heritage listed and popular with hikers with over 140 kilometres of walking tracks available for use to admire the beautiful scenery and wildlife. To get a bird’s eye view of the Three Sisters and Katoomba Falls head to Scenic World and take a ride on the skyway with transparent glass underfoot to view the canyons below or the Cableway, Walkway and Railway. This is one of those tourist attractions that is worth the money as the scenery and photographs that you will get here are amazing.
Stay longer and get away from the hustle and bustle of city life with the many luxury resorts and cosy cabins to keep you warm in the winter or relaxed after a long day of hiking. Don’t forget to visit Leura while you are here. This quaint town centre boasts small galleries, antique shops and cafes perfect for a lunch stop with beautiful views. Nearby Leura Cascades makes a great picnic spot. Leura can be accessed by public transport alighting at Leura Railway station for those who are do not wish to drive or join a tour.
Image – The River Cave
The Jenolan Caves are another amazing natural attraction that you should not miss if you are heading out to the Blue Moutains. Visit one of the world’s oldest underground cave systems which are so vast that they are still being explored. Select parts of the cave are open to the public on guided tours. Choose from a leisurely guided tour or the more adventures cave explorer tours. The entrance to the caves car park alone is when you will get that first ‘aah’ moment as you drive through a grand archway made of natural limestone caves.
The caves are popular among visitors but it is not uncommon to see school excursion and even weddings held here. The number of caves that are open to the public continues to grow every year and while you don’t need to have a high level of fitness there are a number of stairs and small nooks and crannies that you need to manoeuvre at times. If you want to go the extra step further then you can go adventure caving. The adventure caving tours involve some abseiling, crawling, sliding and climbing to reach rarely seen parts of the underground cave system. If you wish to stay on longer and take your time exploring the caves then accommodation is available on site with options to suit each budget including the mountain house, cottages and backpacker rooms. You will need your own transport or join a day tour to reach the caves. No public transport can travel here due to the small mountain roads which can at times be closed in inclement weather.
9. Sydney Harbour Cruises
The best way to experience the iconic Sydney Harbour firsthand is to naturally board a cruise. From the perspective of a comfortable vessel you can look back upon the Harbour Bridge and Opera House to get up close views of the iconic Harbour Bridge. Some cruises may also take you to other destinations such as Taronga Zoo, Manly, Darling Harbour or other bays and inlets to view the scenery and beautiful harbour side mansions.
You can choose from a lunch cruise, high tea, sunset, dinner or even the more adrenaline filled jet boating and tall ship cruises. Sit back and relax as you listen to interesting and entertaining commentary throughout the cruise. This is definitely the best side of Sydney and cruises are the easiest way to get around. Make sure there is plenty of space on your camera for all the photos that you will inevitably take. Many people fall in love with Sydney instantly after spending time on the harbour. Harbour cruises are also our pick for the best way to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks – more on that later.
8. Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
Location: Mrs Macquarie’s Rd, Sydney
The Royal Botanic Gardens are a patch of serenity mixed amongst a bustling city. Take a moment to walk through the gardens and enjoy a quiet family picnic in one the most beautiful cities in the world. You never completely forget that you are in the centre of the city with the imposing skyline surrounding the gardens but the green spaces are a nice quiet retreat for a brief moment. Even those who aren’t usually interested in gardens will still enjoy a short walk through here. The gardens host talks, walks and workshops and events for children over the school holidays. Visit on any given Saturday or Sunday and it is also likely that you can watch couples get married here. One of the highlights of the gardens is Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Domain where the famous Christmas Carols in the Domain are held and televised every year. Free guided walks are available daily at 10.30am from the Information Centre within the gardens. ( Please note: walks do not run if temperature are forecast to be 35 degrees or above.)
Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
The chair is carved out of a rock ledge along the harbour’s edge for Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s wife, Elizabeth who was known to sit enjoy the views of the harbour from here. Now millions of visitors come to the Harbour and take a walk to her secret vantage point to do the exact same thing. What a legacy.
To access Mrs Mac’s chair by ferry alight at Circular Quay and take the 30 minute walk past the Sydney Opera House and foreshore through the Botanic Gardens. The nearest railway station is Martin Place or catch a bus to the entrance and spend some time walking throughout the gardens.
7. The Rocks and Circular Quay
The Rocks are located in the heart of the city centre between the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. The Rocks have become famous for its markets and trendy restaurants, café and cruise terminal but this part of the city was the first place of European Settlement in Australia and the cobblestone laneways and old warehouses that remain give the city atmosphere and a glimpse into the past.
This part of Sydney would have been bustling with activity in the 1800’s as a commercial hub for the trade industry and convict transportation but it also attracted some seedy characters. If only the walls and buildings could talk. If you want to learn more you can join a walking tour or the very popular haunted Sydney tours that spend a significant amount of time here telling you the stories of debauchery from the early settlement era.
The Rocks Markets are held on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 5pm where you get all sorts of wares from clothing, bags, original and jewellery, flowers, food, cosmetics, souvenirs and more. The Rocks Friday Foodie Market is held from 9am-3pm where the smell of mouth watering food is too hard to resist. Hours are extended in summer.
6. Taronga Zoo
Location: Bradleys Head Rd, Mosman
This has got to be one of the best zoo’s in the world with a backdrop for both animals and the humans to enjoy. Given it’s harbour side location the best way to arrive is by boat but if you have wheels then you can drive but plan your times accordingly due to the cities traffic issues.
The zoo cares for thousands of animals most of which are under threat. The proceeds from visitors go back into conservation efforts, breeding programs, research and the wildlife hospital that is on site.
There is a wonderful selection of Australian animals to see including Koalas, Kangaroos, Tasmanian Devils, Reptiles, Bilbys. Visitors will also be amazed and delighted to see and interact with Elephants, Chimpanzee’s, Gorillas, Giraffe’s, Sumatran Tigers, Sea Lion’s, Lemurs, Meerkats, Rhinos and huge collection of birds.
Not to be missed is the Sky Safari that transports guests from one end to the park and will give your feet some relief and is included in the admission to the park. If all that excitement simply isn’t enough than you can take on the Wild Ropes- High Ropes adventure (additional cost). To reach the zoo you can catch buses from various points around the city or you can travel via ferry or cruise from Circular Quay.
5. Sydney Harbour Bridge
Location: Cumberland St, The Rocks
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is affectionately known by Australian’s as the ‘coat hanger’ because of its design and stands tall over the Sydney Harbour since its completion in 1932. The bridge has an interesting past and many men lost their lives during the construction of the historic bridge that has now become the centrepiece of the city.
The bridge is open to traffic, railway lines and pedestrians on designated pathways but for a closer look you can climb the arches of the bridge. There are currently only five bridges in the world that you can climb on and two of them are in Australia in Brisbane and Sydney. This climb has been voted as the best in the world because of its incomparable views and the history associated with it. Hear the stories of the interesting yet dangerous construction as the climb leader points out the highlights of the city. Join the likes of famous politicians, actors and musicians who have walked and climbed those hallowed steps for the same panoramic views of Sydney. Climbs are available at dawn, dusk, day and night.
4. Sydney Opera House
Sydney Harbour just wouldn’t be the same without the stunning Sydney Opera House. And of course you don’t have to be interested in opera to enjoy everything that is on offer. With over 40 shows every week and a number of restaurants, bars and cafes the Sydney Opera House will be a highlight of your visit to Sydney. Jorn Utzon was the winning architect whose design was selected and changed the architectural industry and subsequently the iconic image of Australia.
In 2007, the site was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage list status thus ensuring that it will live on for decades to come. It would not be a visit to Sydney without the obligatory selfie of yourself standing in front of the beautiful white sails of the Opera House. To learn more you can take an opera house tour but to fully enjoy the Sydney Opera House you should get all dressed up and attend a show here.
3. Vivid Festival
Vivid Sydney is a 23 day festival held annually that combines art, technology, light, music, ideas and commerce. The event is held every year in early winter and the highlight of the program for many is the nightly light installations that the public has come to expect. This is one way that organisers can bring art to the public for free for everyone to enjoy.
Nightly, iconic buildings transform into a canvas for light projections and the stunning bright colours and designs can be seen from all over the city including from the other side of the harbour. The program also includes a series of workshops and lectures from industry leaders. This festival is a favourite of the locals and it is a treat for any visitors who get to experience the vibe and the events that occur during this time. To see several illuminated locations in one night join a harbour cruise.
2. New Year’s Eve Fireworks
Everyone loves a good fireworks display and Sydney comes alive on New Year’s Eve with an unbelievable display that rivals other cities. There are a range of free and ticketed events where you can see the display from different vantage points. Free harbour side locations are in demand but be warned you will most likely need to camp out all day to get your coveted position. If you show up at last minute you will not get close to the harbour, which is not a bad thing because all eyes are on the sky anyway. Also be aware that alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited in public parks, which makes for a more family friendly experience.
Our pick of the bunch for the best vantage points are the variety of cruises that head out on the water. Not only do you have the closest vantage spot possible to see various locations on the harbour including the bridge but the boats have more of a party atmosphere with entertainment, dinner and drinks to get you in the party mood to ring in the new year. It is not cheap but it is one of things that you should do at least once in your life and you won’t regret it. It is a great night out and one that you will always remember.
1. Bondi Beach
Australia is lucky to have so many beautiful coastal locations and beaches with mild temperature year round. Sydney’s Bondi Beach is one of the most well known beaches in Australia and is located just 7 kilometres from the city centre.
Regular trains and buses service the area and trendy cafes line the streets surrounding the beach. The beach has pretty good waves for surfers but you will need to be patient and wait your turn as it is usually crowded. During May to September you will also likely see Humpback Whales travelling past the area on the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk that covers some of the cities most beautiful coastlines and smaller beaches.
If you prefer pools to the ocean then the next best thing are the historic Bondi Baths that have been in place for over 100 years. There is a small admission fee to use the pool but it also includes entry to the sauna. The pools are attached to the Bondi Icebergs Club which is a popular eatery with some of the best beach dining views in Sydney. If you want to dine here I would definitely recommend booking a table due to its popularity. And yes this is the beach where Bondi Rescue and Bondi Vet are filmed. Even if you don’t swim here you must visit the iconic Bondi Beach when you are in Sydney.
Sydney is a lovely city and there are so many things to do whether you are interested in cultural activities, outdoors adventures and wildlife, historical buildings and landmarks or the beaches and coastal attractions.
For a more comprehensive list of activities, tours and cruises head to our Sydney Experiences Page.