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Sydney, Australia’s crown jewel, ranks consistently among the most liveable and beautiful cities in the world. It is bookended by a harbour on the east, one of the deepest in the world, and the Blue Mountains on the west. Sydney is a rich mixed bag.
The city comes complete with historical museums, incredible nature trails and fantastic zoos laden with marsupials. In addition, there are eclectic cafes, bars and restaurants that make it a delight for travellers of all ages and budgets.
Visitors to Sydney will have a long list of attractions and activities to keep them busy. So it’s good to have a plan. Here are some ideas to get you started. But beware, it is just the tip of the iceberg for the harbour city sights.
Best Places to Visit in Sydney
Start Your Pilgrimage at Sydney’s House of Wonder
The Opera House is the traveller’s pin-code for the best places to visit in Sydney. Pay homage to this yet world-revered architecture designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon. The Circular Quay station is closest and is within walking distance from the Opera House.
Have your share of fish and chips at one of many stylish restaurants nearby. Then stroll over to the Botanical Gardens next door for a different view of the Opera House.
If visiting during winter (May/June), time your travels to watch ‘Vivid Sydney’. This is when the Opera House lights up at night in a kaleidoscope of colours in Sydney’s grandest winter festival.
Stroll Through the Royal Botanical Gardens
Just next to the Opera House lies the Royal Botanical Gardens. This is Australia’s oldest botanical garden and scientific institution. It opened in 1816 for the collection and study of native plants. Entry is free and the gardens are a relaxing place for a stroll.
Admire a huge collection of plants and watch the green and cream ferries shuttling in the harbour waters. Plus, it’s a great spot to create photographic memories of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
Mrs. Macquarie’s chair – at one end of the garden – is a rocky bench carved by early convicts for Lady Macquarie, wife of Governor Macquarie. It is a popular spot for Instagram shots.
Walk Over the Harbour Bridge
Yet another quintessential icon for Sydney, the Harbour Bridge (or the ‘Coat-hanger’ as the locals call it) is an engineering beauty.
It was constructed during the Depression years to help provide local employment. A bridge climb is an exciting experience. The Harbour Bridge is one of the few bridges in the world that people can climb on which makes it one of the best places to visit in Sydney.
If the tickets are too costly head to the Pylon Point. Here you can climb to the top of one of the four pylons (pillars) and get equally spectacular views of the emerald harbour and the Opera House.
If you have more time, cross the bridge towards Luna Park and Lavender Bay. You’ll enjoy a beautiful walk into Wendy’s secret garden. Keep an eye out for the brilliant figurines and statues all around the garden.
Fulfil Your Love for Marsupials at Taronga
No visit to Sydney is complete without cuddling a koala, feeding a kangaroo or learning the difference between kangaroos and wallabies. Taronga is the country’s largest zoo and has plenty to occupy a day.
If you’ve had your share of marsupials, look out for the flightless emu and Jurassic-era cassowary, the tallest birds in the world after the ostrich. You can even search for an elusive tree kangaroo (yes, you read that right) or a red panda.
If you get tired, head over to one of many vantage points with dreamy harbour views. Also, don’t forget to take the cable car, which is included in your ticket.
If Taronga feels too large and overwhelming, head over to the Sydney Zoo or the Featherdale Park in Sydney’s west. There is also Sydney Wildlife, right inside the city to remind you that good things come in small packages.
Take One of Sydney’s Iconic Walks
Australians are outdoorsy people, hence you will find plenty of walks wherever you go. Topping the list around Sydney are the walks from Bondi and Manly.
The Bondi-Coogee walk will take you through five quintessential Aussie beaches along sandstone cliffs overlooking gorgeous turquoise waters of the Tasman Sea.
Along the way, you will find surfing, sand, beer and barbeque. Take a dip or snorkel at Gordon’s Bay. Or take some surfing lessons – the experience is unforgettable.
The Manly-Spit walk is longer but gives you that bushwalk experience. You’ll see aboriginal rock carvings right in the heart of the city. Walks around Taronga, Cremorne Point, Balmoral and Balls Head Reserve are some of the other routes along the harbour.
See the Best Places to Visit in Syndey from the Water
Rated among one of the best ferry journeys in the world, the Manly ferry from Circular Quay to Manly Beach is a stunner. It’s also very reasonably priced.
The journey will take you past many of Sydney’s icons to appreciate the harbour from the water. Don’t forget your camera and keep a lookout for the Opera House, the lighthouses in the South Head, Taronga Zoo and Fort Denison.
Stroll Around Watson’s Bay
If you seek more time with Sydney Harbour, take the ferry to Watson’s Bay and indulge in a fancy meal at Doyle’s restaurant right next to the wharf.
Then shed those calories by walking up some stairs at the Gap to get panoramic views of the city’s skyline on one side and the sparkling waters of the Tasman Sea on the other.
Also within a short walk, are the Hornby lighthouse and the Macquarie Lighthouse, among Australia’s oldest.
Visit the Blue Mountains
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains are just 80 km west of the city and are another of the best places to visit in Sydney. A day-tripper’s delight, these mountains look blue-tinged.
This is due to the haze created by swathes of eucalyptus forests that are spread all over the mountains. Much older than the Grand Canyon, there are hundreds of walking tracks and scores of waterfalls strewn all over the Blue Mountains.
The three sisters’ rock formation that turns crimson during sunset in Katoomba, the Wentworth Falls, Jenolan caves, and the Scenic World are amongst the most sought-after destinations here.
That said, if you have the time, stop at a smaller place such as Lawson, Springwood or Glenbrook to be charmed by beautiful villages wrapped in antiquity and rejuvenated with the fresh mountain air.
Head Over to Historic Parramatta
The second European establishment in Australia, Parramatta is rich in history and has today unified within Sydney as another suburb with its own CBD (city business district).
A walk alongside the eponymous river and park will reveal many of the old historic houses and churches of the city. These include St. John’s Cathedral, Elizabeth Farm and the UNESCO-listed Governor’s House.
Cherry blossoms and wisteria bloom in spring, while purple jacarandas blossom in summer and fill the Parramatta Park with colour.
Parramatta is also a foodie’s paradise and is strewn with restaurants reflecting the multi-cultural aspect of Sydney. Take a ferry on the Parramatta River on your way back to the Harbour and marvel at the city lights by the river.
Visit the Royal National Park
The world’s second-oldest national Park, after Yellowstone, the Royal National Park sits south of Sydney at a stone’s throw’s distance. The RNP offers amazing day-tripping options and some fascinating walks. Popular routes include walks to the Wedding Cake rock, the Eagle Rock, or the Figure 8 Pools.
You can head to Wattamolla lagoon for a relaxing day in the water or to Garie Beach to watch the locals catch the surf.
If you fancy a longer drive, head over to the stunning Bald Hill, or go further south to the city of Wollongong along the Grand Pacific Drive.
Book This Trip
Start planning your down-under escape to Sydney, Australia today. Get prepared with insider tips on the best entertainment, hotel and VRBO accommodations, local restaurant favorites and more through TripAdvisor and Travelocity.
Plan even more fun with unique Sydney activities, foodie tastings and private expert-led tours with a trusted local guide. Find more information and book your Australian adventures here.
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Author Bio: Ayan Adak is a consultant by profession and loves traveling, and has been to nearly 30 countries. He likes writing about his travel experiences besides scribbling poetry, short stories and essays. He is currently working on a collection of haiku, and has recently published a coffee table book on the coastal beauty of New South Wales.