What's there to do in Sydney?
Warning: Long article incoming!
You've got your flights booked, accommodation all confirmed, and the only thing left to settle is your itinerary. Perhaps you're thinking you should book a tour group to take you around. Perhaps you're thinking, wouldn't it be easier if I made all the decisions myself? But will I know where to go? What if I book the wrong activities and go to the wrong places and end up spending my trip not doing the things I could have done?
Five years ago, if you'd told me there was so much to do in Sydney, I probably wouldn't have believed you. I mean, what else is there besides the Sydney Opera House — right?
Wrong. When we think of Sydney, that's surely the first thing that comes to mind. But with the amount of time I've spent exploring this cosmopolitan city, I know that there's no shortage of activities and fun things to do!
So in the spirit of exploration, we've curated a few lists of the best activities in Sydney to guide your stay here — whether they're the most popular sights and attractions, or activities where you don't have to spend a penny.
In this blog, we'll share with you the best activities in Sydney and surrounds. Are we missing your favourite activity? Let us know in the comments!
If you're still looking for activities around Sydney and are planning out your dream itinerary, look no further. All you need to do is get your cameras ready and have your smiles on to get set for the best time in the land down under!
The best activities in Sydney
1. Visit the iconic Sydney Opera House
Day & Night. Tours from 9am to 5pm.
Free. Tours $37 per person.
Your first stop on this list is undoubtedly the Sydney Opera House.
The iconic Sydney Opera House is Australia's most recognisable landmark. The best part about it is you can get up close and touch the building. The Opera House holds five main stages, and hosts esteemed ballet and classical concert performances on the regular. A seat inside is a treat for your ears and senses.
If you want to learn more, the Opera House offers daily tours from 9am to 5pm. Online bookings receive a 10% discount from the standard price of $37 per person. Due to the number of stairs on the tour, the organisers recommend a good level of fitness.
2. Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge
All day — but watch out, special events or dawn & twilight climbs are more expensive!
$288 for a day climb (Dawn and twilight are $373 and $353, respectively)
There's nothing like saying you've conquered the Sydney Harbour Bridge - and by that, I mean you've climbed to its peak and got a glimpse of the stunning view of the Sydney Opera House from atop. If you're looking for some adventure or the perfect gift for your significant other, this one's for you. Did you know that in the summer months, you can also go into the draw to Karaoke with your friends on top of the Harbour Bridge? Now that's a first! You can book your tickets here.
Our insider tip for those on a small budget
Try the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout. It's not quite as fancy as the bridge climb, but will only set you back $15. The Pylon Lookout is open from 10am to 5pm, 7 days a week. You won't need to pre-book your visit. Just show up and enjoy your 95% discount 😏
3. Take a trip to the Madame Tussauds Sydney Museum
9.30am - 6pm daily
At Madame Tussauds Sydney, Ryan Gosling, Nicole Kidman, Johnny Depp and many more famous faces await. As with all Madame Tussauds wax museums, you're always in for a good time if you're one to go ga-ga when in the presence of a star-studded cast.
Tickets can be booked online for only $28, but only for fixed, less frequented time-slots. Flexible tickets cost the same on– and offline, but online bookings save some queuing time.
4. Go on the Sydney Tower Eye and Sky Walk Experience
9am - 10pm daily
Observation deck $26.50
Observation deck & Skywalk $70
If you're new to the city, you won't want to miss the spectacular views from the Sydney Tower Eye vantage point (250 metres high) and the Sky Walk that lets you step outside on a glass floor. Did you know you'd be standing at the same height as the Eiffel Tower? Take in a bird's eye view of Sydney in its full glory!
Booking online saves you about 30% for the Skywalk or admission to the Observation deck if you are willing to commit to a date and time. If you want to do both Madame Tussaud's and the Tower, a combo package may be cheaper. Don't buy the Wild Life experience though. Taronga Zoo is much better if want to see animals.
5. Take a stroll in the Chinese Garden of Friendship
9:30am - 5pm (Winter)
9:30am – 5:30pm (Summer)
In the heart of Chinatown, you'll find the Chinese Garden of Friendship. Be whisked away as though you've just landed in China and get swept away by your imagination with the chance to dress up in traditional Chinese costumes or sip tea at the teahouse.
You can either explore the garden on your own or take advantage of one of the free tours at 10:30am and 2:30pm (Summer) or 12pm (Winter). The garden's website has more information and an useful overview of events.
6. Immerse yourself in the greenery of Hyde Park
Located in the centre of the city is Hyde Park, what many term Sydney's very own "Central Park" in New York. Take a stroll in the park and soak in the lush greenery of the space, sip a coffee and feel rejuvenated for more shopping in the city just a stone's throw away.
Part of Hyde Park is the ANZAC Memorial which you should definitely make part of a visit. The memorial is open from 9am to 5pm and does not charge an entrance fee.
Hyde Park is also the site of many festivities throughout the year. Keep an eye on the city of Sydney's site.
7. Get artsy at the Museum of Contemporary Art
10am - 5pm daily except Wednesday
10am - 9pm on Wednesday
Free (but special exhibitions are ticketed)
While there are featured exhibitions that carry a price tag to their name, the expanded gallery's collection can be seen for free and you can wander the halls at your own time and leisure. The galleries refresh every so often so there's always something new to see at each visit.
The MCA has its very own app and multiple free tours if you want to learn more about the art's hidden stories.
8. Visit the SEA Life Aquarium
9.30am - 6pm daily, last entry at 5pm
At the SEA Life Aquarium, explore the Reef Tunnel or go to the Dugong Island where you'll get up close and cosy with the aquarium's two dugongs that were specifically rescued after washing up orphaned on Queensland beaches. The Aquarium also has two large pools that you can walk through, as though treading the seabeds underwater while sharks and rays pass overhead.
To save 30% compared to the walk-up price you can book non-flexible tickets for less popular times online.
Combo packages for Sea Life, Sydney Tower Eye and Madame Tussaud's
At $60 the two ticket package is not cheaper than buying two separate activities but has the added advantage of full flexibility for the second location (you need to commit to a date, but not time, for the first). The three attractions package is only $5 more expensive and hence offers a discount of about 25% compared to the cheapest alternative as well as more flexibility.
The package can be bought on either of the activities website (see each section for the links).
9. Take in the grand architecture of the Queen Victoria Building
Monday to Friday 9am - 6pm
Saturday 10am - 4pm
Sunday 11am - 4pm
Designed by George McRae, the Queen Victoria Building first replaced the original Sydney Markets. Today it is fully restored, and with elaborate Romanesque architecture, the QVB is a must-visit for those new to the city, with an appreciation for fine interior architecture.
For the best experience, avoid visiting the building during rush–hour as the direct connection to the underground train means significant traffic at those times or during lunch as many people from the surrounding offices go there to grab a bite.
10. Relax in the Royal Botanic Gardens
9am - 5.30pm daily
For an awesome weekend picnic spot, hit up the Royal Botanic Gardens that houses everything — including a tropical greenhouse. You'll also get to see the site of the colony's first paltry vegetable patch at the gardens, but more than that, this Gardens is steeped in history as an initiation ground for the Gadigal people. Book an Aboriginal Heritage Tour there, or simply kick back and relax on the lawns and enjoy a picnic with your loved ones.
The most impressive route to the Opera house (and where I take any first-time visitors to Sydney) starts at the centre of the Botanical Garden and continues along the bay (Farm Cove). The view of the city skyline on the left and the Opera house in front as you round the corner is truly magnificent.
11. Roam around Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island is a UNESCO world heritage site and first operated as a penal facility before becoming a shipyard. Today, you can explore the Island's rich history with (self-)guided tours. It is the only Island that lets you spend the night - completely legit, I promise! A ferry runs between the island and Circular Quay every thirty minutes.
Many special events are also held on this Island come festive period, such as New Year Countdown celebrations.
Public transport is only $2.50 on Sundays (regardless how far or much you travel) so snag this deal and take the ferry across on a Sunday. This is also a great opportunity to save on an expensive harbour cruise and spend the day hopping from ferry to ferry. You will only pay $2.50 for the entire day!
12. Hop onboard a scenic flight
Depends on weather
$200 (15min flight)
$285 (30min flight)
$220 – $640 (20min – 60min helicopter flights)
They say you see best from high up in the sky. A scenic flight is what you're after, whether it's a scenic flight or a helicopter tour, taking you across the highlights of Sydney - splash across Rose Bay, venture over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and be greeted with the most breathtaking views of the Bondi beach coastline. You'll be guaranteed the best views of the city all around - especially on a day with clear blue skies. It's a hit to your pocket, but it sure is one that is well worth the money.
13. Visit Taronga Zoo
9.30am – 5.00pm (Sept-Apr)
9.30am – 4.30pm (May-Aug)
If you're an animal lover, then you're going to want to visit the Taronga Zoo or the Wild Life Sydney Zoo. The Taronga Zoo is a short 12-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay, which makes it not only convenient to get to, but also one of the favourite zoos of many locals in Australia. Taronga Zoo is home to the nocturnal platypus habitat, our well-loved kangaroos, koalas and giraffes. With the animal encounters, daily performances and twilight concerts in the summer, you'll easily while the day away here.
The Zoo offers many interesting events (e.g. bird and dolphin shows) and insightful talks about the animals many times a day. Try to plan the ones you want to attend in advance (an overview here) as you probably won't have enough time to do all of them.
You can book your Taronga Zoo tickets online for a 10% discount. Families save 20%. The Zoo also offers special animal 'encounters' (e.g. feeding the Penguins) that need to be booked in advance.
14. Take the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk
When in Sydney, you simply can't miss out on checking out one of Australia's best beaches. Bondi Beach is your go-to, and while there, take on the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk that'll give you the sweetest views of the coastal lines where the sky meets the sea.
The walk is about 6km long and one of Sydney's easier hikes (you can continue onwards to Maroubra for another 3km if you feel like it). If you can, go during the week when crowds are a bit thinner. My favourite beach for a quick dip on the way is definitely Tamarama — it isn't as busy as Bondi or the other large beaches and has a great family–friendly atmosphere.
If you're looking for other hikes that might be less crowded, you could check out the Manly to Spit Bridge Walk instead, or explore this list of trails that you could take on.
15. Swim at the Bondi Icebergs 50m saltwater pool
6am - 6.30pm Monday to Wednesday, Friday
6.30am - 6.30pm Saturday and Sunday
Closed on Thursday
Adults - $6.50
Children - $4.50
There's nothing quite like swimming at a pool perched on the edge of the ocean - just imagine the lapping of the waves against the pool edge as you swim your laps down the pristine blue waters. Bondi Icebergs saltwater pool is Sydney's favourite swimming pool, and touted every tourist's "must-visit"! After all, there aren't many pools in Australia that demand such a price tag to its entry, and a well-worth one at that. If this isn't the perfect start to a day, then I don't know what is!
Interesting fact: The Bondi Icebergs (the swimming club operating the pool) has a particularly tough membership policy. In order to join (and maintain membership), you need to swim almost every winter weekend for over five years.
Escape the city
1. Take a weekend trip to Hunter Valley
If you're after a relaxing wine-and-dine weekend retreat, head down to Hunter Valley for the ultimate serene getaway. Looking for a weekend itinerary and things to do while you're there? Try your hand at horse-riding on the Molly Morgan Range, or go on a special hot-air balloon flight.
While you're at it, don't forget to check out the Hunter Valley gardens. They go for $29 for an Adult Pass and from $65 for a Family Pass. You'd want to make the most of your experience by spending a substantial amount of time here. For a cheaper alternative, you could always roam around the area - after all, Hunter Valley is expansive and there's no shortage of opportunities for good photos when you're surrounded with vast fields and greenery.
TL;DR, have a look at this blog to get all the details!.
2. Wander the Blue Mountains and explore the Three Sisters
Ask any local what's a "must-see" outside of the CBD, and they'll point you towards the Blue Mountains. Explore the Blue Mountains on a day tour or wander deep into the Jenolan Caves. If you're up for an adventure, try an Abseiling and Canyoning experience - you won't regret it! Still looking for things to do or wanting an itinerary all planned out? Check out our post dedicated to the Blue Mountians for the full details.
Plan between one and two days for the Blue Mountains, depending on how much hiking you want to do. The most famous locations are all covered by the day–trips available from many touring agencies. Getting here and back is not easy without a car — booking a tour may make sense if you are travelling alone or with only one or two other people.
3. Explore the Royal National Park
The Royal National Park in Sydney is the second oldest national park in the world, and home to over 100km of walking tracks. Take the day off and venture deep, you'll find yourself in the heart of fantastic scenery, from coastal walks to waterfalls. Many Sydneysiders love the beaches (for example Gary beach or Watamolla) and the park's natural beauty.
Other sights are the famous Figure 8 Pools (easiest to access with a tour) or the Wedding Cake Rock. The easiest way to get here is by car (and then hiking). Alternatively, you can go to Otford by train (for the Figure 8 Pools) or Bundeena with the ferry (for the Wedding Cake Rock) and hike the rest.
Looking for more resources?
If you're still looking for more details to plan your dream trip to Sydney, check out Lonely Planet or Destination NSW.
What's your favourite Sydney activity? Let us know in the comments below!