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Things To Do in Sydney: An Iconic Guide to The Harbour City

Whether you're a weekend visitor or a long-time local, these are the best things to do in Sydney.

Bridge Climb (Image Credit: Destination NSW)

We may be biased, but Sydney really does have it all: a sparkling harbour, postcard-perfect beaches, a thriving food and cultural scene, and big-city sophistication. The city meets the sea in a beautiful way, and locals count themselves lucky to live here. While you could spend a lifetime exploring every nook, cranny and cove, there are some things that you have to do whether you are a local or visiting from out-of-town. 

Read on for our all-time favourite things to do in Sydney. 

The Rocks Markets

Explore The Rocks 

Let’s go back to the beginning – of Sydney’s history, that is. The Rocks is the oldest part of the city, and it’s a charming peek into the past: think cobblestoned streets, tiny laneways, sprawling pubs, and colonial buildings. When you get there, fuel up with a coffee and gourmet goodies at The Fine Food Store. Not a big breakfast person? Pop into La Renaissance Patisserie for an almond croissant – they sell over 1000 a week! Then, stroll through The Rocks Square, Gloucester Walk and Campbell’s Cove, and check out The Rocks Discovery Museum. If you’re there on the weekend, wander the open-air market packed with high-quality Australian-made goodies. 

The Calyx at the Royal Botanic Garden

Royal Botanic Garden 

Beautiful and serene, the Royal Botanic Garden is the perfect place to familiarise yourself with Australian wildlife. As you meander through, you’ll spot cockatoos, lizards, possums and butterflies, and colourful flowers in bloom. For a panoramic view of the harbour, the best vantage point (and photo op) is Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. Pack a picnic and soak up the harbour views. 

Mrs Macquaries Road, Sydney 

Opera Bar

Experience the Icons

Exit the Botanic Garden, and walk around the harbour foreshore until you reach the Sydney Opera House. At the lower level, have lunch at Opera Bar. Then, catch a matinee show at the Opera House. Every day, the most talented artists in the city take the stage for theatre, dance, music and of course, opera performances, so be sure to book your tickets in advance. If you like, you can also tack on a tour, where you’ll learn a little about the building’s history. Best of all, you'll score some of the best views of the Harbour Bridge whilst you're exploring the area. 

BridgeClimb (Image Credit: Destination NSW)

Climb the Harbour Bridge 

It's very clear that the harbour is the jewel in Sydney’s crown, and the best way to see it in all of its glory is from above. BridgeClimb Sydney is a breathtaking experience, and it’s even better at twilight, where you can watch the sun dip in the horizon. The climb takes just over three hours, though you can choose a shorter tour if you’re fidgety, or not-so-keen on heights. The Summit Express is a two-and-a-half-hour journey, where you climb up the inner arch, and take a set of stairs to the summit. This one-of-a-kind experience will leave you feeling accomplished and deeply inspired by the iconic ‘coathanger’.

Bush Tucker Tour

Aboriginal Bush Tucker Tour

One to pair with your visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens, this bush tucker tour is one of the best things you can do in Sydney. The hour-long tour is led by a First Nations guide who will take you through the history and modern use of Aboriginal bush foods. You'll also get to sample plenty of plants and fruits whilst learning about their uses today. 

$30 per adult

Garden Shop, Royal Botanic Gardens

Museum of Contemporary Art

Soak Up The Art Scene 

Keen for an arty afternoon? Head to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). Entry is free, though some special exhibitions are ticketed. Inside the Art Deco building, you’ll find a range of cutting-edge art in paint, photography and film form. We can also highly recommend their gift store, filled with beautiful coffee table books, unique accessories and one-of-a-kind artefacts. For a quick bite or afternoon pick-me-up, head to the MCA Café on the rooftop and enjoy the uninterrupted harbour views.

140 George Street, The Rocks 

Strand Arcade Sydney

Shop Sydney's Historic Arcades 

A day in the city would not be complete without shopping at the Queen Victoria Building. The QVB is a heritage landmark and has had many lives before becoming the shopping mecca it is today. High-street flagships share real estate with exclusive designer labels, and the vintage shopfronts are juxtaposed with contemporary interiors. The Strand Arcade is another favourite, packed with Australian-made designs and local artisan businesses. 

Harbourfront Seafood Sydney The Rocks (Image Credit: Steven Woodburn)

Dine on Sydney Harbour

Sydney has an enviable line-up of eateries from Barangaroo to Circular Quay that take advantage of the beautiful harbour outlook. For those unsure of what cuisine, they want to sample, Woolloomooloo also has a large variety of restaurants dotted along the finger wharf. You can expect everything from sumptuous breakfasts and delicious pastries to beautiful seafood fare and signature cocktails. One thing that remains the same, no matter how you choose to dine, is the idyllic water views.

Sydney Opera House

Get Your Culture Fix

Sydney is home to live entertainment and is lucky to get some of the biggest acts and theatre productions to perform. Score tickets to a musical at Sydney Lyric or the Capitol Theatre. The Sydney Opera House plays host to musicals, dance performances, comedy and talks throughout the year, and the Sydney Theatre Company always has an amazing line-up of stage shows.

(Image Credit: Mads Schmidt Rasmussen)

See the City from the Water

Sure, you’ve probably boated across the harbour, driven over it, and walked around it, but have you ever kayaked in it? Put it on the list! It’ll make you appreciate life and this gorgeous city even more – and burn a few cheeky calories. We recommend signing up to an Ozpaddle Sydney kayak tour, to make the most of your day on the water. Setting off from Andrew Boy Charlton Pool, owner and guide Sophie will take you paddling across the harbour, exploring many coves in the area. 

Watsons Bay Hotel

Enjoy a Harbour-Side Walk 

Sydney's harbour is easily one of the most beautiful in the world and we're exceptionally lucky to be able to walk most of the coastline. Each one of these harbour walks offers up a different view so it's definitely not a case of you've done one, you've done them all. We do, however, have a sneaky favourite. If you've got half a day to spare catch the ferry to Rose Bay and make your way to Watsons Bay for a cold pint and some piping fish and chips. 

Taronga Zoo

Swing by The Zoo 

A trip to Taronga is a Sydney rite of passage and it delivers up more than top-notch animal sightings. If you're coming from the city, we recommend catching the ferry from Circular Quay to Taronga for some of the best views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. You'll be able to visit with animals from all over the world including plenty of Australian natives. 

Bradley Head's Road, Mosman 

Little National Hotel

Stay in the City

Although the beaches are nice, there is something about the hustle and bustle of a city that makes you want to stay amongst the action. In fear of FOMO, opt for a central, CBD stay to maximise your time. The Little National Hotel is all about modern style, comfort and proximity. Nestled above Sydney’s humming Wynyard station, Little National Hotel draws inspiration from its Inner-City location. Where this hotel really shines is its communal areas. Head to level 11 to step into the library workspace that leads you to the exclusive rooftop bar, complete with outdoor seating and an indoor fireplace and lounge. With such a great hangout space in the hotel, you will find it hard to leave. But if you're looking for somewhere to have a tipple close-by, Vini Divini down on Carrington Street will whisk your wine-loving tastebuds away to far-flung destinations like Georgia, Greece and Turkey with their diverse wine list. And there is no better way to continue a wine-fuelled evening than with a spot of dinner at uber-cool, pasta haven Fabbrica. Better still, if you fall in love with what you dine on, you can buy it to take home!

Loved our guide to the best things to do in Sydney? From the best restaurants and coffee spots to late-night eats and harbourside bars, we’ve got you covered. Click through for more from this iconic city. 

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