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Being as diverse of a city as Sydney is, it makes sense that its roster of activities is the same. Like any city, it has its nightlife and restaurant scene, but what makes it so different and unique is its striking coastal location and natural beauty.
Don’t miss out on the popular hotspots (especially because that pint will taste even better after a day of exploring what the city has to offer), but be sure to make time for all the incredible outdoor activities unique to Sydney.
I’ve given some ideas, all different levels of exertion, to provide options no matter how energetic you’re feeling. When it comes to things to do in Sydney, you can only scratch the surface…but hopefully this list gives you a great jumping off point!
Free Sydney Walking Tour
City tours, especially in large cities, are particularly helpful to do shortly after your arrival. They provide a good mental layout of the city, take you through the major attractions (freeing up your time to do other things), and provide helpful tips for other things to do.
I’ve participated in all types of tours—walking, biking, bus and duck tours—and can’t say I’ve ever not enjoyed one!
The Sydney Walking tour I participated in was hosted by I’m Free and are, as the name implies, free of charge. They meet at Town Hall Square and don’t be put off by the large crowds! They provide multiple tour guides and break everyone up into smaller groups to make the experience more intimate.
My particular tour guide was a college student, born and raised in Sydney. Locals make great guides; they usually have inside knowledge and secret tips that you can only learn from living in the city. As an aside, tipping is always appreciated, but not required.
The tour was about 2.5 hours long and gives a good background history of the city, from when it was a prisoner colony to the international melting pot it is today. Which is why if it’s your first time in Sydney, I highly recommend taking advantage of the free city walking tour.
Climb the Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout
This is a popular attraction and you’ll see signs everywhere for the Harbour Bridge Climb. If you aren’t afraid of heights, and have the money and time to do it, you won’t regret the experience .
But if you’re like me and try to travel on a budget, then climbing up to the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout may be sufficient. Since the city walking tour I took ended at the Rocks, I took advantage of being so close to the bridge to walk up the Pylon.
The cost was only $20 AUD, and along the way you’ll see old photos and learn the history of the bridge’s construction (1924-1932). I always find history fascinating and try to explore the historical side of a city as much as possible when traveling through.
At the top, you can see out over the harbor, the city, and the Opera House. I was even more blown away by the view than I expected, which made the low price point even better.
Explore the Rocks
The Rocks is a very historical part of the city. One of the first areas in Sydney to be inhabited due to its proximity to the harbor, it was also where a lot of the poor and working class families lived upon arrival into the city.
It has a fascinating history and its architecture is quite unique compared to the rest of the city. Today, it’s a hotspot for restaurants, cafés and boutiques, making it a fun hangout spot. There is also the nearby Rocks Discovery Museum, where you can learn more about the contentious history between the British and the Native Aboriginals.
Walk through the Botanic Gardens
Right near the downtown area is the expansive Botanic Gardens. For a place so close to the centre of the city, I was actually surprised how much greenery there was! But the Botanic Gardens are a beautiful oasis that feel like an escape from the hustle and bustle of other areas.
The Royal Botanic Gardens host many different events throughout the year, including blooming exhibits, plant sales, art classes. The gardens also host educational events like the Aboriginal Heritage Tour and Seedlings Nature School. Even if you are just strolling through on the way to your metro stop, it’s worth a quick pause to appreciate the gardens.
Here’s a tip: if you’ve got time to spare, try and find the secret garden! I never did during my short time there, but I was always curious about it.
Bondi to Coogee Walk
The first thing I will say is this: if you decide to do the Bondi to Coogee walk, put on plenty of sunscreen! And don’t forget to re-apply throughout the walk. The sun really beats down here, and if you’re not used to it you can burn easily. The thinning ozone layer over Oceania is a real issue, and even if you are accustomed to being in the sun, there’s an intensity here you likely don’t have at home.
Don’t let the sun warning scare you off, because I can’t tell you how much I loved this walk!
For one, it meant a beach day, something of which I can never get enough! And two, it was a beautiful route with plenty to see.
Full disclosure: it is an extremely popular route, so don’t be surprised if the trail feels a little crowded at times. There are many beaches to stop at along the way, so you can step off the path to take a dip in the ocean at any point. But crowds or not, you won’t want to skip this.
You can also do the opposite direction and go from Coogee to Bondi. They are both popular beaches so there is plenty to do at both ends, but personally, if I were to do it again, I’d like to end at Bondi and be closer to the city centre after my day on the coast.
New Year’s Eve Fireworks
One of my goals was to do Sydney New Year’s Eve for the fireworks. I ended up getting a house sitting gig and they were thoughtful enough to purchase me a ticket in October to the fireworks
If you are going to be in Sydney for NYE and want to see the fireworks, I recommend getting your tickets at least a few months out. My ticket was for Barangaroo and it was the perfect spot!
It was extremely well-organized, with plenty of food trucks, seating, and a live band to keep you entertained. And, of course, a great view of the multiple fireworks shows that night (yes, there are more than one!).
As a note, family fireworks happen at 10pm, so if you have young kids you can still see a very spectacular show and head home early. Or, if you are in it for the long haul, you get to see both the 10pm and Midnight shows.
I recommend getting to your spot no later than 8pm if you have a reserved ticket. If you don’t have a ticket for a ticketed area, then I recommend getting your spot even earlier because it will pretty much be a free-for-all. The city was already a mad house at 6pm when I got downtown so you’ll want to get there as early as possible .
Part of Sydney’s charm is that you can create your own roster of things to do by veering just a little off the beaten path. Combine the incredible scenery with your taste for adventure and you’ll be sure to find all the right activities to make your time in this incredible Australian city so memorable you’ll be counting down the days until your next visit.
And if you’re interested in seeing some of the amazing wildlife Australia has to offer, check out my Best Places to See Wildlife post.
Here’s hoping this guide is just the guideline you need to plan an unforgettable trip that’s unique to you!