Sydney commands the highest prices for waterfront properties in the world. Luckily, for those of us who will never scale the Everest heights of this city's lucrative (read: ludricrous) real estate ladder, there are plenty of bars to drown our sorrows. Plenty of very good bars, in fact, many of which are by the sea. We are blessed with quite the coastline, and these are our favourite places to while away the hours and watch the tides roll away over a few drinks.
For more outdoor drinking, we've rounded up the best rooftop bars in Sydney, as well as the best beer gardens. And if you're after the best of the best full stop, have a look at our list of the 50 best bars in Sydney.
The best Sydney bars by the water
Certain things that never get old at Icebergs – the head-turning view, the crisp polenta chips with sour cream, the signature No. 8 cocktail – and that is exactly why we keep coming back to this Bondi mainstay.
If there were a Sydney pub beauty pageant, the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel would definitely be through to the final. The hotel sits right against the water's edge so there's nothing between you and panoramic views of the harbour and city skyline except a row of neat dinghies and the odd potted palm.
Until Smoke came along, there was a missing piece to the premium-cocktail-bar-by-the-water puzzle. Up here, on the third level of Barangaroo House, snazzy seasonal cocktails come with a side of sweeping panoramas of Darling Harbour and the skyline. The surroundings – all leather, timber, shiny tiles and soft velvet – are equally classy.
This longstanding Northern Beaches pub is home to the biggest waterfront beer garden in the country. Merivale's put the magic touch on it, styling the deck with mismatched picnic tables and pale pink striped umbrellas. Don your finest linens and know that you'll fight for a table on weekends. Once you snag one, do do as the rest of the beautiful people do: grab a large glass of crisp, dry French rosé and smile for the selfie.
Escape the mayhem of the florist-gelateria-pizzeria-oyster bar-café-restaurant-play area on the ground floor and head up to the roof, where a chic conservatory vibe, four bars and a menu of the Middle East's greatest hits await.
In any other city, this would be a classic overcharge and under-deliver tourist trap. Thankfully Opera Bar doesn’t take advantage of its location – it celebrates it, and that’s worth raising a glass to. Make it a dozen oysters and a Bloody Mary please, bartender.
When summer's at its peak, so is the Bucket List, where everyone is pretty much as lit as the fairy lights overhead – sand between toes, Corona in one hand and a bucket of prawns in the other.
If Coogee Pavilion and the Newport aren't enough to convince you that Merivale knows what to do when it comes to waterfront spots to get watered and fed, then maybe the Collaroy will. Kids are welcome, eats are all-day and the bar rages on till 3am on weekends.
This Lower North Shore stalwart had a three-month freshen up in 2018, and with it came metres of marble and velvet as well as a fany menu overhaul. Don't fret – the epic Sunday roast and the wraparound balcony remain.
This beautiful, old bowling club is set right on top of the cliffs at Clovelly, affording players some of the best views in the city. Drop in for an afternoon game, or maybe just a sneaky schooner of something cold and local.
Say what you will about the Steyne, but it's a classic Aussie pub that gets the job done, it's been around since 1859, and if we were betting types, we'd venture to say it's not going anywhere.
This famous harbourside bar has had a garden-party overhaul with an emphasis on natural fibres and the result is very Montauk-chic. It might not be a regular haunt, but if you've got visitors who want to see Sydney at her best, a striped deckchair out in the sun is one of the best places to plant them.
Locals call it the Wharf Bar, because it is exactly that. There's no science behind the popularity of the the Manly Wharf Hotel: this is about as 'seaside' as it gets for a few cold ones (and a perfect excuse to sneak one in pre- or post-ferry ride).
Think of the bar at Bennelong as a pre- or post-gig cost-cutting exercise. You're not downstairs in the restaurant having a three-course dinner for $150, but you're still privileged enough to be inside one of the sails of the Sydney Opera House, having a drink and knowing that snacks from one of the country's best chefs are only an order away.
If you want to see Sydney at its most really ridiculously good looking, take the lift to Henry Deane, the classy cocktail joint at the top of Hotel Palisade. Book the "Box" – the set of cushy banquettes on the far left – if you want an extra-special spot for an extra-special blow-out.
Just beyond the frenzy of Barangaroo is where you'll find Cirrus – one of Sydney's finest seafood restaurants. Nobody will stop you from stopping in for just a drink, and that is a good thing because it's also home to one of the city's best wine lists.
The Island is Australia's first and only floating beach club. It's a member-only venue with an exclusive vibe to match, so request your access to get on the guest list or make fast friends with the VIP crowd.
The only thing better than a beer overlooking the big blue is a litre of beer overlooking the big blue – and a pretzel to go with it. Consider your wishes granted.
So what if it's more of a hotel and restaurant than a bar? You're here for a view and a drink, and you're in luck because the outlook over Whale Beach will make your jaw drop and so will the wine list. Bottoms up.
It's loosely inspired by Old Havana inside, but chances are you won't be able to avert your eyes from what lies outside, beyond those floor-to-ceiling windows.
Get in the water
Sydney's been blessed with a lot of swimming spots. In fact, the beauty and variety of our dipping options is so great, some would argue it's the best thing about the city. Certainly, there's enough by way of pools and beaches that it's possible to find a watery spot to suit any taste. Scared of waves? There's somewhere flat for you. Hate sand? No problem. Can't make it to the beach? An after work dip is still totally do-able.