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A wide shot of at Wendy's Secret Garden overlooking all of the p
Photograph: Daniel Boud

7 beautiful hidden places in Sydney that you probably don't know exist

We're spilling the beans on these often overlooked corners of the city

Maxim Boon
Written by
Maxim Boon

When you think about Sydney, it’s the big stuff that springs to mind: our mighty Coathanger over the harbour, our world-famous Opera House, our hundreds of golden beaches, vast national parks and the staggering, epic, larger-than-life beauty of it all. But be careful not to overlook the small stuff. Hidden throughout the city, these little-known hideaways have some big secrets to share.

We're lucky enough to have the job of exploring every corner of Sydney, so that we can fill you in. Shhh...

In search of more secret discoveries in Sydney? Check out the city's best hidden bars and speakeasies.

Secret Sydney spots

  • Things to do
  • Queenscliff

Affectionately known as "the Manly wormhole", industrious fishermen chiselled the 40-metre Queenscliff Tunnel through the headland rock more than a century ago. Connecting Queenscliff and Freshwater beaches, this wind-worn passage is still the most direct route between the two seafronts (if you want to avoid cutting through any suburban streets). While it may be a bit of a challenge scrambling over the rocks north of Manly Beach to discover it, your efforts will be rewarded with stunning views of Freshwater Beach and bragging rights for finding one of the city's most historic secrets. Just be warned: it's safest in still weather; some have warned that big seas, high winds and changes of tides could make rocks slippery.

While you're in the neighbourhood: After an afternoon traversing Manly's rocky shores, you deserve a special treat. Pilu at Freshwater is not only one of the area's swankiest restaurants, specialising in Sardinian-centric Italian fare – it also has some of the most spectacular ocean views in the area.

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  • Grocers
  • Redfern

To the casual observer, this small convenience store on the corner of Redfern and George Streets looks fairly unremarkable. In reality, it’s a lolly-lovers paradise and an Instagram sensation with more than 30,000 followers. Back in 2015, owner Hazem Sedda was encouraged by friend and media guy Ben Fordham to share the vibrant, sugar-laden shelves of his store on social media as a way to attract new customers. In the years since, the store has become a magnet for those in search of American candy, limited-edition snacks, and the double-tap-worthy shots to go with them.

While you’re in the neighbourhood: Once you’ve loaded up on all the treats you can carry, take your haul to Redfern Park, just two blocks north, for an alfresco feast. Then, if you’re looking to take your sugar high to truly stratospheric heights, head to one of Sydney’s best gelaterias, Ciccone and Sons, on Regent Street.

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  • Lavender Bay

The secret may be well and truly out about this hidden garden, but it really is heartwarming story and a space worth sharing. When Wendy Whiteley lost her husband, Australian artist Brett Whiteley, in 1992, she funnelled her love and grief into transforming a disused, derelict train yard space. Wendy’s Secret Garden – which is at the foothill of her private home in Lavender Bay – has been nurtured by Whiteley and two gardeners over the past 25 years. Engraved stone tablets, wooden carvings and other sculptures dotted around the garden serve as a point of inspiration for Whiteley and the community alike, with many being donated by local artists. The garden also reveals majestic views of the sparkling harbour foreshore, framing the Harbour Bridge and the fringes of North Sydney and the CBD. In 2015, the NSW State Government granted North Sydney Council a 30-year lease on the garden to secure its future. This should hopefully retain public access to the garden after Wendy's home is sold as part of an extraordinary $100 million bequest she is leaving as a cultural gift to the people NSW. 

While you're in the neighbourhood: Wendy's Secret Garden neighbours Luna Park so you can extend your day of exploring, revelling and childlike wonder with a visit to Sydney's favourite amusement park. 

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  • La Perouse
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At around 12:45am on the morning of May 8, 1937, the coal collier SS Minmi, buffeted by rough seas and hampered by heavy fog, struck the rocks of Cape Banks on Bare Island near La Perouse. The vessel was smashed in half, forcing the 20-man crew to abandon ship. Tragically, one shipmate was lost in the rescue efforts. Today, little remains of the SS Minmi, save for the rusting remnants of her hull, still clinging to the rocks where she ran aground. The decaying hulk is strangely beautiful, as it slowly but surely succumbs to the briny waters of Botany Bay. You can view the shipwreck from Bare Island.

While you’re in the neighborhood: If you're considering a visit to Bare Island, make the journey on a Sunday and join one of the weekly heritage tours. You'll learn all about the island's history and get to explore the elaborate 1880s-built fort here, which once played the backdrop for high-octane action thriller Mission Impossible II.

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  • Dawes Point

You’ll probably be aware that, located in front of the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in the heart of Hollywood, is a footpath bearing the handprints and signatures of the some of cinema's biggest stars, dating all the way back to 1920s. What you’re probably unaware of, is that Sydney had a crack at a similar celebrity venture, back in 1983. Dubbed "the footpath of fame", it features a collection of cement slabs inscribed with the marks of luminaries from the worlds of entertainment, sport, politics and even make-believe – the likes of Broken Hill artist Pro Hart, deceased racehorse Gunsynd, F1 racer Jack Barbham, and Aussie Olympian Betty Cuthbert among them. Sesame Street’s Big Bird and Santa Clause are also there. Unlike its LA counterpart, this starry street isn’t crawling with tourists. Located behind the Pier One Hotel in the Rocks, by its outside dining terrace, the footpath of fame largely goes unnoticed by the majority of those who pass by.

While you’re in the neighbourhood: Pick up a cocktail at the Pier One Hotel’s bar. It’s a great spot to enjoy a sunset over the water, with the Harbour Bridge and twinkling lights of North Sydney in the distance.

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  • St Ives

In a city that’s far from shy about showing off its natural beauty, it’s a surprise that one of its prettiest corners may well be one of its best-kept secrets. Adjacent to Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park in Sydney’s north, there’s a whopping 123 hectares of wildflower gardens surrounded by Sydney sandstone bushland. Every plant found in the Ku-Ring-Gai Wildflower Garden is native, although not necessarily local – these colourful blooms have been sourced from across Australia, including 18 threatened species of flora. There's also a nursery where you can buy your own native plants, events, kids' programs, picnic areas with barbecues, and a playground. It's open from 8am to 5pm daily.

While you're in the neighbourhood: Some of the most beautiful nature spots in New South Wales can be found in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park. We hate to play favourites, but if we had to choose, the America Bay bushwalk is a must.

  • Things to do
  • The Rocks

While it may be one of the most internationally recognised symbols of Sydney, the Harbour Bridge still has some secrets up its sleeve, or to be more precise, up its pylon. Located in the southeast leg, a multi-level museum and viewing platform lets visitors explore the history of the bridge’s design and construction. While you won’t quite reach the Bridge's full 134-metre peak at the Pylon Lookout, the panoramic, open-air viewing platform will get you to a very respectable 87 metres above sea level, delivering stunning views of the Sydney Opera House and harbour waters that you’d be hard-pressed to beat anywhere else in the city. It costs just $24.95 per adult to enter.

While you're in the neighbourhood: If you're in search of an even more thrilling encounter with this wonder of the industrial age, the BridgeClimb allows visitors to scale the full length of the famous iron arches. And should you be left wanting for even more high times, you can simply head to Luna Park, just north of the bridge at Milsons Point, for a ride on its famous Ferris wheel.

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