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January events in Sydney

Summer is in full bloom, adventures are lined up and Sydney is ripe for the taking

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People dancing at the Inner West Fiesta.
Photograph: Supplied

The first month of the year is packed with summer music festivals, outdoor markets, blockbuster theatre shows and major art exhibitions. Make the most of January in Sydney with our guide to the coolest events for when it really heats up in the city.

Got rowdy little rugrats? Bookmark this guide to the summer school holidays – otherwise they’ll be running round the house all day until January 27.

If you're entertaining guests, why not show them the best walks in Sydney, marvel at the city skyline from these fab spots, or find a remedy for the summer heat with these 101 things to do indoors in Sydney.

RECOMMENDED: The best vegan restaurants in Sydney.

January's biggest adventures

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Harpist Mary Lattimore at Sydney Festival, playing at Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre
Photograph: Prudence Upton
Things to do, Fairs and festivals

Sydney Festival

Around Sydney, Sydney

This annual cultural celebration is the big one on Sydney’s summer must-do list, and the festival’s contemporary programming always manages to surprise. In 2020, Sydney Festival will run for 19 days in January with a program of experimental art and premiere performances. 

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Solange Knowles with unusual eye make-up.
Photograph: Supplied
Music, Funk, soul and disco

Solange

Sydney Opera House, Sydney

After she wowed Sydney at Vivid Live 2018, we were aching for more of the powerful, funk-infused live music from this Grammy Award-winning artist. And we're ready to rejoice this summer, because Solange Knowles is coming back to sing under the big white sails at four more performances in January.

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Daniel Boyd: Video Works Sydney Festival 2020 supplied
Daniel Boyd, 'Yamani' (2018)
Art

Daniel Boyd: Video Works

Carriageworks, Eveleigh

Kudjala and Gangalu artist Daniel Boyd is known for his signature style, which sits somewhere between traditional Aboriginal dot-painting and Impressionist pointilism. The dot motif has appeared in plenty of his work, from large-scale public art installations to smaller paintings. Now it will be exploded out into three immersive video installations at Carriageworks.

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An Appropriate Reaction Cement Fondu 2020 supplied
Tabita Rezaire, 'Sorry4real' (still), 2015
Art

An Appropriate Reaction

Cement Fondu, Darlinghurst

Inspired by African American writer, feminist and activist Audre Lorde's 1981 speech, in which she argued that anger was “an appropriate reaction” to racism, the gallery has curated a series of exhibitions and live events from women artists of colour responding to Lorde’s speech and examining the ways in which anger is used as a reductive, racist and gendered stereotype to devalue and dismiss them. 

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Kids playing with blocks.
Photograph: Supplied
Kids, Fairs and festivals

Contemporary Kids x Fambo

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), The Rocks

Fambo – a kid-friendly festival featuring live vogueing, drag performances, creative workshops and storytelling – had its first outing in 2018, and is returning to collaborate with the MCA during Sydney Festival. There’ll be impressive art installations and performances to marvel at during the school holidays event, but the drop-in workshops will undoubtedly be a highlight.

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Six the Musical Sydney Opera House 2019 supplied
Photograph: Idil Sukan
Theatre, Musicals

Six the Musical

Sydney Opera House, Sydney

Sing along if you know this one: Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Six the Musical is set to have its Australian premiere. Much like Hamilton before it, the pop musical is making history buffs out of legions of musical theatre tragics, telling the story of the six wives of Henry VIII.

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Twilight at Taronga
Photograph: Maclay Heroit
Music, Music festivals

Twilight at Taronga

Taronga Zoo, Mosman

The Twilight at Taronga concert series has been sparkling on the harbour for 25 years. This time around, hear a synthy-pop session by New Zealand duo Broods, a proper rock'n'roll set with Wolfmother, a country cruise by the award-winning Kasey Chambers, pop bangers by Meg Mac and, of course, a little something from Paul Kelly.

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Bran Nue Dae supplied 2020 Opera Australia
Photograph: Damian Kelly
Theatre, Musicals

Bran Nue Dae

Riverside Theatres, Parramatta

In 1990, Jimmy Chi's musical about a runaway teenage Aboriginal boy on an eye-opening road trip became a surprise hit. It was Australia's first Aboriginal musical, and now it's returning for a 30th anniversary tour produced by a group of Australia's biggest opera companies (but the rock and pop-inspired score isn't going to get an operatic bent).

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Fiona Foley 2020 National Art School
Fiona Foley, 'HHH #1', 2004
Art

Fiona Foley: Who Are These Strangers and Where Are They Going?

National Art School, Darlinghurst

Badtjala artist Dr Fiona Foley is known for her photographic works dismantling historical stereotypes. As part of Sydney Festival, the National Art School hosts a new survey exhibition of her work. The starring new piece is a musical soundscape that tells the story of the first sighting of Captain Cook by the Badtjala people of K’gari (Fraser Island).

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Opening Night Sydney Festival 2020 supplied
Photograph: Simon Gosselin
Theatre, Drama

Opening Night

John Cassavetes’ 1977 movie about an ageing actress self-combusting in the out-of-town tryouts for a new Broadway show has developed a devoted cult following since its premiere. Now a new stage version, by auteur director Cyril Teste, is one of the headlining events at Sydney Festival.

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The Visitors 2020 Sydney Festival
Photograph: Jamie James
Theatre

The Visitors

Carriageworks, Eveleigh

Taking us back to Sydney’s colonial beginnings, The Visitors it follows the events of January 1788, when the inhabitants of Gadigal land are met with the strange sight of ships arriving in Sydney Harbour. Where are they from? Who do they belong to? Seven clan leaders must decide how their people will respond.

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A festival crowd assembled in front of a stag with a large pink back-drop emblazoned with the 'Heaps Gay' logo
Photographer: Damon Collum, Diabolique Photography
Music, Music festivals

Roadwerk – A Festival by Heaps Gay

This summer festival celebrates local talent along with a broad range of Australian and international musicians and a multi-faceted program of live music, performance and art installations. Roadwerk’s live music lineup is shaped Sydney youth broadcasters FBi Radio and first nations leaders Koori Radio.

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1984 the musical new theatre 2020 supplied
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre

1984! The Musical!

New Theatre, Newtown

When you think of musicals, George Orwell’s dystopian tale of totalitarianism, thought police and state surveillance isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. But writers Diana Reid and Tom Davidson McLeod swear adapting 1984 to a musical comedy felt “surprisingly natural”. 

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A person and a dog at an outdoor cinema.
Photograph: Supplied
Film, Outdoor cinema

American Express Openair Cinemas Inner West

University of Sydney, Camperdown

[Sponsored] This year's dog-friendly season of outdoor cinema includes festive new releases as well as blockbuster screenings we’ve been waiting for all year. Keep the post-Christmas cheer going with a night of holiday tunes and awkwardly adorable romance in Last Christmas. Other favorites include Jojo Rabbit, Bombshell, Joker and the next installment in the Star Wars series.

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Grand Finale // Hofesh Shechter
Rahi Rezvani
Dance

Grand Finale

Sydney Opera House, Sydney
5 out of 5 stars

Like all great art, Hofesh Schechter's Grand Finale is a work up for interpretation. Certainly, it’s about youth and the power inherent in the young; they’re enraged, armed and almost preternaturally responsive to the pressures bearing in on them. It’s also a distinctly urban work, concerned with the constraints and the thrills of metropolitan confinement.

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Vernon Ah Kee The Island Campbelltown Arts Centre 2020 supplied
Image courtesy Vernon Ah Kee and Milani Gallery
Art

Vernon Ah Kee: The Island

Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown

Vernon Ah Kee's work ranges from large-scale drawings to text-based works, installations and video. He offers searing critiques of Australian culture from an Indigenous perspective (as a member of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidinji and Gugu Yimithirr peoples) and is set to do so in this show at Campbelltown Arts Centre.

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Linear exhibition
Art, Installation

Linear

Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo

Explore Indigenous connection to cultural legacy and the physical, cultural and spiritual lines that link First Nations practices and narratives across Australia. Linear has been curated by the award-winning head of design at Bangarra Dance Theatre, Murri man Jacob Nash, and features ten Indigeous practitioners from across the country.

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Romeo and Juliet Sport for Jove 2019 supplied
Photograph: Patrick Boland
Theatre, Drama

Romeo and Juliet

Multiple venues

The greatest love story ever told gets a rethink this summer, putting teenagers where they should be – at the heart of the story. With an original a cappella score composed by Naomi and Drew Livingston, it features a cast of up and coming teenage stars to bring new life and energy to Shakespeare’s tragic tale.

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Press shots of Sean Paul and Shaggy wearing sunglasses.
Photograph: Supplied
Music, Reggae

Sean Paul & Shaggy

Hordern Pavilion, Moore Park

We really got our hair crimpers in a knot with excitement when we heard that this Jamacian rapper and reggae pair would be visiting Sydney. You’re sure to have boogied to Shaggy's infectious beats on a Saturday eve, and if you partake in a bit of untz, untz, untz on the odd occasion, it’s likely that ‘Temperature’ is still popping your eardrums.

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Black Cockatoo Sydney Festival 2020 supplied
Photograph: Christian Trinder
Theatre

Black Cockatoo

Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli

In 1868, a group of Aboriginal cricketers embarked upon a pioneering journey to England and became the first Australian sporting team to tour internationally. This funny and affecting play by Geoffrey Atherden gives their leader Johnny Mullagh his appropriate due and questions how history has treated this legend.

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Dodecalis Luminarium Sydney Festival supplied 2020
Photograph: John Owens
Art, Sculpture and installations

Dodecalis Luminarium

Tumbalong Park, Sydney

From the outside, the spectacular luminaria created by UK company Architects of Air look a little like retro spaceships landed from an alien planet. But if you venture inside the Dodecalis Luminarium, which is popping up in Darling Harbour, you’ll find a labyrinth of uniquely curved and beautiful tunnels lit in dazzling colours.

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Cold Chisel 2019 supplied
Photograph: Robert Hambling
Music, Rock and indie

Cold Chisel

Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta

Since Cold Chisel disbanded in 1984 they've only completed four national tours together. But you can't keep a good thing down, which is why the band is reforming for a massive outdoor tour this summer. Dubbed the Blood Moon tour, the run of shows will be in stadiums, vineyards and out in the bush.

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Every Brilliant Thing Belvoir 2020 supplied feat Steve Rodgers
Photograph: Daniel Boud
Theatre, Drama

Every Brilliant Thing

Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills

Belvoir is kicking off its 2020 with one of its biggest hits of this year: Duncan Macmillan’s bittersweet, uplifting monologue about a child who starts keeping a list of all the brilliant things in the world in an attempt to ward off their mother’s depression. It's now 20 years later and they're still keeping that list.

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Fatboy Slim press shot
Photograph: Supplied
Music, Pop

Fatboy Slim

Sydney Olympic Park, Sydney Olympic Park

Fact: it is physically impossible to hear ‘Weapon of Choice’ without starting to dance like Christopher Walken. Sydneysiders will have the opportunity to do that (as well as enjoy other A-grade bangers) when Fatboy Slim comes to the city this summer.

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Shrek the Musical 2019 supplied image
Photograph: Helen Maybanks
Theatre, Musicals

Shrek the Musical

Sydney Lyric, Darling Harbour

Here's an ogre-sized announcement: Broadway's musical version of the much-loved 2001 Dreamworks movie Shrek is making its Australian professional debut in January 2020 at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. It's very much the ogre-meets-princess story you know and love from the original film.

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Cornelia Parker Museum of Contemporary Art 2019
Photograph: Hugo Glendinning
Art

Cornelia Parker

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), The Rocks

Cornelia Parker is considered one of England's biggest and most influential art stars from the last few decades and was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 2010. At the centre of the MCA's exhibition is her breakthrough work which features a garden shed she had the British Army blow up with explosives.

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People sitting at tables on Cockatoo Island with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.
Photograph: Supplied / Harbour Trust
Music

Sunset Sessions at Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island, Sydney

Jump on the ferry to Cockatoo Island for a night of chilled acoustic performances with a banging city backdrop. Sunset Sessions – previously known as Campfire Sessions – will share intimate songs and stories from up-and-coming artists on the island lawn on Saturday evenings until March. 

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Buŋgul Sydney Festival 2020 supplied
© Priscilla Barrapami Yunipingu
Music

Buŋgul

Sydney Opera House, Sydney

On July 25, 2017, Australia lost one of the greatest musicians of our age: Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. To celebrate his legacy and a remarkable musical gift that defied barriers and crossed cultures, this touching tribute, part ceremony, part concert, has been created on Country in North East Arnhem Land.

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Things to do, Fairs and festivals

Chatswood Year of the Rat Festival

Chatswood CBD, Chatswood

Chatswood is hosting a three-week festival to ring in the Year of the Rat and wave goodbye to 2019’s oinkers. The colourful celebrations will fan out across the suburb with dozens of markets, parades, dining events and art exhibitions.

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The Life of Us Hayes Theatre 2020 supplied
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre, Musicals

The Life of Us

Hayes Theatre Co, Elizabeth Bay

This new musical from local writers and performers Ashleigh Taylor and Ben Bennett is getting its first major staging at the Hayes Theatre. It tells the story of Charlie and Ellie, a young couple trying to negotiate the demands of a long-distance relationship, both helped and hindered by technology.

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Cry Club band members posing for a press shot.
Photograph: Supplied
Music, Rock and indie

Cry Club

Oxford Art Factory, Darlinghurst

There are some really exciting sounds coming from bubbly queer punk-rockers, Cry Club. The Wollongong-bred, Melbourne-based duo have really taken 2019 by storm, pumping out a series of energetic singles. The pair’s next gig at Oxford Art Factory is part of a tour that’ll bring their newest single ‘Robert Smith’ to stages along the East Coast. 

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Mov'in Bed Cinema
Photograph: Supplied
Film, Outdoor cinema

Mov'in Bed Outdoor Bed Cinema

The Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park

Crawl under the blankets with a glass of wine and settle in for another season of screenings in bed at the EQ. This fun date night series has been running since 2016, offering Sydney’s film buffs the chance to see new releases and classic cinematic moments on the big screen while laying in bed at pop-up outdoor locations.

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Life the Show Sydney Festival 2020
Photograph: Mik Lavage
Theatre, Circuses

Life: The Show

Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Sydney

Strut & Fret’s latest, ambitiously titled Life: The Show is slightly serious for a circus-comedy. It traces the trials of one man’s often mundane life, seeking to pose some existential questions. Expect a dazzling soundtrack, plenty of comedy, adults-only clowning, and even an aerial act in a giant, condom-like plastic tube.

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Jumaadi: My Love is in an Island Far Away Mosman Art Gallery supplied 2019
Photograph: Katrina Cashman
Art

Jumaadi: My Love is in an Island Far Away

Mosman Art Gallery, Mosman

The long and often fraught relationship between Australia and Indonesia is at the heart of this new exhibition by internationally acclaimed Javanese artist Jumaadi. Drawing inspiration from Cintaku Jauh di Pulau, an epic poem by Indonesian writer Chairil Anwar, Jumaadi juxtaposes it against the brutal treatment of Javanese political prisoners during the 20th century.

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35
Nag Nag Nag festival 2018
Photograph: Jake Ollett
Music, Music festivals

Nag Nag Nag

This Inner West music festival showcases the best of Australia’s underground music streams. It’s essentially the opposite of an arena spectacular; the festival takes over the Marrickville Bowling Club for two days of cheap schooners and the kind of lock-out defying bands who play live gigs every week in alternative venues.

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Songs for Nobodies Arts Centre Melboune 2019 supplied
Photograph: Supplied
Theatre

Songs for Nobodies

Sydney Opera House, Sydney

There are few singers who are able to so accurately mimic the divas of years gone by like Bernadette Robinson. This show involves her channelling Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas, and telling the stories of five ordinary women who connected with them.

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Images of CDs from the 2000s.
Photograph: Creative Commons
Clubs

That's So 2000s Festival

The Factory Theatre, Marrickville

Calling all skater girls, backstreet boys and children of destiny: the massive nostalgic So Freshtival dance party is returning to Sydney. This edition, dubbed the That's So 2000s Festival, will combine all of your ’90s kids dreams into one mega blue light disco-style party.

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Tenebrae Sydney Festival 2020 supplied
Photograph: Sim Canetty-Clarke
Music, Classical and opera

Tenebrae

City Recital Hall, Sydney

The London-based Tenebrae was founded in 2001 by director and former King’s Singer Nigel Short. In a little under two decades, Short and co have established a commanding presence in the upper echelons of the world’s great vocal groups. They will deliver two programs as part of Sydney Festival.

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Family Values Griffin Theatre 2020 supplied
Photograph: Brett Boardman
Theatre

Family Values

SBW Stables Theatre - Griffin Theatre Company, Darlinghurst

David Williamson's new comedy takes place as a retired federal judge invites his children home to celebrate his birthday. Those children are: a born-again Christian, a Border Force officer and her seafaring girlfriend, and a left-wing activist who shows up with an asylum seeker on the run from Nauru.

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La Boheme 2017 Opera Australia production still feat cast photographer credit Prudence Upton
Photograph: Prudence Upton
Theatre

La bohème

Sydney Opera House, Sydney

Some love La bohème, some loathe it – but there's no doubt that there's plenty of those Puccini earworms, and plenty of romance, sex, tragedy and comedy. To that mix, Edwards and Thomson add the sizzle of Weimar Germany (cue topless club girls, red-curtained cabarets, bedazzling frocks, and the best kind of boho threads).

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Scott Silven
Photograph: Alice Boreas
Theatre

At the Illusionist's Table

QT Sydney, Sydney

It is one thing to watch a magic show, with an illusionist able to deliver smooth patter and clever conjuring from the distance of a stage. But it's a very different matter to have dinner with a 'mentalist' and illusionist and experience the magic at close quarters and in an unpredictable setting.

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People watching lion dancing on poles.
Photograph: Graeme Taylor
Things to do, Fairs and festivals

Lunar New Year at World Square

World Square, Sydney

While the Year of the Rat promises to bring motivation and stability, it’s going to start with a party. The folks at World Square will host a Lunar New Year celebration with traditional performances and augmented reality (AR) shows.

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Band shot of Bastille members.
Photograph: Supplied
Music, Rock and indie

Bastille

Hordern Pavilion, Moore Park

This British quartet will be bringing a setlist melding R’n’B and electro-pop to Sydney for their Doom Days Tour. They’ll be pumping recently released singles like the retro dance track ‘Quarter Past Midnight’, pop-happy ‘Joy’ and the darker ‘Those Nights’.

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Liverpool Sculpture Walk 2019 supplied
Photograph: Charlotte Curd
Art, Sculpture and installations

Liverpool Sculpture Walk

Casula Parklands Playground, Casula

For two weeks every spring, hordes of Sydneysiders head to the beach for the annual Sculpture by the Sea. But for nine months, Casula Parklands is playing host to a new sculpture walk, featuring eight works from Sculpture by the Sea along the banks of the Georges River.

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Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre
Photograph: Supplied
Kids, Active events

Splash n Fun

Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre, Sydney Olympic Park

The Splash n Fun pop-up water park is an inflatable playground of slides, obstacles, runways and swings, offering a fun-filled way to cool off when the mercury soars outside. This year’s star attraction will be the Atomic Drop slide – a towering chute that's not for the faint-hearted.

Glide around the salty bay

Many yachts in the water of Sydney Harbour with the city skyline and harbour bridge in the background
Photograph: Creative Commons
Things to do

The best ways to experience Sydney Harbour

There’s a good reason why Sydney is often called the Harbour City: this place is defined by its connection to the water and the sheltered bays hold some irresistible charms. Whether you’re in it, on it, or simply admiring it, here are our top recommendations for the best ways to experience Sydney Harbour.

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