We’ve tried and tested Sydney’s best tours – from seaside foraging trails to urban graffiti walks – to bring you a list of tour operators who’ll help you discover the hidden gems of this city, whether you’re local or here to soak up the view. Theatre nut? Check out our list of the best backstage tours in Sydney. If you prefer your history lessons with more fright, we’ve got the best ghost tours too.
RECOMMENDED: Tourist attractions that don't suck.
Sydney's best tours
Who’s it for? Visitors who want to get a snapshot of Australian Indigenous history
Hours on your feet: 1.5
What to bring: Hat, camera and picnic blanket
Time Out tip: Allow a bit of time to relax in the gardens beforehand (to give you enough time to locate the shop from which the tour departs) and afterwards (to explore the Calyx)
Stingless bee colonies, climbing Moreton Bay fig trees and juicy Davidson plums are just a few of the natural wonders you’ll see (and taste) on this tour of Sydney’s harbourside horticultural oasis. You’ll walk by some of Sydney’s most famous landmarks as you trail around the fringe of the city looking back out to the Opera House, Mrs Macquarie's Chair and the Harbour Bridge. This walk, however, focuses on the Indigenous history of the land, outlining the origins of Sydney from the perspective of the world’s oldest living culture. You’ll wander through Farm Cove and learn about how the Gadigal people lived and worked with the seasons before the area was colonised. Time Out visits on a sunny Thursday morning and our guide Henrietta Baird cheerfully imparts her knowledge of every plant, tree, flower and nut on the 1.5-hour tour. While this is a tour of beauty, you’ll also gain insight to the practical uses the flora is put to by Gadigal people. Soft yellow banksias can be used for maintaining embers and as a painting tool; candlenuts can be soaked and eaten or used for their multi-purpose oil; paperbark is used for everything from wrapping food to swaddling babies; and those tall, thick Gymea lily stems were used to practice spearing, while the bases can be roasted and eaten. Seeing this ingenuity in action is impressive. You’ll also learn about the deep connection to seasonality – when wattles are in bloom you’ll know that whales are migrating, while stingless bee colonies a colonies act as natural barometer (when it’s below 14 degrees, they won’t be out). In a busy city, it’s a special reminder to slow down, observe nature and acknowledge our history. Jordan Kretchmer
Who’s it for? Locals who’d like to learn more about Newtown’s street art culture
Hours on your feet: 3
What to bring: A water bottle (there’s a bubbler at the station), hat, camera, beer money
Time Out tip: Encourage your guide to finish up at Young Henrys for a well earned thirst quencher and toilet break
So you’ve heard of local artists Lister, Numbskull and Skulk, but how many times have you stopped to look at their work? To contemplate the skill, style and progression of these paste-up, roller art and mural painters? On Culture Scout’s three-hour walking tour of the Inner West, you learn a little more about the art you already know – like the iconic, heritage listed ‘I Have a Dream’ mural (did you know one of the artists served time for murder?) – and a lot more about smaller tagging, stickering and vigilante paint jobs of Newtown and Enmore. Our guide Craig (a cartoon artist by the name ‘Bunkwaa’) points out the artworks we may have missed, introducing us to Krispie’s handpainted cartoon stickers; artist Will Coles' metallic gun cleverly camouflaged into its surroundings; and pictures creatively painted inside grey squares left behind by council clean-ups on Goddard Street. But there’s also time to appreciate the works right under our noses, like Lister’s dancing ballerinas on the Hub building, or the sweeping layers of pink, blue and turquoise of ‘Save Our Coral Reef’ by Phibs and George Rose – an artwork commissioned by the council and covering signposts to blend into the urban environment. We bet even residents would learn something new. Emma Joyce
Who’s it for? Fans of The Wire – you won’t believe the political skulduggery
Hours on your feet: 3
What to bring: Hat and sunscreen
Time Out tip: You can get a coffee and a toilet break halfway through in the Opera House foyer
Perhaps the only thing more gobsmacking than the Sydney Opera House itself is the story of how it came to be. For instance, did you know Jørn Utzon’s design wasn’t even shortlisted from among the 233 entries, until the late arrival of the fourth judge, Eero Saarinen, who plucked it from the maybe pile? That the project’s purported cheapness (!) was what got it over the line? That Utzon solved an engineering problem that the world’s best engineers could not solve? That Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe hated the design? The ironies pile up in this excellent walk, led by Eoghan Lewis, who in addition to being a professional architect and Opera House expert is an inspired storyteller. Lewis leads the walk from the Museum of Sydney to various views of the iconic structure, while explaining the philosophy behind Utzon’s design (inspirations included Mayan ruins, the Acropolis, birds, fish and walnuts). We go under and into the building to learn how the Danish architect tackled problems like drainage and expansion; hear how the media first fawned over, then later castigated him; and discover how badly off the rails things went after Utzon was fired – you’ll never look at certain dodgy non-Utzon add-ons the same way again. Lewis paints a picture of an eccentric man with a singular artistic vision; blinkered, self-interested politicians; and a project that saw the light of day through what can only be described as a series of miraculous misfortunes. Nick Dent
Who’s it for? Foodies – you’ll get great tips on local, sustainable bush food
Hours on your feet: 1.5
What to bring: Sunscreen, hat, comfy shoes
Time Out tip: Get your hands dirty and experience the wide range of natural colours abundant in the ochre-rich sandstone
In a city with such a dazzling harbour, it’s easy to miss all of the complex little worlds surrounding us every day. That pretty purple wildflower or innocuous green shrub you may pass on a lunchtime walk contains food and medicine, if only you look a little closer. If you are curious to discover the genius within our natural environment, and the people and culture that thrived here for thousands of years before you, the Aboriginal Walking Tour at Barangaroo is a good place to start. Named after a badass fisherwoman and defiant champion of sustainable practices, Barangaroo is now a park that has committed to being carbon neutral and water positive with zero waste emissions. In small groups led by one of several Aboriginal guides, you can explore the reserve, which sits on the edge of the harbour and has been redeveloped with over 75,000 native plants. History and wisdom is woven into humour and personal anecdotes from the tour guides. It’s a leisurely stroll, with many stops to touch, smell and taste the plants that have sustained life and communities that lived in harmony with the land and its bounty. You’ll learn which plants can cure toothaches, repel mozzies, or be ground into flour for a sweet bread or even used as a syrup in wine. You’ll also discover the stories of the many animals and sealife that once flourished here and how they have adapted like us, to the many changes of modernisation. Emily Nicol
Who’s it for? Food enthusiasts, locals and hungry beachgoers
Hours on your feet: 3
What to bring: Camera, pen, weather appropriate shoes and windbreaker
Time Out tip: Check out Diego’s Mushroom Foraging Tours and Oliver Brown’s Instagram feed for more delicacies from the wild
Wild food expert Oliver Brown says, “Experiencing the beach isn’t just swimming between the flags and eating a Calippo on the way home.” Brown is one half of the duo behind the Seaside Foraging Tour in Clovelly, facilitated largely by the very entertaining Diego Bonetto – a professional forager and edible weeds activist. The tour shows you that buying a Calippo from a beachside kiosk is a waste of cash as seaside snacks are growing in the surf fringes, lawns and rock platforms right where you swim. The workshop’s aim is to gift you with the knowledge to identify medicinal and edible plants growing all around us. You’ve been sitting on a patch of Warrigal greens this whole time! You can eat dandelions! You just need to know where to look. We’re led around Gordons Bay to the Shark Point rock platform on the northern end of Clovelly. Diego and Oliver collect as we go and at regular intervals give comprehensive information about the goods they’ve picked up along the way. The group is a comfortable size so questions don’t feel overwhelming or distracting, and everyone joins in on the trading of information, people scribble wildly to retain as much as possible. We taste everything as we go, from tangy rock samphire to lemony dock leaves and freshly plucked urchin gonads – with an invigorating side of rockpool-fresh sea lettuce and garlic-preserved turban snail. Delicious! Claire Finneran
Who’s it for: Visitors of all ages; little kids ride in carts attached to parents’ bikes
Hours on your pedals: 3.5
What to bring: Camera/phone, comfortable clothing and footwear, hat, water and snacks. Bonza Bike Tours supply sunscreen
Time Out tip: Take photos during the stops and during the walking parts of the journey
Getting to know Sydney via pushbike can be a sweaty affair, but it’s worth the workout. We took to the saddle and played tourist for a 17km ride around Sydney with jovial tour guide, Brady. You’ll ride from the Rocks up Observatory Hill, onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge, through Barangaroo Park and Darling Harbour, then past Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and all the way to the Sydney Opera House. The pace is pretty easy going even for kids and older folks, and our gang of ten riders managed the ride with ease. The true-blue Aussie guides liven up local history with some fun facts. Did you know Sydneysiders originally thought they’d have to drive over the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge? Madness. Or that Darling Harbour is named after a 19th-century governor who banned convicts from creating theatrical or dramatic performances? Very entertaining, Sir Ralph Darling.At the halfway point, you stop at Sydney’s oldest continually licensed hotel, the Lord Nelson Brewery. There isn’t time for a feed, but there is time for beer, so pack snacks or grab nibbles from the convenience store next door if you need more than booze for fuel. There are some less than idyllic sections along the route – construction at Barangaroo makes navigating harangued pedestrians that little bit harder and one cyclist did topple off their bike (nothing broken) between the stop-and-start traffic lights of Liverpool Street. But on a city tour, these kind of metropolitan perils are part of the package. Olivia Gee
Who’s it for? Food adventurers looking for new flavours
Hours on your feet: 3.5 including dining time
What to bring: A water bottle and extra spending cash
Time Out tip: Don’t even think about eating breakfast before you arrive
You’ll want to set out on this food-focused exploration ravenously hungry. The team at Taste Cultural Food Tours have done their research, eating their way around Western Sydney to find you the best of every cuisine, highlighting independent local businesses and their authentic offerings. On the Taste of the World experience, you get to traverse the edible globe in a three-and-a-half hour walking tour around Liverpool. The area’s diverse cultural history means you’re in for a treat. You start with a traditional herb-heavy Lebanese breakfast pizza, manakeesh, before trotting over to Vietnam for a refreshing iced coffee sweetened with condensed milk, or a hot version made traditionally with a whole egg. Next, you’ll find a perfectly spice-balanced falafel, then head to India for a generously rolled dosa – similar to a crêpe with a Masala filling of richly spiced potatoes – followed by some unusual Indian sweets. In between courses, your friendly guide will show you around local grocery stores and butchers selling intriguing produce that you won’t find at Woolies. The Udaya Indian Supermarket on Macquarie Street is like a spicy bazaar version of Costco. You’re sure to acquire additional expert knowledge as you go, as all the tour guides are locals who’ve recently migrated to the country or arrived in Australia as refugees. Working as a social enterprise and charity, Taste Culture Food Tours trains new community members as guides so they can share the history of the region while also sharing their cultures. Olivia Gee
Find more Sydney tours
It’s a rare chance that you’ll have the opportunity to explore a completely empty Opera House theatre.
Nothing puts a smile on a grumpy motorist’s face quite like seeing a vintage-style motorbike chugging uphill.
Dave’s Brewery Tours are a great way to find out about Sydney’s craft beer scene while exploring parts of Sydney you may not be familiar with and, of course, getting to drink tasty beers.
You can't help but feel like James Bond when you climb into the compact helicopter that is set to ferry you up over the Sydney CBD.
If you have visitors in town, this is a free way to check off many of the city’s historical sites in one go – and there’s a fact-filled guide to do all the talking.
Sydney Seaplanes operates from the site of Australia’s first international airport, where Catalina flying boats would take off for a ten-day journey to London in the early ’40s, stopping 30 times on the way.