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Sunset at Fairy Bower Pool
Photograph: Destination NSW

The best things to do in Manly: a local's guide

Every day’s the weekend at this beachside suburb – but there’s more to the 2095 postcode than long stretches of golden sand

Written by
Emily Lloyd-Tait
Maya Skidmore
Avril Treasure

Not everything described as iconic deserves the title, but the double-ended ferries that shuttle between Circular Quay, past the heads and into Manly Cove are truly icons of the beachside suburb. The most visited Northern Beaches suburb is known for its surfing history, rows of Norfolk Island pine trees and busy thoroughfare of shops, cafés and sprawling pubs, but look beyond the well-trodden Corso and you’ll find tiny dive bars, indie boutiques and never-ending ways to make the most of the relaxed, outdoor lifestyle. Before Manly became a popular escape from Sydney’s CBD, it was home to the Gamaragal people, who were custodians of the land on the North Shore of Sydney Harbour.

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What’s Manly known for?

Just how many beaches are too manly for one suburb to have? Well, Manly has eight, which explains why water defines pretty much every aspect of life in this desirable suburb on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. People come here for surfing, sunshine, skateboarding, swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, hiking and beach volleyball.

What's so good about Manly?

“You live in Manly for the lifestyle. It’s the kind of place where your mum always had beach towels in the boot so you could meet her for a swim after school during summer, and your weekends consisted of nippers in the morning followed by a pink iced doughnut from the local bakery” says Alice Donaldson, who grew up in Manly. Once she got older it was all about waterfront drinks at “the office” where locals gather on a Sunday to sink beers on the grassy verge overlooking the harbour.

How do I get to Manly?

There is no train line on Sydney’s Northern Beaches so it’s a matter of car, bus or ferry. Driving can see you get caught in snaggly traffic over the Spit Bridge (especially if  you’re unlucky and it needs to open for a particularly lofty yacht). Buses are a good bet, especially since the introduction of the double decker yellow B-Line bus service that runs as often as every ten minutes between the CBD and Mona Vale and features in-seat USB chargers. But by far the nicest public transport in Sydney is a ferry. You can get the fast ferry, which is private and has a bar on board, or the big public ferry and use your Opal card.

What’s near Manly?

The next beach up from Manly’s huge expanse of golden sand (so large it’s technically three beaches, Queenscliff, North Steyne and South Steyne) is Freshwater Beach, which is famous in surfing history as the very first location Duke Kahanamoku demonstrated surf board riding to Australian audiences in 1914. This beautiful beach is also home to famed Sardinian fine diner, Pilu at Freshwater. On its inland border is Brookvale, a semi-industrial suburb that has a growing reputation as a hub for craft breweries on the Northern Beaches.

Map of Manly

If you only do one thing in Manly

The ten-kilometre Spit to Manly trek is best approached from the Spit if you want to reward yourself with snacks at the finish line. The route takes you from sandy coves to beautiful vantage points of Sydney Harbour, up and down rocky staircases, and to at least four secret beaches. Castle Rock beach is postcard perfect, so bring your swimmers and a towel for this otherwise hard-to-reach beach in Middle Harbour. Also pack water and proper sun protection, as there are very few water fountains and limited shade.

Find the best things to do in Manly

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue

It's common knowledge that Manly locals are reluctant to leave the 'insular peninsula’ on which they live. One day spent there – swimming in the clear blue waters, kayaking to nearby coves, strolling over to Shelly Beach and surfing the waves – and you’ll see why. But it’s not just the beautiful beaches that Manly has going for it. Over the last decade, the seaside suburb has welcomed excellent restaurants – from kitsch Italian joints to luxe Cantonese restaurants and fresh salad bars – a boon for Manly locals and visitors. Catch the ferry over to check them out for yourself. Here’s our guide to the best places to eat in Manly. 


Hemingway’s (48 N Steyne) is the tiny Manly small bar offering the Northern Beaches a double dose of fun drinks and a whole lot of literature directly across from the famous golden sands of Manly Beach.

Donny’s Bar (7 Market Pl) is a bare-brick American-style loft bar where you can get a Bloody Caesar and a slider and pretend like you’re Stateside.

InSitu (1/18 Sydney Rd) is a retro-themed small bar and restaurant that also does bottomless Mimosas and tapas for brunch on weekends.

Manly’s bar scene gets a touch of glamour at the Cumberland (17-19 Central Ave), an underground speakeasy hidden below an old-world delicatessen.

For craft beers brewed on site, make a beeline for the 4 Pines Manly Brew Pub (29/43-45 E Esplanade).

On a sunny evening in summer the seats out on the deck over the water at the Manly Wharf Hotel (Manly Wharf, East Esplanade) are some of the most sought after real estate in the suburb.

The Hotel Steyne (75 The Corso) is a vast enterprise with different zones catering to any whim that may take you, be it cocktails, cider, Chinese food, pub classics, pizza, or a simple lager with the football on TV. 

Manly Wine (8/13 S Steyne) has more than a hundred bottles on the wine list, organised into helpful categories that suggest more about how the wine will actually taste than a technical classification.

What’s a beachside suburb without a nautically themed small bar like the Hold (24 Sydney Rd)?

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Born and bred on the beaches, Barrel One is a northern coffee institution pedalling quality bagels, sangas and a house roasted bean so good it’ll make you want to order another, almost immediately. With locations now dotting across the whole city, the Manly edition (40 E Esplanade) is one of the earliest OGs – and it shows. Not a fan of coffee? Go for the oat jaffa hot chocolate instead. 

Norma's Deli is a new and very welcome kid on the block. A gigantic Greek-style food emporium, you can get quality coffee, epic take-away sandwiches and a heap of groceries all in one fell swoop.

Skittle Lane  (81–83 Pittwater Road) is kind of peak-Manly. White linen, airy interiors and seriously quality coffee (think house seasonal blends) reign supreme at this tiny coffee shop. Opening up onto an Assembly the Label store, this is northern beaches neutral living at its finest.

For bread, butter and bloody good coffee, there ain’t nothing better than Berkelo Manly. Fresh sourdough and actually really good gluten-free banana bread are excellent additions to any cup o’ joe.

In a laneway off the Corso you’ll find Rollers Bakehouse (19 Rialto Ln) in a baby pink garage, baking croissants in every flavour imaginable and serving up their house coffee in white, black, filter or bottomless form.

Pair your coffee with a side of Scandinavian comfort food from Fika Swedish Kitchen (5B Market Pl), like a sugar-crusted, spiced cardamom bun.

The simple pleasures of good coffee and a Belgian waffles cannot be overstated at Barefoot Coffee Traders (18 Whistler St).

Get a colourful, tasty breakfast at Market Lane Cafe (9-11/37-39 The Corso) that ranges from a superfood salad to masala scrambled egg or hot cakes, with Allpress coffee on the side. 

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Things to do

Best Beaches in Manly

Above all else, Manly is a bloody good beach town. Fringed by countless secluded swimming spots, epic surf breaks and long stretches of golden sand, Manly is made for, and shaped by its proximity to the Pacific. For some incredible, and absolutely free things to do while you’re in Manly Town, you can’t go past the beach. After a pumping surf? Go to Queenscliff, North and South Steyne. Want to swim without any waves bothering you at all? You can’t go past the Hawaiian-like paradise of Shelly Beach or the secret seclusion of Collins Flat. Want to feel like a real life mermaid, no matter the time of day? Jump into the Fairy Bower pool and feel all your woes melt away. 

If you want to keep on beaching, do the classic Manly to Spit coastal walk. Rugged, with stunning ocean views, you’ll get to walk past ancient Indigenous rock carvings, wander through the bush, and then dip into pristine beaches along the way. Pro tip: If you want to end with snacks, start at the Spit, and end at Manly – otherwise, views will be reward enough.

Best Day Spas in Manly 

Manly is all about wellness – which calls for one thing, and one thing only: the humble day spa. Whether it’s a massage, facial or sauna you’re after, this town has you covered in spades. 

Hit up Akasha Integrative Health (Unit 8/7 West Promenade) for an affordable sauna, massage and ice-bath experience – it’s $149 for a 45 minute massage and 50 minute private sauna and ice bath session, which feels pretty good. They’ve got an oxygen chamber on-site too for all those who really like to tap the wellness button.

If you love a bit of new-age wellness to help you unwind you could book yourself a session at Rimba Sweet Infrared Sauna (212 Pittwater Rd), where infrared light heat warms your body to help you sweat out your toxins.

SahSin Massage Therapy (9 Whistler St) have been massaging Manly’s residents for years. With a massive massage menu on tap, they’ve got all your aches and pains under control.

Aqua Vitae Day Spa is good for a solid (yet luxurious) facial. From detoxing skin treatments to anti-ageing rejuvenation numbers, this is a one-stop shop for your skin.

Best outdoor activities in Manly

Frolic with bandicoots and gaze out across the whole city from North Head Lookout

Manly Surf n Slide (West Esplanade and Commonwealth Pde) is an outdoor waterslide playground with heated water, so you can embrace some water play year round. 

If you’re seeking some serenity head to Manly Dam (112 King St) to commune with nature over a picnic or a bush walk.

You can book a game of beach volleyball on the North Steyne segment of Manly beach where nets are set up for daily tournaments.

Dive Centre Manly runs Snorkel Safaris of three popular spots in the area, and they take visitors on underwater adventures every day (10 Belgrave St).

On both weekend days Sydney Road is home to the Manly Marketplace, an open air market selling knick knacks, snacks, local art, jewellery, candles, hats and grocery items. 

If you purchase a skateboard from Henrietta Skate (Shop 2, 49-53 North Steyne) they throw in a free lesson so you can get a handle on your board before letting loose on the lovely flat track that runs along the beach.

Add some adventure to your day with a four-hour paddle and hike organised by Manly Kayak Centre (Manly Wharf, East Esplanade). Tours visit the historical, and possibly haunted, buildings at the old Quarantine Station.

Always wanted to hang ten? Book a group or private surfing lesson through Manly Surf School (North Steyne Surf Lifesaving Club), who will show you how to master the waves.

Hire a beach cruiser from Manly Bike Tours for $22 per hour and take a leisurely cycle along Cabbage Tree Bay cycle path. Each bike is fitted with a pocket bag for your essentials (phone, lock) and there’s a laminated map attached to the handlebars.

Best indoor activities in Manly

If you're headed indoors, make it for the Manly Art Gallery and Museum (West Esplanade), which has an annual program of exhibitions that includes prominent local artists and major touring exhibitions. The museum is devoted to the history of Manly and has a marvellously kitsch collection of beach memorabilia.

Scare yourself silly at one of Australia’s most haunted sites. Q Station (1 N Head Scenic Dr) runs nightly lantern-lit ghost tours for $65pp.



At Desire Books and Records (3/3 Whistler St) you can sift through the $2 vinyl record bin on the steps of a secondhand bookstore that has branched out into preloved surf-rock. 

Fill your home bar, fridge and esky at Winona (2/12-14 Pittwater Rd), a beautiful wine boutique stocking the most delicious new-era natural wines, local spirits, craft beers and tasty snacks .

We all know fast fashion is a problem, so the next time your need a new outfit for a special event, why not visit Department 24 (2/69 Pittwater Rd), a designer garment hire studio.

Emporio Home and Flowers(185 Pittwater Rd) is pretty much all the nicest bits of life crammed into two shopfronts. There's the florist on one side, and on the other a deli café so you can snack and shop simultaneously.

If you’re trying to shop more mindfully, a visit to Blaek Store (210 Pittwater Rd) will tick all the boxes thanks to their collection of sustainable, ethical & organic clothing and homewares.

You can shop first, then eat at Ruby Lane Wholefoods (200 Pittwater Rd), or do it the other way around at this café and organic grocer.

If you’ve done the lessons and have decided to commit to the salty life, gear up at Dripping Wet Surf Co (2/93-95 N Steyne), where life-time surfers will guide you through board, wetsuit and accessory shopping. 

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