Sydney’s a beautiful place to live and a glorious city to visit. We’ve picked out 20 things to do in Sydney at least once, from kayaking on the harbour and cocktails with a view to our favourite weekly markets, the best underground restaurant in the city and where to get your culture fix. Take a read and get cracking on that ultimate to do list. Want more? See the best rooftop bars and waterfront dining spots.
20 fun things to do in Sydney
This underground French restaurant took out the top gong at this year's Time Out Sydney Food Awards with very good reason. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, as you walk through the big wooden doors, you feel instantly detached from the outside world and what lies before you is the promise of incredible eats and show-stopping wine in a music-filled, Belle Epoche-style bunker. The candle-lit restaurant is buzzing with people. There’s a grand piano ready to be played on a stage and intimate booths and bar stools to seat you late into the night. Even if the food wasn’t good we’d be still be coming here for late-night drinks. Luckily the food is good. Very good.
It’s the most photographed ocean pool in Australia – at Sydney’s most famous beach – which makes the 50-metre saltwater pool a popular spot for sunbathers and a bottleneck spot on the Bondi to Coogee walk. Bondi Icebergs has been a landmark for 100 years, and if you want to become a member of the oldest winter swimming club in Australia you must swim three Sundays a month for a period of five years. Luckily, for those who just want a slice of the active lifestyle synonymous with the suburb, it’s only $6.50 for casual entry – giving you access to the pool, the sauna and the gym. For the ultimate experience, book into a Yoga by the Sea class ($25, Tue-Sat during summer months).
Thought to be one of the oldest public gardens in the Southern Hemisphere, Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens date back to 1810 and over the years the 30-hectare oasis has withstood fires, cattle grazing, invasions of flying foxes, a windmill, an aviary, and even a zoo. Today, save a few sulphur-crested cockies, it’s an oasis of calm in an urban jungle. If it’s not raining, take a picnic and find a shaded spot to while away an afternoon.
Momofuku is a Japanese word (it’s the name of the man who invented instant ramen) but this five-star restaurant serves a 14-course degustation with an entirely different accent. Chef Paul Carmichael was born in Barbados, and his Caribbean upbringing shines through in his food, which is matched with the most interesting beverage list we’ve seen in ages, from sake to cider, orange wine to sherry. Carmichael has brought about a new age for this restaurant – one that is more exciting than it has ever been. It’s an expensive meal, but it's impossible not to have a good time here, so it’s worth splashing out on at least once.
It's less than an hour's drive from the CBD, yet so many Sydneysiders haven't stepped foot in the pristine 15,091 hectares of bushland that lines the coast south of Sydney. Whether you want to swim, trek, picnic, swim, bike ride, swim or just GTFO of Sydney for the day, the Royal National Park will provide an outdoors, adventure-filled day away. Driving is the easiest way to access the park, but the ferry from Cronulla is much more picturesque and endearing. The full coastal walk is 26 kilometres and takes two days – but you can explore portions of it to get a taste of each part. Tread with caution at hot spots like Wedding Cake Rock and the Figure 8 rock pools.
Before you worry about what’s inside this club, note its location and views. Clovelly Bowling Club’s uninterrupted panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean are so beautiful they may even distract you from keeping your eye on the jack. Inside, the club bar has draught beers on tap and while there’s no bistro, barbecue facilities are available for guests with bookings. Try your hand at casual bowls, which includes coaching and the rules of the game to get you started on the green.
South of Clovelly Beach and north of Coogee Beach, Gordon's Bay is a secluded location created by the deeply incised gully and sheer sandstone headlands and make it a great spot for snorkelling. On a clear day, take your own mask and snorkel the underwater nature trail – there’s a series of steel plaques attached to concrete drums (linked together by a chain) with information about the local sea life. On your self-guided adventure, you’ll likely spot starfish, sea urchins, cuttlefish and blue gropers. The trail is 600 metres long and takes around 40 minutes to complete.
Taronga Zoo boasts some of the best harbour views in the city, and as you walk along its wide, snaking paths you’ll spot the Bridge and Sydney Opera House as often as you spot the wildlife. If you’re travelling from south of the Bridge, take a ferry and arrive at the entrance via the Sky Safari cable car – waving at the elephants and chimps as you go. Look out for the pygmy hippos, komodo dragon, koalas and platypus, but also sit down for a seal performance or an up-close inspection of our scariest spiders in the daily shows at the ampitheatre. For a truly wild experience, glamp out in their Roar ‘n’ Snore tents.
Spice Alley is a little piece of Singapore in Sydney, but the food isn’t limited to Singaporean – there’s tonnes to choose from. Tucked behind the Kensington Street laneway in Chippendale, the open-air courtyard serves up hawker style dishes from across Asia. Our picks of the serving windows are Alex Lee Kitchen for their authentic Singaporean dishes, Thai and Vietnamese street food from Bang Luck, Malaysian street food at Old Jim Kee, and Cantonese comfort food at Hong Kong Diner.
Glimpse into the world’s oldest continuous culture, as it is lived, not how you imagine it to be. Splendour Tailored Tours will introduce you to the cultural practices of Indigenous peoples today in a way that is far from a history lesson – it’s a snapshot of how we got here and where we’re going. The experience begins under the pylons of the Harbour Bridge for a welcome to country and to acknowledge the ‘grandfather sun’. You’ll cross the harbour and visit an ancient rock carving that tells origin stories about the world and its people. Your adventure ends with lunch at the Gardener’s Lodge Café where you will feast on emu skewers, kangaroo burgers and crocodile salad.
When Time Out has visitors in town this is the hands-down first thing that we recommend they do. It’s a six-kilometre stretch of coastline so most walk from Bondi to Bronte and call it a day, but beyond that is where the walk gets really interesting. You’ll walk by Waverley Cemetery, where it can get windy through the suspended walkway, past Clovelly Bowls Club, the secluded nook that is Gordon’s Bay, and on to Coogee where you can reward your efforts with a cold one from Coogee Pavilion’s rooftop bar. It’s an easy-to-moderate stroll between Bondi and Bronte, which gets hillier and slightly more strenuous after that. No matter what distance you choose, activewear is always welcome.
Hacienda is capitalising on incredible harbour views that stretch from the ferry wharves at the Quay to the Bridge by creating a beautiful space filled with soft lounges, fake vines, hanging garlands and gentle orb lighting. The effect is impressive and clearly the packed bar on a Wednesday evening agrees with us. The Caribbean theme means the cocktail list leans hard on the sweet, sour and citrusy end of the spectrum. Banana is a divisive flavour, we get it, but don’t let it dissuade you from ordering the Tropical Sour. The banana flavour in the pisco plays a subtle second fiddle to the lemon kick; the dry fino sherry provides an oaky bass note; and the egg white ties everything together with a rich, silky mouthfeel.
During the day you can see Sydney Harbour in all its majesty, but by night it takes on a whole new magnitude. It’s an experience that is difficult to describe and incredible to witness. We rate the express climb, which is a little shorter and takes you up the inside arc so that you are surrounded by hand-riveted steel and feel a little like you’re inside the ribs of a metal skeleton. Adult tickets are upwards of $200, and it’s totally worth the money. Even if you’re a Sydneysider, this is an experience you should definitely tick off the list.
With its sloping shore and turquoise waters, Camp Cove looks straight out of a tourist brochure. It’s popular with snorkelers, paddleboarders and scuba divers, and there’s a constant flow of boats in summer that anchor offshore. Take a ferry to Watsons Bay and follow the stream of people walking toward Cove Street until you come across the sheltered bay. Pick up one of the housemade sorbets or chewy ANZAC biscuits from the kiosk at the far end of the beach and enjoy the views of the city. Camp Cove is also the starting point for a bush walk around South Head, which passes by Lady Bay Beach (popular with naturists) and Hornby Lighthouse.
You’ll feel like you’ve entered a private garden, with full views of Sydney Harbour Bridge, when you come across the secret garden at the foot of artist Brett Whiteley’s home in Lavender Bay. For years, the land was tangled, overgrown and strewn with rubbish, a dead-end dump for surplus trains and derelict humanity. But when Whiteley died in 1992, his widow Wendy channelled her grief into creating a place of enchantment: natives, exotics, herbs and towering fig trees run along winding gully paths while parrots, gulls, kookaburras, owls and wagtails chatter amidst the flowers and berries. Tucked away in the shadow of office towers, it is both public land and a private paean to love, loss and renewal.
No other city can boast such a range of places to go kayaking. Deep gorges, dense bushland, sandy beaches, wandering creeks, spectacular views, mighty sandstone outcrops – Sydney has it all. One of our favourite spots to explore is Pittwater. The western side is the most interesting, away from the mega-houses and scampering yachts and powerboats. Take a walk through the bush to the waterfall and paddle the creek itself. There are two beautiful sandy beaches on Morning Bay – a perfect spot to rest up and catch some rays.
The Art Gallery of New South Wales is one of Australia’s foremost cultural institutions. It holds significant collections of Australian, European and Asian art, and presents nearly 40 exhibitions annually. This summer, the Gallery is exhibiting 100 racy masterworks of art in Nude: Art from the Tate Collection, including Auguste Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’. Plus, inspired by the naked form, dancers from Sydney Dance Company will perform in the buff as part of Sydney Festival. Here on a Wednesday? They’re open late till 10pm for workshops, talks, film screenings in a weekly program called Art After Hours.
Whether you’re making the trip for the umpteenth time or a visitor climbing aboard with fresh eyes, the Manly Ferry voyage is a thrill – from the soothing chug of the motors and the tranquil churn of the big blue beneath to the smug serenity that comes with knowing you live in such a beautiful city. Riding the Manly Ferry is a classic and just one of our favourite ferry rides in this city.
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. Now, they run approximately 15 flights a day, all year round, taking passengers over Sydney’s sandstone coastline for short scenic tours or fly-and-dine experiences to Cottage Point Inn on the Hawkesbury or Jonah’s at Whale Beach. The terminal has undergone a transformation from shabby shed by the water to a high-end waterside dining spot where visitors can stop in for a coffee and pastry, or Champagne and oysters, before their flight.
Eat at the best restaurants in Sydney
These are the venues we send our friends and family to when they ask for recommendations. They’re the places that are more than just exciting food and exceptional drinks – they’re also a guaranteed good time. There’s some old faithfuls on this list that we keep coming back to, but we prioritised innovation, excitement and fun so that you can start at the top and work your way through the best restaurants Sydney has to offer. Bon appétit!