Sydney’s a beautiful place to live and a glorious city to visit. We’ve picked out 50 things to do in Sydney at least once, from kayaking on the harbour to cocktails with a view 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.
50 fun things to do in Sydney
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 recommend 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.
Carriageworks Farmers Market is the busiest Saturday market in the city. It’s well worth the trip for its range of seasonal produce, including organic and biodynamic foods from farmers and producers from across New South Wales. The markets are curated by Aussie chef Mike McEnearney, and you’ll find fellow superstar chef Kylie Kwong there every week behind the steamers at the Billy Kwong stand.
What other path sees you wind past millionaires' mansions, Indigenous rock art and at least four secret beaches, all of it punctuated by cliff top views and the ocean beyond? It's magic, and if you start at the Spit Bridge trailhead and do the walk backward, you can reward yourself with a cocktail from Papi Chulo's at the end of the trek. After ten kilometers and around four hours of walking (including inclines), you'll need one.
This fancy fish diner in Paddo sees young gun chef Josh Niland personally introduce you to the treasures of the high seas. The menu here changes from day to day, depending on what prized items Niland’s suppliers have wrested from the fishing nets that morning. Perhaps it is a pile of beautiful terracotta striped flame cockles that are buried in charcoal until they pop open, so that the meaty molluscs can be dressed in a pungent red vinegar and shellfish oil combination. Or maybe you’ll eat a Spencer Gulf rock crab, claws ready for cracking and the body picked free and served in the shell with a coral sauce.
Longstanding Camden-based company Balloon Aloft were the first people to offer commercial balloon flights in Australia, around 35 years ago. Their pick-up point is the Rydges Hotel in Campbelltown and you might want to book a room at the hotel for the night before you fly as departures can be as early as 4am. In the padded basket everyone gets a spectacular view of the sun rising in the east and the pink tones and long shadows hitting the countryside below, including the steep hills of the Razorback Ranges to the pretty church steeples of Camden.
Prop up the bar with a frosty Newtowner beer at the brewery that made it. Young Henrys is a local beer that you’ll find on tap at all the best pubs and bars around Sydney. Get a flavour for the bohemian suburb Newtown with a wander down King Street before joining the inclusive and diverse crowd at the craft beer cellar door. Young Henrys is all about afternoon sessions and on a weekend you’ll want to shake a leg in order to secure one of the prized high tables at the brewery cellar door.
Just an hour away from Sydney’s CBD, Dharawal National Park provides stunning scenery and an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Until recently, public access to the bushland was restricted, now you can enjoy guided tours of the park every second Saturday of the month. Guiding the way will be an Aboriginal Discovery Ranger who will share local knowledge about flora and fauna along the way, as well as Dreamtime stories that connect Indigenous Australians to the area.
The harbourside MCA is the go-to venue for cutting-edge art on a local and international level. After extensive renovations this expansive space reopened in 2012, boasting three spanking new galleries and a rooftop café and sculpture terrace with superb views. There are extended hours on Wednesdays.
Time Out gave Ester the award for Restaurant of the Year for 2017. Chef Mat Lindsay is a master of light and shade. He slings big, punchy flavours into the woodfired oven so that the blistering heat can work its magic, softening the fat under the skin of a tender half duck, blackening the leaves of a half head of cauliflower and drawing the deep seabed flavours out of the shells of their famous king prawns which have not left the menu since opening night (praise be).
It’s the most photographed ocean pool in Australia – at Sydney’s most famous beach. The 50-metre saltwater pool a popular spot for sunbathers and a bottleneck spot on the Bondi to Coogee walk. The baths have been a landmark of Bondi 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, it’s only $7 for casual entry – giving you access to the pool, the sauna and the gym.
Prime position in Sydney pub folklore couldn't save rock’n’roll dive the Lansdowne Hotel from shuttering in 2015. But Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham (the duo behind Mary's and the Unicorn) could, raising the dead just two years on and proving some heroes swap capes for flanno. The first floor bandroom gives breath to Sydney's oxygen deprived live-music scene – a few bucks and a wristband get you upstairs access to the velvet banquette-lined, 250-person venue that manages to feel intimate for a folky show, but gives you room to cut loose when King Tide or You Am I are on the stage.
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. The cabin is mostly glass, so every seat gets excellent views. You'll hover over Darling Harbour before hooking out towards Goat Island to make a majestic run at the Bridge. From here you'll head out towards the heads before taking a sharp right to track the coastline from Vaucluse to the golden sands of Bondi and Maroubra.
Ciccone and Sons are doing gelato the way it should be made in a hot climate like ours: cool, refreshing and totally delicious. The joint itself is pared back but adorable. It's a long, thin room with bunting on the walls, a couple of little church pews to sit on, rock ’n’ roll on the stereo and a chest freezer with ice cream up the back. There’s a plant pot outside monogrammed with the name of the café. It's all very humble and start-up, and feels welcome among the thrift stores and flower shops on this stretch of Regent Street in Redfern.
The Sydney Opera House Backstage Tour allows you access to areas normally reserved for big stars and their entourages. Guests meet at the stage door for an experience that will have you treading the boards of its illustrious stages and sneaking into the dressing rooms of the Concert Hall, Opera and Drama Theatres, Playhouse and the Studio. You’ll be regaled with the secrets and stories that go on behind the curtain, from pulleys to props, sequins to soundchecks. Tours include a hearty breakfast served in the Green Room.
Darlinghurst’s long-serving alleyway wine bar is turning comfort food into a showstopper. The lasagne is a pasta-heavy rendition, with lots of tender leaves pressing alternating layers of zucchini, and a blushing pink tomato and ricotta filling. But the thing that’ll make you want to stand up and give praise is hot pan-fried ’nduja, that spicy spreadable sausage from Italy’s deep south, which they spoon over the top like the world’s most bombastically flavoursome sauce.
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.
This easy, breezy 1.8km walk rewards visitors with stunning views of the harbour blue for not a lot of effort. Most set out from Nielsen Park but we recommend going the other way, starting at Bayview Hill Road and finishing up with a leisurely picnic (or a box of fish and chips from the kiosk) at the park. Along the way you’ll catch views of the Harbour Bridge and Shark Island, as well as historic Strickland House, a heritage-listed Victorian Italianate mansion built in the 1850s.
Opened by two of the greatest restaurateurs Sydney has seen in recent times, Elvis Abrahanowicz and Joe Valore of Porteño, Gardel’s Bar and Bodega, and LP’s Quality Meats, this is more than just a restaurant. At Continental in Newtown a downstairs deli opens at 11am and becomes a casual bar/restaurant as the later hours creep in, while upstairs there's a bistro for those fancier nights out. Sambos and tapas are on offer in the deli, while the bistro-experience is all Old World elegance. It looks like one of those classically styled cafés you only seem to find in Italy.
Worth visiting for the space alone, Carriageworks is the latest incarnation of the Eveleigh Rail Yards. Built in the 1880s, its cavernous interiors are faithfully preserved, giving it a limitlessness very different from the plush cocoons of most theatres. With a program of large-scale theatre, dance and installation works, and as a host of the experimental and cross-disciplinary theatre company Performance Space, Sydney Chamber Opera and Moogahlin Performing Arts, Carriageworks is gaining a reputation as the venue for the most progressive Sydney drama, dance and art.
Sydney Skydivers are based in Picton, around an hour’s drive from the CBD. First-time jumpers are fitted out in a very cool blue all-in-one and paired with a tandem buddy. After 15 minutes of flying, with views from the Blue Mountains over to the sandy beaches of Wollongong, it’s time to jump out. You plummet for around a minute – long enough to contemplate what might happen if the parashoot fails – but the later part of the trip is leisurely in contrast, and even have a go a steering.
If the world were about to end, we’d probably do what Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect do right before the Earth’s destruction in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and go to the pub. And we’re not talking just any pub – we’d make tracks to the Courthouse Hotel. Want to sit up at the bar with a huge plate of fish and chips and watch back-to-back AFL games? This is the best place for it. Prefer to sink your tip money in pinball machines while you annihilate jugs of Stone and Wood Pacific Ale and Young Henrys Newtowner? Right this way. They’ve even got two separate outdoor areas so that smokers and diners can both enjoy the sunshine.
When Time Out has visitors in town the Bondi to Coogee Walk is the hands-down first thing that we recommend they do. It’s a six-kilometre stretch of coastline; 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 drink from Coogee Pavilion’s rooftop bar.
A day out in Chippendale isn’t complete without hopping into White Rabbit Gallery. The state-of-the-art, four-floor gallery brings together 21st century Chinese art, with a rotation of four key exhibitions throughout the year. Founder Judith Neilson created the self-funded non-profit gallery to house her epic collection of post-millennial Chinese art, and it opened to the public in 2009.
Sydney is perfectly located to watch the sunrise from many dramatic coastal points, but dazzling sunsets are harder to come by. Plan an afternoon stroll along Watsons Bay shoreline and the South Head Heritage Trail – a scenic bushwalk dotted with historical remnants such as a disused cannon and rifle wall – then finish up with a glass of dry rosé sitting on the terrace of the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel. Watch the sun set over the CBD skyline, with the gentle waves of the harbour rolling in the foreground.
Bill Granger has written kilos of cookbooks, had his own television shows, opened cafés both in Sydney and now in uh, Japan, and is famous the world over. But none of this is news to you: you've seen his face plastered on the rear end of the bus advertising everything from his books and telly shows to toothpaste for years now. What you want to know is why we're mentioning it at all. It's old news, right? Sure, but that doesn't mean it's less good. There are far fewer really decent Sydney cafés that offer the whole package – we're talking service, food and interiors – that Bills gets so right.
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. 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 amphitheatre.
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.
As a harbour city, Sydney’s quieter beaches provide the perfect conditions to get up and have a go stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). SUP lessons and boards are now easily accessible across a bunch of Sydney’s beaches and bays. Our top pick is at Balmoral, where the water is calm and clear and you can paddle out to quiet sandy beaches in Middle Harbour. Balmoral Boatshed offers SUP hire from $30 for an hour, and up to a full day’s hire. Afterwards, head inside for brunch, grab a bunch of fresh flowers or sit out on the deck and sip on a cider.
This true-blue, dinky-di, Aussie pub is exactly where we want to do our drinking – which is why we named it our 2017 Pub of the Year. It’s the most resolutely Aussie joint in town. There’s no room for cultural cringe, because at the Unicorn they have a deep and enduring love for Australiana. Please help yourself to some Jatz crackers and French onion dip, or a proper free range, hormone-free schnitzel. They cook it right – a very hot pan to get that crisp, caramelised shell, and a liberal hand with the seasoning. There’s also darts, pool and a piano man for a Friday night sing-a-long.
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. Rise early for a Sunrise Kayak and Coffee tour to get glorious photo opportunities that’ll make your hungover friends incredibly jealous on a Sunday morning. Instructor Laura Stone and husband Ben run weekly dawn tours that make the most of Sydney Harbour before most people turn and hit snooze. The harbour water is velvety smooth, and the kayaks are very stable so you don’t need to work hard to paddle around Luna Park and into position as the sunlight hits Sydney Opera House.
This Cantonese palace does dim sum by day and barbecued meats and cooked crustaceans at night flavour. Dan Hong is still behind the pans at this Bridge street flavour destination, and it’s as great as it was when it opened four years ago. If you’ve been waiting for a no-holds-barred-spend-big-with-service-and-wine–to-match Canto-palace, congratulations – you’ve found it. Get a crab. The big tanks hold sweet, fleshy mud crabs waiting for a dousing in the deep fryer with spicy salt and served on a bed of chilli and green onion.
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. Tread with caution at hot spots like Wedding Cake Rock and the Figure 8 rock pools.
This 1,600-seat Art Deco landmark has seating and a mezzanine, and plays host to a wide range of shows – everything from rowdy band gigs to giant dance parties and stand-up comedy revues. Spill onto Enmore Road for dinner and a drink after. Keen on a kick on? The Town Hall Hotel is the spiritual home of grungy rockers and indie kids in Newtown and is open until late every night.
Locals use it every day on their commute to work but the Manly Ferry voyage is an impossibly beautiful treat. While the motors chug soothingly, enjoy the scenery of the Sydney Harbour as it glides by, taking you past the bridge, Sydney Opera House, Taronga Zoo and harbourside beaches such as Shark Beach and Camp Cove out to one of the city’s most popular beachside suburbs, great for bars, restaurants, shopping and snorkelling. We suggest you hop off and explore part or all the Many to Spit walk (see 13) for spectacular views of the north and south headlands.
Call it aioli, toum or skordalia, the popularity of garlic sauce extends to multiple countries and cuisines. Perhaps more than the chicken, the garlic sauce at El Jannah is the stuff that will keep you coming back for more. But for now, let's start with the chicken. The eat-in charcoal chicken meal is of Lebanese bread, pickles and garlic sauce along with a quarter ($6.90), half ($10.50) or whole ($19.90) chicken. Middle Eastern hospitality means it's a meal and a half.
You’ll feel like you’ve entered a private oasis, 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.
Surfing a wave at Bondi should be on everyone’s bucket list. If you’re rusty with a surfboard, book in for a class at Let’s Go Surfing. The school prides itself on the popular two-hour beginners’ course that goes through the essentials of water safety (including Bondi’s dangerous rips), paddling and how to catch a wave. Each lesson starts on the sand so you can ask embarrassing questions without fear. Instructors hold your board as you catch the first few waves to build up your confidence. By the end of the lesson, you’ll have ridden a wave standing up – even if for just a second.
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.
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.
This restaurant specialising in soup filled dumplings is already incredibly popular and has people lining up out the door. And with good reason – these are the best we've ever eaten. Established in Taiwan in 1958 by cooking oil trader Bingyi Yang and his wife, Din Tai Fung's dumplings became so popular at their first little store they soon found themselves opening in Japan, Korea, Indonesia, the US (in 1993, the restaurant was rated as one of the world's ten best by the New York Times).
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.
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.
Take a picturesque tour of the elaborate Bare Island Fort, located in the La Perouse area of Kamay Botany Bay National Park. In the early 1880s, the government viewed the the land Cook had described a century earlier as "a small bare island" as a good place to ward off invaders. Later on it became a retirement home for war vets before coming under the jurisdiction of the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service, and also playing a cameo role in Mission Impossible II. Today you can tour the historical island on Sundays at 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm.
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. Here on a Wednesday? They’re open late till 10pm for workshops, talks, film screenings in a weekly program called Art After Hours.
Shaking it out at Sydney Dance Company gives you a triple threat opportunity to explore this slice of Sydney. Firstly, you’ll get great views of the harbour. Secondly, you’ll get to step inside the HQ of the professional contemporary dance company. And thirdly, you get to learn smooth moves from some of Sydney’s most vivacious and talented dance teachers. Jazz, ballet, hip hop, pilates, yoga, theatre jazz and tap classes run daily, with more than 70 classes taking place a week that cater to all abilities.
There’s nowhere we prefer to pull up a stool and bend the elbow than at the long, sturdy, timber bar at Earl’s Juke Joint. Before your dreams of playlist domination get out of hand, we should tell you there are no jukeboxes here. But you don’t need one when Pasan Wijesena has programmed a specialty mix of ’90s hip hop, swampy rock and blues for your listening pleasure. The bar team here is one of the best.
When it opened in 1892 the Strand Arcade was regarded as the very latest in shopping-centre architecture. Wedged between George and Pitt Streets, the narrow, multi-level thoroughfare houses premium Australian fashion designers, including Jac+ Jack, Lover, Sass & Bide and Dion Lee. Plus, vibrant and distinctive jewellery from Dinosaur Designs, natural beauty products at Aesop, and a dapper hat collection at Strand Hatters. And the Arcade itself is very beautiful and well-worth a visit.
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.
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.
Never ridden a horse? No problem. The team at Scenic NSW Horse Riding Centre have 360 hectares of paddocks to explore, whether you’re a novice rider or a paid-up member of the pony club. Veteran centre manager Martin and young rider Hannah accompany us on a one-hour trail walk around the beautifully sheltered valley in Denham Court. After a short induction and safety briefing we’re guiding our horses, Angus and Camilla, to turn, walk on and stop – slowly making our way down muddy hills, across ponds and around to the open fields.