Of course you have to go to the Opera House and look at the Harbor Bridge, but here are my ten personal favorites, collected over the four years that I lived in Sydney. Some of them you might know already, but hopefully others are not so obvious and will make it onto your Sydney list as well!!!
#10: Hike the Blue Mountains
(Disclaimer: I don’t know what the situation is right now after the fires)
From Sydney you can take a train (or drive) to the small mountain town of Katoomba, the starting point for all Blue Mountain adventures, around 90 minutes outside of Sydney. The Blue Mountains have something for everybody: you can walk, hike, go kayaking, canyoning, rock climbing, abseiling and so much more. Try the Australian School of Mountaineering for ideas. The most famous rock formation in the Blue Mountains are the Three Sisters and you can't miss those!
Back when I lived in Sydney you could still rock climb the Three Sisters, but unfortunately that’s not possible anymore.
#9: Do the Harbor Bridge Climb at Night
The Sydney Harbor Bridge is impressive. It’s fun to drive over it, walk over it or take the ferry alongside it, but the best experience is to actually climb on top of it. I did it with my dad, at night, with wonderful views over the harbor and the city.
#8: Sail in the famous Sydney Harbor
It’s actually not my personal favorite as I get really scared on these little boats, but it’s a must when you visit Sydney. There is no other more beautiful harbor anywhere in the world, and you should go out and explore it on a boat.
And if you are there over Christmas Break, don’t miss watching the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race that starts on Boxing Day each year.
#7: Go hiking in the Royal National Park
Royal National Park is situated just south of Sydney. It offers beautiful hikes through coastal cliffs, secluded beaches and eucalyptus-rich bushland. One of the hiking trails leads to Bungoona Lookout, with gorgeous views of Hacking River. If you are lucky you will see kookaburras, lyre birds and echidnas (all birds you have probably never heard of but that you won't forget after your Australia trip). It’s a huge area and rarely did we see people when we hiked there.
#6: Visit Coogee
Coogee is a beautiful beach South of Bondi Beach. Smaller, harder to get to, less famous and therefore less crowded. It has its own little rock pool and is great for kids and adults alike. It has plenty of laid back al fresco restaurants and bars, and happens to be the Southern end of the cliff walk from Bondi.
And should you stay at the Crowne Plaza which is right at the beach, check out the top floors….back in the days when we stayed there the top two floors were used by the hospital to house new mothers while recovering after giving birth. Surely a nicer option than a hospital room…
#5: Take a seaplane from Rose Bay
An extravagant adventure, but if you are planning to propose to someone or celebrate a special occasion, this might just be the way to go! And if you simply want to have an unforgettable day, then it's worth it as well. Our seaplane stopped on several of the Northern Beaches as well as our final destination, the Hawkesbury River.
We landed right next to a river front restaurant, the Cottage Point Inn, and enjoyed a delicious lunch. We also happened to get engaged during that lunch, which made the day even more special!
End your day with dinner at Café Sydney right by Circular Quay, overlooking the Harbor Bridge and the main ferry terminal. If you go, try the Moreton Bay bugs…..
#4: Take the ferry to Manly and walk to the Spit Bridge
It’s called the “Spit-to-Manly walk” and you can do it in either direction or both ways if you are so inclined. The Spit-to-Manly is a 6 mile scenic walk along the coastline including stretches of board walk and beach. Bring a towel as you will have plenty of opportunities to hop in the water on your way. Prepare yourself for the most beautiful coastal views during this unbelievable hike. When you get to the Spit Bridge simply take a taxi home if you don't want to walk another 6 miles....
#3: Eat a beetroot burger in Balmoral
While at Spit Bridge, rent a kayak and paddle to Balmoral Beach.
We used to do this all the time! Kayaking the coastline from Spit Bridge to Balmoral is beautiful and a great workout. Once you get to Balmoral, park your kayak, visit the beach and eat one of Australia’s famous burgers with beetroot at “Bottom of the Harbour”. It’s called the Balmoral Burger. And if you are not into beetroot….they also happen to be famous for their fish and chips. Before you leave, have a drink at "The Boat House"and enjoy the views.
#2: Take a ferry to Watsons Bay and visit the South Head
I was tempted to make this my number one choice. The views from Watsons Bay toward the city are unbelievable. We spent one New Year’s Eve here to watch the fireworks over the bridge – an unforgettable experience!!
Once you make it to Watsons Bay walk up the hill to visit the South Head, the southern opening point of the harbor into the ocean (also called “The Gap”). It’s the most calming experience, and if you are ever stressed, that’s where you should go and just sit for a while.
After visiting the South Head turn back and reward yourself with a glass of Semillon and some fresh fish at Watson Bay’s most famous restaurant: Doyles. And if you decide to stay overnight in Watsons Bay, try Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel for cute rooms.
#1: Spend a day at Bondi Beach
This has to be my personal number one: a day on and around Bondi Beach! (It also used to be our home for three years, so I might be a little biased.) Wake up early and settle in at the North end of the beach.
Have some breakfast at Speedo’s, a favorite with locals and tourists alike. Don’t be afraid to try the Turkish bread with butter and Vegemite! It’s an acquired taste my family tells me, but I acquired it full heartedly!
After breakfast take a walk along one of the most famous beaches on the planet. Once you hit the Southern end of the beach, keep walking on the Bondi to Coogee cliff walk. You will hit Tamarama Beach (also called “Glamarama Beach”), Bronte Beach, Clovelly Beach and eventually Coogee Beach, just depends on how much walking you have in you. This used to be my jogging route when we lived in Bondi – no better way to start the day!
After your walk, take a swim at the famous Icebergs Pool in South Bondi and eat at one of the Iceberg’s restaurants afterwards. There is a low key bistro and a more upscale restaurant you can choose from. Both are great and it all depends on the mood you are in.
Spend the afternoon at the beach and get ready to have a beer close to the RSL Club (comparable to a Veteran's Club) at the North end of the beach. Every day at sunset the RSL Club and all its visitors (mostly with beer in hand) show their respect to the troops that fought the German forces in WW2 by standing silently and facing to the West. It's one of those things you simply have to do, when you are there!
End your day with dinner at Sean’s Panaroma, while enjoying the sunset!
It’s been a while since I have been back to Australia, and I can’t wait to check off every item on this list myself!
Great Books to accompany your trip (and if you buy one through one of the links below, you will help me establish myself as an Amazon affiliate):
Bill Bryson - In a Sunburnt Country: Definitely the way to prepare yourself for a trip to Australia but probably even better if you read it afterwards
Liane Moriarty - Big Little Lies: You probably know the TV show. The book is actually set in Sydney (not in Monterey as the TV show) and it's really good read. Just like some of her other books: What Alice forgot and The Husband's Secret, all set in Sydney
Robert Hughes - The Fatal Shore: Australia's history not in a nutshell....
DK Eyewitness Top 10 Sydney: The Top 10 guides are my favorite wherever I go. Let's face it: who needs more than ten recommendations on ANYTHING???
And that's it. Please reach out with any questions!
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