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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Sydney

So often mistaken for the Australian capital that you’d be forgiven for forgetting all about Canberra, Sydney is Australia’s largest and most headline-grabbing city—and it’s likely to be your first stop if you're arriving Down Under from abroad. If you’re short on time or just want some help getting your bearings, tours of the Harbour City abound. Many begin in Sydney Harbour, where the futuristic, concrete-sailed façade of the Sydney Opera House and the towering Sydney Harbour Bridge provide a spectacular backdrop to events like the New Year’s Eve fireworks display and the legendary Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Exploring the rest of the city reveals one postcard-worthy scene after another—the colonial architecture of the Rocks, the bronzed lifeguards and dripping surfers of Bondi Beach, the sweeping panoramas from Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, and the adorable kangaroos and koalas of Taronga Zoo. Harbor boat tours, guided bike tours, sunset dinner cruises, and scenic helicopter and seaplane flights help you see it all from every angle. Once you’ve checked a Sydney Harbour whale-watching cruise, Sydney BridgeClimb, opera house backstage tour, and Bondi surf lesson off your bucket list, it’s time to escape the city. Sign up for a Hunter Valley wine-tasting tour, a visit to Scenic World in the Blue Mountains, or a day trip to the country’s capital—again, that’s Canberra, although Sydney residents won't hold it against you for thinking otherwise.
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Sydney Harbour Bridge
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Located in the beautiful and iconic Sydney Harbour, the Sydney Harbour Bridge overlooks the magnificent blue waters that help to make the Harbour a spectacular sight.

Nicknamed "The Coathanger" because of it's steel arch-based design, the Harbour Bridge boasts 8 traffic lanes, 2 railways and a pedestrian and bicycle lane, transporting both locals and tourists from the Central Business District (CBD) to the North Shore.

Visitors interested in getting the best view from the bridge can do so with the help of the BridgeClimb. Climbers can choose to climb either the outer arch or the inner arch of the bridge for spectacular views and an unforgettable experience.

The bridge also plays a special part in the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks displays, where hundreds of spectators travel from near and far to gather on the shore and on the water to watch the festivities each year.

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White Bay Cruise Terminal (WBCT)
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The largest city in Australia, Sydney is often considered one of the best cruise ports in the world, making it a must-see for anyone heading Down Under. Founded in the late 18th century as a British penal colony, it is also one of the oldest European settlements in Australia. Modern and cosmopolitan, Sydney is also laid-back and welcoming, with a variety of culture, history, art and nature to enjoy.

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Sydney Fish Market (SFM)
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Sydney Fish Market is the largest working fish market in the Southern Hemisphere, even rivaling some of Japan’s biggest fish markets in the variety of seafood that’s traded every day. Not only does the market shift an incredible 52 tons of seafood per day, it also hosts a wide variety of restaurants, cafes and food retailers to ensure that visitors get to sample Australia’s freshest fish straight off the boat.

Open for breakfast, lunch or an early dinner, the fish market is the best spot to see and enjoy Australian seafood at affordable prices. You can either eat in or head to the wharf outside to enjoy a meal overlooking Blackwattle Bay.

The market is also home to one of Australia’s leading cooking schools: the Sydney Seafood School. It offers a wide range of classes for all levels and abilities and is suitable for those who simply want to brush up on their skills or become a bit more creative with adventurous seafood such as mollusks and crustaceans.

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SEA LIFE® Sydney Aquarium
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Australia’s wild and wonderful aquatic life is highlighted at the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, one of the world’s largest aquariums and amongst Sydney’s top visitor attractions. There are several exhibit areas representing Australia’s varied habitats and ecosystems, including platypus from the Southern Rivers, salty crocodiles from the Northern Rivers, dugongs in the Mermaid Lagoon, little penguins from the Southern Ocean, and tropical fish from the Great Barrier Reef. Sharks swim overhead glass tunnels, there’s a tropical touch pool and corals in the Great Barrier Reef, and daily activities include glass-bottom boat shark feeding, talks with the dugongs, penguin feeding, and Reef Theatre displays.
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Pylon Lookout
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In addition to the Bridge Climb, there is a cheap alternative to get the famous view from the top of town on the Sydney Harbour Bridge–the Pylon Lookout. The bridge walkway leads to the South East Pylon and to the entrance of the lookout, from where 200 steps lead up to the viewing platform located 285 feet above sea level.

From here enjoy fantastic panorama views of the Opera House, Circular Quay and the two arches of the Harbour Bridge. You'll also be able to observe the daring bridge climbers. The Pylon Lookout doesn't only consist of the viewing platform though, but is made up of three levels of exhibits. A visit to the small museum located inside the Pylon is included in an admission ticket and includes information about the history and construction of the bridge, including the dangerous working conditions of the riveters, stonemasons and riggers who constructed it. Hear incredible stories, such as the tale of a worker who survived a fall from the bridge.

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BridgeClimb Sydney
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The Sydney BridgeClimb is a memorable way to mark your visit to Sydney and Australia. Taking you up and over the huge arch of iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, you can gaze out over the city and spectacular Sydney Harbour from 134 meters (440 feet) above the water. Described by those who have done it as “incredible” and an absolute “must-do,” the climb is the ultimate adrenaline fuelled way to see Sydney. There are three guided climbs that you can choose from: The Express, The Discovery and The Bridge Climb that all take you to the summit of the Bridge via different routes. The Express Climb is a smaller group tour (up to 12 climbers), with fewer stops on the Bridge, that allows you to explore its length in just over two hours. The Discovery Climb takes three and a half hours and is a chance to explore the heart of the bridge and learn more about its history and engineering.
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Darling Harbour
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As one of the world’s great waterfront destinations, Darling Harbour is a visitor’s dream! The harbour is considered an entertainment and tourism hub with restaurants, bars, museums, theaters, shops, parks and more! All sites are walking distance from one another, as this ring of attractions is connected by walkways and boardwalks that face the water. Worn out from an exciting day in the harbour? There is also a little train that loops the area for visitors with children or anyone who would like to relax and enjoy the seaside sights.
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Manly Beach
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Straddling the peninsula of North Head on Sydney Harbour, the town of Manly is Sydney’s most popular seaside resort. It offers the best of both worlds, with calm harbor beaches on one side and wild ocean waves on the other. Linking the two is The Corso, lined with cafes and restaurants. Along with swimming, surfing, wining and dining, Manly’s most popular attraction is of course Oceanworld, on Manly Cove Beach on the harbor side of the town. Sharks and rays swim overhead curving walkways, or you can don a wetsuit and go diving with these monsters of the deep (if you dare!). Manly is surrounded by gorgeous beaches linked by scenic seaside walkways. Boating, kayaking, surfing and cycling are popular pastimes in summer, while winter is a good time to visit the historic former quarantine facility Q Station or take a North Harbour walk to Shelly Beach or The Spit.
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Watsons Bay
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Originally inhabited by aboriginal people who fished the waters off the South Head peninsula, Watsons Bay was later named for Seaman Robert Watson, whose fleet once docked in the bay’s protected shores. The quiet, mostly residential area attracts history-loving travelers looking to explore the World War II relics here, like the Sydney Harbour anti-submarine boom net designed to prevent underwater attackers from entering the inlet. But perhaps the biggest draw to Watsons Bay is the legal nude beach at Lady Bay, where travelers can strip down to the buff and soak up the sun. The less bold can still enjoy the area’s other beautiful beaches, such as Camp Cove, and the scenic coastal walk along South Head.

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The Rocks
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With its Georgian sandstone buildings, narrow alleyways, historic pubs, and regenerated warehouses, The Rocks is one of Sydney’s oldest and most popular precincts. Set back from Circular Quay, it was one of the earliest parts of Sydney to be settled. Formerly a raffish area, today this city-center quarter has been gentrified and given a good polish.

You’ll find Sydney’s oldest pubs here, a vibrant weekend street market specializing in handicrafts, historic Cadmans Cottage, the Sydney Observatory, Museum of Contemporary Art, and a swag of shops and boutiques. Some of Sydney’s best restaurants are also here, including Sailors Thai, Altitude, Neil Perry’s Rockpool, and Doyles at the Quay. The best way to get a feel for The Rocks is to just follow your nose down 200-year-old cobbled laneways like Playfair St, Mill Lane, and Nurses Walk.

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More Things to Do in Sydney

Royal Botanic Garden and The Domain

Royal Botanic Garden and The Domain

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Historic, picturesque, and relaxing, the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens cover 74 acres (30 hectares) running along the harbor from the Sydney Opera House to Woolloomooloo. A true inner-city oasis, the gardens combine exotic plantings from Europe, tropical rainforest, woodland, flowers, grasses, the Indigenous First Encounters garden, and rare horticultural exhibits. A program of events includes activities, workshops, courses and lectures, plus there are entertaining guided walks throughout the year. The gardens are laced with leafy walkways and harbor lookouts, and they also boast a fernery, camellia garden, palm grove, and herb garden. For a walk through history, the Mrs Macquaries Bushland Walk traces a path along the coast, re-creating the landscape as it appeared when the early settlers arrived in Sydney in the early 19th century. Don't forget to stop off at Mrs Macquarie's Chair, a bench carved out of sandstone, to get amazing views of the Sydney Harbour.
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Mrs Macquarie's Chair

Mrs Macquarie's Chair

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This unique landmark—a massive rock fashioned into a cozy bench—was carved from sandstone in the early 1800s by Gov. Lachlan Macquarie for his wife Elizabeth. As the story goes, when the weather was warm and the sun high, Mrs. Macquarie loved to relax at the point of this scenic peninsula and stare out over the ocean.

Today, travelers enjoy a leisurely walk to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair from the iconic Opera House or wander over to this historic attraction after a visit to the nearby Royal Botanic Garden. In a bustling city that’s alive with energy, the stone bench offers visitors a perfect place to unwind, relax and take in the some of the best views of Sydney Harbour.

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Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach

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Australia’s most famous beach is a curving golden stretch of pale gold sand and turquoise waves. Attracting beach bunnies, surfer dudes and beach lovers alike, it’s one of Sydney’s favorite hot spots for catching the sun and people watching. Lifeguards patrol the often pounding waves, so it’s important to swim between the patrolled red and yellow flags. The sands of Bondi Beach are a popular spot for surfing lessons, beachside volleyball, yoga and community festivities, and the beach is overlooked by a stream of shops, restaurants and cafes for post-beach dining and relaxation. Picturesque coastal walks lead from Bondi over the seaside cliffs to the neighboring beaches of Clovelly and Bronte, and to the romantic Victorian cemetery overlooking the coast at Waverley.
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Sydney Tower Eye

Sydney Tower Eye

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The tallest freestanding structure in Sydney - measuring just over 1,000 feet (305 meters) tall - the Sydney Tower boasts Australia’s loftiest observation tower for terrific views. You can see all across Sydney from atop the Sydney Tower, all the way to the Heads washed by the ocean, to the Blue Mountains on the far horizon.

You can also see the tower from far away, as it’s one of the most visible of Sydney’s landmarks viewed from afar. Sometimes known by its former names of Centrepoint or AMP tower, the Sydney Tower was built in the 1970s.

Areas open to the public include the observation deck, providing 360 degree views from its panoramic windows 820 ft (250 m) above the ground. Dinner or lunch at the buffet or a la carte restaurant is a stunning experience, and the Skywalk open-air tour will literally take your breath away.

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Madame Tussauds Sydney

Madame Tussauds Sydney

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The famous wax museum, Madame Tussauds, with its incredibly life-like wax figures of famous people, can be found all over the world. Sydney was added to the list when this location opened its gates in 2012.

Australians and visitors from all over the world can take the opportunity to stand next to their favorite glitz and glamour star. From TV personalities, famous sport players, musicians, actors and A-List celebrities to world leaders, scientists and the key players in world history –the wax museum lets visitors meet a wide range of personalities from different fields and time periods.

In addition to international celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Barack Obama and Michael Jackson, Madame Tussauds in Sydney also makes an effort to include local personalities. The history zone is filled with founders and well-known names from the times of colonial Australia. In addition, next to Kylie Minogue, you can also find the stars of the Australian sports and media scene.

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WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo

WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo

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Australia is home to some of the world’s cutest and most dangerous animals – and you can find them all under one roof at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo. Housing hundreds of unique Aussie critters, the zoo takes you on an adventure trail through the many different habitats of Australia introducing you to the animals that live in each. You can expect to see kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and a family of adorable wombats, as well as the decidedly less cuddly snakes, spiders and crocodiles; including Rex, a huge saltwater croc.

You’ll gain a greater understanding of the sheer size and diversity of Australia’s animals and landscapes as you follow a trail through the Butterfly Tropics, Gumtree Valley, Daintree Rainforest, Wallaby Cliffs, Kangaroo Walk-About, Kakadu Gorge, Nightfall and Koala Encounters.

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Circular Quay

Circular Quay

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Sydney’s transport and scenic heart, Circular Quay is also the city’s birthplace, flanking the waters of Sydney Cove where the First Fleet settlers landed on Australian soil in 1788. The rectangular stretch of water is lined with attractive pedestrian walkways running from the Sydney Opera House, past the Circular Quay ferry terminals, around to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The historic laneways, interesting shops, old pubs and stylish restaurants of The Rocks precinct, one of Sydney’s most popular tourist areas, run behind the Museum of Contemporary Art. Circular Quay is one of the major vantage points for Sydney’s famous New Year’s Eve fireworks.
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Shark Island

Shark Island

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Now named for its shape and the image it brings to mind, Shark Island was once referred to as “Boambilly” by Australia’s aboriginal people. The island was previously the site of an animal quarantine and naval depot, but today travelers flock to its shores for recreation.

Settle in under shady trees and enjoy one of the island’s many well-kept picnic sites, or explore the rocky passes and handmade grottos along Shark Island’s beaches.

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Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

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The Sydney Opera House is Australia’s preeminent cultural center. Famous for its cutting-edge architecture, the building’s series of white-tiled sails jut into the harbor at Bennelong Point, perched on a platform of pink granite. The iconic structure was designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, and Australians have been divided about its design ever since it opened way over-budget in 1973. Recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the opera house has a range of venues under its sails.
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Australian National Maritime Museum

Australian National Maritime Museum

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Be it surfers on the beaches, the discovery of Australia via the sea route from Europe or the subsequent commerce and immigration—Australia is closely tied to water. The Australian National Maritime Museum acts accordingly in featuring rich exhibitions ranging from the time of the Eora First People to the First Fleet all the way to the present. Visitors learn how convicts traveled in dark and damp accommodations and how passengers sailing to a new life survived long ocean journeys through reconstructed stories made up of artifacts and mementos left behind.

Those interested in military history can make their way to the Navy exhibit, which explores naval traditions during war and peace times. Here, visitors get the chance to test a submarine’s periscope and try out a soldier’s cramped bunk bed. The museum even has its own fleet, with many of the vessels accessible via guided tour.

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The Star Sydney

The Star Sydney

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The Star Sydney Casino and Hotel on Darling Harbour is one of Sydney’s premier entertainment precincts. Hosting two gaming floors, seven restaurants and eight bars, the Star Casino is the second largest casino in Australia.

You’d be forgiven for calling The Star by another name. Formerly known as both Star City Casino and the Sydney Harbour Casino, it’s not uncommon for visitors to think the three are different places. The Star Casino features two gaming floors. The main gaming floor on level one is the one you’ll see if you’re visiting the Casino on a casual basis. The Sovereign Room is the VIP gaming floor, with heavily restricted access. Aside from the gaming tables, the Star Casino also features a number of bars including a 24/7 sports bar, the Cherry cocktail bar, sexy Sokyo Lounge, and Rock Lily which often hosts live music. 5-7pm Monday – Friday is happy hour at casino and all of the bars mentioned offer $5 beer, wine and spirits.

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Powerhouse Museum

Powerhouse Museum

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Since 1879, the Powerhouse Museum has served as the main attraction for Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Its impressive halls are filled with all things technological—from science to communication, transport to computers—even massive steam engines! Jam-packed with more than 400,000 artifacts, this Sydney staple has become a destination for train lovers, engineers, computer nerds, scientists and the curious. While the permanent collection is pretty incredible on its own, popular temporary exhibitions, such as those that have showcased Star Trek, the Lord of the Rings, Faberge and even singer Kylie Minogue, keep this classic museum contemporary and up to date.

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Sydney Tower Buffet

Sydney Tower Buffet

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Take your pick of buffet or a la carte dining atop the Sydney Tower Restaurant (formerly Sydney Centrepoint Tower). Australia’s tallest revolving restaurant is set more than 80 stories above central Sydney, with 360-degree panoramic views to accompany your dining experience.

The Sydney Tower Restaurant serves a buffet menu, with the choice including an array of salads, soup, appetizers, and international dishes from across the globe, from American BBQ chicken to Thai mussels, and roast kangaroo. Dessert might be mud cake and pavlova meringue. For an a la carte meal, the stylish 360 Bar and Dining specializes in Modern Australian fare like local seafood, free-range chicken, and truffle pasta. Sunset cocktails are a specialty at 360’s illuminated shell bar.

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Chinese Garden of Friendship

Chinese Garden of Friendship

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The continental city of Sydney offers travelers options that go beyond the strictly Aussie. The Chinese Garden of Friendship, modeled after the private gardens of the Ming Dynasty, is just one of the multicultural experiences this jewel by the sea has to offer.

Opened in 1988 and designed by Sydney’s sister city of Guangzhou, the garden is a nod to the Chinese culture and heritage that already exists in and around Darling Harbour. The lush gardens, tranquil ponds and scenic waterfalls pay homage to the friendship between Sydney and Guangzhou. Travelers can wander between ornamental pavilions and babbling brooks before settling lakeside to enjoy peaceful reflection. Hot tea and traditional dim sum are also served at the garden’s teahouse.

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