Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in New South Wales
Few sights are as instantly recognizable as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the grand centerpiece of Sydney Harbour and one of Australia's most photographed landmarks. The historic structure dates to 1932 and is the world's largest steel arch bridge. It's also an important transport hub, linking downtown Sydney with the north shore, Manly, and the area's northern beaches.
With the iconic silhouette of Sydney Opera House and the dramatic arch of Sydney Harbour Bridge etched against a backdrop of glittering ocean and soaring skyscrapers, Sydney Harbour is Australia’s quintessential postcard image. The harbor, the natural heart of Sydney, features more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) lined with golden beaches, lush gardens, and vibrant neighborhoods.
A world-class performing arts venue and iconic Australian landmark, the Sydney Opera House—with its distinctive Jorn Utzon design—defines the Sydney Harbour district. Distinguished by soaring halls with a white ceramic–tiled exterior shaped to evoke the sails of a yacht, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-see Sydney attraction and popular stop on most city tours.
Perched high on the sea cliffs at the edge of Cape Byron—Australia’s easternmost point—the Cape Byron Lighthouse has been guarding the rocky shores of the Pacific since 1901. One of Byron Bay’s most memorable landmarks, the lighthouse affords panoramic views along the coast and is home to a Maritime Museum.
As Australia’s most famous beach—and the star of its own reality TV show, “Bondi Rescue”—Bondi Beach delivers with its crescent of golden sand, crashing waves, and crowds of bronzed sunseekers. Just minutes from downtown Sydney, this is the spot to work on your tan, hit the waves, sip cocktails at a beachside bar, or hike along coastal cliffs.
Australia is home to some of the world's most fearsome and fascinating wildlife, and at Featherdale Wildlife Park outside Sydney, visitors can meet over 1,700 of the country's colorful critters. Discover how echidnas are mammals (yet lay eggs); learn about the saltwater crocodiles that can grow to well over 2,000 pounds; admire the plumage of native birds such as brolgas, emus, and bustards; and view a collection of some of the world's most venomous snakes.
Guided feeding sessions are immensely popular at the park, with animal food available for purchase throughout the park for $2 and Featherdale staff members on hand to assist guests in feeding the kangaroos, wallabies, and pademelons. Guides also provide additional information about how the park is involved in conservation, highlighting the work done to reintroduce endangered species into the Australian wild and the park's ongoing research into some of Australia's most intriguing yet lesser-known species.
Although not offered by Viator, Featherdale also offers private animal encounters with a trainer for an additional fee (starting at $149), as well as personal koala encounters (starting at $20), during which travelers can pet and have their photo taken with the mammal. Guests are not allowed to hold koalas in accordance with New South Wales law.
With sun-blushed golden sands, surf-worthy waves, and a backdrop of forested hills; Main Beach is Byron Bay’s flagship beach. Stretching along the town’s seafront promenade, it’s a favorite among locals and draws sunseekers from all around the country to swim, surf, and scuba dive.
Located in central Sydney, the historic precinct of the Rocks is the oldest area in the city and the site of the first European settlement. Full of history and character, today the Rocks is home to fashionable boutiques, artisan markets, historic pubs, trendy restaurants, and a thriving arts and culture scene.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site covering an area of around 3,861 square miles (10,000 square kilometers), the Blue Mountains region is a popular day-trip destination from Sydney. Featuring tall forests, sandstone cliffs, dramatic canyons, and scenic lookouts and waterfalls, the area is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Situated at the heart of Australia’s Blue Mountains UNESCO World Heritage Site, Scenic World offers the rare chance to explore the mountains from all angles. Ride overhead in a cable car, hike along the valley floor, ride a train through mountain tunnels, and discover some of the most impressive scenery in Blue Mountains National Park.
More Things to Do in New South Wales
Paddington is an upmarket suburb of eastern central Sydney that’s famous for its heritage terraced houses with attractive wrought-iron balconies and fences, as well as boutiques and fine dining. The Saturday Paddington Markets stretch along the main road, Oxford Street, and are a popular place to find local arts, crafts, and fashion.
The Three Sisters is an ancient rock formation located in the Blue Mountains National Park in the town of Katoomba. The towering trio of stone has a mythical dimension in the Aboriginal Dreamtime legend about three sisters who lived in the Jamison Valley and fell in love with three brothers from a rival tribe whom they were forbidden to marry.
Positioned on a headland in The Domain park, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is a sandstone bench offering spectacular Sydney Harbour views. Hand-carved by convicts in 1810 as a viewpoint for the then Governor’s wife—Mrs Elizabeth Macquarie—it now features on most Sydney visitor bucket lists.
One of Sydney’s top attractions, Darling Harbour boasts fine-dining restaurants, a shopping center, one of the largest IMAX cinema screens in the world, and two entertainment staples for families: SEA LIFE® Sydney and WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo. Extend your visit into the evening to view the city lights reflected on the water.
Stretching along the coast of Sydney Harbour against a backdrop of the Sydney Opera House, Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden and neighboring park, The Domain, offer spectacular views and beautiful scenery. This inner-city oasis boasts exotic plants, a tropical rain forest, woodland, flowers, and rare horticultural exhibits.
Watson’s Bay is a Sydney suburb that forms the eastern edge of Sydney Harbour. It claims to be Australia’s oldest fishing village, and is still a popular place to dine on seafood. With city views, white-sand beaches, coastal walks, parks, and plenty of restaurants and boutiques, Watsons Bay appeals to all kinds of travelers.
Perched on the edge of Sydney Harbour and backed by the sleek skyscrapers of the city’s central business district, Circular Quay is the scenic gateway to Manly Beach, Taronga Zoo, and Watson’s Bay. From this transportation hub—from which ferries depart every few minutes—you can enjoy unobstructed views of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.
To the east, and within walking distance, of Byron Bay’s town center and main beach, the picturesque, sheltered Wategos Beach is a popular spot for surfing, swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and making use of the numerous beachside picnic tables and barbecues. A visit to Wategos Beach promises a relaxing time and excellent scenery.
What is now a popular destination for history buffs once served as a defense facility that kept watch over the bay. Fort Denison Island, located northeast of the Royal Botanic Gardens, was where some of the most gruesome acts against convicted felons took place.
Today, travelers can wander the grounds of this recently restored island and see the gibbet where criminals were hanged. Explore the fort built to protect the island from invaders and climb the historic Martello Tower, the only one of its kind in the country. The island is home to an informative museum, as well as a number of landmarks that illustrate its dark and violent past.
Please note: Fort Denison is currently closed for maintenance. The reopening is scheduled for late 2021.
The lively suburb of Manly is one of Sydney’s most vibrant seaside areas and a popular destination for surfers from across the globe. Visit Manly Beach to enjoy the golden sand, catch world-class waves, and shop and eat along the lively Corso promenade, which is lined with cafes and restaurants.
The coastal village of Lennox Head—conveniently situated between Ballina and Byron Bay—is loved by travelers for its sleepy seaside feel, lush surroundings, and surf breaks. The beach area around Lennox Point is well-known for its right-hand break, so surfers flock from far and wide to test the waters. In fact, Lennox Head is now considered a National Surfing Reserve.
The SEA LIFE® Sydney Aquarium encapsulates the diversity of Australia’s aquatic life. Wander exhibits that showcase everything from saltwater crocs and Southern Ocean penguins to turtles from the Great Barrier Reef and jellyfish. Plus, its prime Darling Harbour location lets you combine the aquarium with other family-friendly stops.
Hailed as one of the finest examples of an English-style Gothic cathedral in the world, St. Mary’s Cathedral wows you with its sandstone exterior, stained glass windows, and ornate crypt, which features a mosaic floor and an exhibition on the first Australian Catholics. Plus, a visit to the cathedral affords great views of the skyscrapers in Sydney CBD.
With 65 hectares (175 acres) of fruit orchards and plantations open to visitors, Tropical Fruit World is one of the Gold Coast’s most unique tourist attractions. The eco-friendly, family-run farm grows over 500 varieties of tropical fruits, and visitors can not only go behind-the-scenes to discover the workings of the farm, but sample a delicious array of exotic fruits.
There’s plenty to see and do at Tropical Fruit World - take a Plantation Safari by tractor train, enjoy a wildlife boat cruise, ride a miniature train and get close to kangaroos, emus and Clydesdale horses at the fauna park. Of course, the best part is tasting the exotic fruits, juices and ice creams, so head to the Plantation Café to try unique varieties like cheese fruit, chocolate pudding fruit, caramel fruit and champagne fruit. There’s also a recreational area, with mini golf and a children’s playground; a fruit market where seasonal fruits like dragonfruit, jackfruit and papaya are on sale; and a shop, where you can purchase souvenirs like avocado oil cosmetics or home-made fruit jams.