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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
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Its sparkling waters and iconic sights draw visitors from all over the world who wish to enjoy the beauty and excitement of the harbor. On any day, Sydney Harbour is dotted with sail boats and ferries which stand out on the vibrant blue waters. With nearly 150 miles (240 kilometers) of shoreline, the harbor is a breathtaking expanse awaiting the exploration of its visitors.

A visit to Sydney Harbour will not disappoint, as the area is home to many of Sydney’s top attractions and offers some of the city’s best activities. A must-see (and impossible to miss) structure of Sydney Harbour is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which you can cross or climb for stunning views. Within walking distance are the Taronga Zoo, the historic Rocks area, Circular Quay, and the famous Sydney Opera House.

To get the best views of the harbor it is recommended that you enjoy a cruise through its waterways, and perhaps stop off at one of the many islands that Sydney Harbour embraces.

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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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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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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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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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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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Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
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Located in northern Sydney, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is the second-oldest national park in the country and a favorite among campers, hikers and nature lovers. Its lush rainforest landscape, quiet creeks and mountain passes lead visitors to forget Ku-ring-gai Chase is still within Sydney city limits, but its incredible views, thick mangroves and scenic drives make it the perfect escape from center city hustle.

The park is on the Australian National Heritage List, and travelers often wander its well-kept walking paths that wind through the Australian jungle. Driving may prove the easiest way to navigate the area, but many visitors prefer to call upon bicycles and horses to explore. An ideal day trip, Ku-ring-gai Chase offers public picnic spaces, paddle and sailboats and scenic overlooks like the Barrenjoey Lighthouse.

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Observatory Park
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You’d be forgiven for thinking that Sydney’s best sights are lining the beaches or harbor, but in the case of popular Observatory Hill, this elevated perch in the heart of downtown is one of the city’s best spots. For one, visiting the park is totally free—as are the sweeping views of the harbor and Sydney’s Harbor Bridge. Make the 20-minute trek from The Rocks and pack along a picnic, relaxing and sprawling out on the grass with a panoramic view of the harbor. The uphill climb to reach the park tends to thin out the visitor crowds, and thereby makes it a local favorite for watching the sun go down.

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Milsons Point
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Travelers love Milsons Point because of the uninterrupted views of Harbour Bridge and the iconic Opera House. During hot summer nights, locals gather on this tiny peninsula in Sydney Harbour opposite Sydney Cove and watch the sun dip down over the central business district skyline. This quiet spot has become a destination for those looking to capture a perfect picture of the city.

When day turns to night, young couples can be found holding hands as they stroll along the neon-lit midway of nearby Luna Park. The low-key crowd will appreciate the well-manicured suburbs of the north shore that are ripe with quiet cafes, continental restaurants and plenty of friendly locals.

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Sydney Harbour Tall Ships
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No trip to Sydney is truly complete without a full embrace of the ocean water. Day or night, the Sydney Harbour's Tall Ships set off providing passengers an authentic Australian experience, watching over the city harbour over some genuine barbecue. With a variety of different services, meal offerings, and specials, you can choose which time of the day and price setting best suits you, either choosing to share a romantic date with a loved one or giving the kids something to brag about, as you set sail on these majestic tall ships. The scenery is spectacular, with most boats providing amazing views of some of the city's great landmarks, including the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Fort Denison, and even the Taronga Zoo, so be sure to bring a camera!
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More Things to Do in Sydney

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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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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Watsons Bay

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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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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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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The Gap

The Gap

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The eastern Sydney suburb of Watson’s Bay is more than just a charming fishing town—it’s also home to one of the most stunning views found anywhere in all of Sydney. At the cliff top viewpoint known as the “The Gap,” walkers are treated to a 360° panorama of Sydney’s Harbor and coastline. For all of its natural beauty, however, The Gap has a somewhat morbid history that is occasionally more famous than its view. In 1857, the Dunbar sailing ship was aiming for the Sydney Harbor entrance, but misjudged the entry point and was shipwrecked on the rocks.

All of the 122 passengers aboard perished in the grisly wreck, except for one sailor who would end up tending a lighthouse along Australia’s coast. The Gap is also infamously known for its high number of suicides, with hundreds of Australians having leapt from the cliff to the icy waters below.

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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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Paddington

Paddington

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Often nicknamed “Paddo” by locals, Paddington is a suburb of Sydney that features a nice mix of culture, history and shopping opportunities. Known for its colonial architecture and beautiful balconied buildings, Paddo has long been a local favorite. And although the population of this district is quite meager, at just over 11,000 people, it packs a massive punch when it comes to activity.

In general, one could divide Paddington into four even more distinct districts. Five Ways is a bit of a village within a village and home to some of the best foodie spots in the Sydney area. Paddington Markets, as the name points at, is a massive flea market that takes place at the Uniting Church grounds. William Street is the art designer's district in which some of Sydney's top up-and-coming designers have their shops, and all of it is tied into Oxford Street, which runs the entire length of Paddington and is lined with shops, boutiques, cafes and eateries.

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Woolloomooloo Wharf

Woolloomooloo Wharf

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The Woolloomooloo Wharf (also known as ‘the Finger Wharf’) is the largest timbered-piled building in the world. It was built in 1915 and for the next 70-odd years handled the export of much of Australia’s wool, as well as served as a disembarking point for new migrants arriving to the country.

By the 1970s usage of Woolloomooloo wharf was on the decline and by the 1980s it had become derelict and empty. The state had planned to demolish it, but when demolition work was set to begin there was such a strong public outcry that it was decided that the wharf would instead be renovated into a boutique hotel. Today, the wharf has been converted into a fashionable complex, housing some of Sydney’s finest restaurants and most stylish residential flats.

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SEA LIFE® Sydney Aquarium

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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West Head Lookout

West Head Lookout

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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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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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Sydney Chinatown

Sydney Chinatown

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If you’re looking for adventure, phone accessories, strange herbs, delicious Chinese cuisine, or just want to visit a foreign country without leaving Sydney, then Chinatown is the place for you.

Located in Haymarket between Central Station and Darling Harbor, Chinatown is centered around Dixon Street, a pedestrian thoroughfare full of Chinese restaurants and shops. If you brave the unfamiliar signs, the labyrinths of stores and the enthusiastic street hawkers, you’re in for a rewarding experience.

The Sydney Chinatown is the country’s largest Chinatown, and the place to go for authentic Chinese food, especially if you’re looking for fried octopus balls, Dragon’s Beard Candy, freshly squeezed Sugar Cane Juice, Peking Duck or Tsing Tao.

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