There are few sights as synonymous with Sydney as Manly Beach, or the green and yellow ferries that chug between this cosmopolitan coastal enclave and the CBD. Work your way through this list of top things to do in Manly.
With a history as a holiday hotspot dating back to the colonial era, Manly remains one of Sydney’s best loved beach locales.
Famous for its surf-and-sand culture, and straddling both the harbour and coast, the gateway to the Northern Beaches oozes a laidback, casual charm and offers a myriad of indoor and outdoor pursuits. Whether you’re a visitor doing a day trip from the CBD, or a life-long local exploring your own backyard, there’s plenty to see and do on this sun-drenched peninsula.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Manly.
1. Ride the Manly Ferry
Manly is located on the north-eastern corner of Sydney Harbour, and the easiest way to get there is by water. Believe it or not, the famous Manly Ferry has been operating since 1855! Hop on one of the regular services that depart from Circular Quay and soak up spectacular harbour views throughout the 30-minute journey.
2. Hit the beach…
Once you’ve disembarked at Manly Wharf, head along the pedestrianised Corso to Manly Beach — one of the most popular stretches of sand in Sydney and fringed by soaring Norfolk Island pines. The walk will take you less than ten minutes. Spread a towel on the sand, splash around in the waves, or start a game of beach volleyball on one of the courts on the water’s edge. If you’re really keen to embrace Sydney’s surfing culture, enrol for a lesson with the Manly Surf School; you’ll be upright in no time — and what a place to learn to hang ten!
Need gear? Manly Beach Hire rents out body boards, surfboards, umbrellas, and sun loungers.
3. …or paddle the harbour
Those who prefer to soak up the beauty of harbour-side Manly (and get a workout in the process!) should head to the Manly Kayak Centre by the Wharf. You can hire a kayak, stand-up paddle board, or self-drive motorboat, and do some DIY exploration of the harbour shoreline. The Centre can even set up a beach picnic for you along the way! Alternatively, join one of their guided kayak tours and discover secluded bays and hidden coves.
4. Enjoy a casual brunch or lunch
All that sea air is likely to leave you with quite an appetite, and Manly offers a diverse range of casual dining options. Grab an American-style cheeseburger and frozen custard thick shake from Betty’s Burgers, or coffee and a pastry from Rollers Bakehouse (they do to-die-for croissants).
For something heathier, tuck into Nepalese dumplings and a poke bowl at Momo Bar, satisfy your sweet tooth (guilt-free!) with an acai bowl and superfood smoothy at Bare Naked Bowls, or visit Verd for nutritious and delicious vegan meals — all made fresh daily.
5. Do the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk
You went for a croissant, right? Well, now it’s time to work off that indulgence on the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk — one of Sydney’s most picturesque trails. This ten-kilometre track hugs the harbour, taking in small family-friendly beaches and weaving its way through native bushland. You may spot Indigenous rock engravings, and you’ll certainly see breathtaking water vistas. Take the bus to the bridge (30 minutes from the Manly Wharf stop on Belgrave Street) and hike back to Manly. It will take you around three hours.
If that sounds like too much hard work, opt for an easy stroll along the Manly coastal foreshore. The paved and mostly flat path stretches from Queenscliff Beach at the northern end, to Shelly Beach in the south. Keep an eye out for eastern water dragons sunbaking on the rocks en route!
6. Sip a sundowner at the Wharfy
Time for a cold beverage, and where better to enjoy it than at the iconic Manly Wharf Hotel — also known as the ‘Wharf Bar’, or simply the ‘Wharfy’ — which has a sensational harbourside location. If you’re dropping in at dusk, grab a drink and perch yourself at one of the alfresco tables in the Jetty Bar. There’s arguably no better spot to watch the ferries come and go, and as day turns to night the CBD lights dance in the distance.
7. Dress up for dinner
There’s no shortage of opportunities to push the boat out on an upscale dining experience in Manly. Queen Chow is an elegant Cantonese restaurant on the water at Manly Wharf. Part of the Merivale hospitality empire, the venue executes familiar dishes such as sweet ‘n’ sour pork, salt ‘n’ pepper squid, and dumplings, with flair.
Upstairs at the Wharf, Sake is all blond timber furniture, floor-to-ceiling glass, and beach chic, and serves exquisite sushi and sustainably sourced seafood.
Over on the beachfront, Manly Greenhouse is another stylish dining option; the middle level offers a tapas menu and impressive wine list.
8. Shop along the Corso
Originally built as a boardwalk for tourists to cross the sand spit between the ferry wharf and beach, today the Manly Corso is a busy open-air mall lined with retail outlets, cafes, and pubs. Shop for street and surf wear, jewellery, books, and beauty products. An outdoor market pops up just off the main drag on weekends, and offers locally made and unique art, decor, and fashion items.
9. Sample the wares of a local legend
‘The love child of a post-surf beer’ (and that’s just part of the founding story), 4 Pines Brewing Company has grown from its original microbrewery here in the Northern Beaches to operating multiple venues along Australia’s eastern seaboard. Its ever-expanding range of craft beers are also carried in bottle-shops and bars nationwide. Head to the Manly brewpub to see what all the fuss is about. It offers a buzzy yet relaxed ambience, signature brews on tap, gourmet pub food, and live music on weekends.
10. Discover a secret speakeasy bar
By day, the Cove Deli sells cheeses and cured meats; by night it harbours the hidden entrance to The Cumberland — an underground speakeasy bar. Enter through the antique fridge door, head down the curved staircase, and step back in time to the Prohibition era. Marble benchtops, brass and copper finishes, and cabaret chairs and tables with glowing candlesticks set the scene. There’s a wide selection of whiskies, wines, craft beers and cocktails, all of which befit this sophisticated drinking den.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Manly? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Cindy Bingley-Pullin is a Sydney-based freelance writer, wanderluster, corporate bee, and happy homemaker. In between analysing spreadsheets in the office, she pursues her combined passions of travel and writing. Cindy’s work has appeared in Virgin Australia’s Voyeur magazine, International Traveller, Fitness First magazine, and the Sydney Morning Herald.