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Top 10 Things to Do in Sydney on a First Visit

Sydney offers visitors access to a wide range of natural attractions and cosmopolitan city activities. Work you way through these ten memorable must-dos.
Ten of the best things to do in Sydney
Ten of the best things to do in Sydney: Bondi Beach

Nowhere in Australia rivals Sydney for its spectacular location and array of iconic sights.

It’s the most popular port of call for international visitors, and much loved by homegrown holidaymakers as well. And there are endless ways to spend your days in the fabulous Harbour City.

Here’s a checklist of our top ten things to do in Sydney on a first visit.

Ten top things to see around Sydney Harbour

Sydney Tours, Activities & Attractions

1. Explore Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House is the city’s brightest star, and looks good in all weathers and at all times of the day. There are so many ways to enjoy this architectural gem: see a performance (including opera, plays, concerts, and ballet), join a guided tour, or just walk around Bennelong Point and marvel at the majesty of the building itself.

Ten of the best things to do in Sydney
Ten of the best things to do in Sydney: Tour the Opera House. Image: Destination NSW

The harbourfront Opera Bar reinvents the beer-garden concept Sydney-style. An evening drink or meal here affords you one of the world’s most captivating vistas — encompassing the glittering lights of the CBD and Harbour Bridge, the comings and goings at Circular Quay, and of course, the Opera House itself in all its illuminated glory.

2. Cross or climb Sydney Harbour Bridge

To appreciate the staggering scale of Sydney Harbour Bridge, you need to climb it or cross it — preferably both. The Pylon Lookout (located at the bridge’s city end and accessible from Bridge Stairs in Cumberland Street) offers a unique perspective on the iconic steel arch as well as providing far-reaching views of the city and harbour. From here, it takes about 15 minutes to walk across the harbour using the pedestrian walkway that extends the length of the Bridge on its eastern side. Early risers will capture the best photos. Those prepared to brave the arch’s heady heights can do so with Bridge Climb.

Ten of the best things to do in Sydney
Ten of the best things to do in Sydney: Sydney Harbour Bridge

3. Walk in the footsteps of Governor Macquarie

If you’ve never heard the name Lachlan Macquarie, you soon will on a visit to Sydney. The visionary early-nineteenth-century governor of the colony of New South Wales transformed what was a stagnating penal settlement into a thriving commercial centre. The busy CBD thoroughfare that bears his name is home to some of Australia’s oldest buildings, including The Mint, Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney Hospital, and St James Church. Walk the length of Macquarie Street to admire the fine architecture (much of it constructed in golden local sandstone), or visit one of several museums in the vicinity dedicated to showcasing the city’s colonial past.

Ten of the best things to do in Sydney
Ten of the best things to do in Sydney: Hyde Park Barracks

4. Take a guided tour of The Rocks

While Macquarie Street shares a story of political power and civic progress, The Rocks — Sydney’s oldest neighbourhood — has a different tale to tell. From European settlement in 1788 through to the mid 1900s, convicts, sailors, criminal gangs, and citizens mired in poverty made this side of the city a rather unhealthy place to be. The then erstwhile slum quarter is now a much-loved heritage precinct, and its nooks and crannies harbour all manner of historic details. Join The Rocks Walking Tours on a guided 90-minutes stroll and learn more about this remarkable time capsule.

Watch our video of ten top things to do in Sydney:

10 Top Things to Do in Sydney, Australia, 2022 | Sydney Travel Guide | Win a Tour Voucher

Are you planning a visit to the amazing New South Wales capital? In this episode of our online travel series, we bring you ten top things to do in Sydney.

5. Get arty

Sydney has a rich artistic heritage to explore during your visit. Aboriginal painted rock art is less common here than in other parts of the country, but ancient rock carvings can be viewed across the greater region. The earliest forms of creative expression in the European colony were largely scientific in nature, while in the 19th century local artists chose to give the Australian landscape a very English feel. Today of course, the city’s arts scene is all encompassing, and the pre-eminent Art Gallery of New South Wales (with its stunning new wing devoted to modern works) is a must-visit. Over on the edge of The Rocks, the excellent Museum of Contemporary Art Australia houses more than 4,000 pieces — many by Indigenous artists. General admission to both galleries is free of charge.

Ten of the best things to do in Sydney
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Image: Destination NSW

If you’d like to get more involved than simply looking at art and socialise with likeminded locals in the process, take up a glass of wine in one hand and a paintbrush in the other at a Pinot & Picasso studio in Sydney. They offer art classes at several different locations and your creation will serve as a unique holiday souvenir.

6. Shop at the Queen Victoria Building

Sydneysiders love the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) and you will too; its Victorian-era beauty is captivating! Situated in downtown George Street (right next to Town Hall station), the building is an architectural hymn to the refinements of the late 19th century. Looking around at the domes, arches, and stained glass, you’ll feel you’re in a secular cathedral — one dedicated to the pleasures of shopping. Pause to enjoy impromptu performances at the grand piano in the central atrium or treat yourself to a formal English high tea at The Tea Room.

Ten of the best things to do in Sydney
Ten of the best things to do in Sydney: Queen Victoria Building

7. Hit Bondi Beach

As the setting of a globally popular reality TV series, Bondi is Australia’s most famous beach — and a mecca for sun-loving locals and visitors alike. Easily accessible by public transport from the city centre, it’s a place of remarkable natural beauty and a hive of hedonistic energy. Thanks to Sydney’s mild climate, it’s possible to swim here for much of the year (stay between the red and yellow flags so lifesavers can see you). Surfing is sacrosanct to Bondi residents and if you’ve always wanted to give it a go, now’s your chance! Book a lesson with Lets Go Surfing and get upright in no time.

Ten of the best things to do in Sydney
Ten of the best things to do in Sydney: Hang ten at Bondi Beach.

A six-kilometre coastal walking path connects Bondi with another of Sydney’s best loved beaches — Coogee. As you meander along the clifftops with the mighty Pacific Ocean to your left, it’s easy to forget there’s a vast city to your right! Stop for a coffee, meal, or swim at any of the three enchanting smaller beaches along the way (Tamarama, Clovelly, and Bronte). Finish the walk at Coogee and explore its shabby-chic Art Deco-era beachfront, before returning to the city by bus. Alternatively, you can turn around and do the walk in reverse!

8. Feast on fish and chips at Watsons Bay

Located just inside the mouth of Sydney Harbour on the narrow South Head peninsula, Watsons Bay is a former fishing village and now one of the city’s most desirable residential locales. However, its roots haven’t been forgotten. Travel by ferry from Circular Quay, purchase fresh fish and chips from famous Doyles on the Wharf, and find a shady spot to enjoy them in neighbouring Robertson Park. For a more sophisticated piscatorial dining experience, you can’t go wrong at the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel.

Ten of the best things to do in Sydney
Feast on fresh seafood at the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel. Image: Destination NSW

Burn off any fried indulgences and enjoy sublime water views by walking the one-kilometre-return South Head Heritage Trail. You’ll pass the candy-cane striped Hornby Lighthouse — the perfect spot to watch for migrating whales from May to November. Further down the ocean side of the peninsula, Gap Bluff provides a breathtaking outlook over the Tasman Sea.

9. Ride a Manly Ferry

More than twice the size of other craft in the city’s public transport fleet, the mighty Manly Ferries rule Sydney Harbour. They travel the seven-nautical-mile route from Circular Quay to the northern beachside suburb of Manly, traversing almost the entire length of the greater harbour. Just think — some people do this spectacular trip as their daily commute!

Ten of the best things to do in Sydney
Ten of the best things to do in Sydney: Ride a Manly ferry.

City workers may choose to ride the Manly Fast Ferry to save time, but you should do it the old-school way — on a traditional Freshwater Class vessel. Feel the engines thrumming beneath you and the wind on your face throughout this memorable 30-minute trip.

10. Soak up the view from Sydney Tower

Visible from all over the city, Sydney Tower is the tallest structure in the CBD and offers an epic 360-degree view (all the way to the Blue Mountains on a good day) from its observation deck. Those who are game can take it outside on the popular Skywalk tour and stand on a glass platform 270 metre above the busy city streets!

Ten of the best things to do in Sydney
Ten of the best things to do in Sydney: Sydney Tower

Where to stay in Sydney

Vibe Hotel North Sydney

There are plenty of good reasons to consider staying in North Sydney during your visit to the Harbour City, not least of all the thrill of travelling to and from the CBD over the Harbour Bridge. North Sydney is just two stops by train from the City Circle station Wynyard, and offers access to a plethora of local bars, restaurants, and shopping options. It’s virtually a city within a city, and is located just a short walk from the harbourside enclaves of Kirribilli and Milsons Point (home to Luna Park and the Art Deco-era North Sydney Olympic Pool).

Ten of the best things to do in Sydney
Vibe Hotel North Sydney. Image: TFE Hotels

Vibe Hotel North Sydney is the perfect accommodation option for business and leisure travellers looking for a stylish accommodation offering in this part of Sydney. The hotel has 187 rooms and suites, with an emphasis on connectivity. Each room features a workspace and USB charging points, and Wi-Fi is complimentary.

When it’s time to unwind, the hotel has a fabulous rooftop pool and recreation deck. Conveniently located beneath the hotel, the Eat Street dining precinct hosts an array of casual food outlets.

Adina Apartment Hotel Sydney Chippendale

Like its sister property above, Adina Apartment Hotel Sydney Chippendale is located outside the CBD proper. However, it gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the inner city’s most characterful neighbourhoods — and has character of its own in spades! The recently remodelled, low rise, 42-suite hotel makes use of a distinctive colour palette of sage green, musk pink, soft grey, and clean white, punctuated with bolder coloured carpets, curtains, and retro-style furnishings. The end result is a visual fruit salad that’s a delight to behold. Add beautiful terrazzo kitchens and bathrooms to the mix, along with an inviting Palm Springs-inspired communal courtyard — complete with a plunge pool and giant pink inflatable swan.

Ten of the best things to do in Sydney
Adina Apartment Hotel Sydney Chippendale. Image: TFE Hotels

Once a gritty working-class suburb and home to factories and a sprawling brewery complex, Chippendale has morphed into a cultural and dining mecca. There are several independent galleries (White Rabbit is one of the best known) and two popular foodie precincts (Kensington Street and Spice Alley) within walking distance of Adina Chippendale. A fusion of heritage and modern architecture now defines this part of Sydney, and just walking the maze of small streets around the hotel will see you uncovering cool cafes, eclectic eateries, unique boutiques, and other hidden urban gems.

This post was published thanks to Pinot & Picasso.

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Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Sydney? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Roslyn Jolly

About the writer

Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Escape (News Limited), Mindful Puzzles, Vacations and Travel, and Mindfood. In her former career as an English Literature academic, she studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed Roslyn to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours & Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.





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