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With its glossy waterfront, beaches, café culture and art galleries, self-assured Sydney is Australia’s flagship city (just don’t tell Melbourne).

Sydney is a gleaming cosmopolis, a city surrounded and defined by seawater. Water taxis and ferries supplement buses, threading the cobalt waters of Sydney Harbour, a long finger stretching west to characterful inland suburbs. The distinctive Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and the historic, hilly Rocks area punctuate a waterfront CBD (central business district) that’s home to a lively café culture, art galleries, green spaces, food markets and skyline bars. Meanwhile, on the coast, beach communities such as Bondi and Manly are the cradle of an outdoorsy, active and yet laid-back lifestyle that has become the quintessential Australian identity.

With clean, surf-fringed beaches and a buzzing cosmopolitan atmosphere, Sydney can be both a relaxing escape and a fast-paced wonderland in the same day. It’s this that makes it, for me, one of the best cities in the world.

Australia specialist Simon

Things to see and do in Sydney

Backstage tour of the Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera HouseIts once controversial and now familiar design has become iconic, but glimpsing Sydney’s World-Heritage-Site performance venue for the first time is still startling. First, there’s its size — its naval-inspired, Expressionist Modernist ‘sails’ soar to a height of 67 m (219 ft) above sea level. Getting up close to the structure, you’ll suddenly see that each sail is covered in thousands of faintly pinkish tiles.

It’s as impressive inside as outside: backstage tours reveal the labyrinth of dressing rooms, orchestra pits and green rooms normally off-limits to the public. You’ll also get access to the stages (of which there are over seven) and see the thousand-piped Grand Organ that sits in pride of place in the cavernous concert hall.

Bondi to Bronte coastal walk

A pleasant contrast to the hubbub of the CBD, this path runs between the beach suburbs of Bondi and Bronte, and continues farther south to the town of Coogee. Sometimes, it hugs the clifftops; sometimes, it comes level to the wide, sandy beaches that, in summer, are speckled with surfers and families.

In places, the storm-lashed, honeyed rocks bordering the path have been eroded into spherical hollows — some so big you can almost climb into them — and pockmarked with rock pools. Far-reaching views across the Tasman Sea accompany you the whole way.

Climbing the Harbour Bridge

It’s not for vertigo sufferers, but a journey to the summit of the through arch bridge affectionately nicknamed ‘the Coathanger’ offers arguably the best views of Sydney. At the crest, standing under the Australian flag and buffeted by wind, you look down upon the Opera House in a 360-degree panorama of Sydney Harbour.

Attached to a static safety line, you walk through the bowels of the structure, past the immense rivets and steel pins originally imported from England. From here, it’s a climb up a not-too-steep series of steps leading up the outer rim of the bridge.

Along the way, guides tell you tales of the original construction workers, including the story of one man who miraculously survived a fall from the bridge by virtue of some quick thinking. Pulling his boot off mid-plummet, he threw it before him to break the surface tension of the water below.

The ferry from Manly to Circular Quay

Circular Quay, Sydney, AustraliaAs Sydney Harbour ferry routes go, this one is hallowed: for over 150 years the yellow-and-green Freshwater ferry line has been carrying visitors and commuters alike from the bustle of the CBD’s Circular Quay to the relaxed, arty suburb of Manly.

The journey takes you east, skimming past the Opera House (remember also to look back to see the entire span of the Harbour Bridge behind you) and almost out to the open sea before heading north. On docking, you can make for Shelly Beach, a west-facing cove protected from the winds that often rip across Manly’s ocean side, making it a good spot for swimming and snorkeling.

The Rocks

Sitting on a peninsula adjacent to the CBD’s nest of skyscrapers, the Rocks is a time portal, a remnant of Sydney circa 1788 when the first British convicts landed in the area. Its rabbit warren of cobbled streets is criss-crossed by passageways, alleys and steep stairways, all crowned by the grassy knoll of Observatory Hill.

Gentrified wharves — now home to sleek modern apartments — and upmarket galleries mingle with shabby, convict-era street-corner pubs, and battered storehouses, cottages and townhouses. Some are now museums, preserving 19th-century life. The precinct’s Aboriginal heritage also rings out, reflected in the dual language street names.

Royal Botanic Garden

This area of lush parkland and cultivated gardens begins footsteps away from the Opera House and sweeps around Farm Cove, a tidal inlet with a protective sea wall. It’s a waterfront oasis that plays a large role in Sydney life. Families come to picnic or relax in the shade of its palm groves, while runners pound its trails at dawn, dusk, in their lunchbreaks… in fact, at any time of day.

A walk following one of the park’s paths may lead you past glasshouses of begonias and orchids. Other features include ponds brimming with lotus flowers and the oldest tree in the world, the Wollemi pine. As you explore, your eyes (and ears) are drawn skywards, where you’ll notice that the treetops are alive with squawking cockatoos, lorikeets and the elegant, ever-present Australian white ibis.

Blue Mountains

The Three Sisters, The Blue Mountains, New South WalesHead west out of Sydney and you’ll reach this mountain range that rises 1,000 m (3,280 ft) above sea level — it’s a rugged wilderness merely an hour’s drive from the city. The range gains its name from the blueish haze created when light catches the oily eucalyptus trees that blanket its slopes, valleys and ridges.

It’s possible to visit for a day from the city, keeping an eye out for wallabies hopping through the undergrowth, walking short trails and stopping off at lookouts. One of the most well-known vantages is the tiny but visually rewarding Eagle Hawk Lookout, which offers a close-up view of the Three Sisters, sandstone pinnacles jutting up from the Jamison Valley.

Lunch cruises and boat trips around Sydney Harbour

Taking to the water is compulsory if you want to get a feel for Sydney. One of the best ways of seeing the city from the vantage point of the water is to take a small group boat tour around the Harbour. Sailing on a 16 m (52 ft) motor yacht, you’ll take in the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, the former penal island of Fort Denison, the leafy suburb of Rose Bay, and the battleships moored at the peninsula of Garden Island, the main navy base for Australia’s east coast.

Cruises include an on-board guide, who is able to point out the key sights and insert a little fun Sydneysider knowledge (telling you, for example, which Australian public figures own which extensive waterfront properties).

Some cruises include morning refreshments; others serve a three-course BBQ lunch with wines. There’s also sometimes the option to swim from or fish from the yacht.

Best time to visit Sydney

Springtime (September to November) brings mild weather and sees the Royal Botanic Garden at its best. Summer (November to February) is a time of high temperatures — ideal for hitting the city’s beaches.

Temperature
Rainfall
Daylight

Festivals, events and seasonal reasons to visit

  • In April the city erupts with festivals and events of all kinds, including The Championships horse races.
  • Sydney always welcomes New Year’s Eve with exuberant celebrations, including fireworks over the Harbour Bridge. If you’re planning to see in the New Year in Sydney, and are coveting a view of the fireworks, be prepared to book your trip as far ahead as possible in order to secure your spot in a property with views of the bridge.

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who's been there

Audley Travel specialist Haley

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Sydney by contacting one of our Australia specialists

Suggested itineraries featuring Sydney

Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Sydney, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Sydney

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Sydney

    Our expert guides to exploring Sydney

    Written by our specialists from their own experiences of visiting Sydney, these guides will help you make the most of your time there. We share both our practical recommendations and the best ways to appreciate Sydney at its best.

    • Slow down in Australia: a leisurely stay in Sydney
      Sydney, Sydney

      Slow down in Australia: a leisurely stay in Sydney

      Slow down in Australia: a leisurely stay in Sydney

      Look beyond the Opera House, says Australia specialist and former Sydney resident, Janin. An advocate of choosing to spend longer in this flagship city, she advises how you could take in coastal walks, beaches, and national park hiking trails.

      9 min read

      Read this guide
    • Australia City Guide
      Perth skyline, Australia

      Australia City Guide

      Australia City Guide

      From loud, vivacious and cosmopolitan Sydney to laid back and unhurried Hobart, Australia’s forward-thinking cities are blessed with sun and are a springboard to Australia's countryside and coast. We've selected some of our favorite things to see and do in Australia's cities.

      6 min read

      Read this guide

    Accommodation choices for Sydney

    We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Sydney. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    • The Langham Sydney

      The Langham

      Deluxe

      One of Sydney's finest hotels, The Langham is perfectly positioned near the historic Rocks district, Darling Harbour, Circular Quay and all of the city's main highlights whilst being tucked away on a quiet street, offering a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle.

    • Lobby at Amora Jamison Hotel, Sydney

      Amora Jamison Hotel

      First Class

      A high-rise hotel with slick contemporary design, spacious rooms and a wide range of facilities, the Amora Hotel Jamison offers good value for money and a convenient central location.

    • Ovolo Woolloomooloo, Sydney

      Ovolo Woolloomooloo

      First Class

      Located on the waterfront in Sydney, the Ovolo Woolloomooloo is a quirky yet sophisticated hotel offering a unique, first class experience. 

    • Little Albion, Sydney

      Little Albion

      First Class

      Boutique in size and feel, Little Albion hides from the busyness of the CBD (central business district) in Sydney’s residential suburb of Surry Hills. A youthful-feeling hotel, it can make for a refreshing change from the big-name hotels of the CBD.

    • Spicers Potts Point, Sydney

      Spicers Potts Point

      First Class

      Combining a prime location in Sydney, Spicers Potts Point combines Victorian heritage features and slick, modern interiors.

    • Bondi Beach Penthouse, Sydney

      Bondi Beach Penthouse

      Deluxe

      For proximity to Bondi Beach and for unbroken ocean views from your balcony, this self-catering apartment is matchless. Decorated in a tasteful, minimalist contemporary style with some fun, shouty artwork, it’s ideal for a beachside stay away from central Sydney.

    • Studio suite, Harbour Rocks Hotel, Sydney

      Harbour Rocks Hotel

      Medium

      Located in Sydney’s iconic Rocks district, this hotel offers a comfortable and characterful place to base yourself while you explore this world-famous city.

    • Opera Room, Park Hyatt Hotel

      Park Hyatt Hotel

      Opulent

      With a fantastic location on the harbour front, the Park Hyatt Hotel has superb views of the Sydney Opera House and is close to the world famous Sydney Harbour Bridge.

    Ideas for experiencing Sydney

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Sydney, and which use the best local guides.

    • Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb
      Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, Sydney

      Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb

      Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb

      The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb has become a legendary activity for any visitor of Sydney. The three and a half hour excursion takes you over the arch to the summit of the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, giving you wonderful 360 degree views of the Harbour, including the iconic Opera House.

      View details
    • Blue Mountains Private Tour
      Katoomba Falls, Blue Mountains

      Blue Mountains Private Tour

      Blue Mountains Private Tour

      Visit an ancient Aboriginal site, get shown some outstanding look out points, examine rock formations and the unusual plants and wildlife that abound the area.

      View details
    • Cruise Like a Local with Sensational Sydney Cruises
      Hidden Cove, Sydney Harbour

      Cruise Like a Local with Sensational Sydney Cruises

      Cruise Like a Local with Sensational Sydney Cruises

      Jump aboard a 16 m (52 ft) motor yacht and embark on a four hour cruise taking in the famous sights as well as the lesser known coves and beaches of the harbour in Sydney.

      View details
    • Sydney Opera House Backstage Tour
      Sydney skyline

      Sydney Opera House Backstage Tour

      Sydney Opera House Backstage Tour

      This intimate tour is unique in that you have exclusive access to areas normally reserved for the stars and their crew. You will be taken backstage of one of the busiest performing arts centers in the world as it prepares for the upcoming performances.

      View details