Anyone who knows me can contest to the fact that Sydney has a special place in my heart. This post, written by locals who have lived in Sydney from anything to a few months to a whole lifetime, is curated in the hope it can help the next new visitor to Sydney work out what makes the city special for them.
Each contributor is currently isolating. We do NOT condone visiting any of the below places at the current time. However, it’s okay to remember beautiful places or cautiously plan future trips. So feel free to save or pin this post for later while we all stay home.
From historical ghost tours, stunning vantage points of Sydney Harbour Bridge and quirky suburbs, this is a city with something for everyone. Here are some of the BEST places to visit – as chosen by locals!
One of the most historic and iconic neighbourhoods in Sydney is Kirribilli. It’s located just across from the Opera House and is easy to get to by the Milson’s Point train station or the Milson’s Point Wharf. One of my favourite things to do is grab a pizza from the Kirribilli Kitchen (best pizzas ever!), a bottle of wine from BWS, and walk down to the waterfront.
If you take the train to Kirribilli, walk down to the Jefferson Street Pier on the water to the left of the bridge, take a sharp left along the path. Walk up the stairs and you’ll find this exact spot in my picture. Your very own wharf to enjoy wine with a view! Perfect spot for a sunset view over the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House! If you’re in Sydney in November, this neighbourhood is also famous for the jacaranda trees that align the streets!
I have lived in Western Sydney my entire life, and The Rocks remain my favourite part of Sydney. Much of The Rocks is as old as the New South Wales colony itself, and I love that it retains the old-world charm of stone buildings and cobblestoned streets on the doorstep of one of Australia’s largest cities.
The Rocks is home to several pubs that claim to be Sydney’s oldest. One of these, The Hero of Waterloo has a very shady past. Underneath the building, a smugglers tunnel runs from the cellar to the wharf, and it was used to kidnap patrons to work as sailors on the whaling vessels. The cellar walls still retain shackles and the tunnel entrance behind a locked door. There are tales of men who never made it out of the tunnel, contributing to The Hero of Waterloo’s reputation as Australia’s most haunted pub. Naturally, being a penal colony the region comes with a sordid history of plague, crime and suffering, some may say this contributes to overall spookiness of The Rocks at night, but I’ve always found it very peaceful to stroll. Ghost walking tours are conducted nightly for anyone interested in learning more about the area’s history, the stories are interesting even without ghostly encounters!
If you’re in The Rocks at night, it is also worth taking a stroll up to Observatory Hill for one of Sydney’s best views of the Bridge and Harbour and a great Sydney sunset spot.
By Karen Linzi @karen_linzi
Balmain is an area that is as rich in history as you can get, dating back to the 1800’s when it was the industrial hub of Sydney. Home to coal mines, shipbuilding, engineering, metal works, boiler making and soap factories. The working class would finish the working day with a pint at the local pub. By 1920 it was known as being one of the rough and ready parts of Sydney…a very different tale to what it is today; a place best-known for brunch spots and cute terraced houses.
Balmain is a foodie heaven so it would be sacrilege to skip brunch at one of the many cafes. We ate at Contessa as the reviews looked amazing, and I had a spicy meatball dish, with scrambled eggs on sourdough. I can confirm that it did not disappoint, and the coffee was delicious! I can also completely recommend Our Farm Kitchen for the sweet bakery treats. The owner Laura cooks everything from scratch in the kitchen and caters for gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan. Everything is also refined sugar-free. Top tip: try the raspberry tart; it is honestly one of the best treats that I have ever tried! Nom Nom…
You can also go window shopping in Darling Street or take a dip in the Dawn Fraser Saltwater Pool, one of Australia’s oldest baths dating back to the 1880s. This harbour pool is located in Elkington Park and named after the Aussie swimming champion Dawn Fraser.
Explore the Saturday Balmain Market that takes over the grounds of St Andrews church every weekend. Roam around for handmade arts and crafts, jewellery, giftware, fashion, homewares and lots of foodie finds. If you love your markets, also check out the Rozelle Collectors Market (the next suburb) for pre-loved fashion, antiques and recycled books.
Finally. wonder the streets and take in the marvellous Harbour Bridge views whilst delighting at its rich history and restored Georgian and Regency buildings. You can easily see why many writers, actors, film directors, musicians and artists call this place home and let their creativity feel inspired.
The Anzac Bridge, below, is also often missed out but it remains one of the best photography locations in Sydney.
By Anne from @adventuresofabrunette
There are so many amazing places in Sydney, but one of the places that stands out to me is the Maccallum Pool at Cremorne Point. This pool is not as well known as some of the major spots like the Bondi Icebergs but it’s a little hidden gem for those that don’t know Sydney well. It is located on the north side of the Harbour Bridge, in a quiet and lovely suburban neighbourhood, with leafy tree-lined walkways along the water. You can get to this place by the Ferry, and I always enjoy going for a bit of a walk before taking a dip into the pool. It’s a great way to enjoy and take advantage of the outdoorsy Sydney lifestyle.
What I love most about this spot is the unique retro style aesthetic of the wooden sunbathing deck, with views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. There is no entry fee which is a bonus. I usually come here to take beautiful photos. It’s a nice place to experience if its your first-time visit to Sydney or if you’re a photography enthusiast.
KAYAKING AT SYDNEY HARBOUR
By Clarence from Everyday Crossroads @everydaycrossroads
What’s the perfect activity that combines catching a sunrise, getting a workout and sightseeing in Sydney? My favourite activity in Sydney is to rent a kayak at one of the many bays in Sydney Harbour and do a little exploring around the area. My favourite kayaking route is the one guided by our professional guide, Sophie from OzPaddle. An early morning start from Andrew Boy Charlton Pool, we paddled to Fort Denison, which lies right in the middle of the habit. It is a perfect and quiet spot to catch an epic sunrise.
We then kayaked to Farm Cove to see the skyscrapers towering behind the Royal Botanic Gardens. And the main highlight is definitely paddling up to the Opera House. There’s nothing like seeing the Opera House and Harbour Bridge up close from the water on a kayak. A strength and endurance workout, a beautiful sunrise, brag-worthy photos and a fresh perspective of the city, nothing quite beats a morning kayak in the harbour as my favourite activity to do here in Sydney.
By Yanti from @theworldandme_
My favourite beach around the Sydney CBD is Queens Beach, which is located on the Hermitage Foreshore. It’s a tiny 50m-wide secluded beach that not many people know about. It also has a stunning view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The beach is accessible from Nielsen Park but I usually park my car at the residential area in the corner of New South Head Road and Tivoli avenue.
DIVING AT OLD MAN’S HAT
By Steph from A Nomad’s Passport
Old Man’s Hat is a rock formation at the North Head of the Harbour, but the real gem lies in the ocean beneath it. There you will find the best and most diverse diving spot in Sydney. It is a boat dive, but most local diving centres regularly plan dives at this spot.
It is suitable for divers at all levels, but I recommend diving here as an advanced diver. The depth is between 18 – 25 meters and the ground is rocky. There are many soft corals and sponges, and the marine life one can find here is incredible.
While diving here, it is easy to spot nudibranchs and to ‘fly’ with schools of fish. Due to the many walls and overhangs at Old Man’s Hat, it is the perfect spot if you want to see wobbegongs and Port Jackson sharks. And in addition, it is also the best spot in Sydney to see sea-dragons. All of this is why this dive site is one of my favourite places in Sydney.
THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
When people think of Sydney, one of the first iconic buildings they always mention is, yes, you guessed right, the Opera House, and, I can absolutely understand why. It’s architectural beauty and location are breathtaking and make for some amazing photography. The Architect of the Opera House is Danish and his inspiration for the design was the sails of boats in Sydney Harbour.
As a Sydney local with a love of photography, I’ve had plenty of time to suss out my favourite vantage points of this famous building. These include from the foot of the opera house for amazing close-ups that showcase how grand the building is. You also get to appreciate the texture of the building and that it isn’t a flat surface.
Other great places to view the Opera House is from The Rocks such as outside the Park Hyatt or Hicksons Road Reserve. Alternatively, McMahons Point or Luna Park are great locations. And – for the ultimate Sydney sunset spot – you should definitely go to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair (below, right).
By Leah Mathew @leah_mathew_
Bondi is a great way to escape the city life…from the beach to the bars, to the rock pools (and the Bondi Icebergs pictured below), to the coastal walk.
The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk is one of my favourite things I did while living in Bondi. There are many beautiful beaches along the way and, if you visit in October, you will see the special yearly outdoor artwork known as Sculptures By The Sea.
Another of the best things to do in Bondi is bottomless brunch at Hardware. This place has a great atmosphere, reasonably priced and the food is great! I highly recommend visiting Bondi if you’re on a trip to Sydney… but be careful – you might get trapped in the Bondi bubble!
THE GROUNDS OF ALEXANDRIA
A beautiful garden with a rustic ambience, stylish boutique food stalls, a chic florist and cute lemonade stand. Where could this be?
Situated within the grounds of industrial buildings, just outside of the buzzing Sydney CBD, you will find “The Grounds of Alexandria.” An enchanted garden surrounded by warehouses turned cafes/restaurants. As you enter The Grounds you cannot go past the aromas of the coffee coming from The Cafe, a chic warehouse offering breakfasts and lunches with fresh produce.
Continue walking past the garden and I am sure The Potting Shed will catch your eye. Surrounded by greenery, hanging potted plants, terracotta and swinging chairs it feels like you are in a backyard. It is the perfect place for hanging out with friends for lunch or dinner. The Garden is my favourite as it welcomes everyone to sit on the benches surrounded by vines, flowers, vegetable gardens and just lots of greenery. And just to top off the coolness, tucked away is a little farm. You will find food stalls around the garden showcasing a spread of colours of various pastries.
Just note, It is not the cheapest place, but it is worth going to at least once if you are in Sydney. As a local Sydneysider myself, this is the kind of place I would take my family or the girls for a girly brunch/lunch date. Every detail has been thought about in the ambience, decorations, vibe… it is like a real-life fairy tale.
By Steph from A Nomad’s Passport
The Manly Ferry connects Circular Quay to Manly and is an iconic experience. As the ferry takes you towards Manly, you cruise past some of Sydney most iconic places including the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. It is part of the regular commute of many locals and most call it the most beautiful commute in the world. And almost everyone that takes this ferry once is inclined to agree.
The ride with one of the traditional green ferries takes around 30 minutes and while there is a faster ferry, I would always recommend taking the slower one. Taking the Manly ferry is one of the best and cheapest ways to explore the Harbour and a slower ride allows you to enjoy the view.
It is great to see the different areas of Sydney that are in proximity to the Harbour and it makes it easy to fall in love with the city every single day. Taking this ferry allows you to see the very best of Sydney and it makes you appreciate how the city grew around the impressive natural harbour.
An often overlooked area of Sydney, Vaucluse is full of hidden gems, especially for those hunting for the perfect beach or beautiful views of Sydney. I highly recommend spending the day on the Watsons Bay to Hermitage Foreshore walk to explore the area.
Start at Hornby Lighthouse, a uniquely coloured lighthouse overlooking the headland that separates the Pacific Ocean from Sydney Harbour. After watching the sun rise over the ocean, make your way back down to Camp Cove Beach for local beach vibes (including tiny shack cafe) with beautiful views of Sydney in the distance.
Then make your way down to Parsley Bay Bridge, through some beautiful scenery, to Shark Beach, one of my favourites in Sydney. It’s quiet and perfect for swimming, snorkelling and chilling out under the beautiful Australian sun.
End the day at Milk Beach, the perfect place to watch the sun set behind the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Or if you’re beached out, wander back up to Watson’s Bay Boutique Hotel – this place is full of beach club vibes with the same sunset views of the iconic skyline.
Let me know your favourite place in Sydney in the comments below.
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My personal favourite things to do in Sydney:
Hi, I’m Cassie, and I’ve been solo travelling the globe since May 2018. In this time, I’ve backpacked around Southeast Asia, Japan and The Balkans, alongside spending a year living in Australia. Currently isolating in New Zealand.