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Sydney Opera House

10 activities you absolutely have to do in Sydney

When Rob and I discuss the merits of all our favourite global cities, somehow Sydney always comes out on top.

Aside from having the best year-round weather of any place we’ve been, it also has great access to beaches, plenty of culture, a damn pretty harbour, and is generally just a nice place to hang out. It’s hard to feel stressed here – the relaxed pace of life is not too slow or too fast.

There’s plenty of touristy stuff to do in Sydney, and I’m sure anyone who has visited the city will give you a list of must do activities, but I’m going to give you some ideas that are slightly off the beaten path. Rob and I lived in Sydney for 2 years, so we know all the best things to do from both a tourist and local’s perspective.

If you’re heading to Australia’s most iconic city anytime soon, here are my 10 must do activities in Sydney!

Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Pylon Lookout, Australia

1. Check out the bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is the most prominent attraction in Sydney and is the main focal point for the New Year’s Eve fireworks display. If you have some cash to do touristy stuff, then do the Bridgeclimb. The guided climb takes you all the way to the summit of the Harbour Bridge for awesome views. Even though it’s pretty expensive, you won’t regret doing it (though you might have to push through any fear of heights!).

If you don’t have the dough to fork out for the Bridgeclimb, then the next best thing is the Pylon Lookout. The entry fee is $15 and you’ll still get treated to awesome views.

If you’re really strapped for cash then you can just walk across to the north shore, which is completely free. The views aren’t quite as great as there’s a wire fence obscuring the view, but it’s still a nice walk.

Sydney Opera House from Manly Ferry

2. See the harbour from the water

Sydney Harbour is the city’s centerpiece. I’ve seen the harbour from nearly every angle (I even used to have views of it from my old workplace in Martin Place) and I will never ever get sick of it.

The best way to see the harbour is from the water. You can do a hop-on hop-off boat cruise with commentary, or you can just catch the public ferry to Manly, which will give you exactly the same views for the price of a public transit ticket. The ferry sails from Circular Quay and will give you a killer photo op of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge on the way out.

Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia

3. Go to the beach

A visit to Sydney wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of it’s many beaches. A staple Australian activity is to buy fish and chips from a take away shop near the beach and eat them while you’re sitting on the sand.

My top choice is Manly, which is a seaside suburb with great cafes and restaurants on the north shore. The ferry ride from Circular Quay is 100% worth it just for the views.

Bondi is the most famous of Sydney’s beaches. It’s a really nice beach where you can learn to surf or pick a place to eat along the waterfront. Just keep in mind that Bondi can get crowded (especially on a sunny weekend day).

Coogee is a little further out of the city but is much quieter than Manly or Bondi. There’s actually a really awesome coastal walk along the ocean cliffs between Bondi and Coogee which takes about an hour and a half.

4. Eat Asian food

Australia has a huge Asian influence, so sampling some Asian food is a must. Both Robert and I agree that this is a hugely underrated part of Sydney culture, as the Asian food here is better than anywhere in the world (except Asia itself, of course).

Our favourite eateries are Din Tai Fung in World Square for Taiwanese Dumplings, Wagaya in Haymarket for Japanese dishes, and Miss Chu for Vietnamese food.

There’s actually a brand new Asian food hotspot in Chippendale called Spice Alley. Definitely check this place out if you want a range of cuisines to try – I’ve heard great things about it!

Murals in Newtown, Sydney, Australia

5. Check out Newtown

Newtown was our hood back when we lived in Sydney. This area is a hipster place with loads of pubs, bars, restaurants, coffee, and amazing murals.

To get to the heart of the action, take the train to Newtown station and walk in either direction along King Street. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon. You can even do a Newtown street art tour to make it extra interesting!

Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

6. Walk around the Royal Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens are good for more than just some interesting plants – they also offer great views of the harbour. If you walk out to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, you get a picture perfect view of the Opera House with the Harbour Bridge behind it. It’s one of the most Instagrammable spots in Sydney.

7. Drink beer in a pub

One thing that everyone in Sydney does is drink beer in pubs. It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is – there’ll be plenty of people enjoying a bevvy in the beer garden while meeting up with friends.

These pubs often have really great casual food options (also known as pub grub), so be sure to pick one that has a good menu and try a schniddy (chicken schnitzel) or Aussie burger.

I’d recommend the Courthouse Hotel in Newtown, The Australian in The Rocks, or the Kirribilli Hotel on the north shore. But really, it doesn’t matter which pub you go to. They’re all pretty good.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

8. Explore The Rocks

The Rocks is an inner city neighbourhood with a whole lot of historic architecture and small back alleys filled with boutique stores. This area was actually one of the first parts of Sydney to be settled when the British colonised Australia in the late 1700s. If you’re interested in learning more about this history, it might be worth taking a walking tour of The Rocks.

The Rocks has some weekend markets, loads of art and craft shops, and of course – pubs. Be sure to stop in for a beer at the Lord Nelson or the Fortune of War which are the oldest surviving pubs in Sydney.

Definitely hit up the Museum of Contemporary Art, which has some interesting aboriginal art exhibitions. The museum is free to enter and the cafe on the top floor has killer views of Circular Quay!

9. Drink coffee constantly

Robert and I have both been into coffee for a long time, but it was only when we lived in Sydney that we truly become coffee snobs. This city is ripe with little coffee shops and cafes that all brew an excellent flat white.

I’d love to give you some suggestions, but there are really too many great coffee shops to count. As long as you stay away from the main tourist areas, you’ll find good coffee.

Bakery pies, Australia

10. Eat a savoury pie

Bakeries are one of the things I miss most about living in Australia. They’re basically a haven of bread and pastry deliciousness, which stock savory pies, sausage rolls, pasties, and scrolls. You’ll find these mostly in suburban areas and at beaches (my personal favourite bakery is The Pie Tin in Newtown!).

Other more touristy activities in Sydney:

  • Go up Sydney Tower for views over the city.
  • Walk around the Opera House.
  • Go shopping at Pitt Street Mall.
  • Wander around Darling Harbour.

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