Things to Do in Sydney
Life in Sydney isn’t all about the beach and surfing, but about culture as well. Located inside the walls of a majestic building from 1788, the former residence of Gov. Arthur Phillip, the Museum of Sydney informs visitors about the history of New South Wales’ capital in an entertaining way. The collection displays archaeological finds, utensils from the everyday life of the Aborigines and the first settlers, as well as documents and pictures about the development of Sydney to Australia’s largest city.
Multimedia presentations and computer animations bring the history of the former penal colony to life, and although the museum mostly informs guests about the city’s history, it also takes a critical look at the clash of cultures that happened between the Aborigines and European immigrants.
Those in search of stars can head to the shores of Palm Beach, a Sydney celebrity hot spot, or they can make their way to the Sydney Observatory, where astronomers and locals have been charting the skies of the southern hemisphere since 1858.
Self-guided walking tours through the observatory explore astronomy, meteorology, timekeeping and archaeology, and visitors can also travel through the observatory’s rich past by checking out the impressive array of informative exhibits. The facility’s world-class planetarium is a popular spot to visit, but the opportunity to view the night sky through a telescope is a one-of-a-kind treat. The oldest working telescope in Australia opens up the skies for guests, who can catch a glimpse of double stars, the moon and even planets.
In addition to the Bridge Climb, there is a cheap alternative to get the famous view from the top of town on the Sydney Harbour Bridge–the Pylon Lookout. The bridge walkway leads to the South East Pylon and to the entrance of the lookout, from where 200 steps lead up to the viewing platform located 285 feet above sea level.
From here enjoy fantastic panorama views of the Opera House, Circular Quay and the two arches of the Harbour Bridge. You'll also be able to observe the daring bridge climbers. The Pylon Lookout doesn't only consist of the viewing platform though, but is made up of three levels of exhibits. A visit to the small museum located inside the Pylon is included in an admission ticket and includes information about the history and construction of the bridge, including the dangerous working conditions of the riveters, stonemasons and riggers who constructed it. Hear incredible stories, such as the tale of a worker who survived a fall from the bridge.
Camp Cove is a small golden beach popular with swimmers and families. As the turquoise bay is for the most part protected from surf and winds, it is often completely calm. Often less crowded than other nearby Sydney beaches, it is considered a bit of hidden gem by locals. Indigenous rock carvings made by Aboriginals of whales and fish can still be viewed on the rocks lining the beach. Officers of the First Fleet frequently visited Camp Cove as well.
Just sitting on the beach allows for a great vantage point of the surrounding sea and Sydney skyline. Boats docked just off shore dot the coastline. Furthermore, the calm conditions provide an opportunity to easily view the natural wildlife. Fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving from the shore is common.
A pedestrian area of downtown Sydney, the Pitt Street Mall offers some of the most exciting shopping in the city. In the area of just one block lies several flagship stores and more than 500 retail spaces, housed in some of the most expensive commercial real estate in Australia. Specialty stores to suit all tastes can be found in the seven shopping centers, including The Strand Arcade, Westfield Sydney, Myer, and David Jones. Many of the centers were refurbished as recently as 2011. Shops vary from couture and classic fashion, to budget chain stores, electronics, and the latest in athletic wear. A visit here will certainly include some of the best shopping in Sydney, along with the bustling activity of this urban center. A footbridge runs across the mall, providing ample opportunities to take in the sights of people passing by. Restaurants and cafes provide replenishment from all the action.
The continental city of Sydney offers travelers options that go beyond the strictly Aussie. The Chinese Garden of Friendship, modeled after the private gardens of the Ming Dynasty, is just one of the multicultural experiences this jewel by the sea has to offer.
Opened in 1988 and designed by Sydney’s sister city of Guangzhou, the garden is a nod to the Chinese culture and heritage that already exists in and around Darling Harbour. The lush gardens, tranquil ponds and scenic waterfalls pay homage to the friendship between Sydney and Guangzhou. Travelers can wander between ornamental pavilions and babbling brooks before settling lakeside to enjoy peaceful reflection. Hot tea and traditional dim sum are also served at the garden’s teahouse.
Since 1879, the Powerhouse Museum has served as the main attraction for Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Its impressive halls are filled with all things technological—from science to communication, transport to computers—even massive steam engines! Jam-packed with more than 400,000 artifacts, this Sydney staple has become a destination for train lovers, engineers, computer nerds, scientists and the curious. While the permanent collection is pretty incredible on its own, popular temporary exhibitions, such as those that have showcased Star Trek, the Lord of the Rings, Faberge and even singer Kylie Minogue, keep this classic museum contemporary and up to date.
The Star Sydney Casino and Hotel on Darling Harbour is one of Sydney’s premier entertainment precincts. Hosting two gaming floors, seven restaurants and eight bars, the Star Casino is the second largest casino in Australia.
You’d be forgiven for calling The Star by another name. Formerly known as both Star City Casino and the Sydney Harbour Casino, it’s not uncommon for visitors to think the three are different places. The Star Casino features two gaming floors. The main gaming floor on level one is the one you’ll see if you’re visiting the Casino on a casual basis. The Sovereign Room is the VIP gaming floor, with heavily restricted access. Aside from the gaming tables, the Star Casino also features a number of bars including a 24/7 sports bar, the Cherry cocktail bar, sexy Sokyo Lounge, and Rock Lily which often hosts live music. 5-7pm Monday – Friday is happy hour at casino and all of the bars mentioned offer $5 beer, wine and spirits.
More Things to Do in Sydney
This rocky 13-hectare island in the heart of Port Jackson is as rich in history as it is in sandstone. Once home to an explosives store and later a convict stockade, Goat Island has housed the Sydney Water Police and even served as a film set. What originally served as a destination for some of the nation’s biggest criminals (who were forced to labor in the massive quarries), is now part of Sydney Harbour National Park.
Popular walking tours guide travelers around this much-storied island, with stops at the Queens powder magazine (where ammunition was once stored) and at the old convict quarry and sleeping quarters. Learn about life on Goat Island, the punishments endured by prisoners and their attempts to escape.
Extending out of Sydney Harbour’s north shore, Bradleys Head overlooks many of the sights of Sydney, and visitors flock here for views of the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Fort Denison. Many will come and linger with a picnic or a fishing spot, or take off on one of the many hiking trails. The popular Bradleys Head to Chowder Bay walk grants even better views of the bay, with the option to continue a longer walk onto the Split Bridge track.,
The mast of the HMAS Sydney, a ship of the Royal Australian Navy that fought naval battles in World War I, is mounted on the headland as a memorial. Cannons left over from past defenses still stand, and the Athol Hall that once served soldiers their meals now operates as a modern cafe. Bradleys Head is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park, and offers a new perspective of the city.
These days Sydney’s Capitol Theatre is regarded as one of the finest theaters in the country, but this wasn’t always the case. The site on which the theater now stands has over 100 years of history.
Located in the historic Haymarket district, the Capitol Theater began its life in 1892 as the Belmore Markets, which closed in 1916. The building was then converted into a hippodrome designed for the Wirth Bros circus. Within ten years the circus became financially unviable and the building was again converted, this time into a movie theatre. Its manifestation as a ‘picture palace’ lasted until the 1980s, when is was scheduled to be demolished. Luckily, a Heritage Council conservation order rescued the theatre and it was eventually restored to create the world-class lyric theatre that is today.
At the foot of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge lies the city’s historic birthplace, the Rocks: a quarter of winding streets, small sandstone houses and some of the oldest pubs in town. It was here that the colonists from the First Fleet settled, and the site soon became home to the strong community network of Sydney’s working class.
The Susannah Place Museum, a small complex dating back to 1844, tells the story of these former residents. It consists of four terrace houses and a mom-and-pop shop that sells historical artifacts and typical Australian souvenirs. The museum gives fascinating insight into the hard urban life of the working class during colonial times, with workers' stories reconstructed through oral histories. Visitors are shown a documentary about those who lived here and are then given a tour through the buildings, which are all preserved in their original condition.
Hungry travelers looking to experience Sydney’s impressive shorefront need look no further than Cockle Bay Wharf. This culinary destination offers visitors easy access to plenty of restaurants with a wide-range of options, from fresh seafood and Italian fare to traditional Australian cuisine. And while there’s plenty to sink your teeth into during the mealtime hours, it’s the late-night scene that draws spirited travelers to the shores of this famous bay. Nightclubs, cocktail bars and speakeasies offer visitors the chance to dance the night away while sipping strong drinks and listening to contemporary tunes in one of Sydney’s most iconic destinations.
Located in the heart of Sydney’s Central Business District, between George Street and the Pitt Street Mall, the Strand Arcade is a Victorian-style shopping center that houses specialty stores catering to a sophisticated clientele, as well as Australian designer labels such as Alannah Hill, Alex Perry, Jayson Brunsdon and Fleur Wood.
The Strand, which is named after a shopping street in London that was famous in the early 1900s, was designed by the English architect John Spencer and opened in 1892. It was the fifth and last shopping arcade built in Sydney during the Victorian era, and is the only one remaining in its original form.
Humble, proud, and unpretentious, Garrison Church isn’t the largest church in Sydney—nor its most popular or famous—but it holds an honorable, timeless charm for Sydney’s military families. Established back in 1840, Garrison Church was the first military church established in the colony of Australia, and today houses a military museum on the small inside of the church. As it’s located next to The Rocks near downtown, Garrison Church makes an easy detour on a popular visitor route of Sydney, and is a way to experience a sliver of life in Australia’s earliest days. The church itself was actually constructed from the sandstone on nearby Argyle Street, and while modern Sydney has grown up around it into the modern metropolis it is today, Garrison Church exists as an almost forgotten window into the past.
To say the James Craig has had a lengthy history would be a bit of an understatement. Its restoration process took 40 years, and before that it spent 40 years washed up on a Tasmanian beach. Despite that 80-year period, however, when the ship was incapacitated, the James Craig still spent 56 years of sailing out on the seas, rounding Cape Horn 23 times and serving her country in World War I when stationed up in New Guinea. Today, after all that hard work restoring the ship and saving it from the sand, she’s the Southern Hemisphere’s only 19th century tall ship that’s fully operational, regularly taking passengers for cruises out on Sydney Harbor and beyond. In total, the ship has 21 different sails and over 140 lines, and for an added fee you can scale the mast and experience swaying nearly 35 feet above the heaving decks. While enjoying a cruise on the James Craig, take in views of Sydney sights as you make your way out to the Heads, and feel the wind rushing through your hair.
Botany Bay is a central port of Sydney, significant both in historic and modern times. In 1770, it was the landing spot of Captain James Cook when he first stepped onto Australia after having explored New Zealand extensively. The bay was named for the botanical species found by a naturalist on board his ship. French explorers turned up in 1788, days after the First Fleet had arrived in Australia. The heritage-listed spot is now home to a monument marking the meeting of European and Aboriginal cultures here.
Today Botany Bay serves as the site of both Sydney’s major cargo port, Port Botany, as well as two runways of the Sydney airport. To the north and south, Botany Bay National Park sits on La Perouse and Kurnell headlands. This area offers hiking, scuba diving, snorkeling, walking tracks, picnic areas, and scenic lookouts out over the bay.
Hands up! Housed in a historic building that served as a police office and court from 1856 to 1888, the Justice and Police Museum now shows the judicial and criminal history of New South Wales. This chilling subject is reflected in the interior design: spiked gates, narrow door frames, winding staircases and a fairly scary cell block are all among the main features of the building. Here, you can step into the dark side of Sydney’s past and see an impressive collection of murder weapons, a gallery of defendant mug shots and learn about the stories left behind by judges, officers, thugs and crooks.
In the 1850s, the convict transport to New South Wales had just ended, but crime was on the rise and the cases were notorious. Innocent or guilty, rough criminals or simply unlucky people—they all passed through this building, and law and order was maintained.
The Sydney Conservatorium of Music may very well be the most respected music school in all of Australia. With faculty from the University of Sydney, it was once the site of Australia’s first full orchestra composed of both professionals and students. Today the Conservatorium provides musical education, research, and some of the city’s top performances. Its music library is the largest in the southern hemisphere.
The space itself has a remarkable place in Australian national history. Built on what was once Aboriginal land, it then evolved into an early settlement built with sandstone and supported by labor from convicts. It also served as government stables, remnants of which can still be seen in the architecture today. The historic land turned international music school makes for an interesting visit, with part of the school located underneath the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens.
Situated in the gorgeous Hunter Valley wine region of NSW, the Hunter Valley Gardens boast more than 60 acres of displays designed to showcase various vibrant colors and fragrances. There are 10 feature gardens, each individually planned and planted to create a stunning view and experience for visitors. The garden names lend themselves to the imagination: Sunken Garden, Storybook Garden, Rose Garden, Oriental Garden, The Lakes Walk, Italian Grotto, The Indian Mosaic, and the Formal, Chinese and Border gardens.Each is superbly landscaped to represent its chosen theme, with water features and other attractions included to present the most immersive experience. Hunter Valley Gardens is such a large site that the area includes its own village, complete with shops, restaurants and cafes full of local delicacies. Aside from the lush greens, Aqua Golf, the Hunter Valley Train and more than five miles of walking tracks within the gardens keep even the fussiest visitors entertained.
Things to do near Sydney
- Things to do in New South Wales
- Things to do in Newcastle
- Things to do in Hunter Valley
- Things to do in Port Stephens
- Things to do in Byron Bay
- Things to do in Brunswick Heads
- Things to do in Surfers Paradise
- Things to do in Gold Coast
- Things to do in Melbourne
- Things to do in Choc
- Things to do in Brisbane
- Things to do in Phillip Island
- Things to do in Noosa & Sunshine Coast
- Things to do in Victoria
- Things to do in Tasmania