Spectacular Sydney: where to go beyond the harbour for first-timers

Sarah Rodrigues

Sarah Rodrigues

Even people who baulk at the idea of a lengthy - we're talking 22 hours - flight will acknowledge that it's worth it to get to a destination as unabashedly gorgeous as Sydney*.

View across Sydney's famous harbour
View across Sydney's famous harbour © Gordon Bell - Shutterstock.com

If you're lucky enough to have a window seat and a daylight arrival, those first views of the Opera House gleaming whitely against the harbour, juxtaposed with the sturdily grey, yet somehow graceful, Harbour Bridge, will imprint themselves on your mind forever.

Given the hefty amount of time spent in the air, few people will come to Sydney for a brief break, which is good news, because there is more than enough in this city to keep you busy for weeks on end.

Getting to Australia: let the pros find you a great value break to Australia incorporating time in Sydney. Browse the latest offers from long-haul expert Travelbag* to find fabulous fares, itineraries and more.

Iconic sights

Naturally, time spent in and around Sydney Harbour will be a priority, so head down to Circular Quay and jump on a classic green and gold ferry - one of the most cost-effective ways of taking in the beauty of the world's deepest harbour.

If you take the trip to Manly, you'll enjoy postcard views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge as you set out.

An alternative is the Cockatoo Island ferry, which dunks you under the broad shadow of the bridge and within eyeshot of Luna Park's gaping mouth, before ending at Cockatoo Island, where hundreds of these sulphur-crested birds screech a noisy welcome.

Join a guided tour to learn more about the island, the harbour's largest, and its history, from an Aboriginal fishing spot to convict outpost, school and then ship repair yard.

Of course, travelling under the Harbour Bridge, which was officially opened in 1932, won't be enough to content most visitors, who will want to view Sydney Harbour and its surrounds from a higher vantage point.

Taking on Sydney's sky-high Bridge Climb
Taking on Sydney's sky-high Bridge Climb © Daniel Tran - Destination NSW

Since its launch in 1998, Bridge Climb has made it possible for those with a head for heights to inch along those soaring arches. Another, less costly, way to 'do' the bridge is to walk or cycle along its (flat) designated pathways, while a visit to the South Pylon Museum puts you 87 metres above sea level with great views and wallet-friendly ticket prices.

Sadly, you won't be able to scale the sails of the Opera House but do spend some time wandering around in their environs (including the Botanic Gardens) to see those pearlescent, fish-scaled shells from various vantage points.

Even if you're not planning to attend a performance in the Jørn Utzon-designed structure itself, it's still worth joining a guided tour to delve deeper into its history.


Sydney's Bondi: a perfect crescent of sand rippled, at its edges, by foaming tides on which, further back, surfers seem to float on the swell. It's a must-visit for many visitors, and rightly so, since it features incredible natural beauty within easy reach of the city centre and is backed by Campbell Parade, a lively strip of restaurants, bars and shops.

It's also the home of the legendary Bondi Icebergs club, which is as unmissable for an ocean bath swim as it is for a sunset cocktail.

Dive into the seawater pool at Bondi Icebergs
Dive into the seawater pool at Bondi Icebergs © Lawrence Furzey - Destination NSW

Don't limit yourself to the big names, though (Manly is another, and equally glorious one) because Sydney is riddled with beaches big and small.

It might seem a bit of a trek but each of the Northern Beaches beyond Manly (Narrabeen, Curl Curl, Dee Why, Freshwater, for instance) has a distinctive (and slightly less glossy) appeal.

Many have ocean pools at one end, where you can do your lengths in saltwater with spray crashing over the side or having to take on surfers and choppy waves.

On the subject of ocean pools: these are a key factor of Sydney life. Here, parents splash with their toddlers and seniors get their lengths in. It's where you see the glamour of Sydney life mesh with its everydayness.

Indigenous history

The narrative of Australia's 'settlement' was, for a long time, steeped in the idea of an establishment of a British penal colony on 'terra nullius', a land without ownership.

Over time, recognition of the country's true owners has grown and, as of 2008's National Apology to First Nations People, most establishments incorporate an Acknowledgement of Country into their offering, whether written on a menu or spoken at the start of a tour.

Increase your understanding of Australia's past and the connection between First Nations People and the landscape by joining an Indigenous-led tour.

Join an Indigenous-led tour to gain a better understanding
Join an Indigenous-led tour to gain a better understanding © Alexandra Adoncello - Destination NSW

These can be found in several locations around the city, including at Barangaroo, one of Sydney's more recent harbourside attractions. Discovering the Botanic Gardens of Sydney on a bush tucker tour is also a highlight, as you'll learn more about plants traditionally used as food and medicine and be able to sample some.

Later, book at Bennelong restaurant, located within the Opera House, where, along with sensational harbour views, you'll be treated to a menu that consciously employs native ingredients and inspiration.

Food scene

Which brings us to food: Sydney's restaurant café scene is deservedly celebrated. Kickstart your day with some of the best coffee you'll ever try and dig into one of the city's famous breakfasts or brunches, which go well beyond bacon and eggs.

Naturally, there are loads of upscale restaurants on and around the harbour, as well as near various tourist hotspots, so many that it's tempting to do nothing but eat during your stay.

Don't limit yourself to the centre, though; quality food and eating out in Sydney is a way of life, and you'll eat just as well if you venture a little distance out to the suburbs (and likely save some money, too).

Thanks to Sydney's multiculturalism, many suburbs have become known as 'the' place to go for certain types of cuisine. Head to Five Dock for epic Italian, or make for Marrickville or Cabramatta to feast upon authentic Vietnamese food.

You'll find incredible Indian dishes in Harris Park and tantalising Turkish in Auburn, while Earlwood, nicknamed 'Koreatown,' is where you should go for Korean Fried Chicken or bibimbap served up in a dolsot, a gently heated stone bowl, resulting in a crisped, crunchy rice.

The arts

For many years, there was a snobbish assumption that a country as 'new' (in Western terms) as Australia* couldn't, and didn't, have any cultural appeal.

The opposite is true: Indigenous heritage, European history and ever-increasing numbers of diaspora all intersect to make Sydney one of the most diverse and fascinating cities you'll ever visit.

There's everything here from the sandstone beauty of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, complete with its new, AU$344 million "Sydney Modern" wing, to vibrant street art, and from the heritage-listed Capitol Theatre to the jewel-box beauty of the State Theatre.

Replica of Captain's Cook's ship, Endeavour at the National Maritime Museum
Replica of Captain's Cook's ship, Endeavour at the National Maritime Museum © Jem Cresswell - Destination NSW

There are museums ranging from the world-class Australian Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art, to those catering to more niche interests, such as the Sydney Cricket Ground Museum, the Australian National Maritime Museum and the Justice and Police Museum.

There's also live music, dazzling drag queen acts and a roster of cultural events and festivals throughout the year, including summer's Sydney Festival.

Parks & green spaces

Although Sydney is famed for its beaches and waterfronts, don't overlook its sprawling green spaces, where silvery trees, curious rock formations, aromatic scents and a cacophony of bird and insect sounds combine to create a dizzying soup of otherworldly sensations.

Walk the bush trails of Berowra Valley National Park, picnic and boat at Lane Cove National Park, or search for other close-to-the-centre options on the National Parks site.

Beautifully groomed and manicured green spaces should also be experienced. Beyond the Botanic Gardens, there's also Centennial Park and the Chinese Garden of Friendship, as well as the colonial splendour of Vaucluse House and the tranquillity of Nutcote, home of Australian author and illustrator May Gibbs.

Climate in Sydney

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

The above guide shows the climate in Sydney. Find out more about conditions across the state in our complete guides to the climate in New South Wales and the climate in Australia.

Ready to discover Sydney? Search deals on flights and holidays with the gurus at Travelbag.

Latest offers on holidays & tours to Australia

More about Sydney

Sydney by month

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Sarah Rodrigues

Sarah Rodrigues

Posted on Wednesday 24th April 2024 in: City Culture Oceania

Back to top

Explore holidays in the sun for less

More holidays

Airport parking

More parking

Airport lounges

More lounges

Related posts

Back to Travel inspiration Top ^