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Things to Do in Sydney

So often mistaken for the Australian capital that you’d be forgiven for forgetting all about Canberra, Sydney is Australia’s largest and most headline-grabbing city—and it’s likely to be your first stop if you're arriving Down Under from abroad. If you’re short on time or just want some help getting your bearings, tours of the Harbour City abound. Many begin in Sydney Harbour, where the futuristic, concrete-sailed façade of the Sydney Opera House and the towering Sydney Harbour Bridge provide a spectacular backdrop to events like the New Year’s Eve fireworks display and the legendary Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Exploring the rest of the city reveals one postcard-worthy scene after another—the colonial architecture of the Rocks, the bronzed lifeguards and dripping surfers of Bondi Beach, the sweeping panoramas from Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, and the adorable kangaroos and koalas of Taronga Zoo. Harbor boat tours, guided bike tours, sunset dinner cruises, and scenic helicopter and seaplane flights help you see it all from every angle. Once you’ve checked a Sydney Harbour whale-watching cruise, Sydney BridgeClimb, opera house backstage tour, and Bondi surf lesson off your bucket list, it’s time to escape the city. Sign up for a Hunter Valley wine-tasting tour, a visit to Scenic World in the Blue Mountains, or a day trip to the country’s capital—again, that’s Canberra, although Sydney residents won't hold it against you for thinking otherwise.
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Sydney Harbour
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Its sparkling waters and iconic sights draw visitors from all over the world who wish to enjoy the beauty and excitement of the harbor. On any day, Sydney Harbour is dotted with sail boats and ferries which stand out on the vibrant blue waters. With nearly 150 miles (240 kilometers) of shoreline, the harbor is a breathtaking expanse awaiting the exploration of its visitors.

A visit to Sydney Harbour will not disappoint, as the area is home to many of Sydney’s top attractions and offers some of the city’s best activities. A must-see (and impossible to miss) structure of Sydney Harbour is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which you can cross or climb for stunning views. Within walking distance are the Taronga Zoo, the historic Rocks area, Circular Quay, and the famous Sydney Opera House.

To get the best views of the harbor it is recommended that you enjoy a cruise through its waterways, and perhaps stop off at one of the many islands that Sydney Harbour embraces.

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Sydney Harbour Bridge
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Located in the beautiful and iconic Sydney Harbour, the Sydney Harbour Bridge overlooks the magnificent blue waters that help to make the Harbour a spectacular sight.

Nicknamed "The Coathanger" because of it's steel arch-based design, the Harbour Bridge boasts 8 traffic lanes, 2 railways and a pedestrian and bicycle lane, transporting both locals and tourists from the Central Business District (CBD) to the North Shore.

Visitors interested in getting the best view from the bridge can do so with the help of the BridgeClimb. Climbers can choose to climb either the outer arch or the inner arch of the bridge for spectacular views and an unforgettable experience.

The bridge also plays a special part in the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks displays, where hundreds of spectators travel from near and far to gather on the shore and on the water to watch the festivities each year.

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Sydney Opera House
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The Sydney Opera House is Australia’s preeminent cultural center. Famous for its cutting-edge architecture, the building’s series of white-tiled sails jut into the harbor at Bennelong Point, perched on a platform of pink granite. The iconic structure was designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, and Australians have been divided about its design ever since it opened way over-budget in 1973. Recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the opera house has a range of venues under its sails.
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Sydney Harbour Tall Ships
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No trip to Sydney is truly complete without a full embrace of the ocean water. Day or night, the Sydney Harbour's Tall Ships set off providing passengers an authentic Australian experience, watching over the city harbour over some genuine barbecue. With a variety of different services, meal offerings, and specials, you can choose which time of the day and price setting best suits you, either choosing to share a romantic date with a loved one or giving the kids something to brag about, as you set sail on these majestic tall ships. The scenery is spectacular, with most boats providing amazing views of some of the city's great landmarks, including the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Fort Denison, and even the Taronga Zoo, so be sure to bring a camera!
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SEA LIFE® Sydney Aquarium
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Australia’s wild and wonderful aquatic life is highlighted at the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, one of the world’s largest aquariums and amongst Sydney’s top visitor attractions. There are several exhibit areas representing Australia’s varied habitats and ecosystems, including platypus from the Southern Rivers, salty crocodiles from the Northern Rivers, dugongs in the Mermaid Lagoon, little penguins from the Southern Ocean, and tropical fish from the Great Barrier Reef. Sharks swim overhead glass tunnels, there’s a tropical touch pool and corals in the Great Barrier Reef, and daily activities include glass-bottom boat shark feeding, talks with the dugongs, penguin feeding, and Reef Theatre displays.
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The Rocks
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With its Georgian sandstone buildings, narrow alleyways, historic pubs, and regenerated warehouses, The Rocks is one of Sydney’s oldest and most popular precincts. Set back from Circular Quay, it was one of the earliest parts of Sydney to be settled. Formerly a raffish area, today this city-center quarter has been gentrified and given a good polish.

You’ll find Sydney’s oldest pubs here, a vibrant weekend street market specializing in handicrafts, historic Cadmans Cottage, the Sydney Observatory, Museum of Contemporary Art, and a swag of shops and boutiques. Some of Sydney’s best restaurants are also here, including Sailors Thai, Altitude, Neil Perry’s Rockpool, and Doyles at the Quay. The best way to get a feel for The Rocks is to just follow your nose down 200-year-old cobbled laneways like Playfair St, Mill Lane, and Nurses Walk.

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Fort Denison
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What is now a popular destination for history buffs once served as a defense facility that kept watch over the bay. Fort Denison Island, located northeast of the Royal Botanic Gardens, was where some of the most gruesome acts against convicted felons took place.

Today, travelers can wander the grounds of this recently restored island and see the gibbet where criminals were hanged. Explore the fort built to protect the island from invaders and climb the historic Martello Tower, the only one of its kind in the country. The island is home to an informative museum, as well as a number of landmarks that illustrate its dark and violent past.

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Royal Botanic Garden and The Domain
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Historic, picturesque, and relaxing, the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens cover 74 acres (30 hectares) running along the harbor from the Sydney Opera House to Woolloomooloo. A true inner-city oasis, the gardens combine exotic plantings from Europe, tropical rainforest, woodland, flowers, grasses, the Indigenous First Encounters garden, and rare horticultural exhibits. A program of events includes activities, workshops, courses and lectures, plus there are entertaining guided walks throughout the year. The gardens are laced with leafy walkways and harbor lookouts, and they also boast a fernery, camellia garden, palm grove, and herb garden. For a walk through history, the Mrs Macquaries Bushland Walk traces a path along the coast, re-creating the landscape as it appeared when the early settlers arrived in Sydney in the early 19th century. Don't forget to stop off at Mrs Macquarie's Chair, a bench carved out of sandstone, to get amazing views of the Sydney Harbour.
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Manly Beach
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Straddling the peninsula of North Head on Sydney Harbour, the town of Manly is Sydney’s most popular seaside resort. It offers the best of both worlds, with calm harbor beaches on one side and wild ocean waves on the other. Linking the two is The Corso, lined with cafes and restaurants. Along with swimming, surfing, wining and dining, Manly’s most popular attraction is of course Oceanworld, on Manly Cove Beach on the harbor side of the town. Sharks and rays swim overhead curving walkways, or you can don a wetsuit and go diving with these monsters of the deep (if you dare!). Manly is surrounded by gorgeous beaches linked by scenic seaside walkways. Boating, kayaking, surfing and cycling are popular pastimes in summer, while winter is a good time to visit the historic former quarantine facility Q Station or take a North Harbour walk to Shelly Beach or The Spit.
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Circular Quay
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Sydney’s transport and scenic heart, Circular Quay is also the city’s birthplace, flanking the waters of Sydney Cove where the First Fleet settlers landed on Australian soil in 1788. The rectangular stretch of water is lined with attractive pedestrian walkways running from the Sydney Opera House, past the Circular Quay ferry terminals, around to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The historic laneways, interesting shops, old pubs and stylish restaurants of The Rocks precinct, one of Sydney’s most popular tourist areas, run behind the Museum of Contemporary Art. Circular Quay is one of the major vantage points for Sydney’s famous New Year’s Eve fireworks.
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More Things to Do in Sydney

Mrs Macquarie's Chair

Mrs Macquarie's Chair

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This unique landmark—a massive rock fashioned into a cozy bench—was carved from sandstone in the early 1800s by Gov. Lachlan Macquarie for his wife Elizabeth. As the story goes, when the weather was warm and the sun high, Mrs. Macquarie loved to relax at the point of this scenic peninsula and stare out over the ocean.

Today, travelers enjoy a leisurely walk to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair from the iconic Opera House or wander over to this historic attraction after a visit to the nearby Royal Botanic Garden. In a bustling city that’s alive with energy, the stone bench offers visitors a perfect place to unwind, relax and take in the some of the best views of Sydney Harbour.

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Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

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Located in northern Sydney, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is the second-oldest national park in the country and a favorite among campers, hikers and nature lovers. Its lush rainforest landscape, quiet creeks and mountain passes lead visitors to forget Ku-ring-gai Chase is still within Sydney city limits, but its incredible views, thick mangroves and scenic drives make it the perfect escape from center city hustle.

The park is on the Australian National Heritage List, and travelers often wander its well-kept walking paths that wind through the Australian jungle. Driving may prove the easiest way to navigate the area, but many visitors prefer to call upon bicycles and horses to explore. An ideal day trip, Ku-ring-gai Chase offers public picnic spaces, paddle and sailboats and scenic overlooks like the Barrenjoey Lighthouse.

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Watsons Bay

Watsons Bay

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Originally inhabited by aboriginal people who fished the waters off the South Head peninsula, Watsons Bay was later named for Seaman Robert Watson, whose fleet once docked in the bay’s protected shores. The quiet, mostly residential area attracts history-loving travelers looking to explore the World War II relics here, like the Sydney Harbour anti-submarine boom net designed to prevent underwater attackers from entering the inlet. But perhaps the biggest draw to Watsons Bay is the legal nude beach at Lady Bay, where travelers can strip down to the buff and soak up the sun. The less bold can still enjoy the area’s other beautiful beaches, such as Camp Cove, and the scenic coastal walk along South Head.

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Shark Island

Shark Island

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Now named for its shape and the image it brings to mind, Shark Island was once referred to as “Boambilly” by Australia’s aboriginal people. The island was previously the site of an animal quarantine and naval depot, but today travelers flock to its shores for recreation.

Settle in under shady trees and enjoy one of the island’s many well-kept picnic sites, or explore the rocky passes and handmade grottos along Shark Island’s beaches.

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Sydney Tower Eye

Sydney Tower Eye

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The tallest freestanding structure in Sydney - measuring just over 1,000 feet (305 meters) tall - the Sydney Tower boasts Australia’s loftiest observation tower for terrific views. You can see all across Sydney from atop the Sydney Tower, all the way to the Heads washed by the ocean, to the Blue Mountains on the far horizon.

You can also see the tower from far away, as it’s one of the most visible of Sydney’s landmarks viewed from afar. Sometimes known by its former names of Centrepoint or AMP tower, the Sydney Tower was built in the 1970s.

Areas open to the public include the observation deck, providing 360 degree views from its panoramic windows 820 ft (250 m) above the ground. Dinner or lunch at the buffet or a la carte restaurant is a stunning experience, and the Skywalk open-air tour will literally take your breath away.

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Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach

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Australia’s most famous beach is a curving golden stretch of pale gold sand and turquoise waves. Attracting beach bunnies, surfer dudes and beach lovers alike, it’s one of Sydney’s favorite hot spots for catching the sun and people watching. Lifeguards patrol the often pounding waves, so it’s important to swim between the patrolled red and yellow flags. The sands of Bondi Beach are a popular spot for surfing lessons, beachside volleyball, yoga and community festivities, and the beach is overlooked by a stream of shops, restaurants and cafes for post-beach dining and relaxation. Picturesque coastal walks lead from Bondi over the seaside cliffs to the neighboring beaches of Clovelly and Bronte, and to the romantic Victorian cemetery overlooking the coast at Waverley.
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Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour

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As one of the world’s great waterfront destinations, Darling Harbour is a visitor’s dream! The harbour is considered an entertainment and tourism hub with restaurants, bars, museums, theaters, shops, parks and more! All sites are walking distance from one another, as this ring of attractions is connected by walkways and boardwalks that face the water. Worn out from an exciting day in the harbour? There is also a little train that loops the area for visitors with children or anyone who would like to relax and enjoy the seaside sights.
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Hyde Park

Hyde Park

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Hyde Park is Australia’s oldest park and a welcoming green space in the heart of Sydney’s city center. Divided into northern and southern sections by Park Street, Hyde Park contains several important monuments and statues, themed gardens, water features, the Archibald fountain and the ANZAC Memorial Building and visitor center.

Although gazetted as a public park (common) in 1810 by Governor Macquarie and named after Hyde Park in London, today’s park was not recognizable in its current form until 1927, when architect and landscape artist Norman Weekes won a competition to beautify the area. Prior to this, the park was used as a sports field, a racecourse and a venue for bareknuckle fights! The tiled central avenue that cuts through the park from Macquarie Street to the ANZAC Memorial is lined with Hill’s Figs and is a lovely place to seek shade on a hot day.

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Madame Tussauds Sydney

Madame Tussauds Sydney

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The famous wax museum, Madame Tussauds, with its incredibly life-like wax figures of famous people, can be found all over the world. Sydney was added to the list when this location opened its gates in 2012.

Australians and visitors from all over the world can take the opportunity to stand next to their favorite glitz and glamour star. From TV personalities, famous sport players, musicians, actors and A-List celebrities to world leaders, scientists and the key players in world history –the wax museum lets visitors meet a wide range of personalities from different fields and time periods.

In addition to international celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Barack Obama and Michael Jackson, Madame Tussauds in Sydney also makes an effort to include local personalities. The history zone is filled with founders and well-known names from the times of colonial Australia. In addition, next to Kylie Minogue, you can also find the stars of the Australian sports and media scene.

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Hyde Park Barracks Museum

Hyde Park Barracks Museum

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The foundations of Sydney were built on convict labor, and the Hyde Park Barracks are where criminals who were sentenced to live out the rest of their days in Australia were housed. Opened to hold male convicts working on the government projects and later to house orphan girls escaping the Irish famine, it was after that also used as a female immigration depot, an asylum for impoverished women and a courthouse. All through history, it was the place where people in Australia certainly did not want to end up. Now, as a museum, the barracks tell the stories of those unlucky enough to pass through its doors.

The building itself was also built with convict labor, after it was decided that housing the criminals in one place would improve productivity as well as their moral character. The structure looks nothing short of imposing with its massive shingled roof standing above a simple, durable façade of sandstock brick.

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Paddington

Paddington

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Often nicknamed “Paddo” by locals, Paddington is a suburb of Sydney that features a nice mix of culture, history and shopping opportunities. Known for its colonial architecture and beautiful balconied buildings, Paddo has long been a local favorite. And although the population of this district is quite meager, at just over 11,000 people, it packs a massive punch when it comes to activity.

In general, one could divide Paddington into four even more distinct districts. Five Ways is a bit of a village within a village and home to some of the best foodie spots in the Sydney area. Paddington Markets, as the name points at, is a massive flea market that takes place at the Uniting Church grounds. William Street is the art designer's district in which some of Sydney's top up-and-coming designers have their shops, and all of it is tied into Oxford Street, which runs the entire length of Paddington and is lined with shops, boutiques, cafes and eateries.

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Sydney Town Hall

Sydney Town Hall

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The steps of this iconic building in the heart of Sydney’s central business district serve as a popular meeting place for both travelers and locals, but it is what’s found within its walls that make a visit worthwhile.

Built in the 1880s, this sandstone structure is the political powerhouse of the city, housing the Sydney City Council chamber and the offices of the lord mayor, the deputy lord mayor and the city’s councilors. But what catches the eye of most visitors is the building’s Sydney Town Hall Grand Organ, the world’s largest pipe organ. Two-hour guided tours include a look at Centennial Hall, the Lady Mayoress’s Rooms, the Reception Room and the former site of the Old Sydney Burial Ground, in addition to a stop at the world-famous organ.

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Australian Museum

Australian Museum

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While visitors to Sydney do have the option to venture into the outback in search of Australia’s natural wonders, the Australian Museum, located in the heart of Sydney’s central business district, makes getting up close with the wild a whole lot easier.

Wander through air-conditioned hallways filled with more than 40,000 artifacts, including examples of rare native minerals and exotic tropical birds. An all-access pass grants entry to even more galleries filled with ancient archaeological wonders and indigenous Australian artifacts. Popular cultural exhibits also delve deep into the nation’s aboriginal roots and link contemporary time to the far off past. Wildlife fans should be sure to check out the quirky Surviving Australia exhibit, which showcases the country’s weird and wild through six distinct sections that illustrate animal adaptation and survival.

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Sydney Central Business District

Sydney Central Business District

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Famous around the world for its beautiful harbor setting, Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD) is the hub of Australia’s finance sector. The district extends from the Circular Quay in the north to the Central railway in the south, while its east-west axis runs from Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens in the east to Darling Harbor in the west.

The CBD is an area of densely concentrated skyscrapers and hosts some of Australia’s tallest buildings, including the Governor Phillip Tower, the MLC Centre, the World Tower and Sydney Tower. This concrete jungle is interspersed with several parks, including Hyde Park, The Domain, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Wynyard Park. George Street is the CBD’s main north-south thoroughfare, while Pitt Street, which includes the Pitt Street Mall and the Sydney Tower, is the retail heart of the CBD. Nearby, Macquarie Street is a historic precinct that contains the State Parliament House and the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

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