10 activities you absolutely have to do in Sydney

Sydney Opera House

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. Robert 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

1. Check out the bridge

The 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 Harbour, Australia

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.

Manly Beach, Sydney

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 favourite is Manly (pictured above) 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 with plenty of places to eat along the waterfront, though Bondi can get insanely crowded (especially on a sunny weekend day).

Coogee is a little further out of the city and is much less crowded than 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 favourites spots are 3 Mangoes in Enmore for Thai food, 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!

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 loads of street art.

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.

Botanic Gardens, Sydney, Australia


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 suburb 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.

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.

Take away food, Australia

10. Go to a bakery

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 them in suburban areas, at beaches, and 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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12 Responses to “10 activities you absolutely have to do in Sydney”

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Oh, yay! I’m really glad that you’ll get to see Australia, Charmaine – I’m trying to convince as many people as possible to come visit my home country 😀

  1. stephanie

    I want to visit Australia so bad! 🙂
    I would love to try the walk between the two beaches (bondi and cogee).

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I hope you get the chance to come sometime soon, Stephanie! The coastal walk is amazing – the views of the ocean and the cliffs are really gorgeous 🙂

  2. Lorna

    Great post. 🙂

    Visited Sydney for the first time last year and only have glowing things to say about it! Very cool city. I think the only things we missed off this list were the food and drink-related ones, N2 in Newtown being the exception. I went for Nutella ice cream with a doughnut on top and a syringe of chocolate sauce – so fun!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Lorna! That nutella and doughnut icecream sounds freakin’ amazing. I’ve had all sorts of strange but delicious flavours there – I even had an earl grey flavoured one. So glad you enjoyed Sydney and got to do most of the things on my list! 🙂

  3. Nigel Jones-Morris

    Excellent guide, thank you 🙂

    We’ll be in Sydney for 3 days, end of April 2017. we’ve been recommended a trip to the Blue Mountains, the view from the zoo, a skydive over Wollongong, and maybe a helicopter flight over the harbour. Any opinions on those activities, worth doing/not so much etc?

    Thanks Nigel and Carol

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Nigel, I’m glad you like it! With only 3 days in Sydney, you will have to distribute your time wisely. The Blue Mountains are really gorgeous and well worth a day trip. The view from the zoo is nice, but I’m not entirely a fan of Taronga. I’ve never skydived over Wollongong or taken a heli flight over the harbour, but I’m sure they would both be worthwhile experiences!

  4. Michael

    Cow and Moon Ice Creamery’s Affogato was voted Best Gelato in the World a year or so ago. (Enmore Road). It’s a great little shop.

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It is a great little shop – I once lived just down the road from it! Ever since it won the award, there has been a long line of people waiting to get inside and taste the gelato 😛


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