Damn, Sydney is just so good looking! Blessed with a beautiful harbour that winds throughout the city, Sydney is really one big water playground. Plus there’s the sun, the beaches, the parks and the coastal walks, which are all great reasons to visit. But that’s not all: there’s great food (and coffee, FYI), culture and festivals on all the time! It’s easy to become a little overwhelmed by all the things you can do here because there’s just so much going on. But no matter what time of year you visit, here’s a list of the best things to do in Sydney according to a foodie and fun-loving local.
Amazing day adventures
Day trip to the Royal National Park and trek to Wedding Cake Rock
Although there are a huge variety of interesting walks and beautiful beaches to explore in the Royal National Park (1.5 hours south of Sydney), perhaps the most famous is Wedding Cake Rock. This pure white rock sits above the pounding ocean in a square layered shape that gives the rock its name. Once a popular photo spot, the rock is now fenced off from the public (although that still doesn’t stop many people). Still, this natural sandstone structure is one of the best places to see in Sydney and well worth the 3-hour return trek!
Check out the old jail and submarine repair workshop on Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island is probably my all-time favourite place to bring Sydney newbies. It has everything! This UNESCO World Heritage Listed island looks really industrialised with huge rusting sheds and giant pieces of machinery sitting around. Explore the old jail and submarine docks or walk amongst the ageing war ship repair equipment. All of the rusting machinery and creaky workshops make for a great photo opportunity! Cockatoo Island is a short but pretty ferry ride from Circular Quay, plus it takes only a few hours to explore in full, leaving you with time to check out other areas around Sydney Harbour for the rest of the day.
Rent a board and catch a wave at Manly Beach
Everyone’s heard about surfing at Bondi Beach, but did you know about Manly Beach? It’s longer, with fewer people (slightly) and many travellers say it has some of the best surf in the world! With Manly Surfboards hire shop right across from the beach, it’s really easy to hire everything you need for a reasonable price. Or if you prefer, try one of the surf schools who provide lessons to help with that initial confidence when tackling the waves.
Fantastic foodie experiences
Enjoy Japanese Ramen inside a motorbike repair shop
Newtown may be famous for its delicious Thai food, but for something a little different try some Japanese ramen from Rising Sun Workshop. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Newtown, it’s a little more expensive than the main street restaurants but the food is damn delicious (Porky Katsu Burger, OMG!), the coffee is strong and the beer is icy cold. The homey atmosphere here makes it feel like a bunch of mates helping each other repair bikes while eating and drinking their favourite foods. It’s great!
Try vegan “pay as you feel” at Lentil As Anything in Newtown
The “pay as you feel” concept was nurtured in Melbourne where the original Lentil As Anything restaurants started up before blessing Sydney’s shores. The restaurants came about after the Sri Lankan-born founder travelled the world and loved to see people always sharing meals together. The restaurant’s philosophy is that everyone deserves a place at the table, no matter who they are. This creates a friendly and accepting atmosphere, with long tables crammed full with strangers and bustling volunteers taking the orders. The Newtown space also runs weekly events such as yoga, meditation and salsa dance classes. All paid for by donation.
Eat Asian hawker street food under the stars at Spice Alley
Also known as Kensington Street in Chippendale, this collection of fast, colourful street food vendors is a must-do in Sydney. Hidden amongst interlacing streets inhabited by local artists, prepare to be blown away when you round the corner on your first visit. With glowing lanterns hung across the alley, the bright stools and tables are scattered along this narrow space between refurbished warehouse buildings. Try arguably the best roti canai in Sydney: a delicious warm teh tarik (pulled tea) or crispy fried chicken. But bring your credit card, as this is a cashless environment.
Inspiring coastal walks
Walk from Bondi to Coogee for the dramatic coastal views and a seaside cemetery
This 6km walk is by far the most popular coastal walk in Sydney and for good reason. It takes 2-3 hours to complete and the dramatic cliff views are just spectacular. Rain or shine, this is Sydney at its very best! I recommend taking your time with this walk so that you can go off-track and discover rock pools and hidden beaches. Between Bronte and Clovelly Beach you’ll come across Waverley Cemetery. I like to time it so I hit the cemetery during the “golden hour”, which makes for some moody afternoon photo opportunities. But you can also do this walk at any time of day as it’s fully paved with only the occasional staircase. If you’re looking to save some money, this is definitely one of the best free things to do in Sydney.
Walk from Manly to Spit Bridge for whale spotting and indigenous rock art
Another popular Sydney walk is spectacular Manly to Spit Bridge. This 10km bush and coastal walk will take you around 3-4 hours to complete without stopping. Look out for whale watching cliffs, lighthouses and 1,000-year-old Aboriginal rock art. Views along the way are far reaching as the walking tracks, bays and inlets wind in and out of the bush and up and down cliff edges. The walk is scattered with interesting local history. In Fisher Bay, you’ll come across one of Sydney’s last four lived-in houseboats and Clontarf Beach was once the site of an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Alfred. If you trek in reverse from Spit Bridge to Manly, head back to the city on the famous Manly ferry and enjoy the sights from across the water.
Wander around Glebe Foreshore to the Sydney Fish Markets for lunch
If you’re looking for more leisurely things to do in Sydney, this is the walk for you. A much shorter walk than the other two, the Glebe Foreshore walk boasts beautiful harbour views for 2 kilometres between Jubilee Park in Glebe and The Sydney Fish Markets in Pyrmont. If you’re a foodie, this is the walk for you! Start in the unique Rozelle Tram Sheds for a delicious breakfast, then meander through Bicentennial Park and past Blackwattle Bay before arriving at the famous Fish Markets for lunch. Beware: these areas of Sydney get really busy on weekends so going during the week to avoid crowds.
Cool culture and creative fun
Check out some art after dark at the Art Gallery of NSW
Don’t bother wasting your sunny days inside an art gallery, go there at night instead! The revered Art Gallery of NSW puts on a variety of workshops, celebrity talks and film screenings every Wednesday from 5:50pm until late at night. The best part? Free entry into most of the activities! Some of the popular talks do require a ticket so make sure you check the Art Gallery of NSW website and book your freebie.
Reggae the first Sunday of every month away on the rolling hills of Sydney Park
The Sydney Dub Club runs this awesome free event on the first Sunday of every month. You’ll find them nestled under the brick chimneys in the north-western corner of the park. Expect families and Newtown locals, who all come together with picnic blankets and drinks to enjoy the sun and music together. Sydney Park is a destination in itself with 40 hectares of lush rolling hills and landscaped gardens. There’s even a lake in the middle and stepping-stones over little waterfalls. Every time I come to Sydney Park I discover a new, exciting corner I’d never come across before, it’s just so huge!
Explore the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Darling Harbour
Hidden behind oriental doors and a large wall, not many people realise the Chinese Gardens are right there on Darling Harbour. Inside it’s like exploring a secret garden with waterfalls, lakes, exotic plants, pavilions and hidden pathways. It’s not hard to see why this is one of my favourite gardens in Sydney: koi carp swimming in the lakes, golden willows swaying in the breeze and a Teahouse serving Chinese tea and dim sum. The Chinese Gardens are hardly ever busy and on popular summer days you can dress up in traditional Chinese outfits and have photos taken in the grounds.
Buy locally made goods and recycled fashion at Glebe Markets
Glebe Markets are my favourite go-to markets for loads of different things in Sydney. It boasts rows of impressive arty goods and jewellery, tasty whole foods and coffee, cheap recycled fashion and a diverse, hipster vibe. The markets operate on Saturdays from 10am-4pm. Come for some tasty street food lunch and sit in the sun with live local bands and musicians from 12pm. The incredible level of artistic talent the stallholders display will surprise you: painters, gardeners, dressmakers, graphic artists, designers, jewellers and sculptors will all share their quirky and interesting creations with you! When it comes to getting a taste of local creativity and indulging your thrift store shopper, then Glebe Markets should be on your list of things to do in Sydney.
Watch the sunset with a drink and see the light projections on the Sydney Opera House
Everyone goes to the Opera House, but do they get to see it turned into a piece of artwork as well? Since mid-2017, this iconic buildings now lights up with Indigenous art projections every day throughout the year at sunset (and repeated at 7pm during colder months). Head here for incredible views of the Harbour Bridge while you have a cheeky beer and then walk around the Harbour while the sun sets to get views of the light projections from different angles. It gets really busy on weekends so to avoid crowds, head there on a weekday.
Get up close with the animals
Feed the cockatoos in the Royal Botanical Gardens
Not many people know you can hand-feed wild cockatoos in this famous parkland, making it one of the more secretive things to do in Sydney! To feed them though, you first must find them. Listen out and you’ll probably hear their loud screeching from afar. Bring along a packet of nuts so you’re prepared once you’ve tracked them down. You can place the food in your hand for the birds to see and hold out your arm straight – then they’ll fly right onto your arm for a little snack! If giant white birds aren’t your thing, you can always bring along a picnic for yourself or go exploring in the 30 hectares of well-maintained gardens.
Watch the bat exodus every evening in Centennial Park
Sydney’s parklands are just so varied and huge – and at 189 hectares, Centennial Park is the biggest you’ll find in the city. It’s so big you can even enjoy a horse riding tours around it. Centennial Park is an animal lover’s wonderland with a giant lake in the middle filled with 140 species of birds and other freshwater critters. There’s a Bush School for kids, cycle-ways plus an outdoor cinema in the warmer months. But my favourite thing to do here is watching the hundreds of bats leave their home to feed at twilight. In the late afternoon, take a wander through the paperbark trees in Lachlan Swamp, which is where the bats live. Then once they start to fly, just lay back on the grass and watch them flip and fly away for the night.
About The Author
Often found doing headstands on the edges of cliffs, taking photos of goats and abandoned buildings or sleeping on deserted islands with dangerous criminals. Crystal Egan has two passions in life: travel and telling awesome stories. She is now harnessing these passions to build her website Castaway with Crystal. Follow her on this crazy, addictive adventure and learn some sweet tips along the way. Find Crystal on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.