Sydney, capital of New South Wales and one of Australia’s largest cities, and most beautiful of all Australian cities, lies amid a seductive intermingling of land and sea. Glide along the glittering harbor on a ferry, see the white sails of the Opera House gleaming in the sunshine, and admire the graceful arch of the Harbour Bridge. Today, visitors can explore Sydney’s fabled history in the narrow cobbled laneways and historic buildings of the Rocks, at the city’s excellent museums, and the rock paintings of the Gadigal aboriginal people who once thrived on this land. Sydney still fizzes with the adventurous spirit of its settlers.
Best Time to Visit
The best times to visit Sydney are September through November and from March to May. These months skirt Sydney’s high and low seasons, offering visitors comfortable temperatures and manageable tourist crowds.
Top Places to Visit in Sydney
1. Sydney Opera House
One of the world’s great icons, the Sydney Opera House is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the star attraction on the glittering harbor. This graceful building, shaped like shells or billowing sails, perches on a finger of land surrounded by water. Snap a photo while gliding by on a harbor cruise, relax at one of the restaurants, stroll around its exterior, or take an organized tour of this magnificent structure, which encompasses theaters, studios, exhibition rooms, a concert hall, and cinema. Book a Sydney Opera House Guided Walking Tour to learn about the history and get a behind-the-scenes look at this famous building. This is a flexible ticket that allows you to join any one of the tours throughout the day, departing every half hour from 9am to 5pm.
2. Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge or “Coathanger,” as the locals call it, was the city’s best-known landmark prior to construction of the Opera House. Supported by massive double piers at each end, it was built in 1932 and remains the world’s largest steel arch bridge, connecting the harbor’s north and south shores in a single curve rising 134 m above the water. Along its length run two railway lines and eight lanes for road traffic, the direction of which can be varied according to traffic flow. To learn about the fascinating history of the bridge’s construction, visit the museum in the southeastern pier.
3. Queen Victoria Building
A high point of Sydney shopping is the Romanesque-style Queen Victoria Building (“QVB”), linked by underground arcades with Town Hall Station. Originally built as a market hall between 1893 and 1898, this elegant building is crowned by a high central dome surrounded by 20 smaller domes. After decades of neglect and even plans for demolition, this grand sandstone building was restored to its original state in the early eighties. Today, more than 200 high-end shops line its light-filled galleries. It’s worth a visit even for those who shun the shops, just to admire its successful restoration as well as its beautiful stained glass windows and mosaic floors. Opening hours: Mon-Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm
4. Sydney Tower
Soaring above the city skyline, the 309 m high Sydney Tower is the city’s tallest building and one of its great landmarks (other than the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, of course). This golden spire-topped turret rises from the busy Centrepoint shopping mall. Express lifts whisk visitors to the observation deck at the top or to SKYWALK, an alfresco glass-floor viewing platform. While up there, sightseers can enjoy panoramic views of Sydney and its surrounding suburbs or grab a bite to eat at one of the revolving restaurants or the café. Also on offer is a 4D cinema experience, which provides an overview of the city’s major icons. Open daily 9am-10:30pm
5. Taronga Zoo
Enjoy close-up encounters with exotic wildlife plus superb views of the Sydney skyline at Taronga Zoo. Nestled on a point along the north side of the harbor, the zoo inhabits prime Sydney real estate in the posh suburb of Mosman. Highlights include the Lemur Adventure Park, Koala Encounter, and Seal Show. From the city, buses to the zoo depart from Wynyard. Better still, visitors can hop aboard a ferry at Circular Quay. The zoo’s lively events calendar includes “Roar and Snore” overnight zoo stays and a summer concert series. Open daily 9:30am-5pm (Sept-April), 9:30am-4:40pm (May-Aug).
6. Royal Botanic Gardens
The gardens were established in 1816 and encompass 30 hectares of themed gardens with towering trees, palm groves, orchids, ferns, and flocks of fruit bats. Among the highlights is the Palace Rose Garden, which includes some 1,800 roses, and the Rare and Threatened Plants Garden. For the less energetic, a hop-on, hop-off train tours the grounds. After exploring the gardens, visitors can relax at the café or restaurants, or enjoy a hillside picnic with beautiful harbor views. Surrounding the gardens is the Domain, a popular event venue with open green space and sports areas. While at the gardens, visitors can enjoy views of Government House, the official residence of the governor of New South Wales. Opening hours: October 7am-7:30pm, November-February 7am-8pm, March 7am-6:30pm, April & September 7am-6pm, May & August 7am-5:30pm, June & July 7am-5pm
7. Sydney Beaches
Sydney is famous for its fabulous beaches. Tucked around the harbor are many sheltered coves with calm water and sugary sands. Less than a 15-minute drive from the city, iconic Bondi Beach beckons with its great surf, café scene, and cosmopolitan vibe. For fantastic ocean views, take the coastal walk along the cliffs from Bondi to Coogee. Other ocean beaches include Cronulla (the only one easily accessible by train from the city), Bronte, Tamarama, and Maroubra. A 30-minute ferry ride from the city, Manly is a favorite seaside destination with its beachfront promenade, netted ocean pool, and excellent shops and restaurants. Further north of the city, surfers will find some fantastic breaks at Collaroy, Dee Why, and Narrabeen. Swimmers should stay between the red and yellow flags. Volunteer lifeguards patrol the surfing beaches on the Pacific during the summer and run popular lifesaving competitions.