I’d been visiting Sydney since my family emigrated when I was a kid. Every other Christmas we’d go over for a couple of weeks to stay with them, being shown all their favourite places…and so my love affair with the city began. At 15 I had residency, and at 30 something I got my citizenship and embraced it as my home town for over ten years….so, safe to say, I know Sydney pretty well!
What I find frustrating is when people visit by ship and tell me that they don’t like the city much, cos all they did was wandered through the CBD and return to their vessel – and there is so much more to Sydney than that! But, if someone doesn’t tell you, I guess you never know…so here’s me telling you the best day trips in Sydney, so you can visit it properly and see why I fell in love with this incredible harbourside city.
They are listed in no particular order…
1. Taronga Zoo
Arguably one of the best zoos in the world, for the location if not for the layout and environment of the zoo itself. Australia’s largest zoo, it opened in October 1916 and is home to over 340 separate species of animals, over 4,000 animals in total, including of course, natives such as the koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, dingoes and wombats.
Located on Bradley’s Head Road in Mosman, one of the best ways to get there is by ferry from Circular Quay. You can purchase tickets online for 20% discount or they have various other joint passes you can buy, check out the deals online.
One of my all-time favourite experiences was their ‘Roar and Snore’ event which I did with my sister (I know, it’s not a day trip, but if you have a couple of days, you absolutely have to do this!). You arrive as the zoo is closing and are shown to your ‘glamping’ style tent. Once settled, you meet the rest of the over-nighters whilst reptiles are passed around or just shown to those not wanting to touch the snakes etc. Then it’s time for dinner, before you then go and feed the animals their dinner at night, lead by torches. This was amazing, seeing all the nocturnal animals feeling much more comfortable without the crowds. This done, it was time for hot chocolate and cookies before bed, and preparing for one of the most incredible sunrises you will ever see – overlooking the stunning Sydney Harbour.
Time to shower in the very comfortable and modern bathroom blocks before heading out to feed the animals their breakfast, hiding meat for the bears to scavenge for, and reaching up to feed the giraffes…. Truly a magnificent thing to do, if you ever get the chance.
2. Luna Park
You could easily combine the zoo with a ferry trip over to Luna Park for a day of family fun. Built in 1935, this is the original fun fair of the city, compacting a lot of activities into a small space, right on the harbour’s edge. Enjoy the thrills of the roller coaster or the merry-go around, whiz around in the bumper cars and get lost in the mirror maze. There is something for small and big kids alike! And when you want to be an adult again, get yourself a drink in the stylish bar, overlooking the harbour. Check out their website for the many special events they hold, and book online for discounted tickets.
3. Blue Mountains
This is a full-day tour to get into the Mountains, but it is definitely worth it. Located west of Sydney, about 60kms away (under 2 hours to drive), the scenery that will greet you is pretty dramatic. Discover rain forest, waterfalls plummeting into valleys, beautiful rock formations, quaint little towns filled with arts and crafts and every type of viewing platform.
Head to Scenic World for some of the best ways to see this beautiful scenery from the highest heights, or to the Jenolan Caves to wonder at the formations from underground. You won’t be short of things to do, or places to eat or drink.
You will find many tours to take you up there, or you can venture on your own, taking a direct train from Sydney’s Central Station and then jumping onto the Explorer Bus once there. For more transport options and to plan your day, check out their website here.
4. Hunter Valley
Another region for spectacular scenery is the Hunter Valley, one of the most popular areas for weddings, and you can totally understand why. Not only is the Hunter Valley incredibly beautiful, but it’s also home to the NSW major wineries. To fully appreciate everything on offer, take one of the many escorted tours from Sydney so you are able to sample the local grapes to their fullest, as well as enjoying the cheese and chocolate factories (just to balance out the wine!). The region is known for a great Chardonnay, so even if you’re not usually a fan, be sure to check it out. My personal favourite wineries to visit are Tempus II which is like a mini resort with other local produce available, Audrey Wilkinson for the stunning architecture and views, and Bimbadgen for the fabulous restaurant and likelihood of seeing kangaroos on the grounds!
For more information on the region and how to get there, check out the official website here.
Photo courtesy of huntervalleyvisitorcentre.com.au
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5. Sydney Fish Market
It’s pretty manic over Christmas and holidays, well, and weekends too to be honest, but if you enjoy seafood, this will be some of the freshest and best you will ever have. You can choose exactly what you want, how you would like it cooked, which sauce/marinade you’d like and then enjoy it sat down by the water – perfect! They also do great cooking classes you can pre-book onto to become a pro chef yourself – it’s a fabulous experience!
The market is located on Black Wattle Bay, in Pyrmont and can be accessed by the Light Railway, or by bus. There is also plenty of parking. Check out opening hours, the cookery classes and what else is happening on their website.
6. Darling Harbour / SeaLife / Madam Tussauds / Wildlife Sydney
Darling Harbour has continued to have money thrown into its development over the years as it keeps getting better and better. Built around the bay, you will find endless bars, restaurants, cafes and shops to explore and enjoy. There is usually a street entertainer of some sort, a water feature, and boats/pedalos for hire. In the main Harbourside centre is a food court amongst some regular chain shops and fast food options, but my favourite is the hand-made fudge on the ground floor, still gooey as you buy it – omg, just divine!
Around the corner is a newer part of the complex, Darling Quarter, with a great water play area for the kids, more restaurants and cafes and it will lead you into the Chinese Garden, which is a little escape of serenity in the heart of the city.
If you head in the other direction towards another new area; Barangaroo, you will find a fantastic Sea Life aquarium, where you can walk through underwater tunnels with sharks swimming above, and even go into the aquarium to feed them if you’re brave enough!
Madam Tussauds is next door to this too, if you enjoy seeing waxwork celebrities, and there’s also a wildlife park, called Wildlife Sydney. Save yourself some money by purchasing a multi-attraction pass on any of their websites.
This area can be walked to from Circular Quay within about 30 minutes, or catch the ferry, or the Light Railway.
7. Manly (& the Northern Beaches)
I’m a little biased with this seaside town as my parents have lived here for many years, but it really is a favourite day trip for most Sydney-siders. Easily accessible by ferry from Circular Quay, it’s a great way to travel over to visit the beaches. You don’t need a car when you’re there, you can walk off the ferry, straight down the Corso to the main beach on the other side. The Corso is the heart of Manly, the many lane ways filled with organic cafes and arty shops.
The long stretch of beach is a fabulous walk, or if you prefer, roller skate or cycle. As you face the ocean, head right along the path, past Manly Surf Club and you’ll end up on the smaller Shelly Beach with a great, recently renovated cafe, The Kiosk.
If you head the other way, towards Queenscliff you’ll find a ton of great little cafes and restaurants. In the centre, is a renovated toilet block now called The Pantry which is an upmarket restaurant with fabulous views over the beach and ocean and the food is pretty amazing too.
You can take a bus up the peninsular to the rest of the Northern Beaches, they get quieter (and more beautiful) the further you head up. Palm Beach is well known as being the home of the television show ‘Home & Away’ and Whale Beach is where the cashed up Pilots live…!
The Newport is a great (and massive) family friendly pub, with great views and worth checking out, or for something a little more upmarket and romantic, try Jonah’s.
8. Bondi Beach
Another of my old homes, sadly only for 6 months as my building was knocked down to build a new hotel, but those were great times! It’s the ultimate tourist spot, which went through a period of feeling pretty tacky and nasty, but it’s pulled itself back up again with some really great beach restarants and bars and an invigorated market.
That said, expect it to be crazy busy in holday periods and on sunny weekends…
A must-do is a visit to Icebergs, the local club and swimming pool with fabulous views from the restaurant across the water, and if you are the energetic type, you need to do the Bondi-Coogee walk. This is one of my all-time favourite walks, passing many gorgeous beaches (Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly) on this coastline to end in the slightly less touristy Coogee beach, also filled with fab restaurants and cafes – especially for a well-deserved brunch. The walk is about 6 kilometres and you can get the bus back if you left your car at either town. If you’re lucky enoiugh to be there when the Sculptures by the Sea expo is on, you’re in for a real treat!
From the City/Circular Quay you can either get a bus from the city, or catch a train to Bondi Junction and then pick up a bus from there. Bondi Junction Westfield is a fabulous shopping mall too…
Not sure whether to do a cruise or resort holiday? Check out this post to help you decide…
9. National Parks
There are some really beautiful National Parks in Sydney. Two of my favourites are the Royal National Park and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.
The Royal National Park is 150km sq. just south of Sydney and has trails criss-crossing all over it. Set on the east coastline, the views are absolutely stunning, whether viewed from the top walking tracks or one of the many beaches below. This is a perfect spot for bushwalking, fishing or enjoying a BBQ with friends or family.
Check the website for opening hours, cost is currently $12 per car. Sadly, at present, some of the park is closed due to the impact of the recent fires, so check the website before you visit.
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is a protected area north of Sydney, combining gorgeous scenic views with Australian history. Great for cycling, fishing and walking, there are so many lookouts and bays you can stop to enjoy your surroundings. I’ve been going to Illawong Bay picnic area for my birthday for many years, which is one of my favourite escapes from the city, just around the corner from the more well-known Akuna Bay. You’re likely to spot a Kookaburra or two and even some goannas.
Price is also $12 per car for entry, and you should check the website for opening times.
10. A Day in the City
Ok, so I know I said some people were disappointed in this, but let me tell you where to go to have a great day just walking your way from Circular Quay.
If you’re coming off a ship, chances are you will be at the Overseas Passenger Terminal which is basically in the oldest part of the city, The Rocks. Stroll through the lanes, enjoy the shops and cafes (and duty free shopping if you like!) and definitely stop for a pint in one of the country’s oldest pubs, such as the 1828 built Fortune of War. If you’re there at the weekend you will get to enjoy the lively market too.
From here you can join the BridgeClimb centre for a walk over the top of the Harbour Bridge – if you’re brave enough! This isn’t a cheap adventure, with tickets currently starting at $148, but it’s certainly an experience you’ll never forget, and the views are simply breathtaking.
Continue round to the Opera House, Sydney’s most iconic building. You can enter and wander around yourself, or sign up for a guided tour. The Opera Bar is a favourite with most locals so grab yourself a drink on the waterside to take in the scenery around you.
From here, keep walking around into the Botanical Gardens. This is such a lush green area, a stark contrast from the cityscape right behind. Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is a good spot for a photo. Story goes that Mrs Mac sat on the chair, waiting for her seaman husband to return home.
Enjoy the flora and maybe even see some bats in the trees as you head up towards the city. Look up to see Sydney Tower, the distinctive building which once dominated the skyline and is now part of Westfield shopping centre. Grab a ticket and head to the top to really get a good overview of all that Sydney has to offer. You can get a drink, enjoy a fine dining meal, or if you’re feeling daring, step outside for a 90 minute guided SkyWalk tour!
If you’re feeling a little shaky after that, I reckon you deserve some sugar in the form of high tea at The Tea Room, located at the top of the iconic QVB building in the city. You will be served delectable sandwiches and cakes on the finest British bone china, honouring the tradition of this timeless afternoon indulgence.
It will be a 30 minute walk back to Circular Quay from here if you want to burn off some of those fancies, or you can catch the Light Rail back down.
11. Go Sailing
There’s no doubt about it, Sydney has one of the most picturesque harbours in the world. If you are cruising in, it’s an experience you will tell your friends about for the rest of your life. So, it’s not surprising that so much happens on the water in this city, from the ferries to get around as public transport, to private boating, kayaking, and windsailing. It’s all very accessible for a tourist too.
For a fun and economical way to see as much of the city as you can, grab a ferry pass and work you way around the network, including the river cat down to Parramatta.
If you want something a little more exclusive, charter a boat and sail through the harbour, either laying back and relaxing, or be a part of crew to get in on the action. Sydney By Sail is conveniently located in Darling Harbour and comes with great reviews.
Maybe you’d prefer a lunch or afternoon tea cruise? Check out Captain Cook cruises which has several options for seeing the sights of the harbour with a glass of champagne in hand.
For the more adventurous, jump onto a Thunder jet boat from Circular Quay (prepare to get wet!) or hire a kayak or SUP for a more energetic way to see the sights.
Photo courtesy of Thunderjetboats.com.au
That just about covers my favourite day trips in Sydney! There really is so much to do in Sydney, many which don’t really count as day trips, but are fun to do anyway, such as a grabbing a coffee at The Grounds of Alexandria, or having dinner at Cafe Sydney, exploring the markets in Paddington or taking a stroll through Centennial Park…
Have you been to Sydney? What are your favourite things to do whilst there? I always love to hear new activities!
I hope you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it if so, it means a lot to me 🙂
Thanks for reading, see you next time!
12 comments / Add your comment below
I think you missed out the Guylian chocolate cafe in the rocks!!!
Haha! Yes, indeed…been there a few times! 🙂
Hello Wendy, I must say that this article is very helpful and informative. I have been to Sydney a few times but never had time to visit these great places. I plan to go there this summer with my family and first I want to visit is Zoo, my kids enjoy seeing animals and I hope I will have the time to visit it. Thank you for sharing, Sydney is definitely one of my favorite cities.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. The zoo is pretty amazing and a great way to keep kids busy and happy for a day! 🙂
I have been planing to spend two weeks in Sydney this year. It’ll probably be towards the end of this year. So, I found your post very interesting.
Particularly two places caught my attention and I’ll sure visit them. The first is Bondi Beach, and I’ll sure do that Bondi-Coogee walk. The other is Hunter Valley. I’m a photographer and this is just a place I cannot miss.
Two weeks is the perfect amount of time to visit Sydney, if you can. There really is so much to see and do there, and if you can overnight in the Hunter or Blue Mountains, you will really enjoy it – you will come back with a million photos!
Definitely do the Bondi walk too, it’s just beautiful, not too strenuous either, aside from a couple of flights of steps close to the Bondi side.
Have an amazing holiday, thank you for taking the time to comment!
Sydney is on my travel wish-list for quite some time, and reading your recommendations made me want to visit even more! Thank you for sharing all the ‘’inside information’’, like where to try home-made fudge!
I love sailing, so I wouldn’t mind going on an afternoon tea cruise – what a great experience that must be.
Do wineries in Hunter Valley offer accommodation too, or are they more oriented to daily visitors?
I’m really happy I stumbled upon your site!
Thank you so much Katja! Ahhh, that fudge is to die for!!
If you have the time, I definitely recommend staying in the Hunter Valley for a couple of days. There is every type of accommodation available, particularly some really cute boutique hotels. It means you can really make the most of the wineries’ offerings and not have far to get to a bed!
Enjoy your trip there, and thank you again for reading and commenting, I really appreciate it!
Thank you for your answer, Wendy.
It sounds a bit like South African wine region – I loved their boutique hotels and visiting different wineries.
So I’ll definitely look into Hunter Valley more closely.
Ah, I am so keen to visit South Africa! It looks so beautiful and I love the wines…hopefully I’ll get there one day!
Thanks for the recommendation 🙂 Enjoy the Hunter if you get there!
GREAT POST! When I come to visit Sydney, you are hired as my tour guide! Thanks in advance!
Done!! Thank you so much, it was fun to write this one, I love Sydney so much! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂 xx