As Australia’s oldest, largest and most urbane city, beautiful Sydney has something special to offer every visitor. Broad sandy beaches and scenic cruises make the Harbour City the perfect holiday destination for travelers looking for fun on the sand and sea. First-class dining, shopping and cultural institutions like the iconic Sydney Opera House beckon those searching for an enriching travel experience. A compact city surrounded by national parks, Sydney serves as a convenient base for adventures in Australia’s diverse natural environments too. Whether scaling the heights of the Harbour Bridge or delving into the history and lore of the Aboriginal people, as a travel destination, the capital of New South Wales never disappoints. An overview of the top tourist attractions in Sydney:
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. Avid photographers head to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair for one of the best photo opportunities. Note that the building is currently undergoing a $202-million upgrade, slated for completion in early 2021, but it will continue to operate during the restoration.
Location: Bennelong Point, Sydney
On the north coast, Byron Bay is a hot spot for surfers and New Age nature buffs. A wide stretch of golden beach fronts the ocean here, and a lovely hike along the Cape Byron Track leads to the most easterly point on the Australian continent and its famous lighthouse. Dolphins and whales frolic in the waters, and water sports abound.
In the hinterland, you can explore World Heritage-listed Wollumbin National Park (formerly Mount Warning National Park) with tranquil rain forests and waterfalls. Byron is also known for its colorful markets, as well as its health and yoga retreats, spa resorts, and luxury boutique hotels.
To soak up the soul of old Byron Bay, venture about an hour inland to the tiny town of Nimbin, a hippie hub and hotbed for counterculture and alternative lifestyles.
Bask on the South Coast’s Beaches
The South Coast of New South Wales, from the southern fringe of Sydney to the Victorian border, is home to some of the state’s most beautiful white-sand beaches set against the dark summits of the Great Dividing Range. Rolling green hills, lakes, inlets, and forests fringe the coast, and the climate is mild throughout the year.
Strung along the coast here are a series of small holiday resorts, many with fantastic opportunities for water sports from their beaches, including swimming, fishing, and surfing. Kiama is home to the world’s largest blowhole, and Jervis Bay is a standout with its radiant powder-soft sands. Nearby, the dazzling Hyams Beach, reputedly with the world’s whitest sand, is one of Australia’s best beaches. Bateman’s Bay, Merimbula and its sister village, Pambula, are also popular holiday spots famed for their beautiful beaches and fantastic opportunities for water sports.
One of the most southerly places on the coast is the old fishing village of Eden, once a prosperous whaling station. North and south of town lies the Ben Boyd National Park with magnificent views of reddish sandstone cliffs from Boyd’s Tower, a former lighthouse.
Harbor Cruises from Circular Quay
Built by convict labor in Sydney Cove, bustling Circular Quay is now home to the city’s main ferry terminal. Thousands of commuters flood the area at peak hours, cafés and restaurants line the waterfront, and street performers entertain locals and visitors along the sunny walkways. One of the most popular things to do here, and the best way to appreciate Sydney’s sparkling waterfront setting, is to hop aboard a harbor cruise, like the popular two-hour Sydney Harbour Coffee Cruise. Ferries also depart from here to prime spots, such as Manly, Watsons Bay, and Taronga Park Zoo. During the annual winter migration, the Sydney Whale-Watching Cruise take passengers out past Sydney Heads to view these magnificent creatures.
You can easily walk from Circular Quay to other top attractions. Head south along the waterfront promenade to the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Botanic Gardens, and a short walk to the north leads to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Rocks historic area. To the west, the free Museum of Contemporary Art, housed in an Art Deco building, displays cutting-edge, and often controversial, exhibitions.
Australian National Maritime Museum
The premier attraction in Sydney’s recently redeveloped Darling Harbour, the Australian National Maritime Museum is best known for its historic seafaring vessels, which include the 19th-century tall ship James Craig and a full-scale replica of Captain James Cook’s Endeavor. The museum’s seven main galleries cover the nation’s maritime history, from the discovery of the Land Down Under to the country’s naval defense in World War II and beyond. Tickets are available that include entrance to the museum as well as tours of several of the vessels moored outside.