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Things to Do in Sydney

So often mistaken for the Australian capital that you’d be forgiven for forgetting all about Canberra, Sydney is Australia’s largest and most headline-grabbing city—and it’s likely to be your first stop if you're arriving Down Under from abroad. If you’re short on time or just want some help getting your bearings, tours of the Harbour City abound. Many begin in Sydney Harbour, where the futuristic, concrete-sailed façade of the Sydney Opera House and the towering Sydney Harbour Bridge provide a spectacular backdrop to events like the New Year’s Eve fireworks display and the legendary Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Exploring the rest of the city reveals one postcard-worthy scene after another—the colonial architecture of the Rocks, the bronzed lifeguards and dripping surfers of Bondi Beach, the sweeping panoramas from Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, and the adorable kangaroos and koalas of Taronga Zoo. Harbor boat tours, guided bike tours, sunset dinner cruises, and scenic helicopter and seaplane flights help you see it all from every angle. Once you’ve checked a Sydney Harbour whale-watching cruise, Sydney BridgeClimb, opera house backstage tour, and Bondi surf lesson off your bucket list, it’s time to escape the city. Sign up for a Hunter Valley wine-tasting tour, a visit to Scenic World in the Blue Mountains, or a day trip to the country’s capital—again, that’s Canberra, although Sydney residents won't hold it against you for thinking otherwise.
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Sydney Harbour Bridge
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Few sights are as instantly recognizable as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the grand centerpiece of Sydney Harbour and one of Australia's most photographed landmarks. The historic structure dates to 1932 and is the world's largest steel arch bridge. It's also an important transport hub, linking downtown Sydney with the north shore, Manly, and the area's northern beaches.

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Sydney Opera House
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The Sydney Opera House, a world-class performing arts venue and iconic Australian landmark, defines the Sydney Harbour in the heart of the city. Designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, the structure is a masterpiece of late 20th-century architecture, despite challenges that plagued the 15-year project before it was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973. Distinguished by soaring halls with a white ceramic-tiled exterior shaped to evoke the sails of a yacht, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-see Sydney attraction.

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Sydney Harbour
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With the iconic silhouette of Sydney Opera House and the dramatic arch of Sydney Harbour Bridge etched against a backdrop of glittering ocean and soaring skyscrapers, Sydney Harbour is Australia’s quintessential postcard image. The harbor, the natural heart of Sydney, features more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) lined with golden beaches, lush gardens, and vibrant neighborhoods.

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Bondi Beach
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As Australia’s most famous beach—and the star of its own reality TV show, “Bondi Rescue”—Bondi Beach delivers with its crescent of golden sand, crashing waves, and crowds of bronzed sunseekers. Just minutes from downtown Sydney, this is the spot to work on your tan, hit the waves, sip cocktails at a beachside bar, or hike along coastal cliffs.

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Circular Quay
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Perched on the edge of Sydney Harbour and backed by the sleek skyscrapers of the city’s central business district, Circular Quay is the scenic gateway to Manly Beach, Taronga Zoo, and Watson’s Bay. From this transportation hub—from which ferries depart every few minutes—you can enjoy unobstructed views of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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The Rocks
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Located in central Sydney, the historic precinct of the Rocks is the oldest area in the city and the site of the first European settlement. Full of history and character, today the Rocks is home to fashionable boutiques, artisan markets, historic pubs, trendy restaurants, and a thriving arts and culture scene.

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Mrs Macquarie's Chair
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This unique landmark—a massive rock fashioned into a cozy bench—was carved from sandstone in the early 1800s by Gov. Lachlan Macquarie for his wife Elizabeth. As the story goes, when the weather was warm and the sun high, Mrs Macquarie loved to relax at the point of this scenic peninsula and stare out over the ocean.

Today, travelers enjoy a leisurely walk to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair from the iconic Opera House or wander over to this historic attraction after a visit to the nearby Royal Botanic Garden. In a bustling city that’s alive with energy, the stone bench offers visitors a perfect place to unwind, relax and take in the some of the best views of Sydney Harbour.

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Featherdale Wildlife Park
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Australia is home to some of the world's most fearsome and fascinating wildlife, and at Featherdale Wildlife Park outside Sydney, visitors can meet over 1,700 of the country's colorful critters. Discover how echidnas are mammals (yet lay eggs); learn about the saltwater crocodiles that can grow to well over 2,000 pounds; admire the plumage of native birds such as brolgas, emus, and bustards; and view a collection of some of the world's most venomous snakes.

Guided feeding sessions are immensely popular at the park, with animal food available for purchase throughout the park for $2 and Featherdale staff members on hand to assist guests in feeding the kangaroos, wallabies, and pademelons. Guides also provide additional information about how the park is involved in conservation, highlighting the work done to reintroduce endangered species into the Australian wild and the park's ongoing research into some of Australia's most intriguing yet lesser-known species.

Although not offered by Viator, Featherdale also offers private animal encounters with a trainer for an additional fee (starting at $149), as well as personal koala encounters (starting at $20), during which travelers can pet and have their photo taken with the mammal. Guests are not allowed to hold koalas in accordance with New South Wales law.

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Royal Botanic Garden and The Domain
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Stretching along the coast of Sydney Harbour against a backdrop of the Sydney Opera House, Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden and neighboring park, The Domain, offer spectacular views and beautiful scenery. This inner-city oasis boasts exotic plants, a tropical rain forest, woodland, flowers, and rare horticultural exhibits.

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Manly Beach
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The lively suburb of Manly is one of Sydney’s most vibrant seaside areas and a popular destination for surfers from across the globe. Visit Manly Beach to enjoy the golden sand, catch world-class waves, and shop and eat along the lively Corso promenade, which is lined with cafes and restaurants.

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More Things to Do in Sydney

Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains

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A UNESCO World Heritage Site covering an area of around 3,861 square miles (10,000 square kilometers), the Blue Mountains region is a popular day-trip destination from Sydney. Featuring tall forests, sandstone cliffs, dramatic canyons, and scenic lookouts and waterfalls, the area is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

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Overseas Passenger Terminal (OPT)

Overseas Passenger Terminal (OPT)

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If you’re on a large cruise ship stopping in Sydney, you might pass through the Overseas Passenger Terminal. Situated in the heart of Australia’s biggest city, the port aims to make it as convenient as possible to get off (and back on) the ship, and connects travelers to a plethora of sightseeing options.

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Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour

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One of Sydney’s top attractions, Darling Harbour boasts fine-dining restaurants, a shopping center, one of the largest IMAX cinema screens in the world, and two entertainment staples for families: SEA LIFE® Sydney and WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo. Extend your visit into the evening to view the city lights reflected on the water.

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Fort Denison

Fort Denison

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What is now a popular destination for history buffs once served as a defense facility that kept watch over the bay. Fort Denison Island, located northeast of the Royal Botanic Gardens, was where some of the most gruesome acts against convicted felons took place.

Today, travelers can wander the grounds of this recently restored island and see the gibbet where criminals were hanged. Explore the fort built to protect the island from invaders and climb the historic Martello Tower, the only one of its kind in the country. The island is home to an informative museum, as well as a number of landmarks that illustrate its dark and violent past.

Please note: Fort Denison is currently closed for maintenance. The reopening is scheduled for late 2021.

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Hunter Valley Gardens

Hunter Valley Gardens

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Situated in the gorgeous Hunter Valley wine region of NSW, the Hunter Valley Gardens boast more than 60 acres of displays designed to showcase various vibrant colors and fragrances. There are 10 feature gardens, each individually planned and planted to create a stunning view and experience for visitors. The garden names lend themselves to the imagination: Sunken Garden, Storybook Garden, Rose Garden, Oriental Garden, The Lakes Walk, Italian Grotto, The Indian Mosaic, and the Formal, Chinese and Border gardens.

Each is superbly landscaped to represent its chosen theme, with water features and other attractions included to present the most immersive experience. Hunter Valley Gardens is such a large site that the area includes its own village, complete with shops, restaurants and cafes full of local delicacies. Aside from the lush greens, Aqua Golf, the Hunter Valley Train and more than five miles of walking tracks within the gardens keep even the fussiest visitors entertained.

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Sydney Harbour Tall Ships

Sydney Harbour Tall Ships

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The tall ships of Sydney Harbour offer a traditional way to see the iconic sights of the Harbour City. The ships, which are characterized by their billowing sails and wooden helms, let you escape the crowds on land and give you unobstructed views of Sydney Harbour Bridge, Fort Denison, and the Sydney Opera House.

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Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

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A favorite of campers, hikers, and nature lovers, Ku-ring-gai Chase is Australia’s second-oldest national park. The lush rain forest landscape, quiet creeks, and mountain passes just might make you forget you’re still within Sydney city limits.

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Watsons Bay

Watsons Bay

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Set on the narrow southern head of famous Sydney Harbour, Watson's Bay is one of the city's most underrated attractions. Whether it's hiking the Hermitage Foreshore Track or bathing in the buff at Lady Bay Beach, this eastern suburb is about being outside and taking in the views of the harbor. That is, of course, unless you’re seated at a café enjoying some fish and chips, which locals suggest are some of the best you'll find in all of Sydney. History buffs can wander the bluffs to see guns, cannons and military installations that have guarded Sydney Harbor, while swimmers can head to Camp Cove Beach to splash in the protected waters.

The hiking trails here run all the way to down to Bondi and up to Hornby Lighthouse, which looks out toward the northern head and all of Sydney Harbour. The easiest way to visit Watson's Bay is by jumping on a ferry or hop-on, hop-off cruise and then either exploring on your own or as part of a guided walking tour.

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Paddington

Paddington

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Often nicknamed “Paddo” by locals, Paddington is a suburb of Sydney that features a nice mix of culture, history and shopping opportunities. Known for its colonial architecture and beautiful

balconied buildings, Paddo has long been a local favorite. And although the population of this district is quite meager, at just over 11,000 people, it packs a massive punch when it comes

to activity.

In general, one could divide Paddington into four even more distinct districts. Five Ways is a bit of a village within a village and home to some of the best foodie spots in the Sydney area. Paddington Markets, as the name points at, is a massive flea market that takes place at the Uniting Church grounds. William Street is the art designer's district in which some of Sydney's top up-and-coming designers have their shops, and all of it is tied into Oxford Street, which runs the entire length of Paddington and is lined with shops, boutiques, cafes and eateries.

Of course, there's more to Paddington than just the shops. The district is also home to the Sydney Cricket Grounds, Sydney Football Stadium, Victoria Barracks and a number of other worthy sights.

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Taronga Zoo Sydney

Taronga Zoo Sydney

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Easily the wildest place in Sydney, the Taronga Zoo Sydney is a sprawling sanctuary where over 4,000 animals crawl and chirp just minutes from the heart of downtown. Situated on Sydney Harbour a short ferry ride from Circular Quay, the sprawling sanctuary ranks as a top Sydney destination, with a range of tours, keeper talks, animal shows, and activities suitable for kids and adults. Visitors can see the fuzzy face of a native koala as it first wakes up from a nap, or stand a few feet from playful lemurs as they swing and play in the treetops. There are also opportunities to spot exotic species such as Malaysian sun bears, giraffes, and African lions, or marvel at a fearsome saltwater crocodile as it cruises through shallow waters.

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Sydney Tower Eye

Sydney Tower Eye

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As Sydney’s tallest structure, the Sydney Tower Eye is an integral part of the city’s skyline. At twice the height of Sydney Harbour Bridge, the 1,000-foot-high (309-meter) tower provides panoramic views that take in the Sydney Opera House and Bondi Beach; on a clear day, you can even see as far as the Blue Mountains.

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SEA LIFE® Sydney Aquarium

SEA LIFE® Sydney Aquarium

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The SEA LIFE® Sydney Aquarium encapsulates the diversity of Australia’s aquatic life. Wander exhibits that showcase everything from saltwater crocs and Southern Ocean penguins to turtles from the Great Barrier Reef and jellyfish. Plus, its prime Darling Harbour location lets you combine the aquarium with other family-friendly stops.

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Woolloomooloo Wharf

Woolloomooloo Wharf

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Woolloomooloo Wharf was built in 1915 and for the next 70-odd years handled the export of much of Australia’s wool, and served as a disembarking point for new migrants arriving to the country. It has since been converted into a fashionable complex, housing some of Sydney’s finest restaurants and most stylish residential flats.

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St. Mary's Cathedral

St. Mary's Cathedral

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Hailed as one of the finest examples of an English-style Gothic cathedral in the world, St. Mary’s Cathedral wows you with its sandstone exterior, stained glass windows, and ornate crypt, which features a mosaic floor and an exhibition on the first Australian Catholics. Plus, a visit to the cathedral affords great views of the skyscrapers in Sydney CBD.

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