The top 20 things to do in Sydney

The top 20 things to do in Sydney, Sydney Harbour
Q Station, Manly

This spectacular city is the capital of the state of New South Wales and the gateway for most visitors and you can find out the best things to do in Sydney.

Set around a huge natural harbour and fringed by more than 100 sandy beaches, lush national parks and rolling mountains, it’s easily one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It has an incredibly diverse food scene, lots of things to do and a glorious, sunny climate. In summer, the city comes alive as people flock to the water, leafy parks, and buzzing outdoor cafes and bars. There’s a packed calendar of events, fun for the family and plenty of free entertainment on offer.

The top 20 things to do in Sydney

Whether it’s your first time in Sydney or you’re a regular visitor who’s come back for more, here are 20 things everyone should know about the Harbour City.


It’s really big

Geographically speaking, Sydney is huge. The city covers around 4000 square kilometres, making it equal in size to London and almost double the size of New York City. But the population is around half that of the other cities. So, while some inner city and coastal areas are densely populated, there are still lots of quiet pockets to be found.

It’s really diverse

Around 40 per cent of Sydney’s population was born overseas and almost two-thirds have at least one parent born outside of Australia. That makes the city a cultural melting pot with strong influences from China, Southeast Asia, India, the UK and more.

The harbour is spectacular

Sydney’s most famous landmark is one of a kind. The largest and deepest natural harbour in the world, it’s Australia’s busiest waterway with thousands of vessels of every size on the water every day. Flanked by the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, it will take your breath away every time.


There are lots of places to swim…

On a hot summer’s day, there’s nothing better than a swim in the ocean. Sydney has more than 100 beaches lining the coast and harbour, ranging from the famous waves at Bondi to hidden coves that only the locals know. If you’re not a confident swimmer, many of the best beaches also have calm ocean pools that were carved directly into the rock more than a century ago.


And lots of green space

Sydney ranks as the fourth greenest city in the world thanks to its abundance of public parks and gardens. From the lush harbourside lawns of the Royal Botanic Garden to the 150-year-old fig trees in Centennial Park, there are endless options for walks, picnics and some leafy respite from the buzz of the city.


People live life outside

All that gorgeous outdoor space and a fantastic climate mean Sydneysiders tend to spend a lot of time outside. Winters are short (and relatively mild) and the sun shines for almost nine months a year. You’ll regularly see people walking, running, relaxing in parks, sipping drinks in outdoor bars, shopping at markets and getting active on the water.


It’s easy to find your tribe

Sydney calls itself a city of villages. Start to explore this sprawling metropolis and you’ll quickly discover that it’s actually a series of distinct neighbourhoods, each with their own unique style. Go vintage shopping in Newtown, find the best dumplings in Haymarket, get arty in Walsh Bay and stay out late in Oxford Street.


Coffee is a serious business

Coffee is practically a religion in Sydney and you’re never far away from a great cup. The city’s signature style is the flat white, which was invented here in the 1980s and consists of a shot of espresso topped with steamed milk and no foam. There are excellent cafes to be found in every suburb and many even roast their own beans on-site to ensure the perfect blend.


Its history dates back 60,000 years

The Indigenous Gadigal people of the Eora Nation have called the Sydney area home for more than 60,000 years, making them part of the oldest living culture on earth. Woven throughout the modern city you can find links to this ancient past, from the native bush tucker plants growing in the Royal Botanic Garden to the mythical figures carved into the rock in the Ku-Ring Gai National Park. Join a guided tour in Barangaroo to hear ancient Dreamtime stories and learn about the ongoing connection to country.


It was Australia’s first European settlement

Founded as a British colony in 1788, Sydney is the oldest European city in Australia. In fact, if you dock at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay, you’ll walk right out into the oldest part of the city, The Rocks, which was the very first colonial settlement. Admire the grand 19th century government buildings along Macquarie Street, visit 230-year-old homesteads in Parramatta and learn about the city’s dark convict past on Cockatoo Island.


The dining is world-class

Australia is renowned for its exceptional fresh produce and innovative dining culture, and Sydney is the foodie capital of the country. And eating is one of the best things to do in Sydney. There’s everything from gourmet fine-dining (look out for restaurants with a three-hat rating), seafood by the water and laid-back pub grub. You’ll also see Sydney’s multicultural influences on the menu everywhere you go, with excellent Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Italian food to be found.


So is the drinking

There are around 30 craft beer breweries in the Greater Sydney area, brewing up deliciously drinkable lagers, ales and stouts. There are more than a dozen in just a few blocks in the Inner West so you can easily visit a few on a walking tour. If you prefer spirits, at least 10 boutique distilleries are producing small batch gin, rum, vodka and whisky, often using native botanicals.


Sport is a big deal

Australians love their sport and Sydney is home to professional teams from every code. There are four kinds of football (rugby league, rugby union, Australian rules and soccer), plus cricket, netball, basketball, hockey, horse racing and more. You can join the locals to cheer on their team at a match or in a pub and get caught up in the infectious atmosphere.


It’s not just the coast

The harbour and the beaches are Sydney’s most famous sights, but there’s a lot more to be found inland. Western Sydney is the fastest-growing area in Australia, stretching from the new towers of Parramatta to the foothills of the Blue Mountains. It’s one of the best things to do in Sydney. Though it’s off the radar for most tourists, there’s lots to do out west from zoos and parkland to adventure sports, river activities and theme parks.


You can explore on foot or on two wheels

Sydney is a great city for walking and cycling. Around the harbour and through the CBD is compact and flat, or you can follow some of the famous coastal paths. Join one of the many free walking tours that depart regularly from The Rocks or Town Hall, guided by passionate locals. If you’d prefer to find your own way, download the free Sydney Culture Walks app or the Sydney Rides Guide from the City of Sydney website.


It looks great from above

Get a birds’ eye view of the city from the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the outdoor Skywalk deck of the Sydney Tower Eye (the tallest structure in the city) or from the window of a seaplane taking off right from the harbour. With sparkling blue water, golden beaches, green bushland and glittering skyscrapers, the city is pretty as a picture.


People are very friendly

It sounds like a cliché, but Australians are genuinely a friendly bunch. Expect to say good morning to people on the street or have a chat with most waiters, bartenders and baristas. You’ll notice that people tend to shorten their words, so someone might ask you if you’re bringing your cossie (swimming costume) to the barbie (barbecue) tomorrow arvo (afternoon). They can also swear quite a lot, but they mean no offence.


Help is always at hand

Aside from all the excellent information in this guide, there are plenty of other ways to find help when you’re travelling in Sydney. In Circular Quay and The Rocks, look out for the volunteer Sydney Ambassadors wearing their signature red shirts and white hats. You can find Visitor Information Centres at Customs House, The Rocks, Darling Harbour, Town Hall, Haymarket and Manly on the best things to do in Sydney.


It gets really hot

The average high temperature in summer is around 26 degrees Celsius, but it’s not unusual to have days where it soars above 40. The sun is also stronger than in other places around the world with similar climates. That means you need to be diligent about wearing sunscreen and a hat and stay well hydrated.


You’re going to love it!

We think Sydney is the best city in the world. We hope you do too with our guide to the best things to do in Sydney. is the ultimate guide to visiting Sydney. It provides up-to-date information on attractions, places to visit, restaurants, shops, visitor information and transport. The site is published by Cruise Media Australasia, a Big Splash Media company. Editor-in-Chief and Publisher: Peter Lynch.

All map distance references are taken from the Sydney Overseas Passenger Terminal, Circular Quay.
Images courtesy Destination NSW

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