Go bushwalking, picnic on harbour islands, swim from secluded beaches and trace convict and Aboriginal history in Sydney Harbour National Park.
By Ellie Schneider
Beyond Sydney Harbour's landmark buildings, Sydney Harbour National Park shelters secluded beaches, picturesque islands and rare pockets of native bush. Swim, picnic and bushwalk along the spectacular foreshore or visit harbour islands by ferry. The harbour's bays, parks and headlands are also natural grandstands for some of Australia's biggest events.
- Walk scenic harbourside trails
- Ride the ferries to see Sydney’s star attractions
- Camp on Sydney Harbour's largest island
How to get there
International flights fly directly into Sydney Airport from many global hubs. From the airport it’s an easy 30 minute taxi or train ride to Circular Quay, the main ferry terminal in Sydney.
Top things to do in Sydney Harbour National Park
Hike around Sydney's famous harbour
You can hike all around Sydney's famous harbour on short trails, day walks or sections of the 100 kilometre (62 mile) Great Coastal Walk. Weave your way around the harbour's northern edge on the three to four hour Manly to Spit Bridge Coastal Walk, which stretches for ten kilometres (6.2 miles) through lush bushland and stunning bays. Stop for a dip at one of its many idyllic beaches, such as Forty Baskets Beach in Balgowlah or Reef Beach near Manly. For a shorter walk along the harbour foreshore, follow the scenic one kilometre (0.6 mile) South Head Heritage trail from Camp Cove in Watsons Bay to historic Hornby Lighthouse, with its notable red and white stripes. Keep a look out for whales, which can be spotted here from June to November.
Visit for the festivals
Sydney Harbour National Park is also the hub for Sydney's most popular events. See tall ships, small ferries, yachts and boats race across the harbour on Australia Day or at the start of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on Boxing Day. Join more than one million people who gather around Sydney Harbour each year to ring in the new year, when one of the world's most spectacular firework displays erupts from the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Delve into Australia's convict history
See the legacy of Australia’s convict settlers at Cadman's Cottage in The Rocks. The sandstone cottage was built in 1816, and is one of the few remaining buildings from the first 30 years of the colony. At the Quarantine Station at Manly – established in 1832 to quarantine early immigrants – you can take part in a lantern-lit ghost or paranormal tour. You can also hop on a five minute ferry from Circular Quay to Fort Denison, where hardened prisoners were placed in solitary confinement during the early days of the colony.
Camp on Cockatoo Island
This World Heritage-listed island is the largest in Sydney Harbour, and a half hour ferry ride from Circular Quay. The island has had a varied history, housing convicts, a reformatory school and one of Australia's biggest shipyards. After being off limits to the public for more than 100 years, today Cockatoo Island is the location for cutting-edge art exhibitions, group tours and unique accommodation. Stay overnight in its heritage houses, apartments or luxury safari tents, and wake up to multimillion-dollar views.
Hop on a cruise or jump in a kayak
Regular public ferry services depart from Circular Quay to destinations around the harbour, including Manly and Watsons Bay. Private cruise operators allow you to take in the harbour's star attractions and many include lunch or dinner. Learn about the lives of the city's original inhabitants – the Eora, Cadigal, Guringai, Wangal, Gammeraigal and Wallumedegal people – on a Tribal Warrior cruise with an Aboriginal guide. On this two hour cruise you will hear Dreaming stories and see an authentic Aboriginal cultural performance on Goat or Clark Island. If you would prefer to navigate your own way between the harbour's bush-fringed bays and sandstone headlands, kayaks are available to hire from Rose Bay Aquatic Hire on Sydney's eastern suburbs and from Sydney Harbour Kayaks in northern Sydney. You can also charter your own yacht with Pilgrim Sailing.
Make your trip happen