Nielson Park, Sydney, New South Wales © Keith McInnes, Destination NSW
9 of Sydney’s best beaches
Sydney is blessed with dozens of stunning beaches. Here is a selection of local favourites.
By Ellie Schneider
There are more than 100 picturesque beaches in Sydney – from calm, sheltered bays and secret coves to busy surf beaches and world-famous tourist destinations. Many have cafés, restaurants or entire shopping villages clustered around their edges, and most are easily accessible from Sydney’s city centre. A range of aquatic activities are also available, including snorkelling, kayaking, canoeing, stand up paddle boarding and surfing. With all the variety on offer, there is something for everyone. Here are nine of Sydney's top spots to swim, surf or lie on the sand.
Bondi is Australia’s most well-known beach, but there’s much more to this famed spot than souvenir stores. Some visitors dedicate their weekend to the ‘Bondi Bubble’, as it’s affectionately known by locals – you’ll find an entire village of cafés, restaurants, shops and hotels here, ensuring that locals rarely leave. Head to a popular brunch spot, such as Bills or Speedos Café, before crossing the road and settling on the sand.
Follow the easy 40-minute coastal walk from Bondi Beach to arrive at its quieter sister Bronte. The beach can pick up plenty of swell, making it popular among surfers, while swimmers generally head to the famous rock pool at the south side of the beach. There’s a large grassy area with excellent barbecue and picnic facilities. If you’d prefer someone else do the cooking, walk up to Three Blue Ducks, celebrated for its innovative, local cuisine.
Gordons Bay is a little oasis tucked between Clovelly and Coogee beaches, and is home to a 500-metre (1,640-foot) underwater nature trail, guiding divers past reefs, sand flats and kelp forests. The best lounging positions are up on the rocks, but you’ll have to get here early, this place gets packed during summer. Post swim, walk around the corner from Gordons Bay to takeaway burger joint Out of the Blue on Clovelly Road, where the fish burger is legendary.
Hop on a ferry from Circular Quay to the seaside suburb of Manly, where you can swim at several beaches ranging from surfer paradise to family-friendly. Stroll from the Manly surf club along Marine Parade to access tiny Shelly Beach, a common spot for snorkelling. Manly also has great shops, a weekend arts and craft market and a dining scene that spans cheerful takeaway joints, small bars, restaurants and breweries. Sit down to the “Grande Platter” of fresh seafood at Manly Wine.
From Manly, local buses take you to the northern beaches of Curl Curl, Dee Why, Narrabeen, Mona Vale, Newport and Avalon – all famous for their laidback lifestyle and surf culture. Eventually you'll arrive at Palm Beach, a long strip of sand edging onto a golf course, lush bushland and dunes. The southern end of the beach is more protected for swimming, and offers an Olympic-sized ocean pool with change rooms. No trip to Palm Beach would be complete without breakfast on the waterfront timber deck of The Boathouse, before a walk up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse.
Located on Sydney’s scenic north shore, Balmoral Beach boasts gentle currents and enclosed swimming areas, making it a popular spot for families. Take a lesson in stand up paddle boarding or hire a kayak to explore the crystal clear waters. There’s a string of cafés to enjoy lunch afterwards: try Bertoni at Balmoral, or sit down to an exquisite, locally-driven menu at The Bathers’ Pavilion, overlooking Middle Harbour.
Reach Nielsen Park via the Hermitage Foreshore walk, a spectacular trail that winds its way along Sydney’s eastern harbour beaches. Despite being busy year-round, the beach still feels secluded with plenty of space to roll out your towel. There are three large, shaded picnic areas, as well as a café for afternoon treats. A bus also runs from Town Hall station directly to Nielsen Park.
Watsons Bay is Australia's oldest fishing village at the southern entrance to Sydney Harbour. You can catch the ferry here from Circular Quay or take the cliff-hugging drive past the mansions of Vaucluse. Take a dip in the enclosed Watsons Bay Baths, with its beautiful views across the harbour, then walk up to The Gap and Macquarie Lighthouse. Afterwards eat fish and chips from Sydney's famous Doyle’s Restaurant or enjoy drinks in the buzzy beer garden of Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, where you can also stay the night.
A five-minute walk from Watsons Bay ferry wharf lies Camp Cove, a small, family-friendly beach known for its calm waters and millionaire views. There isn’t much shade here, so pack a beach umbrella if you plan on staying for the day. Camp Cove is often used as a training spot for divers, and there are good opportunities for snorkelling straight off the beach. Cold drinks and snacks are available from the kiosk.