Guide to Sydney Harbour
It's easy to see why Sydney Harbour is regarded as one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world.
By Ellie Schneider
Sydney Harbour is an aquatic playground for Sydneysiders, with more than 240 kilometres (150 miles) of shoreline, punctuated by unspoiled beaches, picturesque gardens and pockets of natural bush. It is also home to some of Australia's big-name attractions, including the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Read on and explore.
- See the landmarks from the ground and above
- Take a dip or try water sports at glistening beaches
- Picnic on a historic harbour 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.
Things to do and top attractions in Sydney Harbour
Start your day at Circular Quay
Circular Quay is a great base for exploring Sydney Harbour. Ferries depart from Circular Quay throughout the day to different parts of the harbour, connecting the city with Sydney's waterside suburbs. Circular Quay is also the major transport hub for water taxis, harbour cruises, buses, trains and taxis. Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art and historic Customs House are located on one side of Circular Quay. The Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens are on the other. Expect postcard views at every turn.
Take in the harbour from above
Climb to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a BridgeClimb for unforgettable panoramic views. You'll be guided high into the bridge's arches, ascending 134 metres (440 feet) above sea level. If you'd prefer to keep your feet on the ground, it’s free for visitors to cross the bridge along the pedestrian walkway. Enjoy a bird's-eye view of Sydney Harbour on a scenic flight over the beaches and city skyline. Flights depart from Rose Bay and can be combined with lunch at exquisite waterfront restaurants or a prepared picnic hamper to be enjoyed on a secluded beach.
Swim at pristine beaches
Sydney's idyllic harbour beaches are some of the most beautiful in the city. Harbour beaches are generally calmer than the ocean beaches, with gentle, bobbing waves, making them popular among families. Take a dip in the turquoise waters of Camp Cove, and then walk around to Watsons Bay, where you can tuck into fish and chips on the grass. Find a secluded patch of sand on the 1.8-kilometre (1.1-mile) Hermitage Foreshore track, which twists along the eastern coastline, through Milk Beach and Nielsen Park. Or try out some of the harbour's water sports, such as stand-up paddleboarding at Balmoral Beach. Hire kayaks at the Spit Bridge to explore Middle Harbour.
See the harbour up in lights
Festivals and events are based on or around Sydney Harbour throughout the year. In May Sydney's historic landmarks become a canvas for brilliant light installations and projections during the Vivid Sydney festival of light, music and ideas. The spectacle stretches from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour and Taronga Zoo Sydney. Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) sees the kick off of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, and on New Year's Eve you can join the party as more than one million people gather around the foreshore to take in the spectacular fireworks display from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. During major events, make sure you plan your day ahead and arrive early.
Find a new view
There’s no shortage of spectacular harbour views in Sydney. Seek out a new view as you soar above the water in a seaplane from Rose Bay. Head to Taronga Zoo Sydney for unique wildlife and a cable car ride that offers a different view of the zoo and its surrounds. Stay overnight at the historic Quarantine Station at North Head for views of the water from the seclusion of a national park. For something more active, head out on a harbour walk in Sydney Harbour National Park or on the Sydney Harbour circle walk, which winds along the foreshore west of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Hunters Hill.
Go island hopping
Discover the colourful history of Sydney Harbour's islands: Fort Denison, Shark, Clark, Rodd, Goat and Cockatoo. You can reach the islands on a short ferry ride from Circular Quay, and once you arrive, you'll be rewarded with 360-degree views. Pack a picnic and head for Shark Island, a little slice of paradise with palm trees, picnic tables and a sandy beach. The World Heritage-listed Cockatoo Island was off-limits to the public for more than 100 years, but today offers guided tours, a cutting-edge arts program and the option to camp overnight in one of its luxury safari tents.
Sail away on a ferry
Ferries are a major form of transport in Sydney and an affordable way to get out onto the water. Catch a ferry from Circular Quay and explore beachside suburbs such as McMahons Point, Manly, Mosman and Balmain. Or ferry to Darling Harbour and visit Sydney Aquarium, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, Cockle Bay and King Street Wharf. Disembark at Pyrmont Bay Wharf to explore the Australian National Maritime Museum and Harbourside Shopping Centre, or head to Watson’s Bay for fish and chips by the beach. Cruise to Parramatta along the river and stroll the Riverside Walk in Parramatta Park.