As Australia’s oldest, largest and most urbane city, beautiful Sydney has something special to offer every visitor. Broad sandy beaches and scenic cruises make the Harbour City the perfect holiday destination for travelers looking for fun on the sand and sea. First-class dining, shopping and cultural institutions like the iconic Sydney Opera House beckon those searching for an enriching travel experience.
A compact city surrounded by national parks, Sydney serves as a convenient base for adventures in Australia’s diverse natural environments too. Whether scaling the heights of the Harbour Bridge or delving into the history and lore of the Aboriginal people, as a travel destination, the capital of New South Wales never disappoints. An overview of the top tourist attractions in Sydney:
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Located in Sydney’s Mosman neighborhood on the harbor’s hillsides, the world-class Taronga Zoo gives visitors a close-up view of Australia’s indigenous creatures as well as animals from all over the world. Highlights include the zoo’s Roar and Snore experience, which lets visitors stay overnight to observe nocturnal fauna, and the Nura Diya tour, which features guides who share stories about Aboriginal life. Although the zoo can be reached by car or bus, most visitors opt for a short ferry ride to the nearest wharf. From there, the entrance to the zoo is accessed by short gondola ride. Zoo tickets are available that cover ferry and gondola fares.
The premier attraction in Sydney’s recently redeveloped Darling Harbour, the Australian National Maritime Museum is best known for its historic seafaring vessels, which include the 19th-century tall ship James Craig and a full-scale replica of Captain James Cook’s Endeavor. The museum’s seven main galleries cover the nation’s maritime history, from the discovery of the Land Down Under to the country’s naval defense in World War II and beyond. Tickets are available that include entrance to the museum as well as tours of several of the vessels moored outside.
Situated between the Harbour Bridge and the northern edge of Sydney’s Central Business District, The Rocks is the city’s oldest neighborhood. Named after its rocky shore, The Rocks was Australia’s first permanent European settlement and the place where the country’s convict history began. By the late 1800s, the area had degenerated into a slum filled with taverns and brothels where crime ran rampant through the narrow streets. In the 1970s, the city began a huge restoration project to save the district’s historic homes and warehouses. Today, the redeveloped neighborhood is a popular tourist destination packed with art galleries, chic boutiques, trendy restaurants and souvenir shops.
Founded in 1816, the Royal Botanic Gardens is wedged between the Sydney Opera House and The Domain public green space. Overlooking the harbor, the urban park contains more than 7,500 species of plants, many of which are native to Australia. Standout collections include the Tropical Centre, which features plants housed in pyramid-shaped greenhouses, and the Rare and Threatened Species Garden, which includes an ancient Wollemi Pine, a genus of tree that dates back 200 million years. There is no entrance fee to the park, and free guided tours are available as well.
Once home to Sydney’s industrial docks and wharves, Darling Harbour was redeveloped during the 1980s with culture and tourism in mind. Situated immediately adjacent to the Central Business District, the neighborhood is now home to some of the most popular tourist attractions in Sydney, including the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Sydney Aquarium, the Aboriginal Centre and an IMAX theater with the world’s largest screen. The kid-friendly Harbourside Shopping Centre boasts a bowling alley, laser tag facility and a jet flight simulator. The east side of the waterfront features upscale shops, bars and restaurants.
The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge is both the main method of crossing the harbor and a travel destination for adventurous visitors. Completed in 1932, the bridge features an arch that stands 134 meters (440 feet) above sea level and spans 503 meters (1,654 feet). In 1998, the city opened a Bridge Climb attraction that allows hardy visitors to ascend to the top of the arch. Participants are equipped with protective clothing and secured to a wire lifeline during the three-and-a-half hour climb and descent. For those who want a less-adventurous view from the bridge, the Pylon Lookout Museum is a popular attraction. The museum is accessed from the footpath that runs along the eastern side of the bridge.
Soaring 1,073 feet above sea level, the Sydney Tower is the city’s tallest structure, offering 360-degree views of the compact metropolis, harbor and surrounding countryside. Designed by architect Donald Crone, the building opened to the public in 1981. Standing 260 meters (850 feet) above ground level, the building’s Sydney Tower Eye features an enclosed viewing platform that fully encircles the structure. The tower has three dining facilities, including the revolving restaurant 360 Bar and Dining. The latest addition to the Tower is a “4D” cinema, which enhances the theatrical experience with special effects like wind and bubbles.
More commonly referred to as the QVB, the Queen Victoria Building is a five-story shopping center that fills an entire city block and houses nearly 200 retailers. Built by architect George McRae in 1898, the building was designed as a marketplace and concert hall. Later tenants used the building for office space, and the structure began to fall into decay during the Great Depression. QVB has now been restored to its original glory and purpose. A beautiful example of the Romanesque Revival style popularized during Queen Victoria’s reign, the QVB features a large glass dome sheathed in copper, ornamental cast-iron railings and numerous stained glass windows.
Located just minutes away from Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD), Bondi Beach is a mile-long sweep of golden sand lined with red-tile-roofed homes, apartments and green spaces. A promenade adjacent to the sand runs the length of the crescent-shaped beach. Popular Bondi Beach attracts swimmers, surfers, sunbathers and body builders. Because the roughest waves and strongest rip tides are at the south end of the beach, that area is generally reserved for surfers. Swimmers and sunbathers tend to favor the north end next to a stretch of grass with coin-operated “barbies.” The well-patrolled beach is equipped with changing rooms, and the nearby neighborhoods are packed with cafés, bars and shops.
Perched on the waterfront of Bennelong Point, the Sydney Opera House is one of the world’s most famous buildings. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the structure’s sloping white roofs make the performing arts center appear as if it’s a giant ship setting out to sea. The complex was completed in 1973 after 16 years of construction and a cost of more than $100 million. A 2004 renovation added walls of glass to the reception hall, offering visitors views of the harbor. In addition to the 1,500-seat opera house, the center features a concert hall and three other theaters as well as multiple bars and restaurants.