The Best Sydney Experiences When You’re Done Being a Tourist

expat blog challege, Sydney

Day 15 of the Expat Blog Challenge Prompt: What the tourists never see in my town that they are really missing out on.

There are a few places and experiences that most tourists to Sydney will see and do, even if they have only two or three days. Most of these are top picks for good reason, not disappointing “tourist traps.” However, once the biggies have been checked off the list, there is still so much more to Sydney. So, I am proposing a list of things one might see after the tourist must-dos have been done.

1. There is nothing like the Sydney Opera House, the most iconic monument in Sydney – probably all of Australia. But once you’ve taken the tour and maybe even seen a show in one of its several theatres, there are a lot more live music and theatre options in Sydney. For music, the State Theatre is a jewelbox, and a surprise to walk into, as it lays off a busy downtown street. I saw Lucinda Williams there some time back, and was charmed. For live theatre, there are so many options (I wrote about it a few years ago, and it remains fairly relevant). If I had to pick one, I’d suggest visiting Surry Hills’ Belvoir Theatre. Their programming is consistently interesting and high quality contemporary fare, most of it Australian in origin.state theatre

State Theatre (source)

2. The Bridge Climb is a popular activity for daring tourists looking for some adventure and an amazing view of the city and Harbour. I will come clean and admit that I haven’t done it, myself. It’s fairly expensive, and it’s never been on the top of my list of things to conquer in Sydney. For those like me, who are a bit cheap/poor/or just not so interested in a massive climb, or if you’ve already done the Bridge Climb, but still want to get up there for another look, a good alternative is the Pylon Lookout. Inside one of the pylons on the city side is a museum with a lookout on the top. For around $10, you get to climb up and learn some history of the bridge along the way, and at the top is a pretty fantastic view.


3. Bondi Beach is one thing on this list that I will be so bold as to deem overrated. All the tourists want to get straight to Bondi, but unless you’re really into crowds (OK, some people are), I don’t see the appeal of Bondi over any number of other beaches. My personal favorite is Bronte Beach, which is in the same vicinity as Bondi, but more intimate and, in my opinion, more attractive. I am much happier spending a day at Bronte than at Bondi.

Sea pool at Bronte

4. Bondi Beach may not be my favorite, but the Bondi to Coogee walk is well worth doing. It’s a stunning coastal walk, even if it is quite crowded most of the time. It’s the best-known walk, but there are so many  beautiful coast walks in Sydney. We’ve done a fair number, but only scratched the surface. One that offers different, but also lovely scenery is the Spit to Manly Walk. We did it in a couple of segments, but if you committed a day to it, you could certainly manage the whole thing. There’s a lot more flora and fauna along this walk than Bondi to Coogee, and it feels a bit more secluded.

Spit to Manly flora

5. A lot of tourists get on one of the many dinner cruises that depart daily from Circular Quay. They are a nice idea – get served dinner while enjoying a view of the Harbour. Partner-in-Crime did one for our anniversary a couple years ago and, honestly, found it a little cheesy and the food to be average, at best. For my money, I prefer both the ride and the food by taking the Manly Ferry from Circular Quay (part of the regular Sydney Ferry service) and then eating some great Vietnamese street style food at Miss Chu right across from the wharf. Be sure to get the coconut cooler drink. You even get to take a walk on the beach when you’re done.

Manly ferry, surrounded by sailboats

6. The Museum of Sydney is a fantastic place to learn about all facets of Sydney history. I think it’s a beautiful museum, well curated, and they often have great special exhibits. Just off Circular Quay, it’s easy for tourists to get to. Once you’ve gotten the overview, you can learn about history through the lens of one specific place at the Sussanah Place Museum in the Rocks. Susannah Place is a block of four small terrace houses that were built in 1844. Each house is renovated to illustrate a different era in Sydney history, giving you the sense of what life would have been like there in each period. It’s fascinating.


7. Mrs Macquarie’s Chair at the Sydney Botanic Garden boasts an exceptional view of Sydney Harbour. It’s worth seeing, and having a stroll through the Botanic Garden, perhaps stopping for a leisurely picnic. On the north side of the bridge, there are parks with lesser known but equally lovely grounds and Harbour views. We have two favorites. Cremorne Point is quiet and great for casual strolls or long picnics across from the Opera House. Blues Point Reserve features what, in my opinion, is the nicest view of the Harbour in Sydney, and it is surprisingly unknown. We rarely find it busy there. There aren’t many trees, so not as good for long picnics as Cremorne Point on hot and sunny days, but still an absolutely beautiful park.

We took our family Christmas photos at Blues Point Reserve

8.  There is no shortage of restaurants and hotels (pubs) in the tourist areas. In The Rocks (Sydney’s oldest neighborhood), there are a bevy of establishments on the main strip, all with some historical significance. Fortune of War, in particular, is easy to locate and claims to be Sydney’s oldest bar. If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you’ll know that a friend and I conducted some very extensive research on this “oldest bar” claim, and after some further investigations, my professional opinion is that for the best beer and food, that you head just a bit off the main drag and do your eating and drinking at Lord Nelson, which is not only (maybe) Sydney’s oldest bar, but also brews its own excellent beers and serves really, really tasty food.


9. Circular Quay and Darling Harbour are undoubtedly the biggest tourist zones, chock full or restaurants, shopping and site seeing. There are worthwhile things to do in both quarters. Once you’ve seen your fill, my favorite “entertainment quarter” is not quite so bustling and takes one ferry to get there. Cockatoo Island is an island in Sydney Harbour, a former industrial workplace with a long history. These days, it is entirely for recreation, though many of the old industrial fixtures remain. You can take historical walking tours all year. During parts of the year, there are art installations like the Biennale of Sydney. “Glamping” sites are set up in case you want to spend the night. And, the Island Bar is one of my most beloved summer fixtures, an entirely outdoor bar where you feel removed from the world, though just a few minutes from Sydney.

Drinks at the Island Bar

10. Taronga Zoo is THE zoo in Sydney. Can you forgive me if I admit I haven’t been? With a toddler now, I suspect I am going to have many zoo days ahead. People love Taronga, and I am sure it is well worth the visit. A little further afield is Featherdale Wildlife Park. It’s such a quaint little park, specializing in Australian animals. I’ve found it a wonderful place to take guests, especially because they have a section where you can feed and pet kangaroos and a place to pet koalas.

4 thoughts on “The Best Sydney Experiences When You’re Done Being a Tourist

  1. Christie

    I wish we had your list before we visited Sydney. It has some great suggestions I would like to explore. However we did do the Pylon lookout on our first trip, and we absolutely love the ferry ride to Manly.

    1. Cristin Post author

      Love your list, and there are a few I haven’t done on there, too.
      I have a post on The Grounds coming up this week!

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