Whether it calls to mind an iconic sail-shaped building or a beloved Pixar film, Sydney is adored by both globetrotters and Aussies. With enticing landmarks, museums, shops, beaches, parks, and natural landscapes, there is no shortage of ways to spend your free time while on your tour of Sydney. Here are some of our top recommendations.
1. Catch a performance at the Sydney Opera House
Arguably the most recognizable performing arts center in the world, the Sydney Opera House attracts more than eight million visitors from around the globe each year, 1.5 million of whom attend a show. The UNESCO-listed Opera House offers far more than its name suggests, with an abundance of operas, classical and contemporary music and dance, plays, comedy shows, lectures, film screenings, and more. If you’d like to see a performance during your time in Sydney, just ask your Tour Director to help you book tickets for an unforgettable evening at this internationally-renowned venue.
2. Soak up the sun at Bondi or Manly
This golden-sand beach is Sydney’s hub for surfers, swimmers, and sunbathers alike. You’ll visit on your tour, but don’t let that stop you from coming back…there’s plenty to do here. Bondi (pronounced BON-dye) is awash with shops, restaurants, and live music; and is easily accessible from the city, making it a favorite among visitors and locals. Want to venture beyond the beach? Stroll along the vast Pacific on the Bondi to Coogee Walk, take a dip in one of Sydney’s historic coastal pools, or throw a prawn on the barbie at Biddigal Reserve.
A great alternative to Bondi, Manly Beach is tucked away in Sydney’s Northern Beaches region. Like its counterpart, Manly is a bustling area with a bevy of clothing boutiques, delicious dining options, aquariums, museums, art galleries, and some of Sydney’s best whale watching. It’s a thirty-minute ferry from the city, but even if you only stay for a brief time, the idyllic ride past the Opera House makes the journey completely worthwhile.
3. Take in the culture at one (or more) of Sydney’s museums
Art Gallery of NSW
Located on the edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is a popular choice among Sydney’s museum-goers. With a host of Australian, Aboriginal, Asian, European, and contemporary art, photography, and film screenings, it offers something for every kind of art lover. AGNSW is open daily (with the exception of Christmas and Good Friday), and entrance to the museum, permanent collection galleries, and guided tours are all free. Feeling hungry? Stop by the museum’s cafe for a light meal overlooking the Gardens and Sydney Harbour.
Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Discover Australia’s convict past at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum. Another of Sydney’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the barracks played a crucial role in transporting prisoners throughout Australia and reshaping the convict experience. Visitors can hear inmates’ stories and learn about the evolution of the barracks from a place of punishment to the museum it is today.
4. Cross the iconic Harbour Bridge
The Harbour Bridge is a hallmark of the city’s skyline and takes center stage at Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks show. Cross Sydney Harbour on the bridge’s pedestrian path, taking in all angles of the Opera House along the way. If you’re feeling up to it, stop at the first pylon you hit. A few flights up will bring you to a top-tier view of the city.
5. Encounter Australian wildlife at the Taronga Zoo
A quick twelve-minute ferry ride across the Harbour from downtown Sydney will land you at the Taronga Zoo, where you can get up close to some of Australia’s most notable inhabitants: kangaroos, wallabies, koalas…the lot! Visitors can select from a number of free shows, animal feedings, and talks about Australian wildlife conservation. Spend a couple of hours or a whole day roaming the zoo, and enjoy the free Sky Safari ride down to the exit at the end of your visit.
Photo tip: For a unique shot of the Sydney skyline, be sure to stop by the giraffe habitat—they have the best room in the house!
6. Pick up souvenirs at Sydney’s shopping centers
Queen Victoria Building (QVB)
Opened in 1898 as a concert hall and artisanal markets, Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building (known by locals as the QVB) now stands as an updated shopping plaza that is great to peruse on a laidback or rainy day. While you’re wandering through the QVB’s many stores or sipping coffee at one of the cafes, take a moment to admire the building’s architecture. Designed by architect George McRae and constructed by local craftsmen, the QVB’s beauty lies in its details, from its tiled floors to its stain glass windows to its elegant central dome.
Although Paddy’s Markets are indoors, the casual atmosphere and informal layout are reminiscent of an open-air market. Browse dozens of stalls for souvenirs, clothing, shoes, purses, jewelry, and even fresh produce—all at a very reasonable price. If you’re confident in your bartering skills you can try for a discount, but be sure to take a lap before you make any initial purchases. You might find something you like more along the way. Paddy’s is walking distance from Sydney’s Central Station and across the street from Chinatown’s locally-famous Emperor’s Puffs—a perfectly sweet treat after a shopping trip. (Word of advice: If there’s a line, wait in it. The cream puffs will not disappoint.)
7. Take a day trip to the Blue Mountains
For the freshest of air, escape the city and head west to the aptly named Blue Mountains. The lush eucalyptus trees that populate the mountains emit oils which, when touched by humidity and light, form a beautiful blue haze against the hilly backdrop. You can reach the Blue Mountains in less than two hours by train, and follow along the trails at your leisure. For a truly memorable experience, gaze out at the picturesque natural rock formations from the Three Sisters Echo Point Lookout or soar above the gorge in a cable car.
8. See it all atop Sydney Tower
When you’ve wrapped up your adventures for the day, unwind with a cocktail at 360 Bar and Dining at the top of Sydney Tower. Perched above the city, the Tower Eye—as it is affectionately known—is Sydney’s highest structure, and the second tallest observation deck in the Southern Hemisphere. The dining room’s revolving floor also ensures that you won’t miss a single block. Grab your drink of choice and find a couch by the window to enjoy panoramic views of Sydney without ever having to leave the comfort of your seat. If you’d prefer to dine at the restaurant, you can make reservations online.
Viewer tip: Arrive an hour or so before sunset and watch the city transform from day to night.
How would you most like to spend your free time on a trip to Sydney? Let us know in the comments!