Sydney, Australia TOP THINGS TO DO

Sydney, Australia: A Revelation

The Rocks, Sydney, Australia

Introduction: For years I have been determined to get my husband to travel to Australia. He poo-pooed me at every turn. Alas, I secured some cheap airfare and encouraged him to buck up and do some research. Thankfully, his favorite travel writer, Bill Bryson, wrote a great book on Australia: “In A Sunburned Country.” My husband loved the book, which turned his Australian frown upside down.

After eight days in Sydney our entire family began calling Australia “better America.” With its civilized (plentiful free toilets and drinking fountains), clean and accessible infrastructure, such as miles of coastal walking paths, we found Sydney to be a delight.

In truth, we like to travel on the cheap. We get annoyed with cattle call tours, and like to explore on at our own pace. The other truth is that we heard Australia is pretty expensive (and it is). So, we were determined to find inexpensive & free things for our family to see and do. Below is a list of our some of our Sydney, Australia favorites, our recommendations, with map coordinates and accompanying feedback. Have fun!

Our Favorites:

Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden

Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden, Lavender Bay, Sydney, Australia

Maybe because it was our very first stop when we arrived in Sydney, we found Wendy Whitely’s Secret Garden to be a magical place that opens its arms to its visitors. The garden is a delight! It offers sculptures, stunning harbor views and clever walking paths filled with the local flora and fauna. We explored. My boys hung on tree branches. Then they sat on cute little stools. As we looked out onto the harbor we could not believe this inviting oasis is in the middle of the city.

Tramsheds

Tramsheds, Sydney, Australia

Our son Kyle is the one who suggested we put our favorites near the top. He also said that Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden and the Tramsheds were our favorites. I agree. Maybe it is because the Tramsheds housed a Messina Gelato location, or maybe it was so close to where we were staying. I am sure it is the building’s design, the yummy food, the overpriced but cool grocery store, the free 2 hour parking, the walking paths, harbor and park nearby.

Things To Do Recommendations:

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney Harbor Bridge
  • You can see in the picture above that there are people climbing along the very top of the bridge near the flags. But you don’t have to pay for the bridge climbing tour to experience the bridge. You can just walk across it as a regular pedestrian. The bridge is amazing & beautiful.
  • Pro Tip: Ride the ferry from Circle Quay toward any of the western ferry routes. You will travel right under the bridge, which was a highlight of our trip.

Royal Botanical Gardens

Royal Botanic Garden

UNLESS you think you NEED a special tour guide, know this: THE ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS ARE FREE. Yes, this means there is no entrance fee. DO NOT be fooled by the GOOGLE MAPS AD (that doesn’t look like and ad) & asks you to buy tickets. The Royal Botanical Gardens are a centerpiece to Sydney, even a walkway to get to the harbor.

  • FREE ENTRANCE
  • Beautiful banyan and fig trees
  • Free exhibits
  • The fanciest drinking fountain you will ever see
  • Beautiful walking paths
  • FREE WIFI

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
  • FREE entrance
  • Great exhibits
  • We really enjoyed all of the local art.
  • The Rocks neighborhood around the museum is a great place to explore.

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • FREE entrance, except for special exhibits within the museum
  • Great exhibits
  • Wealth of Australian art
  • Bonus: I took a picture of a Picasso without being scolded.

Sydney Observatory

Sydney Observatory
  • FREE entrance, except for special exhibits within the museum. Seriously don’t let the website fool you. If you scroll down, you will see that there is stated FREE admission, except for special events.
  • Beautiful location above the harbor.
  • Check the hours. They close early.

Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden


Wendy Whiteley’s (not so) Secret Garden/Lavender Bay
  • FREE neighborhood garden in the most charming location
  • This was one of our favorite spots. You can walk along the winding paths then under the railroad to the waterfront.
  • We found 2 hour free parking in the public park close to the garden.

Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island
  • FREE entrance, accessible via the Sydney public ferry system.
  • The island was a prison, then an important military base and shipyard.
  • From the UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE WEBSITE:

“Cockatoo Island is a UNESCO world-heritage-listed island in the middle of beautiful Sydney Harbour. Hop on a ferry and explore the island for the day or stay overnight in the campground or holiday houses.”

Manly Beach

Manly Beach
  • Manly Beach is a gorgeous swimming and surf beach.
  • Use the public ferry, not the (private) fast ferry (*see notes about transportation below).

Bondi Beach – Bronte Beach Walk (you can walk the path further. We walked the Coastal Path to Coogee Beach)

Bondi Beach Coastal Walk

We loved the Coastal walk. We also were captivated how the mood of each beach changed. Every beach, however, has a very structured lifeguard team protecting its swimmers.

  • Graffiti walls
  • Extensive Lifeguard Stations
  • Free bathrooms and changing rooms

Sydney Neighborhoods:

All neighborhoods mentioned here can be accessed by public transportation, including the ferry for all neighborhoods except Surry Hills & Haymarket.

Darling Harbor

Darling Harbor
  • Food
  • Touristy
  • Aquarium and Maritime Museum
  • Walkable, including paths along the water

The Rocks

The Rocks
  • Groovy street market on weekend (I bought my mother-in-law a handmade card)
  • Sydney Observatory and the Museum of Contemporary Art located in this neighborhood
  • Locals selling their very cool wares
  • Delicious Food Options
  • Walkable, including paths along the water

Lavender Bay / McMahons Point / Milsons Point

Lavender Bay / McMahons Point / Milsons Point
  • Picturesque neighborhood across the bay from downtown Sydney
  • Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden is a short walk from either ferry stop.
  • Great view of the bridge and/or opera house from various points
  • Old-timey amusement park, Luna Park

Surry Hills

Surry Hills (or pretty close)
  • Hip
  • Foodie Land
  • Walkable

Balmain Ferry Stop/ Birchgrove

Ballast Point Park
  • Neighborhoody
  • Walkable, including paths along the water
  • Ballast Point Park (so cool)

Glebe

Glebe
  • We loved the architecture of the Glebe neighborhood. We also loved (again) that we could walk along the waterfront. Glebe is a very active and lively neighborhood.
  • Tramsheds: The Tramsheds are on the northwestern edge of the Glebe neighborhood. We made several stops there for Gelato Messina. We also ate at Belles Hot Chicken. I loved their Gluten Free fish & chips. Because we loved their Circular Quay food court location, we wanted to eat at Bekya at the Tramsheds as well.
Tramsheds Sydney

Haymarket

Haymarket
  • Chinatown
  • A group of outdoor goods stores
  • Seemingly miles of Boba Tea shops
  • An astounding assortment of hole-in-the-wall Asian restaurants including PhoV (where my son & I ate Pho)

FOOD:

Pho V, Haymarket, Sydney

Gelato Messina Sydney

  • Favorite Location: Tramsheds
  • Favorite flavor: Salted Coconut & Mango Salsa Sorbet

Bekya

  • Middle Eastern with gluten free & vegan options
  • We ate at the Circle Quay location

Belles Hot Chicken

PhoV

  • We at the Haymarket location
  • We liked their Pho & Pork Spring Rolls

Woolworths Supermarkets

  • I do not need to include a map location for Woolworths grocery stores. They are everywhere. Because we were staying at an AirBnB in BirchGrove, we found it very helpful to have a consistent grocery store so we did not have to eat out for every meal. We did find other more expensive & less expensive grocery stores. We felt like Woolworths had a consistent selection.  
  • Woolworths has gluten free & vegan options.

Pro Tips:

Nomad Bouldering Gym, Sydney
  • Maximizing Public Transportation: Buy an Opal card for each member of your party at just about any convenience or grocery store. You can start with a small amount, like $20, and top it up at transit station kiosks or online. To minimize expense, try to concentrate your public transportation usage into the same day because there’s a daily maximum charge of $15.80 adult (AUD)/$7.90 youth/child. So after paying for one roundtrip ferry ride, the rest of your ferry, train, and bus travel will be free. NOTE: Some transportation is not included in this daily maximum, even if you can use the Opal card to pay. For example, the private “fast ferry” to Manly Island will charge its own fare even if you’ve already reached the daily maximum.
  • BONUS Public Transportation tip: On Sundays you can ride all the public transportation you want for $2.70 (AUD).
  • Ferries:  Honestly, we just thought riding various types of ferries around Sydney Harbor was super cool.
  • Weekend Parking Rates: Look for parking garages who offer special weekend All day parking rates
  • We parked at the Goulburn Street Parking for $12.00 (AUD) for all day parking.
  • We wish we would have parked a little closer to things and parked at Wilson Parking Domain Car Park near the cathedral.  Parking there was $13.00 (AUD) for all day parking.
  • Nomad Bouldering Gym: Our sons love bouldering. We were able to get a day pass $20.00 (AUD) per person.
  • According to my son, Sydney has a healthy Pokemon Go Infrastructure.
  • Lodging: We stayed at Meriton Suites & AirBnB. We found that using AirBnB lodging in Sydney for more than 2 people was less expensive.