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31 Best things to see & do in Sydney

  • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Mark Chipperfield
  • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Abstract of a section of bridge with very small people climbing up it

Bucket List Experience

Climb Sydney Harbour Bridge

Movie stars do it, footballers do it, mums and dads do it, even old ladies do it. Bridge Climb is the top attraction in Sydney – and must surely rank as one of the world’s greatest bucket list experiences.

Apart from a few short ladders at the start, it’s a surprisingly gentle ‘climb’ and not nearly as scary as it looks. Views of Sydney Harbour are (literally) breathtaking, and you’ll also learn the fascinating history of the bridge and the Sydney Opera House as you go. So be brave; this unique experience is a must.

Adult price: £110

Min age 8

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 2- 3 hours

  • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Sydney opera house from across the harbour on a sunny day.

Bucket List Experience

Sydney Opera House

With its scalloped white roofs, instantly recognisable anywhere in the world, Jorn Utzon’s architectural masterpiece – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is rightly regarded as one of the greatest buildings of the 20th Century.

Rather than a single auditorium, the Opera House is a complex of performance spaces hosting music, theatre, ballet and, of course, opera. Book a seat for one of the performances or take the behind-the-scenes tour of this enchanting Sydney icon.

Good for age: 13+

  • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

The historic Royal Botanic Garden is the oldest scientific institution in Australia, stretching back to the First Fleet, and featuring 30 hectares packed with exotic and native plants.

But what makes this a stand-out amongst botanical gardens is its location, in the most scenic part of the city, right on the harbour. A footpath starting at Sydney Opera House will take you alongside the harbour and through the garden, for a fantastic one- or two-hour walk.

Look out for giant eels in the pond, loud, squawking cockatoos, and huge roosts of giant (and harmless) fruit bats, which hang from many of the trees; they’re a compelling sight.

Good for age: 4+

Duration: 1-2 hours

  • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

A topless man, wearing vibrant blue wings, holding his hands up.

Bucket List Experience

Sydney Mardi Gras Parade

With its beehive hairdos, leather cowboy chaps, glitter balls, Dykes On Bikes, dancing queens, and outrageous costumes, the Mardi Gras Parade is a unique global phenomenon, attracting partygoers, performers and spectators from every corner of the planet.

Now in its 44th year, the ‘Mardi Gras’ is actually a whole program of Gay and Lesbian themed events spread over two weeks, including film, comedy, art and plenty of parties. But it’s the world-famous Saturday evening parade that people come for, and which is the undisputed star of the show.

In all, over 65,000 glammed-up marchers and 160 outrageous floats wend their way along Oxford Street, Taylor Square and Flinders Street, in front of tens of thousands of cheering spectators lining the streets. The atmosphere is festive, and at times, electric. Plenty of (straight and gay) locals mix in with tourists and it’s very inclusive – crowds typically include families and plenty of children (who love it).

The parade finishes up at Fox Studios, where an enormous party is then staged, continuing until dawn, for gays, straights and everyone in between.

Editor note: at the time of writing, the parade was being held at the Sydney Cricket Ground due to Covid restrictions.

Duration: 2-3 hours

When: 1st Sat of March

Freq: annually

  • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

A photo of old brown buildings in front of a city skyline on a sunny day.

Bucket List Experience

The Rocks

When British settlers arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788, they found that a rocky headland nearby was an excellent source of building material. The Rocks became Australia’s first slum, complete with rat-infested tenements, brothels, rowdy pubs and bond stores.

Threatened with demolition in the 20th Century, The Rocks has not only survived but prospered and is now one of Sydney’s must-do experiences – complete with charming streetscapes, a sparkling harbour, up-scale restaurants and a brace of galleries and shops and you have a winning formula.

History buffs will find three of Australia’s oldest pubs (The Lord Nelson, Fortune of War and The Australian) in this historic precinct.


Good for age: 8+

  • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

A photo of the full beach on a sunny day.

Bucket List Experience

Bondi Beach

One of the world’s most famous beaches and home to Sydney’s beautiful people, this sweeping curve in Sydney’s affluent Eastern Suburbs has evolved from a backpacker destination into a global pleasure palace, brimming with up-market eateries and specialist retail outlets.

Bondi has largely shed its working-class roots and is now home to outdoor gyms, swish cocktail bars and vegan greengrocers. Only the thundering Pacific waves, sunbathers and vigilant lifesavers are unchanged.

Make time in your itinerary for a day at the beach – apart from being rejuvenating and a nice break from sightseeing, it’s a great way to get a taste of the Sydneysider lifestyle.

  • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Sydney’s harbour is considered by many to be the most beautiful in the world, so getting out and exploring on the water – be it by yacht, motorboat, jetboat or even sea kayak – is a must-do.

A range of boating options is available, from short sightseeing pleasure cruises, to days spent moored up (and swimming) off hidden sandy coves, to romantic sleepovers on board.

If you don’t fancy the cost or are not enamoured of boats, at least take the Manly ferry from Circular Quay and back for a similar, if less intimate, harbour experience. For a mere few dollars, it’s outstanding value.

Adult price: £40

Good for age: 13+

Duration: -

  • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

The head of a giraffe in front of the harbour and city skyline.

Bucket List Experience

Taronga Zoo

Australia is blessed with a wealth of unusual and exotic species you won’t find anywhere else – koala, kangaroos, wombats, echidnas, platypus. And Sydney’s beloved Taronga Zoo – built into the side of a harbourside cliff and surrounded by bushland – is the ideal place to see them all.

Combine all that with a scenic ferry ride and terrific views across the harbour and a trip to the zoo

is worthwhile for everyone – even if zoos are not usually your thing.

Adult price: £25

Good for age: 4+

  • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

A grand building with 6 columns and colourful flags in between. People walking in the foreground.

Bucket List Experience

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Open up your creative mind and contemplate the rich collections here of Australian, Aboriginal, Asian and European art.

This venerable cultural institution has just emerged from a major refurbishment, including the addition of a new wing called Sydney Modern – due to open at the end of 2022. The gallery’s existing works, numbering around 30,000, are being divided between the two adjacent buildings, with Sydney Modern focussing on the work of contemporary artists from Australia and around the world.

Good for age: 13+

  • Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Man in helicopter looking out over Sydney Harbour

Bucket List Experience

Helicopter flights over Sydney

There are helicopter rides in most cities, and if you’ve done one, there’s an instinctive tendency to think ‘done them all’. In Sydney’s case, it’s definitely worth another outing. If you’ve never done one, then it’s a must. The views really are that special.

What other city has such a beautiful harbour, and such unique and compelling landmarks as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House?

Flights range from a 20-minute scenic flight over the city and beaches, to longer trips to nearby regional attractions. You can take flight to go hiking in the Blue Mountains wine tasting in the Hunter Valley, or whale-watching in the Kangaroo Valley.

Another option to consider is booking your scenic flight upon arrival as your airport transfer – as well as instantly ticking off one bucket list experience, seeing the city and coastline from above is a great way to get your bearings.

Adult price: £115

Good for age: 10+

Duration: 20 minutes