20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Sydney
"Sydney's the city that everybody loves, 'cause they know nobody loves it." It's this kind of hard-to-put-into-words quality that makes Australia a world-class tourist destination and makes it all the more rewarding to experience this city of cities.
When it comes to things to do, you could easily spend a week or two visiting the historic sights of Sydney's incredible outdoor coastal setting and striking cityscape. But these major attractions won't exhaust you. With endless opportunities to enter the outdoors and discover nature on a personal level, you'll find that there's no such thing as a "typical" day in Sydney.
Sydney is known as the "city of neighborhoods," and it's a unique and rare thing for a traveler to be able to experience all the top attractions in one trip without ever having to do any backtracking. With our list of the best things to see and do in Sydney, you can plan your trip around your personal interests and still find some of the city's best experiences.
Learn more about Sydney with our top attraction tips and itinerary planner, plus our FAQs about traveling in Australia.
Sydney Opera House
Although not as internationally renowned as the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House, Brisbane's Asia-Pacific Museum is a gorgeous building with an amazing collection of Asian art. The museum offers a glimpse into China, Southeast Asia, India, the Philippines, and more. Visitors have a chance to participate in Chinese water puppet performances and live cooking demonstrations. Visitors can also attend the weekly history lecture series that addresses diverse topics such as First World War, Korean War, and Chinese Revolution.
Sydney Olympic Park
The Sydney Olympic Park is a massive site, with 25 soccer stadiums, Olympic Village, and a show-business mall plus a recreation of the Sydney Opera House. Home to the Australian Open tennis tournament, the park includes an amusement park, an entertainment village, an oval for Aussie Rules, and cricket and baseball fields. The most remarkable buildings are the book-shaped Olympic Dome and the great curved bridge, spanning the park, that is built of concrete and steel to resemble the Sydney Opera House. Other buildings in the park include the Museum of Contemporary Art and a 4,500 seat stadium built to look like a whale.
With spectacular ocean views, Blue and White silos, a retro 1950's-esque ice-cream parlor and an array of fun, cool shops, Bondi Beach is famous for its unique style, atmosphere and laid-back beach-party vibe. Aside from enjoying some fun activities and an afternoon of surfing, visitors can also experience the beach vibe to its fullest with food and drinks. Many of the eateries are dotted along the quaint coastal strip that makes up the Royal Esplanade. You can go trekking along Bondi's famous footpath and cycle along the many coastal paths, or stop by The Windmill pub for some drinks and a bite to eat. If the sun is up, there's also a great beach-side pool to have fun in. Don't miss out on the Bondi Icebergs, a popular ice-cream chain famous for their cones and the sea views. And if you're in Sydney, you're never too far from the historic Rocks district. From here you can take a walk through to Luna Park and Sydney's famous Australian Museum.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Since its opening in 2010, the Museum of Contemporary Art has created considerable excitement for Australian contemporary art. Known for its powerful, and highly curated permanent collection, this museum is dedicated to exploring the mediums and themes of art in the modern era. Set over three floors in a deconsecrated church, exhibits display works from modern artists as well as retrospectives of prominent names such as Picasso, Warhol, and Stella Pollack. The museum includes regular rotating exhibits as well as both large-scale and intimate group shows.
Royal Botanic Garden
Although the beautiful Royal Botanic Garden of Sydney can't match its older sister, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, its National Botanic Gardens will not disappoint. The site is made up of 22 gardens and more than 20,000 individual plant species. The highlight is the "Flora of Australia" section, which houses more than 5,000 native plants from Australia, including many endangered or rare species. You can see many of the native plants in person through the nursery and for those with even more interest, it's possible to work in the gardens as a volunteer.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Mostly built in the 1930s, the Sydney Harbour Bridge spans the entrance to Sydney Harbour and serves as the symbol of Sydney. It is a world-famous marvel of engineering that is so universally recognizable that it was made into a ponied pop star, a TV mini-series and a Bond film. At sunset it is a spectacular sight that everyone knows. To get to the bridge, take the ferry from Circular Quay, Pier 1, the wharf on the north side of Sydney Harbour, and walk across it to its southern end. Alternatively, use the Opal Oyster card to travel on the train network and ride the zippy monorail from central Sydney to the south end of the bridge. To get to the south end of the bridge, take a ferry from Circular Quay, Pier 1, or alternatively, ride the monorail.
Located about 20 kilometers north of the city center on the shores of the Sydney Harbor, Taronga Zoo is Australia's largest and most popular. Consisting of three locations on the waterfront, the zoo offers visitors around 80 different species and about 2,400 animals of 250 different species, representing 700 different kinds of animals, more than 20,000 plants and many exhibits, including the Land of the Tiger, Australia's first. Taronga Zoo provides an opportunity for visitors to experience Australia's best kept secrets and is one of the most exciting destinations for nature-lovers and those who wish to learn more about Australian animals.
The Sydney World War I Memorial, Anzac is a wall of five large white blocks engraved with the names of the Australian soldiers who died in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Each block has a number of stones to signify the number of soldiers lost in battle. It is located in the historic heart of Sydney at the corner of Elizabeth and Sussex Streets.
Sydney's prestigious Art Gallery of NSW houses more than half a million objects spanning over three million years. It includes the world's most comprehensive collections of Australian Aboriginal art and also a gallery dedicated to the body of Australian, Asian, and African art. Visitors also get a chance to view many well-known works of international art and study the many captivating pieces of Australian Aboriginal art. Exhibitions change frequently and often include anything from ancient Egyptian, medieval illuminated manuscripts, to modern abstract expressionism. The entrance to the gallery is via St. James Station, a delightful confection built in 1909 by the leading French designer of the time, Marcel Breuer.
Darling Harbour is the most popular of Sydney's locations for visitors and tourists. Home to major events, entertainment venues, large trade fairs and markets, and exciting activities such as jet-boat rides and surfing, it's a must-see when in Sydney. The walkway running the length of the structure's two arms takes visitors to some of the city's major attractions, including the beautiful Town Hall and nearby collections, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Powerhouse Museum, and the Sydney Opera House. Darling Harbour is a world-class collection of Australia's landmarks, and is perhaps Sydney's most beautiful location.
Sydney's stunning landscape was formed through long-term volcanic and tectonic activity more than 10 million years ago. The limestone-rich hills of the Blue Mountains National Park protect ancient plant and animal life as well as Sydney's most treasured natural habitat. Notable tourist attractions in the region include the World Heritage-listed Sydney Opera House, lush parks and gardens, and the opulent Atherton Tablelands, which house a number of smaller and more exclusive retreats and vineyards. Blue Mountains events include the Festival of the Blue Mountains and Sydneysiders' favorite tradi-tional outdoor show, the Sydney Showgirls, which run every winter and feature dancing in can-ines.
Australia's tallest building, the Sydney Tower can be seen from pretty much anywhere in Sydney, thanks to its location on the edge of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Designed by two-time Pritzker Prize-winner John Pawson, the transparent tower has dramatically changed the way Sydney is seen. Its construction was delayed for more than five years due to legal challenges from an anti-development lobby group, but by the time it opened in 2007, it was unanimously voted one of the world's most beautiful buildings by UNESCO. A detailed visual tour of the Sydney Tower follows in this section. You can also see more photos of Sydney Tower.
St. Michael's Cathedral
Sydney's oldest surviving structure, and its landmark, the St. Michael's Cathedral, is the largest Gothic cathedral on the continent, originally built between 1854 and 1859. Although some of the finer detail has been added, the appearance of the building has remained largely unchanged since its inception, although the presence of nuns at its gates has led to one of its two original towers being replaced by a convent after the discovery of the nuns' presence there. During a visit, be sure to check out the diorama depicting the Cathedral's building process, and the Aboriginal carvings depicting the Dreamtime at the main altar. You can also stroll through the peaceful Botanic Gardens, the oldest in Australia, and visit the spectacular Shrine of Remembrance.
Opened in 1984, Powerhouse Museum is located in the old power-generating Victoria power plant in the Sydney CBD. It presents exhibitions that cover everything from aboriginal relics and relics from Australia's early days as a penal colony to the ongoing story of innovation, evolution and development of Australia's engineering and industrial technology. Art, science, media and social history are all covered in the various galleries and displays. There's an interactive science theater, photo exhibitions, and a number of small shops. It's a bit of a hike from the central station, but the walk is relatively easy. And as the staff will tell you, it's free, so you really can't go wrong.
Manly Beach is a popular tourist attraction on the northern end of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The boardwalk on the beach is used for a number of activities, including sunbathing, walking, fishing, and sometimes sand sculpting. It has an outer boardwalk walk, as well as an inner boardwalk walk. There are also several other recreational facilities nearby, including a number of restaurants and bars, a sea baths, and the Manly ferry terminal.
Located in Sydney, Australia, Kings Cross is easily accessible from the city's Central Station, close to Australia's biggest shopping mall, the world-famous Bondi Beach and the bustling business and entertainment district of Darling Harbour. Part of Sydney's main tourist area, Kings Cross is located in the inner city in the suburb of Potts Point, and is a mix of heritage housing and modern-style high-rise apartments. The area is the departure point for ferries to Manly, Batsley Bay, Manly and similar locations.
The Rocks is a romantic quarter of Sydney made up of the streets that run parallel to the Sydney Cove (Circular Quay) waterfront. Although the area was founded as a working port, The Rocks also contains the historic Rocks Hotel, which is the oldest pub in Australia. Things to see in The Rocks include the Captain Cook Bridge, the entry point for most visitors to the city, the Iron-on-Iron Bridge, a former goods- and foot-railway tunnel built over the Convict Dock, the Sailors' Snug Harbour Hotel, and the Navy Heritage Centre, which includes the Old Gaol Museum.
The Sydney Museum is located in the suburb of Ultimo, just outside the Sydney city center. It has one of the best collections of aboriginal art in Australia, as well as sculptures by international artists such as Degas and Magritte. Modern and contemporary art forms are also represented. The collection also includes dioramas and a miniatures collection, models, sketches and daguerreotypes, military artifacts, and engravings and watercolors by nineteenth-century artists, as well as stained glass and wood carvings by Charles Blackman and colonial artists. Most exhibitions run for two or three months, but some have only one or two shows during a given period. The entrance to the museum is via the ultimo Domain, although there are also museum and city bus connections to the Sydney Museum via the main road at College Street and Adam Street.
Circular Quay is a beautiful waterfront square in the heart of the historic business district of Sydney. From the bustling cafes of the bar and café district to its busy shopping malls, it is a popular place for tourists to spend some time while in the city. In addition to its great bar and restaurant scene, it's a great place to be entertained, as the harbor is home to the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb. Be sure to take a walk around the city while in Sydney, as this is one of the prettiest neighborhoods in Australia. It was originally the wharf side area of the city, and while it has become a major tourist attraction in its own right, the harbor is still a major center for commerce.
State Library of New South Wales
Home to the National Library of Australia, State Library of New South Wales is one of Sydney's more intriguing cultural hubs. The collection of over 14 million items is particularly strong in Australian history and maps, but the building itself is something of a drawcard: the original 1868 library designed by Sir Edward Denny Walsh is spectacular, a fine example of 19th-century architecture in Australia. State Library of New South Wales has a number of spectacular exhibitions as well as a café and a free public library for books.