A trip to Sydney is an essential part of any Australian holiday, and the country's largest city is often labeled as one of the most beautiful in the world due to its idyllic balance of architecture, iconic landmarks, beautiful harbour, botanic gardens and impressive skyline.
A truly vibrant city that is full of a consistent buzz and high degree of energy, Sydney will have something to captivate you regardless of whether you're an Aussie visiting from interstate or an international visitor from overseas. The city is so large and full of things to do that there are a wide range of so-called "must see" locations and sights that, if you miss them, mean you will be missing out on some of the unique features that give Sydney its own distinct personality.
Regardless of whether you're exploring the city centre and its metropolitan areas, the northern and southern surf beaches that have gained their own fame, popular civic venues, landmarks and scenic spots, there is seemingly a "must see" location around every next corner! In order to make things easier on the first-time traveller to New South Wales' capital, we've put together a list of the Top 10 "Must See" locations in Sydney for every traveller to help ensure a great balance of all the highlights of this wonderful city and its surrounds. So, without further ado, here's the list!
The Sydney Opera House
LOCATION: Bennelong Point, Sydney NSW
While we suppose that "Sydney Harbour" in general could be listed here, the Sydney Opera House stands apart from the rest of the harbour's icons. Perhaps Australia's most famous man-made icon worldwide, the Sydney Opera House is a unique feat of architectural design and engineering that helps add tremendously to the character of the already-scenic Sydney Harbour. A structure that was formed out of a rare combination of innovation, creativity and controversy, the Sydney Opera House is a remarkable building that is host to over 1,500 performances that draw audiences of around 1.2 million people each year.
The Opera House can be found on Sydney Harbour's Bennelong Point at the northeastern tip of the Sydney CBD and is surrounded on three sides by the harbour, and is often seen in pictures and postcards along with the nearby Sydney Harbour Bridge, both of which usually combine to provide an overall representation of the Sydney Harbour panorama. A triumph of modern architecture for which its designer, Danish architect Jorn Utzon, won the Pritzker Price (the field of architecture's highest award) in 2003, the Sydney Opera House has been labelled as one of the great iconic buildings of the entire 20th century, and is an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world as a symbol for not only the city of Sydney, but for the entire country and continent of Australia as a whole.
Numerous tours are available which aim to encompass all of the main highlights and features of Sydney Harbour, with some placing specific emphasis on the Opera House itself - no visit to Sydney is complete without taking in the majesty of this famous feat of construction.
LOCATION: Mrs Macquaries Rd, Sydney NSW
The Royal Botanic Gardens are a rarity in that they provide such a cavalcade of natural floral beauty while also being so close to the Sydney CBD and the lovely panorama and landmarks of Sydney Harbour. One of the best ways to simply enjoy nature as the world passes you by all within the midst of one of the the world's busiest cities, at the Botanic Gardens you can absorb amazing views of the harbour while walking through the immaculately-maintained greenery to view the endless array of plants, trees and more all of which are accompanied by signs with detailed information on each species of flora on display.
The trees of the gardens are also often filled with birdlife such as cockatoos, as well as sleeping bats and flying foxes hanging from the branches, adding an extra layer of nature to what is already a spectacular facility and a natural oasis with a size of over 30 hectares in total. Divided up into a series of specialised gardens, each of which emphasise a different area of the world of plant life, from Begonias to Palms, Roses to Ferns, the range of displays on offer at the Royal Botanic Gardens is truly spectacular and changes from season to season so that visiting multiple times throughout the year will often produce a bevy of new natural sights to see.
Depending on your level of enthusiasm for all things floral, it is easily possible to spend anywhere from an hour to half a day here without becoming bored. The gardens can be accessed by train (the closest station of which is Martin Place), ferry (with an easy walk from Circular Quay), and bus (#441.)
LOCATION: 4655 Jenolan Caves Rd, Jenolan NSW
While not technically "in" Sydney, the Jenolan Caves network is another must-do and still one of the major draw cards for those who are visiting the greater Sydney area. Composed of an amazing mixture of 11 spectacular show caves, pure underground rivers, and amazing rock formations. A remarkable cave system that ranks amongst the finest and most ancient in the world, they can be reached within a reasonable 2.5 hour drive from the heart of Sydney and are well worth the trek. A true display of nature at its grandest, Jenolan Caves is an awe-inspiring display that make for a wonderful place to visit with others, with numerous different tour and cave options that showcase each of the individual caves' key features.
Perfect for a family weekend outing or holiday activity, passes are available that provide admission to any show cave tour of your choice including the Chifley, Imperial, Orient, Lucas, Temple of Baal, Imperial-Diamond and River caves that are all abundant in impressive calcite formations of both stalactites and stalagmites - which sometimes approach a beautiful, pearly-white colour - and are wondrous to behold.
The Jenolan Cave network is enormous, with over 40 kilometres worth of multi-level passages that are still undergoing exploration. Several kilometres of the caves have now been made easily accessible to customers and are well-lit, making this one of the most unique and magical geological attractions in all of Australia.
LOCATION: Approx. 90 minutes drive from Sydney CBD, NSW
Another essential natural gift for the greater Sydney region in New South Wales is the Blue Mountains - a range that is comprised of a kaleidoscope of contrasts and colour rich in Aussie bush and wildlife that is always accompanied by a blue-haze horizon. A trip to the Blue Mountains from Sydney will give you a true escape from the negatives of city life and the rush-rush of urban atmospheres while providing a chance to experience a great combination of spectacular scenery, wildlife, plants and the clean freshness of mountain air. A great getaway destination for honeymoons as well as a cool refuge from the heat of Sydney's summers, there is plenty to see and do in the region along with many small towns, each of which offer various attractions.
A long lineup of must-visit locations populate the Blue Mountains - Wentworth Falls are worth a visit, the Three Sisters are a must, the incline railway, cafes, bakery and candy store in Leura are charming, the Everglades are great for nature lovers, and much more. On clear days the scenery is generally amazing due to the distinctive blue haze from which the region gets its name, with many designated sightseeing spots that offer some outstanding views.
Major attractions such as the Three Sisters tend to get quite crowded although there is usually parking available along streets nearby or in its assigned parking area. Simply put, there is more to see at the Blue Mountains than can be covered properly within the span of a single day, although tours exist that follow very efficient schedules to help ensure that no essential highlight is missed!
LOCATION: Bondi, Sydney, NSW
Recently dubbed one of the Top 10 Beaches in Australia almost purely for cultural impact reasons, while it may not be, strictly speaking, the most beautiful beach in Australia, Bondi is without a doubt one of - if not the - most famous in the entire country. Situated close to the affluent eastern suburbs of Sydney, Bondi owes its popularity not only to its location but also to its great sand and clean waters while sitting close to the largest population centre in all of Australia.
Its ease of access by mass transit is another contributing factor, and due to this combination of reasons the beach is often full of both locals and tourists, meaning it can get quite crowded at times - which has the unintended side-effect of being one of the best venues in Sydney for simple "people-watching" as the beautiful bodies on display can make the average person feel quite inadequate!
Bondi has a grassy hill that slopes into it and a series of casual lunch options coupled with a few higher-end restaurants that make getting food a relatively easy (albeit pricey) proposition. One of the biggest issues visitors to Bondi beach may have if travelling by car is parking; due to the popularity and crowded nature of the beach, one intending to park will likely either have to stick their car somewhere ages away from the actual beach itself, or pay exorbitant hourly parking fees for the privilege of being closer to the action, so keep this in mind.
The beach is also famous for the diligence of its lifeguards - so much so that it has become the subject of popular television shows - who are both vigilant and commanding, ensuring the safety of tourists who have little idea how strong the beach's rips and currents can be. In summary, Bondi is a destination with beautiful people on a solid beach with everything necessary for a decent day out located only 15 minutes from the CBD.
LOCATION: Bondi, Sydney, NSW
One of the most well-maintained and well-preserved examples of colonial-style architecture in Australia, Sydney's Government House has been home to 27 governors since its construction in 1846 and is one of the city's true "hidden gems" with an interior that has a hint of gothic influence in its interior. Located close to the entrance of the nearby Botanic Gardens, the house itself is surrounded by a series of superb gardens that are a riot of colour when visited within certain seasons. A destination where many high-profile international visitors are accommodated and high-powered government meetings take place, Government House is appropriately decorated with beautiful paintings and exquisitely crafted furniture that make viewing the interior a spectacle in and of itself.
Guided tours are available to view the inside of the house however the numbers are limited and they often soon fill up, making waiting times sometimes long and uncomfortable in the hot Sydney weather. The house has also been a focus for public events and community celebrations for over 160 years and plays host to concerts, exhibitions, festivals, study days, lectures, symposia, and other performances throughout the year.
The ease of access both to and from the city along with the sheer peace, quiet and solitude that the area provides makes it a great and easy getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city centre and a refreshing location to spend a few hours to relax and recharge while soaking in some history.
LOCATION: 1-5 Wheat Road, Sydney NSW
One of the staple wildlife adventures in Sydney, Sydney Aquarium is a great aquatic attraction that features five separate habitat exhibitions of Aussie ocean, estuarine and river creatures and also serves as one of the best things to do with your kids in Sydney to boot.
An underwater adventure in which you'll be able to walk and explore the rich and diverse aquatic life and habitats of Australia's ocean-dwelling animals, Sydney Aquarium is situated in a convenient location near Sydney Harbour's Circular Quay making accessing it a breeze due to all the available transport options. Home to thousands of tropical, cold, fresh and salt water fishes, mammals and dozens of others of amazing species on display, expert commentary is also provided along the way via a range of free show-and-tell sessions as you see the animals being fed and much more.
Such animal highlights as giant stingrays, a variety of sharks, giant sea turtles and much more await to be encountered, with the often-praised highlight being the walk-through exhibit that will leave you surrounded by marine life on all sides. The seal show is also a big hit! Due to its high level of popularity, Sydney Aquarium can often get quite crowded; this problem can be alleviated however by buying your tickets online with Experience Oz which will allow you to skip the queue!
LOCATION: 455 George St, Sydney NSW
For an extremely high-end, elegant and gracious shopping experience, you'd be hard pressed to find a place in Sydney that beats the iconic Queen Victoria Building. While the huge range of variety in shopping options is of obvious appeal, the building itself is an architectural marvel that adds a touch of class to the proceedings with many fine details in its craftsmanship that the discerning eye can appreciate.
Intricate tiling, facades, metalwork, stained-glass windows and its amazing grand staircase are just some of the things that make even simple window-shopping at the Queen Victoria Building a satisfying experience. One of the "proud old ladies" of Sydney architecture, it provides a venue where the old world ornate style of shopping can still be experienced in the hub of a modernised metropolis, with the stores on each level as you ascend increasing in both price and quality (i.e: if you're looking for bargains, the basement is the level you want to be on!), with the highest level having some truly impressive and lavish stores selling suits, jewellery, brand accessories and many other expensive, high-end products that most of us can only marvel at.
Regardless of if you enjoy shopping or not, a visit to the Queen Victoria Building is a highly worthwhile time investment while in Sydney - even the restrooms are impressive!
LOCATION: 100 Market St, Sydney NSW
Formerly known as "Centrepoint Tower", Sydney Tower Eye is a great place to use as a starting point from which to get your bearings when visiting Sydney for the first time. Offering magical 360 degree views of the city, it will give you not only some panoramic scenery to look at by also an idea as to what and where everything is situated which can help greatly for planning out your transport options for the rest of your trip.
Binoculars are available at the top of the tower free of charge, allowing you to zoom in on points of interest when gazing upon them from afar, and as with any viewing tower, be sure to take your camera for some unforgettable snapshots of the view that stretches out to the harbour, the Blue Mountains and beyond. Admission to Sydney Tower Eye also comes with a bonus "4-D" show included in the price that provides a simulation of an amazing flight through Sydney, showcasing the sights and sounds of the city while including in-theatre effects including bubbles, wind and fire which add an extra dimension to the experience.
LOCATION: 2 Murray St, Sydney NSW
Don't be put off by the fact that this facility focuses on purely water travel if you have no interest in the field; the Australian National Maritime Museum has so many sensational displays being exhibited in such an impressive manner that people of all persuasions are likely to find it a highly worthwhile investment of time while in Sydney. Resting on the interior of Sydney Harbour, it provides the ideal destination to combine with your visits to the many other sightseeing highlights in the area for a full, solid day's worth of interesting features all within walking distance of one another.
As can be assumed from its name, the museum details the history of the nautical stories of Australia as a whole and Sydney specifically ranging back from the arrival of the first settlers through to the various military actions that the Australian navy has been engaged in throughout the course of their existence. Staffed by many enthusiastic, informative and friendly volunteers, the museum is brimming with atmosphere that truly embraces all things maritime, and depending on your affinity for ships and all-things-seaworthy, you could easily spend an entire day here.
Populated with exhibits such as full-sized and to scale ships, an authentic submarine, and various other relics of shipping and maritime history, there is a nearly-endless array of things to look at, learn, and absorb, and - perhaps best of all - entry to the Australian National Maritime Museum is FREE, which can be nothing less than a good thing!