Playing tourist in your own city is a lot of fun – especially with cities like Sydney. So if you’re a local or if you’re just visiting, here are our tips on exploring Sydney and getting the most out of the Harbour City.
Getting to see your hometown from a tourist’s perspective is fascinating. And from the opposite point of view as a visitor, doing the stuff that locals enjoy gives that extra dimension to your trip.
This summer – instead of going away – we stayed in Sydney when our friends from overseas came to visit. It was a great excuse for us to explore Sydney differently.
We got to do lots of touristy things that we don’t normally do here in Sydney, but that are great to do nonetheless. I’d forgotten how much fun it is pretending to be a tourist in your own city.
Locals tend to avoid tourist spots, but sometimes the touristy things are popular for a reason. We can all often miss out on some of the best parts of our own cities.
So here some fun things we did with our friends visiting Sydney that we as locals love to do too.
5 tourist things to do in Sydney that locals love
1. Bondi to Coogee coastal walk
The coastal walk is this beautiful meandering path that leads along the eastern edge of Sydney. It connects all the main city beaches, Bondi, Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly and Coogee, and we love to stop at the little secret spot of Gordon’s Bay too.
Any time of day (and year) this path is fairly busy. But you’ll still find moments of peace, and it’s such a beautiful of walk. Start at any of the beaches above and walk north or south as you like. You can stop in for a swim along the way or stop for a snack and coffee at most beaches too.
Local tips for the coastal walk:
- In Bronte, there’s a great line of cafes next to the park and I highly recommend the Bogey Hole if there’s a table free.
- Watch out for runners going up and down the path. They get cranky with people getting in the way – if you stick to the left, they’ll go past you without bothering you. Much.
- The walk is at its busiest during Sculpture by the Sea every October and November – but if you go during the week, it’s not as bad.
2. Visiting the Zoo
Taronga Zoo is situated on some of the most prime real estate in Sydney. It’s on the northern side of the harbour with sweeping views out over the water to the city. There’s a classic photo you must take of all the giraffes with the city skyline behind them.
Make sure you catch the ferry over from the city and get the cable car up to the top. Then work your way back down – the path to the harbour is specially designed to lead you past as many of the enclosures as possible without making you walk back uphill too much!
Local tips for the zoo:
- Make sure you’re there for the bird show in the afternoon – it’s amazing.
- Eat before you go or try and sneak in a picnic lunch. The food here – like in most zoos – is expensive and terrible.
- Try Taronga Zoo over night with their special Roar and Snore programme. It’s fully catered and accommodated, and you get a completely different view of the zoo.
3. Catch a ferry
Although ferries are like buses for Sydney commuters (though you don’t see them complaining much!), they’re so much fun for tourists. It never gets old taking a ferry under the Harbour Bridge, and you can come and explore Balmain really easily from the ferry too.
Watsons Bay is also one of our favourite ferry destinations – the pub there is great and the view out over the ocean and the harbour entrance is superb.
Local tips for Sydney ferries:
- Don’t stand in the yellow section near the exit on the ferry when it’s about to dock. The staff will ask you to move.
- When the ferry arrives at your wharf, wait until the people leaving are off before you try and get on – locals get cranky if you’re in the way of their exit!
- Check out our other tips for how to explore Sydney Harbour here!
4. Explore Manly
Exploring Manly is fun because you get to catch another ferry – one of the two big ones that make the journey – and you get to see a lot more of the harbour too.
It almost feels like you are on another holiday once you’re over in Manly – it has a real vacation feel that’s different to the rest of the city. The row of Norfolk pines cast beautiful shadows over the beach in the afternoon, and there are some fantastic spots to sit and enjoy a long lunch like Manly Wine or the Boat House at Shelly Beach.
You get bonus tourist points for doing something different like hiring kayaks or stand-up paddle boards to explore the city beaches around from Manly!
Local tips for Manly:
- You can also hire bikes and cycle up to the North Head – the entrance to Sydney Harbour – and even explore Q Station.
- There are a couple of cool bars to visit on Manly’s waterfront. One of our favourites is Hemingway’s.
- For something uniquely Manly, visit Four Pines Brewery. This is one of Sydney’s first modern microbreweries.
5. Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge
There are a few ways to explore the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Walking across at street level is free of course, and is a popular walk for locals. You can go up in one of the pylons – to the Sydney Pylon Museum and Lookout – for a small fee, which gives you some pretty good views.
You can also book in and do the Bridge Climb proper, where you climb right on to the top of the bridge. Most locals rarely do the bridge climb up the top, but I think more of them should. We did it and it was amazing. You get the most incredible views of the city, and you learn some great history about the bridge and the city too.
Local tips for exploring the Sydney Harbour Bridge:
- If you want to book the Sydney Bridge Climb, book the last regular daytime slot. It’s a little bit cheaper than the actual sunset climb, but you still see the start of the beautiful colour change in the sky at the end of the day.
- If you’re walking across the bridge at street level, make sure you’re not on the bike lane side. Plus keep an eye out for the Bridge Climb people popping out of the middle of the bridge almost in the middle of the road!
- If you’re short of time, walk north across the bridge then catch the train or ferry from Milsons Point back to the city.
Having friends come and visit is a great excuse to explore in your hometown. And it makes it feel like you’re on a bit of a holiday too. It’s sometimes hard to realise how great something is that you see or do every day and you have perhaps forgotten about it. Spending time with visitors gives you a fresh set of eyes to see it through.
Do you ever take time off and play tourist in your own city? Tell us about it in the comments!