Sydney is a city set on the edge of one of the worlds most beautiful harbours. It’s sun kissed beaches and cliff top walks are a draw for travellers from all over the world. But there’s more than the tourist spots to see. So here is my guide to the best things to do in Sydney if you don’t want to be a tourist.
Although a lot of the tourist traps are must do’s, if you want to see the real Sydney check out the places Sydneysiders hang out below. If you stick around to the bottom and I’ll give you some tips on the touristy spots that are actually worth checking out.
Head to the suburbs
Sydney CBD is spectacular. No doubt about it. You won’t find many city views that compete with the Opera House and Harbor Bridge. But you won’t find that too many locals head to the city for their weekends. Once you’ve seen it there are a lot of beautiful suburbs that make the list of best things to do in Sydney.
The inner west suburb of Balmain is a stones throw from the CBD and a great place to grab coffee and lunch. Set on the edge of the harbour it is an eclectic area where people from all different backgrounds hang out. The streets are generally bustling with a young stylish crowd in the weekends getting brunch to cure a hangover or families having coffee with their dogs.
Darling Street which runs down the heart of Balmain is littered with cafes, bars and book shops. You’ll also find markets there every Saturday weather permitting.
Just a short stroll down from Darling Street you’ll find Mort Bay Park and Ballast Point Park. Both take in beautiful views of the harbour and the CBD. They are local favourites for weekend dog walking and relaxing picnics.
How to get there
The best way to get to Balmain from the CBD is by ferry from Barangaroo (the new ferry stop in Darling Harbour). It’s a short and cheap trip and you can check out your options here.
Concord and Five Dock
If you like Italian food and culture these suburbs make the list of best things to do in Sydney for great food. Sydney has a lot of Italians, I mean a lot. Concord and Five Dock are two suburbs where a lot of the local Italians call home and if there is anything that they take seriously it’s food. Concord and Five Dock and great places to enjoy an evening after exploring other parts of the city (I wouldn’t say spend a day here, just stop by for dinner). Both suburbs are home to fantastic eat streets but if you are after something that you’ll tell your friends about I recommend the following:
We headed to Fratelli’s shortly after returning from a trip to Rome and Venice. While in Italy we fell in love with the food and thought we’d try out this place in the hope of finding something authentic. We were not disappointed. The owner Roberto and his brother have turned this restaurant into a little slice of Italy complete with the authentic Italian taste, wine pairings and decor that gives you that same yearning to stay that Rome does.
Like your desserts? This corner gelateria will serve you quite possibly the best gelato outside of Sicily. I even have a review from a Sicilian to prove it. The small family owned business carries quite the reputation with it. Stop by for a quite dessert on the way back to the city.
How to get there
Like any place that has good food and isn’t full of tourists these suburbs are a bit difficult to get to with public transport. The 439 and L39 bus’s service the areas from the CBD but if you’re heading for dinner I would recommend that you Uber. The areas make great places to stop by in the evening and are very family friendly making them great things to do in Sydney with kids.
Check out the inner city parks
If you’re looking for free things to do in Sydney then look no further than the inner city parks. Sydney has some beautiful parks that take in the view of the harbour and sit within walking distance of the CBD.
The Barangaroo park is a newly created park that juts out into the harbour between Darling Harbour and Circular Quay. The park, complete with observatory, is a great place to escape the rat race of the city. Over the weekend you’ll find coffee and ice cream carts doing the rounds and local’s walking their dogs or enjoying the sunshine. The park backs on to the future site of a new casino and there has been a lot of investment to make this area world class.
If you are looking for romantic things to do in Sydney you can take a stroll from Darling Harbour, around Barangaroo, under the Harbour Bridge ending in Circular Quay. You’ll find hidden cafe’s along the way to stop for tapas and coffee or a bottle of wine.
How to get there
Walking from Darling Harbour you will need to walk along the waterfront on the aquarium side of the harbour following the waterfront out of Darling Harbour. At the time of writing there is a short bypass around the construction site for the future casino but follow the signs and head for the lush green.
Royal Botanic Gardens
This is one of those things that should be on the touristy list. But it’s not. Honestly the Royal Botanic Gardens are a cool place to hang out.
The Gardens themselves are massive taking up a large chuck of the east side of the CBD. You can spend a long time just walking around and enjoying the amazing view of the city and the cafes in the Gardens. The Gardens also take in the Domain and before you head to Sydney you should check out what’s on in the Domain. Year round they have some really fantastic events, my favourite being Opera in the Park which the Sydney Opera House puts on every year. Most of these events are free so the Gardens make the list for being one of the best free things to do in Sydney.
How to get there
You’ll find easy access right next to the Sydney Opera House.
If you search for anything about bars in Australia you’ll soon see that Sydney lags behind Melbourne in reputation for nightlife. I lived in Melbourne for a couple of years and I can definitely say that the bar scene there lives up to the stories. Sydney has ground to a boring halt in recent years in terms of nightlife due to government restrictions on times you can enter bars after a number of incidents with violence. When I first arrived I was surprised at how dull the city was in the evening. But recently I’ve spent a long time with friends digging into some of the hidden spots in the city and if you know where to go I can tell you that Sydney’s nightlife is actually pretty damn good. Here are some of the best things to do in Sydney at night.
It took me three tries to find this bar. Tucked away in a back alleyway at 152-156 Clarence St in the CBD it’s very easy to miss. The alleyway is easy to find but as you walk down you’ll see the entrance to two bars. Both are speakeasy style bars that look like great places to grab a drink and don’t really have signage. One of these was generally where I ended up. But as the Baxter Inn is famous for their whiskey selection the lack of a whiskey selection was a bit suspicious.
Here’s the catch, when you get to this alleyway you’ll see the entrance to two bars and a basement entrance that is just concrete cinder blocks and a fire door. Turns out this is the entrance to the Baxter Inn.
Once you find the place the 1920’s style speakeasy has one of the best whiskey selections you’ll find anywhere. Prices range from $14 to $750 for a whiskey with ice. You’ll be able to select from smokey Highland whiskeys through to clear Japanese whiskeys. Remember your wallet.
If you want to check out some live jazz in Sydney The Basement bar is one of the best things to do in Sydney. Hosting regular local and international artists it’s one of the best live music bars in the city. When we stopped by a local jazz pianist was playing an intimate solo set with a grand piano.
Depending on the evening you may need tickets and if you don’t want to miss out on a chair book to have dinner. They have a set of dinner tables in the middle that will give you a great view of the musicians and some great food.
Uncle Mings was introduced to my by a friend and it has been a favourite for everyone else that I’ve introduced it to since. The bar is themed in a 1960’s Chinese style with old glamour pictures of Chinese women lining the walls and red lighting making you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
The entrance is through a beaded curtain in the basement level of the street next to a suit tailors. They continue the authentic feel with dumplings and cocktails served in old style tea pots. Check out the jukebox and a trip to the bathroom to hear the surprise that is waiting for you over the speaker system is a must.
Uncle Mings gets pretty busy during weekend evenings so get there early or late to get a seat in the middle of the local crowd.
Notable touristy things that are actually worth while
Although there are a lot of tourist traps in Sydney just like any other big city in the world there are a few gems that after actually checking them out are worth your hard earned cash. Here is a quick list of the best touristy things to do in Sydney.
Taronga Zoo always looked a bit like spam to me. It would pop up every time I searched for something about Sydney. But I’ve been there several times now. Not only are the Kangaroo’s and Koala’s extremely cute (personally I’m a Wombat guy) but you can see the zoo truly cares about their animals. The Seal show is a must see and stop by the Giraffes to see why they have what is probably the best view of any house in Sydney.
Sydney Opera House
Probably the most expensive thing you’ll do while travelling in Sydney but if you’re here for a one time only trip go to the opera. I’ll repeat that, go to the opera. Even if you’re not a fan of the opera the spectacle of the Sydney Opera House will change your mind. There is only so much of the unique architecture of the building that you can take in from outside. In fact, from the outside the Opera House tends to be one of those I’ve seen it, I took some photos lets go somewhere else spots. But watch an opera there and you’ll never forget it.
The Opera House puts on regular events, at the time of writing Carmen was playing.
Walk the Harbor Bridge
I’m not talking the expensive walk over the arch of the bridge (although I won’t say no). I’m talking about the pedestrian walk across the bridge from The Rocks to Milsons Point/Kirribilli. I had lived in Sydney for a year before doing this as I’m stubborn and stay away from touristy spots. But after being coerced I have to admit that the walk is one of the best ways to kill and afternoon in Sydney. It also just happens to be one of the best free things to do in Sydney.
There are a hundred amazing local spots in Sydney. I’ll keep post about this and other cities that Verramente offers tours in. If you’re looking for tours in Sydney check out Where To. If you’d like to be a local guide in your city let us know today.