Enjoy Sydney from the water. Image courtesy of Destination NSW
Sydney Harbour cruises: Five harbour-side sights you have to see
A day out on Sydney Harbour is a must for every visitor to the city.
Life in Sydney revolves, literally, around its world famous waterway and there’s plenty to see on and beside the harbour. Here are five key sights that are covered on most Sydney Harbour cruises, and some ideas for exploring them more thoroughly once you’re back on dry land!
Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House is internationally acclaimed, beloved by locals, and like no other building in the world. You must see it from the water, where it almost appears to float on the harbour’s gentle swell. There are plenty of ways to enjoy ‘the House’. You can take in a concert, dine at one of the many food venues, or just walk around those iconic sails. A guided tour will reveal the secrets of Jørn Utzon’s revolutionary design. You can also tour backstage to see how performance magic is made. When the sun goes down, soak up the atmosphere at the Opera Bar, or just settle into one of the many public seats around the perimeter of the building and savour the view of this majestic architectural masterpiece.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Equally stunning in its own way is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, now 85 years young and still the focal point of almost all harbour experiences. The instantly recognisable arch connecting the northern and southern shores is a joy to behold from all angles, and is much more graceful than its nickname — ‘the Coathanger’ — would suggest. Climb the stairs to the Pylon Lookout on the south side (accessed from Cumberland Street) for excellent city views and a detailed exhibition about the Bridge’s social, political and construction history. The mighty steel bridge also looks great from below, especially when illuminated at night.
Right in the middle of Sydney Harbour sits a tiny island, containing little except a round stone tower and a palm tree. That island is Fort Denison, and it’s one of the harbour’s most recognisable landmarks. You’ll see it on all Sydney Harbour cruises, and you can visit the island by water taxi or ferry from Circular Quay Wharf 6. Pack a picnic, because there are currently no food and beverage services on the island. Enjoy its 360-degree outlook on the harbour, or take one of several guided tour options that explain its convict and military history. The Martello tower is the only one in Australia and the most complete remaining example in the world of this style of defensive fort. By tradition, a cannon at Fort Denison fires each day at 1pm (originally to help sailors set their chronometers), so be ready to cover your ears if you happen to be there at lunchtime!
Fort Denison. Image: Bigstock
The compact heritage precinct along the harbour’s edge at Milsons Point harks back to the 1930s. In that key decade, Sydney saw the opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1932, kitsch Luna Park in 1935, and the Art Deco-styled North Sydney Olympic Pool in 1936. The area is easily accessed by ferry from Circular Quay or by walking across the bridge, and includes a fabulous palm-fringed waterside walkway and a wide range of casual and upmarket dining options. The views — whether from water level or from the top of the Luna Park ferris wheel — are fabulous.
Hornby Lighthouse, South Head. Image: Bigstock
On the south side of the harbour, truly spectacular natural beauty awaits at Watsons Bay and out towards the harbour heads — which overlook the entrance to Sydney Harbour from the open ocean. You are likely to see both North and South Head from the water on your harbour cruise, but to get a closer look, take the ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay and walk up the hill through Sydney Harbour National Park to South Head. The scenery isn’t just pretty here — it’s awe-inspiring. Feast your eyes, then feast your tastebuds with a meal at historic Dunbar House or the casually fabulous Watsons Bay Hotel.
About the writer
Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Luxury Travel, Get Up & Go, The Sunday Telegraph (Escape) and The Australian (Travel & Indulgence). In her former career as an English Literature academic, she studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed her to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.
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Additional images: Bigstock