Some of New South Wales’ most beautiful natural landscapes and historic regional centres are tantalisingly close to Sydney.
If you have a day or two to spare during your stay in the Harbour City, here are five of the best Sydney day trips and tours that you should definitely consider doing.
1. Hit the Northern Beaches
You’ve caught the bus to Bondi and the ferry to Manly. Now you’re ready to venture further afield and discover the delights of ‘the peninsula’ — 30 kilometres of end-to-end beaches, each seemingly more glorious than the last. If time permits, you can visit all the Northern Beaches over a series of weekends, and you’ll soon discover that each has a distinct character. If you only have one day though, make an early start and head to the enigmatically named Dee Why for a morning swim. There’s plenty of parking for drivers, or you can take the 136 bus from either Manly wharf or Chatswood station.
Dee Why has undergone a foodie renaissance in recent years, so it’s the perfect place to enjoy breakfast or morning coffee with superb ocean views. Head to SeaChange Cafe on The Strand for a huge range of on-trend brunch options. Afterwards, walk off the calories by taking a northward route on foot, past the lagoon and up to the Long Reef headland, where you’ll be rewarded with superb views. The walk is almost 4km each way, so why not break it up with a lunch stop at the White Rock Café at Long Reef Golf Club?
Alternatively, leave Dee Why after breakfast and drive (40 minutes) or take the L90 bus (1 hour 15 minutes) to Palm Beach. Marvel at the magnificent homes, see locations used in TV’s Home and Away, walk up to historic Barrenjoey Lighthouse or catch the Patonga ferry from Palm Beach Wharf to the southernmost point of the New South Wales Central Coast.
2. Take in the beautiful Blue Mountains
A rich history, stunning scenery and great bushwalks combine to make the Blue Mountains one of the best Sydney day trips. Start with a visit to the quaint village of Leura for upmarket shopping, such as Josophan’s Fine Chocolates. The town also hosts a spectacular spring garden festival.
Echo Point Lookout at Katoomba provides the classic view of the Blue Mountains’ most famous landmark — the rock formation known as The Three Sisters. The iconic Hydro Majestic hotel at Medlow Bath, with its Art Deco interiors and old-world ambience, is a great place to indulge in high tea with spectacular valley views.
In fact, there’s a Blue Mountains tradition of fine dining and wine tasting in settings that double as scenic vantage points. While savouring Sean Moran’s produce-driven seasonal menu at Tomah Gardens Restaurant you can enjoy the spirit-lifting outlook over Wollemi National Park. Alternatively, sit down to cheese and wine at Dryridge Estate with extraordinary views of Megalong Valley’s sandstone escarpments.
Blackheath is the Mountains’ fresh produce hub, with a fantastic fortnightly growers’ market and the chance to enjoy all things apple-based at the atmospheric Logan Brae Orchards. History buffs will love Mt Victoria, the highest point in the Blue Mountains and a true village. Admire the historic railway station, settle into a matinee session at vintage cinema Mount Vic Flicks or relive the story of the original explorers’ mountain crossing at nearby Mt York lookout.
For the more energetic, there’s a huge variety of bushwalks through the Blue Mountains’ almost 1 million hectares of national park. Remember to respect the weather and the challenges presented by some of the area’s extraordinary topography.
3. Enjoy top drops in the Hunter Valley
Australia’s oldest wine region is a great option for a day out, just two hours’ drive from Sydney. Award-winning wines, a thriving food culture, lovely countryside and spectacular gardens and estates are some of the many reasons to visit the Hunter Valley. There are around 150 cellar doors to choose from so use the Wine Country directory to plan your day, or book one of the many tours that will get you around the top vineyards.
Providores are starting to give winemakers a run for their money in attracting visitors to the region. The Smelly Cheese Shop has two outlets — at the Roche Estate Complex and the Smelly Deli in Pokolbin. The Lovedale Smokehouse is a mecca for all things charcuterie as well as jams, olives, and preserved fruits and vegetables. On Saturdays you can hone your Asian cookery skills at the onsite Majors Lane Cooking School.
Hunter Valley Gardens are the largest display gardens in Australia, with ten themed sections, including the much-loved Storybook Garden and the magnificent Sunken Garden. This is a great place for families, with a picturesque putt-putt golf course and seasonal school holiday events.
4. See the sublime Southern Highlands
Heritage townships and a soul-soothing rural atmosphere are the hallmarks of the Southern Highlands, located roughly two-hour’s drive southwest of Sydney. Mittagong is the region’s gateway town and a natural first stop. Depending on how early you hit the road, the Shaggy Cow Café will meet your breakfast or morning tea needs in style (who can resist those cow portraits lining the walls?). Just outside Mittagong is Tertini Wines — highly regarded not just for its cool-climate vintages, but also for the guest experience at its daily cellar door.
Continuing on to the town of Bowral, you’ll find a huge range of things to see and do. For cricket fans, there’s no question of where to stop first — the excellent Bradman Musuem. Garden enthusiasts can head to Corbett Gardens, which are especially stunning during ‘tulip time’ in September. Antique collectors will be spoiled for choice at two excellent emporiums: Dirty Janes and Lancelot Hill Antiques. Grab a coffee at Rush or indulge yourself with a fine dining experience at Onesta Cucina.
Finish your Southern Highlands day of discovery with an afternoon visit to the historic town of Berrima, and perhaps a stop at the famous Berkelouw Book Barn.
5. Have a capital day in Canberra
If you’re prepared to put in a long day, it’s possible to visit Canberra from Sydney without staying overnight. Driving time to and from the nation’s capital is three hours each way. Book a tour from Sydney or self-drive. If you do the latter, break the journey at Marulan and enjoy a delicious cake and coffee at the Meridian Café.
If you’re car-less in the capital, the Tourist Route bus (number 81/981) is a great service that will take you to many of the city’s major attractions, including Parliament House, the National Arboretum and the acclaimed Australian War Memorial. Of course, these can all be accessed by car as well, and there’s ample parking at each location.
There are loads more museums and art galleries in Canberra. For those interested in Australian society, the National Portrait Gallery offers fascinating insights into the personalities that shaped our nation, and there’s also a lovely waterfront café.
Canberra is the only major Australian city built around a lake, so your day there should certainly include some time on or by the water. Take a Segway tour around Lake Burley Griffin, or do it the old-fashioned way by bike. In summertime, a lake cruise is also a great way to see the city’s landmarks from the water.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best Sydney day trips and tours? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Luxury Travel, Get Up & Go, The Sunday Telegraph and The Australian. 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 Roslyn to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.