Sydney has plenty to keep visitors on the go, including a superb range of world class attractions.
From conquering the heights of the Sydney Harbour Bridge or Sydney Tower, to meeting the furry and feathered locals at iconic Taronga Zoo or getting up close to the famous faces at Madame Tussauds, here are ten of the best Sydney tourist attractions to experience during your stay.
Since 1998, BridgeClimb Sydney has conducted more than 3 million visitors to the top of Sydney’s famous Harbour Bridge. One of the city’s most popular and successful tourist attractions, BridgeClimb is a meticulously organised experience that puts health and safety first while providing an adrenalin-filled encounter with one of the world’s great engineering icons. The views are incredible, and so is the rush you’ll feel when you find yourself atop this amazing structure. There are day, twilight and night tours, and options to climb with commentary in English or Mandarin. Afraid of heights? The guides are specially trained to help you conquer your fears and make the most of the experience.
Some people, though, want to go even higher — twice as high, in fact. For them, Sydney Tower Eye and Skywalk is the ultimate Sydney attraction. Located at the top of the Westfield building in Market Street, Sydney Tower is the city’s tallest structure. Easily accessible by train (walk from Wynyard or Town Hall station), the observation deck offers unrivalled 360-degree views of the entire city. For an extra buzz, opt to head outside for the Skywalk experience and feel the wind in your hair as you look down on the CBD, Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
An oldie but a goodie, Sydney’s Taronga Zoo continues to draw crowds as it enters its second century of operation. The zoo’s harbourside location ensures a stunning day out and unique photo opportunities (don’t miss getting the famous ‘giraffes in front of the Opera House’ shot). With an ever-increasing emphasis on animal conservation and environmental sustainability, Taronga combines education with entertainment. There are more than 20 different talks and shows each day and special immersive installations such as the Sumatran Tiger Trek. For an extra fee you can organise ‘animal encounters’ with owls, koalas, penguins and tortoises, or get a whole new perspective on the zoo through an aerial adventure on the Wild Ropes course.
Situated in the northside suburb of Mosman, Taronga Zoo is easily accessible by bus from the city or on a scenic 12-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay.
The grinning face of the Luna Park entrance has been a Sydney landmark since it opened ‘Just for Fun’ in 1935. Hugely successful in the middle of the twentieth century, the theme park later hit rocky times, including a closure of almost twenty years. After a complete refurbishment, it reopened in 2004 and quickly established itself as a popular venue for entertainment and events. Like the adjoining North Sydney Olympic Pool, Luna Park is a wonderful example of the Art Deco style, bringing colour, whimsy and a touch of fantasy to the cityscape. The huge ferris wheel, in particular, is a harbourside icon. You can wander through the precinct even if you don’t want to try any rides; if you do, expect old-time amusement park favourites rather than the latest technology.
The boardwalk outside the Park, with its palm trees and ornate cast iron railings, is wonderful for strolling and yields a perfect view across the water to the Sydney Opera House.
SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium is home to over 12,000 marine creatures belonging to 650 different species. Located on the city side of Darling Harbour, the aquarium is open seven days a week. Habitat zones such as Dugong Island, South Coast Shipwreck and Jurassic Seas make this much more than a peer-through-the-glass experience. Visitors can glide over the Great Barrier Reef exhibit in a glass bottom boat, go ‘behind the scenes’ in the sub-Antarctic zone for photo ops with cute penguins, or come face to face with terrifying predators in the underwater tunnels of Shark Valley. There’s even a Sydney Harbour zone, which provides a ‘snapshot’ of life beneath the surface of the world’s most beautiful harbour.
Right next door to the aquarium, WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo offers the chance to to see native quokkas, kangaroos, wombats, wallabies, koalas and platypuses right in the heart of the city. By replicating remote Australian habitats such as Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest and the Northern Territory’s Kakadu Gorge, WILD LIFE also enables Sydney visitors to see some of the country’s largest native animals, including the cassowary and the saltwater crocodile. There are special experiences such as the early morning Breakfast with Koalas and behind-the-scenes tours, as well as keeper talks and feeding times throughout the day. The site is pram and wheelchair friendly, and can be easily reached by ferry to Darling Harbour or a ten-minute walk from Town Hall station.
Madame Tussauds, the only Australian outlet of the worldwide celebrity waxwork franchise, is also located on the city side of Darling Harbour. Wander amongst the uncannily lifelike representations of some of the world’s most famous personalities, past and present. This is your chance for a selfie with political stars such as ex-President Obama or peace activist Mahatma Gandhi. Ever wanted to party with the Hemsworth brothers, cuddle up to Taylor Swift, or share the athletics track with Sally Pearson? Bring your phone or camera and be ready to channel your inner A-list celeb. Your fifteen minutes of fame starts now…
With both indoor and outdoor spaces, the hands-on Australian National Maritime Museum is a favourite of families and sailing enthusiasts. There are ten vessels to explore, including the historic naval destroyer HMAS Vampire, veteran Cold War submarine HMAS Onslow, a luxury Edwardian steam yacht, a restored 19th century barque, and a beautifully crafted replica of the Endeavour — the tall ship Captain Cook sailed to Australia in 1770. The interactive Action Stations experience reveals the excitement and high stakes of life in the Royal Australian Navy, while an ocean-themed play gallery provides plenty of fun for under 5s. The changing program of exhibitions focuses on themes from Australia’s maritime history, ocean science and technology, or sea creatures and their marine environments.
Established in 1827, the Australian Museum was the nation’s first museum and is one of the earliest colonial institutions to have remained in continuous operation to the present day. Since 1857 its home has been an imposing sandstone edifice on the corner of William and College Streets in the centre of Sydney. The museum is best known to the public for its palaeontology collection, which contains outstanding specimens of prehistoric fossils and skeletons — including those of dinosaurs. But the natural sciences collection actually extends much further, taking in all branches of Australian fauna as well as insects, minerals, shells and corals. More broadly, the museum’s remit includes scientific research and exploration, and the development of new perspectives on biodiversity and human archaeology.
The museum building is currently closed to the public for a multi-million-dollar refurbishment, and is scheduled to reopen in September 2020.
Located in Western Sydney on the way to the Blue Mountains, Featherdale Wildlife Park provides opportunities to hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies, get close to koalas, and see adorable, bunny-eared bilbies. Birds and reptiles are well represented too, with resident emus, little penguins, a saltwater crocodile and dozens of snake species. Featherdale runs a number of wildlife protection and breeding programs, with a focus on koala conservation. One of several Australian zoos helping to maintain an ‘insurance population’ of endangered Tasmanian devils, Featherdale has also partnered with the Australian Museum on a Koala Genome project, while its Koala Plantation Fund works to ensure an ongoing natural food supply for these at-risk Aussie icons.
Additional images: Bigstock
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, Roslyn 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.