Sydney Attractions

Beauty as night falls over Sydney Harbour.

Iconic Sydney attractions - the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge - stand out in this photo taken from historic Mrs Macquarie's Chair as night falls.

Here are some great Sydney attractions to kick off your holiday in our remarkable harbour city.

If you have a family you’re probably trying to keep a tight rein on finances. So let’s start with attractions that won’t cost an arm and a leg. (In fact, most of these are free).

Best Sydney attractions - at little cost

Many of Sydney’s great sights are easily reached from the city centre by walking or taking a quick ride by bus or train.

These include:

Taking a harbour ferry is a great way to see several Sydney attractions - the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Sydney Harbour - all at the same time.

The Sydney Opera House on Bennelong Point - without doubt the highlight of Sydney attractions. The Opera House can be viewed by ferryboat, but it's great to get up close and take in the grandeur.

It's just a seven-minute walk from Circular Quay. The views all around (Harbour Bridge, harbour waters, botanic gardens, city skyline) are wonderful.

Take an inexpensive Opera House tour ... or if spending more is not a problem, take in a performance. It's the heart of the city's performing arts scene and there's much more than opera on offer.

The magnificent Opera House is the proud symbol of Sydney and Australia - an architectural wonder. It was born in controversy but is now World Heritage listed and regarded as one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century.

At the annual Vivid Festival Sydney (which brings more than one million visitors to the city in wintery May-June) the Opera House sails are transformed with spectacular light shows.  

Dazzling Vivid Sydney moments - with a Carnival scene projected onto the Opera House sails. What a sight!

The Sydney Harbour Bridge - or “coat hanger” – is the massive 1930’s symbol of Sydney. If you’re energetic walk the bridge. It straddles the harbour linking CBD and North Shore.

If you’ve a head for heights, climb it! (Climbing's not for free - but the city views are great!) A tip for those with limited funds: Do the Bridge Pylon climb rather than the trek to the very top of the bridge.

You'll enjoy great views and embrace all the bridge history - with the lightest of impacts on your wallet!  

The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney - just a short walk away when you've "done" the Opera House.

These green 30 hectares right beside the CBD offer peace and tranquility in the heart of the big city.

Do you have a bent for botany or horticulture? Do you love to relax beside beautiful gardens and plants?

Stroll through the wonderful Gardens with their magnificent Moreton Bay Fig trees set beside Sydney Harbour.

There are paths lined with stunning plants and flowers and the trees and grassy areas are alive with birds and other wildlife.

Why not walk on to Mrs Macquarie's Chair? The historic landmark is not far ... and you'll love the views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge across the water.

It's the place to take photos of your loved ones framed by the great icons of Sydney.

The Dragon's Blood Tree (below left) as it's commonly known is more than 100 years old. It fell over in May 2008 but is doing well under care from Sydney Botanic Garden staff. The Moreton Bay Fig (below right) is one of many in the gardens with massive limbs.

There’s plenty to do at Darling Harbour. This is a former dockside area transformed into a major tourist site, convention and exhibition centre.

Many people enjoy strolling along the waterfront here. It's one Sydney attraction that delights. 

Darling Harbour is also a great tourist hub for feeding .... fine restaurants and cafes abound. Try the Cockle Bay Wharf area on the city side. It's the "in" place to be but with a good mix of budget and posh eating.

If you want to rest the feet awhile (but not the eyes) try the Imax Theatre. Its screen is eight stories high and its films are shot in ultra high definition 75mm format. This makes their films (like on Antarctica and Mt Everest) magnificent and so memorable.

Darling Harbour is also a venue for spectacular outdoor shows and fireworks.

Sydney’s historic Rocks district – known as The Rocks – is also within walking distance of Sydney Opera House. It's close to Circular Quay, with great views of the Bridge and Harbour.

There's lots of olden day charm here, with winding cobbled laneways and buildings that date back to early colonial times.

At The Rocks you’ll rub shoulders with many other tourists. They're there for the night markets, the souvenir and craft shops, the old pubs and the atmosphere that is The Rocks.

Head for Sydney's beaches for sun, sand, surf, sea and harbor fun.

Is there anything better than the pleasure of a day out surfing, body-boarding or swimming - or perhaps just lazing on the sand in a warm beach setting?

Pictured here at popular Bondi Beach is a typical bunch of sun worshippers. Sydney has beaches that are easy to reach by ferry, bus or train. See Best Sydney Beaches for more.

Not free ... but great family fun!

Spend the day at Taronga Zoo - one of remarkable Sydney's best venues for the whole family. It's not for free of course, but it really is great value.

The kids will love it and there's plenty to interest adults too.

Enjoy the quick Sydney Harbour ferry ride to the zoo. Taronga Zoo is sited on a wonderful piece of Mosman real estate, with beautiful views to the Harbour Bridge and CBD.

The zoo covers 52 acres and has a huge range of animals - from Australian marsupials and venomous snakes to elephants.

Pictured above is a sweet kiss between giraffes, while below are a few other contented inmates in what I rate as one of the top family-friendly Sydney attractions.

When the weather's unkind ...

Okay, you've been in the open air for a day or two taking in the Sydney attractions - but now it's raining!

What to do?

How about some culture?

Is there a nice museum or an art gallery?

Is there what!

The Australian Museum is only seven minutes walk from three train stations in central Sydney - St James, Museum and Town Hall.

It's very easy to spend a few hours at the Australian Museum and wonder where the time went. There's so much interesting stuff!

Are your kids crazy over dinosaurs? They'll love it here! This is the oldest museum in Australia and it has an international reputation in anthropology and natural history.

But dinosaurs rule - especially when T. Rex is in town. Heaps of wonderful exhibits here. The kiddies love all the interactive stuff and the dinosaur room will have them fascinated for ages.

Where is the Museum? - On the corner of College St and William St in central Sydney, opposite St Marys Cathedral and just across the road from Hyde Park.

PICTURED ABOVE: Dubbed "The Bone Ranger" this Australian Museum exhibit of horse and rider is very popular with visitors. 

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A look at the Future

If you're in Sydney sometime after 2017 you can expect to see the Cloud Arch sculpture ... potentially a new landmark for the city.

But get a feel for it now by watching the artist's impression video (below) on how this newest of Sydney attractions will look. Not bad, I reckon.

Cloud Arch is the vision of Japanese artist Junya Ishigami. It will be erected outside the Town Hall and will tower 50m above George St.

Made of curved steel plates, the Cloud Arch will be the  gateway to a new "pedestrian only" zone. Underneath the arch and running down the street will be a new light rail.

This new public art work was chosen from 700 submissions by a panel of art experts. The installation will start in 2017. Here's the video view of Cloud Arch.