I love travelling the world but oh how I love to come home. I feel so lucky to have grown up in Sydney and fall even more in love with the harbour city each time I come back. And yes, to me, Sydney will always be home and Sydney Harbour will always be the most beautiful harbour. It is a natural aquatic playground for Sydneysiders and is a quintessential part of what makes Sydney such an amazing place to live.
This is a post sharing my guide to the best views and spots around the harbour - warning: it is very long because I love it so much!
Sydney Harbour has the two most famous Sydney landmarks and so much more. It has hundreds of bays, coves, beaches and waterways, and contributes to Sydney’s scenic beauty and quality of life in a major way. With more than 240 km of shoreline, it can be intimidating to try to see it all (I definitely have not and love discovering it every chance I get). So here is a breakdown of 10 of my favourite spots to photograph and experience this harbour city and its famous waterfront lifestyle - most are free too.
It is all mapped out and you can toggle the views to see the photo locations, food spots and my favourite walks because photography, walking and eating all go hand-in-hand! Quick overview: yellow pins = photo spots; blue pins = food; green pins = miscellaneous things to go and grey pins = transport.
First thing first, you will probably fly into Sydney so get a window seat and you will be treated to an amazing aerial tour of the harbour. Tip: Not sure which side of the plane to sit on? I use Flight Aware to check the usual flight path for my flight to decide which side has the best chance of seeing the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. All that prep work pays off when you are welcomed by this view:
On to the list...
Sydney Harbour Bridge walk
Walking across the Harbour Bridge allows you to see the bridge up close (it is not as imposing as it looks!) and watch the harbour open up before you. There is a flat and spacious pedestrian walkway on the eastern side of the bridge and is popular for a morning run (so scenic!) or leisurely walk with plenty of photo stops. Sunrise is particularly wonderful up here because you can see the sun rise behind the Opera House.
The walk starts in the Rocks in the southern end (behind the Park Hyatt or you can start from the Cahill Walkway next to Circular Quay station) and ends in Milsons Point in the northern end and you can start at either end - the views are the same. Don't worry - the safety wire mesh doesn’t interfere with photos as there is a gap at chest to head level.
If you are ready for more heights and a once in a lifetime experience - go for the Bridge Climb (or check out the Pylon Lookout for a less expensive and daring alternative).
The Rocks is a beautiful historic part of Sydney and has some of the best artisan markets, restaurants and harbour views. It is a 5 minutes walk from Circular Quay station or you may find yourself here at the end of the Bridge walk. Hickson Rd Reserve and the area in front of the Park Hyatt is one of my favourite places to photograph the Opera House, particularly at sunrise when you have the whole place to yourself and you can play around with some mirror reflection. If you can't stay at the Park Hyatt, you can visit for lunch or afternoon tea in The Dining Room or a spa day with the most wonderful Opera House views ;) Nearby, Quay is the restaurant for special occasions and is one of my favourite restaurants in the world. I cannot decide what I love more: the famous Snow Egg dessert or the panoramic views.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is in the area and the Café & Sculpture Terrace on the upper levels of the museum is a great spot to admire the views over some tea and coffee. If you are here in spring, keep an eye out for the purple jacaranda trees in the area as well.
Sydney Opera House
After admiring these beautiful sails from afar, it is time to see this beauty up close. I love walking around the base of the Opera House to see the sails from all 360 degrees and photograph interesting angles and perspectives. You can touch it, do handstands in front of it, watch a show inside, go on a guide tour and even dine in it (cue Bennelong Restaurant). For sunset drinks, the Opera Bar or Hacienda (get the espresso martini) are great options.
Botanical Gardens and Mrs Macquarie's Chair
Continuing on from the Opera House, instead of returning to Circular Quay, go on a walk in the Royal Botanic Gardens. It is a popular walking/jogging path and picnic spot for locals and tourists alike, with many making the pilgrimage to Mrs Macquarie's Chair for the iconic shot of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. This view is hard to beat and is a perennial favourite on New Year's Eve.
The gardens themselves are a wonderful oasis with plenty of other things to do. Check out the Calyx for special exhibitions and Open Air Cinema for movies under the stars.
Get on a Ferry
After all that walking, it is time to sit back and relax and take in the views from a ferry. While there are many special harbour cruises on offer, I have always just hopped on one of the many commuter ferries at Circular Quay wharf (most commuter ferries will start/end their journey here) - it is affordable and there are so many routes to choose from!
Ferries are a great way to see other parts of this vast harbour and get to the start of some epic harbourside walks (some of which I will talk more about below). If you are short on time and on a budget, please just get on a ferry to Taronga Zoo or Manly Beach and return to Circular Quay - it will be the most well spent $10-$20 and 1-2 hour of your trip (seriously)! Some of my favourite places to go by ferry are the Eastern suburbs (Watsons Bay, Rose Bay) and the Lower North Shore (Cremorne Point, Kirribilli, McMahons Point and Milsons Point/Jeffrey St). Look for the grey ferry icons on the Google maps above.
Vaucluse and Eastern Suburbs
Vaucluse is an affluent area in Sydney's eastern suburbs and is harder to get to by public transport. But don't let that deter you if you want to venture off the tourist route and have harbour views and secret beaches all to yourself. One of my favourite places for picnic and sunset shoot is Milk Beach and the Hermitage Foreshore Walk from Milk Beach to Nielsen Park - Milk Beach is a small sheltered beach with stunning views of the harbour and Sydney skyline. In the area is the historic Vaucluse House with beautiful gardens and views and Parsley Bay Reserve for a swim.
To get here, you can take the ferry to Rose Bay or Watsons Bay and then walk or take a local bus to Vaucluse. If coming from Rose Bay, Catalina is perfect for a quintessential Sydney waterfront dining experience with its bayside location and floating seaplanes gliding on the water. If coming from Watsons Bay, enjoy a drink at Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel after tackling the Hornby Lighthouse to South Head walk.
Milsons Point and Cremorne Point
The northern foreshore suburbs of Milsons Point, McMahons Point and Kirribilli may not have the history of the Rocks or the glitz of Circular Quay, but arguably have Sydney's best city views. There are so many bays and coves to discover, one route would be to go from Blues Point Reserve (nearest wharf: McMahons Point) to Kirribilli Wharf. Highlights along the way include Wendy's Secret Garden in Lavender Bay, Luna Park, Kirribilli Markets on certain weekends, walking under the Harbour Bridge and ending with (or starting with) coffee or brunch at Celcius Coffee Co, a café next to Kirribilli Wharf that seems to float on water.
Further along, the Cremorne Point Foreshore is an easy subrburban walk that takes you past beautiful homes and gardens, McCallum Pool and gorgeous views of the harbour and Mosman Bay. At the tip of Cremorne Point is a lighthouse at Robertsons Point and you can wander down to the water edge. You can start and end the walk at Cremorne Point wharf (reachable by ferry or bus).
Bradleys Head is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park and is a popular wedding location as it has seriously stunning views across the harbour - particularly at sunset. Bradleys Head Amphitheatre is great, as is the lesser known Athol Beach nearby. Bradleys Head is walkable from Taronga Zoo Wharf and can be done as part of the Taronga Zoo to Chowder Bay walk.
For enthusiastic walkers, you can continue from Chowder Bay onto Balmoral Beach, a beautiful sheltered harbour beach (alternatively the area is well connected by buses). While views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House are absent, this is on the list because it is the place to experience the Sydney lifestyle. It is a great place for swimming (with calm waters and a swimming enclosure) and water sports (kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkelling, wind surfing and sailing). Go for a stroll along the Esplanade and enjoy some fish and chips from the Boathouse or pack a picnic to enjoy the views across the entrance to Middle Harbour and Manly beyond. For a fine dining experience, try the Bathers Pavilion Restaurant in the historic white pavilion houses.
Sydney is often associated with summer and beach. If you are here in winter, don’t despair as Sydney winters are mild (compared to European and northern hemisphere (and Melbourne) winters) and Vivid Sydney is held for three weeks during winter. It is an outdoor lighting festival with immersive light installations and projections across Sydney. During Vivid, you can see the two Sydney icons lit up in spectacular colours and patterns - definitely a must see night experience! Recommended vantage points include the Rocks and Circular Quay as well as Milsons Point and Blues Point Reserve (where most of the pictures are taken from) on the northern harbour foreshore.
Phew... you made it to the end!