The Best of Sydney Harbour for Next to Nix
There is so much to see and do in Sydney, especially around the bustling Sydney Harbour area, and local resident Phill Danze says much of it can be experienced for free. Here are Phill’s top picks for the best free and cheap ways to explore Sydney Harbour.
As a Sydney local I often visit the harbour area for many reasons and know that you don’t need to spend big bucks to get a big bang for your buck. Here are my tips for a great, next to nix, day out in the world’s most beautiful harbour.
Botanical Gardens and Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair
Sydney’s botanical gardens provide a great start to discovering the harbour. They are free to enter and it’s an easy, downhill walk from the city side entrance towards the harbour. At the end of the gardens is Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, which was carved out of the stone by convict labor in 1810 for the Governor’s wife. The views across the harbour are broad and uninterrupted. From here it is only a short walk around the foreshore to the Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay.
Circular Quay is a hub of activity and as you face the water and see the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House you will get that goose bump moment of “Wow! I am in Sydney”. The area is full of restaurants, buskers, tourists, commuters and local residents. There is also a cinema, international passenger terminal, museum, and of course, souvenir shops. Above street level is Circular Quay train station and above that is the Cahill Expressway.The train station offers a great, elevated view of the quay and harbour. You will need a ticket to enter the station and if you don’t plan to use the train the day of your visit, most city trains will pass through so simply hop off when you are on one, enjoy the view, and get back on the next train.
The Cahill Expressway is busy fly-over road that is barely noticeable from ground level. Its elevated position offers a fantastic view and there is lift access and large viewing platform. Excellent night photography is at your disposal in this prime yet rarely busy location.
Behind Circular Quay is the historic building Customs House. With no admission charge, this has to be one of the best public spaces in Sydney to visit and recharge yourself at the same time.On the ground floor is the “city lounge”, offering newspapers and magazines from around the world along with comfy lounges to sink into. There is also a TV wall, scale model of Sydney under the glass floor, restrooms, café, and information desk. Upstairs an exhibition area and library where you can get some quiet time. If you still need more great services and facilities for free, there is complimentary wireless internet to all visitors.
If you feel like splashing out then on the top floor is one of Sydney’s finest restaurants, Café Sydney. The view is superb however make sure they seat you at the harbour end of the restaurant.
The Opera House is readily accessible to tourists and entry is not limited to those going to see a performance. The inside features grey concrete walls that give a good sense of the building’s construction and short walk around inside may be all that most people need. For those wishing to see more there are several tours available. I think the building is more interesting from the outside. The expansive forecourt and steps are impressive and you can walk around the entire perimeter, taking in all of the harbour views as you go. Remember to look up at the building’s “sails” for some different perspectives that can make great postcard picture memories.
Sydney Harbour Bridge and Milsons Point
The huge, iconic structure that is the Sydney Harbour Bridge can’t be missed no matter where you are standing in Circular Quay or its surrounding areas. It is even more imposing the closer you get and it is easily accessed.Head out along Circular Quay and just keep following the sidewalk around. Before you know it you will literally be under the bridge and despite its size, you can get some great pictures even this close. There are small parks either side that are a good spot to rest and watch the ferries and boats quietly motor by.
I recommend getting up onto the bridge itself as its elevated position gives more million dollar views over the harbour and quay, this time with the city skyline in the background. You can access the bridge either as a pedestrian or as part of the Sydney Bridge Climb tour that will allow you to literally stand on top of the arches themselves.
The pedestrian sidewalk is free and is located on the Opera House side of the bridge. It is accessed via The Rocks precinct by heading uphill towards the level of the bridge and following the signs (or just follow other pedestrians!). The sidewalk on the other side of the bridge is reserved for bicycles.
A short distance along the pedestrian sidewalk is the Pylon Lookout where for around A$10 you can see an exhibition showing the history of the bridge and ascend to the lookout deck. There is no lift access but rest points are installed as you ascend the stairs. I definitely recommend going in as the exhibition and the even higher view are good value for money.
Continuing across the bridge will bring you to Milsons Point, a small neighbourhood area with a few shops. Walk down the hill towards the water and you will come to parkland under the bridge and also the North Sydney public swimming pool and Sydney’s Luna Park amusement park.
The views of Sydney from this side of the harbour are once again very impressive and worth the time to soak it up from the lawn for free, poolside with a coffee, or whilst screaming as you ride a roller coaster! I recommend you take the ferry back across to Circular Quay, it will only cost a few dollars and will save you the walk uphill to the bridge and back across. If you plan to head somewhere other than the city then there is also a train station back up at Milsons Point near the bridge.
The Rocks area is a small, historic area on the bridge side of Circular Quay. It is the site of Australia’s first settlement and home to many original sandstone buildings as well as narrow alleyways steeped in history. There is a free museum and also a great selection of shops and cafes to see as you wander around. On weekends there is a vibrant street market. The Rocks is also home to some of Sydney’s oldest pubs and hotels that serve great local beers and some rather interesting meals.
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All photos by Phill Danze and my not be used without permission.
Phill Danze is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Sydney Australia. You can read more of his travel writing and see his photos at www.travelandphoto.net and https://blogs.bootsnall.com/philldanze.