Edited by Emma White
From the emblematic Sydney Opera House to the Harbour Bridge, the open waters of Port Jackson to the golden sands of Bondi Beach, there’s no denying that Sydney is home to some of the best tourist attractions and sightseeing hotspots in the world. However, beyond these top destinations, there is a whole galaxy of lesser-known, more unusual, and more unique experiences to be had for visitors to Sydney.
Discover the cool hangouts, unusual activities, and the quirky Sydney secrets that will help you get to know the city like a local while others waste time waiting in line and following the crowds. Here are 10 cool and unusual things to do in Sydney for those looking to get off the beaten track and see Sydney from a different angle.
Bushwalking like the locals
One of the more unusual things to do in Sydney that I like to recommend to visitors is bushwalking. Thanks to the lush parklands and bush areas surrounding the city, bushwalking is a popular local activity that tourists often forget to include in their itineraries as they often spend most of their time exploring the inner-city neighborhoods or relaxing at the nearby beaches.
As a lover of the outdoors, I really think bushwalking is one of the best ways to see Sydney and get a feel for local life. You will get to see some of the most beautiful hidden places in Sydney whilst spending some time in nature and you’ll also get a flavor of the Aussie outdoorsy spirit!
Walks range from one-hour leisurely strolls to extreme day-long treks. Whatever your level, there are lots of options that cater to varying capabilities and fitness levels.
The classic Sydney bushwalk, Bondi to Coogee, is the most famous and often overpopulated with tourists. Avoid the crowds and try the Spit to Manly walk instead. This medium-difficulty trail is well maintained all year long and takes roughly four hours to complete, perfect for those visiting only for a couple of days.
The views over Middle Harbour are wonderful and there are even a few places along the way to stop for coffee, grab a bite to eat or go for a refreshing swim. What are you waiting for? Grab some comfy shoes and see a different side to Sydney!
See the lights at the Sydney Vivid Festival
For those visiting in the winter time, there are a number of cool things to do in Sydney which don’t always make it to tourists’ city break itineraries. One of those might be Sydney’s annual Vivid Festival, a festival lasting 23 days that combines music, art, light installations, technology and much more.
The festival and its spectacular light shows are loved by locals who take the opportunity to get together and celebrate the creativity of their wonderful hometown. The highlight of the annual festival is the night time light installations where iconic Sydney monuments and other structures are lit up by dazzling, multi-coloured lights with different effects, patterns and shapes.
Seeing the Vivid Festival lights is one of the best things to do in Sydney at night so make time to check it out if visiting around May or June when the festival usually takes place.
Take a Ferry to Darling Harbour from Circular Quay
Another fun and unusual thing to do in Sydney for visitors is to take a ferry ride. Water is everywhere in Sydney and such an integral part of people’s everyday lives and so I think an exploration of the city’s waters is a must for anyone wanting to get to know Sydney like a local.
While there’s nothing really ‘unusual’ about taking a ferry for most Sydneysiders, it can be a cool and unusual way to sightsee for those who aren’t familiar with this kind of lifestyle. They're also a cheap alternative to the more touristy organised tours and you’ll still get to see the same spectacular views and have access to Sydney's picturesque harbour islands.
For an overview of the main harbour area, take the ferry trip to Darling Harbour from Circular Quay. It lasts around twenty minutes and transports you under the Harbour Bridge and around the iconic Sydney Opera House via Balmain.
The White Rabbit Gallery
If you’re an art lover like me then you’ll be pleased to know that Sydney has an array of fantastic art galleries and museums on offer to please all tastes.
While the most popular art institutions such as the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art or the Art Gallery of New South Wales are must-sees for visitors to Sydney, there are also many other, smaller and more modest galleries that sometimes pass under the radar of the average tourist.
My personal favourite is the White Rabbit Gallery, a gallery showcasing modern Chinese art from the current century. It is curated by just one woman who owns all of the pieces in the collection. The White Rabbit boasts four floors of varied works which rotate frequently providing a diverse and interesting artistic experience. I know I can always expect something different every time I go!
The gallery is open Thursdays through Sundays from 10 am to 6 pm. After spending time viewing the gallery, head down to the teahouse and have some Chinese dumplings and tea. It's the perfect end to the visit.
Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
For me, one of the best views in the city of the harbor can be found at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.
Sydney has many amazing viewpoints, but they can often become overcrowded with eager tourists hoping to get that perfect shot from high above. According to legend, the bench known as Mrs Macquarie's Chair was carved out of sandstone for Governor Lachlan Macquarie's wife, Elizabeth, in the early 1800s and quickly became her favorite spot to look upon the harbor.
Like Mrs Macquarie, this location is one of my favorite places to come to enjoy the view of the harbor. It’s one of the less touristy lookout points and the place to go if you want to take that postcard-perfect picture of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge from a different perspective. There are some beautiful walking trails to get there with places to sit and enjoy the views along the way.
Shopping in Newtown
Home to Sydney’s hipsters and bohemian crowds, Newtown is a colorful and diverse inner-city neighborhood offering a dynamic, modern and multicultural atmosphere.
Packed full of individual and independent retailers, Newtown provides a unique and unconventional shopping experience for visitors looking for something a bit more off the beaten path in Sydney. With a myriad of cute boutique shops, vintage clothes stores, old-style book shops, chic bars and some of the coolest cafes in Sydney, you’ll fill an entire day exploring the hidden treasures of this lively neighbourhood.
The Carriage Works Farmers Market
Sydney’s dining scene is world-class and with so many fantastic restaurants, cafés and eateries on offer you’ll never go hungry or want for more. That said, it’s easy to get pulled toward the expensive tourist traps in the city’s entertainment districts or settle for a familiar chain restaurant when you’re tired, your feet hurt and all you want to do is sit down and eat.
For a real taste of the city’s local food culture, one of the non-touristy things to do in Sydney that I recommend to most visitors wondering where to eat locally in Sydney is to visit a local farmers market and spend a couple of hours browsing the various food stalls and taking in the wonderful sights and smells of Sydney’s local produce.
My favourite has to be the Carriage Works Farmers Market, open on Saturday mornings until 1pm. It’s is one the biggest and best markets around with a vast selection of fresh food, street food pop ups, coffee shops and juice bars. Arrive early to avoid the lunchtime crowds and grab a breakfast burger or fresh pastry to enjoy whilst you walk round.
Chinatown night market
Sydney’s Chinatown night market is one of those places where you have to expect the unexpected. It occurs every Friday night and each week it becomes inundated with heaps of people browsing the selection of toys, games, souvenirs, cool trinkets and unusual items for sale on the stalls.
The market is also where many people like to go to get one of Sydney’s must try foods - Asian street food. This is a great opportunity to try something new and get off the beaten path in Sydney.
The food is fresh, fragrant and delicious, attracting a whole host of different people eager to satisfy their taste buds. It’s one of the most unique dining experiences in Sydney and with such a great overload of sights, smells, tastes and countless things to see and do, the atmosphere is electric.
So if you happen to be in town on a Friday night and you’re looking for cool things to do in Sydney then don’t miss the Chinatown night market and the famous dragon beard candy!
Craft beer at Young Henry’s
One of the best parts of Sydney’s food and drink scene is our beer culture, particularly when it comes to craft beer.
Tasting the city’s best craft beers is a must during your visit to Sydney and there’s nowhere better to do that then at Young Henry’s, a humble brewery serving locally brewed craft beers and offering one of the best and most authentic local experiences in town.
Inside you’ll find an eclectic mix of people from families with children, to friends catching up on the latest gossip, co-workers enjoying a post-work beer and loyal regulars who picked their favourite brews long ago. The laid-back local atmosphere and inclusive nature of this brewery are why I love it and why you should skip the busy tourist bars and come here to experience real local life in Sydney.
Start off with Young Henry’s signature beer, the Newtowner and then see what else takes your fancy. Tip: Opening hours are from 12pm-7pm only so best to head here for an afternoon ‘beer break’ during your full day of sightseeing in Sydney.
Relax on a secluded beach
It’s a well-known fact that Sydney is home to some of the best beaches in the world and to visit the city without plunging your toes in the soft, golden sand of one of these would be a terrible missed opportunity.
Now, we’ve all heard of the star of the Sydney beach show – Bondi, and while it is beautiful there are so many other, less touristy spots to get your dose of vitamin D (and sea!) that often go neglected by international visitors.
If, like me, you prefer something less hectic then check out Clovelly Beach. It’s much smaller than Bondi and other big beaches and there aren’t many amenities, but this secluded little cove is one of the most beautiful hidden places in Sydney and the perfect peaceful oasis for anyone wanting to escape the city crowds. The calm water is also really great for snorkelling and paddle boarding.
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