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Play Like A Local: Top 20 Things To Do In Sydney For First-Timers

Bina
Published Dec 16, 2016

People usually only associate Sydney with the typical tourist destinations like the Sydney Opera House, Darling Harbour, and Bondi Beach. But if you’re on this page, you are most likely hungry for some of the secret sights and are itching to gain a local perspective on the city. And good on you for finding your way here! Here are the 20 best things to do in Sydney if you want to truly experience this beautiful harbour city like a Sydneysider.

Top 3 activities to book in Sydney

The great outdoors

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1. Do the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk

This activity is quite a popular one among tourists, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it at all costs. It’s an excellent way to appreciate the spectacular views the city has to offer, and you can explore various areas along the way.

The Bondi to Coogee walk covers six beaches and a number of coves and bays. So, where do you start? Visitors can start walking from either Bondi Beach or Coogee Beach. But fret not if you don’t feel like walking the full distance. You can just cover a section and take public transport to or from Tamarama, Bronte, and Clovelly.

Tip: the headlands are excellent for watching the annual whale migration in the winter and spring.

Bondi to Coogee Walk

Website: http://bonditocoogeewalk.com.au/

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2. Scout a secret beach

A photo posted by Paul Roche (@rocheygram) on

It’s common knowledge that Sydney is blessed with a whole list of stunning ocean beaches and a wonderful subtropical climate, so why not make full use of your visit and go explore some of the hidden beaches? Check out this list of 15 best beaches the city has to offer, from family beaches, to ones for serious surfers, Sydney’s got you covered.

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3. Hop on a ferry to Cockatoo Island

If you want to take an adventure and learn a bit of history, hop on the ferry from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island. It’ll only take 20 minutes before you reach this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The island is the largest one in Sydney, and has a deep history. Since European settlement, it has been used as a convict prison, an industrial school for girls, and a naval training ship. Eventually, the island’s maritime industrial activity ceased in 1992, and the island was reopened to the public in 2007.

Visitors can take a tour around the island, or come here when there are festivals being held (there are several throughout the year). The most notable is the Biennale of Sydney, an arts festival that happens every two years. If you are more adventurous, ‘glam tents’ are available for rent and you can spend a fantastic night overlooking Sydney Harbour and exploring the area at night with a torch.

Cockatoo Island

Website: http://www.cockatooisland.gov.au/

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4. Explore The Blue Mountains

If you have a full day free, head to the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains, named because of the constant bluish haze. There are so many things to do and see here, from bushwalking and mountain biking, to the famous Three Sisters and Jenolan Caves.

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4.1. Caving in the Jenolan Caves

Spare a few hours and submit yourself to some fun micro-adventure. The underground wonderland of the Jenolan Caves is an intricate labyrinth of tunnels, caverns, and crevices. Marvel at the limestone stalagmites, stalactites, and crystal formations that make the cave one of Australia’s most spectacular.

Blue Mountains

Website: http://www.bluemts.com.au/

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5. Visit Featherdale Wildlife Park

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What is a visit to Australia without seeing the famous kangaroos and koalas? At Featherdale Wildlife Park, you can say hello to these furry friends as they roam free within the property. It’s an ideal getaway for families with small children too. Get up close to the pelicans, cuddle a koala, and feed the wallabies!

Read more about it here!

Featherdale Wildlife Park

Address: 217 Kildare Rd, Doonside NSW 2767

Opening Hours: Daily, 9 am - 5 pm.

Website: http://www.featherdale.com.au/

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6. Go for a run at Centennial Park

If New York’s got Central Park, Sydney’s got Centennial Park. It’s a gorgeous 189-acre (76.5-hectare) open space right in the central area, and there are just so many things you can do here!

There are playing fields and playgrounds for the kids, cultivated gardens and lakes for couples to stroll around and admire, and sports grounds for active visitors. Plus, there are horse stables and a cafe-restaurant where you can just relax and nosh to pass the afternoon.

The park is also excellent for a morning walk or run, spanning 3.8 kilometers (2.4 miles) around the oval. Bike rentals are also available if you want a quiet cycle round the secluded pathways.

Centennial Park

Website: https://www.centennialparklands.com.au/

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7. Go Barefoot Bowling at Petersham Bowling Club

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Source: iStock

Don’t know what to do on a good lazy afternoon? Why not try something “new” - barefoot lawn bowling! More youngsters are giving this activity a go, so this sport isn’t just seen as being for the grandparents anymore.

Plus, at Petersham Bowling Club, you not only get to play the game, but they also boast an extensive list of delicious beers, from Grifter Bright Eye Ale to Murray’s Grand Cru, on tap. You’ll no doubt have a rolling good time with your pals here.

Petersham Bowling Club

Address: 77 Brighton St, Petersham NSW 2049

Opening Hours: Tue - Fri: 5 pm - 10 pm; Weekends: 12 noon - 10 pm.

Website: http://www.thepbc.org.au/

Contact: +61 2 9569 4639

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8. See a game at Sydney Cricket Ground

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Fancy some cricket or the good ol’ rugby? This is the place to root for your favourites among all the other 46,000 sports fans. There’s really no other way to describe watching a live match amongst the crowd.

The Sydney Cricket Ground history began in 1851 when the British Army were told to take their bats and balls to entertain themselves on an empty land, south of the barracks. Since then, it’s been home to millions of cricket-crazed locals. But this site is not only for sports. In fact, the venue has hosted concerts by big names such as The Rolling Stones, Madonna, and Green Day. So check out the website for their exciting schedule!

Sydney Cricket Ground

Address: Moore Park Rd, Moore Park NSW 2021

Website: http://www.sydneycricketground.com.au/

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9. Picnic at Barangaroo Reserve

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Source: iStock

Barangaroo Reserve was opened in August 2015. This waterfront park used to be a vacant wharf that was closed off to the public for more than 100 years. Now, it has turned into an entertainment space with an incredible view of Sydney Harbour.

There are lots of things to do here, with the lookouts, grassed areas to relax on, and walkways and cycleways for a nice stroll or bike ride. There’s a cultural centre called the Cutaway, which is used for indoor events and exhibitions.

Barangaroo Reserve

Website: http://www.barangaroo.sydney/

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10. Explore The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

Located around Farm Cove on the shore of Sydney Harbour is the spectacular Royal Botanic Garden. It was established in 1816, and is Australia’s oldest scientific institution.

Home to an enviable collection of native and exotic plants and trees, there is so much one can appreciate in this verdant garden. Check out the Pyramid, which features plants that are native to Australia, and the Arc, which houses more “exotic” species.

Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

Address: Mrs Macquaries Rd, Sydney NSW 2000

Opening Hours: Daily, 9 am - 5.30 pm.

Website: https://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/

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For fans of the arts

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11. Roam the galleries at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Art enthusiasts will only be spoiled at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Located in The Rocks District, this waterside museum just re-opened in 2012 after being given a whole new look.

The interiors are clean, spacious, and uncluttered, giving the art pieces their chance to shine. The galleries displays contemporary art from both Australian artists and artists from around the world. Plus, there are other things worth checking out here, such as the rooftop cafe, sculpture terrace, and the National Centre for Creative Learning. The museum also offers lectures in the 120-seat lecture theatre, so keep your eyes peeled on the website for those!

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Address: 140 George St, The Rocks NSW 2000

Opening Hours: Daily, 10 am - 5 pm.

Website: http://www.mca.com.au/

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12. Visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales

While the MCA is great, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is the museum to go to if you prefer a broader variety of art. Established in 1871 and opened to the public in 1909, this institution contains Australia’s finest artworks.

It houses not only collections from Australia, but is also home to European and Asian art. On average, the museum presents about 40 exhibitions! Plus, they also host exciting activities like lectures, workshops, celebrity talks, and film screenings.

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Address: Art Gallery Rd, Sydney NSW 2000

Opening Hours: Daily, 10 am - 5 pm.

Website: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/

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13. See a show at Sydney Theatre Company

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Want to dive into the Australian theatre scene? Look no further than the world-renowned Sydney Theatre Company. The Company regularly features international actors, some of which include Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Carol) and Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech, Pirates of the Caribbean). Don’t miss your chance to see these talents in the flesh, check out the calendar on the website and book your tickets!

Sydney Theatre Company

Address: The Wharf, Pier 4 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay NSW 2000

Website: https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/

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14. Catch an indie film at Chauvel Cinema

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Film buffs, you have not been forgotten! Head straight to this little screen gem that has been operating in the historic Paddington Town Hall from 1977. The Chauvel Cinema has long been the home of Australian film culture, providing a gathering place for hardcore cinephiles to share their passion for the best of independent and world cinema. Apart from screening films, they also host film festivals from time to time.

Chauvel Cinema

Address: 249 Oxford St, Paddington NSW 2021

Website: http://www.palacecinemas.com.au/cinemas/chauvel/

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15. Be dazzled by the Vivid Sydney Festival

Vivid Sydney is an annual outdoor lighting festival with immersive light installations and projections. It’s Australia’s biggest event in winter, and it attracted 1.7 million visitors in 2015. Not only that, the festival has been recognised as the largest event of its kind in the world, combining light, music, and ideas. Come join the locals in this spectacular event!

Expect an outdoor gallery of extraordinary lighting art, cutting-edge contemporary music, and the famous illumination of the Sydney Opera House sails.

This year, Vivid Sydney will be held from 27th May - 18th Jun 2016. Don’t miss it!

Vivid Sydney

Website: http://www.vividsydney.com/

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16. Shop like a local at Surry Hills Markets

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If you’re in the city for the weekend, why not stop by the ever stylish Surry Hills? The Surry Hills Markets is held every first Saturday of the month, and is located right opposite the Surry Hills Library.

Find all things cool here, from vintage dresses, to locally-grown avocados. There are even coffee carts and handmade arts and crafts. You’ll never know what you’ll find here. Not in the mood for shopping? Just come down and mingle with the friendly community.

Surry Hills Markets

Address: Crown St, Surry Hills NSW 2010

Website: http://shnc.org/events/surry-hills-markets/

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Get your grub on

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17. Wake up early for brunch

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Source: Pexels

There certainly isn’t a shortage of amazing food in Australia, after all, it has some of the most passionate home cooks (have you seen the contestants on Masterchef Australia?) in the world! And the fact that Sydney has picked up on the brunch craze only opens more doors for cafes and restaurants. So get your stomach ready for the best poached eggs you’ll ever have, a heavy focus on avocado, and wash everything down with the country’s speciality - the flat white.

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Three Blue Ducks

Three Blue Ducks famously prides itself on providing sustainable food. The tea, coffee, and eggs are organic, the seafood is hand-picked from the markets in the wee hours of the morning, and the beef is grass fed from Tasmania. Even cleaning products used here are non-toxic and biodegradable! Talk about healthy eating and saving the environment.

This is a very easygoing establishment. The chefs play their own music and cook the food they want to cook. Sometimes, artists or friends of the chefs come down to play live music as well. And you won’t go wrong with any of the food items on the menu, which all combine big flavours with good produce. Tip: give the coddled eggs a go when it’s available. It’s simply divine!

Three Blue Ducks (Bronte)

Address: 143 Macpherson St, Bronte NSW 2024

Website: http://www.threeblueducks.com/

Contact: +61 02 9389 0010

Three Blue Ducks (Byron Bay)

Address: 11 Ewingsdale Rd, Ewingsdale

Access: 5-minute drive from Byron Bay

Website: http://www.threeblueducks.com/

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The Grounds of Alexandria

The Grounds of Alexandria is a true gem amidst the industrial neighborhood it’s in. Inside is a harmony of a coffee roaster, a veggie garden, a florist, and a plant-laden dining area. The shabby-looking warehouse also appears to be one of the most photogenic hotspots in the city. Just take a glance at their Instagram feed and you’ll see.

It’s almost always packed here, so you’ve got to practice that patience a little. The wait is all worth it, though, as quality is reflected in the food as they only use the best meat and fresh produce.

The Grounds of Alexandria

Address: 7A, 2 Huntley St, Alexandria NSW 2015

Opening Hours: Daily, 7 am - 9.30 pm.

Website: http://thegrounds.com.au/

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18. Wine tasting at Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley is just about two hours’ drive north of Sydney city centre, and is definitely a place not to be missed by all wine-lovers! It’s a world-famous wine producing region for good reason.

You can take day trips here, but why not do an overnight stay since you’ve already come a fairly long way? There are so many vineyards and tasting rooms for you to visit, including Gundog Estates, Tallavera Grove, Audrey Wilkinson, and Brokenwood Wines.

A photo posted by Kai (@kai_87n) on

Gundog Estate - Hunter Cellar Door

Address: 101 McDonald’s Rd, Pokolbin, NSW 2320

Opening Hours: 10am - 5pm.

Contact: 02-4998 6873

Website: Gundog Estate

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19. Eat at Sydney’s best restaurant

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Billy Kwong

If you’re familiar with Masterchef Australia, or the Australian food scene in general, this name will definitely ring a bell. Chef Kylie Kwong’s establishment serves up traditional Chinese family food, souped up with a modern edge. And despite her celebrity chef status, you can find her working the pass here every evening.

The dishes here are just banging with flavour and will make your mouth water at the mere sight of them. Get the saltbush cakes for starters, and don’t miss the steamed mini pork buns, with meat marinated in local honey.

Billy Kwong

Address: 1/28 Macleay St, Potts Point NSW 2011

Opening Hours: Daily, 5.30 pm - 10 pm. Sundays: 12 noon - 9 pm.

Website: http://billykwong.com.au/

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Bennelong Restaurant

If you have something to celebrate, or are looking for a nice little dinner location for a date night, you’ll do well here. Bennelong Restaurant not only provides an unbeatable view from the Sydney Opera House, but this newly-opened eatery is also a hybrid of casual and fine dining, serving up the best modern Australian fare in the country.

And we are talking about Peter Gilmore, the executive chef of Quay and Bennelong. The fact that Quay has been listed as one of The World’s Best 50 Restaurants since 2009 just speaks volumes. The only difference is that at Bennelong, the food is made simpler and less fuss than its flashier counterpart. Just get the John Dory, roasted and served whole, and you’re good to go.

Bennelong Restaurant

Address: Bennelong Point, Sydney Opera House, Sydney NSW 2000

Opening Hours: Mon - Thu: 5.30 pm - 10 pm; Fri - Sun: 12 noon - 2 pm & 5.30 pm - 10 pm.

Website: http://www.bennelong.com.au/

Contact: +61 2 9240 8000

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20. Satisfy your sweet tooth cravings

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Source: iStock

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Shangri-La Hotel

You’ll be in good hands at Shangri-La, whether you’re looking for little sweet treats for high tea, or high-end desserts. Chef Anna Polyviou has her hand in the pastry department of the hotel’s Cafe Mix and the Lobby Lounge. And she isn’t hailed the Queen of Australian Pastry for nothing. She puts her creativity to good use, introducing unique flavours into macarons, and creating a series of artful masterpieces like her signature “Anna’s Mess” and “Twisted”.

Cafe Mix

Address: 176 Cumberland St, The Rocks NSW 2000

Website: http://www.shangri-la.com/sydney/shangrila/dining/restaurants/cafe-mix/

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KOI Dessert Bar

Masterchef 2015’s favorite Dessert Prince is living his dream with KOI Dessert Bar. Reynold Poernomo has joined hands with his brothers Arnold (former judge on Indonesian Masterchef), who oversees the savoury dishes, and Ronald, who does cocktails.

But let’s just talk about desserts. At KOI, the desserts are whipped up with a fresh attitude, and they all look as pretty as a picture, as you’d expect from Reynold. You can pick up takeaway coffee and ready-made creations, but since you’re already here, why not go for the full experience? “KK” and “Moss” are the must-tries!

KOI Dessert Bar

Address: 46 Kensington St, Chippendale NSW 2008

Website: http://www.koidessertbar.com.au/

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See Sydney in a new light

Sydney offers just the right blend of relaxation and excitement if you know where to look. It really is a city that has something for everyone. From the great outdoors to galleries, and happening festivals, the possibilities are endless. So wait no longer and get exploring the land Down Under with these best things to do in Sydney!

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Bina is a Liberal Arts graduate. She loves meeting new people and listening to what they have to say as she believes everyone has a story to tell. She spends way too much time watching TV shows and...Read more

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