Things to Do in New South Wales
Few sights are as instantly recognizable as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the grand centerpiece of Sydney Harbour and one of Australia's most photographed landmarks. The historic structure dates to 1932 and is the world's largest steel arch bridge. It's also an important transport hub, linking downtown Sydney with the north shore, Manly, and the area's northern beaches.
A world-class performing arts venue and iconic Australian landmark, the Sydney Opera House—with its distinctive Jorn Utzon design—defines the Sydney Harbour district. Distinguished by soaring halls with a white ceramic–tiled exterior shaped to evoke the sails of a yacht, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-see Sydney attraction and popular stop on most city tours.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site covering an area of around 3,861 square miles (10,000 square kilometers), the Blue Mountains region is a popular day-trip destination from Sydney. Featuring tall forests, sandstone cliffs, dramatic canyons, and scenic lookouts and waterfalls, the area is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Easily the wildest place in the city, the Taronga Zoo Sydney is a sprawling sanctuary where over 4,000 animals crawl and chirp just minutes from the heart of downtown. Admire fuzzy-faced koalas, playful lemurs, distinctive Malaysian sun bears, saltwater crocs, and more, before enjoying tours, keeper talks, animal shows, and activities suitable for kids and adults alike.
Situated in the gorgeous Hunter Valley wine region of NSW, the Hunter Valley Gardens boast more than 60 acres of displays designed to showcase various vibrant colors and fragrances. There are 10 feature gardens, each individually planned and planted to create a stunning view and experience for visitors. The garden names lend themselves to the imagination: Sunken Garden, Storybook Garden, Rose Garden, Oriental Garden, The Lakes Walk, Italian Grotto, The Indian Mosaic, and the Formal, Chinese and Border gardens.
Each is superbly landscaped to represent its chosen theme, with water features and other attractions included to present the most immersive experience. Hunter Valley Gardens is such a large site that the area includes its own village, complete with shops, restaurants and cafes full of local delicacies. Aside from the lush greens, Aqua Golf, the Hunter Valley Train and more than five miles of walking tracks within the gardens keep even the fussiest visitors entertained.
With the iconic silhouette of Sydney Opera House and the dramatic arch of Sydney Harbour Bridge etched against a backdrop of glittering ocean and soaring skyscrapers, Sydney Harbour is Australia’s quintessential postcard image. The harbor, the natural heart of Sydney, features more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) lined with golden beaches, lush gardens, and vibrant neighborhoods.
Spread out over four spacious floors, Sydney's trendsetting White Rabbit Gallery is the largest collection of Chinese contemporary art found outside of China. Privately owned by Judith Neilson, the gallery features work from hundreds of artists and completely changes every six months to feature a new collection.
The White Rabbit Gallery styles its exhibitions from over 2,000 pieces of modern art personally sourced by Neilson on trips to China and Taiwan. Thought provoking and visually fierce, the featured art has included everything from paintings and sculptures to calligraphy, photography, and games. Opened in 2009, the White Rabbit Gallery as become a fixture in Sydney's art scene and is a popular stop on private art tours in the city.
The harbor-side amusement park Luna Park Sydney has been entertaining locals and travelers with a lively midway, carnival games, rides, and big top concerts since 1935. More than 20 attractions range from the tame to thrilling, and although it’s small compared to modern amusement parks, Luna Park remains a Sydney family favorite with a nostalgic draw.
The SEA LIFE® Sydney Aquarium encapsulates the diversity of Australia’s aquatic life. Wander exhibits that showcase everything from saltwater crocs and Southern Ocean penguins to turtles from the Great Barrier Reef and jellyfish. Plus, its prime Darling Harbour location lets you combine the aquarium with other family-friendly stops.
Aussies know this long, beautiful beach as the backdrop for the popular soap opera "Home and Away," but travelers love the quiet cove at the tip of a promontory for its white sand, calm waters, and relaxed vibe. Some of Sydney’s most exclusive real estate is nestled among the forested hillsides that surround “Palmie,” as locals call it.
More Things to Do in New South Wales
As Australia’s most famous beach—and the star of its own reality TV show, “Bondi Rescue”—Bondi Beach delivers with its crescent of golden sand, crashing waves, and crowds of bronzed sunseekers. Just minutes from downtown Sydney, this is the spot to work on your tan, hit the waves, sip cocktails at a beachside bar, or hike along coastal cliffs.
Located between Echo Point and Scenic World, Katoomba Falls is one of the most popular and accessible waterfalls in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. A beautiful, segmented waterfall, Katoomba Falls drops about 492 feet (150 meters) in two main stages into Jamison Valley and can be viewed from a number of lookouts in the area.
Australia is home to some of the world's most fearsome and fascinating wildlife, and at Featherdale Wildlife Park outside Sydney, visitors can meet over 1,700 of the country's colorful critters. Discover how echidnas are mammals (yet lay eggs); learn about the saltwater crocodiles that can grow to well over 2,000 pounds; admire the plumage of native birds such as brolgas, emus, and bustards; and view a collection of some of the world's most venomous snakes.
Guided feeding sessions are immensely popular at the park, with animal food available for purchase throughout the park for $2 and Featherdale staff members on hand to assist guests in feeding the kangaroos, wallabies, and pademelons. Guides also provide additional information about how the park is involved in conservation, highlighting the work done to reintroduce endangered species into the Australian wild and the park's ongoing research into some of Australia's most intriguing yet lesser-known species.
Although not offered by Viator, Featherdale also offers private animal encounters with a trainer for an additional fee (starting at $149), as well as personal koala encounters (starting at $20), during which travelers can pet and have their photo taken with the mammal. Guests are not allowed to hold koalas in accordance with New South Wales law.
Situated at the heart of Australia’s Blue Mountains UNESCO World Heritage Site, Scenic World offers the rare chance to explore the mountains from all angles. Ride overhead in a cable car, hike along the valley floor, ride a train through mountain tunnels, and discover some of the most impressive scenery in Blue Mountains National Park.
Hailed as one of the finest examples of an English-style Gothic cathedral in the world, St. Mary’s Cathedral wows you with its sandstone exterior, stained glass windows, and ornate crypt, which features a mosaic floor and an exhibition on the first Australian Catholics. Plus, a visit to the cathedral affords great views of the skyscrapers in Sydney CBD.
The lively suburb of Manly is one of Sydney’s most vibrant seaside areas and a popular destination for surfers from across the globe. Visit Manly Beach to enjoy the golden sand, catch world-class waves, and shop and eat along the lively Corso promenade, which is lined with cafes and restaurants.
With 65 hectares (175 acres) of fruit orchards and plantations open to visitors, Tropical Fruit World is one of the Gold Coast’s most unique tourist attractions. The eco-friendly, family-run farm grows over 500 varieties of tropical fruits, and visitors can not only go behind-the-scenes to discover the workings of the farm, but sample a delicious array of exotic fruits.
There’s plenty to see and do at Tropical Fruit World - take a Plantation Safari by tractor train, enjoy a wildlife boat cruise, ride a miniature train and get close to kangaroos, emus and Clydesdale horses at the fauna park. Of course, the best part is tasting the exotic fruits, juices and ice creams, so head to the Plantation Café to try unique varieties like cheese fruit, chocolate pudding fruit, caramel fruit and champagne fruit. There’s also a recreational area, with mini golf and a children’s playground; a fruit market where seasonal fruits like dragonfruit, jackfruit and papaya are on sale; and a shop, where you can purchase souvenirs like avocado oil cosmetics or home-made fruit jams.
When it comes to finding a great deal, the Art Gallery of New South Wales (NSW) is one of the top spots to hit in Sydney. Everything from the permanent galleries and celebrity talks to live performances and Wednesday night films are free to the public.
Since 1871 this international destination, complete with grand courts, light-filled halls and stunning harbor views, has been showcasing one of the most diverse collections of artwork in the country. Travelers may have to pay an additional fee for temporary exhibits, but the permanent collection at the Art Gallery of NSW is large enough that visitors can while away a day soaking up Sydney culture.
Since 1991, Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art has showcased the works of today’s Australian artists in a gallery on the Circular Quay. Boundary-pushing solo exhibitions are the focus, while the permanent collection includes work from contemporary Aboriginal artists. The museum’s rooftop cafe boasts a fresh menu and harbor views.
The Three Sisters is an ancient rock formation located in the Blue Mountains National Park in the town of Katoomba. The towering trio of stone has a mythical dimension in the Aboriginal Dreamtime legend about three sisters who lived in the Jamison Valley and fell in love with three brothers from a rival tribe whom they were forbidden to marry.
What is now a popular destination for history buffs once served as a defense facility that kept watch over the bay. Fort Denison Island, located northeast of the Royal Botanic Gardens, was where some of the most gruesome acts against convicted felons took place.
Today, travelers can wander the grounds of this recently restored island and see the gibbet where criminals were hanged. Explore the fort built to protect the island from invaders and climb the historic Martello Tower, the only one of its kind in the country. The island is home to an informative museum, as well as a number of landmarks that illustrate its dark and violent past.
Please note: Fort Denison is currently closed for maintenance. The reopening is scheduled for late 2021.
The continental city of Sydney offers travelers options that go beyond the strictly Aussie. The Chinese Garden of Friendship, modeled after the private gardens of the Ming Dynasty, is just one of the multicultural experiences this jewel by the sea has to offer.
Opened in 1988 and designed by Sydney’s sister city of Guangzhou, the garden is a nod to the Chinese culture and heritage that already exists in and around Darling Harbour. The lush gardens, tranquil ponds and scenic waterfalls pay homage to the friendship between Sydney and Guangzhou. Travelers can wander between ornamental pavilions and babbling brooks before settling lakeside to enjoy peaceful reflection. Hot tea and traditional dim sum are also served at the garden’s teahouse.
One of Sydney’s top attractions, Darling Harbour boasts fine-dining restaurants, a shopping center, one of the largest IMAX cinema screens in the world, and two entertainment staples for families: SEA LIFE® Sydney and WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo. Extend your visit into the evening to view the city lights reflected on the water.
Since 1879, the Powerhouse Museum has served as the main attraction for Sydney's Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Its impressive halls are filled with all things technological—from science and communication to transport and computers—even massive steam engines.
Jam-packed with more than 400,000 artifacts, this Sydney staple has become a destination for train lovers, engineers, computer nerds, scientists, and the curious. While the permanent collection is pretty incredible on its own, popular temporary exhibitions, such as those that have showcasedStar Trek,The Lord of the Rings, Fabergé and even singer Kylie Minogue, keep this classic museum contemporary and up to date.
Please note the museum is undergoing a staged closure from June 2020, and will be closing fully in June 2021 to relocate to a different Sydney location.
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- Things to do in South Australia
- Things to do in South Island
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