12th July, 2022

Adored the world over, ‘on the list’ for international travellers, loved by the locals and gasp worthy for all who visit. Here are 10 reasons why Sydney Harbour can stake its claim as the best harbour in the world.

1. An incredible natural attraction

Covering a 55m2 (592 sq. ft), Sydney Harbour stretches 19 kilometres (11 miles) from its opening from the Tasman Sea and has a 317-kilometre (196.9 mile) perimeter. Geography junkies will want to know - Sydney Harbour or Port Jackson - is actually a drowned river valley, that also contains two other harbours, North Harbour and Middle Harbour and extends out to Darling Harbour and the Parramatta River in the west. It’s a natural waterscape and landscape. There’s plenty who say it’s the largest natural harbour in the world - that’s up for debate but it’s stunning so in this case, size does not matter. The environment here is protected under the auspices of Sydney Harbour National Park that protects the islands, foreshore, flora and fauna and aboriginal culture.

The Rocks - credit Tourism Australia

2. Culture and History

Ancient history, settlement history and modern life and modern art. Sydney Harbour is the apex of them all. The Gadigal people had inhabited the southern foreshore of Sydney Harbour from South Head to what is now the inner western suburbs for more than 40,000 years. In 1788 the British came into Sydney Cove and started a penal settlement of 775 convicts. The Rocks is the first established site of settlement. The rest they say, is Australia’s colourful history. Today, the modern harbourside is home to world renowned restaurants, ferry and cruise terminals, luxury hotels, wharves that have morphed into coveted apartments and harbourside mansions. At its hub, is the Sydney Museum of Art and the Rocks - where old and new define the contemporary life of the harbour.

Sydney Opera House at twilight - Stock

3. The Sydney Opera House

No matter where you come from you know the iconic sails of Sydney Opera House, the iconic man-made attraction that adorns this natural harbour at Bennelong Point. An ‘undisputed masterpiece of modern creativity’ is how the UN committee described the Sydney Opera House when it was awarded World Heritage-listed status to join an exclusive collection of outstanding places on Earth, such as the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China. Yes, it is one of the most outstanding places on Earth. From any angle the Sydney Opera house mesmerises, and despite its lofty status, it is so accessible. Walk around it, go inside, take a tour, enjoy a performance or a VIP experience, drink at the Opera Bar or dine at Bennelong. Make sure you view its majesty from the water - day or night - goose bumps.

Sydney Harbour Bridge - Credit Tourism Australia

4. Sydney Harbour Bridge

Locals who enjoy yachting and cruising on Sydney Harbour will tell you that floating toward Sydney Harbour Bridge from either side on the water never gets old. If you have never done it, put it on your list. Beyond magnificence, Sydney Harbour Bridge has a real job, connecting the north and south sides of the city for cars and trains. She also has her own legendary stories from the construction, the controversial ribbon cutting fiasco by De Groot on opening day, the boy chosen to climb to the top unharnessed (back in the day!) and the other boy who rode 1400 kilometres (870 miles) from Victoria to be there. Adored across the world for her New Year’s Eve display and a symbol of this harbour city, you can drive across, walk across, climb atop - but don’t forget to sail under her - it’s a magical experience.

Fort Denison Sydney Harbour Island

5. There are Islands to visit

There are 13 islands that add points of interest at various locations in the harbour that ferries, ships and yachts pass by. These scenic natural attractions are rich in indigenous, settlement and naval history. Shark Island offers places for secluded picnics, while nearby historic Fort Denison with direct views across to the Opera House is being sensitively redeveloped for tourism and events. Naval heritage is found on Garden Island while World Heritage-listed and the largest, Cockatoo Island is rich in convict history and offers camping or heritage accommodation, BBQ and picnic grounds. Stellar views, cracking sunsets and sunrises to wake to are an unforgettable experience from each.

NYE New Years Eve Fireworks - Credit Keith Mc Innes

6. A stunning backdrop for (free) major events

Sydney Harbour excites the locals and the world with its incredible calendar of major events. On New Year’s Eve, locals flock to vantage points along the 24 harbour hugging beaches and suburbs to watch the spectacular fireworks display over the harbour and from ‘the bridge’, while our friends and relatives in the northern hemisphere start their New Year’s Eve breakfast watching the party we’ve had the night before, with awe. On Boxing Day, the harbour beaches are lined with picnickers and the water filled with pleasure craft to wave off the 88 yachts that take on the legendary 628 nautical mile Sydney to Hobart Yacht race that starts in Sydney Harbour and finishes 24 intrepid hours later in Hobart. Winter on the harbour is full of verve as the iconic harbourside buildings and attractions light up for the electrifying Vivid throughout June. It’s also the perfect backdrop for your own celebrations of life’s milestones, that significant birthday, a wedding or anniversary or celebrating family and friends.

Sydney 2000 boat cruising past Harbour Bridge

7. Calm water for gentle cruising

The only way to truly immerse in life on Sydney Harbour is on the water. A stand-up paddle board or a swim off a harbourside beach, a kayak, boat or a yacht. A lunch or dinner cruise on the harbour offers guests an onboard dining experience while floating past the natural and manmade attractions of the harbour. Unhurried, out on the water, circumnavigate the harbour with incredible and uninterrupted views of the sails and balconies of the Sydney Opera House. See the underside of the Harbour Bridge, the strength of the sandstone pylons and the intricate engineering of the span. Be amused by the 1930’s art deco façade of Sydney’s Luna Park as the big dipper thrills guests with new heights and dips. Witness the second residences of Australia’s Prime Minister and Governor General as you float past the gothic style Kirribilli House and neighbouring Admiralty House located on the superb Kirribilli Point. Weave among the islands and the flotilla of pleasure craft enjoying Sydney’s aquatic playground.

Blue Groper - Credit John Turnbull

8. Clear waters and marine life

It may be Australia’s largest and most populous city but Sydney Harbour is rich in fish fauna, home to 600 species, one of which is the bottom dwelling Port Jackson shark. It is said that there is more marine life in the harbour than in the Mediterranean Sea. Sydney Museum has recorded a staggering 3000 species. Molluscs dominate the marine population, but there are also Eastern Blue gropers (the New South Wales state emblem) and Common sea dragons and it’s not unusual to see tropical fish species. Of the 672 species, the eastern side of the harbour near the entrance is home to familiar crustaceans - Blue Swimmer, Mud Crab, Eastern Rock Lobster and Prawn. It’s also not unusual to see a dolphin pop up to play as you cruise by and watch for little penguins bobbling along the shoreline.

9. Year-round cruising

Year around, whatever the season, cruising on Sydney Harbour offers an unforgettable experience. But did you know, Sydney Harbour is the place to escape the heat and humidity of the Sydney summer? The harbour claims the lowest summer temperatures at a balmy 24.4 °C (75.9 °F) and because of the sea breezes, it is the least impacted by extreme heat. Where else would you rather be in the height of summer than cruising in air-conditioned comfort and stepping out to enjoy the sea breezes, while you snap unobstructed memories of the incredible natural landscapes and iconic attractions that grace this superb waterway.

10. It’s easy to get to

If you are flying into Sydney from overseas, Sydney’s centre of attention is just 18 minutes from the international airport by car, or there is a direct train that takes just a minute longer, less from the domestic airport. What this really means is if you are staying in a hotel in the city, you might see it from your hotel window, and you will be able to walk there. Circular Quay is a transport hub for trains, buses and those renowned Sydney ferries that crisscross the harbour all day and into the night. It’s easy to connect to Sydney Harbour, experience its expanse, immerse in the water, explore harbourside attractions and dine with stellar views.

Experiences mentioned in this article

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