06th October, 2022

Local life on Sydney Harbour, Sydney’s aquatic playground

Imagine waking up on a warm Sydney morning and having a swim in the sparkling waters of Sydney Harbour before you start your day. Or taking a walk along a coastal track with views of the most beautiful Harbour in the world.

After a morning coffee at the wharf, you jump on a ferry and head to the city, taking a few photos along the way, reminding yourself how lucky you are to live here. And on the weekend, it’s all about getting out onto the water or grabbing a water view from a five-star restaurant and celebrating life in this incredible city.

Local Sydney life is action-packed, and Sydney Harbour is a much-loved aquatic playground.

Let’s explore how the locals play on Sydney Harbour ...

Couple picnic at the beach on Shark Island attraction HOHO sightseeing non-ccc dnsw
Sydney Harbour boasts plenty of beaches

Sydney Harbour beaches

Life truly is a beach in Sydney, and there are plenty of pretty coves and sandy beaches complete with saltwater pools that draw locals for a morning dip (year-round for many!) to start their day.

Sydney Harbour is adorned with more than 20 beaches along the Harbour foreshore, where locals languish over the weekends. It’s not unusual for a little penguin to swim by you at Camp Cove and to see dogs frolic with their owners at Rose Bay.

Neilson Park and Clifton Gardens are perfect places to picnic and swim. Aside from the natural beauty of these spots, they offer vantage points to watch super yachts and cruise ships pass by.

With calm waters, Sydney Harbour beaches are the perfect place to hire a kayak or SUP for fun on the water.

Gold Penfolds Dinner couple having degustation menu, waitress presenting St Henri wine to dining table
Gold Penfolds Dinner Cruise

Dining on Sydney Harbour

Aspirational and possible, Sydney Harbour is the backdrop to some of Sydney’s best dining. We have our own fine dining option with our Sydney Harbour cruise: Penfolds Gold dining experience. On the Harbour with views across the water to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House are the city’s renowned fine dining restaurants.

Quay (housed dockside in the upper level of the Overseas Passenger Terminal) and Aria are found at Circular Quay. Inside the Sydney Opera House, with views across to the bridge and an up close and almost personal view of the spectacular sails of the Sydney Opera House is Bennelong. At Barangaroo, Clare Smyth’s restaurant offers a luxe setting and fine dining - and stellar views from level 26 of Crown Sydney.

If it's harbour-view dining you are seeking, you can do one better than a harbourside view and actually dine on Sydney Harbour, immersed and wrapped in the views. A lunch or dinner cruise with Captain Cook Cruises offer the best views of Sydney Harbour’s natural beauty and iconic man-made attractions. Our customers agree by far, it is the best value dining experience on Sydney Harbour.

Rocket 2 decks ferry sightseeing boat Hop On Hop Off during the day
Hop On Hop Off Sydney Harbour Explorer

Criss-cross on a ferry

Sydney locals are as much a tourist in their own city as those who visit. With the most beautiful Harbour in the world on their doorstep, it’s not surprising to find locals getting on a Sydney Ferry on the weekend to zip across to another side. (Even ex-Prime Ministers!).

Captain Cook Cruises offers 1 and 2-day passes on their Hop-On Hop-Off Sydney Harbour Explorer. From Circular Quay or Darling Harbour, the ferry stops at Luna Park for amusement and Taronga Zoo to see the animals (including Australian wildlife). Hop off at Shark Island to picnic and explore or at Watsons Bay to enjoy seafood at Doyles – a local favourite and a view you will never forget.

Enjoy a cold drink or a Sunday session at the garden bar at the Watsons Bay Hotel before you hop back on to Manly, where The Corso takes you to eateries, and there are coastal and Harbour beaches to explore.

Locals also criss-cross the Harbour on a water taxi a water taxi, chill out with friends on a super-cruiser or relax with friends on a chartered yacht.

Couple enjoying views from Royal Botanical Gardens during summer sightseeing non-ccc dnsw
Enjoying the view from Royal Botanical Gardens

Harbourside walking

Sydney Harbour National Park is dotted with harbourside walking tracks that locals traverse for recreation, fitness and for that special feeling of ‘getting away from it all’ that is found in abundance on Sydney Harbour.

On the north shore, the walk from Bradley’s Head to Chowder Bay is popular for natural bush and beautiful beach vistas - and perhaps a spot of fishing.

On the south side of the city, eastern suburbs residents enjoy the Hermitage Foreshore Walk that hugs the coastline from Vaucluse to Neilson Park, with unparalleled Sydney Harbour views and the South Head Heritage Trail from Camp Cove.

Cityside, the 11-kilometre (7-mile) Sydney Harbour Foreshore Walk starts at the Finger Wharf at Woolloomooloo with pathways through Farm Cove where the Royal Botanic Gardens and historic Mrs Macquarie’s chair overlook Sydney Harbour. Locals love to walk all the way through to the Wulgul Walk at Barangaroo. Enroute, it’s fun to meander along the pathways of the botanic gardens and stop for a long lunch at Botanic House.

Visit a gallery

Sydney locals love their art, witnessed by the fervent interest in the annual Archibald Prize, which has attracted portraits from artists for more than 100 years. In 2022, there were 816 entries of which 52 were selected and 27 awarded prizes. Locals flock to the Art Gallery of New South Wales to view ‘The Archibald’ and other exhibitions.

Adjacent to Circular Quay, in The Rocks precinct, is the Museum of Contemporary Art, another popular gallery locals explore as much as tourists. Located on the edge of Sydney Harbour, the MCA contains more than 4000 works by living Australian artists. The café offers unrivalled views and is a favourite lunch and coffee spot.

Dress up for the Opera

The World heritage-listed Sydney Opera House is adored by visitors and locals alike. Any given week, up to 40 performances from opera to musicals, symphony to jazz, dance to comedy, talks and ‘audiences with’, chorales and choirs are held in ‘the House’.

Sydney loves to don its glad rags, (or keep it smart casual) and catch a ferry to the Sydney Opera House for a performance. A bite to eat and drinks at the Opera Bar or one of the restaurants, photos of the sun setting behind Sydney Harbour Bridge - it never gets old.

Luna Park Ferris Wheel and Harbour Bridge Daytime
Sydney's famous Luna Park

Laugh at Luna Park

The big happy façade that overlooks Sydney Harbour at Milsons Point is the place Sydneysiders go to for thrills and spills on amusement park rides. Here, the roller coaster (The Big Dipper) is the world’s first inline seating launch roller coaster and Australia’s tallest and fastest multi-launch coaster.

Seeking another view of the Harbour? The Sledgehammer serves up the sea and the sky while you swing and spin. There’s dodgems, carousels and sideshows for all the fun of the fair and Sydney comes here to scream and laugh with the city and the Harbour as their backdrop.

Celebrate culture and dance

Celebrate culture and dance The Walsh Bay Arts precinct is found in the redeveloped finger wharves and is home to Sydney’s most renowned performance companies. Offering restaurants, cafes and fine dining, locals come to eat before they catch a performance from the Sydney Theatre Company. The Bangara Dance Theatre, a company of professional a company of professional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performers also has their performance studios here with views over Sydney Harbour. The Sydney Dance Company is found here too, with studios for lessons and their contemporary dance performances.

Camp on an island

Sydney locals can get away from it on a weekend all without going too far. There are 13 islands in Sydney Harbour but Cockatoo Island offers rest and respite with its harbourside campground. A great place to see in the New Year, explore convict and Aboriginal history, picnic or even see a concert or an opera performance. There’s a range of accommodation on the island but the locals love to camp! With bags packed, it's just a short ferry ride to a world away from home.

NYE New Years Eve Fireworks - Credit Keith Mc Innes
New Year's Eve on Sydney Harbour

Sydney loves to party

Sydney’s best major events happen on the Sydney Harbour and the locals flock to vantage points and public spaces to be a part of the colour, action and fun. In summer, Sydney Harbour comes alive to celebrate new beginnings with the spectacular fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

To get the best views, locals book hotel rooms and restaurants with Harbour views or sit for hours at local vantage points to ‘save a place’. Captain Cook Cruises special New Year’s Eve cruises get inside the exclusion zone on Sydney Harbour - where pleasure craft are prohibited. Aboard their flagship, super-cruiser Sydney 2000, locals and visitors alike enjoy premium dining and dancing. What a party.

For 23 days of winter, locals flock to Vivid, when Sydney glows with colour, lights and 3D digital displays and is a-buzz with music, ideas and interactive art. The sails of the Sydney Opera House are a blank canvas for colourful display, and Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, the Domain and Barangaroo are alive with community and life after dark.

Experiences mentioned in this article

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