The 8 best ferry trips in Sydney

The ultimate way to explore stunning Sydney Harbour? On a ferry trip. Jump aboard and explore beaches, happening neighbourhoods, coastal walks and hidden coves.

Destination NSW

Destination NSW

Mar 2024 -
min read

Sydney Harbour is regarded as one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world – for good reason. This dreamy aquatic playground covers more than 240km of shoreline, with some 100 inner-city beaches and dozens of ocean pools to splash about in, not to mention swathes of native bush and postcard-perfect gardens. There are also plenty of landmarks, including Luna Park, Taronga Zoo Sydney, the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  

The best way to reach them all? Via ferry. The main ferry hub is Circular Quay, with routes fanning out from here west up the Parramatta River, north to Manly and far east to Watsons Bay. Head out on a watery adventure and explore some of the city’s prettiest beachside suburbs, harbour islands and major attractions on these legendary ferry routes.    

Hot tip: In most cases, you need an all-purpose public transport Opal card to ride on a ferry. These days, you can even tap on with a contactless credit or debit card.  

Sunrise over Circular Quay, The Rocks

Sunrise over Circular Quay

Circular Quay to Manly 

There are few more legendary, or scenic, ferry trips than the route from Circular Quay to Manly – it has been wowing commuters for decades. You set off gazing at the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, then glide east toward the Heads before veering north past Sydney Harbour National Park to dock in Manly. And when you arrive, you’re greeted with breezy restaurants and bars on the wharf, and multiple beaches within easy reach. Whether you’re a Sydneysider or a visitor, this trip never fails to impress.  

TIP: It’s hard to beat a drink in the sun at Hugo's Manly Restaurant, smack bang on the wharf. Watch the ferries come and go and gaze over a swathe of sand.  

Manly ferries depart every half hour from Circular Quay, Mon-Fri 5.30-12.20am; Sat, Sun 6.20-12.20am.

Hugo's Manly

Hugo's Manly, Northern Beaches

Circular Quay to Watsons Bay 

Jump aboard this ferry and you’ll glide past some of the most salubrious suburbs in Sydney, from Darling Point and Double Bay to Rose Bay, with its seaplanes coming and going. Watsons Bay was once a fishing village, but today it’s a popular hangout for young and old alike – come here to splash about in the harbour, feast on fish-and-chips in the lively beer garden at the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, picnic in the waterside park or take on the South Head Heritage Trail walk.  

TIP: Just steps from the wharf you’ll find Doyles on the Beach, an acclaimed seafood restaurant where you can sit down to a fancy meal – think tiered seafood platters – or grab takeaway fish-and-chips to enjoy on the sand.  

Watsons Bay ferries depart from Circular Quay, Mon-Fri 6.05am-11.45pm; Sat & Sun 7.45am-11.45pm. 

Watsons Bay

Aerial over Watsons Bay

Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island/Wareamah 

The largest island in Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo Island/Wareamah has a long and storied history. It was an Aboriginal fishing spot for centuries, then after colonial settlement became a convict gaol from 1839 – 1869. Today, it’s home to a UNESCO World Heritage-listed Convict Site, alongside a waterfront campground, licensed cafes, a historic dockyard, holiday houses and apartments. Guided and self-guided tours are available, and there are exciting seasonal events. 

TIP: You can BYO tent to pitch in the campground. Or opt for a little luxury with a premium tent furnished with creature comforts. The biggest luxury? Unbeatable views of Sydney Harbour. If you’re brave, book one of the guided ghost tours.  

Cockatoo Island ferries depart from Circular Quay, Mon-Fri 6.15am-11.45pm; Sat 6.45am-11.45pm; Sun 8.45am-8.45pm.  

Cockatoo Island situated along the Parramatta River with views back to Sydney Harbour and Sydney CBD, Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island with views back to Sydney Harbour and Sydney CBD

Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo 

Your day of fun at Taronga Zoo can kick off before you even arrive. Ferries from Circular Quay dock at the lower entrance to the zoo, on Athol Wharf Road – it’s a quick but scenic trip, and an equally speedy walk to get tickets. As an added bonus, the ferry wharf is also the starting point for coastal walks including the Bradleys Head to Chowder Bay Walk and the shorter trail to Bradleys Head.   

TIP: Did you know that you can stay overnight at Taronga Zoo? The harbourside sanctuary offers both a luxe Wildlife Retreat as well as glamping experience Roar and Snore. Both give you exclusive access to the zoo after hours.   

Taronga Zoo ferries depart from Circular Quay, Mon-Fri 6.48am-6.45pm; Sat & Sun 8:52am-6:42pm.  

Taronga Zoo, Mosman

Taronga Zoo, Mosman

Circular Quay to Parramatta  

In Sydney’s west, Parramatta is booming, with new hotels and restaurants, festivals and oh-so-cool entertainment precincts. Getting there along congested freeways can be a headache, however. We recommend swapping the car for a RiverCat catamaran and gliding – sans traffic – along the Parramatta River on a leisurely one-hour cruise. Sit back, relax and enjoy views of Cockatoo Island, Drummoyne, Kissing Point, Meadowbank and Sydney Olympic Park, before you alight.    

TIP: Head to the new Parramatta Square and you’ll find a diverse range of restaurants, dishing up everything from Japanese to gelato, burgers to pastries.  

Parramatta River ferries depart from Circular Quay, Mon-Fri 6.47am-11.37pm; Sat & Sun 7.07am-11.37pm.  

Sydney Olympic Park Ferry Wharf located on Parramatta River

Sydney Olympic Park Ferry Wharf located along the Parramatta River

Barangaroo to Balmain East 

This is a short trip (five minutes), but a good one. Head down to the western harbour precinct of Barangaroo – there’s plenty to entertain here, from expansive parklands to hip restaurants and bars along the waterfront. Hop on a Balmain-bound ferry and zip past Goat Island before arriving at the wharf. From here, it’s a short walk to Balmain’s buzzing, historic streets.  

TIP: Pets are permitted on ferries if they are in a box/basket/container – at the discretion of the crew. And when you arrive in Balmain, most pubs are dog friendly, so you can drink and dine with pooch in tow.  

Balmain East ferries depart from Barangaroo on the Parramatta line. 

Balmain East Ferry Wharf, Balmain waterfront - Credit: James Horan

Balmain East Ferry Wharf, Balmain waterfront - Credit: James Horan

Barangaroo to Blackwattle Bay  

It’s another short ferry ride from Barangaroo to Blackwattle Bay, which is the gateway to a swathe of coastal parkland around the suburb of Glebe. There’s a great foreshore walk, and plenty of grassy places to spread out a picnic rug. We recommend that you stroll the short distance to the Sydney Fish Market first, and pick up a bounty of fresh seafood before finding a place to feast back near the wharf.  

TIP: The Sydney Fish Market is home to the Sydney Seafood School, where you can book in for cooking classes ranging from how to prepare XO crab to making an Italian seafood feast.  

Blackwattle Bay ferries depart from Barangaroo, Mon-Fri 6.56am-7.56pm; Sat & Sun 8.56am-6.56pm. 

Blackwattle Bay, Glebe - Credit: James Horan

View across Blackwattle Bay, Glebe - Credit: James Horan

Cronulla to Bundeena 

The southern shire of Cronulla, around 26km south of Sydney’s CBD, is known for its uncrowded beaches and surf breaks. From here, a quaint timber ferry (the longest running in Sydney and also the city’s most southerly ferry route) operates once an hour to Bundeena, the gateway to the epic Royal National Park. Touch down and get set for wonderous adventures involving hiking, swimming, surfing and paragliding.    

TIP: The Bundeena to Wattamola Walk (which forms part of the larger Coast Track) is legendary, spanning clifftops and with epic coastal views – look out for whales between May and September. The walk is 3.5 hours one way, and you can book a shuttle bus service for your return journey through Bundeena Kayaks.   

Travel between Cronulla Wharf and Bundeena Wharf, Mon-Fri 5.30am-7.30pm; Sat, Sun 8.30am-7pm (Sep-May) & 8.30am-6pm (Jun-Aug). Note: Opal cards are not accepted.  

The Cronulla to Bundeena ferry returning to the Tonkin Street Public Wharf - Cronulla

The Cronulla to Bundeena ferry returning to the Tonkin Street Public Wharf, Cronulla

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