Sydney winter activities
Pay no notice to the cooler weather: Sydney still packs plenty of thrills in the cold season, you just need to know where to look.
Take a long scenic coastal walk
With frequent sunny days, you can take in all the regular sights and activities in Sydney in winter, but cooler temperatures mean this is the perfect time for long walks. The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk provides lovely coastal scenery even if swimming is probably off the agenda – although a chilly plunge at Bondi Icebergs provides a hit of endorphins like nothing else.
Federation Cliff Walk and South Head Heritage Trail leading from Watson’s Bay aren’t as well-known but also very rewarding – with the dramatic cliffs, views across to Sydney’s north and the Macquarie Lighthouse to admire.
Ride the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly and relax on the sunny harbour and ocean promenades. The stunning 10km Manly to Spit Bridge Walk leads through cliff-hugging national park with outstanding harbour views and quiet sandy enclaves to stop for breaks.
Spot gentle giants
Winter is whale watching season in Sydney. Southern right and humpback whales are commonly seen migrating from Antarctica to warmer waters to give birth to their young and then back again between May and October. You can often spot them from the clifftops along the coast, or for an up-close spectacle, join a cruise with Whale Watching Sydney or Oz Whale Watching.
Wander through a market
A winter Saturday is the perfect time to discover Sydney’s markets. There’s plenty to choose from: Paddington Markets sits in the heart of this historic, chic suburb, also home to a great array of Australian designer-label boutiques and very close to the vast greenery of Centennial Parklands.
Rozelle Collectors Market specialises in bric-a-brac and second-hand books – afterwards, wander down Darling Street and discover its eclectic range of shops and eateries. The Round She Goes market is a biannual event with over 70 stalls selling preloved, vintage and retro fashion in Marrickville – great for bargain hunters.
Carriageworks Farmers Market in Eveleigh is renowned for its fresh produce, snacks and people watching and is undercover if the weather turns bad.
Spend Sunday arvo in a cosy pub
Head to a cosy pub for a roast lunch on a frosty Sunday. Nag’s Head in Glebe is a relaxed, dog-friendly pub that does an all-day Sunday roast. In Darlinghurst, The Taphouse, a much-loved pub specialising in far-flung beers, serves a Sunday roast with all the trimmings. With a roaring fireplace, plush armchairs and bookshelf-lined walls it doesn’t come more English than the Duke of Clarence. The inner-city pub has a whole menu of roasts to choose from on Sunday, including a vegetarian version with roast pumpkin and Yorkshire pudding.
In the Rocks, the Lord Nelson Brewery is Sydney’s oldest continually licensed hotel, and brews its own award-winning beers, which are an excellent match for the pub’s pies and roasts. Nearby, the Hero of Waterloo is another heritage spot with live music, a restaurant and even ghost tours. Continue the evening at the Doss House along the same street, a cosy underground bar serving excellent cocktails and an extensive whiskey collection.
See a film in an old cinema
Looking for a winter date night idea? Cosy up in one of Sydney’s charming old cinemas with a choc top and a glass of wine. The Chauvel in Paddington has been operating since 1977 and has retained details such as a barrel-vaulted ceiling in one of its theatres. It attracts real film buffs, with a rich program of retrospective films and festivals. Further along Oxford Street is Palace Verona Cinemas, an art house theatre, showing international and independent Australian films.
One of the only Art Deco cinemas left in Sydney, the heritage-listed Ritz Cinema in Randwick is as much loved for its rundown glamour as it is for its cheap tickets. The Golden Age Cinema in Surry Hills was originally constructed in the 1940s and was restored in 2013 to become the city’s most opulent cinema. Start the night at the David Lynch-inspired bar slinging cocktails and hosting live gigs, before settling into the small theatre’s velvet green chairs, showing a tightly curated program of indies, classics, and new releases.
Join a tour
For a quirky thrill, ghost tours at the former Quarantine Station in Manly or The Rocks Ghost Tours are more atmospheric in the colder, darker months. The Rocks has attractive Georgian and Victorian buildings housing boutiques and restaurants, as well as cosy pubs, many with blazing fires, such as Lord Nelson Brewery (one of the oldest pubs in Australia) and the Fortune of War, so linger longer after the tour to explore.
If the weather turns exceptionally chilly, you can always retreat indoors, to attractions such as SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo (both in Darling Harbour) and the observation deck at Sydney Tower (don’t miss the fabulous Bar 83 on, you guessed it, the 83rd floor).
For a dose of arts and culture, try out the Australian Museum, Powerhouse Museum, the Australian National Maritime Museum, White Rabbit Gallery and Art Gallery of New South Wales. Pick one of the Sydney Culture Trails and explore an inner-city precinct by foot, stopping in at galleries and museums (with fuel stops in between) while enjoying the winter sunshine.
Browse the afternoon away in a bookstore
Not all bookstores are created equal: there are shops that are purely functional, selling the widest range of books possible, then there are lovingly curated shops that have a culture of their own.
Sydney is home to some excellent institutions: from the second-hand bookstore Sappho in Glebe, populated by uni students sipping lattes in the on-site courtyard cafe, to the packed-to-the-brim Elizabeth’s Bookstore in Newtown with friendly staff and surprise titles wrapped in brown paper.
Spend a night at the theatre
Dinner and a show is always a fun evening out. Sydney’s excellent theatres host some of the best Broadway and West End musicals and shows, and you can see Sydney’s world class opera, dance and theatre companies in action at Sydney Opera House and other venues across the city.
Lace-up your skates
In the winter school holidays, a number of outdoor ice-skating rinks crop up around the city. The Pittwater Ice Skating Spectacular is perfect for little ones keen to test out their skating skills with cute-as-a-button penguin skating aids provided. The Darling Harbour Ice Rink is also returning to the forecourt of the ICC Sydney. The perfect thing to do these winter school holidays, a romantic date or for a little icy exercise.
At Koshigaya Park in Campbelltown, Chill Fest simply bursts with family fun. Think amusement rides, light shows, marshmallow toasting, food trucks and, of course, an open-air ice-skating rink.
The two-week Bondi Festival returns in 2023 with its signature ice rink, as well as a Ferris wheel, comedy, theatre, and music shows, and lots of yummy eats. There are plenty of other activities to keep the kids entertained in the school holidays – see native animals, check out an art gallery or pack a picnic on a sunny seaside spot.
Enjoy an exciting event
Vivid Sydney in early June is the big cultural event of the winter season, lighting up prominent buildings (including the Opera House and the MCA) to spectacular effect. Be sure to sign up for one of the music or ideas programs and take a cruise to get a different perspective of the spectacular view.
Grab a box of popcorn and settle in for a screening during the Sydney Film Festival. Meanwhile, young film buffs will adore the Children's International Film Festival at Ritz Cinemas in Randwick.
The Bastille Festival brings a slice of France to The Rocks in July. Expect French food and wine, entertainment, street stalls, pop-up igloos and even a Christmas Village.
Winter is a great time for sports lovers too: take in a State of Origin rugby-league battle between NSW and Queensland in June and see great Australian Rules football matches featuring the city’s two AFL teams (the Sydney Swans and Greater Western Sydney Giants).
In August, head to Auburn to wander through an explosion of pink flowers at the Sydney Cherry Blossom Festival. Held over nine days, it pays homage to the culture of Japan, with music, food and activities as well as the stunning trees.