Arrive at Circular Quay via tram, train or bus and walk to Customs House. Standing on Gadigal land, the Customs House opened in 1845 and was once an icon of British rule. While the landscape around the building has changed from mangrove swamps to colonial offices to shiny skyscrapers, the House itself has remained and is one of the city’s oldest surviving architectural gems. Explore a scaled-down model of Sydney underfoot, discover exhibitions, and enjoy a meal in the historic building.
Head to the rooftop to dine at the iconic Cafe Sydney with dazzling postcard views of Circular Quay and across Sydney Harbour.
A celebration of today’s artists, the Museum of Contemporary Art is a significant institute of creativity in Sydney and, indeed, Australia. The handsome Art Deco-inspired building once housed the Maritime Services Board but is now a cutting-edge gallery complete with a modern, five-storey wing, added in 2012. Ever a thought-provoking and incredible experience, be sure to dedicate time on your itinerary to thoroughly delve into the collection.
Enjoy an elegant post-art lunch as you watch the ferries dock at Circular Quay at the MCA cafe and sculpture terrace. Or if you’re looking for a more casual option, grab a rock-n-roll-style burger at Mary’s Circular Quay.
Step inside this 1850s-era sandstone warehouse and be transported back in time. Beginning with the First Nations people of Warrane (the Gadigal name for Sydney Cove), who predated the arrival of the British by many thousands of years, you’ll then journey through to colonial times and onto landmark events that led Sydney to its current period of prosperity. Essentially Sydney’s old town, be sure to have a wander through the historic streets of The Rocks before continuing on your trail.
While you’re strolling through The Rocks, make a note of some of the nearby fine dining options to return to come nightfall, such as the impeccable Quay (best to pre-book) or Sake Restaurant for contemporary Japanese.
Housed in the south-east pylon of the famous Harbour Bridge is a museum that offers incredible views of the harbour and guides you through the building and creation of one of Sydney’s most iconic structures. It may not be on your agenda today but consider booking a climb to the 134-metre summit of the bridge. While you’re in the vicinity, amble across to the adjacent Dawes Point Battery remains to marvel at the 1791-built military installation.
Honouring 21 idols of the stage and screen who have contributed to Sydney’s theatrical history, this short meander at the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct glitters as much as the adjacent water. Occupying historic wharves, the precinct is the home to the city’s most world-renowned and accomplished performance ensembles, including the Sydney Theatre Company, Bangarra Dance Theatre, and Sydney Dance Company. Watching a performance here should be on your Sydney to-do list, so be sure to book ahead and make a night of it with a stay at the nearby Pier One hotel.
One of Sydney’s most recent and ambitious renewal projects, Barangaroo belies very little of its former industrial life as a container terminal. Weaving along the water’s edge, the precinct brims with incredible eateries, parklands, exciting shopping, cultural experiences, and the six-star Crown hotel. Coming from Walsh Bay, begin your exploration by dipping into Barangaroo Reserve. This large landscaped green space provides beautiful vantage points, lovely lawns, and the purpose-built Cutaway event space. Not to be missed is the important audio-visual artwork Wellama, which welcomes visitors to Gadigal country, and the multimedia Indigenous experience Ngangamay, embedded in the sandstone and accessed via a downloadable app, that honours Barangaroo, the powerful Aboriginal woman after whom the precinct is named.
Barangaroo is a culinary hub taking full advantage of Sydney’s stunning weather and harbour views. From Asian-fusion brunch at Devon Cafe, to elegant Chinese dumpling restaurant Lotus and Bea at the flagship Barangaroo House, you could easily graze from breakfast through to a night cap here.
Walk from Barangaroo Reserve over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Milsons Point to view Sydney Observatory. This scientifically and architecturally compelling site was built in 1858 and while its gaze is affixed to the night sky, it also offers some of Sydney’s most attention-seeking views. The Observatory hosts astronomy workshops and talks, but you’re also welcome to come and marvel at the beauty of the building.
This corner of Sydney is well-supplied with historic public houses, two of which are nearby to Barangaroo. The Hotel Palisade offers refreshments from its lofty position at Millers Point, while The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel has been pouring pints since 1841 in The Rocks.
Destination NSW acknowledges and respects Aboriginal people as the state’s first people and nations and recognises Aboriginal people as the traditional owners and occupants of New South Wales land and water.