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Hidden Gems of Sydney

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Sydney is Australia’s most famous city.  It contains such exciting and famous landmarks as The Sydney Opera House and The Sydney Harbour Bridge.  But anyone can tell you the regular things to see in this vibrant and spirited capital city.  Taronga Zoo, Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, Manly, Bondi Beach, Darling Harbour, Sydney Botanical Gardens and Circular Quay are all impressive things to see, for sure. A trip to Sydney would not be complete without setting your eyes on our illustrious landmarks that are synonymous with Sydney, and Australia.  But peel back a layer of city tourism and you may discover some hidden gems of Sydney.  It’s a great city, and one where exploration will be rewarded with unique attractions and activities.

This post was updated with a lot of new photos in January 2024.

Australia 16 Hidden Gems of Sydney

We try to keep this post as up-to-date as possible but please check and double-check prices, opening times and availability for yourself. We provide links where we can. Our post features everything you can see in the photo below, and more. If you’re looking for unique things to see and do in Sydney, you’re in the right place!

Things to do in Sydney
Things to see and do in Sydney

Hidden Gems of Sydney

You can use our index, below to find the hidden gem for you. Don’t forget to save this list to Pinterest, hit the red button and a choice of pins will appear.

cadmans cottage sydney australia
Some of Sydney’s treasures are hidden in plain site. Cadman’s Cottage is on Circular Quay, between the international cruise ship dock and First Fleet Park. Part of The Rocks, the oldest part of the city, It was built in 1816, when Circular Quay was a natural cove, it stood on the beach.

Hidden Gems of Sydney Tour

You can book a Hidden Gems of Sydney half-day tour, which includes many of the places below, including the Pylon Climb and Lookout, Luna Park, Observatory Hill (Windmill Hill), The Australian Heritage Hotel, Church Point, and the steps of Sydney at Cambridge St. It’s a perfect way for first-timers to get to know Sydney, book here!

Hidden Gems Sydney Harbour Bridge View
Don’t miss this view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the other side! You can get here by train, over the bridge for great views, or by ferry. It’s just 1 stop from Wynyard Station, to Milson’s Point Station (for Luna Park). Take a stroll around Luna Park fun fair and catch the ferry back to Circular Quay or Darling Harbour.

Discover These Sydney Hidden Gems, Self-Guided

Climb the Harbour Bridge Pylon

South East Pylon Sydney Harbour Bridge
Climb up inside the Harbour Bridge South East pylon for incredible views of the city.

Most people don’t realise that there is a much cheaper alternative to a Harbour Bridge Climb. Between 10 am and 5 pm every day, you can enjoy the same views as on the Bridge Climb, but for a fraction of the price. 

The Southeast Pylon is scalable in 200 steps, and only costs $25 per adult. It’s also less scary than the Bridge Climb! There is a museum and fantastic views of the harbour, city, and even the Blue Mountains!

Walk to the Southeast Pylon from The Rocks, Circular Quay, or Darling Harbour. Beneath the Harbour Bridge, just before the south pylons, there is an archaeological site and the remains of early fortifications.

This area, Dawes Point Reserve, becomes a public picnic spot on weekends when The Rocks Markets are open (10am to 5pm). Along with picnic blankets, there are tables and chairs and games available here too.

Dawes Point Reserve Picnic
Dawes Point Reserve Picnic Spot, beneath Sydney Harbour Bridge, has some of the best views of the Opera House.

The South East Pylon has been open to the public since 1934.

The Rocks History Museum

The Rocks Museum Sydney NSW
The Rocks Museum Sydney

A first stop for history lovers must be the free Rocks Museum, the walk here from Circular Quay, will take you through some of Sydney’s ancient lanes and footpaths.

Tank Stream Tours

This is an incredibly privileged private tour of Sydney’s literal underground which happens only twice per year. 

The original Tank Stream was the first water supply for olden-day Sydney from back when it was just a burgeoning colony.  These days, excited history buffs can explore the old underground stormwater drains which lie deep underneath the modern-day city. 

The damp and unique tour covers 60 meters of the historic tunnel which was built by convicts and stonemasons hundreds of years ago. 

Entry is twice per year and is achievable only upon entering and winning a ballot.  The tickets cost $40 per person.  Enter the ballot here https://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/events/tank-stream-tours-may-2019-ballot

Elizabeth Bay House

The iconic Elizabeth Bay House was built ‘at considerable expense’ and once stood as ‘the finest house in the colony’.  Second in charge to the Governor, Alexander Macleay built this magnificent house with commanding views over the harbour before he descended into financial ruin. 

The house remains as a testament to the once-aspiring times of the early Sydney days and admission is free 10am to 4pm according to the House’s website.

Elizabeth Bay House is east of the Botanical Gardens at Pott’s Point, overlooking Elizabeth Bay, 4.5km east of the Sydney CBD.

The nearest train station to Elizabeth House is Kings Cross train station, which is on the Eastern Suburbs/Illawarra line, about a 7 minute walk to the house. You can catch the train at Martin Place Station.

The Rocks

The Rocks Markets Sydney NSW
Beautiful old buildings with “Sydney lace” at The Rocks Markets.

The Rocks is a historic part of Sydney which lies in the shadows of the Harbour Bridge.  Defined by narrow laneways and Sydney’s oldest pubs, a visit to Sydney is not complete without wandering around the Rocks. 

Sydney Oldest Pub on The Rocks
The oldest pub in Sydney is The Fortune of War and it looks out towards Circular Quay from The Rocks. It was built in 1828 by convict Samuel Terry.

Check out the open-air Rocks Markets for street food and handmade goods on weekends.

The Markets are held from Friday to Sunday 10 am to 5pm mostly at Jack Mundey Place, Playfair Street and George Street, The Rocks.

The markets are big, and you can buy food, crafts, clothing, gifts, you can buy just about anything!

Cockatoo Island

Sydney cockatoo island convicts
Cockatoo Island was a prison island. Repeat offenders and the really bad guys who wouldn’t behave after being shipped to Australia as convicts, ended up here. It’s a cool excursion to take from central Sydney.

This heritage-listed island is the biggest in Sydney Harbour and you can get there by ferry easily for just a few dollars. The whole trip could take you just an hour or two, and it is worth going.

Cockatoo Island accommodation
Cockatoo Island accommodation, safari tents, or the 1920s building on the cliff is a rental property. It’s certainly cheaper to stay here than in most Sydney hotels!

Visit and camp on Cockatoo Island for a unique history of Sydney, and indulge your senses in a ghost tour of the former convict penal establishment.  For more information, see the Cockatoo Island website or simply book on Booking.com.

You can catch the ferry to Cockatoo Island from Circular Quay for Barangaroo (Darling Harbour) for around $5, entry to the island is free. You can even camp overnight on the island using one of dozens of safari tents, or indeed, bring your own tent.

The building in our photo above is also a holiday let. You can book both here.

Q Station Ghost Tours

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, a chilling nighttime tour of Sydney’s former Quarantine Station, reputed to be one of Australia’s most haunted spots, will have you questioning everything. 

Visits range from a couple of hours to a sleepover if you dare. 

Visit a burial ground and wander down haunted pathways after dark with a chance to encounter eerie paranormal activity. 

The scariest ghost tours are only for 15 years and over and prices start at $49 per adult for a Ghostly Encounter.  There are less spooky tours for younger kids too, and even scarier ones for the brave.  Located 1 N Head Scenic Dr, Manly.

Now onto some foodie hidden gems!

Fishing Boats at Sydney Fish Market
Sydney’s Fish Market is a destination in itself. Try Australian favourites like Morton Bay Bugs and be sure to try the sushi!

Paint and Drink with Cork and Chroma

Cork and Chroma offers you the chance to release your inner artist in an acrylic on canvas art lesson with a difference.  Unleash your creativity by bringing your own wine along to the class!  Sound perfect. There are 2 locations in Sydney, Surrey Hills and St Leonards.  Bookings are essential https://www.corkandchroma.com.au/

Find Mary’s Burgers in Sydney

2024 Update: Mary’s Burgers is now a chain of burger restaurants, with branches on Circular Quay and in Sydney’s Entertainment Quarter.

If you are wandering through Newtown, Sydney’s hippest inner city suburb and feeling peckish, look for a darkened doorway with texta handwritten over the top ‘Mary’s’.  It looks completely nondescript, but the sublime burgers at Mary’s are absolutely to die for. 

The fried chicken is finger-licking good too.  The cool grungy interior is incredibly atmospheric.  Seek out 6 Mary St, Newtown for the best burgers in town.

Sydney Fish Market

Sushi Sydney Fish Market
Sushi at Sydney Fish Market

If you love seafood and you adore markets, then Sydney Fish Market is the place for you. 

The largest seafood market in town, this fun marketplace offers seafood, deli items, wine, coffee, & baked goods, plus fish restaurants galore. 

January 2024 – work has started on building a new Fish Market complex, but the old market (dating from 1966) is still open, we were there this morning for breakfast. The watermelon juice is excellent!

An incredibly dynamic hidden gem of Sydney. The Fish Market is located at the corner of Pyrmont Bridge Rd and Bank St, Pyrmont. Super foodies can even book a class at the Seafood School. Check out the seafood cooking classes here.

You can walk to the Sydney Fish Markets in about 15 minutes from Darling Harbour, 40 minutes from Circular Quay. The markets also have their own light rail station.

The fish market is open 7am to 4pm, every day except Christmas Day. But do check for changes on their website.

Glebe Market

Every Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm, Glebe Markets is the most happening place to be in Sydney.  This groovy market is all at once lively and zestful, with hip vintage and boho mixed with modern and eclectic wares.

Sit on the lawn enjoying exotic foods while listening to world beats, before hunting for the perfect re-worked, upcycled or funky article you never knew you needed. 

Location: Glebe Point Rd and Derby Place, Glebe, that’s south and east of the heart of Sydney. You can walk to Glebe Markets in about half an hour to 40 minutes from Darling Harbour.

Shark Island

Just off the exclusive Eastern suburbs of Sydney lies Shark Island.  A place so named for its shape, not its marine life. 

This is a perfect place for a picnic with the best views of Sydney Harbour.  Relax on the foreshore, hang out in the shaded interior or explore the many interesting rock pools surrounding the small island. 

A national park fee of $7 is applicable to all visitors and you can catch a ferry from Darling Harbour or Circular Quay, or paddle your own kayak to arrive on this special island.  Visit https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/picnic-areas/shark-island to arrange your National Park Pass.

Wendy’s Secret Garden

This stunning garden is located in Sydney’s Lavender Bay with wonderful views across the harbour. 

When Wendy Whiteley’s husband Brett died, she invested her grief and her love into developing a government area adjacent to her house to become this beautiful space.

This public garden, not so secret anymore, is a perfect place for inspiration and contemplation.  Sandwiched between office buildings and with an impeccably framed view of Sydney Harbour Bridge, Wendy’s Secret Garden is a great place to while away the day. 

To get there you need to get to the northern side of Sydney Harbour, the gardens are close to Luna Park, get off the train at Milson’s Point and walk past or through the fun fair. Admission is free.

It is open 24 hours and is located on Lavender St, Lavender Bay.

Museum of Human Disease

If you are into pathology, The Museum of Human Disease has your back, literally. 

Home to Australia’s only publicly accessible pathology exhibits, this museum provides real information about human health and disease with real specimens.  It is open from 10 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday.

 Entry costs approximately $10 per adult and $5 for a child.  Due to the sensitive and tangible nature of the exhibits, please consider this museum’s suitability for your children. 

Located Ground Floor, Samuels Building, UNSW, Sydney 

SS Ayrfield

The SS Ayrfield is an almost ethereal shipwreck which floats on the surface of Homebush Bay.  The decommissioned ship which survived WWII has inexplicably given rise to a mangrove forest on its deck, making it an atmospheric photo spectacle and a total hidden gem of Sydney. 

The 110-year-old boat is viewable from the southwestern shore of Homebush Bay. Homebush Bay is inland, along the river from Sydney Harbour, to walk would take over 3 hours, so you need transport to see this one! It’s near the Sydney Olympic Park.

Purikura Photoland

Have you ever seen those fun Japanese photo booths?  They allow you to cram up to 10 people into a booth at once, and then edit your faces with whiter skin, rosy cheeks and widened eyes. 

Purikura Photoland has heaps of these booths along with other Japanese favourite arcade games such as the claw machines.  Turn your perfect Purikura photos into instant stickers for a cryptic souvenir of Sydney. 

It is open from 10 am daily and closes at 11 pm Monday – Wednesday, midnight on Sundays and Thursdays, and 1 am on Friday and Saturday nights. 

Purikura Photoland is located in the Capitol Square Building, T39, Haymarket.

Hidden gems of sydney pinterest

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The Major Gems of Sydney

Sydney Harbour Jet Boat Ride
Book the Sydney Harbour Jet Boat Ride, it’s fantastic!

Now to the main must-do things and trips to take from Sydney. As you can see above, we took the Sydney Jet Boat ride ourselves recently, it’s fabulous, book it now! All of these things are unique to Sydney and must-do’s in the city.

Sydney Tours and Trips to Book Now!

For loads of things to do in Sydney, including tours, passes, transfers and day trip, see this page. Here are a few other ideas for your time in Sydney:

Sydney is a gem itself.  There are just so many unique things to see and do in Sydney and the harbour itself sparkles. 

If you visit for a couple of days or a couple of months I hope you will find some of these different and intriguing activities to include on your Sydney itinerary.

Want to head back to our main Australia Travel Blog page? Or maybe you’d like to explore the best places to visit in Queensland, Canberra, gems of Western Australia, or the vast Northern Territory highlights? World Travel Family travel blog has been based in Australia for the last few years, exploring the rest of the world as often as possible after over 6 years of full-time international travel.

If you'd like to hire a car during your stay, use this car rental comparison tool to find the best deal!

We also suggest you take a look at this company to get a quote for all kinds of the more tricky adventure or extended travel insurance.

Try Stayz / VRBO for an alternative way to find rentals on homes/apartments/condos in any country!

Perry

Thursday 26th of March 2020

This is my kind of place – while I love visiting the cities for museums and the official histories, its small town life I crave, it sounds perfect.

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