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This Sydney cruise passenger guide suggests 10 things for you to see and do in Sydney before you board your cruise ship at the Sydney cruise terminal at Circular Quay. Even if you’ve got less than a day to explore, there is sure to be something you can see or do in Sydney. From the Sydney Opera House to a secret garden overlooking Sydney Harbour and enjoying a five star lunch for a bargain price, this guide will probably have you wishing you had longer than 24 hours to experience everything Sydney has to offer.

Tour the Sydney Opera House

This global icon has been capturing the attention of the world for years so what better way is there to explore this landmark than a fascinating tour into its history and cutting-edge architecture? With tales of divas and prima donnas (and we’re not just talking about performers), a tour of this iconic structure will leave you in awe of its architectural brilliance and the stories behind its construction. Tours of the Sydney Opera House can be booked while you’re there but pre-booking online in advance will give you the best choice of times and tours.

Sydney cruise ship
The Opera House is only a short walk from your ship

Don’t rule out seeing a show, especially if you are in town during opera season. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at Opera Australia. Even if you aren’t ‘into’ opera, nothing beats seeing a performance such as La Boheme at Sydney Opera House. Don’t worry if you didn’t pack your diamonds and pearls. Smart casual is fine for most performances, other than opening night.

Climb or walk along the Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge spans the beautiful waters of Sydney Harbour and is one of the world’s most famous bridges. Bridge Climb Sydney has climbs available from early morning to late at night so check their website for the best times and always pre-book as these sell out way in advance. Another great way to explore the bridge is on a bicycle tour which takes you over the bridge and beyond. It is also possible to walk across the bridge and then walk or catch a ferry back to Circular Quay.

Cruise ship next to Sydney Harbour Bridge
Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge or walk under or across it

Go for a ferry ride on Sydney Harbour

One of the best ways to explore Sydney is from the water and, even better, you can do it on a shoestring with Sydney Ferries which operate Sydney’s public ferry service. The best thing about Sydney Ferries is they operate only a few hundred meters from the cruise port at Circular Quay and go to some amazing Sydney destinations. The Manly ferry is Sydney’s most iconic ferry trip and travels the full length of Sydney Harbour before it arrives at the harbour suburb of Manly. It is only a short walk from here to beautiful Manly Beach which is perfect for a swim or a stroll. You can grab a return ticket from the Circular Quay ticket office or buy an Opal card which gives you multiple trips and can also be reused next time you come to Sydney. Check the timetable as some ferries don’t run as regularly as others.

Sydney Opera House
Take a ferry ride with Sydney Ferries
Manly Beach
Stroll along the Manly Beach foreshore

Discovery Sydney’s history at The Rocks in a new tab)

The cruise terminal at Circular Quay is also adjacent to The Rocks, one of Sydney’s oldest and most fascinating areas. The Rocks lets you step back in time to Australia’s past and learn about one of the most significant convict and working-class areas of Sydney. The Rocks is also one of the most expensive real estate areas in the world these days. However, back in the 60s you were lucky if someone would buy your house at a bargain price as the area was a red light district and one of the most crime-ridden parts of Sydney. The Rocks now has a vast assortment of galleries, cafes, and the excellent Rocks Discovery Museum which is free to enter and explore. This small museum is located in a convict era bond store and full of artefacts and stories about Sydney’s colourful past.

Go on a pub crawl at The Rocks

Feel like a refreshing drink or two before you board your ship?  Stroll along the harbour foreshore to the bottom of the Harbour Bridge, take Lower Fox Street and walk back under the bridge to arrive at the Australian Heritage Hotel, a classic Australian pub in The Rocks area. If you miss this hotel don’t be alarmed as The Rocks is home to about 20 historic pubs that are worthy of your attention.

Visit Taronga Zoo

Take a Sydney Ferry to Taronga Zoo where you can view Australia’s unique wildlife up close and also have amazing views across the harbour to the city. This attraction is good for a full or half day as there are lots of shows and things to see plus loads of great photo opportunities with the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.

Visit Bondi Beach

Bondi is the beach that most overseas visitors want to see when they come to Sydney. This one kilometre stretch of golden sand is a beacon to surfers, swimmers, and sun worshippers. With so many foreign travellers coming here, you might find more tourists than locals, but it still retains its distinctive Aussie vibe. If you want to see the beach but aren’t keen on swimming, there are plenty of cafes, restaurants and boutiques to keep you entertained. If you have the time, the scenic six-kilometre Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk has incredible ocean views. Getting to Bondi is easy as Sydney Transport has a Bondi Express bus that runs from Circular Quay to Bondi and costs about $4 each way.

Bondi Beach
Go swimming at Bondi Beach

Fish and chips at Watson’s Bay

If you want to enjoy fish and chips from one of Sydney’s best restaurants without the eye watering price tag, head to Watson’s Bay on the ferry and drop in at Doyles on the Wharf for a takeaway lunch. This kiosk is run by the same crowd who operate Doyles on the Beach, one of Sydney’s most iconic restaurants, but the takeaway is yours for a fraction of what it costs to eat at the fancy restaurant. A short walk from the beach up Military Road will have you at the historic Gap Bluff walk. This spot was once a military area and has gun emplacements to protect the harbour which can still be seen today. It is called The Gap as there are two high cliffs which provide an opening between Sydney Harbour and the open ocean. Your cruise ship will pass through The Gap at the beginning and end of your cruise.

Thrilling Sydney tours

If you’re after something a bit more adventurous and want to see the sights of Sydney, try hitting the water or the road. If you want a thrilling ride on the water try the Thunder Jet, a jet boat that takes you cruising and spinning around the harbour and past the Opera House. Just be warned you might get quite wet. Another way to experience Sydney is in the back seat of a Harley Davidson on a regular bike or three wheeled trike. Troll Tours have some fantastic rides that take you around Sydney’s best and most beautiful places. Fancy a ride over the Harbor Bridge or an exciting trip to Bondi to sees the waves? Both of these tours will have you bragging onboard your ship at dinner.

Thunder Jet
Thunder Jet

Wendy’s Secret Garden in Sydney

Wendy’s Secret Garden is located in Lavender Bay and not as secret as it once was, but it is still worth seeing. The space was created by Wendy Whiteley, wife of late Australian artist Brett Whiteley. When Wendy lost her husband, she funnelled her love and grief into transforming a disused, derelict train yard into an incredible living tribute and memorial. The garden is in a public place so it is open year round, the only tricky thing is finding it. Well, it is supposed to be secret after all, but it is an easy walk from the Luna Park/Milsons Point ferry stop. Walk along the foreshore past Luna Park to Peter Kingston Walkway until you come to a public toilet then head up the stairs to the secret garden.

Disclosure: The writer loves spending time in Sydney and enjoying everything this beautiful city has to offer.

If you are in Sydney to board a cruise ship and have a few days to fill before or after your cruise, you might find our other suggestions for great things to do in Sydney and beyond if you have time to do a day trip.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.