Top 9 day trips from Sydney

From hiking in the Blue Mountains to catching waves at one of Australia's few National Surfing Reserves, these are the best day trips to take while on holiday in Sydney
Kayaking around Manly. Photo: Shutterstock
Kayaking around Manly. Photo: Shutterstock

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1. Kayak or paddleboard around Manly

Hopping on the ferry at Circular Quay and riding it to Manly (30 minutes) is exciting enough for anyone who is not from the city. To add to the novelty of travelling on the water, however, there are numerous activities to keep you afloat. Rent a paddleboard or kayak from the Manly Kayak Centre, located on Manly Wharf. Use either to discover the scattering of quiet coves around the town. Paddleboards are better for exploring the west side of Manly Wharf, which is slightly more sheltered. To explore as far west as Delwood Beach or to travel south from the Wharf, rent a kayak. Paddle past Smedley's Point towards the open ocean be careful, the winds can be strong here.

Store Beach (roughly 1.2km paddle from Manly Wharf) is a great stop for those eager to sunbathe on a deserted beach. Located in the Sydney Harbour National Park, it can only be reached by water, as a rock bank blocks it off from land access. Remember to take drinks and snacks if you're planning to spend the day here, as there are no shops or beach shacks. Although, in the summer months it's served by an ice-cream boat.

2. Learn to surf at Maroubra 

Try the ultimate Australian hobby on Maroubra, the second beach in the country to become a National Surfing Reserve (after Bells Beach in Victoria). Maroubra is an aboriginal word meaning ‘like thunder’, named after the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks. One of Sydney’s eastern beaches, Maroubra is just 10 kilometres from the CBD (Central Banking District) and accessible on the 392 bus from Elizabeth Street.

The south-facing bay has a reef break creating continuous waves, most of which are perfect for beginners; currents and rips can get quite strong at times so be mindful of warnings. Let's Go Surfing offer private surf lessons or two-hour group lessons – you can buy a single lesson or a package for a reduced price. Maroubra also offers some great diving, an outdoor gym and a rock pool, which is perfect for swimming laps.

3. Explore Palm Beach and trek to Barrenjoey Lighthouse

Take a 40-minute drive north of Sydney to Palm Beach peninsula, also famously known as Summer Bay (the town is the set for Australian soap Home and Away).

Hire paddleboards or kayaks, go fishing or take a seaplane excursion to marvel at the picturesque land formation from high above. Sit out on the terrace at The Boathouse – the beach's only café – and enjoy an iced coffee and banana bread (surprisingly, two of Australia’s signatures). The east side of the peninsula opens out onto the South Pacific, along with waves and rips that come with it; this is a great spot for swimming (if you stay between the flags) and surfing. There is also a rock pool on this side for the more serious swimmers.

Barrenjoey Lighthouse is positioned on the north head of the peninsula surrounded by bush. Trail up the near vertical path to Barrenjoey Headland (it only takes 15-minutes to walk but looks a lot further) for a view over the ocean inlet to the north and across to the central coast. Looking south you'll see the thin slither of land, the town of Palm Beach surrounded by water, and what appears to be endless yellow sand beaches on either side. If you visit between May and November keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales offshore; they migrate along the east coast of Australia from Antarctica in search of warmer waters.

Don't miss exploring Blue Mountains National Park during your trip to SydneyDon't miss exploring Blue Mountains National Park during your trip to Sydney. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Snorkel or dive off Shelly Beach

If you prefer life below the water's surface and are eager to see what the coast of Sydney has to offer, visit Dive Centre Manly. Along with shore diving in multiple locations, they offer unmissable snorkelling trips from Shelly Beach. Sheltered by a reef along the right-hand side of the bay, this stretch of coast has little swell and clear waters for excellent visibility. Depths reach a maximum of 12 metres with the majority of the site between two and six metres deep. An abundance of sea life can be seen here, including Wobbegong and Pork Jackson Sharks.

Snorkel safaris go out between 3.00pm and 5.00pm on selected Saturday and Sundays. Dive trips are more regular, leaving at 9.00am on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There is also the option of night diving offshore; a spooky and surreal experience that provides the chance to see nocturnal sea life and more active fish.

5. Go hiking in the Blue Mountains 

A two-hour train ride from Sydney Central will take you to Katoomba, a town in the heart of the Blue Mountains and the ideal place to see the Three Sisters, one of the most famous points in the range. From Katoomba train station catch the Hop-On Hop-Off bus, which visits various sites in the mountains including Echo Point viewing platform. From here, you can look out over the valley and see the famous formation. Each stop on the bus route is serviced every 30-minutes.

Echo Point marks the start of many walking trails. The most popular begins at the Visitor Centre and takes you down the Giant Stairway, a total of 998 steps, to the base of the Three Sisters. Once there take the Federal Pass walking track, passing Katoomba Falls and ending up at the Scenic Railway, the world's steepest train track. Hop on the train for a ride to the top of the mountain or brave the 996 Furber Steps, not quite as steep as the Giant Stairway, to the top. Remember to take plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen and a light rain jacket – be prepared for any weather.

6. Follow the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk 

From Sydney CBD catch the 380 bus to Bondi Beach, where you'll find the start of the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk (of course, you can start from Coogee too, simply catch the 373 bus instead). The coastal walk starts at South Bondi just past Bondi Icebergs. There is no marker but follow the crowds in bikinis, shorts and active wear and you will soon be en-route. The walk is six kilometres over rocks, on boardwalks suspended from the side of cliffs and roads all with clear views over the South Pacific Ocean.

Bondi and Coogee mark the beginning and end of this trail but there are plenty of beaches in between. Firstly, you'll reach MacKenzie Beach, a tiny cove filled with fishing boats where the water is often covering the sand. Secondly, you'll find Tamarama, which is smaller and quieter than Bondi but just as picturesque with rocky cliffs forming the edges. Next up is Bronte, one of the larger Eastern Beaches, fantastic for surfing and beach BBQs (fixed gas BBQs are in place on the grassy patch beyond the beach, supplied, cleaned and maintained by the council). Clovelly is the next beach along, with an elongated inlet and friendly lifeguards keeping watch from their hut just off the footpath. Finally, you will reach Coogee where you can take a well-deserved dip in the water to cool off. Spend the day here laying on the white sand, swimming, eating and relaxing before you catch a bus back to the city.

Giraffes at Taronga Zoo have the best view back over SydneyGiraffes at Taronga Zoo have the best view back over Sydney. Photo: Shutterstock

7. Visit Taronga Zoo

Buy a combined ferry ride and zoo entrance ticket at Circular Quay before hopping on the ferry for the 12-minute ride across Sydney Harbour to Taronga Zoo. From the ferry terminal, you can catch a bus or hop on the cable car to the zoo's entrance (trip included in your combination ticket).

Taronga Zoo is a great place for people who go to Sydney expecting to see kangaroos, koalas, platypus, crocodiles, Tasmanian devils and other species endemic to Australia – it is probably the only opportunity to catch a glimpse of them in the city. You'll find them all here among many other species of animals not native to Australia such as elephants, gorillas, tigers and giraffes. The loveable long-necked animals have the best location in the zoo, with a backdrop of lush foliage looking out across the harbour to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.  

Walk through the kangaroo pen or have an up-close experience with a koala, see deadly spiders and watch seals and penguins glide through their water enclosures.

8. Explore Bouddi National Park

The Central Coast is a longer day trip from Sydney but worth the journey to explore Bouddi National Park – roughly a one-hour, 45-minute drive from the CBD. Bouddi National Park, which spans just over 15 square kilometres, offers a multitude of coastal walks. Through dense dark forests with sandy soil, they often end on deserted beaches with only the bush and wildlife surrounding them – vastly different from the inner city beaches. 

There is one main coastal walk which runs 8.5 kilometres from Putty Beach to Macmasters. The walk can be split into smaller sections with entrance points at Putty Beach, Maitland Bay, Little Beach and Macmasters. 

Choose the length of your walk depending on how you want to spend your time: trekking through the forest or along the untouched beaches. On your way back to Sydney, stop in one of the Central Coast towns for takeaway fish and chips to eat on the seafront.

9. Relax in the city's Botanical Gardens 

To the north and west of Sydney’s CBD lies the Royal Botanical Gardens: a lush, wild location in the inner city. Follow the path that winds around the cove looking out over Sydney Harbour until you get to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. From here, you can take the perfect picture of Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

The park is open day and night with festivals, pop-up bars, free guided walks, and yoga classes – not to mention runners and power walkers – around at all hours. 

The multi-levelled gardens are well maintained and look verdant year-round with evergreen trees flowering in various seasons. The jacaranda tree blossoms are blueish-purple bursting all over the crown, the fig trees shoot roots mid-air, growing until they reach the ground, finally becoming incorporated into the trunk. Lakes and fountains glisten in the sunlight breaking up the otherwise green landscape. The Botanic Gardens Café sells takeaway picnic hampers for visitors to pick-up and enjoy in the picturesque gardens.

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