July 3, 2020
This is the ultimate Sydney city walk. The challenge: exploring the living green-ness of Australia’s largest city without getting lost in the urban jungle.
Sydney Opera House, The Rocks and Barangaroo linked by the city’s gardens and parkland.
In just half a day, see the big hitters – the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge – combine it with historic district The Rocks, traverse over to new parkland Barangaroo, and catch the vibrancy of Darling Harbour… all linked by the many nature walks Sydney has to offer.
Highlights of the Sydney City Walk
- Sydney Opera House
- Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
- Hyde Park
- Darling Harbour and Barangaroo
- The Rocks
- Sydney Harbour Bridge
Quick Start Guide
- Distance: 10km (6 miles)
- Time: 3 hours but allow extra time for sightseeing
- Track Conditions: Paved walkway. This is not an official walking route, so do not expect signposts.
- Water: Regular refill places
- Public transport: Yes. Walk begins and ends at ferry wharf with train station and bus stops.
- Coffee: Yes. Pick from many cafes and eateries.
- Toilets: Regular intervals
- Mobile phone reception: Yes
- Swimming: No
Sydney City Walk Map
Sydney Coast Walks map coming soon.
Where to Start the Sydney City Walk
This is a 10km / 6 mile loop walk so you could begin and end wherever it's convenient to you. And you don't even have to do it all: take shortcuts, hop on a bus, or simply stop for lunch.
It's also not a marked trail. The Sydney City Walk is our suggestion of how to see all the iconic sights in the most enjoyable way possible.
That said, to begin and end at a place that's both convenient and scenic, start at Circular Quay walking in a clockwise direction, kicking off with a bang: the Sydney Opera House.
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Sydney Opera House
From the ferry wharves and train station at Circular Quay, head towards the Opera House. Notice the bronze plaques in the pavement celebrating Australian authors, as well as the markers showing where the natural shoreline used to be.
This stretch is always busy, more so on beautiful sunny days when crowds (even locals) are enjoying a harbour-side drink at one of many cafes.
We recommend the Opera Bar for the view although prices and crowds at all these eateries reflect their outstanding location rather than quality.
Save the celebratory drink for later and stick to the Upper Concourse level for obligatory pictures of the Danish-designed Sydney Opera House, opened in 1974.
The best way to be more than a hashtag-bagging tourist is to get inside. Either check out what's on at the Opera House and come back for a show (hint: so much more than opera, it's also home to theatre, orchestras, ballet, kids shows and contemporary music). Or allow time for a one-hour backstage tour.
Royal Botanic Gardens
Pre-dating the the Opera House by more than 150 years, the Royal Botanic Gardens is a cultivated and genteel park. On the Sydney City Walk, the quickest route is to stay on the concrete footpath right by the water. Joggers on their lunch break love this path too, so keep to the left.
But if you do have a little extra time to explore, check out what's on at the Botanic Gardens. I'd love to join their Aboriginal Heritage Tour to learn more about indigenous uses of native Australian plants.
Heading around the corner of Farm Cove, detour slightly for Mrs Macquarie's Chair, a resting place carved out of sandstone rock by convicts in 1810. The headland near here is where to capture the view seen above.
More details coming soon. But for now keep following the water along the edge of Royal Botanic Gardens, past Andrew “Boy” Charlton Pool and the Art Gallery of NSW. Cut through The Domain near St Mary's Cathedral.
Cross the road to Hyde Park, enjoying the Archibald Fountain on the way. Walk down the centre path of Hyde Park, crossing another road to get to the Anzac Memorial in the southern section of the park.
At the end of Hyde Park, turn right down Liverpool Street until you reach the pedestrian footbridge to get to Darling Harbour, entering near the Chinese Garden of Friendship. Actually, you're still in the Tumbalong Park area, so turn right to keep walking towards Darling Harbour itself.
When you see the harbour again, turn right and follow the water. Go past the WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo (good if you have very limited time in Sydney and want Australian animals and want them now… otherwise Taronga Zoo is better, a quick ferry ride across the harbour) and eventually see signs to Barangaroo.
Need a Shortcut?
From the Royal Botanic Gardens, take the Cahill Walk to cut back across the back of Circular Quay towards The Rocks. From The Rocks side, it's possible to walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge, or simply head back to street level to explore The Rocks and return to your starting point at Circular Quay.
For locals, this is the most surprising part of the walk. Back in the day it was working wharves, abandoned in 2003 when commercial shipping was moved to Port Botany. That same Hawkesbury Sandstone so prolific in Sydney’s historic buildings (and au naturale at Wedding Cake Rock) has transformed this waterfront precinct into a thoughtfully designed green space.
Views across to Balmain, Goat Island, and the spectacular reveal of Sydney Harbour Bridge make this an unexpected highlight of the city walk.
Long before the wharves, evidence of shell middens and rock engravings show Aboriginal occupation dating back about 6,000 years. There are worthy efforts to recognise the area’s varied history, with ‘Barangaroo’ being named after a Cammeraygal woman who lived in the area at the time of European settlement.
Spend time exploring the repurposed piers of Walsh Bay. Perhaps you’ll have time for a drink at The Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf, and make a mental note to come back for a show at the Sydney Theatre Company or Sydney Dance Company.
Then you have two choices. The first, and most impressive, is to cross Hickson Road and climb the steep sandstone Hickson Steps up to Lower Fort Street.
Under the Harbour Bridge
You’ll be rewarded with the rarely visited underbelly of Sydney Harbour Bridge which has preserved convict-era ruins, and views across to the Opera House.Check out the ruins then turn right, to follow the path back down to an original sandstone road.
If your knees complain at the mere sight of Hickson steps, the secondary option is to go around the end of Pier One. The booby prize is seeing signatures of B-grade celebrities in the cement outside the once-popular Sebel Hotel.
Where to Stay Near the Sydney City Walk
The beauty of this loop walk is you can start and end anywhere. But to hit the major sights, I recommend Circular Quay / The Rocks area (it's near the ferry terminal if you want to squeeze in the Watsons Bay Walk too). Read reviews of all the places we've stayed in Sydney. Or simply check prices of all accommodation near Circular Quay and The Rocks [affiliate link].
Lots of visitors also like Darling Harbour – it's convenient and has lots of waterside restaurants – but I find it very planned, in a town-planning sort of way. That said, the area is often alive with free cultural events throughout the year. Darling Harbour is also good for conferences at the Convention Centre when you want to sneak in a walk, or if you have a young family (best children's city playground ever!).
You May Also Like…
- See the Opera House from a different angle and mark off another iconic walk by walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge.
- Visiting Sydney and wondering where the best place to stay to walk. Here's our take on where to stay in Sydney (guidelines about picking the right area, plus personal recommendations)
- Combine this walk with others to make a Sydney itinerary for those who love the outdoors
- Maybe this isn't your first time to Sydney and want something a little different, but still close to the big smoke? Discover Manly, North Head and the unique Sydney quarantine station.
- Ferries from Circular Quay are perfect to explore the Watsons Bay Walk or the Bradleys Head Walk (and who needs any more excuses to get out on the harbour?)