Sydney by Ferry, NSW, Australia

There are nearly a dozen locations around Sydney Harbour served by passenger ships and ferries. Reaching them by water is the essence of scenic simplicity and fun. Each stop offers a unique blend of attractions, history and entertainment. This travel guide encircles the harbour while highlighting the popular places to see.

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1 Ferries Leaving Circular Quay in Sydney, Australia

In 1789, a ferry service was established in Sydney. The first convict-built ship was nicknamed “The Lump.” This humble beginning led to the formation of Sydney Ferries Limited 110 years later. The company was the world’s largest ferry fleet until 1932 when it declined after the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened. In 1951, the government of New South Wales purchased the transport operation. Seen leaving the Circular Quay Station are the Alexander and Charlotte. Both are First Fleet class ferries launched in 1985.

Circular Quay Wharf 3, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
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2 Iconic Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia

The large concrete shells of the Sydney Opera House are as graceful and free flowing as the sailboats floating in the harbour. This landmark performing arts center opened in 1973 on Bennelong Point. The famous venue hosts the city’s orchestra, theater, ballet and opera. It became iconic for the annual fireworks display watched on television by over a billion people who celebrate the coming of each new year.

Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
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3 Sydney Harbour Sailing Options in Sydney, Australia

Ferries are not the only way to explore Sydney Harbour and its shoreline attractions. Day passes are available from two “hop on, hop off” services to explore as many stops as you can. They are provided by Sydney Harbour Explorer and Sydney Harbour Eco Hopper. Captain Cook and FantaSea offer sightseeing, sunset and dinner cruises plus whale watching adventures. You can also grab a water taxi for personalized transportation or rent a water limousine to host a party.

Sydney Harbour, Sydney NSW Australia
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4 Fort Denison in Sydney, Australia

The indigenous Eora people called this islet Mat-te-wan-ye. After the First Fleet carrying British convicts arrived at Botany Bay in 1778, Admiral Arthur Phillip called it Rock Island. A decade later it was renamed Pinchgut Island and used for gibbeting. This was a form of gallows where condemned convicts were executed and left hanging as a deterrent for other prisoners. In response to the Crimean War, this fortress was built in 1857 to protect Sydney Harbour. Its namesake was William Denison, the Governor of New South Wales from 1855 until 1861. Fort Denison is now part of Sydney Harbour National Park. Tours are available to see the museum, cannons and Martello Tower.

Fort Denison, Mrs Macquaries Road, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
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5 Shark Island Light in Sydney, Australia

Shark Island is a tiny, 3.7 acre rocky islet near Rose Bay in Sydney Harbour. It is only accessible by water like this passing sailboat or by ferry. Protecting the shoreline is a pile light. This 39 foot tall, cylindrical tower was built in 1913 and remains operational.

Shark Island, Sydney NSW Australia
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6 Beaches at Watsons Bay in Sydney, Australia

If you want some quick sand, surf and sun at Watsons Bay until the next ferry arrives, then this shoreline is perfect. This tranquility is only a few bare-foot steps away from Watson Bay Wharf. If you have more time, take a short walk north along the South Head peninsula to Camp Cove. This relaxing setting in Sydney Harbour National Park is scenic and ideal for swimming. Forgot your bathing suit and not self-conscious? Then sunning au natural at Lady Bay Beach might be for you.

Watsons Bay Wharf, Watsons Bay NSW 2030, Australia
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7 Doyles on the Beach at Watsons Bay in Sydney, Australia

Eateries come and go … it is inherent with the business. If you find one open since 1885, there must be several scrumptious reasons. Five generations have served excellent cuisine at Doyles on the Beach at Watsons Bay. Doyles is Australia’s oldest seafood restaurant. If you are in a hurry, they also offer an excellent take-away menu.

Doyles on the Beach, 11 Marine Parade, Watsons Bay NSW 2030, Australia
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8 Dunbar House at Watsons Bay in Sydney, Australia

This distinguished and historic home overlooks Watson Bay’s shore. Originally name Zandoliet, it was built in 1837 for Colonial Treasurer Pieter Laurentz Campbell and designed by Mortimer Lewis – the Colonial Architect for NSW from 1835 to 1849. It has been three different hotels, a zoo for exotic animals, council chambers and a library. In 1950, the grand residence became the Dunbar House, named after an English frigate ship that sunk in 1857. Now it hosts a daytime café. The elegant surrounds are also perfect for wedding receptions and other special events.

Dunbar House, 9 Marine Parade, Watsons Bay NSW 2030, Australia
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9 Manly Cove at Manly in Sydney, Australia

At the northeast corner of Sydney Harbour is Manly Cove where your ferry will drop you off at the wharfs in the background. Arthur Phillip, the first governor of NSW, named the area in the late 18th century. Manly did not emerge as a resort community until the mid-19th century when banker and politician Henry Gilbert Smith built his Fairlight House while developing this coastal suburb of Sydney. This is now a popular resort community with 16,000 residents. Encircling this calm shoreline are the East and West Esplanades plus the Fairlight Walk. During your stroll, you will read about local athletes who have been decorated Olympians and Paralympians. This view is from Federation Point.

Manly Cove, Manly NSW 2093, Australia
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10 The Corso at Manly in Sydney, Australia

Linking Manly Cove and the famous Manly Beach is The Corso. It was created as a boardwalk in 1855 and bookended with hotels for Sydney vacationers. This short pedestrian walkway is lined with Victorian facades housing restaurants, bars, cafes, surf stores plus three shopping arcades. During a 2007 redevelopment, large circular benches were added beneath the palm trees. These are an ideal place to grab a lunch. But beware: the seagulls might grab it first.

110 The Corso, Manly NSW 2095, Australia
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11 Manly Beach at Manly in Sydney, Australia

This crescent-shaped, .8 mile stretch of seashore is always listed among the best of Sydney’s 100 plus beaches. Typically, Manly Beach is rated number one. During the 19th century, the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company marketed this haven as, “Seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care.” What a perfect description! Less crowded but equally enjoyable stretches of sand are Freshwater Beach just north of Queenscliff Head and Shelly Beach to the south at the end of Marine Parade.

Manly Beach, N Steyne, Manly NSW 2095, Australia
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12 Surfer along Manly Beach at Manly in Sydney, Australia

Manly Beach is on the east coast facing the Tasman Sea. The waves can be intense. Local surfers love the variety of exciting swells and breaks. Different sections of the shoreline accommodate the novice to the expert. Manly also has a long history of hosting international competitions. So get your board, paddle out, select your wave and enjoy the ride.

Manly Beach, N Steyne, Manly NSW 2095, Australia
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13 St Patrick’s Estate at Manly in Sydney, Australia

In the late 19th century, Cardinal Patrick Morgan had a dream to firmly establish Catholicism in Australia. His Eminence commissioned the building of St. Patrick’s Seminary in 1885, the Archbishop’s Residence the following year and St Patrick’s College in 1889. After the institution moved in 1995 and renovation of the hilltop Neo-gothic and Romanesque architecture was finished in 1996, St Patrick’s Estate was leased to the International College of Management, a leading business school. The Cardinal Cerretti Memorial Chapel was maintained for religious services.

St Patrick's Estate Manly, 1 Cerretti Cres, Manly NSW 2095, Australia
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14 Giraffe Overlooking Skyline from Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia

A popular daytrip from central Sydney is a fun-filled visit to Taronga Zoo Sydney. The 69 acre zoological garden is located in the suburb of Mosman along the North Shore of Sydney Harbour. Opened in 1916, the zoo exhibits over 4,000 animals along winding walkways and terraced landscape. Most of the 350 species are endemic to Australia. Among the exceptions are the residents of the Giraffe Encounter. This herd stretches their long necks for spectacular views of Sydney’s skyline. The non-profit zoo is managed by Taronga Conservation Society, a government agency of New South Wales.

Taronga Zoo, Bradleys Head Rd, Mosman NSW 2088, Australia
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15 Cable Car over Asian Elephants at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia

Half the fun of Taronga Zoo Sydney is getting there. Multiple ferry options disembark regularly from around Sydney Harbour. The most popular departure point is Circular Quay. Your camera will be very busy photographing the picturesque seascape during the 12 minute journey. After arriving at the wharf at Bradleys Head, take the Sky Safari cable car to the elevated main entrance. Along the way, you will enjoy an aerial view of these Asian elephants and their adorable calf.

Taronga Zoo, Bradleys Head Rd, Mosman NSW 2088, Australia
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16 Sumatran Tiger Staring Intently at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia

There are only about 400 wild Sumatran tigers in the world, so the Taronga Zoo in Sydney is blessed that Jumilah and Satu gave birth to three cubs in 2011. This is dad, staring intently as if sizing me up for dinner. Speaking of eating, you can bid for the chance to sponsor a “Big Cats Dinner” at the Taronga Zoo during their annual fundraiser. Twenty people have a close experience with the leopards and tigers before being served a three-course gourmet dinner by candlelight next to the lions. The tax-deductible event often goes for over $25,000. Those on a budget will prefer the Big Cat Encounter for $59.

Taronga Zoo, Bradleys Head Rd, Mosman NSW 2088, Australia
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17 Bradleys Head Mast and Lighthouse in Sydney, Australia

If you have extra time after visiting Taronga Zoo, consider taking a scenic hike along Athol Bay to the tip of Bradleys Head. There you will find the tripod foremast of the HMAS Sydney. This cruiser was launched in 1912 and served in WWI before being decommissioned and taken apart at Cockatoo Island in 1929. The monument honors Australian sailors lost at sea. You can also visit the Bradleys Head Fortification Complex, an amphitheater and this 1905 lighthouse. Keep following the waterside track – part of the North Shore Walk – to Taylors Bay and then Chowder Bay. All of these are part of the 970 acre Sydney Harbour National Park.

Bradleys Head Mast, Mosman NSW 2088, Australia
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18 North Sydney Skyline in Sydney, Australia

Most tourists spend their vacation in and around Sydney’s Central Business District. On the other side of the harbour is North Sydney. This commercial zone has the second largest cluster of high-rises in New South Wales. Numerous international companies office here, including tech firms like Cisco Systems and Sun Microsystems. On the right is Robertson’s Point Light. The 26 foot beacon was secured at the end of Cremorne Point in 1910.

Robertsons Point, Cremorne Point, NSW 2090, Australia
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19 Affluent Suburb of Kirribilli in Sydney, Australia

One of Sydney’s oldest suburbs is Kirribilli located on a North Shore promontory just east of the Sydney Bridge. It is one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods. Among its 3,800 residents are the top leaders of the Australian government. The Kirribilli House was built in 1956 and serves as the secondary home for the Prime Minster of Australia. This shoreline and boathouse is at the base of the Admiralty House. The Victorian Regency estate constructed in 1843 is home to the Governor-General of Australia when in Sydney.

Kirribilli Point, 109 Kirribilli Ave, Kirribilli NSW 2061, Australia
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20 Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia

Nicknamed The Coat Hanger, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a 3,770 foot span over Port Jackson connecting The Rock and Milsons Point. It carries auto traffic along the Bradfield Highway, a railway line plus a lane for pedestrians and cyclists. Popular attractions are the lookout and a 3.5 hour bridge climb. On the right are two of the four, 292 foot pylons constructed with hand-cut granite from a quarry in Moruya, almost 200 miles from Sydney. In the background below the 440 foot steel arch is the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
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21 Luna Park in Sydney, Australia

Lunda Park opened on Milsons Point overlooking Sydney Harbour in 1935. This nostalgic amusement park offers 14 rides including a carousel, the wooden Wild Mouse roller coaster and a 115 foot Ferris wheel. Among its classic features are the Midway, the Big Top and Funnyland, a vintage funhouse from the 1930s. Lunda Park Sydney’s iconic image is framed by two Art Deco towers. The Face measures 30 feet across.

Luna Park, 1 Olympic Dr, Milsons Point NSW 2061, Australia
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22 Sailing by Barangaroo Reserve in Sydney, Australia

The CBD skyline attests to how Sydney is becoming a glass city. Fortunately, it is working hard to retain its historic lineage and natural beauty. This Millers Point headland in Sydney Harbour showed archeological evidence of Aboriginal people going back millenniums. In the 19th century, this land contained factories. After the industrial buildings were torn down, over 10,000 sandstone blocks were used and 75,000 trees were planted to reshape the 2.5 acres into Barangaroo Reserve. Since 2015, this landscaped park has become popular among walkers, joggers and cyclists

Barangaroo Reserve, Hickson Rd, Sydney NSW, 2000 Australia
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23 Emerging Barangaroo Skyline in Sydney, Australia

This coastline along the southeastern mouth of today’s Darling Harbour has a long history, starting as a native settlement over 14,000 years ago. Shortly after the British arrived in 1788, most of the Aboriginal people died from smallpox. During the 19th century, Millers Point grew as a village along with mills, warehouses and shipyards. During the first half of the 20th century, the area was severely impacted by bubonic plaque, the Great Depression and World War II. The next fifty years witnessed the rise and fall of commercial wharfs. In 2003, the NSW government announced a major new development project and named it Barangaroo in honor of a famous Aboriginal woman who died in 1791. These three office skyscrapers, known as International Towers Sydney, were built from 2013 to 2016. Additional residential, commercial, shopping and hotel properties are planned through 2023.

Barangaroo, Sydney NSW 2000 Australia
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24 King Street Wharf’s Waterfront in Sydney, Australia

Your last stop on the ferry sightseeing tour encircling Sydney Harbour is King Street Wharf. The redevelopment of this waterfront occurred from the 1980s until the start of the new century. Nearly 500 apartments were built along a new boardwalk featuring restaurants, stores and entertainment. The first three of the nine wharfs serve sightseeing cruises and ferries. Down the line are two paddlewheel steamers. One has an elaborate ballroom while the other offers dinner cruises with a cabaret show.

King Street Wharf, Lime St, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
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