31 Cool and Unusual Things to Do in Sydney

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 Sydney sparkles in the sun with Australian landmarks like the Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and Bondi. Here’s our hand-picked guide to the best and most unusual things to do in Sydney.

Things to do in Sydney

The Best and Most Unusual Things to do in Sydney

Each time I visit Sydney, I feel a little thrill. Dressed in my favourite colours, white and a shimmering sea-blue green, she overflows with things to do. Many are lifetime highlights, like seeing the Sydney Opera House, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge and even kayaking across Sydney Harbour itself (and learning to surf on Bondi.) 

Yet what I really love about the city is her ability to surprise me with plenty of thoughtful, unusual things to do. What’s even more interesting is that many of these cool and quirky things to do hide in plain sight in key tourist areas like the Rocks.

So, shh. Just between you and me. Here’s my guide to unusual things to do in Sydney. In the touristy parts. And the non-touristy ones.

Unusual Things to Do Around the Rocks

Susannah Place: Travel Back to 1844 in the Rocks

Today, amid the gleam of modern Sydney, you’ll find old houses you can walk through in The Rocks at Susannah Place.

Built and occupied by Irish immigrants in 1844, over 100 families lived within this narrow terrace over the following 150 years. The walls seem better designed for the damp winds of Dublin than the blistering sun and eucalyptus haze of New South Wales but then again, I guess that’s the point. 

As the homes of ordinary workers, Susannah Place offers a fascinating insight into daily life through showcasing different periods and the mod-cons that were – and weren’t – available at the time.

The Big Dig in The Rocks Sydney
Who knew Sydney was such an archaeological gem?

Archaeology in the Rocks: the Big Dig

Yes, the Rocks is an area known for its eateries. But it’s also home to some, well, rocks.

Building work on the Sydney Harbour YMCA revealed archaeological remains aplenty, lovingly curated into an area called The Big Dig.

Sketch drawings and exhibits tell the stories of the peoples displaced by these newcomers: the Cadigal Aboriginal population.  As spear fishermen and women, remains reveal a diet of rock oyster, hairy mussel and bream.

Such an intangible lifestyle left few remains but the 19th century practice of burying rubbish beneath houses has preserved a whole lot more. Ceramics, jewellery, the faded pages of books. 

All together, it’s the tiniest of glimpses into a complicated past.

Recommended reading: Australian Landmarks to Help You Plan Your Trip and Fall in Love with the Country

Sydney Writers’ Walk

It’s easy to miss this if you aren’t paying attention. The Sydney Writers’ Walk trail runs from the International Passenger Terminal on West Circular Quay to the walkway between the ferry jetties and the train station before swinging on to the Sydney Opera House forecourt on East Circular Quay. 

It consists of golden plaques in the ground, as in Madrid’s Literary Quarter, with each one commemorating a writer through their name, bio and a selection of their works. Most are Australian but not all. The trail also includes foreign writers who forged a connection with Australia in some way. 

And so you’ll find D.H. Lawrence, Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling among the names. Most, I’ll admit, were new to me but that’s part of the pleasure of this trail: discovering something new in one of the most visited parts of Sydney. 

Australia - New South Wales - Sydney - razorhurst bars in sydney
Seek out the razorhurst gang history in Darlinghurst’s cool bars

Sip Cocktails with History in Darlinghurst

It’s slightly strange to glamorise violent gangs but it happens the world over so sometimes it’s best to relax and join in the fun. Today’s chic Darlinghurst used to be a hotbed of bootlegging, brothels and razorhurst gangs led by Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh. Today, thanks to a change in licensing laws, it’s a hotbed of boutique creativity with bars that look like laundrettes and that go by the name of Shady Pines. 

Around Sydney Harbour

Kayak on Sydney Harbour

Depending on where you’re from (hands up, the UK) it can take some time to realise how big and convoluted Sydney Harbour is. It stretches far beyond the Bridge, weaving in and out and back around again throughout Greater Sydney. 

And there’s no better way to see a great body of water than on the body itself. Unless you’re in it. But that’s not a great idea, here, as you may find sharks will join you. That’s not a joke (as I once thought it was) it’s true. 

That said, they’re few and far between and you’re likely to be OK if you step in a kayak or onto a boat. 

Dip your oar into the water and stop for a break for a tim-sam-slam. 

Arrange a trip through Sydney Harbour Kayaks (they may also entice you into spot of paddle-boarding too.)

Recommended reading: Kakadu National Park: Aboriginal Culture in Australia’s Outback

Reinvent the Classics in Sydney

Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sure, you can see the Sydney Harbour Bridge from afar. But you can also climb the thing, best done as the sun sets, and see Sydney in a whole other light. 

The enterprise is a machine in its own right and, I’d wager, a triumph of vision over bureaucracy. Prepare for an alcohol breath test and a jumpsuit that covers anything you’re wearing. Even hairbands have to be approved and attached to your suit. 


Because you’ll be popping your head up and then over four lanes of high-speed traffic, that’s why. Stands to reason that the bridge doesn’t exist purely for decoration and Sydneysiders have decided that they’d rather not have loose change and scrunchies fall into their windshields. 

It’s not for those afraid of heights. But it is magnificent. You’ll get a 360-degree view of Sydney, including the beautiful Blue Mountains in the distance. 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge spans across the city’s central business district (CBD) to the north, serving as a crossing not only for vehicles, but also trains, bikes, and pedestrians. This immense iron structure is also a standard setter for New Year’s Eve celebrations, featuring spectacular fireworks and an explosion of colours that showcase its magnificence.

How to do it

The Bridge Climb offers two options: the Express Climb, which takes 2.25 hours, and the original climb, which takes about 3.5 hours. Despite its distance of 134 meters or 440 feet from the water, the climb isn’t overly strenuous and is suitable for individuals of all ages with reasonable athletic abilities. 

Tip: If you want to experience a truly unforgettable sight, climb the bridge at night or dawn to witness the breathtaking view of a sparkling, illuminated Sydney.

Tour the Sydney Opera House

Hand on heart, the tour of the Sydney Opera House was one of the best I’ve ever done. You may not be as lucky as me and get such an entertaining guide but the story of the Opera House should stay the same. 

It’s interesting how those exterior sails are probably one of the most famous examples of architecture the world over. And yet originally, people thought the project a flop. It was designed by Danish architect Utzon, whose winning concept featured sinuous curves and a unique silhouette resembling billowing white sails or stacked shells.  The architect was sacked. It’s an inspirational story and it’s very well told. 

Inside, prepare for great views, thick purple carpets, strange sound experiments and walk in the footsteps of operatic masters. Like climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it’s even better than you might imagine. 

How to do it

Head to Circular Quay on Bennelong Point – and, ideally, book your tickets in advance.

Cruise Sydney Harbour

Take a ferry. Or… a small boat at sunset, complete with fizz and move into the smaller waterways. Look out for Russell Crowe’s gleaming house or head onto the water at night and look overhead for your stars instead. 

Learn to Surf in Bondi

Sure, heading to Bondi is not unusual. But facing her waves on a surf board is. I’ve tried to learn to surf many times in Wales. But only in Bondi, under the expert tutelage of Let’s Go Surfing did I finally manage to stand for more than a second. 

The sun may have helped. And the knowledge that if I didn’t get out of the water quickly, there was that lingering niggle about the sharks…

Walk from Bondi to Bronte

A gorgeous, rocky-pathed walk runs from sandy Bondi to Bronte, with views of whipped surf and possibly the most instagrammed outdoor pool in the world. 

Take the Ferry to Manly

7  Miles from Sydney and 1000 miles from care” – so said the steamship company back in the 1940s and nearly a century later, the same holds true. 

Despite the macho name, Manly welcomes everyone as the gateway to the Northern Beaches and a beautiful, sandy slice of gorgeousness right near a major city.

Visit the Olympic Park

It’s hard to deny there’s a certain thrill to standing where greatness stood. Sydney 2000 inspired many, myself included, and a visit to the stadium captures a sense of that thrill. 

More Alternative Things to Do in Sydney

I first wrote this article on unusual things to do in Sydney years ago. Since then, I’ve been collecting ideas.

Here are some quirky and non-touristy things to do in Sydney.

Take a Walk through Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden

Beyond the sparkling waters and soaring white Opera House of Sydney Harbour, lies Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden, a hidden gem just north of the bridge. This public garden, described as a “living artwork”, is situated on a steep hill that leads down to the water and features abandoned rail tracks, terraces, and paths that snake down to the grove at the bottom.

The garden offers a bohemian vibe, with patches of light and shade half-hiding sculptures, palms, citrus trees, and bohemian set-ups of tables and chairs. While it is becoming increasingly popular, Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden still offers a welcome respite to the frantic pace of the city.

The story behind it is also touching and talks about the healing power of art. Wendy and her artist husband, Brett Whiteley, discovered Lavender Bay by chance in 1970 and fell in love with it.

After Brett’s death, Wendy set about restoring the rubbish-filled valley underneath her house, which was owned by the railway, and turned it into a public park. The guerrilla green space finally got the seal of approval in 2015 and became a public park. The garden is open 24 hours a day and is easily accessible by public transport, so head there for a peaceful morning stroll.

Bondi - Australian Landmark
Bondi Icebergs Outdoor Pool – a great place for a swim in Sydney

Take A Dip at The World-Famous Bondi Icebergs Pool

While Sydney is blessed with several beautiful rock pools, Bondi Icebergs stands out as the most famous and most photographed swimming pool in the world. A sunny day is the perfect time to soak up the beach vibes and witness the beauty of people around.

However, for something a little different, swim during the winter. The water is as cold as the ocean as it is taken directly from it, but that’s the splendour of Bondi.

The facility also has a sauna and several eateries, so you can treat yourself to some warmth and food after a quick swim. 

Explore the Abandoned Buildings of the Quarantine Station

Located within the Sydney Harbour National Park at North Head, Q Station is a remarkable heritage site that spans 30 acres and boasts panoramic views. Originally built in the 1830s as a quarantine station for new arrivals who were suspected of carrying infectious diseases, it has since been transformed into an immersive museum that offers a glimpse into the lives of early migrants to Sydney.

The site features numerous heritage buildings, including a hospital and adjacent morgue, steam-driven autoclaves, showers, and dozens of stone inscriptions recording ships’ arrivals on wharf-side rockfaces. 

For a truly spooky experience, take a ghost tour to see the abandoned buildings and hear the scary stories about the ghosts that are believed to haunt the place.

Take a Sunset Picnic in the Royal Botanic Gardens

For a lovely afternoon outdoors, pack a basket and head to the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney. It is the perfect place to unwind and soak in the beauty of nature, with a nice view of the Sydney Opera House.

The garden hosts the National Herbarium of New Wales, which houses over 1.43 million plant specimens, including an impressive number of exotic plants. It is, in fact, one of the most significant botanical resources in the Southern Hemisphere, valued at $280 billion.

After the picnic, take the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail to admire the 22 one-metre-high koala sculptures, each hand-painted by Australian artists to promote koala conservation and the conservation of other threatened animal and plant species in Australia.

The garden also offers an app you can use to identify the flora all around you and merge the wonder of nature with the digital world.

Tip: If you don’t feel like wrapping sandwiches, you can book a picnic basket with delicious food cooked by an Australian chef and simply collect it at the botanical garden.

Experience the Thrill of Luna Park’s Roller Coasters

Get a good adrenaline dose by visiting Luna Park in North Sydney. This amusement park is one of the most popular in town and has been spinning and swirling people since 1935.

Among the park’s most thrilling rides is the Wild Mouse, a 400-metre track that was originally built on site in 1962, taking passengers 15 metres above ground in just 61 seconds!

The Hair Raiser is another heart-pumping ride, lifting you 50 meters above sea level for a bird’s eye view of the city before plunging you down at over 80 km/h.

In addition to these, the Tango Train, the Carousel, the Rotor, and the Moon Ranger are other popular rides that Luna Park offers, although some of them have height restrictions.

Try a Craft Beer at the Young Henry’s Brewery in Newtown

For a cold beer and good music, head to one of Australia’s most beloved breweries. Young Henrys is a permanent beer festival that attracts a diverse range of people, including musicians, artists, chefs, poets, activists, and free spirits. With unique collaborations and a rock n’ roll vibe, it has become an integral part of the Newtown community and is one of the best places to try craft beer.

Although the brewery does not offer food on-site, they sometimes have food trucks on special occasions.

Visit the Quirky White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale

The White Rabbit Gallery is a Sydney-based contemporary art museum that showcases modern Chinese art. It was founded by Kerr and Judith Neilson and is a not-for-profit charity that features works produced after 2000.

The gallery is situated in a leafy backstreet of Chippendale and is free to visit but only open from Wednesdays to Sundays. It also closes for a few weeks in February and August for installations. 

Take your time to explore the gallery’s four-floor space, set in a converted 1940s Rolls-Royce service depot. It starts with exhibitions in the atrium and continues to the top floor, where you can work your way down through the crisp-lit open-plan levels and intimate side rooms.

The exhibitions at the White Rabbit Gallery change twice a year and focus on high-impact video art, installations, sculpture, painting, drawing, light art, and computer-generated creations, covering all media.

The collection includes around 2,500 works by more than 500 artists, featuring established and emerging talents from China and Taiwan.

Take a Ferry to Cockatoo Island

Cockatoo Island is one of the most unusual tourist attractions to explore near Sydney.

Located in the Parramatta River, which is easily accessible via a major ferry route, the isle is nothing like the green paradise you may have expected. In fact, it is almost entirely covered in concrete structures and industrial equipment, making it quite different from the natural and uncrowded islands that you would typically imagine in Australia.

However, this unusual setting is what makes the island interesting, as it provides visitors with a compact lesson in Australian history, including its Aboriginal and convict history, role in wartime efforts, and maritime history.

The island served as a convict penal settlement between 1839 and 1869, an industrial school for girls in 1871, and the primary repair facility for ships in the Southwest Pacific during World War II.

Today, Cockatoo Island is one of the eleven convict heritage sites in Australia listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its special cultural and physical significance.

Take a Guided Tour of the Art Gallery of New South Wales

For a complete dive into Sydney’s art scene, visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales with a guide. The gallery is famous for its permanent and temporary collections that showcase a variety of artworks from Aboriginal, Asian, Pacific, and European origins, ranging from paintings to sculptures, photographs, and unique things you wouldn’t have thought about.

While walking around, you will witness a unique blend of modern aboriginal Australian artwork with a famous Picasso piece. And the best part, the permanent collections are entirely free!

The gallery’s schedule of productions offers lectures, films, music, and other performances, making it a popular destination for tourists.

With ever-changing events and exhibitions, including FOMart, it encourages young people to embrace art through collaborative workshops, public talks, and musical performances.

Go on a Free Walking Tour of Surry Hills

Offering unique shopping experiences, trendy restaurants, small bars, galleries, and community events, Surry Hill is reminiscent of London’s Notting Hill, with a village-like atmosphere and a diverse range of things to see and do.

The best way to explore Surry Hills is to join a free guided tour and visit the most famous landmarks in the neighbourhood.

Get spoilt for choice when it comes to enjoying the first meal of the day, with the legendary Bourke Street Bakery serving up artisanal pastries and bread. Or uncover vintage fashion and antique decor at the Surry Hills Markets, held on the first Saturday of each month, and the eccentric mix of vintage at Crown Street. 

Messina is the go-to ice cream shop, while pub trivia nights at The Forresters and arthouse films at Golden Age Cinema and Bar provide alternative entertainment options. Lastly, Belvoir St Theatre showcases the talents of some of Australia’s most celebrated artists, so see if there’s something happening there when you visit.

Meet the Animals at the Taronga Zoo

Whether you are bringing the kids or going there by yourself, you’ll have a blast at Taronga Zoo. There’s always something new to see there, with new arrivals such as lion cubs and spider monkeys regularly making an appearance.

The zoo is large enough to spend a full day exploring yet compact enough that visitors can see most of the animals in one visit. You’ll be entertained by the monkeys, chimps, and gorillas, and even the typically docile animals, such as koalas and reptiles, can occasionally put on a show.

Don’t forget to check out the daily bird and seal shows, which attract a large crowd. You can also learn about a variety of animals through specialist keepers giving talks or simply stroll around, checking out the fun things the zoo has to offer. 

Visit the Australian Museum

With its newly renovated galleries, updated amenities, and additional spaces, the Australian Museum, located just opposite Hyde Park, offers visitors free entry to discover its diverse collection of nature, science, and culture exhibits.

You can start your visit by exploring the First Nations galleries of Bayala Nura and Garrigarrang to learn about the rich cultural heritage of Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

After that, head to the Tyrannosaurs exhibit, where you can marvel at the towering skeletons of these prehistoric creatures. End your visit at the Westpac Long Gallery, where you’ll find treasures from Australia’s history and culture and the surviving Australian collection featuring extinct and living Australian animals.

During your visit, you can also take a break and enjoy a meal or coffee at the pop-up restaurant No.1 William on Level 4, which offers stunning views of the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and the city skyline.

And if you’re looking for unique souvenirs or gifts, just stop by the Australian Museum Shop.

Take a Dip at the Stunning Coogee Beach

Sydney boasts an abundance of beautiful beaches, but if you’re looking for a local, mellow beach to frequent during your travels, Coogee Beach may be just the one.

With picturesque views, restaurants, bars, activities, and chill vibes, it’s perfect for a beach vacation. Take a stroll along the coastal walk, from Coogee to Bondi Beach, offering phenomenal ocean views and dozens of activities.

Or discover the underwater world of Gordon’s Bay, which is breathtaking both above and under the water, attracting many different species of birds and lizards.

Explore the Beautiful Royal National Park

If you’re a nature enthusiast looking for a day of adventure in Sydney, the Royal National Park is a must-visit destination, although you’ll need to go a bit off the beaten track.

One of the main attractions of the park is The Balconies, a stretch of steep cliffs with unique rock formations that offer stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. You can drive to the town of Bundeena and follow signs for the Royal Coast Track to reach this area. 

Wedding Cake Rock is another popular destination in the park, with its distinctive white slab seemingly detaching from the cliffside. 

For those interested in water activities, Garie Beach within the park is a great spot for surfing, swimming, and sunbathing, and also has hiking trails that offer views of the surrounding hills.

Sample Fresh Seafood at the Sydney Fish Market

This harbourside seafood market serves up a plethora of fresh seafood, bustling restaurants, and casual bench seating, offering picturesque waterfront views.

You can savour a buffet or yum cha lunch, relish some freshly shucked oysters and hot chips, or simply observe prawn trawlers bringing their catch to shore.

After indulging in a seaside lunch of hot chips, grilled fish, and calamari, treat yourself to a scoop of creamy gelato for the perfect end to your visit.

Visit the Chinese Garden of Friendship

Upon passing through the orange gates flanked by two majestic lion statues, you are instantly transported from the hustle and bustle of city life into a serene oasis – the Chinese Garden of Friendship. This one-hectare green space, a gift from Sydney’s sister city, Guangzhou, has been welcoming visitors since 1988 as a symbol of the strong bond between China and Australia.

The garden is considered the green heart of Sydney and offers a unique experience for every traveller. The lush greenery, peaceful lake, and sounds of nature create a sense of instant relaxation, making it a great way to unwind and enjoy a good time.

The garden’s traditional Chinese landscaping is another reason to explore the place, as you can discover surprises around every corner, including waterfalls in the central lagoon, various pavilions, and hidden sections.

Don’t forget to stop by the Teahouse during your visit – it is a must-visit spot to enjoy delicious Chinese tea and dim sum. To fully appreciate the beauty and serenity of the Garden of Friendship, set aside at least two hours of your time.

Unwind at the Home and Away Beach

If you want to visit the place where Australia’s popular TV soap, Home and Away, is shot, head to Palm Beach. This island, located about 1 hour from Sydney has s a picturesque coastline with excellent surf and a protected swimming area in an ocean pool.

Explore the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is a great place to discover Australia’s marine life up close and personal. Peer at Gentoo and king penguins, brave a stroll through Shark Valley, or experience the largest Great Barrier Reef exhibition in the world. 

You can touch sea stars and shark eggs at the Discovery Rockpool, explore a shipwreck inhabited by countless animals, and view a snapshot of the 600 species that inhabit Sydney Harbour.

Finally, venture to the bottom of the ocean to learn about the evolution of life and view deep-sea fish.

Get a Bird’s Eye View of Sydney from the Sydney Tower Eye

The tallest building in Sydney, the Sydney Tower Eye, is an architectural wonder that attracts tourists from far and wide with its panoramic, 360-degree views of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks. 

Before exploring the city, book a slot and climb the observation deck to enjoy the stunning vistas of not only the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, and Darling Harbour but also the Blue Mountains, situated a remarkable 80km away. 

You could also try to catch the sunset hours and conclude your journey here when the sky transforms into a a sunset spectacle.

Disclosure – I’ve visited Sydney as a guest of Destination New South Wales but also of my own accord, several times. As ever, as always, I write what I like. Otherwise, what is the point?!

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