The main sights in central Sydney can be covered on foot in a day's walking tour. It takes about 35-45 minutes to walk straight from Central Station to Circular Quay. Most attractions can be seen for free, but some of the locations require admission fees if you want to go in and have a detailed look around.
The complete tour is a large loop that covers sights in City Centre, The Rocks, Darling Harbour, and City South. It can take at least several hours and up to a full day, depending on speed, fitness level, and time spent at each location. It can easily be extended over several days with longer visits to some of the museums, galleries and shopping districts.
There are several optional loops listed on this tour, which will extend it further. You will have to be very fit and walk fast to complete all the options in a single day.
If you are short in time and wish to do only part of the walking tour, consider taking the Harbour side walk from Mrs Macquarie's Chair, with the waters to your right, down to the gated Royal Botanic Gardens, up to the iconic Opera House, down to Circular Quay, and up through The Rocks to the Harbour Bridge. This segment of the walking tour is for many the epitome of the Sydney experience.
The climate in Sydney ranges from cool winters to hot summers. In the warmer months, it is imperative to protect yourself from the harsh Australian sun. Use a maximum protection sunblock (SPF 30+) on all exposed skin, and re-apply during the day. Wear a hat with a wide brim. Do not worry about making a fashion statement - Sydneysiders are very sun-aware and won't look twice at anyone in a sunhat. Sunglasses are also highly recommended.
In winter (i.e., April to September), central Sydney can get quite chilly, especially on a windy day, as the wind is funneled between the tall buildings. Wear a wind-resistant jacket.
This tour requires a good deal of walking, with some gentle slopes and a few stairs. Wear comfortable shoes.
There are plenty of places to buy food and drink along the way, but city prices can be expensive. Carrying your own bottle of water is a good idea if you don't like paying a lot for it. Filtered water fountains for top ups are available for free in many parks and tourist areas.
If staying near City Centre, you can pick up this walk at the nearest point to your accommodation.
If staying outside City Centre, catch a train to Town Hall Station or a bus to Town Hall on George Street for the starting point. If you are staying near a ferry wharf, you could catch a ferry to Circular Quay and begin the loop there.
By taxi, request a drop-off at Town Hall if coming from south of the harbor. If coming from north of the harbor, request Wynyard as your destination and join the walk there, to save the extra taxi fare down to Town Hall.
Town Hall to Hyde Park
- A good place to start is on the steps of the Sydney Town Hall. It is easily accessible by train (Town Hall station on the City Circle line) and bus. This is the place where Sydneysiders meet, wait and watch. If open, walk inside and have look around at the ornate interior and see the massive pipe organ. To the left of the entrance is a quiet café.
- Walk across Sydney Square and enter St. Andrew’s Cathedral via the main entrance at the far end of the Square. After looking around, exit via the side entrance and head east up Bathurst Street towards Hyde Park.
- Cross Elizabeth Street and past the Obelisk (which is actually a vent for the sewer system) and into Hyde Park and head towards the ANZAC Memorial. You can enter the building via the side entrance at the ground level. There is a small museum to the right and ahead is a statue of a dead soldier being carried by the grieving women left behind in his life. Read the explanatory plaque and head upstairs to the main chamber where the eternal flame burns. Exit via the main doors and walk around the reflecting pool. On your right across College Street is the Australian Museum, which is worth a visit if you have more time in Sydney.
- Continue down the central path of Hyde Park and cross Park Street. Note the amazing canopy of trees as you walk towards the Archibald Fountain [dead link]. This is a beautiful place, especially on a sunny day when rainbows form in the spray from the fountain. Head east towards the cathedral and cross the road. Located under the far end of the plaza (skateboard park) is the Cook and Philip Olympic Pool. You are welcome to have a look at the complex if you ask the staff member at the entrance counter.
St Mary's Cathedral to the State Library
- Enter St. Mary’s Cathedral via the main stairs off the plaza and have a look around. The layout of the cathedral is unusual in that it runs north-south, rather than the usual east-west. Purchase a photography permit from the cathedral shop before taking photos of the interior. Exit the cathedral via the shop on the left side. Head north towards Macquarie Street.
- On your right is the Hyde Park Barracks which was the principal male convict barracks in New South Wales until 1848. Enter via the front door and have a look at the first room on the left, which shows some of the historical uses of the building over the years. Also have a look through the shop and note the pet rats. You might also like to pay the entrance fee to look through the museum. Exit back onto Macquarie Street. Across the street is St. James Church [dead link] and the Supreme Court of NSW, fronted by a large statue of Queen Victoria, facing a matching statue of Prince Albert in front of the Barracks. Look south for a magnificent view along Hyde Park's esplanade of trees, past the Archibald Fountain, to the ANZAC Memorial.
- The next building as you head north along Macquarie Street is The Mint,which you are free to look around, followed by Sydney Hospital [dead link]. Make sure to make a wish (and a donation) by rubbing the nose of the pig statue outside the Hospital.
- Across the road from the Hospital is Martin Place, the major open square within Sydney. It extends two blocks west; halfway down is the fountain featured in the "woman in red" scene in the film The Matrix. The first building on the left is the Reserve Bank of Australia, which has a free museum accessed via the buildings main lobby.
- Continuing north along Macquarie Street, the next building past the Hospital is the New South Wales Parliament House. Enter via the stairs on the left and have a look around. Free tours are also available and give you direct access to the floor of the parliament chambers. Exit the Parliament and again continue north up Macquarie Street.
- Enter the new wing of the State Library of New South Wales via the revolving doors. Head up the stairs and left along the corridor to view the latest exhibition from the Library’s collection. Continue through to the end of the gallery, through the large doors and down the stairs to the main lobby of the old library building, note the old map in the floor. Enter the magnificent old Reading Room, which many Sydneysiders would never have visited. Exit the Library via the main entrance, note the images of aboriginal life in the heavy steel doors.
The Domain to Mrs Macquarie's Chair to Royal Botanic Gardens
- Turn right at the bottom of the library stairs and head east into The Domain, where main city workers play sports and relax during their lunch breaks.
- Continue east towards the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Walk in to the world-class art museum (free!) and have look around the many and varied displays. If you are in a hurry, have a look in the second room on the right inside the main entrance, which displays many famous Australian paintings depicting (a) the development of the country since European settlement and how the nation's wealth was created through the sacrifices of early settlers, (b) the development of the wool industry and (c) the discovery of gold. Exit the Art Gallery and turn right, north up Art Gallery Rd.
- Option: Head north-east and down the stairs towards Woolloomooloo. Head east past the main entrance to the Finger Wharf to Harry's Café de Wheels [dead link] and have a pie with mashed potatoes and peas. This place is a Sydney institution and there is no place better after a long night on the town. Note the pictures which show some of the famous customers who have sampled the pies. From here you can also see the Garden Island Naval Dockyard. Head back to the Finger Wharf and enter via the main doors. Inside is located a hotel, posh bar and apartments which are home to some of Sydney's most famous residents, include Gladiator Russell Crowe who lives at the very end (which can only be accessed externally). Once finished here, head north along the waterfront past the yellow apartments, follow the path and climb the stairs. Go right at the top of the stairs and continue north. The Naval Dockyards should now be on your right.
- Walking north along Mrs. Macquarie's Rd, you will soon come to the Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool [formerly dead link]. Continue north past the pool.
- At the end of the headland is Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, a large sandstone bench cut into the rock, reputed to be where colonial governor Lachlan Macquarie's wife sat watching for ships from England. This headland offers the most iconic photo opportunity in Sydney, including both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Make sure to climb up into the sandstone caves and take in what must be one of the most beautiful views of any city in the world. If ever there was a place that made you feel like you are standing inside a postcard, then this is surely it.
- Continue south, with Farm Cove on your right, along the path towards the Royal Botanic Gardens. The further south you go, the more the Opera House moves in front of the Harbour Bridge as you watch them across Farm Cove. Enter the Yurong Gate to the Royal Botanic Gardens (free!) It opens at 7AM. The gardens are extensive and reward detailed exploration. There are free guided walks at 10:30AM departing from the Palm Grove Information Counter. On fine days, many people relax on the grass with picnic lunches.
Sydney Opera House to Circular Quay to The Rocks
- Exit the Royal Botanic gardens via the Queen Elizabeth II Gate (follow the path northwesterly with the harbour on your right), which leads directly to the Sydney Opera House. Walk around the base of the Opera House along the shoreline to get a feel for the size and majesty of the structure, then climb the pink granite steps for a closer look at the famous white shells. Inside there is a public box office area, but access to the performance hall foyers and halls is restricted to event ticket-holders and guided tour groups. A guided tour of the interior is worthwhile if you have time.
- Leave the opera house by walking south along the pedestrian promenade of East Circular Quay. This controversial modern development offers many al fresco dining choices with stunning views, but was criticized for obstructing sight lines between Circular Quay and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Embedded in the walkway from East Circular Quay to West Circular Quay are 60 plaques celebrating Australian and other writers (Writers' walk).
- Circular Quay itself is the small cove with multiple wharfs, forming the terminus for most of Sydney's ferry services. This is a good departure point for day trips to Manly or Taronga Zoo. Walk along the promenade next to the wharfs, passing buskers and street entertainers.
- At the center of Circular Quay, walk south under Circular Quay railway station and across the large open square to Customs House. This early colonial building now serves as a space for the City Library and cultural events. Walk into the lobby and examine the scale model of Sydney embedded under the glass floor.
- Go back to Circular Quay and continue walking around the shoreline to the west, turning north. The large art-deco building is the Museum of Contemporary Art, originally the Maritime Services Board offices.
- Continue north past the hulking Overseas Passenger Terminal, where passenger ships berth, giving them a fantastic view of the Opera House across the water of Sydney Cove. At the north end is Doyle's Restaurant, a Sydney seafood institution, where a fat wallet will get you a meal and a view.
- Turn inland and walk up to Hickson Road and then to George Street, placing you in the heart of The Rocks  [formerly dead link]. This historic district was the site of the first English settlement in Australia, and contains many original buildings. Walk north up George St.; this section of the street is closed to traffic on weekends and hosts The Rocks Market [dead link]. Return south down George St. and turn right into Playfair Street, where there is a row of historic stone cottages (now turned into shops). Browse the shops in the restored Argyle Center. Emerge into Argyle St. and turn west up to the Argyle Steps which lead up the steep hill to Cumberland St.
Sydney Harbour Bridge to Australia Square
- From Cumberland St., climb the stone staircase up to the east side walkway of the Bradfield Highway and walk north on to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The views from the pedestrian path are breathtaking. For even better views, pay ($13 adult) and climb the 200 steps through 3 levels of exhibits to get to the top of the South Pylon Lookout.
- Option: Continue all the way across the Bridge (20 min) to Milson's Point and down the stairs at the north end, then walk south down the hill to Bradfield Park, which offers superb views across the water to the city skyline. Go west under the bridge at water level and you will see the giant face of Luna Park, flanked by magnificent art-deco spires. This historic amusement park is open for walking around - you only need to pay if you want to go on one of the rides. Walk back up the hill and through the tunnel under the roadway to the stairs leading back up to the bridge deck and return south across the harbour.
- Once off the bridge, return to Argyle St. and walk west under the bridge. Turn left onto Watson Rd, which leads up to Observatory Hill, the site of Sydney Observatory. The observatory is open to the public and contains historical and astronomical displays.
- Return down Argyle St. to The Rocks and turn right into Nurse's Walk, a historical area now bustling with upmarket shops. At the far end, cross back into George St. and walk south.
- A few blocks down you will come across the unmistakable round white tower of Australia Square [dead link], Sydney's first skyscraper and tallest building from 1967 to 1976. The 47th floor contains The Summit, one of Sydney's prestige dining locations.
- Just south of Australia Square is Wynyard Station, a major commuter hub, but nothing to look at except a few signs pointing to underground entrances.
Martin Place to Queen Victoria Building
- Continuing south, you come across the western end of Martin Place. Enter the square to see the Cenotaph [dead link] and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At this memorial, the solemn ceremonies of ANZAC Day are performed at dawn each 25 April. In December, a giant Christmas Tree is erected in this space.
- The building on the corner of George St. at 1 Martin Place is the historic General Post Office, commonly known as the GPO. Considered to be the official center of Sydney, it has been redeveloped into a series of restaurants and shops, although the central post office for Sydney still occupies part of the building.
- Continue south down George St. At the corner of King St., the tiny historic Darrell Lea Shop (1957) still sells chocolates and resists attempts by developers to turn the property into a skyscraper.
- Just past the Darrell Lea shop, turn left into the historic Strand Arcade (1891). Brimming with upmarket shops, the arcade still retains its Victorian-era look.
- Walk all the way through the Strand and emerge at the far end into Pitt Street Mall, the hub of Sydney shopping. Even if you don't enjoy shopping, there is always plenty happening here, with street performers and plenty of people watching. Walk south along the pedestrian mall.
- At the south end, look up. The immense Sydney Tower soars overhead. You can enter the tower by entering the Centerpoint shops and going up to Podium level. Tickets for the lookout at the top of the tower are moderately expensive, but provide stunning views on a fine day. Views are not so good if the pollution is bad.
- Leave Pitt St. and take Market St. west back to George St., where the majestic Queen Victoria Building occupies the next block. Cross George St. and walk through the QVB, admiring the restored Victorian architecture (now occupied with yet more shops). Take the stairs or antique lifts to the upper levels for historical displays and a close-up view of the giant animated clock, as well as sweeping interior architectural views.
Sydney Aquarium to Darling Harbour
- Exit from the same end of the QVB and continue west along Market St. It leads into a pedestrian bridge over a freeway and on to Pyrmont Bridge. This historic bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in 1981, and now provides a leisurely stroll across Cockle Bay.
- Before leaving the eastern shore, on the right is the Sydney Aquarium. Aficionados of sea life will find this well worth a visit.
- Across the bridge on the opposite shore, facing the Aquarium, is the Australian National Maritime Museum, also worth a few hours and the admission price, if you have the time and inclination. Otherwise, turn left.
- Walk south along the shoreline of Darling Harbour. This large public space is a recent development, characterised by modern architecture. Walk past the site of the new International Convention Centre Sydney (which opened in 2016) on your right. The Imax Cinema looms on your left as you continue south under the freeways into Tumbalong Park.
- At the southern end of the park is the Chinese Garden of Friendship. This place offers a calming slice of peace and tranquility in the bustle of the city. If you need a restful break, the admission charge is worth it.
- Beyond the Garden is the brutalist concrete architecture of the Qantas Credit Union Arena (formerly the Sydney Entertainment Centre), where many major concerts and other events are held.
Chinatown to Town Hall
- From the intersection between the Garden and the Qantas Credit Union Arena, walk east up Goulburn St to Dixon St, and turn south into Sydney's Chinatown. The food here is excellent and inexpensive, especially from the many food courts ensconced underground, or you can easily go upmarket with a fancy restaurant.
- At the southern end of Dixon St, cross Hay St into Paddy's Markets [formerly dead link], which are open Thursday to Sunday. This vast, bustling hall full of vendors provides interesting sights, sounds, smells, and bargains.
- From Paddy's go along Hay St to George St and walk north back to Town Hall.
- Option: From Paddy's, walk south along George St. and turn east into Rawson St.., which leads to the magnificent old Central Station [formerly dead link] building, with its distinctive clock tower. Reminiscent of the old railway stations of Europe, the country terminus bustles with activity in a grand interior space. From here, walk north up Pitt St and cross back to George St. to return to Town Hall.
During daylight, the most dangerous thing you will encounter on this walk is traffic. Be careful crossing streets, remembering to look right for oncoming traffic if you are from a country where cars drive on the right side of the road. Many locals will dash across streets whenever there is a gap in the traffic, but it's better to obey the crossing signals for maximum safety.
You may be approached by a more or less scruffy looking beggar at some point, often requesting money for "a bus ticket home." Politely refuse and walk away and they will generally leave you alone.
If you remain on the streets after dark, stick to well-lit main thoroughfares. The area along George Street south of Town Hall can harbor boisterous youths who may have had too much to drink, although police presence means incidents are rare.
Along the water, especially at Circular Quay, anyone with food will be pestered by seagulls. They are harmless, but can be annoying and disconcerting. Avoid feeding them.
There are several other scenic walks within Sydney, taking in parts of the suburbs around the CBD area.
- Coogee beach to BondiA clifftop walk along the eastern coastline past several of Sydney's beautiful beaches. Stop off for a swim if you get too hot.
- Manly to The Spit Along the foreshore of Sydney Harbor.