10 Top-Rated Day Trips from Sydney
Surrounded by sparkling waterways and World Heritage-listed wilderness areas, Sydney brims with alluring day trip destinations. A short hop from the city, you can breathe in the raw beauty of the Blue Mountains National Park, cruise up the bush-fringed Hawkesbury River, or bask on one of Sydney's iconic golden beaches. Adventures run the gamut, from sand boarding and fishing at Port Stephens to whale watching along the coast, and wildlife viewing in the pristine national parks. Cultural experiences are just as appealing. Spend a day exploring the galleries, museums, and memorials of Canberra, the nation's capital. Stroll along an aboriginal heritage trail in beautiful Ku-ring-gai National Park, or for something completely different, watch Aussie stockmen round up the sheep on a classic country farm and sample traditional bush tucker. Foodies will also find fabulous fresh produce and gourmet restaurants at some of the quaint country towns in the Southern Highlands and Hunter Valley.
1 Blue Mountains National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Area of breathtaking beauty, the Blue Mountains is one of the most popular day trips from Sydney. The oil in the eucalyptus leaves scents the air and imbues a blue haze over the park, inspiring its evocative name. Tourists and locals alike come here to immerse themselves in the 664,000 acres of unspoiled wilderness with dense eucalyptus forests, rugged gorges, waterfalls, aboriginal rock paintings, and more than 140 kilometers of hiking trails.
Highlights include the massive rock formations called the Three Sisters, a photographer's favorite; Bridal Veil Falls; and the hair-raising ride down the Jamison Valley on the Katoomba Scenic Railway. Outdoor wilderness adventures include abseiling, rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking. Visitors can access the Blue Mountains by car from the city via the M4 Motorway, or hop on a train from Central Station in Sydney to Blackheath or Katoomba. Heart-stopping lookout points abound throughout the park.
2 The Hunter Valley
About 250 kilometers from Sydney, the Hunter Valley is a popular city escape and a hotspot for foodies. This beautiful fertile valley is one of Australia's oldest grape-growing regions and is also known for its fresh produce and artisan foods such as cheeses, chutneys, chocolate, aromatic oils, olives, and luscious golden honey. The region's superb restaurants spotlight this gastronomic bounty in mouthwatering tasting menus. After sampling all the scrumptious foods, you can hike nature trails in the eucalyptus-scented wilderness of World Heritage-listed Barrington Tops and Wollemi National Parks or explore the region's elegant architecture on heritage trails. In the 19th century, the Hunter Valley was a prosperous coal mining center, and many of the old mansions in the area reflect this wealth. Stop by the regional museums to learn more about the region's rich history. Another popular attraction is the Hunter Valley Gardens with more than 60 acres of horticultural treasures and themed gardens. For travelers on a tight timeline, hot air balloon rides or helicopter rides are a great way to soak up the scenery.
3 Manly Beach
Feasting on fish and chips at the beach is an Aussie institution and Manly is a top spot to indulge. From Circular Quay, this famous beachfront suburb is a scenic 30-minute ferry ride with plenty of photo opportunities en-route. Once here, you can soak up a classic dose of Aussie beach culture; bask on the golden sands; swim; surf some fantastic breaks; or head to the Corso, a sunny pedestrian mall, where shops, restaurants, and cafés await. At Manly SEA LIFE Sanctuary, you can view sea turtles, tropical fish, and sharks, and even organize a dive with these razor-toothed predators. And yes, there are plenty of fish 'n' chip shops at this seaside hotspot. Bring your camera for great photo opportunities of the Sydney Opera House from the ferry.
4 Hawkesbury River Cruise
About an hour northwest of Sydney, the Hawkesbury is one of the most beautiful rivers in Australia and played an important part in the early days of the colony of New South Wales. The first settlers arrived in the area in 1794 and established farms, which helped feed the colony. Today, farms still dot the surrounding area, while pockets of unspoiled bush flank the river. The small villages in the region and the main towns of Windsor and Richmond offer many tourist attractions such as heritage buildings, galleries, gardens, museums, and markets.
On the river, water sports abound, particularly in its lower wide reaches between Brooklyn and Pittwater. The best way to explore these beautiful waterways is by boat. Brooklyn, Bobbin Head, Berowra Waters, and Wisemans Ferry all offer boat rentals, and you can also join a guided cruise or hop aboard the Riverboat Postman Cruise, which delivers mail to settlements along the river that are only accessible by water. The Hawkesbury River is surrounded by four national parks. It forms a boundary of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, to the north of Sydney, and the southern boundary of Brisbane Water National Park. To the northwest is Dharug National Park, famed for its aboriginal rock drawings, and to the north of Broken Bay is Bouddi National Park. All offer excellent hiking opportunities and a slice of nature not far from the city.
5 Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, West Head, and the Northern Beaches
About 45 minutes north of Sydney's CBD, you can escape to nature at Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, the second oldest national park in Australia. Named for the Guringai aboriginal people who originally lived in this area, the park features beautiful scenery ranging from tranquil bays, bushland creeks, rainforests, and eucalyptus forests, to spectacular West Head with its sparkling views of the coast. From here, you can gaze down upon the blue waters of Pittwater, as well as Broken Bay, Barrenjoey Headland, Lion Island Nature Reserve, and the Central Coast. Fun activities in the park include hiking the many nature trails, aboriginal heritage walks, wildlife viewing, birding, and boating on the beautiful bush-fringed waterways. You can rent a boat from Akuna Bay and pull up for a snack or refreshment at one of the cute waterfront cafes or restaurants. Further north from here, Palm Beach is a lovely spot to bask on the golden sands, swim, surf, enjoy a picnic, or dine at a beachside cafe.
6 Royal National Park
Rimmed by 21 kilometers of surfing beaches and cliff-fringed coast, Royal National Park is a haven for nature buffs and beach lovers. Established in 1879, it is the second oldest national park in the world and lies about an hour's drive south of Sydney's central business district, near Cronulla. The park sits on a sandstone plateau with deeply indented valleys and a covering of heathland. The Hacking River flows through almost its entire length creating fantastic opportunities for fishing and boating. On the upper course of the river, patches of forest offer prime bushwalking and picnic spots. Along the coast, swimming, snorkeling, surfing, fishing, and whale watching are popular pursuits. Other attractions in the park include aboriginal rock art and a vast array of wildlife, including more than 241 species of birds. To access the park, visitors can drive or catch a ferry from Cronulla, while some walking trails are accessible from nearby railway stations. A visitor center at Audley provides rest areas, informative exhibits, and a café.
7 Port Stephens
About 200 kilometers from Sydney's CBD and more than twice the size of Sydney Harbour, sparkling Port Stephens Bay is a long slice of beautiful bush-fringed coastline and a haven for water sports thanks to its Great Lakes Marine Park. Swimming at the more than 20 pristine beaches, snorkeling and diving at Fly Point, surfing, sailing, kayaking, and boating are all popular water-based activities, and Port Stephens is one of the top fishing destinations in Australia. For a gorgeous overview of the region, take the short walk to Gan Gan Lookout or hike to the top of Tomaree Headland Lookout to admire beautiful views over the bay and islands. Marine life is also a top draw here. You can swim with wild dolphins, hop aboard a dolphin-watching cruise, or look for migrating humpback whales from November to May. While you're in the area, stop by Nelson Bay, one of the main towns, to explore the cute shops and fabulous restaurants and stroll along the seaside promenade. Another fun adventure in the area is sand boarding down the Stockton Bight Sand Dunes, Australia's largest system of dunes, with some rising up to 30 meters in height. You can also explore them on horseback or camel-back, or venture in via 4WD. Port Stephens is also known for fresh local produce such as oysters, avocados, figs, olives, and macadamia nuts.
8 Canberra: Australia's Capital
Packed with cultural attractions, Canberra in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) is home to fabulous museums, art galleries, and memorials. This consciously crafted capital of Australia lies about three hours drive from Sydney and a similar distance from Melbourne, a site that was chosen in 1908 as a compromise between these two competing cities. Designed by award-winning American architects Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin, Canberra features expansive parklands, colorful gardens, and a quirky geometric layout with most of the prime tourist attractions fanning out from Lake Burley Griffin, the artificial lake, which is the city's centerpiece. While you're there, be sure to visit New Parliament House, which opened in 1988 after an extensive facelift, and try to time your visit when parliament is in session. Old Parliament House is now home to the excellent Museum of Australian Democracy. Other highlights include the National Museum of Australia, Questacon - the National Science and Technology Center, the National Library, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, and the poignant Australian War Memorial. To appreciate the city's design, visit the summit of 843-meter-high Mount Ainslie. You can drive to the lookout or wander along the two-kilometer trail from the Australian War Memorial.
9 The Southern Highlands
Gorgeous gardens, wildlife-rich wilderness areas, and cute country towns are some of the many attractions of the Southern Highlands, about a 90-minute drive from Sydney. This is a great place to see native Australian animals in their natural habitat. Morton National Park, near Fitzroy Falls, is home to the town's namesake 81-meter-high waterfalls as well as scenic walking trails through rainforest-cloaked gorges; wildflowers; panoramic lookouts; and many species of birds and animals, including kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, echidnas, platypuses, and possums. Lying mostly within the park, the Kangaroo Valley is among Australia's prettiest valleys. Thanks to the Southern Highland's fertile soils, fresh produce is abundant, and you can sample some of the local specialties at the cozy cafes and restaurants in the small towns and heritage villages. The region's main towns of Berrima, Bowral, Bundanoon, Mittagong, and Moss Vale are worth exploring for their many attractions such as historic buildings, art galleries, local crafts, boutiques, spas, antique shops, and gardens. The Southern Highlands are usually cooler than the city with less humidity, so this is a popular country escape on sweltering summer days.
10 Tobruk Sheep Station
Tobruk Sheep Station, in the beautiful Hawkesbury River Valley, 70 minutes from downtown Sydney, offers an authentic taste of Aussie culture. Along the way, you can admire views of the Hawkesbury River and the Blue Mountains. Whip-cracking, boomerang throwing, and sheep-shearing demonstrations give a feel for the life of a typical Aussie stockman, and you can watch them skillfully mustering the sheep with the help of the well-trained sheepdogs. Another favorite activity here is learning how to bake damper (traditional Australian bread) over a crackling fire and make billy tea. You can also enjoy a classic Aussie BBQ complete with traditional lamington cakes (vanilla sponge cakes smothered in chocolate and coconut) for dessert.