8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Sydney's Darling Harbour

A 10-minute walk from the city center, Darling Harbour is a family-friendly pedestrian precinct on Sydney's waterfront, packed with a treasure trove of tourist attractions. Besides the enticing lineup of shops and restaurants, the area is home to museums, theaters, a zoo and aquarium, exhibitions, and evocative entertainment venues.

Sydney's Darling Harbour
Sydney's Darling Harbour Roderick Eime / photo modified

During the day, you can stroll past fizzing fountains along the paved waterfront promenade and gaze across the water at the sun glinting off the city's skyscrapers. Scenic harbor cruises and exhilarating jet boat rides depart from the docks here for water-based fun, while younger children will love the old-time carousel, ten-pin bowling, and the water park with interactive fountains and an imaginative playground.

In the evening, when the lights of the city ignite, the precinct buzzes with action. Darling Harbour also encompasses Cockle Bay and King Street Wharf, which are packed with popular restaurants and cafés. Whether you want to entertain the kids, shop for souvenirs, or dine by the water, Darling Harbour is an ideal family destination with plenty of fun things to do for young and old.

1 Australian National Maritime Museum

HMB Endeavour, Darling Harbour
HMB Endeavour, Darling Harbour Andy Mitchell / photo modified

You can learn all about Australia's fascinating seafaring past at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Highlights include the chance to board a replica of Captain Cook's ship, the HMB Endeavour, and a navy submarine and destroyer. The museum also traces the history of indigenous maritime culture, European exploration, immigration, Aussie beach culture, and Australia's maritime links with the United States.

Address: 2 Murray Street, Darling Harbour

Official site: http://www.anmm.gov.au/

2 WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo

WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo
WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo Joe Brockmeier / photo modified

If you're an animal lover and can't squeeze a wilderness adventure into your itinerary, this is a great place to get up close to some charismatic Aussie creatures. You can pose for a photo with a koala, and see quokkas, kangaroos, snakes, and crocodiles while wandering through recreated Australian habitats. Other animals here include Tasmanian devils, snakes, bilbies, butterflies, and bats.

Address: 1-5 Wheat Road, Darling Harbour

3 SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium

SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium
SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium Laura / photo modified

Right next to WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium contains the world's largest collection of Australian marine creatures, including sharks, dugongs, stingrays, turtles, platypuses, and penguins. Kids can embark on a glass-bottom boat tour, explore a shipwreck, join a shark-feed tour, and become a marine biologist for a day. If you're a thrill-seeker, you can snorkel with the sharks in a glass enclosure built to resemble coral habitats on the Great Barrier Reef.

Address: 1-5 Wheat Road, Darling Harbour, Sydney

4 Madame Tussaud's

Madame Tussaud's
Madame Tussaud's Newtown grafitti / photo modified

At Madame Tussaud's, you can pose for a photo next to surprisingly lifelike wax figures of your favorite celebrities and interact with mega-stars. Play Wii tennis with Lleyton Hewitt, climb with Spider-man, and even strum a guitar with Taylor Swift. Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman are among the Aussie stars represented here, but you'll also see sports stars and politicians, including President Obama in the Oval Office.

Address: Wheat Road, Darling Harbour, Sydney

5 Flight Experience Flight Simulator

If you've ever dreamed of flying a commercial jet to an exotic locale, this is the experience for you. At Flight Experience Flight Simulator, you can don the captain's hat and fly a Boeing 737 to destinations around the world such as Hong Kong or your own hometown. Packages range from a 30-minute scenic flight to city circuits and 90-minute multi-city journeys. Special experiences designed for children teach the basics of aviation, with fun games and a chance to see how it really feels to fly a plane.

Address: Level 3, Shop 503 Harbourside Shopping Centre, Darling Harbour

6 Chinese Garden of Friendship

Chinese Garden of Friendship
Chinese Garden of Friendship Salil S / photo modified

After all the excitement of a day at Darling Harbour, you can unwind in the Chinese Garden of Friendship. Built to honor the friendship between Sydney and Guangzhou, in China's province of Guangdong, the walled green space incorporates waterfalls, lakes, pavilions, exotic plants, and koi ponds. Its design follows Taoist principles of the yin-yang and incorporates the five elements of earth, fire, water, wood, and metal. Wander the hidden pathways or sip tea among the weeping willows and experience the serenity of this traditional Chinese garden. Guided tours are available.

Address: Pier Street, Darling Harbour, Sydney

7 LG IMAX Theatre and 9D Action Cinema

LG IMAX Theatre and 9D Action Cinema
LG IMAX Theatre and 9D Action Cinema | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Movie-lovers can see stories come to life on the world's largest cinema screen at the LG IMAX Theatre. Films range from newly released action adventures and animated films to documentaries. A short stroll away, the 9D Action Cinema combines a 3D movie and surround sound with "active motion" luxury seats and special effects, so you feel as though you're living the adventures on the screen. The 9D movies last about eight minutes.

LG Imax Theater

9D Action Cinema

8 Shops and Restaurants

Shops and Restaurants
Shops and Restaurants | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Dining by the water is a quintessential Sydney experience, and Darling Harbour offers plenty of options. You can choose from a range of international food, with everything from French, Greek, Brazilian, and Spanish cuisine to Middle Eastern, Malaysian street food, and modern European.

From fine dining to casual cafés, Darling Harbour caters to all budgets. You can slurp freshly shucked oysters on the waterfront, sip coffee in the sunshine on alfresco patios, or dine in five-star style at the water's edge. If you have a sweet-tooth, you can top off your meal with Danish ice-cream and gelato.

Inside the light-filled Harbourside building, shoppers will find two levels of stores selling everything from high-style fashion, shoes, and jewelry to one-of-a-kind Australian souvenirs.

Tips and Tours

  • For discounts on some of Darling Harbour's top tourist attractions, such as SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium and IMAX Sydney, consider buying a Sydney Attraction Pass, which also offers deals on the Hop-on Hop-off Bus and other Sydney attractions such as Taronga Zoo.
  • If you plan to spend an entire day sightseeing around the city, you can buy a pass for the Sydney and Bondi Hop-on Hop-off Tour or the Sydney Harbour Hop-on Hop-off Cruise, which will take you to Darling Harbour as well as the city's other top tourist attractions.
  • Wear good walking shoes. You might intend to come for a quick visit and end up wandering around here for a full day.
  • Traveling with toddlers? Bring their swimsuits or at least a change of clothes in case the fountains prove irresistible.

Getting To Darling Harbour

  • By train: Take the train to Town Hall Station and exit south onto Bathurst Street towards Darling Harbour.
  • By bus: Buses depart regularly from the CBD. Alight at Bathurst, Liverpool, Market, Park, or Druitt Streets.
  • By water taxi: Aussie water taxis depart from The Rocks, Circular Quay, the Opera House, and Luna Park.
  • By private boat: Darling Harbour has a marina for private vessels.
  • By ferry: Catch a ferry to Darling Harbour from Circular Quay and disembark at King Street Wharf or Pyrmont Bay Wharf.
  • Parking: A car park is located under the Novotel.

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