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

Written by Karen Hastings
Updated Mar 9, 2021

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

Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour

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. Younger children will love the old-time carousel, Kingpin Darling Harbour 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. Come here on a Friday night, and you'll be treated to a spectacular fireworks show.

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. Discover the best places to visit with our list of the top things to do in Darling Harbour.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

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.

Other interesting exhibits here paint a vivid picture of Australia's maritime culture. You can learn about the history of indigenous maritime culture, European exploration, immigration, Aussie beach culture, and Australia's maritime links with the United States.

Kids will have a blast. They can peek below the surface of Sydney Harbour; dabble in printmaking, painting, and sculpture; and, of course, clamber all over the real-life tall ships. What's not to love?

Address: 2 Murray Street, Darling Harbour

Official site: https://www.sea.museum/

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 visit. You can get up close to some charismatic Aussie creatures while wandering through recreated Australian habitats.

Pose for a photo with an impossibly cute koala, walk among a mob of kangaroos, come face to face with a quokka or wombat, and get up-close to other favorite native creatures - even the scary ones. Snakes, crocodiles, and cantankerous Tasmanian devils are also waiting to meet you, as well as bilbies, butterflies, and bats. You can even see the elusive platypus here, which is tough to see in the wild.

Set aside about an hour for your visit, depending on how much time you want to spend with each animal.

Don't forget to check the website for special events. WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo hosts fun celebrations at certain times of the year, with tasty treats served up on the zoo's Koala Rooftop surrounded by these adorable marsupials, or the Upper Croc Deck, under the watchful eyes of saltwater crocodiles. These special events tickets also often include after-hours access to the zoo for unique selfie opportunities with the residents.

Address: 1-5 Wheat Road, Darling Harbour

Official site: https://www.wildlifesydney.com.au/

3. SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium

Penguin at the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium
Penguin at the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium

Right next to WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium contains the world's largest collection of Australian marine creatures. Favorites include 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 at this popular Darling Harbour aquarium. A favorite exhibit is Shark Valley. This 100-meter glass tunnel immerses visitors in a watery world of toothy sharks, graceful rays, and other unique marine species as they glide around you on your journey under the sea.

Looking for an adrenaline rush? 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

Official site: https://www.sydneyaquarium.com.au/

4. Darling Harbour Ferris Wheel - Star of the Show

Darling Harbour Ferris Wheel
Darling Harbour Ferris Wheel

For a bird's-eye view of this action-packed precinct, you can soar high above it on the Darling Harbour Ferris Wheel.

Soak up inspirational views of Sydney Harbour and the city skyline on this 35-meter-high family-friendly attraction. Don't forget to take your camera. You can even control the rotation of your own gondola, so you can focus on the things you want to see.

Each gondola is fully enclosed to protect against all kinds of weather, plus you can hop aboard this exciting attraction day or night.

Official site: https://www.darlingharbour.com/see-and-do/star-of-the-show

5. Madame Tussauds

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

Madame Tussauds Sydney offers a host of iconic life-like figures, as well as fun interactive exhibits. Pose for a photo next to your favorite celebrities and interact with mega-stars. Enjoy Breakfast at Tiffany's with Audrey Hepburn, snap a selfie with Bruce Willis or Alfred Hitchcock, and even help Superman lift a helicopter.

Chris Hemsworth, Heath Ledger, and Hugh Jackman are among the Aussie stars represented here, and you can also see all your favorite Marvel and Justice League heroes.

Are you a music-lover? Head to the music zone to rock out at a gig with your favorite musicians, including Lady Gaga and Keith Urban. You can even be the headline act of your own concert.

From fashion to Australian history and world leaders, you're sure to find one of your idols here.

Address: Wheat Road, Darling Harbour, Sydney

Official site: https://www.madametussauds.com.au/en/

6. Flight Experience

Ever dreamed of flying a commercial jet to an exotic locale? At Flight Experience, you can don the captain's hat and fly a Boeing 737 to destinations around the world, including Hong Kong or your own hometown. Packages range from a 30-minute scenic flight to 90-minute multi-city journeys.

You can also fly a virtual reality military jet. Soar through the Grand Canyon, weave through New York City skyscrapers, or land on a moving aircraft carrier.

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. Do you have a fear of flying? You can sign up for a special course to combat that, too.

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

Official site: http://sydney.flightexperience.com/

7. Chinese Garden of Friendship

Chinese Garden of Friendship
Chinese Garden of Friendship

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

8. 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. Note, though, that the IMAX theater is currently undergoing a huge makeover and is due to reopen in late 2021. Once it's ready for customers again, you'll enjoy the latest sound and laser projection technology, and - a big bonus - larger, comfier seats.

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

9. 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 restaurants are sure to please. 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 devour fresh-caught seafood 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, top off your meal with Danish ice-cream and gelato at Andersen's of Denmark.

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. Head to Between the Flags or Billabong for classic Aussie surf wear or pick up an Akubra hat at the Kangaroos & Koalas gift shop.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Darling Harbour

Save Money with a Darling Harbour Attractions Pass:

  • Looking for discounts on Darling Harbour attractions? You can save money by purchasing a Sydney Attractions Pass with discounted entry to some of Darling Harbour's top tourist attractions, including SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, and Madame Tussauds. You can purchase different packages depending on the things you want to see and do, and choose your top places to visit from a list of 35 attractions.

Sightseeing Tours:

  • If you plan to spend an entire day sightseeing around the city, two cost-effective, flexible tours will save you time and money: The Sydney and Bondi Hop-on Hop-off Tour and the Sydney Harbour Hop-on Hop-off Cruise, will take you to Darling Harbour, as well as the city's other top tourist attractions, and you can choose where you want to spend most of your time.

Where to Stay in Darling Harbour for Sightseeing

Want to stay near all the attractions at this family-friendly precinct? Darling Harbour accommodation ranges from budget properties to heritage-listed mid-range hotels and five-star luxury properties.

Luxury & Mid-Range Hotels:

  • If you're looking for some pampering, the five-star Sofitel Darling Harbour, across the road from the Convention Centre, offers dreamy harbor views through floor-to-ceiling-windows. Perks include an infinity pool and state-of-the-art gym.
  • The four-star Ovolo 1888 Darling Harbour brings bold-hued contemporary interior design to a heritage-listed former wool store and factory.
  • For family friendly digs, the Adina Apartment Hotel Sydney Darling Harbour makes it easy to cook some of your own meals, with full kitchens in spacious apartments.

Budget Hotels:

  • If you're watching your wallet, Ibis Sydney Darling Harbour offers affordable rooms in a central location, with an undercover walkway to Harbourside Shopping Centre.

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: You can park your car at Harbourside Car Park, located at 100 Murray Street, Pyrmont. The carpark connects to Harbourside Shopping Centre via a covered footbridge.
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