Known internationally as the Harbour City, Sydney is certainly spoilt for choice when it comes to natural beauty. With beautiful weather, gorgeous beaches and a laid back atmosphere, Sydney has it all. There can be no doubt, however, that it is the harbour that is the main attraction.
What is a harbour walk?
Although you could be forgiven for thinking that the harbour starts and ends at Circular Quay given the double attractions of the Bridge and Opera house, the harbour is in fact one of the world’s largest. With a foreshore that stretches over 240 km, or 150 miles, the terrain changes effortlessly from steep cliffs and natural bush to manicured parklands, secret beaches and vibrant urban centres.
With so much to see and do, one of the best ways to experience the harbour is to enjoy one of the many harbour walks on offer.
What should I bring on a harbour walk?
Regardless of the time of year, it is important to understand that even in Sydney weather conditions can change rapidly. A southerly storm in summer could see heavy rain and a quick drop in temperature within minutes, while winter temperatures can get very cold once the sun goes down. In other words, it’s important to know the forecast, and plan accordingly.
Whatever the distance you’re planning on walking or the terrain, it is important to have sunscreen, a hat (preferably with a full brim), ample water, and sturdy shoes. If it’s longer than an hour or two, then a small day pack with some food (like muesli bars, sandwiches or fruit) is also advisable. Even though harbour walks are relatively flat, easy and accessible via multiple forms of transport, it is important to remember the basics.
On a lighter note, if undertaking a harbour walk in summer, be sure to take your swimmers and money for ice cream or coffee. Many of the city’s best harbour walks include stops at hidden beaches and waterfront cafes, so don’t forget to make the most of it!
What should I wear on a harbour walk?
No matter what the season, a hat, sturdy shoes and sunscreen is essential for a harbour walk. While a tshirt/singlet and shorts/dress is perfectly fine for most summer harbour walks, don’t forget that UV levels can get extremely high, especially during the middle of the day. As the iconic 1980s song went, “Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat”.
Long sleeves and long pants (light in summer, thicker in winter) are also recommended if in the actual bush, as they will provide protection from the sun, insects and branches, as well as warmth in the cooler months.
If the harbour walk is longer than 2 hours, a small pack to carry a raincoat, snacks and water is also suggested. Water should always be carried in summer, no matter how long the walk, as some of the walks don’t have access to shops or bubblers.
Popular harbour walks
There are a range of popular harbour walks within the city. All suited to walkers of all ages and varying fitness levels.
Woolloomooloo to Circular Quay
One of Sydney’s most famous walks, the Woolloomooloo to Circular Quay harbour walk showcases the inner harbour at its very best. Starting at the Woolloomooloo finger wharf on Cowper Road and ending by the ferry terminal at Circular Quay, this harbour walk can be done at a leisurely pace in either direction, though it is more convenient to end your walk where the buses, trains and ferries all stop.
Approximately 4 km in length if you hug the shoreline, the walk is mainly flat, with the most strenuous section a 5 minute stair climb from Woolloomooloo to the edge of the Royal Botanic Garden. An ideal walk for the family with ample spots to rest and take in the view, an average person could expect to complete the walk in a comfortable 1-1.5 hours.
Turn left at the top of the stairs for a quick detour to see the world-class artworks of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, or turn right to begin the walk along Mrs Macquaries Point. If you’re looking for a swim (open from September 1 to May 1) or a coffee with a sensational view, then stop by the Andrew (Boy) Carlton pool, named after one of Australia’s finest swimmers.
Continue along to the end of the point to find Mrs Macquarie’s chair itself, a seat carved out of sandstone in 1810 by convicts under the orders of then NSW Governor Lachlan Macquarie, whose wife loved the vantage point. With spectacular panoramic views of the Opera House, Bridge and Kirribilli on the north shore, it’s no wonder that it is one of Sydney’s most visited landmarks.
The western side of Mrs Macquaries Point offers uninterrupted views of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and city skyline as the path skirts the edge of Farm Cove. Here you’ll enter the Royal Botanic Garden proper, though a trip into the gardens is worth a day in itself.
Being careful of lunchtime joggers, take a happy snap on the steps of the Opera House (there’s no need to call it the Sydney Opera House when you’re looking at it) and maybe grab a bite or drink at the Opera Bar while waiting for a show to start. With around 2,000 shows per year, there’s something for everyone. If it’s hot, then duck inside for one of the many air conditioned tours that showcase the inside of this world heritage-listed building.
If you’re in the mood for shopping, there’s plenty to be found in Circular Quay and The Rocks, as well as some of the best modern art in the world at the Museum of Contemporary Art. With a train station, bus depot, tram stop and ferry terminal, there’s no better connected part of the city than Circular Quay.
Watsons Bay to Hornby Lighthouse (South Head Heritage Trail)
Hugging the inner shoreline of Sydney’s South Head, this easy harbour walk is one of Sydney’s finest. Stretching from the tranquil shores of historic Watsons Bay to Hornby Lighthouse, the walk captures panoramic views from the city skyline to Middle Head, Little Manly and majestic North Head.
A return trip of 2.8 km, this harbour walk will take the average walker about 1.5 hours to complete. To begin, catch a ferry from Circular Quay (although you can access Watsons Bay by car and bus, ferry is by far the best way to get there). Once you’ve arrived, follow the signs northwards.
The first part of the walk will take you along quiet streets past historic cottages and waterfront mansions, before the end of Cliff St brings you out at beautiful Camp Cove. Grab a coffee or an ice cream from the Camp Cove Kiosk, then continue along cobblestone paths to marvel at the historic gun emplacements.
Bring your swimmers and towel for a dip at Lady Bay beach, then wander past the sandstone lighthouse keeper houses and dream of waking up to the incredible views. Take a selfie at the lighthouse, then wander slowly back happily knowing that you’ve seen Sydney from one of its best angles.
Top tip? Finish your harbour walk around lunchtime and enjoy some of the famous seafood for which this former fishing village is renowned. If you’re walking in summer, then an afternoon stroll followed by drinks whilst watching the sun set over the harbour is a must.
Spit Bridge to Manly
Part of the Manly Scenic Walkway, the Spit Bridge to Manly walk is one of Sydney’s finest short walks, and at 10 km one way with a moderate grade, it’s the perfect way to spend 3-4 hours revelling in the natural beauty of the harbour city.
Weaving through lush natural bushland and well planned pathways, you’ll find your way across secret beaches, see Indigenous rock carvings and enjoy some of the million dollar views across the harbour. In summer, be sure to take your togs and swim in the crystal-clear waters of secluded Castle Rock beach.
Accessible via either bus or car, we suggest starting your short walk at the Spit Bridge near Clontarf, meaning you will finish your walk at Manly Corso. Time it to arrive at meal time so you can enjoy a lunch or dinner at one of Manly’s famed seafood restaurants, before catching a ferry back to Circular Quay.
Bradleys Head to Chowder Bay
Best started with a ferry ride to Taronga Zoo from Circular Quay, this harbour walk manages to combine beautiful bushland with sensational city skyline views, proving that, on this walk at least, you can have it all.
A combination of boardwalk and well travelled dirt path, the walk winds around Athol Bay to Bradleys Head. Enjoy one of the best views in the city from the amphitheatre, pause for reflection at the maritime war monument or explore the 19th century military fortifications. Pack your swimmers to enjoy at dip further on at either Taylors Bay or Clifton Gardens Reserve, and follow it up with a coffee at the Chowder Bay kiosk.
Approximately 4 km long with an estimated walking time of around 2 hours, be sure to take ample sunscreen and water, as there aren’t a lot of bubblers along the route. And don’t forget the camera, because there’s a perfect photo to be taken every step of the way.
Did you know you can earn Qantas Points doing all kinds of activities. Simply download the app, keep your phone or wearable device on you - and get moving.
You can also earn points with your Qantas Health Insurance.
Why don't you get a quote today.