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  • Seabourn_Odyssey_in_Sydney_Harbor - Seabourn Odyssey sails through Sydney Harbor. Australia has become a major mecca for cruises in the past few years.
  • kangaroos-Australia - Kangaroos near the coast in Australia, one of the encounters you'll have on a Cunard cruise Down Under.
  • Tomaree-National-Park - A couple at Tomaree Head lookout, overlooking Zenith Beach, Tomaree National Park, Port Stephens along Australia's North Coast NSW.
  • Flightseeing-over-Sydney - Flightseeing (what the Yanks call sightseeing) over Sydney.
  • Star-Princess-Sydney-Australia - Star Princess in Sydney, Australia.
  • Cunard-Queen-Elizabeth-in-Sydney - Catch riveting views of the Sydney Opera House and coastal Australia while sailing aboard Queen Elizabeth.
  • Bondi-Beach-Sydney - World-famous Bondi Beach in Sydney.
  • Sea-Princess-Sydney-Australia - Sea Princess passes beneath Sydney Harbour Bridge following her departure from Darling Harbour.
  • Cunard-Queen-Mary-2-Sydney - Get a close-up view of some of Sydney's most famous landmarks while Queen Elizabeth sails its coast.
  • Sydney-Opera-House-Princess-Cruises - Head Down Under to take in the Sydney Opera House and other memorable landmarks. Princess Cruises offers travel options throughout Australia and Asia.
  • flightseeing-plane-Sydney - A flightseeing plane in Sydney.
  • Golf-course-north-of-Sydney - A golf course north of Sydney.
  • Queen-Mary-in-Sydney-Harbour -   Queen Mary 2 in Sydney Harbour.
  • Sydney-Opera-House-closeup - A closeup of Sydney's iconic Opera House.
  • Sydney-skyline-and-sailboat - A sailboat wafts in Sydney Harbour against the city skyline.
  • Ponant-Sydney.jpg - A Ponant ship approaches Sydney Harbor, one of many ports of call in Australia.
  • Regent-Seven-Seas-Voyager-Sydney - Take a cruise on Seven Seas Voyager and discover Australia's majestic Sydney Harbor, a great winter getaway for Americans and Europeans.
  • Carnival-Spirit-in-Sydney-Harbour - Carnival Spirit in Sydney Harbour.

Sydney travel guide: Best bets for cruise visitors

our guide

The vibe

Sydney greets visitors with one of the world’s most spectacular harbors, marked by the sail-roofed Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and thousands of yachts bobbing in azure waters. The city's OPT terminal offers just-arriving cruise passengers access to a dazzling central location. And beyond the harbor, there’s much to explore in bustling neighborhoods and beach enclaves. 

Most trips to Australia begin with a flight into Sydney, on the island nation's east coast.  Nonstop flights are available from Los Angeles and San Francisco. After acclimating to the time change, many travelers set off on a cruise to the port cities encircling the continent, to neighboring New Zealand, southeast Asia or far-flung island destinations. Others visit Sydney as part of world cruise.

Either way, be sure to stay long enough to sample what the city and region have to offer: golden beaches, the iconic Opera House, great pubs, appealing wildlife preserves and more.

Cruise ships that call on Sydney

Top reasons to go

  • One of the world’s most beautiful cities, both for its stunning natural setting and architectural icons
  • Attractions devoted to Australia’s unique history, wildlife and arts scene.
  • A diverse dining scene, everything from Asian noodle houses to oyster bars and celebrated restaurants serving Mod Oz cuisine.
  • Visit the beachside enclaves and see how Sydney surf culture rivals the California dreaming lifestyle.
  • Immigrants account for 75% of annual population growth, so enjoy the melting pot mood.

Top things to do & see in Sydney

Sydney Opera House

Guided tours of the  iconic Sydney Opera House are designed for a variety of interests, including architectural, backstage and historic. If the schedule permits, the opera house has five theaters offering performances in opera, ballet, symphonic music and drama.

The Rocks

Sydney’s oldest district, The Rocks dates from the city’s origins as a British penal colony. Today it’s a great place to explore historic sites such as Cadman’s Cottage and the Customs House, to shop for Australian souvenirs and hang out at a pub. The district is also home to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which has important collections of modern paintings and sculpture as well as aboriginal art.

Powerhouse Museum

Powerhouse Museum,  Australia’s largest museum, is located in a late 19th-century power station and features changing exhibits on scientific and cultural phenomena. It also offers working steam engines, space modules, an Art Deco movie theater and much more.

Australia's majestic Sydney Harbor, a great winter getaway for Americans and Europeans.
Courtesy of Regent Seven Seas CruisesAustralia's majestic Sydney Harbor, a great winter getaway for Americans and Europeans.

Beaches

Sydney’s beachside enclaves, the most famous of which are Manly and Bondi Beach, are rich in  water activities, including swimming, surfing and parasailing, as well as cafes, shops and other diversions. Less crowded Balmoral Beach is a favorite among windsurfers and offers a wide esplanade lined with everything from chic restaurants to fish-and-chip shops.

Shopping

Among local specialties to look for are aboriginal arts and crafts, including wooden bowls, ceremonial items and paintings, which are available in galleries throughout Sydney. For Australian opals, the National Opal Collection offers a showroom and demonstrations on how the fiery gems are cut and polished. Paddington Markets is a popular flea market crammed with stalls offering avant-garde clothing, crafts, jewelry and much more.

Nightlife

Sydney has everything from world-class performing arts at the Opera House to nightclubs, bars and comedy clubs. Located in The Rocks and convenient to the ships, The Basement is the city’s premier venue for live jazz, blues and rock. Popular nightspots in the city center include the Arthouse Hotel and Bambini Wine Room.

Family-friendly options

  • Taronga Zoo: Sydney’s zoo showcases Australia’s fascinating wildlife, including koalas and kangaroos, in naturalistic bush settings. A platypus exhibit and a walk-through rainforest aviary filled with exotic birds are among the many highlights. 
  • SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium: This is the place to see such rarities at the duagong, a manatee-like creature native to North Australia, as well as the teeming marine life native to Sydney Harbor and a dazzling coral exhibit. Right next door is Wild Life Sydney Zoo, where the denizens include Tasmanian devils, hairy-nosed wombats and yellow-footed wallabies.
  • Luna Park Sydney: An old-fashioned amusement park that was recently updated, this harborside attraction offers thrill rides, a fun house and a midway.

YOLO (You only live once!)

Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb: A 3.5-hour trek up, down and along the stairways and catwalks of the landmark bridge provides thrilling views of the harbor. Harnesses and special clothing make it a safe adventure.

Don’t miss

Sydney Fish Market: Second only to Tokyo’s fish market in size, this site near Darling Harbor is the place to watch a fish auction shortly after the catch comes in, take a behind-the-scenes tour or sample delicious local oysters, shrimp, sushi and other seafood.

Get a close-up view of some of Sydney's most famous landmarks while Queen Elizabeth sails its coast.
Courtesy of Cunard LineGet a close-up view of some of Sydney's most famous landmarks while Queen Elizabeth sails its coast.

Best bets for dining

  • Casual lunch: In Circular Quay, check out the food-hall eateries at the David Jones Department Store. Harbor views and fresh seafood dishes are on the menu at The Decklocated at the entrance to Luna Park. Fishmongers in Bondi is the place to go for fish and chips, including battered barramundi.
  • Fine dining: One of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants is Rockpool, a city center favorite known for its Modern Austalian (Mod Oz) dishes prepared with seasonal ingredients. Offering Mod Oz dishes with a Japanese aesthetic is Tetsuya’s, also in the city center. Another celebrated spot is Iceberg’s Dining Room and Bar, which serves Mediterranean specialties, at the south end of Bondi Beach. 
  • Travel + Leisure magazine spotlighted these hot restaurants in its February 2015 issue: EsterCho Cho San, Moon Park and Acme.   

Best time to go

The spring months of October-November and fall months of March-April offer idyllic weather, but even the winter months of June-August bring mostly mild and sunny days. December-February are typically hot and humid but a great time to experience ime to experience Sydney’s summer festivities and beach ambience. 

Fun facts

  • Locals refer to the Harbour Bridge as “the coat hanger” because of its shape.
  • Sydney Harbor is the deepest natural harbor in the world.
  • Sydney has the seventh-largest number of foreign-born residents of any city in the world, with immigrants accounting for 75 percent of annual population growth.

When you arrive

Docking information

Most cruise ships dock at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay, within walking distance of The Rocks, Opera House and other waterfront sights.

Getting around

Circular Quay is the city’s mass transit hub, including for the light rail system serving downtown Sydney and buses and trains to outlying areas. Taxis are plentiful at the ship terminal, with reasonable fares for points within the city center. Circular Quay is also the departure point for Sydney Ferries, a fun and scenic way to explore the harbor and visit such areas as Manly, Darling Harbor, Olympic Park and the zoo.

Need to know

Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens will need a valid passport and an Australian visa.

Language: English

Currency: Australian dollar

Safety: Bag snatchers, pickpockets, water hazards, spiders and sunburns are just a few of the Aussie safety risks. For the most part Sydney is like any other large metropolis, but the main hazards you'll face in Sydney are at the beach. Never mind the snakes, spiders and sharks and any number of other venomous creatures, it's drowning you should be worried about. Follow the beach safety rules and "slip, slap, slop"  (slip on on a shirt, slap on a hat and slop on some sunscreen)!

Your take

How about you? Been to Sydney recently, or planning to go? Tell me what's on your must-do-in-Sydney list.  

See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

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Maria Lenhart
I am a veteran travel writer who has enjoyed reporting on destinations far and near for many publications. My favorite way to travel is on board a ship, no matter where it's going. 

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Overheard

“(Head to) the wonderful, absurdly declious, crazy-ass Argentinian-themed Porteño, the restaurant that takes the new-to-Australia craze for fatty hunks of meat to extreme lengths. And every night, a line down the street.”

Anthony Bourdain

 

“Hike the gentle Bondi to Bronte Coastwalk, which winds two miles along sandstone cliffs and white sand beaches. Don’t miss the Aboriginal rock carvings, such as the shark and whale south of Mackenzies Point.”

Travel + Leisure

“Rent a car or hop on one of the bus tours that leave from Sydney and go wine tasting in the Hunter Valley (a two-hour drive from Sydney), which features some 50 wineries.”

Cruise Critic

“Australia has a virtual monopoly on the world's supply of opals. ...You can pick up opals all over the city, but if you want a valuable stone, you should visit a specialist.”

Fodor's Travel

 

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