Before You Head Out to Explore Sydney
- Don’t leave without sunscreen. The Australian sun is powerful and not to be messed with. Apply and reapply as you go. Bring sunglasses and a hat with you too.
- All the walks listed below are accessible by public transportation. Be sure to check the schedules before you go so that you can plan your time. TripView is a great app for Sydney’s public transportation and has a free version.
- Bring your swimsuit. The beaches you’ll be passing in each of these walks are some of the best in Sydney so plan on taking a dip as you go. Plus, on a hot day a quick dip in the harbour is perfection.
The walks I’ve listed below are all near restaurants, cafes and shops so you can get a bite to eat or pick up supplies like water and more sunscreen.
Sydney’s Famous Eastern Suburbs Coastal Walks
This is actually several walks that can be broken down into separate sections or, if you’re up for it, all done at once but that would be a very long day.
The eastern suburbs coastal walk spans two city councils: Woollahra and Waverly.
Starting at Rushcutters Bay you can walk along the harbour and eastern coastline all the way to Cronulla and probably farther if you wanted to but I’ve never heard of anyone going that far.
Each of these walks are one way, not looped circuits, so you can either follow your footsteps back to where you started or catch the bus back into the city or wherever else you need to go.
The 4km Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk is a must!
It will take your breath away.
You can easily continue on to Coogee from Bronte and jump on a bus back. I personally like to walk in the opposite direction starting at Coogee or Bronte then head to Bondi. It’s just easier to catch a bus at Bondi back to the city or Bondi Junction train station. Starting January 14, 2014 there will be a city beach bus route 362 that connects the eastern suburbs beaches starting at Coogee and going up to Bondi with stop at Tamarama and Bronte.
My second favourite eastern suburbs Sydney walk is Rose Bay to Watsons Bay.
This is an all day walk, estimated time is 4 1/2 hours but if you include time to sit eat, go swimming at some of Sydney’s best hidden small beaches it could easily take all day.
One of the reasons I like this walk is the accessibility to food, beaches, ice cream and public toilettes. Yes, I said ice cream which I recommend getting when you arrive at Shark Beach from the beach kiosk. Don’t worry there are no sharks at Shark Beach if you swim inside the netted swimming area.
Beaches to be on the lookout for: Milk Beach considered one of the best secluded beaches in Sydney, Camp Cove just a fantastic little beach one of my favourites, and Parsley Beach with it’s hanging footbridge and shallow waters. If you brought a picnic then Parsley Beach is where you should stop.
Extra bonus tip for Parsley Beach: bring your snorkel gear if you want to see seahorses. Seahorse hang out by the net. If you do see any seahorses, do not touch. That’s a big no, no.
If at all possible, try to catch the ferry back to the city from Watsons Bay around sunset. The city silhouette with the changing sky is a perfect photo op.
Other options for exploring the eastern suburbs coastline are: take the ferry to Watsons Bay and walk along the cliffs to Bondi and on to Bronte if you’re up for it or, start at Rushcutters Bay, an easy walk from Kings Cross train station, and walk to Rose Bay then ferry back to the city.
North Coastal Sydney Walks
The Spit Junction to Manly (or Manly to Spit Junction, up to you)
If you ask almost any Sydney-sider the top walk they recommend doing, Spit Junction to Manly Walk will probably win out over the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk but it would be very, very close.
This is an all day walk. Most likely it will take between 3 – 4 hours to complete this 10km walk but once again plan for stops along the way to picnic, enjoy the view and go for a swim. There are signpost all along the way so don’t worry you won’t get lost. There are also several spots where you can finish your walk before reaching Manly and hop on the bus if you don’t think you can make it the whole way but really try and give it your best shot.
A word of warning, this walk does go through some bushland reserves which means you might luck out and come across some Australian wildlife. Sorry no kangaroos or koalas but snakes, lizards, birds (maybe even penguins) and spiders. Not to scare you away from this walk but just to make sure you watch where you step. Chances are, you’ll see a couple of kookaburra and maybe a tawny frogmouth (that’s a type of Australian bird that looks like a muppet) but that’s probably it. Still watch your step as I’ve had friends that have done this walk and had to step over an eastern brown snake, a very poisonous Australian snake.
Here is my very short list of recommendations for places to eat in Manly at the end of your walk: 4 Pines Brew Pub and Out of Africa both located right next to each other (4 Pines is actually directly above Out of Africa), across the street from the Manly Wharf. For other recommendations check out Time Out Sydney’s Manly Guide.
Taronga to Balmoral Beach Walk
….or maybe it’s better to go from Balmoral Beach to Taronga. That way you can catch the ferry back to Circular Quay instead of having to take a long bus ride back to the city from Balmoral Beach after a long walk. Up to you.
When walking along this trail it’s hard to believe you’re still in a city. There so much to see and so many different vantage points along the harbour, be sure to take your time especially when walking along the cliffs of Middle Head. Pick a spot to just sit and look out towards the Sydney Harbour Heads, entryway to the harbour. From this spot you can see whales, seals and penguins if you take the time to look. Most people just keep moving along and often miss the wildlife along the base of the cliffs.
This walk includes two of the absolute best beaches in Sydney. Balmoral is so close to perfect that you’ll never want to leave. It’s not you Aussie surf beach like Manly and Bondi because of its location in the harbour but that makes it the perfect beach for swimming and you don’t have to worry about a rip current. Even so still swim within the netted area.
The other beach is one of my personal favourites, Chowder Bay. Again since it’s inner harbour the water is calm. But there are extra bonuses to Chowder Bay, one being seahorses that hang out on the nets of the swimming area. There is also a kiosk and a bar located up from the beach walking towards Balmoral. The beach isn’t huge but it’s more of a local beach than a touristy beach like Bondi and Manly and doesn’t ever get too packed.
This walk will take you about 2 hours but give some extra time for stops along the way and, of course, beach time. There are public toilets along the walk, cafes and kiosks if you need a caffeinated pick me up.
Barrenjoey Headland Walk
This is worth renting a car to do. You can take the bus up to Palm Beach, but with a car you can drive around to West Head Lookout in Ku-ring-gai Chase Park and have more freedom to explore the area. The drive up to Palm Beach can take up to 1 hour depending on traffic.
On the way up to Palm Beach there are other beaches that you’ll want to stop at and check out. Depending on how much time you have, either stop along the way up to Palm Beach or on the way back to the city. Parking on weekends can be difficult but most beaches have a car park close by. If not, street parking is usually easy to find in the suburbs along the beaches.
Though I suggest heading straight up to Palm Beach, hiking up to the lighthouse and walking along the beaches on both sides of the park. Then drive to the Newport Hotel for something to eat and a break. After lunch at Newport Arms Hotel, jump back in the car and drive over to West Head Lookout. Then head back to the city stopping at different beaches on the way. To finish off your northern beaches driving tour, end at Balmoral Beach Bathers’ Pavilion for a cocktail and snack in the bar. Since you can get to Manly easy enough be ferry, I would skip it on the way back giving Balmoral Beach more time. You won’t regret it.
When driving around to Ku-ring-gai from Barrenjoey be careful of the wildlife on the side of the road. We’ve seen wild turkeys and small wallabies along the road not just in the park but right in the middle of people’s driveways.
The hike up to the lighthouse is very steep. You will need a pair of good lace up shoes for this one. Thongs or sandals will not due but be sure to bring a pair for all your beach time.
Give yourself about 1 1/2 hour to explore the beaches and hike up to the lighthouse. There are guided tours of the lighthouse every Sunday. If you’re interested be sure to call in advance to confirm the schedule.
The drive to West Head Lookout from Barrenjoey is about 45 minutes. If you’re not hungry for lunch yet the catch Newport Arms on the way back, you almost drive by it anyway so it’s not biggie.
At Newport Arms try and get a seat outside along the water, if there’s room. Newport Arms is very kid friendly even has a playground. If you skip going to Newport Arms you’ll regret it. It’s considered one of the best outdoor pubs in all of Sydney.
Other scenic walks in Sydney that might interest you.
The inner harbour suburb of Hunter’s Hill known as the garden suburb of Sydney. There are several historic walks that are just a ferry ride away from Circular Quay. The village is full shops and cafes well worth exploring. It’s rumoured that Cate Blanchett and family live in this suburb. Once you see some of the house you won’t be surprised.
The Round Willoughby Walk incorporates 8 different routes that were designed by a local resident to all be incorporated into on continious walk. My favourite is the Northbridge Route #2. The views of the Cammeray Bridge and Tunks Park are splendid and you feel far, far away from the city in this peaceful suburb.
The Lane Cove National Park is easy to get to by from the Chatswood station. There are several different trails within the park plus lots of wildlife.
Before heading out you can load the PDFs on your tablet or print them out to use as a reference but it’s not totally necessary as the routes are all pretty obvious and there are usually several other walkers out that you can always ask for directions if you need to.
Kicking it up a notch: Serious Hikes Around Sydney
I have a confession to make.
I’m more of a walker than a serious hiker and I’m most certainly am not a hike and camp as you go kind of adventurer. I love camping and I love hiking but the days of me carrying a large pack with tent and all are far behind me. But, since I’ve taken the time to write about walks in Sydney and I’ve already done the research, I thought I should include some of the more serious hikes around NSW within easy driving distance of Sydney and at least list the resources for those of you that are more serious hikers.
The Great NSW Northern Walk
Australia has a lot of greats. Just to name a few, there’s the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Ocean Road and the Great Northern Walk.
The Great Northern Walk is the creme de la creme of walks in New South Wales. To complete the whole walk from start to finish will take 2 weeks of hiking and camping out in the Australian bush. The walk connects Sydney and Newcastle. It is possible to split the walk up into shorter sections ranging from 1 day to 3 or more days.
The Coastal Track
The Coastal Track is located in The Royal National Park south of Sydney. This hike will only take you two days to complete. The 26km track follows along the coastline of the park, if you didn’t guess by the name. You’ll discover hidden beaches and see some amazing views of the country. If you want to see whales, the best time to do this walk is between May and August. Overnight camping in the park requires a permit.
Saving The Best For Last
The 8km Bouddi Coastal Walk is short compared to the other two and should take about 4 hours in one direction but that’ s not why it’s my favourite.
The reason it’s my favourite is the Little Beach campground. In fact instead of doing the whole 8km walk I would recommend instead just camp at Little Beach and do the walk in 2 separate sections. Though if you are lucky enough to have reserved a camping site at Little Beach, you just might end up doing nothing but hanging out on the beach, or surfing or fishing or enjoying life too much to leave. Yes, it’s that awesome.
I copied the image above from the National Parks website because I don’t have a photo to compare with it. Look at how gorgeous that is. That’s what you’ll see at Little Beach.
The campground is tucked away in a small cove and has barbecues and toilets so you’re not roughing it too much. You will have to hike in from the car park but it’s less than 1km and so worth it.
There are only 6 campsites so get a group together and you’ll have the whole place to yourselves.
Many, many, many more hikes.
The NSW National Parks Website is packed with info from hikes to camping.