First Time to Sydney – 8 ‘Must Do’s’

Sydney Opera House

If this is your first time to Sydney you will be amazed at what a great holiday destination it is for a solo traveller. There is plenty to do, whatever your interests.  There are some amazing beaches, unique wildlife, breathtaking scenery and mouthwatering food to indulge in. After living in Sydney for a while and returning to visit frequently, these are my 8 top things to do in Sydney if you have never been before.

1. Book a Tour of The Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains are located to the West of Sydney and can be reached by taking a train from Central Station, a coach from Circular Quay or by hiring a car. Allow 1-2 hours if you are travelling by car or coach depending upon which part of the mountains you drive to. However, I highly recommend booking a guided tour with Oz Trails . I booked a tour with them through the Tourist Information centre by Manly Wharf. The tours are well run and the guides are knowledgeable and informative, taking you to the key points of interest. The Blue Mountains are stunning and the air is filled with the intoxicating scent from the eucalyptus trees.

waterfalls, blue mountains, nsw

The tour includes a ride on the scenic railway which is the steepest passenger railway in the world and descends 310m into the rainforest.

scenic railway, blue mountains - Sydney 'must dos'

Marvel at the stunning sandstone rock formation of the 3 Sisters before taking a boat ride along the Parramatta River.

3 sisters rock formation, blue mountains - Sydney 'Must Dos' for the first timer

2. Snorkel at Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach, Manly is one of my favourite beaches in Australia.  It can be reached via a pathway which leads from the main beach in Manly. This small, tucked away cove with calm water, is a protected marine reserve offering ideal snorkelling conditions with common sightings of fish such as blue groper and wobbegong.

Snorkel at Shelly Beach
Shelly Beach, Manly, NSW

3. Eat a Poke Bowl at Momo Bar, Manly

Of all the restaurants I have been to in Australia, Momo Bar, a BYO alfresco dining experience in Manly, stands out as a firm favourite. If it is your first time to Sydney, I highly recommend coming here.

Momo Bar, Manly - Sydney 'Must Dos'
Momo Bar

It specialises in succulent, steaming hot, Nepalese dumplings with a choice of broths and Poke bowls which originated in Hawaii. Because you design your own bowl, they can be suitable for meat eaters, vegetarians or vegans. Simply choose your base of rice or cabbage, add a protein, followed by a selection of delicious toppings and sauce.

Poke Bowl, Momo Bar, Manly
Poke Bowl at Momo Bar, Manly, Sydney, Australia

This is a great restaurant to come to as a solo diner. It is a casual eatery serving fantastic food and is located in an ideal position for people watching.

4. Book a Surf Lesson at Manly Beach

Manly Beach is a glorious, long stretch of soft, golden sand with ideal ocean conditions making it home to annual surfing events.  It is lined with tall Norweigan Pine trees with colourful and noisy lorikeets and cockatoos flying between them. Manly Beach is a surfer’s paradise and if you wish to book a lesson, I suggest contacting Manly Surf School.  I had a great experience with them and after a lot of help from the instructor, managed to catch a wave after just one lesson! Check their website for prices for private and group tuition. A single private lesson currently costs AUD $110.

 North Steyne, Manly Beach - Surf Lesson - Sydney 'Must Dos' for the first timer
North Steyne Section of Manly Beach

5. Catch a Sunrise

If you happen to be staying in Manly and I recommend you do, head to the beach early morning to watch a stunning sunrise. It rises from North Head – a 90 minute walk and the views from the beach are amazing.  I have seen some of the best sunrises from here.  You can also watch the surfers from around 5am riding the early waves.  I stayed at the Sebel Manly Beach which is a stone’s throw from the beach and if it is your first time to Sydney, it is central to many activities and is a great place to stay.

Sunrise, Manly Beach
Sunrise at Manly Beach

6. Visit Taronga Zoo

Taronga Zoo - Sydney 'Must Dos' for the first timer

Taronga Zoo is arguably one of the best zoos in the world. Located in a beautiful harbourside setting on the outskirts of Mosman, it benefits from stunning views of the Harbour Bridge and has been open for over 100 years.

Although you can drive or catch the bus to Mosman, the most relaxing way to arrive is by the iconic ferry from Circular Quay where you can admire the stunning views along the way.

Manly Ferry
Manly Ferry to Darling Harbour

On arrival you can enjoy the amazing exhibits including Giraffes, Sumatran Tigers, Gorillas, Orangutans, Asian Elephants and Red Kangaroos.

Sumatran Tiger at Taronga Zoo

Keeper talks take place throughout the day as well as some super displays, especially the interactive bird display which educates as well as fascinates.

A ride on the cable car is a wonderful way to enter or leave the zoo. Make sure you have your camera ready as the views are incredible.

Giraffe at Taronga Zoo

If you would like a photo with one of the animals, book an animal encounter experience early at the main shop, near the entrance, on arrival. These are an additional cost and book up quickly. Prices vary depending on the encounter. More information can be found on the Taronga Zoo website. Encounters include feeding carrots to a giraffe, feeding fish to the penguins, getting climbed on by meerkats and going behind the scenes in the elephant enclosures.

Red Kangaroo, Taronga Zoo, Sydney
Kangaroo, Taronga Zoo

Taronga is a great day out and super way to get up close to Australia’s diverse and unique wildlife.

7. Hire a Self Drive Boat

Hire a self-drive boat from Manly Kayak Centre, situated by Little Manly Beach close to the wharf. This is a great way to explore Manly’s waterways at leisure and no experience or license is necessary. You will be provided with a map, anchor and a life jacket. Just pack a picnic and go exploring! Manly Kayak Centre also hire out SUPs and kayaks.

Self Drive a boat - Sydney 'Must Dos' for the first timer

8. Chase a Sunset

If it is your first time to Sydney, chasing a sunset is a must. Pay a visit to Manly Wharf as it is home to some beautiful sunsets. There are a variety of take away outlets nearby so you can settle down on the wharf wall with nibbles to watch it. Alternatively, kick back with a beer or cocktail at The Bavarian or Hugos which have direct ocean and sunset views.

Stunning pink sunset at Manly Wharf
Sunset at Manly Wharf

You may be lucky enough to get a glimpse of the Little Penguins which return to their burrows at sunset. They come to Manly to breed every year between May-February.

If you are thinking of travelling to Australia and it will be your first time to Sydney, I recommend reading the following…

Suggested Further Reading:

Sydney Restaurants – recommended places for solo dining

Other things to do in Sydney – Recommended solo activites

Places to stay in Sydney

Hi my name is Jude. Since I was 18 I have had a passion for travel and I have recently taken the plunge to quit my job as an Estate Agent to do more of what I love!!

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