Things to do in Sydney

Hidden Gems and Secrets in Sydney

Explore Sydney’s secret spots. From unique dining experiences to incredible art installations, you’ll see the harbor city in a new light.

Sydney may be known for Bondi Beach and the iconic Opera House, but what if you're looking for an experience a little out of the ordinary?

Tucked away off the beaten trail, hidden gems abound. There are trendy galleries, thrilling museums, and a garden that lets you feel like you've traveled back in time to ancient Rome.

So, if you're looking for things to do in Sydney, why not experience the road less traveled? Come with us as we explore the secrets of Sydney and take you to some of the harbor city's most breathtaking and unforgettable spots.

Outdoor Adventures

Bask in the afternoon sun at one of Sydney's secret beaches. You’ll feel the cool ocean breeze as you walk along the marina. The harbor city rewards intrepid visitors with enchanting outdoor experiences. Relax on the sand, or take a dip in the rock pools lining the coast.

1. Milk Beach, Vaucluse

Hidden within Sydney Harbour National Park is one of Sydney's best-kept secrets — Milk Beach in Vaucluse. Clear shores and tranquil surroundings await in this quiet spot where you can sit peacefully as the hours pass by. This serene beach wouldn’t be possible if you were to visit one of the more popular Sydney beaches, such as Bondi.

Milk Beach is more than just a calm spot for relaxation or a picnic. Visitors can also enjoy snorkeling at this beach. You'll see damselfish, sea urchins, octopuses, and vibrant seagrasses that line the coast.

Prefer life ashore? No problem. Fish or play a game of badminton or beach volleyball with the family.

2. Figure Eight Pools, Royal National Park

The power of nature often leads to striking rock formations carved out over thousands or even millions of years. Over time, the flow of water and air shaped Sydney's rocky coastline through erosion, giving rise to the Figure Eight Pools in Royal National Park.

Located close to Burning Palms Beach—another secluded golden beach—these twin pools create a fun figure-eight shape.

If you're feeling brave, swim in the rock pools during low tide. However, even a walk around the pools provides beautiful scenery and plenty of thrills. You're unlikely to find a more exhilarating and unique spot to explore.

3. Snail's Bay, Balmain

Want a clear view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge without contending with crowds? Despite being located in a busy suburban area, many people don't know about Snail's Bay in Balmain.

The bay was once part of Balmain's rich maritime history. You can still see remnants of the shipbuilding industry in the heritage buildings and historic signage. Of course, it's still an ideal spot for boating today.

While you won't see new ships launch on their maiden voyages from Snail's Bay, but you can rent a kayak or paddleboard onto the harbor.

Bird-watchers will also love Snail's Bay, as marine birds flock to the quiet surroundings. If you're lucky, you might even spot the majestic white-bellied sea eagle.

4. Glebe Foreshore Walk

Stretching along the waterfront, the Glebe Foreshore Walk begins at Bicentennial Park, a picturesque spot by the Badu Mangroves where you can stop for a barbecue or let the kids play.

As you stroll down the foreshore, you'll experience spectacular views of Blackwattle Bay and the elegant Anzac Bridge. The bridge is held up by cables suspended from two inclined towers. Due to the stark contrast between its modern facade and the natural environment, it’s the perfect backdrop for photos.

At the end of the Foreshore Walk, you'll arrive at Sydney Fish Market. You don't need to cook your own catch because restaurants in the area offer everything from sushi to fish and chips.

Photographer: martineleveille

Cultural Discoveries

A multicultural country, Australia provides art, architecture, and history from across the globe. But the best spots for learning about other cultures in Sydney are hidden away, so you need to know where to look.

5. White Rabbit Gallery, Chippendale

Isn't it amazing how so many elements of Chinese culture persist today?

Get up close and personal with Chinese culture at the White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale. The gallery celebrates contemporary Chinese art. It offers one of the world's largest collections of works from the 21st century.

It explores powerful themes, such as the duality of the urban and natural environment. Sometimes, it's through photography. Other times, room-sized installations make you feel like you're part of the exhibit.

6. The Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills

The Brett Whiteley Studio in Surry Hills was once the artist's workplace and home.

More than a museum where you can see the work of one of Australia's most famous artists, it's also a space intimately tied to many pieces on show. The studio still houses Whiteley's personal belongings, materials, and even a few unfinished works.

Whiteley's most iconic pieces are from his Lavender Bay series. Given its serene beauty and the personal significance it carried as the place where he lived for two decades, this is no surprise. Stepping into the studio allows you to venture into the artist's world and see Lavender Bay through his eyes.

7. St. Stephen's Uniting Church, Macquarie Street

Emerging in the 19th century as the dominant architectural movement, the Gothic Revival style swept through Australia just as it did through Europe. St. Stephen's Uniting Church on Macquarie Street showcases the essence of this imposing architectural style, with its dramatic emphasis on verticality, sharp lines, and pointed arches.

The interior demonstrates the decorative patterns and ornate stone and wood carvings iconic to the era. Built primarily from sandstone, the church also showcases the natural material synonymous with Sydney.

Sandstone's warm hues and interesting texture define many of the most prominent public buildings throughout the city. It's also found in rocky outcrops along the coast at Royal National Park, where it forms layers that reveal the land's history.

Culinary Hideaways

Although Melbourne is often considered the foodie capital of Australia, Sydney's a refined dining scene. Decades of culinary innovation and multiculturalism won’t disappoint. Don't miss these culinary hideaways while you're on vacation.

8. The Grounds of Alexandria

Imagine a place where you can dine in the city while feeling like you've taken a journey to an enchanted forest. That's exactly what you'll experience at The Grounds, a restaurant that surrounds you with native plants and flowers.

While beautiful, the garden also serves another purpose. Visit during Valentine's Day and various other holidays throughout the year, and you'll see the landscape transform to match the occasion through fun, themed displays. You can even bring your dog to enjoy dining outdoors with you.

Inside, The Grounds offers several fantastic dining options. Check out The Lock In for a private dining experience enhanced by warm decor, soft lighting, and vintage charm.

Photographer: Kate Darmody

9. Spice Alley, Chippendale

Spice Alley brings together the vibrant cuisines of Asian countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan, capturing the fun atmosphere of hawker street markets. Arrive as night falls for the most authentic experience, as the soft overhead lighting from Asian lanterns guides you through the outdoor laneway.

With four diners and two full-size restaurants, it's easy to see why this hidden gem is popular among people in the know. From laksa and pad thai to pork bao and all sorts of dumplings, there's a lot for lovers of Asian food to sample.

If you're unfamiliar with this type of cuisine, never fear. The alley's walk-up style of dining makes it easy to sample a few dishes to find your bearings.

Photographer: Georgios Tsatas

Historical Gems

Explore Sydney's rich history through its historical sites. As Australia's oldest and largest city, Sydney has many stories to tell, woven over two centuries into the fabric of its identity.

10. Cockatoo Island

Of all places in Sydney, none has a fabled history quite like Cockatoo Island. The island was used as a prison for convicts from 1839-1869, but its purpose gradually shifted to shipbuilding and repair. This was done in support of military efforts during both World Wars.

It was a pivotal education site for Sydney's new generations of industrial and nautical professionals.

However, Cockatoo Island's history goes back way further than the early days of Australia's colonization. Known initially as Wareamah, the island was an important meeting place for First Nations people. It sits at the center of waterways where indigenous communities fished and traded with each other for 60,000 years.

11. The Rocks Discovery Museum

When settlers first arrived at The Rocks in 1788 — a location that later became the birthplace of Sydney — the experience was no doubt different from that of the Mayflower Pilgrims.

That's because, unlike those first arrivals to Plymouth Rock in the United States, the bulk of Australia's settlers were convicts from Britain. They had no choice but to travel to this strange new land full of unknown dangers.

Situated just off George Street, The Rocks Discovery Museum takes you on a journey through time, not just back to the days when convicts built the infrastructure that would establish Sydney but also to the era of the Gadigal people.

Exhibits hosted by the museum paint a picture of life experienced through the eyes of First Nations people, British sailors, and convicts during Sydney's earliest days.

Unique Experiences

We're quite fond of the wacky and bizarre, and several secret spots in Sydney offer experiences beyond the mundane. Why not take a leap and explore these destinations for yourself?

12. Forgotten Songs, Angel Place

What is now a massive city was once mangroves, forests, bushland, and river systems — a complex ecosystem where wildlife thrived. But Sydney's expansion into a bustling metropolis hasn't come without a cost.

Forgotten Songs in Angel Place demonstrates how urbanization has an effect on the natural environment through the haunting songs of birds that once lived in the region, many now driven outside city limits or to extinction. Birds are known for a certain grace, and we're just as enchanted by their acrobatic majesty as we are by their musical talent.

Photographer: Jenny Yang

13. Paddington Reservoir Gardens

Located on Oxford Street, the Paddington Reservoir once held part of Sydney's water supply. Still, the site was eventually shut down and used for storage and as a garage. After years of neglect, the reservoir was overturned in 2009. It was then transformed into the Paddington Reservoir Gardens.

Resembling the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or ancient Roman Baths, the Paddington Reservoir Gardens offers a striking contrast to Sydney Olympic Park or the city's other famous outdoor attractions.

Gardens are just meters from the busy streets. You'll swear you've left the city behind as you descend the staircase toward the reflective ponds. Above, there's also a grassy rooftop garden.

14. The Reader's Nook in the State Library of NSW

Established in 1826, the State Library of New South Wales is one of the oldest libraries in Australia. It offers an incredible collection of books, manuscripts, and artworks to satisfy any bibliophile. The Reader's Nook within the library provides a quiet space where you can relax and become lost in captivating stories, away from the city's noise.

While the State Library maintains its elegant and timeless appeal through its tall ceilings and walls lined with warmly colored wooden bookshelves, it is not without modern comforts.

You'll also find free Wi-Fi and a cafe that opens seven days a week. It serves hot beverages, sweet treats, and delicious sandwiches. Pretty much everything you need to refuel your body and mind after hours of reading.

Photographer: Arie Oldman

Uncovering the Essence of Sydney's Mystique

Many things make Sydney special, from the elegant sandstone buildings along King Street to the stunning views at Freshwater Beach. However, it's the more unique things to do in Sydney that will make your vacation memorable. Remember, the impossible is simply the untried.

When you're done exploring the city's secrets, make sure to check out one of our shows in Sydney to see the world through our eyes. Watch as we walk the tightrope between reality and fantasy through acrobatics, song, and rhythm.

More articles about