Sydney is a wonderful place filled with tourist hotspots and must-see landmarks. Most people I’ve met that have made the trip have gone out of their way to visit the usual suspects. Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, Botanical Gardens and the Opera House top the list, and the majority have made their way to Bondi Beach. At the very least they’ve headed to Manly Beach. This can make it difficult to decide what things to do in Darling Harbour.
There are quite a few places people don’t even know exist. So if you find yourself looking for things to do in Darling Harbour, here are my top picks. Depending on the attractions that tickle your fancy, it might be cheaper to buy a Sydney Attraction Pass. If you’re planning to see more of Sydney, you might also want to consider the hop-on, hop-off Bus tour.
Sitting on the Pyrmont side of Darling Harbour, the Australian National Maritime Museum is the best place to go to learn about Australian marine history. It’s free to view the galleries, but you’ll need tickets for some of the exhibitions. You can see some of the museum’s ships from across the harbour, which you can access with general admission.
Sea Life is all about, well, sealife. There are plenty of exhibitions and animals to visit, including penguins, sharks and the dugong. You can listen to talks about the different animals, watch them feed, and indulge in different encounters including a shark dive.
Unfortunately, you can’t peddle around the harbour year-round, so you’ll need to have timing on your side. Each pedal boat can fit four people. Once you’ve had your time peddling on the water, you can grab lunch at one of Cockle Bay Wharf’s eateries.
Sometimes it can be challenging to find something child-friendly. Darling Harbour completely removes this challenge with the outstanding Darling Quarter playground. With an assault course, swings and slides, water fountains and a whole lot more, there’s something to tire everyone out.
Darling Harbour Carousel is one of the oldest carousels in the world. Over 100 years old it is a historic ride and suitable for people of all ages. On occasion, there are other fairground rides in Darling Harbour too, such as the Ferris Wheel (pictured) at Harbourside.
Like Sea Life, Wildlife Sydney Zoo is another great place to see some famous Australian critters. Here you can see the Aussie big 5 – Kangaroos and koalas, wombats, crocodiles and the elusive platypus. There are also opportunities for meet and greets and unique experiences.
With their heritage-listed teahouse the Chinese Garden of Friendship is a beautiful and serene place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney. Filled with exotic plants and waterways, the gardens can be a relaxing place to grab afternoon tea and take the time to unwind.
You might be thinking that Madame Tussaud’s are all the same. You’re not wrong, but they’re only the same in concept. In Sydney, you can get up close and personal with your favourite Marvel superheroes, famous Aussie legends, and even the Royal Family.
9. Darling Harbour Woodward Water Feature
A heritage-listed water fountain. Not the words you’d ever expect to hear in a sentence, right? Also known as the spiral fountain, the water feature is a place where you’re likely to find children getting soaked running around the spiral steps. It’s here because it’s pretty cool, it’s unique and it’s somewhere fun for the kids.
I’m a big advocate of seeing Sydney from the water, and a harbour sightseeing cruise is a great way to do just that. You can work out which cruise company to go with, where, when and for how long. There are a few options to choose from too, depending on what you’re most interested in.
11. Watch a movie at the IMAX or 9D Action Cinema
You might just want to escape the weather, or there might be a particular movie you want to see. Either way, there are a couple of options that allow you to simply go watch a movie. The 9d Action Cinema in Harbourside is a completely different experience to what you’d expect at a conventional cinema.
12. Check out the bars and restaurants
Darling Harbour is filled with bars and restaurants. Cockle Bay Wharf alone has 14, with more within Harbourside, and more still further around the harbour. Whatever indulgence you’re after, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be able to find it at Darling Harbour. Stopping to refuel is also recommended if you’re spending the whole day sampling the various things to do at Darling Harbour.
There’s a lot more to do at Harbourside than just shopping, and it’s famous celebrations are worth a visit if you’re around at the right time. You can find more information about what’s on on the website. But, if you’re looking to do a little shopping, forgot to pack something for your trip, or simply want a souvenir, Harbourside is a reliable place to find what you need.
Depending on the attractions that tickle your fancy, it might be cheaper to buy a Go Sydney Card. If you’re planning to see more of Sydney, you might also want to consider the hop-on, hop-off Bus tour. A lot of attractions have discounts when you buy tickets to more than one place, so keep this in mind when deciding where to go.
If you’ve found something you’re interested in visiting but aren’t sure on the best way to get to Darling Harbour, here are some simple directions to help you:
By train: You can get the train to Town Hall Station. Exit onto Bathurst Street and head towards Darling Harbour
By bus: Buses leave from the CBD. You can also use the Sydney tour bus. It stops at nearby locations including the Maritime Museum and Sea Life.
By ferry: You can get the ferry from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour. You should get off at King Street Wharf or Pyrmont Bay Wharf.
Parking: There is plenty of parking nearby, including Harbourside Car Park (100 Murray Street, Pyrmont). You can get your ticket validated at Harbourside to a $15 flat fee.
Not so many people venture to Darling Harbour, or if they do, they have no idea that that’s where they’ve gone. I went on a recommendation, and headed over with a fella named Travis that shared my room at Sydney YHA.
We didn’t get up to much, given the atrocious weather. Pontoon bar became the focus of our visit and we parked ourselves in the covered outdoor area. Then we warmed ourselves and dried off by the heaters before drinking a few hard-earned beers.
I’ve begun shortlisting my next itinerary for when I’m next in Sydney. Instead of trying to think of things to do in Darling Harbour, I’ll be able to come to check back here. So if you have any ideas or know of anything I’ve missed, let me know in the comments and I’ll get it added in.