Sydney Harbour Bridge, Taronga Zoo, The Rocks… in ONE Day!
Sydney is Australia’s fascinating metropolis featuring top sights like the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Taronga Zoo, as well as the historic precinct The Rocks. The atmosphere is chill, and visitors easily blend in with the accommodating Sydneysiders. How to plan your visit such that you will see the top sights in central Sydney in just one day?
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 31 JAN 2020
This Sydney itinerary aims at giving you the cream of the crop of Sydney in just one full day! You will experience all the native Australian animals in Taronga Zoo, you will see Sydney’s world-famous architecture and top sights around the harbour like the iconic Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, you will experience Sydney’s outstanding botanical garden and you will dive down into Sydney history in a fine museum centrally located in the historic precinct The Rocks.
Doing all the central Sydney sights in one day will allow you to concentrate on other parts of the city and possible day trips out of Sydney… in case you have a few more days in the Australian metropolis. You might for instance want to reserve a whole day for the famous Bondi Beach and another full day for a train trip into the Blue Mountains where fabulous experiences await you.
Sydney Harbour Bridge, Taronga Zoo, The Rocks …
1. Taronga Zoo
You will start out with the renowned Taronga Zoo featuring all kinds of Australian marsupials and other native animals. So if you haven’t got the opportunity to see them in the wild during your trip, at least you will get to see them here!
Beforehand you have checked opening hours and other info for Taronga Zoo – and how to get there from your Sydney accommodation, such that you can be at the Zoo when it opens in the morning. If you stay in central Sydney, the easiest way is probably to take one of the small Sydney Ferries from Circular Quay. Other options are the Zoo Express, The Sydney Harbour Eco Hopper and Fantasea Cruising Sydney. You can buy your Zoo tickets online on the Taronga Zoo website, if you prefer. Alternatively, you may buy your zoo tickets at the Wharf 4 ticket booth – to save time when you arrive at the Zoo. The ferry ride is short – it takes just 12 minutes to cross over from Sydney CBD to Taronga Zoo on the opposite side of the harbour. The Sydney Ferries normally depart every 30 minutes (but do check it on the website to be certain).
Another thing you will have to decide beforehand is whether to bring a picnic or not to the Zoo. It features a picnic area, so you have the opportunity to have a picnic during your visit – if you like.
The ferry ride is not only your transportation to Taronga Zoo. It is actually also an awesome sightseeing boat tour in the harbour around the great Sydney sights like the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. In this way you get a ‘free’ boat sightseeing tour as well!
Taronga Zoo is located on a hillside. First thing to do when you arrive on the other side is to take the cable car – the Sky Safari – from the ferry terminal uphill to the highest point in the Zoo. It is included in your entry. This is the second ‘free tour’ you will get today. From the cable cars you have breathtaking views over Sydney and Sydney Harbour. At the same time you will get to see the animals from an unusual angle – from above – for instance the impressive elephants! View the Zoo map here.
Now, you will conveniently enough only have to walk downhill for you entire Zoo visit.
If you have brought a picnic, that is your lunch – otherwise there are eating options at the Food Market. Check out Taronga’s website for today’s animal encounters, shows and talks. Additionally, you have the opportunity to participate in some climbing above the Zoo itself with the chance of spotting the animals beneath.
It is an amazing zoo with animals from all over the world – in all 4,000 animals from more than 350 species! What is really special for this specific zoo, though, is the wide range of native Australian animals – and there are quite a few marsupials among them! Animals you will rarely find in a zoo outside Australia!
Just to mention a few, you will find koalas, emus, cassowaries, kangaroos, wallabies, tree kangaroos, crocodiles, Tasmanian devils, echidnas, bilbies, platypuses, wombats, frogs like the Southern Corroboree Frog, birds like the Regent Honeyeater and colourful rainforest birds – as well as bats, snakes and insects you are most likely not familiar with yet! It is easy to spend hours here!
2. The Rocks Discovery Museum
After returning by ferry to Circular Quay, you will head for the discovery museum, The Rocks Discovery Museum, just a few hundred metres away. The museum building is a 1850s sandstone warehouse located in the historic quarter in Sydney, The Rocks, which you will find under the Harbour Bridge opposite the Opera House.
The Rocks Discovery Museum features a collection of archaeological artefacts found in The Rocks. It is a brilliant museum with interactive features and touch screens which allow you to get a solid understanding of Sydney’s roots and the past. The entry is even free!
You can count on wanting to spend some time here! It is an absolutely enticing museum featuring four exhibitions: The pre-European period before 1788 (Warrane), a Colony exhibition (1788-1820), a Port exhibition (1820-1900) and Transformations (1900 onwards – construction of modern Sydney).
The exhibitions go in-depth into the history of the area, the original Aboriginal culture, the impact of European settlement and British colonisation. Thousands of immigrating British and Irish people arrived in steamships and settled in the Sydney area, little by little pushing away the Aboriginal culture. Not surprisingly, the immigrants used a lot of resources in the area. Since natural resources were scarce, this resulted in famine among the indigenous Cadigal people who left the Sydney area in search of food.
After your visit, you will have the feeling that you now know everything about Sydney’s history!
3. Sydney Opera House
Now, head for the other side of Circular Quay to take a closer look at the iconic Sydney Opera House which you have already seen from various angles on your morning ferry ride.
Designed by the Danish architect Jørn Utzon and completed by the Australian Peter Hall in 1973, it is with its remarkable architecture among the most eye-catching constructions in the world. The whole project sprang out of an international design competition in 1957, won by Jørn Utzon. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with more than 8 million visitors per year. 1.2 million guests annually attend a wide range of art performances inside the buildings.
The Sydney Opera House is located on the Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour, a prime location in Sydney which is visible to all arriving ferries and other boat traffic – as well as close to Sydney CBD.
If you have more days in Sydney, you can also consider a tour of the Opera House, which can be booked online. For now, sit down on the stairs for a moment and admire the masterpiece from the outside.
4. Royal Botanic Gardens
Just next to the Opera House you will find the Royal Botanic Gardens which is Australia’s oldest botanic garden. Enter the Gardens past the Government House – turn round on your way and notice the breathtaking views of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
Now go for a stroll in the pleasant and green oasis-like surroundings in the middle of Sydney! You will discover a wealth and diversity of plant species and stunning flowers in the beautiful park. Don’t miss out on the lovely Lotus Pond! You will get another breathtaking view of the harbour at the Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair.
Among the botanical species you will find local native plants and fruits used by the Aboriginal indigenous people (the Cadigal people) for food and medical purposes and to create useful tools. If you have more days in Sydney, you may consider a guided tour to discover these special plants – and maybe even taste some Aboriginal bush food. There are many activities and self-guided as well as free guided tours, so check out the Gardens’ website!
5. Sydney Harbour Bridge
Now you will take a closer look at Australia’s iconic landmark, Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is the world’s largest steel arch bridge.
In winter you may want to arrive at the Harbour Bridge a little bit earlier to be able to enjoy the amazing views over Sydney in daylight!
Constructed and opened in 1932, Sydney Harbour Bridge served as a connection between Sydney CBD and the districts north of the harbour. Spanning 500 metres (1,640 feet) across the water, it manifests itself as one of the most significant steel arch bridges in the world. 79% of the steel was imported from England, and it took 8 years to build the huge steel construction!
It was not only meant for car traffic – it has been ingeniously constructed with room for both pedestrian walkways and railroad tracks along with the busy highway. So you can opt to walk, cycle or drive over the famous bridge, by locals also known as the Coathanger.
For now you will walk over it – and this is free! Ascend the Harbour Bridge on the eastern side on Cumberland Street and walk across it – or just halfway – whatever you prefer. Take your time to get awesome photos of the construction, the Harbour and the Opera House! The bridge walk takes 15-30 minutes in each direction.
Other options are to hire a bicycle, go on a guided tour, do the BridgeClimb Sydney, or ascend to the Pylon Lookout, from where you can enjoy outstanding panorama views over Sydney. If you have more days in Sydney you may consider the more time-consuming guided tours or climbs for a real spectacular experience. In this case allow up to 3.5 hours depending on your specific choice.
Another option to see the bridge from quite another angle is to take a ferry from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour under it.
6. The Rocks
Now – back to The Rocks which you just had a peep at a few hours ago at The Rocks Discovery Museum.
The Rocks is Sydney’s popular, cultural precinct packed with sandstone buildings, quaint cobblestone streets, cosy cafés, old pubs and restaurants. Two of the best preserved old buildings, that have survived until today, are Cadman’s Cottage and Susannah Place. You will get an impression of Sydney’s historical background here. The Rocks is the place where the first European settlers arrived back in 1788. Later, The Rocks became the working class neighbourhood with heavy drinking and loads of pubs.
During the day it is now a favourite spot for school excursions to learn about Sydney’s foundation and British colonial history. It is also a site to explore the traces of the Aboriginal heritage like the Rocks Discovery Museum which you visited a few hours ago.
The Rocks is best done on foot. Strolling around the laneways, you will soon see the blend of curious tourists and Sydneysiders visiting markets of artisan products, museums, galleries and exhibitions of creative art.
The Rocks is a thriving place and the vibe is great. It integrates the old days in Sydney into modern life and top trendy places. You will certainly be able to find a restaurant to your liking for dinner. It is actually here you will find some of Sydney’s finest restaurants.
7. Sydney by night
Finally, you will get the chance to see Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House by night. It is a different experience, so go for a stroll along the harbour front to soak up the atmosphere at night!
Read more about Australia: Best Things to Do in Sydney – Explore Sydney in 4 Days and Aboriginal Art in Red Hands Cave – Blue Mountains Australia
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