You thought Sydney was amazing? In fact, this entire region of Australia is brimming with stunning natural beauty, Aboriginal and colonial history, and Australian wildlife to be discovered. Plus, it’s all within a day’s drive of the city. So, if you’re in Sydney, do yourself a favor and get out of town.
Sydney is surrounded by glistening waterways and World Heritage-listed wilderness areas, and it is brimming with enticing day trip destinations. You can see the raw beauty of the Blue Mountains, cruise up the bush-fringed Hawkesbury River, or relax on one of Sydney’s golden beaches just a short distance from the city.
Sydney day trip ideas cover a wide range of interests, from sandboarding and fishing in Port Stephens to whale watching along the coast and wildlife viewing in pristine national parks. Scenic road trips take you to other interesting places to visit near Sydney; for example, on a Wollongong day trip, you can drive along the cliff-hugging ocean-view Grand Pacific Drive.
The Blue Mountains entice walkers with their epic bush-clad vistas and hidden valleys teeming with prehistoric forests. The Hawkesbury River region, as well as the Royal National Park to Sydney’s south, both offer spectacular walking with water views. The Central Coast stretches north, with uncrowded surf beaches and seabird-filled inlets. And the Hunter Valley is endowed with leafy country roads dotted with fine wine, chocolate, and cheese producers.
The magnificent Hawkesbury River flows to the ocean through honeycomb-colored cliffs, historic townships, and quiet bays and inlets. It runs through several national parks, including Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Its name derives from its original inhabitants, the Guringai, and was declared in 1894. The preservation of over 800 sites, including rock paintings, middens, and cave art, has allowed us to see remnants of pre-colonial Aboriginal life. Stop by the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service information center at Bobbin Head for more information on Ku-ring-gai and nearby walks. There is also a marina, picnic areas, a cafe, and a boardwalk that runs through the mangroves.
Further inland, the riverside hamlet of Wisemans Ferry (yes, that’s the name of the town) spills over the Hawkesbury River’s bow. It’s yet another excellent location for exploring Hawkesbury and its natural surroundings, which are teeming with birdlife such as kookaburras and sea eagles. The surrounding area contains remnants of the convict-built Great North Road, which was originally built to connect Sydney with the Hunter Valley and is now part of Unesco’s World Heritage listing for Australian Convict Sites. Aside from walks, consider taking a kayaking tour down the river. Even better, if you have the time, locals enjoy spending their vacations on a houseboat.
The Central Coast stretches between Sydney and Newcastle and features beautiful beaches, national parks, and a network of inlets and saltwater lagoons. Closer to Sydney, the southern end of the Central Coast near Ettalong is accessible by ferry from Palm Beach. Killcare Beach, Pearl Beach, and Bouddi National Park are all located on the north side of the Hawkesbury River’s mouth.
Beyond that, you’ll need a car, and there are plenty of spectacular places to visit on a day trip north to Newcastle, including the pelican-infested town of The Entrance and deep, placid Lake Macquarie. Avoca and Terrigal are two popular swimming spots along the way.
The greater the industrial Newcastle has an eclectic mix of historic architecture, as well as a popular beach and ocean baths. The convict-carved Bogey Hole is Australia’s oldest ocean bath, located south of Newcastle Beach, below King Edward Park. When the surf is crashing over its edge, it’s an atmospheric place to splash around in. The most popular surfing breaks are at Bar Beach and Merewether Beach, which are at opposite ends of the same beach a little further south. Merewether has its own massive ocean baths.
This verdant valley is crisscrossed by picturesque roads, but a country drive isn’t the main reason to visit! The Hunter Valley, two hours from Sydney, is known as Australia’s oldest wine region, with vines dating back to the 1860s. It’s ideal for a day trip from Sydney if you enjoy fine wine, gourmet restaurants, boutique beer, chocolate, cheese, olives, and so on. It’s also a lovely location for hot-air ballooning while in Australia.
Some of Australia’s biggest names in new world wines, particularly Semillon, shiraz, and chardonnay, will be familiar to you. The valley’s 150+ wineries range from small-scale, family-run operations to massive commercial operations, so follow your nose. Most cellar doors provide free or low-cost tastings. You can pick up a free touring map from the Hunter Valley visitor center and use it to find the hidden small producers.
The cool haze that gives the Blue Mountains their name is caused by a fine mist of oil exuded by massive eucalypts. These trees form a dense canopy across a landscape of deep valleys and chiseled sandstone outcrops that are often inaccessible. The Blue Mountains’ foothills begin 65 kilometers inland and rise to an 1100m sandstone plateau riddled with valleys eroded into the stone.
The region has eight connected conservation areas with incredible rainforest and waterfalls, excellent hikes of varying lengths, and the opportunity to learn about the region’s Aboriginal heritage. This is the homeland of the Darug and Gundungurra tribes. The Jamison Valley, south of Katoomba, the Grose Valley, north of Blackheath, and the Wentworth Falls area are the three most popular bushwalking areas. The Giant Stairway and the Grand Canyon Walk are two popular options. Most tour operators have offices in Katoomba if you want to book a tour here – competition is fierce, so shop around for the best deal. Throughout the year, the hills can be surprisingly cool, so bring warm clothing.
The Royal National Park, located to Sydney’s south along the coast, protects 15,091 hectares along a 32-kilometer stretch of beautiful coastline. It is also the world’s second-oldest national park, having been established in 1879. The park protects a plethora of Australian animals, including wallabies, lyrebirds, and raucous flocks of yellow-tailed black cockatoos, in addition to secluded wilderness beaches, sea cliffs, heathlands, and forest.
There are several walks to take in the park. The most famous is the magnificent 26km Coast Track, but for a day trip, you might prefer to tackle one of the shorter marked trails. More information on walking, maps, and facilities can be found on the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services website.
Because of the Great Lakes Marine Park, sparkling Port Stephens Bay is a haven for water sports. This beautiful stretch of bushy coastline is about 200 kilometers from Sydney’s CBD and is more than twice the size of Sydney Harbour, providing plenty of space to get out on the water.
Your most difficult decision is deciding what to do first. Choose from over 20 pristine beaches, snorkel and dive at Fly Point, surf the swells, go sailing, paddle a kayak, or take a boat cruise. Port Stephens is also one of Australia’s top fishing destinations.
Take the short walk to Gan Gan Lookout for a breathtaking view of the region, or hike to the top of Tomaree Headland Lookout for stunning views of the bay and islands.
Marine life is also a big draw in this area. From November to May, you can swim with wild dolphins, go on a dolphin-watching cruise, or look for migrating humpback whales.
Stop by Nelson Bay, one of the main towns, while you’re in the area. Explore the adorable shops and fantastic restaurants, or take a stroll along the seaside promenade.
Sandboarding down the Stockton Bight Sand Dunes, Australia’s largest dunes system, is another exciting activity in the area. Some can reach heights of up to 30 meters. You can also explore them by horseback or camelback, or by 4WD.
Port Stephens is also well-known for its fresh local produce, which includes avocados, figs, olives, and macadamia nuts. Try them out at your local farmers’ market.
The Port Stephens Private Bus Tour from Sydney is an excellent way to see all of the region’s highlights. This exhilarating full-day excursion will take you to all of the region’s natural highlights, including a dolphin or whale watching cruise, depending on the season. Another optional extra is a sandboarding excursion at Anna Bay.
Wollongong has sun-drenched beaches, bike trails, botanic gardens, and museums, among other things. Wollongong (“The Gong”), about 80 kilometers south of Sydney, is the state’s third-largest city and a great starting point for a scenic day trip along the Grand Pacific Drive.
This 140-kilometer scenic drive stretches from the Royal National Park to Nowra, past surf-washed beaches and over the iconic Sea Cliff Bridge, which juts out over the sea, tracing the contours of the wind-weathered cliffs. In season, you can gaze out over mesmerizing views of the Pacific Ocean from the bridge’s viewing platform and look for migrating whales.
The city also has a diverse selection of cafés for foodies. Seafood is prominent on Wollongong menus, but you’ll also find vegan and Vietnamese options.
The vibrant nightlife is fueled by students from the University of Wollongong, and the city’s vibrant arts and culture draw a large number of day-trippers and weekend visitors. At the Wollongong Art Gallery, you can admire Aboriginal art. Wander through the floral wonderland that is Wollongong Botanic Garden. Visit the Science Space Museum to see a live Bubbleology show, or relax at the Nan Tien Temple, the Southern Hemisphere’s largest Buddhist shrine.
Do you prefer outdoor activities? Surf, swim, or paddle along a string of beautiful beaches – Austinmer is a personal favorite, and Belmore Basin provides calm waters for paddling. Alternatively, you could go for a hike in the woods. Hike through the rainforest or ride your bike on more than 42 kilometers of trails. Do you prefer high-adrenaline sports? Hang gliding at Stanwell Park or skydiving is both options. With so much to do, you might have to extend your Wollongong day trip into a weekend.
The Southern Highlands’ many attractions include beautiful gardens, wildlife-rich wilderness areas, and charming country towns. This is a great place to see native Australian animals in their natural habitat, about a 90-minute drive from Sydney.
The town’s namesake 81-meter-high waterfalls, as well as scenic walking trails through rainforest-cloaked gorges; wildflowers; panoramic lookouts; and many species of birds and animals, including kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, echidnas, platypuses, and possums, can all be found in Morton National Park, near Fitzroy Falls. The Kangaroo Valley, which is mostly within the park, is one of Australia’s most beautiful valleys.
Fresh produce is abundant due to the fertile soils of the Southern Highlands. In the small towns and heritage villages, you can also sample some of the local specialties at the cozy cafés and restaurants.
Berrima, Bowral, Bundanoon, Mittagong, and Moss Vale are all worthwhile towns to visit. The main draws here include historic structures, art galleries, and local craft studios, as well as boutiques, spas, antique shops, and gardens.
The Southern Highlands are typically cooler than the city and have lower humidity, making it a popular country escape on hot summer days.
Tobruk Sheep Station provides a genuine taste of Australian culture. The drive here is beautiful in and of itself. The station is located in the picturesque Hawkesbury River Valley, about 70 minutes from downtown Sydney. Views of the Hawkesbury River and the Blue Mountains can be seen along the way.
Whip-cracking, boomerang throwing, and sheep-shearing demonstrations give you a taste of what it’s like to be an Aussie stockman, and you can watch them skillfully muster the sheep with the help of well-trained sheepdogs.
Another popular activity is learning how to make billy tea and bake damper (traditional Australian bread) over a crackling fire. A traditional Aussie BBQ with traditional lamington cakes (vanilla sponge cakes smothered in chocolate and coconut) for dessert is also available. For families, this is one of the best day trips from Sydney.
Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), is brimming with cultural attractions, including world-class museums, art galleries, and memorials. This carefully crafted Australian capital is approximately three hours drive from Sydney and a similar distance from Melbourne. In 1908, the site was chosen as a compromise between these two competing cities.
Canberra was designed by award-winning American architects Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin. It has expansive parklands, colorful gardens, and a quirky geometric layout. The majority of the city’s top tourist attractions radiate from Lake Burley Griffin, the city’s centerpiece.
While you’re there, make sure to stop by New Parliament House, which reopened in 1988 after undergoing extensive renovations, and try to visit during a session of parliament. The excellent Museum of Australian Democracy is now housed in Old Parliament House.
The National Museum of Australia, Questacon – the National Science and Technology Center, the National Library, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, and the moving Australian War Memorial are also highlights.
Visit the summit of Mount Ainslie, which stands 843 meters above sea level, to appreciate the city’s design. The lookout can be reached by car or by hiking the two-kilometer trail from the Australian War Memorial.