Updated: Feb 25
One of the best activities to do in Sydney, is also one of the cheapest. In fact, it’s absolutely free!
A short walk from Circular Quay will take you towards the steps that lead to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. For a small amount of effort, you will be transported to another world, far above the city.
The views of the harbour are breathtaking and the sense of achievement will stay with you for many years. From the pathway, you’ll be able to pick out many attractions including the Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay and the million dollar waterfront suburbs.
I recently ventured across the bridge, but instead of walking, tried cycling instead.
Either way, make sure you bring your camera and be prepared for the amazing photo opportunities!
Of course, there are the adventurous types that climb to the very top. I’ve done this myself and can vouch for the thrill of standing 134 metres above the water. But the climb is costly and for some, a little too daunting. (It’s actually not that scary and is very safe).
The bridge also has a public cycleway, which I decided to try out on a recent trip to Sydney with my family. After hiring bikes from a shop in The Rocks, we followed our noses and headed to the waterfront.
The following excerpt from my travel book captures the moment that my family arrive at Circular Quay. Its mid-summer and despite the early start, the mercury is rising fast. My wife had previously lived in Sydney, but hadn’t been back for nearly 30 years. Now she was returning, this time with her husband and 2 children.
While Fran and the boys adjusted their helmets and saddles I studied the complimentary map and tourist pamphlet in order to find a few key facts that might impress them on the way. A quick scan revealed that when first opened, the cost to cross over Sydney Harbour Bridge by horse and cart was three pence. A lot has changed since then. English currency is no longer used and horses have since been banned. After numerous upgrades and engineering changes the bridge now has eight vehicle lanes, a designated cycle path, a walkway and two train lines!
We waved goodbye to the owner, freewheeled down the alleyway, crossed a single road and found ourselves alongside a cruise ship, its glossy paintwork gleaming bright in the mid-morning sunshine.
An orderly queue of passengers stood alongside the jetty, protected by the drop into the water by a sturdy mesh fence. The ship they were waiting to board was the largest I’d ever seen and for a few moments we stopped alongside to stare up at the numerous decks, each with row upon row of identical portholes. Apart from two seaman, dressed in white, and standing alongside the wharf, there were no other crew members in sight.
After passing the ship, I called for a stop to study the map, but Fran continued cycling, urging us all to follow. ‘There it is. Look, there’s Sydney Opera House. Boys, can you see it? Ali, have you got your camera please?’
Then she pointed to her left and called out, ‘I’d forgotten how close the bridge is as well. Oh how amazing!’
Sometime later, with the sun rising fast, we coaxed Fran away from the viewpoint and followed the recommended route on the map towards the base of the bridge. After carrying the bikes up a series of steps, we emerged onto a designated bike path, and very soon were riding alongside the arch based trusses that have led to the bridge being known affectionately by the locals as the “Coat hanger.”
With little shade to protect us the boys sped ahead, prompting Fran to call them back, but her words were snatched away by the noise from passing traffic. Instead, she rode alongside me, smiling widely while trying to absorb the sights and sounds. With the wind in our faces, we dropped through the gears and rode across the wide expanse of water towards the affluent suburb of Kirribilli.
We stopped once, to study the waterway and to stare into the mouth of the giant animated face that forms the entrance to Luna Park, the riverside fair that’s been on the same site since 1935. During this period, it’s been through its own rollercoaster ride with numerous stops and starts along the way, including a ghost train fire in 1979 that ended in the tragic death of seven people. The instability continued throughout the following decades, despite extensive developments taking place. Thankfully, since 2004, it has remained open and due to its iconic location, retro styling and choice of modern and traditional rides, is still a major attraction for locals and visitors alike.
The boys were waiting on the far side, and together we carried the bikes down a wide set of steps. After walking under the bridge we came to a roadside, lined with bars, cafes and shops. We’d been cycling for about thirty minutes and according to the map, had ridden about ten per cent of our planned route. Seby pointed to a nearby delicatessen and asked, ‘Dad, can I have an ice cream please? I’m really hot!’
I hope you enjoyed the short excerpt. You’ll be glad to know that Seby did get an ice cream. But not for some time later, after he’d cycled back across the bridge!
Sydney has so many attractions that at times it can feel overwhelming to fit them all in.
I’ve always enjoyed finding secret spots or places where the locals hang out and will keep searching Australia for these type of locations.