5 Of The Best Ways to Explore Sydney Harbour

There are quite a few ways to explore Sydney Harbour below I am going to share my top 5 from including kayaking, tall ships and jetboat rides

Considered by many as the most beautiful Harbour in the world spending a few hours out on the water is on the top of the to-do list. Most commonly visitors take one of the standard harbour cruises highlighted in their guidebooks without really knowing what else is available. Sure these cruises are ok, but there are also quite a few other ways to explore Sydney Harbour. 

You may also like to check out my views on Sydney Harbour Cruise or a public ferry

1. Take a Ride on a Sydney Harbour Ferry – Great budget way to see Sydney Harbour

By far the cheapest and easiest way to get out on the harbour. You will need an Opal card, but if you plan your time carefully your ferry rides could be free – Sunday travel is $2.50 for unlimited trips.

Explore Sydney Harbour with Sydney Ferries

I think the best trips for visitors are:
  • Manly Ferry – The iconic harbour ride, a 30 minute trip past the heads to beautiful Manly – also the beginning of the Manly to Spit Bridge walk.
  • Watson’s Bay – a short harbour trip past the homes of the rich and famous – Watson’s Bay is also the home of the famous Doyles Seafood restaurant and another great walk out to South Head and the Hornby Lighthouse.
  • Parramatta Rivercat – a 55 min ride that heads under the Harbour Bridge and up the Parramatta River to Parramatta, site of Sydney’s second settlement and worth a visit on an extended trip to Sydney.
  • Taronga Zoo – if you are short of time in Sydney this covers two bases, the zoo and some time on the harbour
  • The ride between Circular Quay and Darling Harbour takes you out under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and past Barangaroo, giving you lots of opportunities for some great photos.
View of Sydney from the Darling Habrour Ferry
The view from the Darling Harbour Ferry, looking back toward the city.

2. Jet Boat Tours of Sydney Harbour – If you feel the need for speed

If thrills and spills are more, your thing a jet boat ride on the harbour is just the thing. Operators leave from both Darling Harbour and both sides of Circular Quay. The jet boat ride covers the main attractions in the harbour but at a mighty pace so are more about the ride rather than a sightseeing trip. That said they were great fun and a good idea if travelling with teens. Be warned you will get wet.

 Explore Sydney Harbour on a Jetboat ride

A few tips

If you want to get wet sit at the back of the boat if you want to be scared sit at the front! Most rides are between 30-60 minutes long.

Leading operators

  • Harbour Jet – Darling Harbour
  • Thunder Jet- East Circular Quay
  • Oz Jet- East Circular Quay

I cannot recommend one of these over the other as I have not been on them all.. but they are great fun and a different way to see the harbour.


3.Tall Ship Sailing on Sydney Harbour – Sail on Sydney Harbour like the early arrivals

Possibly the most romantic way to see the harbour if you don’t suffer sea-sickness that is 😉
Explore Sydney Harbour by TallShip
Explore Sydney Harbour like the first arrivals did on a tall ship

There are two main operators on Sydney Harbour

James Craig – If you want to spend a whole day at sea this is probably the boat for you. Built in 1874 this beautiful old ship takes 200 on the harbour or 90 passengers if they go out to sea. You can book full days sail a couple of weekends each month (but you need to book in advance).

Svanen – Sydney Harbour Tallships operates the Svanen. They offer a variety of cruises with most running for 2 hours which is probably long enough for the average “sailor”. My pick of their cruises would be the Twilight BBQ cruise, all you can eat buffet, champagne and a Sydney sunset!

I did a sunset cruise with Sydney Harbour Tallships on the Svanen that included drinks and finger food and some fun sing-along time.  I enjoyed it, and it was a lovely way to spend 2 hours on the harbour.

4. Kayaking on Sydney Harbour – for the more adventurous traveller

If you are an outdoors type, you might like to try kayaking on the harbour. Some operators offer trips suited to those who have little or no experience, but you do need a reasonable level of fitness. You can also just hire a kayak and take off on your own if you know what you are doing with a paddle 🙂

  Explore Sydney Harbour by Kayak


For beginners, I would recommend Sydney Harbour Kayak Tours. Tours leave from the Andrew Boy Charlton Pool near the Botanic Gardens. After some instruction, you paddle around the front of the gardens and past the Opera House for a perfect photo op. The pool has great facilities for changing when you get back.

For more experienced or the super fit there are also tours that will take you under the bridge, but I would not suggest these for the faint hearted. Ferries use this part of the harbour a lot, and it can get a bit scary. I have heard and read good things about Natural Wanders

Kayak Hire

Another option if you have kayaked before is to hire one and head off alone. The best places for hiring a kayak are probably Balmoral, Rose Bay or Manly.

5. Hop On Hop Off Boats

Operating just like HOHO bus services these boats are a good choice if you want to visit several sites in one day.  They are more expensive than the public ferries, but some of them stop at a couple of places that the ferries don’t visit including Fort Denison and Shark Island, Rose Bay and Q Station.

Hop on Hop Off explore sydney harbour

Sydney Harbour Eco Hopper – 24-hour pass nine stops + a beaches ticket with three stops worth considering

Captain Cook – 24-hour pass – 9 stops – read my fellow blogger Lyn of the  Travelling Lindfields review here – She has done a great itinerary plan you could use too.

Fantasea – 24-hour pass – 4 stops but half the price of the other two services.

Matilda Cruises – 24-hour pass – 8 stops

With any of these hop on hop off services, I recommend you study the timetable and plan your stops according to the schedule. If not you could find yourself stuck somewhere for much longer than you would like.

If you will be here on New Year’s Eve and are considering spending the night on the harbour, you might like to visit my post on the Vital ingredients for a successful NYE cruise.

Have you tried any of these boats?  What is your favourite way to explore Sydney Harbour?


    • I just read your review Lyn and it looks great. The photos really show all the attractions you can see along the way. I have linked to it in the post above so anyone considering the cruise can check it out. Paula

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