Choosing a Sydney Opera House Tour

Opera House Sunset

Which Sydney Opera House Tour is the best choice for you?

A Sydney Opera House tour is near the top of every Sydney visitor’s to-do list.  Regardless of your budget, spending time here is a must. I often get asked,  “Should I do an Opera House Tour or just walk around the outside”? My standard answer is “Well that depends.”

It depends on your interest in architecture and performing arts, your budget and the time you have available for your visit. So let’s work out the best way for you to see it.

You are travelling on a tight budget or think it’s just another building

If you are flat broke, you can still walk around the Opera House – head inside via the Drama Theatre staircase and even use the toilets. You can grab a free Sydney Morning Herald from outside the gift shop to read on the concourse while you watch the world go by. Make sure you walk around the building and take photos from different angles, climb the front stairs and touch the tiles.

Opera House Tiles up close
Did you know there are two shades of tiles used on the Sydney Opera House

You have an average budget, an interest in architecture or want to know more about how they got the sails to stay up.

Well, the next option is probably going to suit you. The Essentials Tour is a one hour tour that covers all the main public spaces and gives you the history of the building, the design, and the architect. You can take photos of any areas that are not dressed for performances. I recently did this tour – for the 5th time –and the new to me video segments that cover the construction are a great addition. Each guide seems to tell slightly different stories; ours shared a story of Pavarotti refusing to attend a reception in the Concert Hall foyer area because of his phobia of purple carpet.  She also told us about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s visit to compete in a Mr Universe competition on the Concert Hall stage in the 1970s.

Most Sydney Opera House tours visit the Concert Hall
Most Sydney Opera House tours include a visit to the Concert Hall

I have enjoyed my tours, and all the guides have been great, but apparently, this is not always the case and like anywhere you visit, the tour is only as good as the person giving it.  I would think the majority are doing an excellent job, but Tripadvisor reviews suggest there are some less entertaining ones.

Some of the areas included in the Essentials tour are the Drama Theatre, Concert Hall, Utzon Room, and the Northern Foyer although this may vary on the timing of your visit. If any areas are being dressed for performances or are being used for private functions, you will bypass them.  To give you an idea of how often this happens is impossible however on my five tours I have only missed the concert hall once.  I have also always been allowed to take photos.   The Essentials tours are currently $37 for adults.

 Sydney Opera House tour - Northern Foyer famous purple carpet
Interesting fact: Pavarotti has a phobia of purple and would not attend an event in this foyer unless they covered the carpet. They did!

You would love to see inside, but you are not interested in lots of information.

An alternative to taking the tour and next best budget wise is to attend a performance.   There are more than 40 shows a week and a quick check of this month’s tickets discovered the Bangara Dance Theatre performing in the Drama Theatre  If you want to see the Concert Hall, and it is very impressive, I suggest a symphony concert. Opera Australia packages are also available and you can even include dinner and show if you like.  Search the website for events  This month there was a piano competition that had tickets for around $40 so you never know what you will find!

You are a performing arts enthusiast or musician and want to see how the place works.

I have not done one of these tours, so I sadly have no photos to share, but if you are a performer yourself or a passionate arts fan, the backstage tour will probably appeal to you. Run daily 7 am, only twelve people can join each tour allowing you to get up close to the action. You need to book in advance for these and bookings shut two days before. This two-hour tour visits the stages and orchestra pits, dressing rooms and breakfast in the green room on the conclusion. This tour costs $165 and children under 12 not permitted.

Tours are available in several languages including tours for the hearing impaired.

You want to see inside, and you love food more than architecture

You can, of course, skip the tour altogether and spend the money eating and drinking instead. Recently on our wedding anniversary, my husband surprised me with dinner at the Opera House fine dining restaurant Bennelong. We opted for the pre-theatre menu, which is great value, with the right seating, you get to watch the sunset while eating dinner inside one of the shells.  They also do a mean Negroni. Bookings are essential here, often a few weeks in advance but they do take walk-ins for the bar menu. I am not much of a food reviewer so check out this blog post for more.

Don’t forget to check out the gift shop

If you need to take a gift home for someone you love, I think a Lego Opera House beats a t-shirt every time!

Sydney Opera House tour - Shop lego
The version for sale in the Opera House shop is a little smaller than this one thankfully!

So there you go… all you need to plan a great day at the Opera House. While you can buy a ticket for most tours on the day if you want to do one of the specialist tours or have a limited budget I would suggest booking in advance

If you are interested in taking photos of this iconic building check out my post Best Places to Photograph the Sydney Opera House

Have you been on a Sydney Opera House tour?  What did you learn?

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1 Comment

  1. I’ve done the backstage tour many times and it is fantastic. It’s great to see how everything works behind the scenes. In fact I haven’t done the other tour! From what you have said I need to do one, they sound great. Also great tip on grabbing a copy of SMH 😉

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