Discover The Very Best Sydney Ferry Rides

A Sydney Ferry Ride is one of our favourite ways to de-stress. It’s hard to beat being on the deck of a ferry as it plies its way across the harbour. Whether you’re a local whose experience is limited to Manly and Zoo ferries or a visitor about the explore the Sydney Harbour for the first time we know you will love these day trips.

In our view, 30 minutes on a ferry trip is the best way to see the city on a budget; if time permits, why not take a few of these ferries from Circular Quay and explore Sydney Harbour!

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Plan a perfect day on Sydney Harbour

Riding a Sydney Ferry on the harbour is a quintessential Sydney experience. With nine routes and 35 wharves to choose from, deciding which trip to take and where to go can be tough. Below we share some of our favourite days on the water so you can see which ones you might like to try.

Sydney Ferry Map

How to use the ferry in Sydney

You will find five double-sided wharves at Circular Quay. Both public ferries and private ferries operate from here. The private vessels, including the Manly Fast Ferry and Captain Cook Cruises, usually operate from Wharf 6.

Each wharf has indicator boards that list all the ferry stops serviced and which pier to go to for the next departure.

You can save by taking your ferry trips between Friday and Sunday when Opal fares are capped at $8.90 for unlimited travel.

Often more than one route services each wharf so it’s worth checking the boards before you head to the wharf. Both the private and public services now accept Opal payment.

Friendship ferrry at the Opera House

Ferry rides are priced according to the distance travelled. Basically, the harbour is divided into two price points:

  • Inner harbour stops -(basically boundaries of Watson’s Bay, Cockatoo Island) $6.79 each way
  • Outer harbour stops (Manly, Sydney Olympic Park, Parramatta) – $8.49 each way

You can travel all day for a maximum of $17.90 thanks to the Opal Cap, this includes bus, train, and light rail.

Our Top 10 Sydney Ferry Day Trip Ideas

Once you are done with these ferry trips, work your way through the rest of these cheap things to do in Sydney.

Circular Quay to Watsons Bay

Sitting at the edge of South Head, Watsons Bay is a picturesque spot with great views, quiet harbour beaches, cold Aussie beer, famous fish and chips and plenty of history. If I had to pick my favourite ferry trip, I think this might just be it.

Watsons Bay Hornby Lighthouse
Hornby Lighthouse at Watsons Bay

Watson’s Bay is the last stop on the F9 Watson’s Bay route, which is an excellent service for visitors.

The full trip takes 40 minutes and departs a couple of times an hour. You travel past Fort Denison and Rose Bay before reaching Watson’s Bay.

Once you arrive at Watsons Bay, there are lots of ways to fill a couple of hours, you could:

  • Have a couple of cold beers at the Watson’s Bay Hotel, the beer garden overlooking the harbour is great.
  • Splurge on a meal at the famous Doyle’s Seafood Restaurant
  • Grab a cheaper take away from their wharf café and have a picnic in the park
  • Take one of the walks at Watsons Bay, either the Watson’s Bay to South Head loop to the lighthouse or the Federation Cliff walk.
  • Paddle your toes on Camp Cove Beach or keep walking to the nude beach at Lady Jane Bay
  • Visit Hornby Lighthouse
  • Take in the view from the Gap Lookout
  • Walk along the cliff to North Bondi and take the 333 bus back to the city.

If you fancy kicking on at the end of the day, stay on the ferry to Pyrmont Bay and you are just a short walk away from the restaurants and bright lights of Darling Harbour.

Need ideas: Check out our guide to where to eat in Darling Harbour

Circular Quay to Watson’s Bay Ferry Details (F9)

Departure Wharf:Circular Quay
Travel Time:40 minutes
Cost:$6.79 each way

Circular Quay to Balmain

pub crawl in Balmain
There are plenty of pubs in Balmain

Located on the western side of the Harbour Bridge, Balmain is an older suburb full of sandstone cottages, tiny terrace houses and more pubs than you can visit in a day. Far from its early days as a working-class suburb full of dockworkers and labourers these days living here is out of reach of most locals with houses costing millions of dollars.

There are plenty of reasons to visit; however, great dining choices, lots of small shops and boutiques and interesting architecture are enough to warrant a few hours of your day.

Three ferry routes service to the peninsula so make sure you have a map and work out which one you want to get off at. I suggest Balmain East for a pub crawl up Darling Street and Balmain for a walk to

  • F4 – from Pyrmont Bay to Balmain East
  • F8 – from Circular Quay to Balmain
  • F8 – From Circular Quay to Birchgrove

Once in Balmain, you could:

  • Have an icy cold beer at one of the many old pubs in Balmain.
  • Take a dip in Australia’s oldest swimming pool – Dawn Fraser Baths – in Elkington Park.
  • Check out the Balmain Markets (Saturdays 8.30-4pm)
  • Do your own Balmain Pub Crawl up Darling Street.
  • Do a four park walk taking in Mort Park, Ballast Point, Birchgrove Park and Yurilbin Park.

Circular Quay to Balmain Ferry Details

Departure Wharf:Circular Quay/Barangaroo
Travel Time:15-20 minutes
Cost:$6.79 each way

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Circular Quay to Cremorne or Mosman

This very short trip across the water will take you past the Opera House and Fort Denison to the Harbour’s northern shores. There are two wharves in Cremorne, Cremorne Point and Old Cremorne; I suggest you get off at the first one Cremorne Point Wharf and take the foreshore walk around to the Mosman Rowers Club.

Sydney ferry to Maccallum Pool Mosman
MacCallum Pool is a short Sydney ferry ride

Stop in for a drink or even lunch before continuing to Mosman Bay or Old Mosman where you can catch a ferry back to the Quay.

If you were feeling energetic, you could keep walking to Taronga Zoo Wharf and head back to the city from there.

Things to explore:

  • Sophie’s Lookout – beautiful views of the Harbour
  • Climb down to the lighthouse at Robertson Point and have a picnic
  • Explore the beautiful National Trust protected Lex and Ruby Graham Gardens
  • Take a dip in MacCallum Pool
  • Have a meal at Mosman Rowers Club 

You can follow the steps in my Cremorne Point Foreshore Walk 

Circular Quay Ferry to Mosman and Mosman Bay Details

Departure Wharf:Circular Quay
Travel Time:10-15 minutes
Cost:$6.79 each way

Related: Ride the Taronga Zoo ferry to take our favourite walk in Sydney – to Balmoral

Circular Quay to Neutral Bay

My usual reason for getting on the Neutral Bay ferry is to meet friends for lunch at the popular waterfront cafe Thelma and Louise that sits right beside the wharf.

Neutral Bay view
The view back towards the city from the Neutral Bay ferry

Just 10 minutes across the harbour this small bay has its own stretch of sand, Hayes Street Beach, and a feels 100 miles from the rush of the city streets.

Along with getting a fantastic brunch, other things to take a look at in Neutral Bay include:

  • Nutcote – The former home (and museum) of much-loved children’s author May Gibbs
  • SoCal – For an afternoon or Margaritas and Southern California Mexican food
  • Play lawn bowls at Club Neutral Bay
  • The Oaks Hotel – One of the prettiest beer gardens in the city
  • Hodgson Lookout at Kurraba Point offers fantastic views of the harbour perfect for photographers

Ferry from Circular Quay to Neutral Bay and Kurraba Point Wharf (F5)

Departure Wharf:Circular Quay
Travel Time:10 minutes
Cost:$6.43 each way

Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island

One of Sydney’s UNESCO World-Heritage sites, Cockatoo Island, has an interesting history.

Cockatoo Island Visitors Centre
The visitors centre at Cockatoo Island

Post colonisation Cockatoo Island became a place of harsh punishment for the worst prisoners in the city before eventually becoming a dockyard. The shipbuilders left the island in 1991, and it is now best known for the various arts festivals it hosts.

Known as Wareamah, meaning ‘women’s land’ in the Dharug language, the Eora used the island to hunt and fish, but it was mainly a ceremonial site for women.

Cockatoo Island sits in the middle of Sydney Harbour on the western side where the Lane Cove and Parramatta Rivers officially meet the harbour. There is plenty to do here, and you can even stay overnight or longer in one of the apartments or glamping tents.

Both the F3 and the F8 ferries stop at Cockatoo Island

  • Take a colonial history tour
  • convict penal establishment, reformatory school and naval ship dockyard
  • Picnic on the lawn overlooking the harbour
  • Attend one of the regular festivals or events held here
  • Overnight visitors can join the paranormal or ghost tour experiences
  • Play chess on the giant chessboard
  • Check out the basketball or tennis courts.
Cockatoo Island picnic lawn
Picnic on the lawn
Cockatoo Island tour
Take a self-guided tour of the island’s history

Most of the island is accessible, making it a good trip for wheelchair users or families with small kids. You also head under the Harbour Bridge if you are keen to snap a photo.

Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island ferry service (F8)

Departure Wharf:Barangaroo or Circular Quay
Travel Time:55 minutes
Cost:$6.79 each way

Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo

Ok so most people board the ferry to Taronga Zoo for one reason only, so do I, but it’s not to visit the zoo. My main reason for catching this ferry is to take my favourite Sydney Harbour walk to Balmoral Beach. This direct service makes a quick b-line across the harbour to its destination but you do get some amazing views along the way.

Bradley's Head view
The view from Bradley’s Head Amphitheatre

Once you arrive at Taronga Wharf you have three choices

  • Walk west to Sirius Cove and Mosman
  • Walk north to Bradley’s Head, Chowder Bay or Balmoral
  • Visit the Zoo 🙂

Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo Service (F2)

Departure Wharf:Circular Quay
Travel Time:10 minutes
Cost:$6.79 each way

Circular Quay to Abbotsford

This ferry gives you three possible day trips. At times of low tide, the Parramatta ferry occasionally ends at Rydalmere. When this happens, a bus service meets the ferry.

Abbotsford – The ferry to Abbotsford will have you heading under the bridge and up the Parramatta River. Only a 30-minute trip and eight stops from Circular Quay this area is worth exploring if you have already visited all the top sites. 

Homebush Bay - SS Ayrfield
mezuni (Jason Baker) via Wikimedia Commons

It makes a lovely afternoon trip, especially if you time it, so you are heading back to the city at sunset. You can stay on this ferry all the way to Parramatta and explore Sydney’s second city.

The Parramatta ferry stops at Cockatoo Island, before heading under the Gladesville Bridge and into the Parramatta River and on to Drummoyne, Bayview Park, Kissing Point, Meadowbank, and Sydney Olympic Park. Keep your eye out for the wreck of the SS Ayrfield in Homebush Bay.

Things to do along this route include:

Alight at Abbotsford

  • Have a drink or a meal at the Sydney Rowing Club – live music on Sunday afternoons
  • Take a stroll along the foreshore to Henry Lawson Park in Hen and Chicken Bay

Circular Quay to Olympic Park

Get off the ferry at Olympic Park 

  • Visit Sydney Olympic Park (there is a bus connection)
  • Picnic at Bicentennial Park or explore the wetlands

Circular Quay to Parramatta/Rydalmere

Get off at Rydalmere

Jump on the connecting bus or walk along the river for about 45 minutes to the Parramatta

  • Shop at Westfield Parramatta
  • Visit Old Government House in Parramatta Park
  • Take in a show at the Riverside Theatre
  • Dine on Eat Street

Circular Quay to Parramatta Ferry details (F3)

Departure Wharf:Barangaroo or Circular Quay
Travel Time:1hr to 1h 20 mins depending on the number of stops.
Cost:$8.49 for stops beyond Abbotsford

Circular Quay to Manly Cove

Ok so I saved the best-known ferry trips till last, hopefully, to encourage you to add one of the earlier ones to your itinerary ; ) The 30-minute ride across the heads to Manly is a must.

Manly Beach things to do
Manly is the most popular Sydney ferry ride

This harbour and beachside suburb has been a playground for Sydneysiders since the 1880s. At this time, the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company coined the phrase “Seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care” to promote its ferry service from Circular Quay. Today, this quick trip can still make you feel far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Once you get to Manly, there is plenty to keep you busy, you could:

Check out our ultimate list of things to do when you get off the Manly ferry

Manly Ferry details (F1)

Departure Wharf:Circular Quay
Travel Time:30 minutes
Cost:$8.49 each way

We are sure you will love any of riding any of these ferries from Circular Quay as each and every one makes for a great day out in Sydney.

Have questions about things to see and do in Sydney?
Head over and join our Facebook Group and we will be happy to help

11 thoughts on “Discover The Very Best Sydney Ferry Rides”

  1. I used to live in Balmain and loved taking the ferry into the city. My other favourites are to Watson’s Bay for fish and chips in the beer garden and the classic Manly ferry. Such a great post, I’m feeling all nostalgic.

  2. I absolutely love Ferry rides! You provide so much information to make anyone experience amazing! Thank you for this great post!

  3. Oh it makes me wanna go home waaaaaaa. I’m Canadian now but haven’t had a trip back to Oz for 4 years. I’m overdue! I used to live in Sydney – way back when – in Neutral Bay among other places. This post brought back so many memories. Fabulous post for anyone visiting, and even for Aussies like me who haven’t been there for a while. So much good info!

  4. This is one thing I always do when visiting Sydney is jump on a ferry. I usually look to see whats leaving in 5 mins and just go. As im older haha I can travel anywhere on my seniors opal for $2.50…how good is that. The last time I was in Sydney was 2 years ago and I decided to go to Rose Bay. So beautiful, I walked for ages then went back to the cafe and had a coffee, wine and you do lol..

  5. Worth mentioning too that if you walk to Balmoral Beach from Taronga Zoo, you can catch a bus from Balmoral back to Taronga Zoo wharf. It connects with the ferry departures on week-days and week-ends. This too is my favourite walk in Sydney.

  6. I love a nice ferry ride and had no idea Sydney home was home to so many amazing ferries! Thanks for sharing and saving this for when I finally make it there.

  7. This is so helpful to me, who’s planning to visit Sydney in 10 days time. Thank you.

  8. Hi I lived in Australia for 16 years, became an Australian citizen, returned to UK with family, but now back after 27 years to stay with my daughter, who was born here. I am 66 and wondered if I could get any discounts on transport as I’m revisiting some of my old haunts and loving it.

  9. You need a seniors card and these are only available to permanent residents. Friday, Saturday and Sunday all travel is $8.90 all day for everyone.

  10. Hi.. I’m wondering if the private ferry like captain cook cruises and manly fast ferry also include in the travel cap of opal card?thanks before..

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