Best Places to Watch the Sydney to Hobart Race

Are you looking for the best place to watch the Sydney to Hobart race? I have three favourite ways to see all the action unfold that I would like to share with you, so let’s go… 

Over the years, watching the start of the Sydney to Hobart has become a Sydney holiday tradition. Thankfully, the race has a lunchtime start, so there is no need to crawl out of bed at dawn to be part of the action.

Updated: 14 December 2023

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Every Boxing day since 1945, (other than 2020 because of Covid) Sydney Harbour has hosted the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. An arduous journey of 628 nautical miles south to Constitution Dock in Hobart. These yachts, from small vessels to super maxis, make an impressive sight as they leave the harbour and add the spectator craft, and it feels like a party out there.

Racing Sailboat with Crew on Ocean
120 yachts will take part in the 2023 race

The race attracts sailors with a variety of experience from weekend warriors to professionals. This year sees 120 boats registered, including 9 international boats.

Not being much of a sailor I had been content to watch it on TV for years however about 5 years ago I had a cousin visiting from Canada, and she was keen to see the race up close, so I was finally convinced to leave the comfort of the sofa and check it out. Even for a non-sailing enthusiast, it was damn impressive. I can see why it’s a favourite way to spend Boxing Day.

What time does the Sydney to Hobart race start?

The starter’s gun will sound at 1 pm with a warning shot ten minutes earlier. However, boats will start getting into a position from much earlier, and the harbour is a pretty incredible site with all the competitors and spectator vessels filling this usually spacious waterway.

Where does the race actually start?

The official starting line is just off Nielsen Park, making this one of the most popular spots on the eastern shore to watch the action. Read more about how they manage the start of the race on the official Sydney to Hobart website.

Spectator yachts in Sydney Harbour after the start.

That’s a good question and one with more than one correct answer, here are my three favourites.

Up close in the middle of the action on a harbour cruise

I don’t think you can go past watching the start of the Sydney to Hobart from the water. Being out amongst the action as the boats head down the harbour and out of the heads is fantastic.

You can see the sailors working furiously to get into position for the start and see all the little boats jostle for the best spots.

Tip: It can feel a bit more choppy with all the boats moving about, so if you are partial to seasickness, it might be an idea to grab some tablets.

Lots of boats on offer with a variety of price points and luxury. Some of my favourites are:

Captain Cook Gold Cruise seating
Our window seating on MV Sydney 2000

Captain Cook Cruises

One of the premium operators on the harbour Captain Cook will have three vessels out to get amount the Boxing Day action this year.

You can choose from the 3 hour BYO picnic cruise (on board bar), the popular lunch cruise and a special cruise that will travel outside the heads to Bondi!

Boxing Day Lunch Cruise

The MV Sydney 2000 is a great ship with a full roof deck for the best views and commentary and TV coverage inside the boat to keep up to date with all the action.

One of the main reasons I like this cruise is the amount of space on the outdoor decks and the huge picture windows that are a feature of the boat.

Captain Cook Boxing Day Cruise view
Watching the race from the top deck

They also have a fantastic spot to anchor at Parsley Bay between Watsons Bay and Nielson Park, which sees them perfectly positioned to watch the vessels race to the Heads.

Seating is at individual tables, and the huge windows mean everyone can see. Window seating is available too.

This year they are offering two dining options across the ship’s three decks.

  • Sky Deck – which is a 5-course premium menu with a beverage package that includes house spirits, superior wines, beers & soft drinks.
  • Club Deck – a 3 course menu with a beverage package of superior house wines, beers & soft drinks.
  • Ocean Deck – Shared platters, reserved seating and a welcome drink included – Sold out!

All levels have access to the outdoor open star deck

The Cruise departs 10.30am Darling Harbour, King St Wharf and returns at approx 3pm.

Boxing Day BYO Picnic cruise

Board the John Cadman and make your way to the eastern corner of the harbour, dropping anchor at noon near Parsley Bay to watch the fleet make their way out of the heads.

The race begins at 1pm and the ship will stay put until 2pm when it will spend the next hour on a relaxed cruise returning to the wharf at 3pm.

Follow the fleet to Bondi with Captain Cook

Boxing Day Race to Bondi Cruise

Got the stomach for the open seas? Follow the action and the fleet out of the heads and down to Bondi on one of the Red Rocket Catamarans.

Board the Rocket and follow the fleet out the heads to Bondi

This 2.5-hour cruise is BYO everything, including drinks. There is indoor and outdoor seating and free wifi on board.

3 hour Boxing Day sail will be out on the water near the starting line for the big race. Along with great views of the Sydney to Hobart race, the captain will provide live race commentary. The price includes a 3-course seafood and carvery set menu. Beverages may be purchased on board. The cruise departs from Circular Quay at 11:30am and return approx 2:30pm.

The 2021 race celebrated 75 years of women in the race with excellent representation across the fleet

From the North – Mosman and Middle Head

A harbourside picnic is a great way to use up some of the Christmas day leftovers and relax at the same time. Depending on how energetic you feel, you could combine a bit of a bushwalk to reach your chosen picnic spot.

Watching the Sydney to Hobart race from the shoreline at Mosman
We scored this spot on the rocks near Middle head at about noon

One of my favourites is Georges Heights Lookout at Mosman. If Christmas festivities have you worn out, you might want to make the trip by bus otherwise you can easily walk from Taronga Wharf. Parking is at a premium so leave the car behind if you can.

Where: Georges Heights lookout along the Taronga to Balmoral Beach walk
When: Front row positions fill quickly I suggest being in your spot by noon.
How: M30 or 178 buses from Wynyard
Wheel-friendly: not really, prams with plenty of lifting may be possible
Dog-friendly: No

Related: Check out more great picnic spots here

From the South – The Gap and South Head

Many suggest that the trek up to the lighthouse is THE best Sydney to Hobart view. You can watch the yachts race up the harbour and view them as they move out of the heads and along the coast.

Sydney to Hobart Field leaving the Sydney Harbour
South Head from the Harbour

It certainly is popular here, so pack your picnic basket and nab your position early. I would say by 10 am to be safe. If you are coming from Circular Quay ferries will stop running at about 11.40am and start again at about 1.45pm. Do not attempt to drive here. There is no parking by just after sunrise!

With three great dining options, Watson’s bay is also my favourite choice if you prefer not to pack a picnic. Choose from a fish and chip take away from the wharf, a pub lunch from the Watson’s Bay hotel or fine dining at Doyle’s on the beachfront. All will be busy and require patience 🙂

Where: Hornby Lighthouse 
When: Early – say 10 am to allow time to grab something to eat and walk up to the lighthouse 
How: Early ferry from Circular Quay (they have stopped by 11 am in previous years) or bus 324, 325 or 380 from either Circular Quay or Edgecliff stations. Parking here is terrible on a good day, so try to avoid bringing your car if you can. 
Cost: Meals from $10 takeaway to $$$ at Doyles

Looking for somewhere to stay near all the action? Check out the Watson’s Bay Hotel or Hotel Bondi

Where do you think is the best place to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race? Do you have any insider tips to share?

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5 thoughts on “Best Places to Watch the Sydney to Hobart Race”

  1. Living near San Diego harbor I know how thrilling a big race can be. Love the different choices you’ve outlined and wish I were going to be there to cheer the race on.

  2. Wow, it must be some sight to see all the yachts making their way from the start. I’d love to take part, but I know that conditions can be really hairy on the Sydney-Hobart, so watching from the clifftops might be the best place to be.

  3. Looks like a really fun event! Have never been to Sydney but we will be there in 2016 for a few months. Will try to catch this if possible, thanks for the tips on best places to watch it from!

  4. The Sydney to Hobart race seems amazing. When I visited Sydney earlier this year, I remember seeing all of the stunning boats. I can barely imagine how exciting this will be.

  5. Best place I watched it from was Sydney Tower. I became the unofficial commentator to all those around me and much cheaper than going by boat

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