The best way to spend NYE on Sydney Harbour

Sydney fireworks

Sydney on NYE is a bucket list item. Choosing how to spend the night is a huge decision for most visitors and often a pretty expensive one so I have put together some questions that will help you pinpoint what you might want to do. 

If you already know what you want to do, then you can skip this and go straight to my mega list of things to do on NYE

Still not sure? Then ask yourself the following questions, and we will come up with the best way for you to spend new years eve on Sydney Harbour.

This post was updated August 25 2018.

Do you want to see the fireworks from the foreshore?

If the answer is yes, you have two choices

Plan to visit one of the free NYE areas and take a picnic

If you are hoping for a cheap night under the stars, you will need to be organised and plan to get to your viewing spot early. There are both alcohol-free areas and a limited number of areas where you can bring your own drinks along. There are also catered areas where you can buy drinks. Drinks at these spots are pretty pricey, but it does mean the crowd is a little less rowdy than the BYO places. I have done a rundown of the leading free viewing spots here

Hand over $$$ for a ticket to one of the catered outdoor areas.

This will get you a prime position and a little more standing room per person. Among the best of these are the Opera House events, the packages offered by the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust and the  Taronga Zoo NYE packages.  Be aware most of these go on sale in September/October, and the less expensive tickets sell out quite quickly. The best budget option here is Barangaroo which comes in under $50 a ticket, without catering and offers a western view of the Harbour Bridge.

Things to consider before you decide

I have tried both free and paid areas, and in the last few years, the crowds have grown considerably meaning you have to arrive by the middle of the day to secure a good location.  I prefer to pay for my view and no need to arrive early. Free areas come with a big price – hours of waiting around. If you choose one of these places, then be prepared to spend the best part of the day in the sun waiting to get a good spot. Waiting around can be part of the fun – we enjoyed it when we were younger – but it’s a huge time commitment and not a good option if you are travelling with kids.

Do you want to watch the Sydney fireworks from a boat on the harbour?

NYE Harbour Cruising is one topic that gets a lot of questions on the Tripadvisor Sydney forum and also our Sydney Expert Facebook group. There are all sorts of options from standard harbour cruises or private charters to Sydney Harbour ferries. My main advice is before you hand over your money make sure the company has some history.  There have sadly been stories in recent years of substandard boats and even one company that took bookings they never intended on honouring.

Prices for spending New Year’s Eve out on the water start at around $275 and average at about $600 per person.  You can also rent private boats upwards of 10k if you have cash to splash (oh and if you do can we come too!)

All the leading cruise companies have offers available for New Year’s Eve with most offering a 6-hour cruise with food and a drinks package. In my opinion, this is a great way to experience Sydney on NYE if you can afford it. There are cruises to suit most tastes so check out things like the entertainment on board lest you get stuck listening to hours of music you don’t enjoy.  On the whole, the food on the boats is usual wedding style or buffet fare with nothing outstanding on offer so don’t expect too much.

At about 9.20pm after the first round of fireworks are over many of the vessels on the harbour turn on their lights and parade up and down the harbour until the midnight fireworks.

You can view the official Harbour of Light boats for more details. A little later in the year, an official list of vessels in the harbour lights parade will be released.

Tickets are on sale now, and all but the most expensive cruises usually sell out pretty by late October so if you are considering one of the budget tickets buy early.

Sydney NYE 2006 by Rob Chandler via CC licence

So let’s go through some of the options here beginning with the most affordable.

Join a family and budget friendly BYO outing from Beyond the Wharf and Sydney Harbour Ferries

Sydney Harbour fireworks Ferry view

Priced a lot more reasonable than most harbour cruises this is a BYO affair. There are two sailings; you choose between either the 9 pm show or the midnight fireworks shows. Along with being alcohol-free, there are other pickup points, so you need not trek into Circular Quay if you live close to one of the other locations. The website gives details of where the ferries will be for the fireworks shows.

The departure points are Rose Bay, Manly and Circular Quay. Tickets priced from $125 for kids on the 8 pm ferry to $200 for all 11 pm tickets. Thanks to Beyond the wharf I was a guest on the Rose Bay ferry a few years ago and enjoyed it.  We had a fantastic view of the Harbour Bridge, plenty of space and a friendly crowd. You can read my full review here.

A couple of other operators have since begun offering these no-frill NYE cruises including Manly Fast Ferries, Fantasea and Captain Cook.

Book on a cruise with a meal and drinks package

These start from about $350 and go all the way to $1400+ with buffets, à la carte menus and BBQ’s. Most deals include a basic drinks package.

The following operators are best known;

There are many more, and the quality varies so make sure you have checked out online reviews or ask a local in our FB community if they have heard of the company.

Hire a water taxi or rent a boat and sail yourself.

  • Yellow Water Taxis are offering tickets for a spot on the harbour for the 9 pm family fireworks show for only $175 adult and $99 for kids. Midnight $350
  • Water Taxies combined have various packages, it’s best to contact them directly.
  • You can rent a vessel from Sydney Harbour escapes – They have boats for from 4 to 800 and lots of individually ticketed boats available.

If you have a boat check out this great advice from Amy at Out Chasing Stars about how to watch from the water on your own boat.

For a very detailed list with links and the latest information on prices and availability check my main NYE in Sydney page.

Would you like to watch the fireworks from the Opera House?

If your dream NYE in Sydney includes the Opera House, you also have a few choices. You can choose one of the Opera Australia packages and be entertained by the Australian Opera during the waiting times between the fireworks shows, dine in Bennelong restaurant or choose one of the parties happening on the Opera House forecourt.

Opera Australia Performances

Opera Australia offers two performances,  a gala concert held in the stunning concert hall and a full opera, this year La Bohème, held in the Opera Theatre. Both shows offer interval viewing of the 9 pm fireworks show from the northern foyers.

There is also a party that starts after the end of the show and includes drinks and nibbles.  Considering the prices of most cruises, this is relatively reasonable. Visit the Sydney Opera House website for full details of the shows.

Opera House Parties

Portside Opera House NYE Party
Djs and live acts entertain between the fireworks shows at Portside

Portside is the main event outside the Opera House and being at this party is one of my top 3 things to do in Sydney. Tickets include access to the boardwalk right in front of the Harbour Bridge.

Opera House Bars and Restaurants

Bennelong Restaurant offers a fantastic fine dining experience.  Contact them directly regarding reservations. Expect prices upwards of $500.

Opera Bar hosts a fabulous party with great music. Tickets go on sale in early October but sign up to their mailing list for exact details.  I spent NYE here a long while back. You can read my review here

Opera Kitchen offers amazing views and great food to go with it.  Last year my friend Edit reviewed her experience here on her blog. If past years are anything to go by details for this event go up quite late towards the end of October.

Do you want to dance the night away but see the big show at midnight?

There is a variety of dance party options each year including venues like Luna Park, Opera Bar and other harbour-side bars and clubs. Check the list on this post for more details.

Do you want to camp on the harbour for NYE?

Cockatoo Island campsite

Cockatoo Island NYE Camping Packages

If you plan early enough, you can camp on Cockatoo Island for New Year’s Eve and watch the action from the comfort of your tent right in the middle of Sydney Harbour. There is DIY camping, slightly more upmarket and comfortable campsites and also some heritage homes.

Have you booked your room?

NYE is the busiest time of the year for booking accommodation in Sydney. You do need to book months in advance if you want to stay in the inner city area and most hotels have a minimum stay requirement. I have a post that explains the pros and cons of the different areas to stay in Sydney and also a long list of good budget hotels in Sydney.

Need help planning your NYE in Sydney? Join our Sydney Expert Facebook Group where you can ask questions, stay up to date with what’s happening in Sydney and meet a bunch of friendly locals just waiting to share their advice!

Spending New Year's Eve in Sydney is all about the fireworks! So let decide where is the best place around Sydney harbour for you for you to take in the view? #Sydney #Australia

10 Comments

  1. Hello there, any news on potentioan bars clubs where we can view the dispays outside aswell? thank you

    • Hi Simon,
      You could try Cruise Bar at Circular Quay. It is right on the waterfront at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. Otherwise mingle with the crowds at any of the Rocks pubs then walk out to the street for the main event. Be warned though it gets really squashy and pretty rowdy in the Rocks pubs on NYE

  2. I won’t be in Sydney for New Year’s, but I have seen the fireworks on TV. They are always spectacular.

  3. I have never been to Sydney before but hope to make it there for a visit one of these days. Sounds like New Year’s might be a great time to visit as long as you plan ahead.

  4. NYE Under the Stars was an inaugural event – maybe next year will be better…

    Food queues – as if it wasn’t bad enough to have to wait nearly an hour in the main food queue, imagine to then see trays of food being taken out amongst the crowd. The food on these was snapped up before the server had a chance to walk very far. A great idea in concept re RSA but given the stationary queue for the food, surely the food could’ve gone to the stall?
    Drinks queue – this moved quickly and the staff were friendly
    Toilet queue – how on earth did anyone think that 20 toilets + 1 disabled toilets would be enough for a capacity of 1,500??!?!? It’s lucky this was a mature and respectful crowd as otherwise, it could easily have kicked off with the frustration of this.
    Food & Drinks – Good enough food once you got it although the sandwich was more bread than filling; Not a large selection of drinks, the measures were small and a 4 drink limit would have been better than 3
    Staff – The people collecting rubbish, at the entry gate and those at the oyster and drinks counters were great but those at the food stall were stressed out by the lack of food.

    Of the 5 hours there, I wouldn’t be surprised if half of it was spent in a queue and that’s not what I had in mind for a great night out. Having had a far superior experience at Midnight at the Oasis last year, that is certainly the one I’d be recommending to friends in the future

    • Thanks Karrie for sharing your experience. I hope you have also shared it with the event organisers. As you said being the first year hopefully they will learn from this. I was on a ferry with Beyond the Wharf and except for the complete lack of alcohol (which had its benefits), it was great.

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