Spending NYE on Sydney Harbour is a bucket list item, even for Sydneysiders. Choosing how to spend the night is a huge decision 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 page and go straight to my mega list of things to do on NYE in Sydney.
Still not sure? Then ask yourself the following questions, and we will come up with the best way for you to spend new year’s eve on Sydney Harbour.
This post was updated on 25 September 2021
Note: 2021 NYE Plans may be significantly different due to social distancing.
I will update this page as details become available.
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, 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 spend the day doing other things.
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 is a range of options from standard BYO harbour cruises, dinner cruises, party boats, private charters and even cruises offered by Sydney Harbour ferries.
My biggest tip is to make sure the company has some history before you hand over your money. 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 the 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. We think 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 onboard 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 and while it is adequate it’s rarely outstanding.
At about 9.20pm, after the first round of fireworks are complete many of the vessels on the harbour turn on their lights and parade up and down the harbour until the midnight fireworks. This is known as the Harbour of Light Parade
Boats in the official Harbour of Light boats usually have a choice spot for the main event and are a popular choice. They tend to charge a premium price as a result.
Check the official list of vessels in the harbour lights parade to see which boats will be included this year.
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.
So let’s go through some of the options here beginning with the most affordable.
Join a family and budget-friendly BYO outing from Sydney Harbour Ferries
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 BBQs. Most deals include a basic drinks package.
The following operators are best known;
- Captain Cook Cruises – Prices start at $399 for the Matilda (BYO food and drinks). Consider John Cadman 2 for a seafood meal
- Fantasea Cruises – have some more intimate options with a boat of no more than 70 guests, or a 6-hour luxury cruise on the Catalina.
- The Sydney Harbour Showboat – offer a 5-course dinner, cabaret show and beer wine and soft drinks for $950
- The Harbour Ballroom – buffet dinner, beer and wine and DJ for $1000
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 beautiful 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 is ticketed separately that starts after the end of the show and includes drinks and nibbles. Considering the prices of most cruises, this is relatively reasonable.
Opera House Parties
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.
NYE Soirée at the Yallamundi Rooms Sydney Opera House
This is a first-time event at the Yallamundi Rooms, a brand new venue at the front of the Opera House. It looks fantastic and we are sending someone along to review it so we have more details for next year. It promises to be great value, with generous deluxe catering, access to the ABC Concert held on the adjacent forecourt and a DJ afterparty so you don’t have to fight the crowds racing to get home after the midnight fireworks.
You can check ticket availability and prices here Currently priced at $665 approx.
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 impressive 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 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. Even hostels request a week and many are fully booked by August.
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 and if money is no object my favourite hotels with a view of Sydney Harbour.
Need help planning your NYE in Sydney?