How to choose the best Sydney Opera House Tour?

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.”

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It depends on your interest in architecture, 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.

Ways to Do the Opera House Tour

Travelling on a Tight Budget

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.

Interested in the Opera House’s History and Architecture

Well, the next option is probably going to suit you. The Essentials Tour is a one-hour tour covering 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.

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

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.

I have enjoyed my tours, and all the guides have been excellent, 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.

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!

Some 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 $43 for adults.

Interested in Seeing a Theatre Performance

An alternative to taking the tour and next best budget-wise is to attend a performance. There are over 40 shows a week, and a quick check of this month’s tickets discovered the Bangarra Dance Theatre performing in the Drama Theatre.

Alexander Sefton as Mandarin in Opera Australia’s 2022 production of Turandot at the Sydney Opera House Photo
Alexander Sefton as Mandarin in Opera Australia’s 2022 production of Turandot
Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

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 a show if you like.

Someone Who Loves to See How the Place Works -Backstage Tours

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 at 7am; 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 close 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 are not permitted. Tours are available in several languages, including tours for the hearing impaired.

Opera House Tours for Someone Who Loves Good Food

You can, of course, skip the tour altogether and spend the money eating and drinking instead. On our last wedding anniversary, my husband surprised me with dinner at the Opera House fine dining restaurant Bennelong.

Bennelong Restaurant Sydney Lamington
Bennelong’s famous take on a Lamington

We opted for the pre-theatre menu, which is excellent 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 take walk-ins for the bar menu. I am not much of a food reviewer, so check out this blog post for more.

There are also a few outdoor dining options – perfect spots to watch the sunset.

The view from Opera Bar and kitchen
The view from Opera Bar outdoor dining

Don’t Forget 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 the Best Places to photograph the Sydney Opera House.

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

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1 thought on “How to choose the best Sydney Opera House Tour?”

  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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