Watson Bay Walk – A Great Day our in Sydney

This Watson Bay walk is not to be missed. It combines panoramic clifftop views over the Pacific Ocean to the right and Sydney Harbour vistas to the left. It’s also home to some of the best Fish and chips in town and a very pretty lighthouse.

Exploring Watsons Bay on Foot – The Gap Park and South Head Heritage Loop.

Today we want to show you one of our favourite parts of Sydney, and one that we think makes for a fabulous day out; a ferry ride to Watsons Bay and a stroll on the easy but rewarding South Head Heritage loop out to Hornby Lighthouse on South Head.

You could easily spend a couple of hours here between the walk, a paddle at Camp Cove Beach and a coffee or lunch in the area.

If you only had one day to explore Sydney, a day at Watson’s Bay would not be a bad choice.

The walk is relatively easy and suitable for most people. There are some steps and mild inclines but it’s not a challenging walk.

If this will be your first time using Sydney’s public transport you might like to read our Opal travel guide to understand the cheapest way to make this trip.

So what are you waiting for – let’s begin!

Watsons Bay

The Cadigal, the first nations people of Sydney Harbour area, referred to the area around Watson’s Bay as Kutti. It was a favourite spot for fishing and gathering food and very important to them. They remained here after the arrival of the colonials until a smallpox epidemic hit and the population was severely impacted.

Robertson Park and the wharf

Robertson Park Watsons Bay
The park has lots of gorgeous fig trees perfect to picnic under

The big park surrounding the waterfront is Robertson Park, there are several Canary Island Palms here that grew from seeds the first fleet had bought from a stopover in Tenerife on the voyage over along with some gorgeous fig trees.

With lots of shade, a playground and lovely views of the waterfront it’s a great picnic spot.

If you have some time take a stroll south along the beach to the swimming enclosure and the Vaucluse Yacht Club.

Robertson Park Watsons Bay Sydney
Looking back to the city from Roberston Park. This is lovely at sunset.

Gap Bluff and The Gap Lookout

Looking from Watsons Bay walk and the Gap to the City
The view from the Gap looking back to the city.

Directly opposite the wharf at Watsons Bay, is the Gap Bluff and Gap lookout. If you climb to the high point you are rewarded with views that span from Mosman to Manly.

THe Gap Lookout looking south Watsons Bay
The Gap looking south back to the track you have come along.

There are two lighthouses in Watsons Bay that highlight the danger the sea here posed to early visitors. In 1857 the Dunbar was wrecked off the cliffs below the Gap killing 121 and leaving a sole survivor, James Johnson, a crewman who was rescued from the rocks 36 hours later. Divers finally located the wreck in 1955, and you will find the anchor of the ship sits attached to the cliff near the main lookout

The ship’s bible was washed up on Forty Baskets Beach on the other side of the harbour and can be found in St Stephens church in Camperdown.

A few months after this terrible accident a second ship, The Catherine Adamson was wrecked nearby resulting in another 21 deaths. This was enough to get fast action on the lighthouse building.

From the 1930s The Gap became known as a place of misadventure, the rocky cliffs drawing the foolhardy and the depressed. As early as 1942 a police cliff rescue unit was established saving over 70 people a year.

Watsons Bay the Gap
Lifeline has placed phones at the Gap for people who may need assistance

From the 1960s Don Ritchie, a local who lived adjacent to the lookout watched out for people who appeared to need help. He is said to have saved over 160 people, and this resulted in the nickname “the angel of the gap” He was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006 and passed away in 2012. These days the area is under camera surveillance, and help phones operated by Lifeline staff are located in a couple of spots along the cliff.

So what is”the Gap” well the Gap itself is the wavecut shelf formed between two of the sandstone cliffs here.

A section of the rock shelf at The Gap

Camp Cove

Return back to the wharf and make your way along the footpath that follows the beach, past the upturned rowboats and Doyles restaurant until you reach the stairs at the end of the beach that leads up to the street.

You will need to walk along the street now head to Cove Street and Pacific Street and Green Point Reserve. Once you reach Green Point Reserve you will find Camp Cove Beach to the right.

Camp Cove Beach Watsons Bay
Camp Cove is a great snorkelling spot for kids.

When the First Fleet first landed in Sydney, they arrived in Botany Bay but quickly discovered that with no freshwater source this was not an ideal place to build their settlement. Captain Phillip and a small party headed off exploring new locations and sailed through the heads into Sydney Harbour.

They camped the night here on the beach at Camp Cove before sailing into Sydney Cove the next morning. This was the first place that the English set foot on Australian soil.

You can read more about the history of the area, including its importance to the Cadigal people on the Dictionary of Sydney listing for Camp Cove.

At the southern end of the beach is a marble monument reading “On this beach, Governor Phillip first landed in Port Jackson Jan 21 1788”. It’s easy to walk right by this rather unassuming structure, but you will find it to the right of the toilet block.

Sydney Harbour National Park

At the northern end of Camp Cove Beach is a set of wooden stairs that will lead you to the entry of Sydney Harbour National Park and the South Head Heritage Trail Loop. The first highlight is the historic canon.

Watson’s Bay Canon

the canon along the watsons bay walk sydney australia
The canon is poised ready to attach Sydney…. oops, it initially faced out to sea. 

A favourite photo spot is this cannon that points back towards the city skyline and a great view over Camp Cove Beach — previously located near Hornby Lighthouse. It was bought to the colony from England in 1872 and placed at South Head in the 1890s.

The path along the road was made of cobblestone and was built during the late 1870s. It’s a gentle reminder of the history of the area.

Lady Bay Beach

Lady Jane Beach Nude Beach along the Watsons Bay walk
This “clothing optional” beach has fantastic views back to the city.

This beach, also known as Lady Jane, was granted legal nude status way back in 1976 during Premier Wran’s government. A few things to note, nudity is only permitted on the beach and water, and while you can don swimwear here, it is sometimes frowned upon by the locals.

It’s also good to note that walkers tend to stand at the top and take photos of the beach and its visitors. If you decide to go off climbing around the rocky point, you may discover some frisky beachgoers.

South Head Heritage Walk

This easy 30-minute loop walk is a leisurely stroll with 5-star views. If the long walk from Vaucluse is a bit much for you, this is a great alternative. It’s is a mix of boardwalk, concrete and cobblestone with a few sets of stairs.

Watsons Bay Walk track
The short walk out to the lighthouse is worth the extra 10 minutes or so

You will come across the lighthouse keepers cottage as you reach the head, the sole survivor of the Dunbar, crewman James Johnson and his brother went on to become lighthouse keepers here and then later in Newcastle.

Hornby Lighthouse

Just around the tip of South Head is the candy stripe lighthouse that marks the entry to Port Jackson. It was the third lighthouse built in NSW, you can learn more about it here.

The Hornby Lighthouse at Watson Bay
This candy-striped lighthouse was built in 1858 after the wreck of the Dunbar. 

Once you have finished your visit, you need to retrace your steps back to Camp Cove. Take the street to the side of the Kiosk and wander past some of the lovely homes, old and new, on the roads back to the hotel and the wharf.

Itinerary tip: Combine this walk in Watsons Bay with the nearby Federation Cliff walk or the Bondi to Coogee walk for a full day exploring the eastern suburbs.

Watsons Bay Walking Map

Ok so after you have completed the walk you have most certainly earned a break. There are several places to eat nearby or if you are travelling on a budget then bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in Robertson Park.

Where to eat in Watsons Bay

Watsons Bay Hotel Beach Club is a popular spot for sunset drinks

With this glorious harbourside location its hardly surprising that seafood is one of the most popular things to eat in Watsons Bay. The iconic Doyle’s on the Beach restaurant is listed in almost every guidebook. Opening in 1885 this was the very first seafood restaurant in the country.

Doyles / Doyles on the Wharf 

doyles watsons bay
Doyles has been operating here since 1845

The Doyle family have been selling seafood from this location since 1845. They have two outlets, the restaurant and a takeaway and cafe on the pier. I have not dined in the restaurant, the $45 -$55 mains are a little out of my price range but have eaten take away from the wharf in the park many times. Take away lunch will set you back $20 or less.

Beach Club Watsons Bay Hotel 

Beach Club is one of the most popular spots here. The pub offers bbq food, salads and burgers and has a great beer garden overlooking the harbour. Even if you are not hungry, this is a great spot for a beer or coffee.

Dunbar House 
This 1830’s heritage home is my top pick for a weekend breakfast or lunch. Once a zoo, the home is now a wedding reception venue and weekend cafe. The menu features all the usual breakfast items done very well. Lunch includes salads, burgers and sandwiches and a variety of main meals. The desserts are also very tempting. Check the menus here.

The Tea Garden
This cafe is my top pick for family-friendly venues in the area. It has a fenced grass area perfect for kids to play on while you eat. The Italian inspired menu features pasta, salads and burgers. They do not have a website, but you will find more information on Zomato.

How to get to Watson’s Bay

You have a few options for travelling between Watsons’s Bay, Bondi and the City.

  • The 324 bus departs from Edgecliff Station and travels via the backstreets to Watsons Bay. The 323 will drop you near the start of the Federation Cliff Walk to Watsons Bay if you would like to walk that.
  • Take a 380 bus from Bondi Junction train station to Robertson Park Watson’s Bay
  • Take the F4 ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay, and either do the walk in reverse or take one of these two buses above to the start of the walk.
  • Take the private Captain Cook ferry service – it’s a little more expensive, but there are direct ferries to Manly, Barangaroo and Circular Quay.

Where to Stay in Watson’s Bay

Why not stay a little longer? Watson’s Bay is a beautiful spot to spend a few days away from the rush of the city whether you are a local or a visitor. There are a couple of options

Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel

Watsons Bay Hotel

With 31 boutique rooms and suites, many overlooking the harbour, this 4-star property offers beautifully decorated rooms with plenty of food and action right on the doorstep. This is a lovely property, but this is necessarily the best option for a quiet getaway.

If you like the idea of heading right upstairs after you finish your dinner and drinks, check out reviews on TripAdvisor and see what you think. I love the room decor and could happily move in tomorrow. Check prices on Booking.com

Insider tips for visiting Watsons Bay

  • Dogs are not allowed in the National Park
  • The last public ferry on weekdays leaves very early, around 4 pm, weekends it is much later nearer to 11 pm. You can take a private ferry and use your Opal card on this, but it will cost more. Alternatively, take the bus to Edgecliff station and travel three stops back to the city.
  • It is tough to get parking here, particularly at weekends, so public transport is the best option.

Want to do more ideas for exploring Sydney? Check out these:

Read more about Watsons Bay

My good friend Joanne writes extensively about Sydney Suburbs and has covered Watsons Bay here.

Watsons Bay Walk

Share with a friend

25 thoughts on “Watson Bay Walk – A Great Day our in Sydney”

  1. Hi Sydneyexpert!
    I did your walk today!
    The scenery is stunning thanks so much for taking the time to write about it and make it appealing to do. Diamond Bay is incredible. As a born and bred Sydneysider, it’s not until now the time of Covid-that I’m actually taking an interest in my own ‘backyard’. Today was like being a tourist and it was fun. So thank you!

    • Hi Ellissa
      Thanks so much for letting us know 🙂 We love hearing that locals are enjoying playing tourist at home, it’s our favourite thing to do! I hope you get a chance to do some more of the great walks across the city.

  2. I didn’t do this walk on my time in Sydney – but I did enjoy dinner and a stroll in Watsons Bay with my daughter that was topped off by a lovely sunset. I’ll have to remember this for my next visit. Lovely photos!

  3. I love a lighthouse so I would really enjoy these coastal walks. Plus you can’t beat all the amazing water views. I agree, having to walk upstairs, or even uphill at the end of the hike isn’t desirable. #WeekendWanderlust

  4. Your photos show off everything about Watson’s Bay. The view from the stairway in the first photo is so lovely. The Gap is amazing! This is my idea of a perfect place to explore!

  5. I enjoy the coastal walks in Sydney by the water. I’ve done the Sculptures by the Sea walk and see Watson’s Bay as being another area I’d like to try. The Hornby Lighthouse is very pretty.

  6. My sister has lived in Sydney for over 20 years. Watson’s Bay is a family pilgrimage but I have never done this walk. Definitely one for the list on my next visit!

  7. I’ve done many day-walks in Sydney, but this was is missing. One I particularly like is the 10km from Spit-Bridge to Manly Beach, overlooking the Sydney Harbour. Next time I come on a visit, I’ll make sure I do the Watsons Bay walk. Looks like a great way to spend a day out in Sydney.

  8. What a fabulous walk around Sydney’s amazing coastline. Brought back memories of holidays with my family to Sydney when I was a girl. Great ideas for a weekend stay.

  9. This is such a detailed post and your photos are amazing. There seem to be so many things to see here and so much history. I really love lighthouses and would have a lot of fun climbing the Macquarie Lighthouse, especially given its history and the fact that it’s a replica.

  10. These would probably the best walks along the coast in the world. The views, of course, are dramatic and there is so much history and stories along the way. Would love to do these walks again and again. Fascinated by the Macquarie Lighthouse and also the Gap. The history of the Gap is so tragic and poignant.

  11. This is such an amazing walk! What a great way to spend the day. The lighthouses are beautiful and I love that they’ve put phones in place for emergencies, just in case.

  12. Oh, I never knew about Watsons Bay Walk when I went to Sydney. I loved Bondi beach but never knew about this photogenic place. Diamond Bay Reserve is truly an Instagrammable location and climbing up and down from Dover Heights is also a beautiful thing to do here. To avoid parking issues on the weekend, I would opt for public transportation.

  13. We’ve done quite a lot of walks around Sydney but we’ve never heard of this one! It’s such a great city for coastal walks, we can’t wait to go back so when we do we’ll be looking to do this walk. Love the combination of great views, history and great trails.

  14. This place seems like a perfect place for a morning/evening walk. Some of my relatives live in Sydney. They are calling me since long time to visit them. Maybe I should visit them 🙂

  15. Your photos are fantastic and have easily captured why a walk around Watsons Bay is a must. The views are just gorgeous especially at the Diamond Bay Reserve. I like that you started your guide with Dover Heights too. I’m not a fan of walking up the stairs too and would probably follow your guide. 😉


Leave a comment