Watsons Bay Walk: An Enchanting & Historic Coastal Route

This Watsons Bay walk offers buckets of coastal charm. It combines panoramic clifftop views over the Pacific and Sydney Harbour vistas. It’s also home to historic sites, pretty candy striped lighthouse and some of the best fish and chips in the city. We think it’s the perfect half day escape from the hustle and bustle of the city centre and a brilliant contrast to Manly or Bondi.

Exploring Watsons Bay on Foot

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 Watsons 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 track.

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 the Sydney Harbour area, referred to the area around Watsons 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 affected.

Robertson Park and the wharf

The extensive park surrounding the waterfront is Robertson Park. With lots of shade, a playground and lovely views of the waterfront, it’s a great picnic spot.

There are several Canary Islands Palms here that grew from seeds the first fleet bought from a stopover in Tenerife, along with some gorgeous fig trees.

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

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 Robertson Park. This is lovely at sunset.

Gap Bluff and The Gap Lookout

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

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

Two lighthouses in Watsons Bay 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 rescued from the rocks 36 hours later. Divers finally located the wreck in 1955, and you will find the anchor of the ship sitting attached to the cliff near the main lookout.

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

The ship’s bible was washed up on Forty Baskets Beach on the other side of the harbour and can be found in St Stephen’s 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 next to the lookout, watched out for people who appeared to need help. He saved over 160 people, which earned him the nickname “the angel of the gap.” Ritchie 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 in a couple of spots along the cliff.

So what is “the Gap”? The Gap itself is the wave cut shelf formed between two sandstone cliffs here.

The Gap Rock shelf at Watsons Bay
A section of the rock shelf at The Gap

Camp Cove

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

You will need to walk along the street and head to Cove Street, 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 fresh water 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 following day. This was the first place that the English set foot on Australian soil.

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.

Watsons Bay Canon

A favourite photo spot on South Head is this cannon that points back towards the city skyline. It was bought to the colony from England in 1872 and placed at South Head in the 1890s.

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

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

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.

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

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 is a mix of boardwalk, concrete, and cobblestone with a few 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 keeper’s cottage as you reach the head, the sole survivor of the Dunbar; crewman James Johnson and his brother became 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.

Watsons Bay Hornby Lighthouse
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 and Guide

Where to eat in Watsons Bay

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.

With this superb harbourside location, it’s 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 first seafood restaurant in the country.

Doyles / Doyles on the Wharf 

doyles watsons bay
Doyles have been operating here since 1845

The Doyle family has been selling seafood from this location since 1845. They have two restaurants, a takeaway and a cafe on the pier. I have not dined in the restaurant; $45 -$55 mains are a little out of my budget, but the takeaway from the wharf is pretty good. Takeaway lunch will set you back $20 or less.

Beach Club Watsons Bay Hotel 

The Bar at Watsons Bay Hotel

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

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 their Instagram page.

How to get to Watsons Bay

You have a few options for travelling between Watsons 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,Watsons 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 – they are not on the Opal system, just pay as you board. They offer direct ferries to Manly, Barangaroo and Circular Quay.

Where to Stay in Watsons Bay

Why not stay a little longer? Watsons 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 Accommodation entry
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, I love the room decor and could happily move in tomorrow.

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.

Read more about Watsons Bay

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

Looking for more Sydney walks?

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25 thoughts on “Watsons Bay Walk: An Enchanting & Historic Coastal Route”

  1. 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. 😉

  2. 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 🙂

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  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. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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

  14. 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!

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

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