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Home | Sightseeing | A Guide to the Best Things to Do in Manly

A Guide to the Best Things to Do in Manly

Beyond walking down the Corso to the beach what else is there to do in Manly? Lots in fact so much that we live in Sydney and we still find things to do in Manly every time we are visiting. Read on for our insider’s guide to what to see, eat and do in Manly.

The Insider’s Guide to the Manly – What to do, see and eat.

Most visitors have a trip to Manly on their list of things to do in Sydney but once they get off the ferry they have no idea where to go. Some people don’t even realise that the beach at the wharf is not Manly Beach but in fact two beaches Little Manly Cove to the east and West Esplanade Beach to the west. Both of these beaches are great for kids but they are not the famous Manly Beach.

Manly and Bondi go head to head for attention, and they are very different. Locals say Manly is more relaxed than Bondi – we agree – the traffic is better too. The Norfolk Island palm trees that line the beach are a lot prettier than the carpark fringing Bondi, I mean we love Bondi too but we could live without the cars.

Manly Beach Sydney Norfolk Pine trees
Norfolk Pine Trees line the beachfront.

The Cannalgal and Kayimai people were the custodians Manly and the northern beaches. When Captain Philip visited in 1788, shortly after arriving in Australia he encountered some of the local aboriginal people on landing here and this meeting prompted him to name the area after them. “Their confidence and manly behaviour made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place”

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How to get to Manly

You can reach Manly by road or sea. The key difference between the options is travel time. In our view, the ferry is THE option. I can not think of a circumstance where I would drive to Manly from the city.

Bus -the journey often requires a change and takes 50 minutes from Wynyard
Car/Uber – 30 minute trip in good traffic but can take a lot longer

Did you know: It’s quicker to get from the city to Manly than it is to Bondi.

Everything you need to know about the Manly ferry

Confusingly there is more than one ferry service from the city to Manly. Both public and private ferries operate along the route and both accept Opal or contactless payments

Arriving at Manly Wharf

Private Ferry to Manly

Two private ferries operated between the city and Manly. Both make the trip between Circular Quay and Manly wharf in 18 minutes and offer a couple of routes.

Manly Fast Ferries run services between Manly and other key tourist spots including:

  • Darling Harbour to Manly via Taronga Zoo, Watsons Bay and Q Station
  • Darling Harbour (Aquarium Wharf) to Manly – via Pyrmont Bay, King Street Wharf Circular Quay and Manly.

Tickets can be bought as singles, returns or a 2-day HOHO pass.

Captain Cook Ferries offer 2 direct services to Manly:

  • Manly to Barangaroo
  • Manly to Watsons Bay

You can use your Opal card to pay on either the Fast Ferry or Captain Cook but these fares will not count towards your daily and weekly caps.

Public Manly Ferry

Four public ferries service the F1 route from Circular Quay to Manly Wharf. The ‘Queenscliff’, ‘Narrabeen’,’Collaroy’ or ‘Freshwater’ ferries are named after beaches north of Manly. The service is direct from Circular Quay to Manly and the journey takes 30 minutes.
The first ferry departs at 5.30am and the last one leaves at 11pm.

Manly Ferry leaving Circular Quay
Manly Ferry leaving Circular Quay

Can you get a ferry from Darling Harbour to Manly? Yes, both private operators have services departing from Barangaroo/Darling Harbour.

What is the difference between the private Manly ferry and the public Manly Ferry? The private ferry services are a little quicker but they cost a couple of dollars more and do not count towards your daily or weekly Opal caps.

 

What is Manly Beach famous for?

Manly Beach walkway along waterfront
You can walk the length of the beach from Shelly to Queenscliff

Manly has several claims to fame; it was the birthplace of surfing in Australia, the first place to legalised all-day bathing in 1903 and one of the first Surf Life Saving clubs in the world.

Manly Beach was the location for the first World Surfing Championships held in 1964,

Main Sites in Manly

Besides the gorgeous waterfront, there are a few other gems worth exploring.

  • Q Station – From the 1830’s up to the mid-1980s ships were quarantined here if they arrived in Sydney Harbour carrying any illness.
  • North Head Sanctuary – walks, views, a war memorial and a graveyard
  • Four Pines Brewery – the first smaller brewery in the area
  • Manly Distillery – Try the local gin made with ocean botanicals
  • Manly Art Gallery – A small collection with everything from ceramics to photography
  • Manly Environment Centre – pop in to learn more about sustainability
  • The Sea Nymphs’ sculpture at Fairy Bower Pool

The Beaches of Manly

Manly offers both ocean and harbour beaches. The three main sections of the beach are Queenscliff, North Steyne, and South Steyne. A short walk around the southern headland brings you to the sheltered and very pretty Shelly Beach.

Manly ocean Beach

Shelly Beach, is one of only two west-facing beaches on the east coast

There are also the harbour beaches you will see when you arrive at the wharf. A short walk to the west past the art gallery will take you to Fairlight and on to the secluded harbour beaches along the Manly to Spit walk.

Head to the end of East Manly Cove Beach to make your way to little Manly Beach and Collins Beach. These are both great options for anyone wanting a bit of seclusion midweek although they do get popular on summer weekends.

Want more beach fun? Jump on the 199 bus for the 75 min trip to Palm Beach along the way explore some great Northern Beaches gems.

What are the Best Things to do in Manly

There is plenty to do here so we have broken this down into four areas

  • Free things
  • Walks
  • Activities and tours
  • Shopping

Free things to do in Manly

There is no need to spend much money to have a good time in Manly. With walking and biking trails, plenty of parks and gardens and some excellent people watching.

Free BBQs at Shelly Beach Manly
A late afternoon BBQ at Shelly Beach while the sun sets – a perfect end to the day.
  • Head to the free BBQs at Shelly Beach and cook up a feast
  • Take a walk to Freshwater Beach and look for the wormhole
  • Go snorkelling at Cabbage Tree Bay
  • Have a swim at Fairy Bower Pool
Fairy Bower Pool
Fairy Bower Rock Pool and it’s Sea Nymph Sculpture
  • Find some friends and hit the free volleyball courts
  • Follow the Manly Heritage Plaques – a great way to learn the history of Manly
  • Check out an exhibition at the Local Manly Gallery

Check out the path of Olympians that runs from the wharf to the museum. It celebrates local residents who have represented Australia in Olympic

 

The Best Walks in Manly

Manly walk view from Dobryd head
View from above Tania Park, Dobroyd Head

Whether you want a quick stretch of the legs or fancy putting your fitness to the test one of these Manly walks is sure to suit.

The first two are wheelchair and pram friendly and both offer fantastic views.

  • The first, and possibly the most popular is the Shelly Beach walk. This short 1.5km stroll from The Corso around to Shelly Beach features eleven sculptures which make a great scavenger hunt for kids. This flat walk only takes 15 minutes and is wheelchair friendly.
Bandicoot sculpture at Shelly Beach walk Manly
Can you find all 11 sculptures along the Manly to Shelly walkway?
  • The Fairfax Walk also known as the North Head Sanctuary Loop is an easy 800m circuit walk that is also wheelchair friendly. It’s a great spot for some whale watching between July and October. Start at the North Scenic Drive carpark.

The three most popular longer walks are

  • The Manly to Spit Bridge Walk – that follows the harbour from Manly Cove Beach to the Spit Bridge. If you prefer you can book a guided walk.
  • North Head Sanctuary Walk – an 8km walk that starts at Shelly Beach and makes its way up to North Head. The views are hard to beat but its also a great choice for those with an interest in military history.
  • The Manly Coastal Walk – Technically which you can do as far up the coast as you can manage. The whole route is 50km but you can stop anywhere you like with buses along the route heading back to either Manly or the city.

Check out more local walks on the Hello Manly website or stop at the Visitor’s Centre located right outside Manly Wharf on arrival for some local advice and free maps.

Get Active in Manly

Manly beach hire
Hire a board or a lounger

Check out one of the 15 rock pools along the northern beaches.

Shopping in manly

The strip of shops that line the Corso from the wharf to be beach offers a huge variety of goods. Everything from surfwear to fishing gear and high-end fashion to the latest bestsellers can be picked up on your way to the beach.

There is a supermarket and a bottle shop that are handy for putting together an impromptu picnic. All up there are 200 shops along the Corso and surrounding streets so if you fancy some shopping or window shopping on your day out to Manly you won’t be disappointed.

The Corso in Manly was named after Rome’s Via Del Corso

On weekends the markets are held in Market Place which runs parallel to the Corso.

Weekend Market Manly
The Markets are held Saturday and Sunday
 

Where to eat in Manly

With over 120 cafes and restaurants to choose from finding something to eat here is both super easy and super hard, depending on how you respond to all that choice! If I have too many places to choose from I suffer from decision paralysis lol, so just in case any of you do too I have shortlisted 10 options. These are my favourite Manly restaurant.

The Bower is opposite Fairy Bower Rock Pool and has great coffee.

Our favourite spots for breakfast in Manly.

  • The Bower – Love this cafe overlooking Fairy Bower pool, a great spot for people-watching, good coffee and if you are there for breakfast the coconut bircher is a favourite.
  • Ruby Lane – Our favourite breakfast spot for healthy options – off the main area but worth the walk. A good option when on the way back from the walk to Queenscliff.
  • Rollers Bakehouse – Great place for gathering a breakfast picnic
  • Bella Vista Cafe  – Perfect spot for breakfast after a hike around North Head
The view from Bella Vista Cafe at North Head is hard to beat

Our top choices for lunch in Manly

  • The Pantry – The views don’t get much better, I prefer their lunch menu and don’t skip dessert, share a portion of Banoffee Pie.
  • The Boathouse – Fish n chips, burgers and several salad options plus pavlova for dessert.
  • Manly Wine – Oysters and sparkling wine, fish n chips and a good plant-based range of options. Hard to be disappointed here.
  • Fika Kitchen – Serve an all-day Swedish style breakfast menu with a strong seafood focus and a delicious watermelon Chia pudding.
Manly Wharf Hotel
Manly Wharf has some awesome daily specials

Our top choices for dinner in Manly

  • Sunset Sabi – Izakaya style bar and dining, fun spot, not great for a quiet chat
  • Queen Chow – Old school Cantonese food right on the wharf.
  • Manly Wharf Hotel – Great water views and excellent specials – plus a quick run to the ferry home.

Where to drink in Manly

The 16ft Skiff Club on Manly Cove.

North Steyne – Something for everyone with an old school pub on the outside and ground floor, funky new rooftop area above.
Hemmingways – If you like to drink surrounded by books and with an ocean view this is your place.
4 Pines Brewing Company – This local brewing company
Manly Wine – with ocean views and a great list of sparkling wines and champagnes this is the perfect spot to rest your feet for a while.

Looking for the best Fish n chips in Manly? Head to Fishmongers, grab some takeaway and eat on the beach

Where to sleep in Manly

All the usual options with hotels, vacation properties via Airbnb and Stayz and hostels on offer. We think the best Manly accommodation is an apartment, the lifestyle suits apartment properties with facilities to laundries for washing swim gear 🙂

Airbnb Manly

Manly has some great Airbnb properties from a rooftop glamping tent to a garden oasis with a private plunge pool and lots of large family-sized homes.

Manly hotels

The Sebel Sydney Manly Beach Hotel

Only a 5 minute walk from the ferry wharf and directly opposite Manly Beach the Sebel is a great choice. You are in walking distance to shops and cafes and only a few minutes from some of our favourites, Manly Wine, The Bower and The Boathouse. Family rooms are available.

We have stayed here and really enjoyed both the location and the service. We had an apartment and found it very hard to leave!

Location: 8-13 South Steyne, Manly
Room types: studio and one-bedroom apartments can accommodate a max of 4 people
Facilities:  2 swimming pools and a spa pool, a handy guest laundry
Tips: Request a room in the north tower, they have been refurbished and also offer the best views.

Check the latest photos and reviews on TripAdvisor or Check the latest prices

Novotel Manly

The Novotel is also directly opposite the beach and has recently been refurbished. The high floor balcony rooms would be my first choice, lovely views and ocean breezes.

Location: 55 North Steyne Road, Manly,
Room types: studio and one and two-bedroom apartments 1-4 guests.
Facilities: Roof top swimming pool

Check the reviews and photos on  TripAdvisor or Check the latest prices

Quest Manly at the Wharf

Unlike the two above the Quest faces the harbour beaches and the wharf. apartments here are bright and sunny with great harbour views. A great choice if you are planning on self-catering as there is a supermarket across the road.

Location: 54a West Esplanade, Manly
Room types: studio and one and two-bedroom apartments with full size kitchen and laundry
Facilities: small gym, guest laundry, spacious living area
Tips: Request an upper floor for less traffic noise.

Read reviews on check photos on TripAdvisor or check the latest prices for Quest Manly

Want to decide yourself if Manly to Bondi is Sydney’s best beach? Check out our Bondi Guide before you visit.

Want more ideas for exploring Sydney? Join our Sydney Expert Facebook Group where you can ask questions to help you plan your visit to Sydney.

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8 thoughts on “A Guide to the Best Things to Do in Manly”

  1. I love the Manly ferry, such a Sydney institution but it’s true once there I usually just go the beach and not much more so it’s good to get other ideas.

    Reply
  2. Very timely as I head to Sydney next week. I have been to Manly several times but never really “got” it. I love the idea of the walks though so will be rereading beforehand! And you can’t beat the views from the ferry!

    Reply
  3. We did the coastal walk to Manly and ate the most delicious ice cream! We didn’t really get to explore though, time was short. I’d love to return and now we have the perfect guide! Thank you so much for this, really informative.

    Reply

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