8 Hidden Gems and Non-Touristy Things to See in Sydney

The Grotto Point Lighthouse

photography by: Doug Beckers

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The largest metropolis in New South Wales, Australia and Oceania, Sydney is a major economic and cultural hub, regionally and globally. Offering an endless array of beaches, parks and other recreational activities, therefore, it’s not difficult to understand why for the past decade, the city is always ranked among the most livable cities in the world. Sydney’s prosperity and laid back vibes serve as a magnet for immigrants, so much so, that roughly 45% of its residents are foreign-born, making it a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, well reflected in every facet of the city, albeit most notably in its insanely diverse culinary scene. Bestowed with all of those virtues, the city draws an incredible amount of tourists, flooding its streets and most picturesque sites, and while skipping Sydney’s main attractions is out of the question, there’s no shortage of adorable and lesser known places to visit, so let's delve into eight of which.

Visit the City’s Non-Famous Bridges

Often regarded as the city’s most recognizable landmark after the whimsically shaped Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge is the world’s tallest through arch bridge, proudly revered by Australians as a national symbol.
Given its fame, Sydney’s lesser-known bridges are usually overshadowed by their alpha-bridge, skipped by the majority of travelers, at least as pedestrians or cyclists.

 

Originally constructed as a railway bridge in 1886, the Parramatta River Bridge was a part of the Main Northern railway line across New South Wales, linking Sydney and Brisbane. The wrought iron lattice girder bridge was manufactured in England and then shipped to Australia, where it was reassembled as a railway bridge over the Parramatta River between the suburbs of Rhodes and Meadowbank. In 1980, it was replaced by an adjacent parallel bridge that was named after the original bridge’s engineer, John Whitton. Following twenty years of disuse, the bridge was eventually transformed into a pedestrian bridge and a cycleway with its marvelous 19th century characteristics still very much apparent.

The Parramatta River Bridge's pedestrian walkway

photography by: JROBBO


Like the aforementioned cycleway, Gladesville Bridge also crosses the Parramatta River, providing a transportation link between Sydeny’s satellite towns of Drummoyne and Huntleys Point. Completed in 1964, it was the longest concrete arch bridge in the world at that time, venerated not only for the engineering achievement and awe-inspiring design but also for being the first bridge that its planning process involved the use of sophisticated computer software. Gladesville bridge has two narrow walkways at both sides, offering some stunning views of Sydney skyline and the famous Harbour Bridge.

Gladesville Bridge as it seen from downward perspective

photography by: Simon_sees


Linking the suburbs of Rozelle with Drummoyn, the Iron Cove Bridge is another spectacular heritage-listed bridge over the Parramatta River, consisting of 7 steel Pratt truss spans and plate girders. Interestingly, since the bridge was designed in the midst of WW2, it features art-deco elements of that time despite the fact it was actually built few years after the war. Together with a parallel and more recent bridge, it doesn’t serve a vehicular road alone, but also as a cyclists and pedestrian walkway, accompanied by expansive vistas of the Parramatta River and Sydney downtown.


Manly Scenic Walkway

The convoluted coastline around Sydney is home to dozens of charming coves and scenic points, yet none are as both remarkable and sparsely visited at the same time as Spit Bridge to Manly Walk, also known as Manly Scenic Walkway.

 

Starting at Ellery’s Punt Reserve, the hiking trail actually consists of two part, amounting to 19 Kilometers, while its first and main segment, from Spit Bridge to Manly is roughly 10 kilometers.
What makes this scenic walk so incredible is its sheer diversity of landscapes and sights along the way, alternating between endemic thicket, beachfront promenade peppered with millionaires’ homes and formidable promontories with expansive views.

A panoramic view of North Head and Crater Bay from one of Manly Scenic walk's lookouts


The walkway is abundant with Aboriginal places of significance, most notably a small cave shelter and a shell midden at Bradys Point that served as a landfill by the aboriginal tribes in the region, where bones, shells, organic waste and charcoal were all discarded. However, its most impressive indigenous site is by far the Aboriginal Rock Engravings in Grotto Point, featuring abstract figures of local animals.
Furthermore, Grotto is also renowned for its whitish lighthouse, perching on the edge of a cape while overlooking Sydney bay.

 

Besides the many archaeological spots, Manly walkway passes along a handful of secluded beaches and coves, of which Washaway Beach and Shell Cove being the least crowded, so don’t forget your swimsuit if you wish to dip in the bay waters or bask under the Aussie sun.
As the name suggests, Manly Scenic Walkway has plenty of lookouts and scenic points, all offer stunning views of the forested area, the rocky coastline, the golden beaches and even a glimpse of Sydney’s iconic skyscrapers.

Manly Scenic walkway along the coastline

photography by: Kim


Green Square Library

Since the dawn of modern civilizations, libraries were always considered as a public institution where one would expand his or her knowledge about a broad range of fields. Nowadays, in an era where all the information is available online, libraries developed into far more than just a giant collection of books.

 

Built in 2018 at the Sydney’s suburb of Zetland, the Green Square Library accurately matches the above description, as it serves not only as a library but also as a community center for the country’s largest urban renewal area.

Unlike conventional libraries, it lies almost fully underground, forming a rich public plaza above it that is regularly flocked by Zetland’s local residents. Despite its location beneath the street level, the 3,000 sqm library is well lit by more than 40 walkable skylights and a circular garden pierced out of the public square.

 

While the vast majority of the library’s space sits under the plaza, it has two protruding elements that make it a local landmark, a triangular entrance pavilion with a fashionable café and a 6-story slender building with reading rooms adorned with a giant colorful bookshelf, a music room and even a tech laboratory overlooking the square.

Even if you aren’t a big fan of books, the library provides an unmissable spatial experience and a fascinating glance into the lives of local Sydneysiders.

Green Square Library's circular garden and six story building

photography by: Robert Montgomery


Mill Stream Lookout

With over 40 million passengers annually, Sydney Airport is by far Oceania’s busiest airport, serving as a gateway for the whole region. While the majority of us might regard airports simply as an entry point to a foreign country, some airplane enthusiasts can spend hours on spotting take-offs and landings of commercial flights.

 

Nevertheless, you don’t have to be a dedicated airplane spotter in order to appreciate Mili Stream Lookout near Port Botany. This scenic observatory was constructed in 2009 on the northeastern side of Botany Bay, where it’s possible to witness a rare and close perspective of planes making their way in and out of Sydney International Airport.

 

Designed by Chrofi, a local architecture firm, the lookout consists of a wooden deck and a rusty handrail that was fully manufactured at a steel factory using a complex 3D program. The handrail lean inwards, mimicking the shape of a ship’s bow.

 

Easily accessible via a nearby parking lot, the lookout perches on the edge of Foreshore Beach, an artificially made beach that was created as a result of a land reclamation that took place during the construction of the adjacent Port Botany seaport. If you made it all the way here, there isn’t a better way to conclude your visit than spotting landing planes while sunbathing under the Australian sun.

A Qantas airplane about to take off in Sydney Airport

photography by: Simon_sees


Shark Island

Jutting out of Sydney Harbour’s waters, Shark Island, also known by its local Aboriginal name as Boambilly, is an exceptional kind of hideaway that is rarely visited by foreign travelers. Its miniscule size of roughly of 100X250 meters makes the island practically uninhabitable, lacking any roads, cars, buildings, shops and almost anything else that constitutes our modern life.

 

Formerly home to an animal quarantine facility and a naval storage depot, the island is now part of the Sydney Harbour National Park, solely designated as a recreational area. The tiny isle is ideal for picnics, as it’s mostly covered by lawns and a handful of endemic trees, while also bestowed with a quaint garden gazebo. However, what makes this place particularly attractive is the sheer contrast between the sense of remoteness the island offers and the far-reaching views of Sydney’s skyline, including the iconic Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

 

Interestingly, the island’s name derives from its shape and doesn’t reflect any kind of irregular presence of sharks, yet a famous Australian rules footballer named George Coulthard almost lost his life here after a shark attacked his docking boat.

 

The Shark Island is accessible by a regular ferry service that costs 20 AUD for adults and 17AUD for children and includes the island’s landing fee. Take note that there isn’t any commercial activity on the island, therefore, you’ll need to bring your own water, food and any other thing you might need during your stay.

The Shark Island on the backdrop of Sydney iconic skyline

photography by: russellstreet


Watsons Bay

Outlined by tens of inlets, forelands and islands, Sydney Harbour is surprisingly only accessible via a small mouth, lying between the north and south heads, the latter of which is the tip of one of Sydney’s well-kept secrets, Watsons Bay suburb.
The slender headland on which Watson Bay perches is home to numerous scenic points and historic monuments, all of which makes this coastal suburb an incredibly breathtaking place to explore.

 

Since the establishment of Sydney in the 18th century, ships from England and all over the world entered the city through the narrow passage between the two headlands. Prior to the advent of sonar and radar, several ships crashed into Watson Bay’s rocky coastline, resulting in fatal accidents that ultimately ceased following the construction of the iconic red and white striped Hornby Lighthouse. The heritage-listed lighthouse elegantly sits on a promontory, overlooking both the Pacific Ocean and Sydney Harbour, making it the perfect spot for ocean gazing.

Hornby Lighthouse and expansive views around it


Notoriously known for being a ship graveyard, where most of the mentioned above tragedies occurred, the Gap Bluff is a promontory south of Hornby, that besides its grim role as a ship annihilator also has one of Sydney’s most awe-inspiring vistas. The Gap’s stunning views are accessible by a network of walkways that meander along its rim, culminating in several lookouts that will leave even the most experienced vacationists jaw-dropped.

 

Watson Bay’s strategic location has been translated to a significant military presence over the years, evidently, South Head is home to several well-preserved WW2 gun emplacements and the current location of the Royal Australian Navy Base of HMAS Watson. Hilariously, facing the military facility is a secluded nudist beach teeming with clothless sunbathers.

Sydney's Gap Bluff

photography by: prelude2000


Lane Cove Walkways

Streaming through Sydney’s northwestern metropolitan area, the Lane Cove river gradually turns into a ria, dominated by salt marshes and dramatically affected by ocean-tide patterns.
This submerged estuary’s natural features and unique ecosystem were recognized by the local government which declared it as a national park in 1938.

 

Interestingly, the Lane Cove National Park is a narrow strip of bushland and forested area along both banks of the river, coexisting harmoniously with its urban surrounding, in fact, there are several ultra-intriguing spots where the park meets the city. One of those interesting places is Clifford Love Bridge, a 150-meter-long pedestrian walkway over the Lane Cove River and the National Starch Factory, offering an unusual panoramic view of a forested bank facing an industrial riverfront.

 

Due to the estuary’s salty water, extensive parts of Lane Cove National Park are dominated by mangroves, as they are one of only few tree species that are able to cope with high levels of salinity. The Lane Cove Valley Walk provides a rare opportunity to walk through a mangrove shrubland and experience first hand the exceptional and environmentally indispensable ecosystem. The mangrove forest is brimming with life, including Kookaburras, brush-turkeys, Rainbow lorikeet, lace monitors and most notably a lot of mud-crabs.

 

Take note that the mangrove forest and other parts throughout Long Cove are easily walkable thanks to a series of elevated wooden pathways.

A Cockatoo in Lane Cove National Park

photography by: prelude2000


Lillypilly Waterfall

As you’ve probably concluded by now, Sydney and its surroundings are peppered with hidden natural gems, therefore, it won’t come as a surprise that the suburb of Lane Cove has another spectacular forested getaway to explore.
Lane Cove Bushland Park, not to be confused with the aforementioned national park, is a protected area teeming with myriads of endemic species.

 

This green strip of rainforest along the Gore Creek is tucked away between several suburban neighborhoods and is abundant with interesting and charming places, including rock formations, secret passages and even a muddy secluded cove.

 

The reserve is home to a surprisingly diverse wildlife, ranging from possums to Australian king parrots, crimson rosellas and countless native trees. Nevertheless, it’s particularly renowned for its rare fungus, one of which, Hygrocybe lanecovensis, exists only here.

 

Yet, perhaps the Lane Cove Bushland Park’s main appeal and apex is Lillypilly Waterfall. Named after an endemic flowering tree that is abundant throughout the area, the waterfall is just south of River Road, and accessible via a mossy staircase. After rainy days, the downstream pool around the waterfall gets full, becoming best-suited for any hiker who wish to have a unique swimming experience in the middle of an urban rainforest.

The thick woodland of Lane Cove Bushland Park

photography by: Poyt448 Peter Woodard