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, both regionally and globally. Offering an endless array of beaches, parks and other recreational activities, it is consistently ranked among the most livable cities in the world for years now. 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, perhaps most reflected in its culinary scene. Bestowed with all of those virtues, it is no wonder that the city draws millions of visitors every year. Luckily, away from the tourist-infested attractions, there are also plenty of lesser-known places to explore, including the following 8 places.

1. Visit the City’s Non-Famous Bridges

Often regarded as the city’s most recognizable landmark after the whimsically designed 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 invariably overshadowed by their more famous counterpart.

 

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 structure was initially 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 a nearby bridge and following twenty years of disuse, eventually converted into a pedestrian footway while still retaining its quaint 19th century appearance.

 

Likewise, 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, a testament not only to engineering prowess, but also for pioneering planning process which involved the use of sophisticated computer software. The bridge features two narrow walkways on both sides, offering plenty of sweeping views of Sydney skyline.

 

Linking the suburbs of Rozelle with Drummoyn, the Iron Cove Bridge is yet another heritage-listed bridge over the Parramatta River. It comprises 7 steel Pratt truss spans and plate girders, adorned with art-deco elements from WW2.


2. Manly Scenic Walkway

The intricate coastline of Sydney is replete with gobs of coves and scenic points, often attracting throngs of locals and tourists. However, away from the crowds are also lesser visited parts just waiting to be discovered. chief among them is the section between Spit Bridge and Manly Walk, also known as Manly Scenic Walkway.

 

Starting at Ellery’s Punt Reserve, the hiking trail comprises two main segments, spanning a total of 19 Kilometers, with its first and main part stretching roughly 10 kilometers from Spit Bridge to Manly.

What makes this scenic walk particularly impressive is its sheer diversity of landscapes and sights, ranging from endemic thicket, a series of striking promontories and an esplanade that runs next to the lavish mansions of the city’s well-heeled.

 

Along the walkway, one can also find a hefty number of Aboriginal sites, including a small cave shelter and a shell midden at Bradys Point, where bones, shells, organic waste and charcoal were all once discarded.

 

However, it is the Aboriginal Rock Engravings in Grotto Point that truly reign supreme, renowned for their abstract figures of local animals, and the nearby lighthouse that perches atop a cape as it overlooks Sydney Bay.

 

As Manly walkway meanders past several secluded beaches and coves (Washaway Beach and Shell Cove standing out as particularly tranquil spots), remember to pack your swimsuit if you’re keen on taking a refreshing dip in the bay waters or soaking up the Australian sun.


3. Green Square Library

Built in 2018 at the Sydney’s suburb of Zetland, Green Square Library far-exceeds the role of a book depository, with a vast community center operating within its confines.

 

The complex stands out for lying almost entirely beneath the street level, with a bustling plaza spanning over its silent areas. Despite its unusual whereabouts, the 3,000 m2 library is well lit by more than 40 walkable skylights and a circular garden carved out of the surrounding public square.

 

While the library sits mostly underground, it has two protruding elements that make it noticeable from afar – a triangular entrance pavilion with a trendy café and a 6-story building with reading rooms featuring colorful bookshelves, a music room and a tech laboratory.

Green Square Library's circular garden and six story building

photography by: Robert Montgomery


4. Mill Stream Lookout

Frequented by more than 40 million passengers annually, Sydney Airport is by far the busiest across Oceania, serving as a gateway for the entire region. Most of us might regard airports simply as an entry point to a foreign country, yet for enthusiastic plane spotters, watching landings and take-offs is a way of life.

 

Nevertheless, one doesn’t have to be an ardent spotter to appreciate Mili Stream Lookout near Port Botany. This scenic observatory was constructed in 2009 on the northeastern side of Botany Bay, a vantage point that offers a remarkably close view of planes arriving and departing from Sydney International Airport.

 

Designed by Chrofi, a local architecture firm, the lookout features a wooden deck and a rusty handrail manufactured at a local 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 is nestled along Foreshore Beach, a vestige of a land reclamation project created during the construction of the close-by Port Botany seaport.

A Qantas airplane about to take off from Sydney Airport

photography by: Simon_sees


5. Shark Island

Jutting out of Sydney Harbour’s waters, Shark Island, known by its Aboriginal name of Boambilly, is an unassuming speck of land that rarely gets a lot of outside visitors. Formerly home to an animal quarantine facility and a naval storage depot, the island is now part of Sydney Harbour National Park, solely designated as a recreational area.

 

The 240-meter-long isle is only 80 meters at its widest point, making it a claustrophobia-inducing place with no roads, buildings, shops or any other amenity. What this pint-sized islet does have is a medley of grassy lawn with picnic tables, a smattering of endemic trees and a garden gazebo.

 

The true charm of this this place lies in the sheer contrast between its sense of remoteness and the surrounding views of downtown Sydney, where millions of people live, work and commute.

 

Curiously, the island owes its name to the shape rather than any abnormal presence of sharks. With that said, a famous Australian rules footballer called 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 taking place 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


6. Watsons Bay

Outlined by tens of inlets, forelands and islands, Sydney Harbour is accessible only through 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 narrow headland on which Watson Bay perches is home to numerous scenic points and historic monuments, all of which make this coastal suburb a stunning 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, fatal accidents were a thing of the norm as vessels regularly crashed into the rocky coastline. It was for this reason that the iconic red and white striped Hornby Lighthouse was constructed on the precipice of the cape, saving countless lives ever since.

 

The heritage-listed lighthouse commands views of both the Pacific Ocean and Sydney Harbour, making its surroundings an ideal spot for ocean gazing.

 

Thanks to its strategic location, Watson Bay has been the site of a significant military presence over the years. In fact, South Head is dotted with a number of well-preserved WW2 gun emplacements, as well as the current location of a Royal Australian Navy Base, just a couple of meters shy of a nudist beach teeming with clothless sunbathers.


7. Lane Cove Walkways

Running across Sydney’s northwestern metropolitan area, the Lane Cove River gradually turns into a ria, dominated by salt marshes that regularly fluctuate according to ocean-tide patterns.

 

To better preserve its landscape and unique ecosystem, the area was declared a national park in 1938 by the local government. Comprises a narrow sliver of bushland and forest, Lane Cove National Park coexists harmoniously with its urban surrounding as evident by the many intriguing spots where the park meets the city.

 

One of which is Clifford Love Bridge, a 150-meter-long pedestrian walkway astride the Lane Cove River, from where one can have a glimpse of a rather unusual sight – the industrial enclave of the National Starch Factory engulfed by the surrounding woods.

 

Due to the estuary’s salty water, extensive parts of the park are covered by mangroves, as they are one of only few tree species that manage to cope with the place’s high levels of salinity. Accessible by a series of boardwalks, the mangrove shrubland teems with life, with kookaburras, brush-turkeys, rainbow lorikeets, lace monitors, and mud-crabs making it their home.

A Cockatoo in Lane Cove National Park

photography by: prelude2000


8. Lillypilly Waterfall

A mere short distance away from the aforementioned national park lies another forested getaway with nearly identical name. Brimming with myriads of native species of fauna and flora, Lane Cove Bushland Park is a green strip of rainforest along the Gore Creek, sandwiched between several suburban neighborhoods.

 

It is here that one can find possums, Australian king parrots, crimson rosellas and countless native trees. What truly sets this protected area apart, though, is its hodgepodge of rare fungi, one of which, Hygrocybe lanecovensis, exists only here.

 

In addition to its diverse wildlife, the reserve is home to a glut of rock formations, secret passages and even a muddy secluded cove. Well-ensconced amid the wooded enclave is also a small cascade, reminiscent of postcard-like scenery.

 

Named after an endemic flowering tree that thrives throughout the area, Lillypilly Waterfall is only a couple of meters tall, but what it lacks in size and power, it makes up for in a downstream pool, where visitors can wade during the scorching summer months.

 

The waterfall is easily accessible by a hiking trail and a mossy staircase, situated just south of River Road.

The thick woodland of Lane Cove Bushland Park

photography by: Poyt448 Peter Woodard