Of course there's no getting away from the lure of the beach here. While some cities struggle to balance urban surroundings with genuinely appealing seaside areas, Sydney's beaches blend perfectly into the city. In fact, they're an integral part of it and, like neighbourhoods, each beach has its own character – whether you're keen for a surf or a run along the beachfront, want to get some sun or fancy a quieter spot to relax, Sydney has more than enough beach to go around.
If you only visit one beach in Sydney… Actually, Sydney has prettier beaches. It has quieter ones too. But they're just not Bondi Beach. The whole suburb of Bondi is geared around the beach, so it's extremely well set-up for sunbathers and surfers alike. You'll often see pros out in the water, and in the summer Bondi gets reliable small swell that's ideal for beginners. Sydney's cafe culture is well-represented here too, and there's a general buzzy feeling from the beach to the strip that perfectly encapsulates what life in Sydney is all about – making the most of your surroundings.
Away from the big names you can find plenty of quieter beaches around Sydney. If you want a little peace and quiet, try Milk Beach in the suburb of Vaucluse. Outside the CBD, it's a small strip of white sand and clear water. Best of all, it faces straight towards Sydney Harbour Bridge for a spectacular view of the harbour. From the CBD take the 324 bus to the stop at New South Head Road and Clairvaux Road (about 30 minutes from the CBD) – Milk Beach is just under 10 minutes' walk from here.
A visit to the northern suburb of Manly is as much about the journey as the destination. The trip on the much-loved Manly Ferry from Circular Quay to Manly is one of those rare experiences that's equally popular with locals and visitors alike – it's an institution, and a real must-do in Sydney. Manly is the archetypal beachside suburb; with modern-Aussie cafes and buskers on the Corso (Manly's main strip), and a laidback atmosphere. And despite the beach's famous name, it's fairly quiet during the week. All-round, it's an excellent spot for enjoying all the best parts of Sydney's active outdoor lifestyle, from sunbathing on the beach to stand-up paddle-boarding in the North Harbour.
Whether you're a diehard sailor, a swimmer or just fancy dipping a toe, as well as a major world city, Sydney is a bona fide water sports destination. The calm waters of the harbour make it perfect for exploring the city by kayak, and there are several companies around the city where you can rent a kayak or take a guided tour, such as Sydney Harbour Kayaks. If you're a keen swimmer, the Iceberg Club's pool at Bondi is a local legend, looking straight onto the ocean. If you want to venture a little further, Sydney by Sail offers a huge range of sailing experiences, from full-on yachting courses to leisurely cruises and daily three-hour trips that combine a taster sailing session with a sightseeing tour around Sydney Harbour.
Back on land, Sydney is a city that needs to be explored on foot. Five minutes from Circular Quay and the CBD, the Rocks neighbourhood is Sydney's historic heart and the prettiest, most atmospheric part of the city. It has an unfair reputation as a tourist precinct, and is well worth a wander for its frequent street markets and disctinctive sandstone buildings. You can also learn abour aboriginal culture and history here with the Rocks Dreaming Aboriginal Heritage Tour.
The Lord Nelson Hotel is one of the oldest pubs in Sydney, and the country's oldest brewpub, making its own beers on site. A proper craft brewery, the Lord produces some of the best beer in Sydney and is well worth a visit for an excellent drink in a venue with character. Its restaurant also does excellent modern-Australian gastropub food.
On the other side of Circular Quay from the Rocks is the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney – the oldest botanic garden and scientific institution in Australia. If you're keen to learn about the garden and get some fresh air, the daily guided walks provide an interesting insight into both the plants and the history of the place. But it's also a great place to sit and relax if you need a break in this most active of cities.