Cruising the Sights of Sydney Harbor

No trip to Australia would be complete without a visit to Sydney and its surrounding waters. Safely tucked away from the Tasman Sea, the city of Sydney circles Port Jackson, the official name for all of the harbors, coves, and the Parramatta River that flows through the area, including Sydney Harbor.

While I was only in Sydney for less than 48 hours, it was imperative to get a view of the harbor and to see the beautiful skyline and coastline from the water.

When visiting Sydney, there are numerous cruises that you can choose from to see the harbor. There are cruises with meals, afternoon tea, sunset cruises, tall ship cruises, hop-off hop-on cruises, and more. You can definitely find the cruise to best meet your family’s needs and schedule. I booked a tour through Trip Advisor for an afternoon coffee cruise (adult: $34 AUD) around Sydney Harbor, which consisted of a good 2 hours of sightseeing.

Sydney Harbor Cruise Australia
The top deck of our harbor cruise boat


The Cruise

At the Circular Quay docks, we hopped onto our afternoon cruise that would take us around the harbor. Our boat had an open deck on top with a few rows of seats. However, most available seating was inside on the other two levels.

Naturally, as soon as we left the dock, we turned towards the Sydney Opera House. EVERYONE on board was taking photos, so trying to capture a shot without a fellow tourist in it was extremely difficult. Upon seeing the opera house from the water, I realized then how different it looked from another angle. Not viewing it from above and actually seeing it from its less photographed side showcased a very different, yet pleasing view of this architectural icon.

Sydney Harbor Cruise Australia
The skyline of Sydney and the Sydney Opera House
Sydney Harbor Cruise Australia
Sunlight illuminates the windows of the Sydney Opera House

One of the most iconic and photographed world sights located in Sydney Harbor is the Sydney Opera House. It’s unique architecture and it’s stark white shells contrast the deep blues of the water.

Sydney Harbor Cruise Australia
Sydney Opera House

During our cruise, a crew member provided interesting commentary about the places around the harbor and shared stories about Sydney’s history.  Since we took an afternoon coffee cruise, tea, coffee and cookies were available on the main deck inside. The Sydney skyline proved to be a beautiful sight to see from the boat, with a great view of the opera house, its skyscrapers, and the historic Rocks district.

We passed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, saw million dollar homes, passed by a few small islands, and were able to see  the ‘fingers’ of land that reached out into the bay. We also saw several beaches, including the beach at Nielsen Park, Seven Shillings Beach, and Camp Cove Beach.

Our cruise headed towards the Tasman Sea (part of the South Pacific Ocean) and we were able to get a good view of South Head Park on Watson’s Bay, as well as the Hornby Lighthouse. Continuously used since the 1840’s, this red and white striped lighthouse is one of the oldest operating lighthouses in all of Australia. The tower and its beacon of light warn mariners of the rocks and welcome them into Sydney Harbor.

Sydney Harbor Cruise Australia
Looking back on Hornby Lighthouse while entering the open waters of the South Pacific Ocean

Once out of the harbor, our cruise turned around and headed back in. From afar, we could see parts of Manly and its beaches. We had great views all around as the weather was perfect, despite it being a little chilly. (I visited in June, during Australia’s winter.) Because of the chill in the air, I was surprised to see so many sailboats and windsurfers out on the bay. Many sailors were out on the water alone, getting jostled by the waves of the larger neighboring boats.

Sydney Harbor Cruise Australia
Heading back into the harbor
Sydney Harbor Cruise Australia
Lots of sailboats were out in Sydney harbor

At the end of our cruise, we coasted under the Sydney Harbor Bridge and were able to see the bridge in detail. The bridge has the nickname of “The Coathanger,” due to its arched design. Opened in 1932, this bridge carries pedestrians, cyclists, cars, as well as trains to the opposite side of the harbor. According to Wikipedia, the Sydney Harbor Bridge is “the sixth longest spanning-arch bridge in the world and the tallest steel arch bridge, measuring 134 meters (440 ft) from top to water level.” Many tourists love to climb the bridge. From $168-$403 AUD (adult), you can climb up part or all of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and get an amazing view of the harbor. Click here for more information.

Sydney Harbor Cruise Australia
A view from under the Sydney Harbor Bridge

After gazing upon the underside of the bridge, we sailed on and entered Lavender Bay. Luna Park Sydney was visible, with its Ferris Wheel on the water’s edge and its smiling front gate. Luna Park is a small amusement park that first opened in 1935, complete in the Art Deco style of that time period.  Surprisingly, I learned that Luna Park was built here in Sydney after the success of the first Luna Park, which opened in New York on Coney Island in 1903. After decades of changing lease holders, unsuccessful rebranding, and failed redevelopments, the park reopened in 2004.

Sydney Harbor Cruise Australia
Luna Park on the waterfront in Sydney

After exiting Lavender Bay, we headed back to the Circular Quay dock, getting another view of the underside of Sydney Harbor Bridge, nearby wharfs, and a view of the Rocks district.

Sydney Harbor Cruise Australia
The southern end of Sydney Harbor Bridge along with the nearby wharfs.


My Recommendations

Overall, I can say I enjoyed our sightseeing cruise and the views of Sydney. The coffee and tea portion of the cruise was average, with subpar beverages and only coconut macaroon cookies available. If you are in the middle or end of a long vacation or traveling with young children, this cruise can provide you and your family some down time among all of your traveling. It might even provide a good opportunity for a nap for some! If you’re visiting during Australia’s summer, be sure to pack a hat (with a strap!)and some sunscreen if you plan on being on the windy, open top deck of the boat.

For visitors with limited time in Sydney, this cruise provides a good opportunity to see a lot of sights in a limited time. Avoid the traffic, construction, and all the walking and hop on a cruise to see the beauty of the Sydney Harbor and downtown Sydney!

Happy Travels!



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