Welcome to one of the most impressive capital cities in the world! I always tell people that Melbourne is the girl you settle down with, but Sydney is the one you show off to your friends. It may be hectic and poorly planned, but it’s hard to compete with Sydney’s jaw-dropping Harbour and the expansive Royal National Park just south of the city. Plus—shameless plug—The Illawarra is only a short train ride away. Whenever a friend comes to visit Sydney, I always run an (unsolicited) variation of this tour, so, in no particular order, these are my favourite 12 things:

Update: Check out The Sydney Project, an entire section of my blog dedicated to activities in and around Sydney & the South Coast. It’s far more comprehensive than this list and includes detailed posts on where to get the best photos in Circular Quay, the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, the best Blue Mountains lookouts, and heaps more.

1.  Take the train to Circular Quay station, which is where you’ll see the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. I personally haven’t seen a show or a concert at the Opera House because I’m a poor student, but I hear it’s absolutely amazing.

2.  Take a ferry to Manly Beach. The ferry terminal is smack-bang in the middle of Circular Quay between the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. A ticket should cost about $8.

3.  Visit Opera House Bar, my favourite place to take out-of-towners for a drink. Expect to pay both arms and both legs for a cocktail ($20ish), but what you’re really paying for is the view, so it’s worth it.

4.  Explore The Rocks, a great area to the left of the ferry terminal, opposite the Opera House. I’m not an art museum person, but I still love the exhibits at the MCA here and this is my favourite restaurant for a classy dinner on the water.

5.   Also in The Rocks, pop into The Markets on Fri, Sat, Sun for really cool crafts and delicious food. Oh, and this Italian restaurant right near the markets (off the water) makes the best lasagne I’ve ever had.

6.  Climb the Pylon Lookout on the Bridge for stunning views of the Harbour that are 1/10th the cost of the Bridge Climb. As you can see from this photo, climbing ¼ of the way up the Bridge for $300 does not put you much higher than the top of the pylons! If you are laden with cash, though, I have heard that the Bridge Climb is super awesome.

7.  Take a hike through the Blue Mountains. About 2 hours west of Sydney, and super accessible by train from Central to Katoomba, the Blue Mountains boast amazing nature scenery and heaps of great trails. If you have a car, explore beyond the main touristy bits and see Wentworth Falls, the Megalong Valley, Mt. Victoria, and Lithgow for more mountain fun. See more of my Blue Mountains photos here.

8.  Take the train from Central to Coalcliff for about $5 (get an Opal card) and walk 15min to Sea Cliff Bridge. I have been seeing this all over instagram lately, so I’m always super eager to tell people that I live about 20min from here. Not bad, eh? While you’re in the area, you could also visit the amazing Bald Hill in Stanwell Tops or hike Wodi Wodi Track for unparalleled views of the South Coast.

9.  Take a train to Helensburg (40min south) to visit Symbio Wildlife Park, where you can cuddle koalas and feed kangaroos! The most cliché thing to do in Australia as a tourist, but it is 100% worth it, so no shame. Taronga Zoo in northern Sydney is also said to be one of the greatest zoos ever, but I get a bit depressed looking at all the animals in cages, so I definitely prefer the nature parks and sanctuaries that let the animals roam free a bit more.

10.  Attend a courtyard party at The Ivy or a rooftop pool party at Marco Polo to finish off your time in Sydney! (That’s me flapping my spaghetti arm at the stage in the bottom right.) Sydney’s nightlife may be in decline, but there is still fun to be had in the middle of the afternoon.

11.  Walk around Newtown, Sydney’s coolest neighbourhood (in my opinion). The rough-around-the-edges, alternative, very cultured vibe reminds me so much of Seattle’s Capital Hill, so I absolutely love just walking around King Street and poking my head in the shops.

12.  Trek along the Coastal Track in Royal National Park, just south of Sydney. The track is about 32km, so can be done either as a big day or as a two-day trip (camping at North Era in between). The hike is also easily accessible by public transport! If you’re coming from Sydney, take the train to Cronulla, take the short ferry to Bundeena, and walk 2km to the trailhead. You’ll finish the hike about 1km from Otford train station, where you can catch a train all the way back to Sydney. Read about my recent hike along the Coastal Track (1 day, woohoo).

Hopefully, you’ll be able to enjoy at least a couple of my top picks for Sydney! But, regardless, you’ll have an amazing time. It’s a beautiful place with thousands of things to do, I’m still discovering new favourites all the time.

Make sure to check out my other City Guides for more must-sees when travelling around Australia!