Scenic Sydney Ferries From Circular Quay

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Scenic Sydney Ferries From Circular Quay

The most beautiful way to see Sydney Harbour and one of the very best things to do in Sydney? Take a ferry trip from Circular Quay.

Don’t pay for sightseeing cruises in Sydney, because you can enjoy the same spectacular views from Sydney ferries, which count as public transport (and cost a fraction of what you pay for sightseeing cruises). The green-and-gold ferries are iconic, and all the routes start from the heart of Sydney: Circular Quay.

We moved to Sydney with a 3-year-old boy who’s obsessed with vehicles. Ferries quickly made it to the top of his list of favorites (though nothing can beat trains, haha), and we tried most of the ferry routes and made different combinations of them in the following year. I’m full of suggestions if you’re looking for scenic ferry trips in Sydney Harbour, and I’m sharing my favorites with you in this article.

ferry from Circular Quay, Sydney, Australia

leaving Circular Quay by ferry

First thing first: stay on the outer deck for the best views. If it’s a windy day, don’t forget your windbreaker. If it’s a hot summer day, you’ll be grateful for the breeze. If it’s a short winter day, you can enjoy wonderful sunset views from the ferry. A Sydney ferry trip is a great idea any time of the year.

TOP 3 Sydney ferries from Circular Quay

Short sightseeing route: Circular Quay to Pyrmont Bay

I know that when it comes to Sydney ferries, everyone talks about the Manly ferry first. But let me start with another one, because it’s the best if you’re looking for a short sightseeing ferry trip that connects the Opera House and the Royal Botanic Garden with Darling Harbour. This is the F4 service that connects Circular Quay with Barangaroo and Pyrmont Bay.

Sydney, Australia

You’ll sail under the Harbour Bridge and enjoy close views of the Sydney skyline and Darling Harbour from the water. While you can easily walk from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour through the central business district (CBD), I still recommend taking the ferry at least once, because it offers different views of the skyline: magical views from the water!

view from a Sydney ferry, Australia

National Maritime Museum, Sydney, Australia

views from the F4 ferry service from Circular Quay to Pyrmont Bay

Any of the stops along this ferry route offers great Sydney sightseeing attractions, too: Circular Quay, Milsons Point, McMahons Point, Barangaroo and Pyrmont Bay. From Circular Quay you can access the Opera House, the Royal Botanic Garden and The Rocks.

From Barangaroo Wharf you can walk to Barangaroo Reserve or take the paved walkway around Darling Harbour and via Pyrmont Bridge. Madame Tussauds Sydney and the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium are a few minutes walk from Barangaroo Wharf.

If you get off at Pyrmont Bay, you’ll be a few minutes walk from the entrance of the Australian National Maritime Museum and Pyrmont Bridge.

Milsons Point, Sydney, Australia

view from Milsons Point

Milsons Point Wharf along the way offers yet another perspective of Sydney downtown, and if you get off the ferry, you can walk to Olympic Park and the Broughton Street Lookout to enjoy more downtown views.

McMahons Point also has views of the Harbour Bridge and the CBD. From Henry Lawson Reserve and Blues Point Reserve you can enjoy views of the Opera House framed by the Harbour Bridge.

Harbour Bridge, Sydney, Australia

view from Blues Point Reserve

The traditional Manly ferry: Circular Quay to Manly

The ferry trip to Manly is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sydney. While I understand the reason – the ferry trip is very scenic and Manly is a nice beach neighborhood to visit -, most visitors don’t realize that there are many more beautiful ferry routes in Sydney Harbour.

But what does the Manly ferry offer? Views of all the iconic sights of Sydney Harbour: the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the skyline, Bradleys Head, South Head, Manly North Head, Dobroyd Head and Manly Cove.

Then you arrive at Manly Wharf which is a lively area, with two beaches on both sides of the wharf. The Corso starts right behind the wharf, it offers plenty of restaurants, takeaways and cafés, and it leads you all the way to Manly Beach.

Fairlight Walk, Manly, Sydney, Australia

If you prefer walking on the coast, take the Fairlight walk. This 1.5 km walk is on a paved pathway between Manly Wharf and Fairlight Beach.

The longest route: Circular Quay to Parramatta

The longest Sydney ferry route is the one from Circular Quay to Parramatta, from Sydney Harbour to the Parramatta River. The ferry ride itself is pleasant, and there are plenty of worthwhile stops along the way: Cockatoo Island, Sydney Olympic Park, Cabarita Park or Parramatta, Sydney’s second major residential and commercial hub. It’s not a typical Sydney Harbour ferry trip, because the harbour becomes a river as the journey progresses, but the views are still quite pretty and you pass lots of different waterfront neighborhoods.

Sydney, NSW, Australia

Visitors often only ride F3 to Cockatoo Island (it takes about 20 minutes). This is a UNESCO World-Heritage and National Heritage Listed island, but might not be on everyone’s bucket list. If you’re interested in convict history or the ship industry, it’ll keep you entertained for half a day. You can visit the island for free. Grab a map at the visitor center.

More scenic Sydney ferry trips

Circular Quay to Watsons Bay

The ferry to Watsons Bay is a beloved day trip of Sydneysiders, offering views of the CBD and the Harbour Bridge, then Bradleys Head, Rose Bay and Shark Island. You can combine taking this scenic ferry route with eating fish and chips at Watsons Bay, walking to Hornby Lighthouse, enjoying the dramatic views at The Gap or taking the Hermitage Foreshore Walk to Rose Bay.

Gap Lookout, Watsons Bay, Sydney

You find plenty of protected, calm harbour beaches reachable from the Watsons Bay Wharf, so don’t forget your swimsuits. My favorites are Camp Cove Beach, Parsley Bay Beach, Milk Beach and Queens Beach.

Circular Quay to Cremorne Point

Cremorne Point can be reached in 10 minutes by ferry, but what a picturesque 10 minutes that is! You’ll sail by the Opera House and enjoy views of the downtown and the Harbour Bridge all the way.

Cremorne Point, Sydney, Australia

view from the ferry towards Cremorne Point

Cremorne Point is a wonderful destination on its own, being home to one of the most beautiful walks in Sydney Harbour National Park. This easy 3 km foreshore circuit trail offers amazing views of Sydney Harbour and the city skyline, and serene Mosman Bay on the other side of the peninsula.

You don’t need a map, just join the waterfront walkway around the Cremorne Point peninsula anywhere. You can walk all the way to the tip of the peninsula, to Robertsons Point Lighthouse. Maccallum Seawater Pool is also an excellent secret stop for a quick swim on a hot summer day. This free ocean pool has the best views of the Sydney skyline.

Cremorne Point Walk, Sydney, Australia

view from the Cremorne Point walk

Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo

Taking the 12-minute ferry ride with the F2 service is a scenic way to get to Taronga Zoo. You’ll enjoy amazing views of Sydney Harbour with the downtown and the Harbour Bridge.

Taronga Zoo Wharf, Sydney, Australia

Taronga Zoo Wharf is conveniently located close to the lower entrance to the zoo, but it also gives access to the walk around Bradleys Head (which is part of the walk from Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach), or the track to Sirius Cove.

The 3.3 km Bradleys Head loop is one of the prettiest headland tracks in Sydney. It spoils you with wonderful views and requires little elevation gain, which makes it a great choice for visitors of any age. Athol Beach can be reached on a steeper side track along the way, and it’s a calm, sheltered harbour beach, great for swimming.

Bradleys Head, Sydney, Australia

view from the Bradleys Head walk

How much do you pay for Sydney ferries?

Not only do you enjoy fantastic views from the Sydney ferries, but they’re also surprisingly affordable. You can pay for any Sydney ferry (or any other form of public transport) with an Opal card or your credit card. Right, you just tap your credit card to the terminal, there’s no need to deal with coins, machines and tickets. You tap on before you board the ferry, and tap off once you get off. (The Manly service is an exception, there’s no need to tap off at the end. But this is signposted very clearly at the Manly Wharf.)

Sydney, Australia

The Opal card has a daily travel cap of less than $20 on weekdays and less than $10 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The same cap is applied if you pay by credit card. It means you can travel as much as you like on the metro, train, bus, ferry and light rail within the Opal network without paying more than the daily cap.

So what are you waiting for?

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Bea is a travel writer and the founder of NSW Footsteps, a blog about New South Wales travel, including bushwalking, hiking, canoeing, snorkeling and other outdoor adventures. She’s been traveling for more than 10 years, and she’s passionate about sharing all she has learned along the way. Moving to Australia was one of her big dreams, and now she continues exploring the world – and one of her favorite corners, New South Wales – from her Sydney base.