It may seem hard to leave Sydney's attractions and sights, but when the urge arises to explore beyond the city, many exceptional day trips await travelers. Consider spending a day exploring some of Australia's most scenic parks and dramatic vistas in the Blue Mountains, or head to Manly Beach -- home to some of Australia's sexiest beach bums and surfers. Political and arts aficionados will enjoy time spent in the nation's capital, Canberra, while foodies can dazzle their taste buds with a trip to some of Australia's best vineyards in Hunter Valley. From the great outdoors to cultural icons and adventures, we've lined up the best day trips from Sydney.
Just 90 minutes west of Sydney, the Blue Mountains boast some of Australia's most verdant scenery and have long been a popular day trip for both Sydneysiders and tourists. The region's tree-covered mountains and steep gorges are often swathed in a blue haze -- hence the name "Blue Mountains" -- caused by a mist of evaporating oil from the area's numerous eucalyptus trees. Visitors to the region can expect stunning views of the World Heritage Site's wilderness, including Bridal Veil Falls, the region's most striking waterfalls; the Three Sisters, enormous sandstone pillars; as well as hiking trails (called "bushwalking" trails Down Under) and even a gum tree forest. The region is best explored from either the town of Katoomba, the region's largest town and home to Echo Point lookout and views of the Sisters, or Blackheath, a tinier village located at the 3,500-foot summit of the mountains and in proximity to hiking trails and Govett's Leap lookout. Reach the Blue Mountains by car, driving west on Parramatta Road to the M4 Motorway, or take a train from Sydney's Central Railway Station to the Blackheath or Katoomba railway stations.
Hunter Valley Vineyards and Wine Tasting
Hunter Valley, Australia's oldest commercial wine-producing region since the 1800's, makes for a lovely day trip from Sydney, allowing visitors to tour vineyards and taste the locally produced wines, such as Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Muscat, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Just a 2-hour drive north from Sydney, the Lower Hunter Valley is home to some 100-plus vineyards scattered around the towns of Cessnock and Pokolbin. The Upper Hunter Valley gives off a more rustic vibe, with a bushland landscape and vineyards that produce varieties such as Rieslings and tramingers. Choosing which vineyards to visit can be overwhelming; seek out ones that offer tours and tastings, such as Tyrell's Wines, First Creek Wines or McGuigan Wines. Remember: planning a full day of tastings means not planning on driving. The local tourism center offers information about organized tours to the region, including horse drawn carriage and helicopter tours.
One of Sydney's most rewarding day trips, a jaunt to Manly Beach allows visitors a 30-minute ride on the Manly Ferry through Sydney Harbor and past the city's scenic waterfront with sights including the Sydney Opera House (photos ops galore!), until arriving at Manly Wharf, a bustling collection of shops and eateries and only a 10-minute walk to Manly's main stretch of glorious, sun-drenched beach. Manly is like Baywatch, Aussie-style; the sand is littered with seemingly endless clusters of gorgeous people in skimpy swimsuits sunbathing, swimming and surfing the incredible waves. The Corso, or the pedestrian-only walkway leading from the Wharf to the beach, is lined with shops, bars and restaurants -- try the fish 'n chips at one of the ubiquitous vendors -- as is the Esplanade in front of the beach. If plopping down on the sand for an afternoon isn't your speed, hit up a surf lesson at the renowned Manly Surf School, or check out Oceanworld, an aquarium with sharks, sea turtles and tropical fish that also lets visitors dive with sharks.
Designed -- ironically -- by a Chicago-based architect in 1911, Australia's capital city, Canberra, provides an interesting day trip for visitors to experience the geometric circles and axes of streets and gardens that comprise the city's structure. While many lovers of city planning and architecture visit the city to experience its unique urban design, many others come to delve into Canberra's vibrant museums, including the National Museum of Australia, which offers an extraordinary overview of more than 50,000 years of indigenous culture, the National Gallery of Australia, filled with the largest collection of indigenous art in the world, and the National Film and Sound Archive, which houses a collection of Australian television, film and radio exhibitions. Political junkies will also enjoy a trip to the capital, as it is home to Australia's National Archives, the collection of all government records. The Parliament House, which sits atop Capital Hill, houses an extensive collection of art and is open to the public for tours. Canberra is a 3 ½-hour drive south of Sydney, though Greyhound buses and the Countrylink train also run here from the city.
Meander your way through the string of waterfront towns like Shoal Bay and Anna Bay that line the 70-mile-long shoreline of spectacular Port Stephens Bay, making sure to stop in the region's hub, Nelson Bay, a tiny town with a lovely beachfront promenade, jetty, boutique shops and good dining. Amazingly, at 46 square miles, Port Stephen's Bay dwarfs the Sydney Harbor in size, and the surrounding region includes islands, a national park and waters that often come complete with sightings of dolphins and whales for the careful observer. Visitors to Nelson Bay can take advantage of one of the many dolphin or whale-watching tours offered from the waterfront, snorkel or dive off the beaches, or they may simply hop aboard the Port Stephens Ferry for an inexpensive way to view the scenic waterfront and environs. The bay is a 2 ½ - 3 ½-hour drive from Sydney, depending on where along the bay you wish to travel. Bus service from Sydney is also available and takes 3 ½ hours.