Since the 2000 Olympics, Sydney city has climbed in cost and faded from fashion. Still, the Australian city retains some formidable attractions – not least the world’ most attractive harbour network.
Any ride on a chunky green ferry integrated into the public transport system beats the bus by a mile.
Here are some classic mainstream and offbeat Sydney Harbour cruise rides. All 'launch' from the orbit of Circular Quay – the central harbour home of two top Sydney sights: the 'coathanger' bridge and the sail-inspired Opera House.
The Manly Ferry
Set 'seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care', Manly Harbour is the perfect jaunt. The 30-minute shuttle run there from Circular Quay is just long enough to inspire a sense of adventure, yet it's a breeze. The standard on-arrival ritual in Manly is just to eat fish and chips on the wharf. Another, more compelling reason to visit Manly is its gorgeous seawater swimming pool and elegant promenade reminiscent of a manicured English resort like Eastbourne. And yet, you are deep in the tropics. Manly is so-called because the native Guringai people, who had been there since the ice age, struck First Fleet commodore Captain Arthur Phillip as virile.
Despite its plain name, Watson's Bay has heaps of charm. A 17-minute ride from Circular Quay, the gentrified fishing village sprawls along the southern arm of Sydney harbour. On the seaward side of Watson's Bay stand foam-spattered cliffs, and on its harbour side coves and beaches. Watson's Bay's top attraction, the restaurant Doyle's, dishes up seafood so good that you may need to book (though the kiosk there both serves less fancy Doyle's dishes if you don't mind picnicking). Behind Doyles, you will find Watson's Bay Hotel harbourside beer garden and a quaint beach and lawn where visitors bask.
The largest island in Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo Island is a colonial throwback complete with a sandstone convict prison and shipbuilding heyday vestiges -- workshops, cranes, towers, dry docks and houses. Spooky like a ghost town yet raw. If you fancy staying the night, you can pitch a tent and camp.
Hop-on Hop-off Harbour Cruise
If you want to do a Sydney Harbour tour that offers a touch of latitude, why not take the kangaroo tack? The "hop-on hop-off harbour cruise" lets you visit stops including Darling Harbour, Circular Quay, Taronga Zoo, Watsons Bay and Luna Park. Disembark where you like, hang around as long as you please, then board another boat to reach your next destination. Every 45 minutes, hop-on boats leave Circular Quay and that inner-city boating hub Darling Harbour, taking in all the top harbourside sights. Selected cruises also stop at that paradoxical picnic spot Shark Island (National Park entry fees apply).
Tall Ship Experience
If you buy the wisdom that the journey matters more than the destination, you might be tempted to cruise Sydney Harbour via the romantic vehicle of a tall ship. "Experience the thrill of all that the world's greatest harbour has to offer from the unique perspective of Sydney's only authentic timber tall ship," says the firm behind the experience, which trumpets "billowing sails" and "sumptuous food". The trip lasts two hours, starting from Campbell’ Cove, which is beside the Hyatt Hotel at The Rocks -- on the fringes of Circular Quay.