Sydney, a city synonymous with iconic landmarks, never ceases to amaze, even for those of us who’ve called it home for years, Sydney is still full of surprises.
Beyond the hustle of Sydney Opera House and Bondi Beach lies a world of secret spots: underground gardens, bars in quaint alleyways, hidden pathways, and the thrill of discovering secluded spots in a bustling city of over 5 million.
Think you’ve seen all of Sydney? Think again. These 18 Sydney hidden gems transform an ordinary visit into an extraordinary adventure.
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1. Paddington Reservoir Gardens
Hidden, yet right in plain sight, Paddington Reservoir Gardens is a charming underground sanctuary, just steps from the lively Oxford Street in Sydney’s Paddington area.
Opened in 2009 and inspired by the ancient Baths of Caracalla and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, this subterranean retreat offers a peaceful contrast to its urban setting.
With its lush greenery and gentle water features spread over two levels, the small area feels surprisingly spacious, perfect for a quiet walk or a relaxed picnic.
While it might only take about 10-15 minutes to explore, Paddington Reservoir Gardens is an ideal pass-by activity for those seeking a brief, serene interlude in the city. After visiting the garden, take the chance to wander through Paddington’s nearby streets, renowned for their boutique shops.
Getting in is free, and there’s plenty of paid street parking around the gardens.
Where: 251-255 Oxford St, Paddington NSW 2021
2. Barrenjoey Lighthouse
Barrenjoey Lighthouse, also known as Palm Beach Lighthouse, is a historic sandstone building dating back to 1881. It stands at the northernmost point of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, located in a section of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.
Known to many as the filming location for the famous TV show “Home and Away,” Barrenjoey Lighthouse boasts spectacular coastal views over Pittwater and the peninsula.
The journey to the top offers two paths: a quicker route with stairs or a scenic, winding track carved by convicts. I recommend taking the scenic route up and the stairs back down so you can take advantage of the views on both routes!
While the lighthouse itself is a popular landmark, the real secret of this Sydney hidden gem lies in the lesser-known detours along the way – the hidden cave and the ledge, perfect for those Instagram-worthy shots.
Open for short tours on Sundays (with a small fee), the lighthouse is also a prime spot for whale watching.
Where: 1199D Barrenjoey Rd, Palm Beach NSW 2108
3. Maroubra Mahon Pool
Maroubra, better known for its thriving surfing culture, is also home to a hidden treasure: the Mahon Pool. Situated at the quieter end, just north of the main beach and at the foot of Jack Vanny Reserve, this pool offers a tranquil retreat, starkly contrasting to the often-crowded spots like Bondi and Coogee.
The pool’s crystal-clear waters are safe for swimming and a perfect spot to try snorkelling, offering a glimpse of marine life in its natural habitat.
The real charm here, especially during high tide, is the dramatic crashing of waves into the ocean pool – a sight that’s as exhilarating in winter as it is in summer.
For those looking to relax, a grassy knoll above the pool provides the perfect picnic spot with stunning coastal views. Some people do sunbath on the rocks, but having tried this myself I would not recommend this as a comfortable option.
With free admission and parking, a rare find in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, Mahon Pool is not to be missed if you’re looking for things to do in Sydney on a budget and after those elusive Sydney hidden gems.
There are excellent facilities nearby, including showers and toilets as well as the popular Pool Café to try out post-swim.
Where: 15R Marine Parade, Maroubra NSW 2035
4. Wedding Cake Rock
Wedding Cake Rock, a stunning yet fragile sandstone formation, is a highlight of the challenging Coast Track in Sydney’s Royal National Park.
The rock’s striking white colour is due to the absence of iron particles in the sandstone, preventing any rust or colour change. This pure white contrasts sharply with the surrounding rugged coastal cliffs, making it resemble a slice of cake dramatically perched above the ocean.
To get to this Sydney hidden gem you will need to embark on a 3km walk from Bundeena, taking about an hour. (It is Stop 3 on the Royal National Park Coastal Walk Map).
The track can be tough in parts, but the breathtaking coastal views are more than worth the effort. The spot is also an ideal location for whale watching during migration season.
❗️It’s important to note that there is a metal fence around Wedding Cake Rock which has been in place since May 2015, due to the erosion of the rock. From personal experience, I’ve seen people climbing over it to get the perfect Instagram shot, but it’s a serious offence which could get you prosecuted, and I do not recommend this for your safety. You can get perfectly beautiful photos without clambering over the fence!
On your way back, you can return along the same track to Bundeena or continue your adventure down to Marley Beach.
Where: Bundeena Dr, Jibbon NSW 2232
5. Observatory Hill
Observatory Hill, a mere 10-minute walk from Circular Quay, is one of the best spots in Sydney for breathtaking harbour views, yet it remains a Sydney hidden gem to many.
Atop the hill sits the historic Sydney Observatory, a charming museum that’s free to enter, with optional guided tours and night viewings through telescopes for a small fee.
The hill itself is an easy climb, offering a spectacular vantage point over the city. Spend about 15-20 minutes exploring the quaint observatory, then relax on the surrounding lawns with a perfect view of the Harbour Bridge, locally known as the ‘Coat-Hanger.’
The hill’s highest point in Sydney provides a unique perspective of The Rocks and the Harbour Bridge, surrounded by beautiful fig trees.
Where: 1001 Upper Fort St, Millers Point
6. Angel Place Birdcage
Angel Place, a quaint alley off George Street, is home to the enchanting “Forgotten Songs” art installation that holds a magical quality.
This Instagram-worthy spot features nearly two hundred birdcages suspended in the air. As you gaze up, the gentle sound of birdsong fills the air, a poignant reminder of the 50 bird species that once thrived in Sydney before European settlement forced them out.
If you visit this area of Sydney at night, you’ll find the sounds of the birds transform from daytime birds to nocturnal ones.
Many Sydney locals, along with visitors, are often unaware of this hidden gem, even though it’s just a stone’s throw from the busy shopping areas of George Street and Pitt Street. I lived here for years before I knew about it!
It is located right next to the light rail so a great extra stop on your way to exploring the rest of Sydney – you’ll likely only spend 5-10 minutes here unless you want to eat at the restaurant that sits underneath it.
Where: Angel Pl, Sydney NSW 2000
7. Pylon Lookout
Often overshadowed by the Bridge Climb, the Pylon Lookout is, in my opinion, one of Sydney’s most underrated attractions however, If you’re looking for budget-friendly activities in Sydney and find the cost of the Bridge Climb daunting, the Pylon Lookout is a fantastic alternative.
It’s a more accessible option, with fewer stairs and more spots to rest. Not to mention, you can bring your camera here, which is not allowed on the Bridge Climb. It’s also significantly cheaper, costing less than one-tenth of your pay to climb the bridge.
There are 200 stairs to the Pylon Lookout and along the way up, you’ll find three levels of exhibits detailing the bridge’s history, the people who built it, and the vision of JJC Bradfield, the chief engineer. The views from the top are spectacular, encompassing Sydney Harbour, the Botanical Gardens, and on a clear day, even the distant Blue Mountains.
Entry to the Pylon Lookout costs $24.95 for adults and $12 for children (3 and under go free). Opening times do vary, but it is generally open from 10 am-4 pm.
❗️ I highly recommend booking this self-guided tour if you are interested in visiting the Pylon Lookout because, for the same price, you’ll get free entry to the Pylon Lookout and loads of added extras such as visiting the Harbour Bridge Walkway and puzzles to solve along the way.
Where: Sydney Hbr Brg, The Rocks NSW 2000
8. Wendy’s Secret Garden
Wendy’s Secret Garden, hidden behind Luna Park in Lavender Bay, is easily reachable by a short walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge or from Milsons Point and North Sydney train stations.
The secret may be well and truly out about this hidden garden, however, the artist Wendy Whiteley, the widow of Australian artist Brett Whiteley, has created a peaceful retreat amidst the hustle of the city. Here, you can wander through meandering pathways, stumble upon hidden sculptures, and soak in the views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
While it’s free and open to the public daily, be mindful of steep inclines and steps, which may limit access for some visitors.
The journey through the garden is brief, around 5-10 minutes, but most visitors spend an hour here sitting down to read a book or seeking a bit of respite to their working day.
You’ll find no food or drink facilities, barbecue areas, or garbage bins, so bring your own snacks and leave the gardens as you find them.
There are no toilets on-site, but nearby Sidana Cafe offers a dining experience with an extensive breakfast menu and a wall of second-hand books.
There is two-hour metered parking in nearby streets and some unmetered street parking. There is also a paid parking station at nearby Luna Park. May the odds be in your favour.
Where: Lavender St, Lavender Bay NSW 2060
9. Swain Gardens
Swain Gardens, a hidden gem among Sydney’s gardens, offers a fairytale-like escape with its stunning, well-manicured lawns. This serene spot, perfect for picnics or even a wedding ceremony, radiates tranquillity, often allowing visitors the luxury of having the entire garden to themselves.
Tucked away amidst a typical Sydney Street, Swain Gardens is a beautifully maintained sanctuary equipped with amenities like toilets, barbecues, and seating areas.
Nearby, is another hidden gem, the Seven Little Australian Park, which is worth a visit for those looking to explore more of Sydney’s enchanting yet, relatively unknown outdoor spaces.
Where: 77 Stanhope Road, Killara
10. Manly Wormhole
The Manly Wormhole, also known as the Queenscliff Tunnel, is a fascinating piece of Sydney’s history. Carved through the headland rock over a century ago by industrious fishermen, this 40-metre tunnel connects Queenscliff and Freshwater beaches.
It offers a unique and direct route between the two seafronts, bypassing suburban streets. Reaching the tunnel involves a bit of a scramble over rocks north of Manly Beach, but the effort pays off with spectacular views of Freshwater Beach and a sense of achievement for uncovering one of the city’s historic secrets.
To find the entrance, head towards the Queenscliff Rock Pool and look for the pink graffiti heart.
Where: 2096 N Steyne, Queenscliff
11. Lane Cove National Park
It’s not often that you can find a national park right in a city of millions of people, but just over the harbour in Sydney, you can do just that.
Just a 20-minute drive northwest of Sydney CDB, Lane Cove National Park stretches along the Lane Cove River, extending from East Ryde in the south to Pennant Hills in the north, and is a great spot for bushwalks, kayaking along the river, or relaxing with a picnic by the water.
For a bit of fun, there is a rental spot off Riverside Drive near the Delhi Road entrance, where you can hire kayaks, canoes, and even pushbikes – though you can also bring your own.
Lane Cove National Park is also rated one of our favourite family camping spots, especially for beginners and even has options for luxurious nature glamping!
Where: Max Allen Rd, Lindfield NSW 2070
12. Karloo Pools
Karloo Pools, hidden in Sydney’s Royal National Park near Heathcote, is a natural paradise waiting to be explored.
This emerald-green swimming hole offers a perfect spot for a refreshing dip in a completely natural setting. The journey to Karloo Pools features a moderately challenging 2.5 km walk along the Karloo Track, known as one of the best walking trails in the park and in Sydney, but the serene beauty of the pool makes it worth the effort.
an ideal spot for those who love combining a good walk with the reward of a swim in one of Sydney’s best natural swimming holes.
If you’re up for more, the trail continues to the stunning Uloola Falls, adding to the adventure.
13. Shipwreck at Homebush Bay
Homebush Bay in Sydney is a hidden gem, hosting the remarkable ‘Floating Forest’ – the overgrown shipwreck of the SS Ayrfield.
To experience these wrecks up close, you can book a boat trip around the SS Ayrfield or visit the Waterbird Refuge at Sydney Olympic Park. The best views are from the Promenade at Wentworth Point.
.While the SS Ayrfield is the most photographed and known wreck, there are several others in the bay worth exploring.
Close to Bicentennial Park, a visit here can be coupled with enjoying the park’s playgrounds, bike tracks, and ideal picnic spots.
14. The Rocks Markets
Dive into the lively atmosphere of The Rocks Markets, where every weekend from 10 am to 5 pm, the cobblestone streets of one of Sydney’s prime locations burst into life.
Stroll through stalls of artisanal goods and local craftsmanship, savour a variety of street food, and soak in the charming harbour views. It’s the perfect spot for finding antique treasures, and gifts, or simply enjoying a leisurely weekend wander. They are especially good during the festive season!
After browsing the stalls, take time to explore The Rocks further. You’ll find some trendy bars hidden in its alleyways, perfect for rounding off your market day adventure.
Where: George St, The Rocks NSW 2000
15. Cadman’s Cottage
While exploring The Rocks, don’t miss Cadman’s Cottage – you might have already passed this historic gem without realizing it. As the oldest residential building in Australia, this sandstone cottage is nestled right near Circular Quay and the Museum of Contemporary Art, offering a glimpse into Sydney’s early maritime history.
Built in 1816, Cadman’s Cottage stands as one of the few surviving buildings from Sydney’s first 30 years. It has served various roles over the years, from a water transport headquarters to a water police station. Interestingly, it was originally beside the water, but with the construction of Circular Quay, the harbour is now 100 meters away.
You can explore the exterior of the cottage on your own, but to dive into Australia’s colonial past, keep an eye out for the free tours that are occasionally offered.
Where: 110 George St, The Rocks NSW 2000
16. Grounds of Alexandria
The Grounds of Alexandria is more of a hidden gem than a secret one in Sydney, drawing crowds for its enchanting installations. Visiting on a weekday might be your best bet to experience it during a quieter time. It’s a popular spot, especially for those looking to enjoy a midday meal in a unique setting.
With its beautiful sprawling gardens and weekend markets, it’s easy to understand its appeal. Plus, the food served here is notably delicious.
But there’s more to The Grounds than just great food and photo opportunities. It also hosts a delightful petting zoo with goats, chickens, and a pig named Kevin Bacon, adding to its charm. The Grounds of Alexandria combines culinary excellence, lush greenery, and a touch of whimsy, making it a standout destination in Sydney’s vibrant cafe scene.
Where: 7a/2 Huntley St, Alexandria NSW 2015
17. La Perouse Bare Island
Located just off La Perouse, Care Island is a popular location for weddings and family picnics, and it even featured in a Mission Impossible movie. We were told on the tour, during the movie’s production, there was a proposal to blow up its bridge, which was declined.
Connected to the mainland by a pedestrian bridge, the island is home to a historical fort built in 1885.
Open for public tours at $15 each, primarily on Sundays and occasionally on Saturdays, Bare Island invites visitors to delve into its rich past. The surrounding waters are also a favourite among divers for the abundant sea life, including Port Jackson sharks.
Afterwards, check out the beaches in La Perouse, you might be surprised at what you find!
Where: Bare Island Rd, La Perouse NSW 2036
18. MacKenzie Bay Beach
MacKenzie Bay Beach in Sydney is a beach so elusive, it’s not even there most of the year!
Located about 100 meters north of Tamarama, this beach is Sydney’s best-kept secret, hidden away and vanishing for years, only to reappear as a golden sandy haven and a favourite local hangout spot with a dog-friendly policy. It is one of many eastern suburbs beaches that are worth visiting.
It serves as a beautiful reminder that the most captivating places often remain hidden, unveiling their magic only to those who actively search for it.
Where: Tamarama, NSW 2026