Beaches of Sydney - review by Rusty Compass
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Beaches of Sydney

| 18 Jan 2022
18 Jan 2022

Sydney's beaches are legendary - they're a big feature of the city's summer lifestyle and a magnet for global travellers. Even if you're not a surfer or swimmer, a visit to Sydney should include visits to the city's dramatic coastline - any time of year. This is our travel guide to exploring Sydney's amazing beaches.

Note: The information provided in this review was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service

Rusty Compass travel guide to Sydney beaches

Sydney is one of the best beach cities in the world. Few global cities offer their residents a plethora of clean, clear beaches, within easy reach of the city centre. And few global cities put beach culture at the heart of their identity.

This guide has been created for people who love their beaches - swimming, surfing and walking. If you're only visiting Sydney for a short time, we'll give you the best-known easily accessed beach options. If you're staying long enough to explore beaches away from the centre, we'll also give you spectacular options further afield. Recommendations for families and those a little apprehensive about the open sea are included.

Rule 1 of the beach - stay between the flags
Photo: Mark Bowyer Rule 1 of the beach - stay between the flags

 

WATER SAFETY ON SYDNEY BEACHES

Beaches in Sydney and around Australia are enticing. They can also be deadly. Unless you are a strong and experienced swimmer, exercise caution and always swim between flags on patrolled beaches. Supervise children carefully. There are drownings on Sydney beaches even when they are crowded and patrolled. The list below includes safer swimming ideas for wary swimmers and families. Note that even safer beaches and pools can be deadly for careless or inexperienced swimmers. Always be careful around water. A disproportionate number of those who drown on Sydney and Australia's beaches are tourists. To check beach conditions, alerts and closures, head to https://beachsafe.org.au/

Bondi Beach, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Bondi Beach, Sydney

 

 

Sydney's legendary ocean beaches - Bondi and Manly

Bondi Beach

Bondi is Australia's most famous and most-visited beach. A short drive or bus ride from the centre of the city, Bondi attracts big summer crowds and is intimately tied up in Sydney's self-image. Like most legends, Bondi has its rough edges and its detractors. But it shouldn't be missed - summer or winter.

If you're heading out for a dip in the ocean at Bondi, stay between the flags that are usually placed in two spots - in the middle of the beach near the pavilion and at North Bondi.

There is a small protected pool at North Bondi that can be a safer option for families if not too crowded. The historic Bondi Icebergs pool is located at the south end and includes a small pool for families.

Pram parking at North Bondi - mid-summer
Photo: Mark Bowyer Pram parking at North Bondi - mid-summer

 

In addition to sun, sea and sand, Bondi is also home to a thriving dining and nightlife scene. Travellers flock to the place for more than the beach.

Bondi is at its most crowded during Australian summer holidays - which run to the end of January. If you want to miss the biggest crowds, choose weekdays and come early or late.

Getting to Bondi

Bondi is easily accessed from downtown Sydney. Buses leave from the city centre and take around 30 minutes. By train, head to Bondi Junction and then jump on a Bondi bus. There's quite a bit of parking around Bondi beach if you avoid the peak days of summer. Rideshare services are an easy option from the city centre too.

For more, check out our guide to Bondi here.

Bondi Icebergs pool - Bondi Beach, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Bondi Icebergs pool - Bondi Beach, Sydney 
 

Manly Beach

Across Sydney harbour to the north, the 30 minute ferry to Manly, transports you to a vibe completely removed from the hustle of the city. Manly was conceived as a resort escape from the centre of Sydney by British colonials in the mid-nineteenth century. It retains the feel of a resort escape today.

The Manly ferry runs from Circular Quay and is one of the best ways to explore Sydney's breathtaking harbour.

Manly Beach runs more than two kilometres to Queenscliff in the north. The promenade is lined with Norfolk Island pines that give the place its unique visual appeal. Even if you're not a swimmer, this is a great place for a stroll.

For those hesitant about braving the Manly surf, head south to protected Shelly Beach. It's safe most of the time and a good spot for snorkelling too. Manly Cove Beach in harbour right by the ferry wharf is another good option for families - it's netted and protected.

When the swimming day is done - or before it starts, Manly's beachfront and the Corso are home to great cafes, restaurants and pubs. There are more drinking and dining around the ferry wharf too.

Manly is a good starting point year-round for some of Sydney's breathtaking harbour and coastal walks.

Manly Beach mid-summer
Photo: Mark Bowyer Manly Beach mid-summer
 
Paradise in the city - Shelly Beach Manly - minus the crowds
Photo: Mark Bowyer Paradise in the city - Shelly Beach Manly - minus the crowds


Getting to Manly Beach


Manly is best reached by the Manly Ferry that leaves from Circular Quay. A walk along the Corso brings you to the beach. Head south from the beach to the protected delights of Shelly Beach. Buses also head to Manly from the city centre. Manly is around 40 minutes by car from the centre of Sydney.

For more, check out our guide to Manly here.

Manly Cove Beach - right by the ferry wharf - is a safe bet.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Manly Cove Beach - right by the ferry wharf - is netted and in the harbour.

Other ocean beaches close to Sydney centre

The coastline south of Bondi is home to a some of Sydney's most loved beaches. Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly and Coogee can all be reached on foot from Bondi, along a spectacular coastal walk - something not be missed. These beaches are destinations in their own right. They're easily accessed and served by buses from the city or Bondi Junction train station. Locals will tell you they head to these places to avoid the crowds of Bondi - but these beaches can also get crowded at the peak of summer...

Some of these Eastern suburbs beaches have ocean pools for those wary of the waves. Be aware that all of these beaches are frequently dangerous for inexperienced swimmers.

Tamarama is a short spectacular walk south of Bondi. It's a small patch of tricky currents favoured by locals and surfers. Continue along the coastal walk to Bronte.

Bronte Beach in winter - perfect for a walk, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Bronte Beach in winter - perfect for a walk, Sydney
 

Bronte Beach

Bronte Beach is around 1km south of Bondi and is great for picnics (don't drive - parking is hell). The beach can also be tricky with rips and currents so beware. There's a protected ocean pool that's a safer option.

Picnic at Bronte Beach, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Picnic at Bronte Beach, Sydney
 
Escaping the surf at the ocean pool at Bronte Beach
Photo: Mark Bowyer Escaping the surf at the ocean pool, Bronte Beach
 

Coogee Beach

Coogee is the most southerly along the most famous strip of beaches that heads south from Bondi and includes Bronte, Tamarama and Clovelly. The whole stretch of coast has a dedicated walking trail that passes all of these iconic beaches.

Coogee Beach, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Coogee Beach, Sydney

Coogee is one of Sydney's most popular swimming spots and the beach is surrounded by a promenade and parkland. The Coogee shore break is notoriously hazardous - always check conditions before hitting the water.

Visitors to Coogee - especially families - have safer alternatives to the ocean. There are small ocean pools at the north and south ends of the beach. And there are two larger ocean pools, past the southern end of the beach.

For over a century, McIver's Baths has been restricted to women and children. It's the only women's beach we know of in Sydney so that makes it pretty special.

A little further south is Wylie's - an ocean pool with a retro vibe. This is a good option for families. It's even popular with those learning to snorkel as it has a natural floor and there can be some interesting sea life in the water.

Wylie's Baths, Coogee Beach, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Wylie's Baths, Coogee Beach, Sydney

 

Sydney's Harbour beaches

Sydney's harbour beaches are often even more spectacular than the ocean beaches. They can be great for families too since they're usually safer - protected from rips and dangerous surf. Some are surrounded by stunning grounds and also enjoy sublime views of the city skyline in the distance.

Here are some of our favourite Sydney Harbour beaches.

Camp Cove
Photo: Mark Bowyer Camp Cove

 
Neilsen Park

Neilsen Park sits on a superb stretch of Sydney Harbour National Park with walks, historical sites, smaller swimming spots and picnic grounds. Nets around ominously named Shark Beach make it a safe place for a dip. There's a small cafe and a large park with stunning fig trees.

The Neilsen Park area was lived in by Indigenous Australians prior to the British Invasion. The park formed part of the extensive estate of William Charles Wentworth that was centred not far away at Vaucluse House (well worth a visit).

Getting to Neilsen Park

Neilsen Park can be accessed by bus from the centre of Sydney. There is also parking available. Parking fills quickly on summer weekends.

Neilsen Park - safe Sydney Harbour beach meets National Park
Photo: Mark Bowyer Neilsen Park - safe Sydney Harbour beach meets National Park

 
Camp Cove

Camp Cove is a cute little protected patch of Sydney harbour beach with some big historical connections. It's also close by the parks and eateries of Watson's Bay.

It is believed that Camp Cove is where Captain Arthur Phillip first set up camp in Sydney Harbour in January 1778, before the establishment the colonial penal settlement at Sydney Cove.

Make the picturesque beach with views of the Sydney skyline in the distance as your base to explore nearby walks rich in history.

Check out our full guide to the Camp Cove and Watson's Bay Area here.

Getting to Camp Cove

The best way to get to Camp Cove is by regular ferry to Watson's Bay. The harbour views are superb. There are also regular bus services from the centre of Sydney to Watson's Bay.

Camp Cove at Watson's Bay
Photo: Mark Bowyer Camp Cove at Watson's Bay
 
Camp Cove sunset over Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Camp Cove sunset over Sydney


Clifton Gardens

There are small quiet beaches from the Taronga Zoo ferry wharf all the way to Balmoral Beach. This is lovely afternoon walk and Clifton Gardens Beach is one of my favourite stops along the way. Protected from waves and semi secluded with a netted enclosure along one half of the beach, Clifton Gardens is perfect for families. There's a children's playground, picnic area and green parkland that runs down to a narrow arc of sand. It's idyllic spot on a summer weekday afternoon.

Clifton Gardens, Mosman on Sydney's lower north shore.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Clifton Gardens, Mosman on Sydney's lower north shore.
 
Clifton Gardens beach from jetty
Photo: Mark Bowyer Clifton Gardens beach from jetty

 



Balmoral Beach

Balmoral is the most famous and most popular of the north shore harbour beaches. It's located in the suburb of Mosman and named after Balmoral Castle in Scotland. It's a big stretch of protected sand so it can accommodate the crowds that descend on weekends in summer. It's a beautiful spot and was popular with harbour visitors from as far back as the 19th century. The rotunda and pavilion date back to the 1930s.

There are a couple of restaurants right on the beach and more just across the road. You can make Balmoral your base for lunch or dinner or both.

 

 

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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