Sydney may be on your bucket list because of its beaches, but the city is packed with plenty more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Parks in Sydney often have playgrounds, free barbecues, and lots of shade, making them popular with locals after work and on weekends. For visitors, a stroll through the park is a great way to get to know Sydney's flora and fauna and immerse yourself in the city's active lifestyle. Here's our list of eight of the best.
Sydney Harbour National Park
This sprawling National Park covers Clark and Shark islands within Sydney Harbour, as well as parts of its foreshore. Nielsen Park in Vaucluse is one of the highlights, offering stunning harbor views, plus access to Shark Beach and the mile-long Hermitage Foreshore track. Across the harbor in Mosman, Bradley's Head is another unmissable picnic spot, looking back towards the Harbour Bridge and the city skyline.
Observatory Hill Park
Not far from the Central Business District (CBD), Observatory Hill in Millers Point affords visitors a sweeping panorama of the harbor. Here, you can make the most of the exercise stations, enjoy the public artwork, and maybe even visit the Sydney Observatory, built in 1858. This park is a dog off-leash area, so you are likely to encounter some furry friends too.
When Centennial Park opened east of Sydney in 1888, it was known as the People's Park and served as an escape from the rapidly growing city. Today, the parklands are made up of three separate parks: Centennial Park, Moore Park, and Queens Park. Incorporating sports fields, barbecues, playgrounds, and picnic areas, plus a public golf course and the Entertainment Quarter, these parklands are Sydney's most diverse.
The recently opened Ian Potter Children’s WILD PLAY Garden is an impressive addition for kids of all ages. (The Garden closes every August for maintenance.) Covering nearly 900 acres, the park has so much to do and see you may need to hire a bike to get around!
When Sydney hosted the Olympic Games in 2000, a large sports and entertainment complex was developed to the west of the city to house the events. The lush Bicentennial Park is part of this complex, sprawling across almost 100 acres of parklands, mangroves, and a waterbird refuge.
You can climb up to the 50-feet-high viewing platform at the top of the Treillage Tower for the best vantage point. There's also a cafe, playground, barbecues and bike hire available.
Royal Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens are one of Sydney's top attractions, with a café, shop and the Calyx activity hub. You can take a free guided tour of the gardens or book in for the Aboriginal Heritage tour to learn more about the traditional owners of the land, the Gadigal people. The Choo Choo Express mini train is perfect for families. When it comes to plants, don't miss the Australian Rainforest Garden, the Palace Rose Garden and the Australian Native Rockery.
Australia's oldest public park is located in the heart of Sydney. This heritage-listed green space is home to the Archibald Fountain, decorated with figures from ancient Greek mythology, and the Anzac Memorial and the Pool of Reflection, which pay tribute to Australia's fallen soldiers. A sculpture dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Defence Force can be found nearby, called Yininmadyemi - Thou didst let fall.
The park's grand avenues are lined by fig-trees, providing much-needed shade. Around its perimeter, you'll find points of interest, including the Supreme Court of New South Wales, St. James Church, St Mary's Cathedral, and the Australian Museum.
Barangaroo was once an industrial site to the north-west of the city center but was reopened as a gorgeous foreshore park in 2015. It includes lookouts, walking, and cycling tracks, and picnic spots by the water.
The park also offers a chance to learn about Sydney's complex history; it is named after Barangaroo, a Cammeraygal Aboriginal leader at the time of colonization, and designed to reflect the shoreline of Sydney Harbour before it was altered to make space for wharves in 1836.
Chinese Garden of Friendship
This tranquil oasis at Darling Harbour was created in 1988 by landscape architects and gardeners from Guangzhou, Sydney’s sister city in China. The garden's calming effect may be due to the incorporation of the Taoist principles of Yin and Yang and Wu Xing, balancing all the natural elements in the garden's design.
Inside, colorful plants and flowers surround a lake of koi fish, with three traditional pavilions in the style of the Ming Dynasty open to the public. Admission costs $4 for adults and $2.70 for children.