I'm a freelance writer living on Sydney's north shore. I like tea, books and pop music. If I can combine these into a single activity I'm a happy man.
Published April 15th 2012
Sydney Harbour is Australia's most iconic waterscapes and is one of the world's most celebrated landscapes. Its defining feature, the Sydney Harbour Bridge celebrated its 80th birthday this year whilst it's younger partner in crime, the Opera House, turns 40 next year.
Despite being smack bang in the middle of the largest city in the country, there are plenty of open spaces to explore and the area is the perfect place to throw down a rug and have a picnic with family and friends.
For those visiting the city, the north side of the harbour offers the best views – not only will you get more full frontal views of the harbour you will also be able to see the city skyline in full. Read on for a selection of some of the best harbourside picnic spots from the east of Sydney through to the west. The only rule is the picnic spot has to offer a view of at least the Harbour Bridge or the Opera House – where's your favourite spot?
Situated within The Domain almost directly opposite the Opera House, Mrs Macquarie's Point offers panoramic views of the Harbour including the Opera House, the Bridge and Fort Denison.
There is oodles of grass and shady trees to colonise, but you should be warned the area is extremely popular with tourists all year round and I won't even mention New Years Eve.
After your picnic, don't miss Mrs Macquaries Chair, a sandstone bench handcarved out of the rock by convicts in 1810 for the wife of Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1810-1821. History decrees she used to enjoy sitting here enjoying the views, much as we do today. An old legend says that if you make a wish whilst sitting in the "chair", your wish will come true.
Mrs Macquaries Point is situated at the end of Mrs Macquaries Road in The Domain, Woolloomooloo. The nearest train station and ferry wharf is Circular Quay, a 20 minute walk away. Metered parking is available on Mrs Macquaries Road, Hospital Road and Macquarie Street. Undercover parking is available at The Domain Car Park off St Marys Road. Various buses, including the red Sydney CitySightseeing tourist bus, stop nearby
Observatory Hill, Sydney City Perched on one of the naturally highest parts of Sydney sits Observatory Hill Park. The site housed the first windmill ever built in Australia, constructed in 1796, and was originally known as Windmill Hill.
The windmill deteriorated within a matter of years and was soon replaced by Fort Philip, erected to protect the city not only from a feared French invasion but also from rebellious convicts within the city itself. Neither attacks eventuated and the site fell into its permanent role as an observatory. The present building dates from 1858 and became a museum in 1982 after air and light pollution made work at the observatory impossible.
The surrounding land is now a public park with stunning views of the Harbour Bridge and the western Harbour. There are plenty of grassed areas for picnic and the massive Port Jackson Fig tress provide plenty of shade. Like Mrs Macquaries Point, it is a good place for walking after your picnic with paths running around the park.
There is also a good selection of public art scattered through the park. Again, if you're looking for peace and quiet be warned this spot is very popular with tourists as well as joggers and dog walkers. The Bradfield Highway is right next door so don't expect pristine silence. If crowds aren't your thing, stay away from the rotunda which is extremely popular as a wedding venue.
If watching strangers get married is your thing though, welcome to heaven.
Pedestrian access to Observatory Hill is via the Agar Steps in Kent Street or through the Harbour Bridge pylon cutting in Cumberland Street. There is no parking on Observatory Hill itself although there is limited metered parking in nearby streets.
The nearest train station and ferry wharf is Circular Quay, a 15 minute walk away. Various buses run nearby, including the 339 from Loftus Street Circular Quay.
There are public toilets at the bottom of the park on Watson Road.
Illoura Reserve, Balmain East
Illoura Reserve stretches along most of Balmain East's eastern shoreline, however the best spot is in the far north, just by the ferry wharf. There are two levels of grassed areas. The higher area is slightly sloped with a lovely rose garden and a small play park for the kids.
A walled terrace leads down to the lower area, which is flatter and has benches looking out over the water. Being out of the city centre this spot is much quieter and is particularly lovely in the afternoon. As well as views of the Harbour Bridge you can gaze at Goat Island, the controversial Barangaroo, Observatory Hill and if you are lucky a mammoth cruise ship at anchor in Darling Harbour.
Balmain itself is a long walk away however nearby there is a corner shop and bottle shop for any last minute requirements. There is a toilet block next to the ferry wharf.
Illoura Reserve is adjacent to Balmain East ferry wharf. The ferry is the easiest way to get here with ferries leaving Circular Quay and Darling Harbour every 20 minutes.
There is no parking at the ferry wharf itself – Sydney Transport will fine you if you attempt it – however there is limited on street parking in neighbouring streets. Buses 442 and 445 stop at the Reserve. There is no nearby train station.
Blues Point Reserve, McMahons Point Blues Point Reserve is one of the best places in Sydney to get a full panoramic, unadulterated view of Sydney Harbour and every single one of its gems.
There's not a single negative in the view from Blues Point – everything is there and all you have to do is plonk yourself down and drink it all in.
Given the stunning views, the fact it is one of the quietest parks in Sydney, if not the world, is perplexing. You are almost guaranteed to have the place virtually to yourself so if you are keen to escape the crowds this is the picnic spot for you.
A great swathe of green grass leads down to the harbour and there is a great play park for the kids. Facilities, apart from a toilet block, are non-existent however McMahons Point itself is only a five minute walk away.
After your picnic, there is a pleasant stroll around the Point itself and if you know your way around take a longer walk through the back streets to Sawmillers Reserve.
Blues Point Reserve is a five minute walk from McMahons Point ferry wharf. Ferries run every 20 minutes from Circular Quay and Darling Harbour. North Sydney train station is a 15 minute walk away. Bus 265 runs between North Sydney station and McMahons Point ferry wharf. There is limited free on-street parking at the Reserve and in surrounding streets
Bradfield Park, Milsons Point
Sick and tired of picture postcard views of Sydney Harbour Bridge? Why not hang out under the bridge instead and get to know its rivets, beams and pylons? Public parks occupy all the spaces below the bridge (okay, except for the water bits) and Bradfield Park on the north shore is the biggest. Its twin on the city side, Dawes Point Reserve, is also worth visiting but is, quite frankly, a little dull.
Bradfield Park has a huge expanse of grass spreading out directly under the bridge and it is surprisingly fascinating to look up and study the amazing intricacy of what makes this iconic structure. You might be more intrigued than you thought. The sheer size of the park makes it a great area for kids to run around like crazy and burn off some energy and they can probably spend hours running around the famous supporting pylons. There is also a fenced playground in the far north corner. Bradfield Park isn't all about the bridge though.
There are some lovely views of the Opera House and the city and the more formal shoreline area of the park has benches, stone shelters, sculptures and the original bow from the HMAS Sydney which commemorates the battle between the Sydney and the German raiding cruiser Emden in 1914. Not surprisingly, the park is one of the most popular places to watch the New Years Eve fireworks from, as such if you want a good spot you are advised to arrive early.
Bradfield Park is a two minute walk from Milsons Point ferry wharf. Ferries run from Circular Quay and Darling Harbour every twenty minutes. Milsons Point train station is situated near the northern entrance to the park. Buses run frequently past the park, including the 230, 228 and 227. There is a car park nearby, access from Paul Street. Prices start at $7 per hour. There is limited free on street parking in neighbouring streets.
A swathe of green encases Cremorne Point and although it is on the very edge of the inner harbour in the north east it still offers picnic spots with stunning views. There are several ways to access the parklands.
The easiest is from Cremorne Point ferry wharf, but if you can, try starting at the beginning using the entrance off Bogota Avenue on the Neutral Bay/Cremorne Point border. A path leads you through beautiful bushland where you can enjoy native plants and if you are lucky, birds and animals. Tantalising glimpses of the harbour appear through the trees before opening up into wide unobstructed vistas.
The Point itself is more bushland than picnic area and the best places to stop for a picnic are the open spaces between Bogota Avenue and the ferry wharf where the Harbour views are also the best. Plenty of grass and shady areas are available and there is a great children's playground. If it is a warm day, stop by Maccallum Pool, a beautiful 1920s seawater swimming pool with a waterfront timber sunbathing deck.
Ferries run to Cremorne Point ferry wharf from Circular Quay at 55 minutes past every hour on weekends. Various buses run along Military Road in Neutral Bay, it is then a 15 minute walk to Bogota Avenue. There is limited on street free parking in neighbouring streets. There are no nearby train stations.